Another day, another strange decision by SM Entertainment has f(x) fans up in arms. It was recently announced that Red Velvet would be receiving a fanclub name just seven months after their official debut. While on the surface, this isn’t that remarkable, fans of f(x) have lashed out at SM, pointing out that they have waited six years for that same honor which is still not forthcoming. But fans of f(x) shouldn’t feel jealous.
[Update 2/1/16: Since this article continues to generate quite a few hits, it's worth mentioning a few things. First, f(x) finally received an official fanclub name: Me U. Second, in the year since this article, we've changed our tune (pun intended) on Red Velvet quite a bit.]
First, understand that fanclub names are not earned. There is no bar which, having been reached, suddenly awards a group with a fanclub name. After all, Red Velvet has only one EP and eight songs to their name (one of which is a cover). What you should understand is that SM Entertainment considers Red Velvet too important to fail. As such, no matter how many fans they have or don’t have, SM will do everything they can to make these women stand out.
Remember, Red Velvet is SM’s first girl group since f(x). Yes, that’s five years between debuts, and Red Velvet’s first few months have been rocky. Their debut single, “Happiness,” made the wrong kind of waves on its release. It peaked at number 5 on the Gaon singles chart, thanks to the SM hype and at least partially to the press generated by the unnecessary scandal of offensive imagery used in the music video. “Be Natural” hit number 33 and was lauded for how hard the members worked. Read between the lines. Probably the strangest decision that SM made in the group’s early days, however, was to hide the personality of each member by normalizing their appearance. I get the concept of group solidarity. But this isn’t a basketball team. This is Kpop, where personality is vital to creating a fan base. Thankfully, Red Velvet are beginning to veer away from this identity crisis, but they're not yet leaving distinct impressions.
Last week, Red Velvet released their first EP, Ice Cream Cake. The lead single, and the one generating the most buzz, “Ice Cream Cake,” is a thinly veiled advertisement for Baskin Robbins. It’s an inane song about an ice cream cake sung in front of the set of an abandoned gas station (presumably, because it looks hot there, and you would want a frozen treat if you were in their place). If this is SM Entertainment’s bet on the future, then I hope you enjoy commercials. They don’t even bother to hide the Baskin Robbins labels. But credit to Red Velvet. This may be the best CF I’ve ever seen, even better than Orange Caramel’s “Abing Abing” (also a Baskin Robbins commercial).
“Automatic” is the spiritual successor to “Be Natural.” It’s Red Velvet’s own take on sultry vocals. And for the most part, it works. There’s just one problem. The song hinges on a connection between “natural” and “automatic” that is based on a misunderstanding of both meaning and rhythm. Although “natural” and “automatic” have a similar meaning in one sense, their connotations are so wildly different that to equate them is close to equating opposites. This is a thesaurus gone wrong. This is T-ara telling us to “see the music.” The mechanistic undertone of “automatic” is made evident in its rhythm. What is otherwise a smooth and quite impressive vocal display is suddenly chopped into a robotic syncopation. “Automatic,” for all its qualities, lacks a certain poetry.
The truth is, Red Velvet just isn’t at the same level yet as the big groups. And there’s no shame or slight in saying that. In seven months, they’ve accomplished a lot. But why give Red Velvet a fanclub name? Well, for a company which has so much riding on the success of their next girl group, it’s no wonder that the board at SM is nervously trying to drum up support. They stand to lose a lot if Red Velvet isn’t a success; they’ve had some of these girls in training for seven years, after all.
If f(x) fans want to take offense at something it should be this: SM never saw the group for their potential. They never saw f(x) as the future. With Red Velvet, maybe SM is learning from their mistakes. Or maybe they realize that the future is what they make of it. Regardless, Red Velvet is here to stay. I can't say the same for f(x) anymore.
Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.