Red Velvet Proves Fanclub Names Aren't Earned


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.


And now there’s a fifth member, Yeri, added without explanation or fanfare. At sixteen years old, I’m not sure what we can expect from her, other than that she comes dangerously close to being born in the third millenium, which makes me feel dangerously old. For a group that has failed so far to differentiate their other four members from one another, the addition of a fifth is an odd choice.


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.

7 comments:

  1. I am overwhelmed with the review. Why did I not found this site before?

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  2. Still doesn't mean they deserved to get the fanclub name first. It was such a stupid move on their part to announce "a girl group would be getting their fanclub name" when it's only f(x) and RV. Even non fans thought f(x) was gonna get it. 6 years is just disrespectful, they don't even acknowledge us f(x) fans. They didn't even attempt to promote f(x) more. They had so much potential and just gave up on them. SM doesn't know how to promote their artists. They're biased towards the money-making groups. No surprise since it's $M.

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    1. f(x) doesn't have a fanclub name not because SM doesn't acknowledge their fans but because the target audience for f(x) is different from, say, Girl's Generation. Where GG (in Korea) mainly targets young girls who might see the members as role models, f(x) targets casual listeners and even people who know little to nothing about K-pop by covering a wider spectrum of genres in their music than K-pop's more common R&B/Bubblegum pop leanings. f(x) getting a fanclub name would lead to distinctions between "real" fans and "non-fans". In that way f(x)'s music is more inclusive and accessible, which I think is a good thing.

      Red Velvet is interesting in the way that it seems to target both young girls and casual listeners with tracks like "Dumb Dumb" and "Automatic". This is also reflected in their group name, where "Red" , a striking colour, represents the energy and youthfulness of the former and "Velvet" stands for the more mature, darker feel of the latter. With their latest album being called "The Red", I wouldn't be surprised if their next (studio) album will focus on the "Velvet" side of things.

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    2. SM aren't "biased" toward their money-making groups; where it is true that their best-known groups, Girls Generation, Super Junior and TVXQ, make a lot of money, they couldn't have reached that status if SM hadn't promoted them like crazy in the first place. Remember that GG, SuJu and TVXQ are all older groups than f(x) and the first couple groups that were noticed by an international audience, so it's no surprise that a lot of promotion money was spent in trying to reach audiences outside of Korea. In fact, it seems that since those groups have become more or less household names, SM is spending *less* effort on them since they know that they can rake in money from a lot of hardcore fans by selling merchandise that probably only those fans would buy. They're doing it with EXO now, too. My point is, if SME created a fanclub name for f(x) and promoted them like GG, it would eventually lead to shutting out those casual fans by the more fanatical strains of the fandom.

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  3. wtf i have no idea why so many people are taking so much hate towards red velvet. SM has a reason for debuting them as a girl group, as they are all really talented and have beautiful vocals and dance well too. its not their failt if their company or manger wants a fanclub name for them, even if they've just debuted. i feel its really unfair for them, since fx is 5 years their senior since they debuted and have garnered more fans than rv, so obviously fx's fans will support fx and hate rv. in comparison, rv just debuted and their amount of fans cannot be compared to those of fx, so why hate them? RED VELVET FIGHTING ����

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    1. Although I think the girls are lovely and can dance quite well, Wendy is the only one with a particularly strong voice and the other girls' voices are kind of average. However, that's just my opinion and maybe because I'm not really an RV fan.

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  4. Hi everyone, just wanted to give a quick update. I realized that the code that displays the date of our posts had an error in it, meaning that only the "time" was displaying, not the "date." I think this led to some obvious confusion.

    I absolutely do think that there's an issue in Kpop over who receives an official fandom and who does not. But for Red Velvet, I think this was much more of an issue in March of 2015 (post date) than now.

    Sorry for the confusion, and I hope that the fix to our site helps! Thanks for reading!

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