What did everyone think of Wendy’s solo debut? We have the video for her single “Like Water,” and a mini-album with — appropriately so — great B-sides, including a duet with Seulgi adorably titled “Best Friend.” It’s been a long, strange journey, but for Wendy, she’s arrived. After suffering an injury around Christmas 2019 during a rehearsal, she spent 2020 recuperating, and while Red Velvet fans (myself included) imagined that’s all she did, here she comes with another stunning SM production. The album itself Like Water may not have the sheer dynamism of the Iseul debut before it, cleaving entirely toward the Velvet concept — no wild synth here or colorful bubblegum — but it’s a long-awaited showcase for Wendy’s vocals.
Of course, as a Red Velvet purist, I’m having a hard time fully appreciating Wendy’s dramatic return in an uncertain time, but I’ll admit to tearing up around the halfway mark of the MV. Wendy is so essential to K-pop as a multi-talented star. I know a number of legends were boosting the video — I saw Yoona’s Instagram story, which is crazy because she’s not the most frequent updater ever. That’s an odd thing to say. But Wendy is also so essential to Red Velvet, and for more than her powerful singing voice. She’s the heart which runs through each member, connecting all of them better than any one member could. While Irene’s no-nonsense leadership is crucial, I’ve learned from the Chorong/Bomi dynamic that sometimes you need to soften the punches.
From what I’ve understood of her public persona, her character partly mythologized by the fan base but difficult to deny, Wendy is an anchoring presence. In Red Velvet especially, a human form is a critical reminder — these are performers who grind nonstop, and their near-spotless discography and impossible choreography reflect the machine-like work ethic. “Where’s Wendy?” while we’re trying to take photos in Slovenia? Of course, she’s over there feeding the camera crew. Wendy naturally gravitates to Joy in part because Joy talks openly about her self-esteem issues. And God, the four of them can be so quiet together, Irene, Seulgi, Joy, and Yeri. It’s odd to think about a group of people being incomplete in the face of a solo debut, but Wendy really is that key to unlocking a certain level of comfort among such disparate personalities. (Not everyone’s so disparate, but Irene and Joy? Come on).
On the flipside, there’s an interesting episode where Irene, Seulgi, and Wendy are doing a VLive in Seulgi’s room, I believe, at their old dorm, and Irene’s interviewing Wendy about laundry detergent? Wendy says the scent is “orangey but not too orangey,” and then Seulgi, who’d been zoning off in the middle, narrows her eyes. “You know, when Wendy talks…” she says, and you can almost feel Wendy bracing for it. That’s the life of the class clown, though her interpretation of that role in the group is markedly different than Sooyoung’s. Wendy slaps herself out there to be poked fun at — sometimes that’s what the girls need. However, it can’t be an easy part to play, so when Seulgi simply points out the riddle-like nature of Wendy’s locution, the relief that washes over her is palpable. She’s safe here.
When Wendy was injured, it was a tough one to accept. Not that anyone would deserve something like that (an eight-foot fall onto the stage, likely requiring reconstructive surgery), it felt like a particular injustice. Why Wendy? But she’s back now, doing what she’s always wanted to do, and it’s a beautiful thing.
(Subtitles by Revelupsubs, from this Bubbleflexe video, highly recommended)
This one’s just Seugli smelling Irene, for good measure