From Joy to Seulgi to, of course, Irene
I realize I hadn’t done even a brief write-up on Joy’s solo debut as I had Wendy’s, but that’s partly because it dropped at a busy time. See, I’d been preparing to move from Los Angeles back home, as the dream is over or what have you. The video for Joy’s “Hello” is a sweet and surprisingly emotional piece, trading the CG dreamscapes of Red Velvet past for an indie-movie feel — the earthy color palette and road trip narrative. Joy, overcoming a Wendy-approved breakup, packs up for vacation and encounters a little girl trying to get home. Here we have very human moments like the dad squeezing his daughter in the end, which is a different kind of special effect, to be terrible. “Hello” is a really big song and Joy bursts with soaring energy. However, it’s an interesting approach to a Joy debut, not only being an album of cover songs, but I thought her whole thing was “sexy dynamite.” I expected it to be closer to something like Namjoo’s “Bird,” at least in terms of visuals. So it’s a nice surprise, and very Red Velvet — refreshing, like a summer breeze.
So that’s Joy, now joining Irene/Seulgi and Wendy. And Yeri? I do wish she’d gotten a solo album between the Reve Festival Finale and the 2021 comeback. In fact, her recent project, Yerihan Bang, was canceled in that span. Ahead of the group’s return, I’m looking for an Avengers kind of scenario, with individual expressions and then the reuniting, and you can’t leave out Th— whichever Avenger best maps to Yeri. Squirtle, I guess. At the very least, I’ve seen Yeri around, as she’s sharing material from her upcoming drama Blue Birthday. There’s one Red Velvet member we haven’t heard from since her birthday back in March, and I wouldn’t even bring this up other than I’d seen recent video of Red Velvet preparing for a stage performance, and it was Seulgi, Wendy, Joy, and Yeri. Where the hell is Irene?
Part of the fun with Joy’s solo, as well as any new K-pop album, is the promotion, and one of the highlights this time was her eating watermelon on a livestream and happy-crying. Later, she made a guest appearance on Seulgi’s new show Seulgi.zip, and I must say, Joy and Seulgi have a nice chemistry. I didn’t notice it early on, even thinking of them as a “disaster” together after seeing their Vietnam VLive, but it’s clear to me now they have a sisterly bond and a deep respect for one another. They talk about their relationship a half hour into the broadcast before getting a surprise caller who says the heavy stuff makes the show boring. “Eat more watermelon,” she says. This is Wendy, attempting the prank that Sunny pulled — beautifully — on Red Velvet back in 2014, calling in as a crying fan, but here Joy and Seulgi recognize the voice instantly.
I’ve been enjoying Seulgi.zip, of course, but damn it, Seulgi is really, really mellow — right? Maybe I’m overly sensitive to a non-issue here, but I’m suspicious she’s not entirely comfortable in the spotlight like this. And maybe just, “not yet.” On a solo stage, she’s fine, but when I close my eyes and think “Seulgi,” I see her drinking out of a river or laughing after she says her name in English or laughing so hard she starts to legit-cry. She’s just so serious on Seulgi.zip, and I don’t know how to square it. It’s not wrong or bad, but with Seulgi specifically, I remember seeing an interview with her relatively early in my fan career where she was so quiet and stiff I wanted to cry. I’d never seen her like that before and I guess a part of my brain didn’t want to accept she’s ever like that. If it’s Bomi or Sooyoung or Solar or anyone usually off-the-walls and they suddenly get quiet, I’m like, “What’s wrong??” And, you know, it gets me thinking.
I swear I’m not the only one who notices, either. When prompted to give her introductory line by Wendy after the failed prank, Seulgi’s delivery is not to the satisfaction of Joy or Wendy. It’s a radio delivery, and broadly speaking it’s fine for that purpose, but NPR and Seulgi are on opposite poles of the excitement spectrum. And so this next part is delicate territory, because I don’t want to draw such an equation, but I do want to examine it: Seulgi is zany when Irene happens to be around, and when Seulgi is mellow, Irene ain’t there. So what I want to talk about here is not “what Seulgi should be like,” but how I’ve come to understand her, how Seulgi’s developed in my headcanon — she’s Garrus. She’s the “second-in-command” who is way too impressive to be second-in-command — and so the conclusion is that she’s there because she likes it.
I know it’s strange and possibly insulting to insist on a marginal role for her, but think about the benefits: there’s less pressure, you always have a friend, and you can sort of conceptualize yourself better with a frame of reference. If that third one sounded personal, it’s because this is a role that I’ve occupied for most of my life. With my best friend during childhood and then with my best friend in high school and college, I was the “second.” Didn’t do the talking, didn’t take the lead on things. It was fine. Not really the case these days, as I like to think of Donovan and myself as peers (yeah, right — especially in interviews with guests on our podcast, I basically don’t say anything), but my experience helps me understand Seulgi. I mean, she’s the sensitive painter, she’s the one who’s always still eating at the mukbangs, she’s the clumsy one dropping everything — she doesn’t always want to be on camera. But when she is on camera, when she’s performing, she’s unreal. So I think my headcanon can boil down to: Seulgi is extremely dedicated to her art, and she’s maybe not that interested in the riff-raff around it. If she can lean on Irene during the promotions, she can save her performance for when it counts the most.
I love Seulgi, but I also really love Irene and Seulgi, and it seems like those are two different things. Irene’s absence hits all the harder, then, but maybe it’s time I grow up about that, having whined about it multiple times on this blog alone. What if Irene really is out? What if she’d been out since last year, in answer to headlines such as “Irene Under Pressure to Quit Red Velvet Following Ugly Bullying Incident” from “Digital Music News.” Fuck that. But would it really be so bad?
You see, I did a forbidden thing, leaving a YouTube comment, on a video entitled “Momo & Heechul Sudden Break Up, Wendy SNL Backlash (FREE WENDY),” by KPOP Junkee, a true patriot who uses his platform for diplomacy, advising fans to slow their judgment and things like that, subtly steering crowd emotions toward the healthiest possible avenue. This episode included a news story about SM Entertainment facing backlash (a regular occurrence) because Wendy recently joined Korean SNL as a regular castmember. As Newsweek puts it, “Some fans fear for her safety as some crew members of the Korean spin-off of America’s SNL show were previously accused of sexually harassing some of its former K-pop idol guests in 2016. Others have said ‘she is a singer, not a comedian,’ noting the gig would not showcase her talents as a vocalist.”
Now, first of all, Wendy is funny as hell, as that prank should demonstrate (God, I love failed pranks. Solar, please have Wendy on Solarsido). I can’t speak to the other thing, about the sexual harassment, but my concern for now is simply this issue of “agency.” This was my comment: “I really don’t know how the entertainment industry works in Korea, so why is it that Wendy becoming a cast member on SNL is the doing of her agency and not herself? That’s quite different than the plight of aspiring actors on the U.S. SNL.” Of course, on U.S. SNL, you can work your ass off, even be on Mad TV, but Saturday Night Live will still go with Fred Armisen to play Barack Obama.
The first reply I got talked about “slave” contracts, and how SM in particular has been taken to court for their terrible treatment of idols. The second reply I got was “I’m not sure why some fans think these idols have zero say in what they want to do.” My response: “Now I have two contradictory responses.” But I’m willing to go with Theory 1, since it’s a popular belief, and as a result, I’m okay with Red Velvet ending soon — if it means the members end their contracts with SM. The group is nearing end of life after six/seven years, and everyone else is doing it, or at least being ambiguous about it (Apink, Mamamoo). Once Red Velvet is over, it’s imperative each member lands squarely. I don’t know that I want a weird Girls’ Generation scenario where it’s just Irene, Seulgi, and Wendy doing Red Velvet-Tri or something, though I suppose I could go either way on that.
Does Irene have the same pull as a Taeyeon or a Yoona that she can stay with SM and maintain some creative freedom? This is what I’ll stay up tonight thinking about, though it’s already quite late. Anyway, the Seulgi thing is just something I was trying to work out, but I know she’s her own person, and I love seeing her Avenger adventures. In fact, I’ll leave you today with one of Seulgi’s classics, when she surprised some dance students and, well, you’ll just have to see…
As a note, there was an article about Garrus or maybe the best Mass Effect squadmates with Garrus predictably at number one where he was described as someone who could be effective on his own, but chooses to stay, essentially, in Shepard’s shadow. He’s so much the same character as Shepard but he’s chosen — and so on, but I couldn’t find that article. Got washed out by all the Legendary Edition content re-ups.