Courtesy of SM Entertainment
Less than two full months into 2019, and the pure deluge of Korean acts who have announced their plans to tour in the U.S. this year is equal parts exciting and overwhelming. On one hand, it’s unprecedented and proves just how much global interest there is in K-pop, which up until now has been considered a very niche medium. But the stats don’t lie: K-pop garnered over 5.3 billion tweets last year, and its passionate fans continue to rally for their faves (or, biases) on social media — trending hashtags, dominating the Billboard Social 50 chart, and showing their support on apps like Korea’s V Live.
So, logically speaking, of course now is the perfect time for these artists to come to the U.S. and build off this enthusiasm for a more diverse musical landscape.
Enter Red Velvet, a dynamic quintet who have been serving up their distinct flavors with powerhouse vocals, tight vocal harmonies, and boundless personality since their debut in 2014. Members Irene, Seulgi, Wendy, Joy, and Yeri (who officially joined the group in 2015) kicked off the North American leg of their Redmare world tour earlier this month, and with stops across the U.S. and Canada — including an emotional night in Toronto, vocalist Wendy’s hometown — Red Velvet have accomplished something no other K-pop girl group has since 2016. Not to mention, a U.S. tour is a major flex for any foreign act.
Red Velvet perform at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on February 17, 2019
But for Red Velvet, bringing Redmare halfway across the world wasn’t about setting records or making history; it was about their fans (affectionately called ReVeluvs).
“I love that we’re able to be a little closer to our fans in a more intimate setting,” Joy told MTV News, via an interpreter, ahead of their Newark concert last week. It’s that closeness that makes the experience of performing for crowds in the U.S. a bit different for Red Velvet. Much of the Redmare set is dedicated to their cheerier, quirkier pop songs, like “Russian Roulette,” “Happiness,” and the anthemic “Power Up!” — which, according to Seulgi, is the most fun to perform live for Western audiences.
“The fans really get into it, and they’re dancing along with us,” she said. “Some people are so energetic and so passionate about it that they’re wearing banana costumes. That makes us laugh.”
For context, people wearing banana costumes and singing along to the group’s incredibly catchy hook of “ba-banana ba-ba-banana-nana” is the general vibe of a Red Velvet concert. The group’s vivid pop aesthetic is vibrantly on display, both in their colorful performance and in the VCRs (or short vignettes) that break up the set — there is, in fact, a narrative to Redmare and it involves a robot named Rêve who kidnaps the girls and takes them to a wacky amusement park where they get hunted by animal poachers, concoct a potion that transforms half the group into giants and shrinks the others, and tour a creepy haunted house in designer threads.
But that unexpectedness is built into the group’s DNA; Red signals their pop side — bursts of color, sounds, and buoyant concepts — while Velvet shows off R&B flavor — these songs are moodier and more sensual, like last year’s knockout, “Bad Boy.” And while Redmare leans heavily on the group’s Red material, the show’s final act goes full Velvet with “Bad Boy,” “Peek-A-Boo,” and “Really Bad Boy” — a trio of songs with lush melodies and slick girl-crush vibes.
When asked if there are any major differences between the crowds in the U.S. and in their native Korea, they remarked that their fans bring a lot of energy, regardless of where they’re from — but that it’s dispersed in different ways. “In America, they’re really energetic, they’re hyped up,” Joy said. “In Korea, they sing along with us. They’re fan-chanting, and things like that.”
“I think it’s because they understand Korean, like back at home they know what we’re saying,” Wendy added. “But here [in the U.S.], fans just feel the music with their whole body. It’s intense.”
Red Velvet fans attend the U.S. leg of the Redmare world tour
While language barriers can hardly stop the most dedicated fans from participating in the fan chants (a staple of K-pop), Red Velvet did add the English-language versions of “Bad Boy” and “Really Bad Boy” — their first time performing the latter live — to their Redmare set especially for their North American fans. “I hope our fans see our energy on stage,” said Wendy. “And our hard work,” adding that their goal is to make their fans happy.
Of course, in between stops in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Newark, the group has made sure to make themselves happy, too. Seulgi has been sightseeing and eating delicious food; Joy has been checking in on her puppy, Haenim (“It means sunshine,” she said), back in Korea; and Yeri has been writing a lot of songs and listening to a lot of Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next. Her favorites so far? “7 Rings,” “NASA,” and “Ghostin’.” In fact, Yeri’s Ari obsession has even inspired Joy to reminisce on their pre-debut days — something she’s been doing a lot of in light of their tour.
“I’ve been reminiscing on my trainee days when we used to practice and train for this group,” Joy said. “And the album that really gave me a lot of strength, that I listened to a lot was Ariana Grande’s Yours Truly. So even now I play it and think back on those memories.”
Joy isn’t the only one reflecting on Red Velvet’s journey — and their future. In 2019, leader Irene says that she “wants do more things that I enjoy and find pleasure in.” That emphasis on self-care and self-improvement is a big one for everyone in the group. Joy wants to show more of herself to the fans; Seulgi wants to be “more diligent and hard-working,” adding, “In 2018, there were things that I wanted to do, but wasn’t able to fulfill those goals. So I want to take more action this year.” Meanwhile, Wendy wants to “be better me in everything, in career and just as myself.”
And then there’s Yeri, the youngest member, who puts all of the group’s diligence into perspective: “I just want to live a fun life and enjoy it.”
Because not every K-pop group wants to take the U.S. by storm and smash records. Sometimes, they just want to bring music to their fans and enjoy the crazy ride. And doesn’t that sound a lot more fun?