Red Velvet Aims for Duality with “Chill Kill”

Red Velvet have returned after a year with “Chill Kill,” the title track from their same-named third full album. Throughout their career, Red Velvet’s singles have often been divided into bright, poppy ‘red’ concepts and dark, mature, and R&B-influenced ‘velvet’ ones. However, recent classical-bubblegum pop hybrids “Birthday” and “Feel My Rhythm,” deviated from this divide somewhat. “Chill Kill,” on the other hand, is a distinctly ‘Red Velvet’ song and video, combining moody verses and a vibrant chorus to represent both sides of the group’s sound. 

This comeback presents another duality: Wendy has described “Chill Kill” as “showing both tragedy and hope.” The tragedy element is immediately suggested in the first verse, with opening instrumentals setting an eerie tone. Similarly, in the MV, the establishing shot displays a framed photograph on a table, an apparent family portrait of the members and a man, with his head blacked out. In another scene, the man is sliced out of the photo. Other scenes suggest that the members are confined to their house (perhaps by their father, or some other paternal-acting captor). Wendy gestures to the others to be silent, opens a locked door, and heads upstairs. When the other girls join her later, there are shards of glass and blood. It becomes apparent the man is the ‘kill’ of this video.

If the video does represent hope and tragedy, then dancing may signify a coping mechanism in a stifling situation. With the choreography scenes cutting to show Red Velvet dancing in different outfits (the feminine white and blue dresses from the day of the killing, and the more grunge-inspired outfits from the aftermath), it is suggested how frequently the girls attempt to find happiness and solace.

While the choreography scenes hint about how Red Velvet attempt to cope, the video feels disconcerting when the chorus shifts to a major key and the members declare in effervescent stacked vocals, “Don’t think about tomorrow.” Much of the imagery during the first chorus contradicts the idea that this act of violence is easy to forget: the members wash away blood in a sink or roll up carpet to conceal the killing, while Joy, Yeri and Wendy look distraught. The video continues to depict varying degrees of guilt over the murder, with Seulgi and a distressed Joy arguing over a rock (the murder weapon?), and Irene comforting Yeri, who can do little more than stare at the TV.  

Red Velvet videos like “Peek-a-Boo” have previously depicted them as murderers, but in a way that is simultaneously cute, quirky, and creepy. There are suggestions of violence, but a skirting around the real world consequences of it. “Chill Kill,” on the other hand, lacks the kaleidoscopic color or campiness that would make the irony of the chorus feel fun. Instead, in relatively muted tones, it dramatizes the effects of violence on its perpetrators, both in terms of emotional distress and the threat of punishment (as police cars circle the members by the video’s end). 

At the same time, the video does not go as dark as viewers may have anticipated, or wanted. Some of the concept photos, with their muted tones and traditional dress and setting, recalled Park Chan-Wook’s film The Handmaiden, which also involved women seeking vengeance on men who entrap and abuse them. The trailer for “Chill Kill”, released the week before the MV, took inspiration from Hitchcock and other horror masters. The actual “Chill Kill” MV, however, left out the compelling images in the teaser material. For those who followed the pre-release promotional cycle, there are so many unfulfilled expectations that the actual music video can feel like a letdown. 

There is also a bit of a disconnect between the lyrics and the video. In an interview with Spotify Korea, Joy describes “Chill Kill” as something that “breaks the silence,” introducing powerful emotion. The song portrays the appearance of a love who jolts the speaker out of complacency, as Joy’s lyric “What brings you here all of a sudden?” suggests. The first pre-chorus (and much of the rest of the song) focuses on Red Velvet’s desire for this relationship:

But I wanna see you again
Regretting so bad I could die
Yeah, I don’t care if it hur-hur-hurts
Perfect soul looks perfect on you

The narratives of the song and video do not particularly match, and in general “Chill Kill” initially feels muddled in its execution, requiring some time to appreciate what it is trying to do, on its own terms. The transcendent bridge, with heavenly layered harmonies set over 80s-style synths, is the point when the song seems to click. The bridge also provides a turning point in the narrative. Donning parts of costumes (wings for Irene, an eyepatch for Joy, and a bridal veil for Yeri), the members take the things of value from the house, and then set it on fire. Following this act, the girls run through the forest, all smiling – they found hope through leaving behind the traumatic past and banding together. It is at this point that the chorus is the most buoyant and convincing, adding a few more lines:

Don’t think about tomorrow
Forget about your sorrow
Gonna change, and you can’t leave me
Tears down my cheeks melting that ice

The lyric “forget about your sorrow” occurs for the first time in this final chorus. In the context of the music video, burning down the house feels like the opportunity to forget about the past. It is a moving, but short-lived moment. As the police respond to the arson and surround the girls, Irene drops her red-stained wings and baggage. The other members follow suit and start to dance, then they all form a circle holding hands. Like how the chorus is cut short with the vocals and instrumentals quickly trailing off at the end, so are Red Velvet’s hopes of total liberation. The final image of the group holding hands conveys acceptance of their fate, as long as they remain together.

“Chill Kill” is definitely a grower, especially for any listeners expecting a full ‘velvet’ concept. The contrast between the verses and chorus make for a compelling storytelling device, though it takes a few viewings of the MV for all the disparate elements of the song and its imagery to come together. 

(Korea JoongAng Daily, Twitter [1][2], YouTube. Lyrics via YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment).

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