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Seulgi was the first member to be cast as an S.M. Entertainment trainee through an audition in 2007, while Irene was cast in 2009, and Yeri in 2011. In 2012, Wendy and Joy were cast through the S.M. Global Auditions in Canada and Seoul respectively. Irene, Seulgi and Wendy were introduced initially to the public through the agency's pre-debut team SM Rookies in 2013 and 2014, and they were rumored to debut as a group in July, which was then confirmed by S.M. Entertainment. With the addition of member Joy, the four-member group would debut as Red Velvet, S.M. Entertainment's first girl group in five years since f(x).
Red Velvet is known for their unique dual concept which has never been seen before among South Korean girl groups. These two concepts are dubbed their 'Red' and 'Velvet' sides which influences both their image and the music they release. The 'Red' half is their brighter and bubblier side while their 'Velvet' image is their softer, more mature and elegant concept.
Their music falls under two themes which corresponds to their two concepts. Because the 'Red' side is more youthful, it is predominantly pop, while their sophisticated 'Velvet' side heavily features the R&B and ballad genres. Both sides aren't limited to these genres, however. KookMin Ilbo noted that their music isn't as simple as being 'dance' vs. 'ballad' and are often mixed with other elements. Their debut single "Happiness" which was considered as their first song under the 'Red' concept, is an urban europop song fused with an intense synth sound and an African music beat. Their second single "Be Natural" saw a completely different image of the group and is described as classic R&B, which embodies their 'Velvet' side.
Their first extended play Ice Cream Cake presented their dual concept for the first time, and they promoted with two singles, the R&B/neo-soul "Automatic" and the dance-pop song "Ice Cream Cake". The music videos of each song showed the contrast between the two concepts as "Ice Cream Cake"'s had a colorful, playful setting with a fast-paced choreography while the "Automatic" music video had a darker theme and more sensual dance. Billboard's Jeff Benjamin stated that the album "did a good job at establishing the two sides of their musical identity". Their first studio album The Red which focuses solely on the 'Red' side of their music was followed up by the EP The Velvet, focusing on their 'Velvet' songs as the title suggests. The group's first summer album titled The Red Summer with the lead single "Red Flavor", once again focused on their 'Red' concept, after two releases (Russian Roulette, Rookie) without separating the two. The tracks from their second studio album Perfect Velvet were still considered as part of the 'Velvet' side of their music but with hints of 'Red', which their company believed is the perfect formula for the concept, hence the title. While The Velvet was still a commercial success, it was one of the group's least successful single and album. Critics claimed that the release of the EP was a crucial step to introduce the 'Velvet' side to the public, but ultimately it was Perfect Velvet that allowed it to gain recognition. The album, which incorporates not only R&B tracks and ballads as was expected from their 'Velvet' concept, also features dance-pop, electronic pop, disco and even elements of hip-hop. Upon its release, the group was praised for their versatility and it was hailed as one of the most diverse albums by a K-pop artist.
This dual image also affects the members' styling. For their 'Red' concept, they are usually dressed in colorful, girlish clothing, such as the pastel sweaters and skirts from "Ice Cream Cake" or the red doll outfits from "Dumb Dumb".On the other hand, they are dressed more maturely for their 'Velvet' side, most notably, when the girls wore suits for "Be Natural". The group has been compared to their S.M. Entertainment seniors, Girls' Generation and f(x), with a consensus that while Girls' Generation in their early years released the standard bubblegum pop with a feminine image expected from most girl groups and f(x) is recognized for their electropop-based music and experimental style, Red Velvet is seen as a combination of the two, but still on a class of their own. Paul Bowler of uDiscover Music remarked that the group was "designed to combine the sophistication of f(x) with the effervescence of Girls' Generation". Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum of Idolator also commented that "If Girls' Generation is the eldest sister who is classy and square, and f(x) is the cool, alternative middle sister, Red Velvet is the youngest one who steals the middle sister's clothes, acts like the eldest, but is still a bit weird.
Red Velvet has been lauded for breaking stereotypes among popular girl groups in South Korea whose concepts tend to fall under two categories which are 'cute or pure' and 'sexy', often to fulfill a certain fantasy. In a country where girl groups' fanbases are typically mostly male, according to Taylor Glasby of Dazed Digital, majority of theirs are young women and commented that "They're neither sexy nor innocent, with music videos that are often dark, trippy, sinister, or haunting, even when they're flooded in pastel colours". In 2017, IZE Magazine named the group as one of the successful female figures who helped transform the "passive image" of South Korean women at a time when feminism had risen as an issue in the country. The group's music also sets them apart from other K-pop artists. K-pop idols in general suffer from a prejudice that they aren't considered 'real artists' by music critics in their native country. Because of the group's diverse musical inspirations and styles, they claimed that Red Velvet has pushed the boundaries of 'idol music'.
- "Telemonster OST" (2016)