Guest Post: Sunmi’s Reverberating “Warning”
Sunmi began her glittering solo reign in August 2017 when she released “Gashina,” her first song after leaving the popular K-Pop girl band the Wonder Girls. After its instant success, she released another hit single in January 2018 titled “Heroine.” Finally, after nearly nine months, she returned to the music scene with a mini-album entitled Warning and her newest single, “Siren.”
Warning begins with “Addict,” an intro with a haunting sound and pulsating beats. Entirely in English, Sunmi begins by almost mockingly asking the listener, “Who’s running the show?” She beckons the listener into her world with confidence, repeatedly affirming that she is a star with a light that cannot be put out; a leader, not a follower. As the beats slow to an end, Sunmi asserts that, “You can’t deny that you’re already addicted to me.” Indeed, Warning’s evocative first track undeniably “addicts” its listeners, leaving them craving for more.
In Greek mythology, sirens were deceptively beautiful creatures that lured unsuspecting sailors to their deaths; sirens are also devices that are used to signal danger. In "Siren," the mini-album's lead single, both concepts are used to reflect Sunmi's desire to warn her admirer of her perilous beauty. She repeatedly apprises him about her tendency to leave him hurt and bleeding, and demands to know why he continues to fall for her nevertheless. Similarly, the music video depicts various symbols that echo the song’s themes of danger, destruction, and toxic relationships—namely flashing red lights, an enormous cage, and a Siren perched on a washing machine in an ocean-like set.
“Siren” was originally intended for the Wonder Girls, which is clear in its familiar elements of ‘80s Pop music and Hip-Hop. The song begins with the jarring shriek of sirens, immediately hooking the listener. The verses are sung in an aloof tone, but the chorus showcases Sunmi belting aggressively as she commands her admirer to “get out of her face.” Although most of the song maintains a cohesive sound, its instrumental suddenly morphs into a hip-hop bridge where Sunmi both raps and sings her verse before the final chorus.
Life is a journey rife with twists and turns, and “Curve” reveals that no one seems to know this better than Sunmi herself. In the album’s third track, Sunmi describes how life is not a straight path, but rather one that is curved and ever-changing. She comforts the listener by gently saying that she “knows that they are scared and shaking,” but that they must slow down as they go through life, lest things fall apart. In contrast to Sunmi’s previously-released material, “Curve”’s instrumental is mellow and warm. Over beats laced with a piano melody, Sunmi’s vocals are calm, reflecting a woman who has experienced life—both the painful and the beautiful—and has come out of it content and self-assured.
As compared to their white counterparts, black pearls are more expensive and coveted because of their dark, enigmatic glow. In “Black Pearl,” Sunmi compares herself to a black pearl; she is a gem who is highly acclaimed and admired by her audience. However, she details how she feels she is simply viewed as “a pretty product” and that, contrary to popular belief, her life of fame can be “dirty, sick, and painful.” In an industry that is often criticized for its portrayal of artists as products made for public consumption—rather than as human beings—as well as for its tendency to wear a veil of perfection, Sunmi’s words are revolutionary.
Like its predecessor, “Black Pearl” is a slow-burning track that once again displays Sunmi’s calmer vocals. The difference in “Curve” and “Black Pearl,” however, lies in “Black Pearl”’s jazzier undertones, which are a result of the saxophone and piano in the song’s alluring instrumental.
As the album’s first single, “Gashina” is known as the song that began the journey that Warning’s release ended. Furthermore, like “Siren,” its title experiments with double-meanings; “Gashina” refers to both thorns and farewells. In the song, Sunmi questions the man who left her, demanding to know how he could bear to leave her behind. She begins the song by indignantly—but poignantly—describing how he became distant and uninterested in her. Slowly, as she begins to realize her worth, comparing herself to blooming flowers, the pre-chorus begins. It starts off softly—perhaps representing Sunmi’s quietly ominous desire to forget who jilted her—and gradually progresses into a faster pace as she confidently assures herself that “everyone wants to smell her fragrance.” Just before the powerful, unforgettable chorus, Sunmi asks one last question: “How could you leave such a beautiful woman like me behind?”
“Heroine,” which is heavily influenced by the Tropical House and Britpop genres, describes the aftermath of “Gashina”; it expresses how she must move on from the pain she was left with in the latter song. The defining phrase in “Heroine” is “The show must go on”—reflecting its lyrical themes, “Heroine”’s tempo is faster and, unlike its predecessor’s slightly darker one, its chorus is noticeably brighter and more upbeat.
The album ends with “Secret Tape,” a track that is said to be about Red Velvet’s Seulgi, one of Sunmi’s close friends. “Secret Tape” is a dreamy outro that is laced with the soft sounds of guitars and drums. The song is short and sweet, detailing a friendship that blossoms because of its beautiful memories and secrets. Sunmi assures that even the bad days—the ones with the awkwardness and wrong decisions—will be remembered as precious parts of a loving relationship. The track ends with Sunmi asking her friend to promise not to tell anyone else about their memories.
In an industry saturated with bright, poppy soloists, Sunmi has long stood out with her moodier, more eclectic sound and image—similarly, in Warning’s three singles, “Gashina,”“Heroine,” and “Siren,” she does not hesitate to showcase the intense, irreverent side to her. Another defining characteristic of Sunmi’s unique identity as an artist is her willingness to explore controversial themes and unconventional genres of music, which is demonstrated in “Black Pearl”and “Curve” accordingly. Therefore, although Sunmi has been popular and highly acclaimed since the beginning of her solo career, Warning and her unique artistic identity have undeniably cemented her image as one of the most trailblazing artists in the K-Pop industry yet.
Zamiya J. Akbar is a writer and photographer, but her favorite hobby is wearing thick jackets during summer. She also enjoys being outdoors, binge-watching TV shows in her free time, and isolating herself from the rest of society. You can contact her on Instagram, or visit her Tumblr or Quora.
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