2018 saw the resurgence of female soloists fully take shape, with women taking the stage in evocative ways; bringing their own life experiences to K-pop in a way that hadn’t happened before. Among those soloists, Sunmi claimed a place at the top, with her hits “Heroine” and “Siren” proving her skills as a composer and lyricist, as well as providing us with some of the most thought-provoking MVs of the year.
Now back with “Noir”, Sunmi has proved that neither of these is a fluke. “Noir” has cemented Sunmi as the queen of melancholy dance-pop. She’s fully embraced synthpop, moving towards a more classic house sound. It’s a masterpiece of layering, allowing pieces to drop out and come back into the mix for an ever-shifting soundscape that utterly encapsulates the listener. The contrast of the stripped-back verses against the throbbing, tense mass that is the chorus is magnificent, all held together by Sunmi’s raw, emotional voice.
Lyrically, “Noir” is about a failing relationship– not one that’s ended, but it’s on the train to Splitsville. It’s her rumination on the end; viewing the split as inevitable and pondering how he knew, how she knew, and how to proceed. The key phrase “we are in noir” has two possible meanings.
The first reads noir as literal, the french word for black. They’ve reached the end, there’s nothing left, and it’s time to move forward. The other reads noir as the genre film noir– a genre characterized by cynicism and unhappy endings. This suggests Sunmi views her and her boyfriend as trapped in a film noir movie, forced to play out their roles and lead themselves to unavoidable heartache.
Still, while “Noir” is a fantastic song– and it is– the MV blows it out of the water. A satirical look at social media, and it’s toxic effects, “Noir” is a mirror to our generation. Sunmi takes the role of the Insta-famous, living it up on Instagram while not really living at all.
The keywords of “Noir” are “deliberate” and “juxtaposition”, as in the deliberate steps people take to present a glamorous image online, and the juxtaposition of the real world. This ranges from a garden selfie actually being taken in the bathroom to faking exotic trips to the Maldives and Himalayas. Sunmi shows us staged breakdowns, faked hospital visits, and a montage of outfits done just for the pics, all framed through Instagram and VLive. It’s a harsh reminder that the people whose lives appear perfect spend a lot of time making you think that.
Moreover, Sunmi delves into why people do this, because it’s easy to mock extremes, but the base behavior is one we’re all guilty of. A recurring motif is Sunmi eating candy hearts– the symbol of likes on Instagram and VLive. Like candy, the compliments and adoration offered by social media is very gratifying and can provide an instant pep. Also like candy, that devotion to attention is not good in the long run. Sunmi shows herself taking greater and greater risks in the name of likes, jumping onto a bed of nails and losing a finger. She also highlights the emotional toil that can be inflicted by cruel comments.
Yet, what really gives “Noir” it’s knockout punch is the stinger. Sunmi leaves the set after work, sees her car is on fire . . . and pulls out her phone for a selfie. That is the truth of “Noir”. We all love to rage about the toxicity of social media and people living through their feed, but we all do it. We all pick the best staging sites, choose the best filters, and post our lives on social media for others to admire. It forces us to admit our hypocrisy; and that any difference between Sunmi’s actions and ours is one of scale, not sin. I’ve never faked an international vacation, but I did humblebrag about it when I booked a real one.
“Noir” is another excellent track for Sunmi. It’s a perfect balance of darkness and manic energy, held together with biting wit and social satire that should hit too close to home. If this is any indicator of how Sunmi’s 2019 will go, it’s going to be good.
(Images via MakeUs Entertainment, YouTube)