In the years since the Wonder Girls‘ disbandment, Sunmi has molded a distinct, new image for her with her solo career. Her love for bold, gorgeous music videos, unique, sensual pop songs, weird and wonderful dance routines and supermodel-like stylishness have marked her out as one of the best solo artists in K-pop right now.
It is also clear that she is a skilled songwriter. She is credited as a songwriter for all of her solo songs including her hit breakout song, “Gashina” from 2017. Her lyrics repeatedly explore interesting themes related to relationships in particular, her romantic desires and her conflict with male fantasies and expectations. In this article, I will be focusing on her lead singles, “Full Moon” from 2014, “Gashina”, “Heroine” and “Siren” from 2018.
“Full Moon” is a song filled to the brim with desire and longing and this comes across so strongly in its lyrics. The song features Sunmi telling her love to come and see her on the night of the full moon, “the perfect night to whisper love.” This idea of the night of the full moon being significant is quite wide-spread particularly in astrology and various spiritualities. It is said to represent various things including the completion and realisation of your desires, fertility and maturity as well as being regarded as a feminine symbol. Some of these ideas are represented in the songs, especially the idea of it being a night of fulfilled desires, “coming soon the long-awaited dream.”
However, in the song, the main role of the lunar phase plays is heightening the atmosphere and mood. The way that the night is described makes it sound almost otherworldly. Everything is more meaningful (“The common words like I love you feel special tonight”) and more real (“Everything around us so so real..”) on that night.
The hit song, “Gashina” is a break-up song which focuses on recovering from a break-up. The song presents a kind of model that charts the stages of a recovery from a break-up, at least according to Sunmi. At first, she appears to be stuck dwelling on and reminiscing about the relationship. The lyrics paint a contrast between the relationship and the state of it now by using cold/hot metaphors, “Your cold eyes, they kill me. The fire in your heart that used to grow. Why are there only ashes remaining?” Then she moves onto the attempts to forget him and move on.
Here, Sunmi repeatedly uses the symbol of a flower to portray her feelings and actions
I’m gonna live like a flower, I’ll be myself.
Can’t nobody stop me now.
No try me.
Everyone wants my scent
The use of a flower for symbolism and imagery in the lyrics is a strange choice for portraying someone overcoming a break-up. They are typically regarded as delicate and sensitive; however Sunmi notes their great desirability and their thorns: “You’ll see me all sharp…And you’ll bow your head low. My thorns will dig deeper in you, yeah.”
In “Heroine”, Sunmi examines her “previous” relationship referenced to in “Gashina.” The lyrics depicts her relationship to him as very messy, dysfunctional and controlling with well-crafted lines like so:
In a movie only for us.
The real hero was you, baby.
As always the way you do like a splendid hero.
Throughout the song, she presents the relationship like it was a movie or a drama or a stage production where her boyfriend was a hero with all the control and authority.
While Sunmi suggests that she was in a secondary role behind him facing the effects of his actions despite it being as she calls the relationship “a movie only for us.” There is a clear frustration in this song that comes through in every line particularly in the final brilliant lines, at the end of the relationship she says “The show must go on. The show must go on. You must go on.”
Finally in “Siren”, Sunmi directly pushes against male fantasies by comparing herself to a siren. Sirens or mermaids as they are usually called are depicted in both ancient and modern culture as for the most part, dangerous, seductive temptresses. Sunmi in these lyrics leans into these ideas about the mythical creatures, particularly in the first verse,
I told you not to be deceived.
That the moment you take this hand, it’ll be dangerous.
Now you’re bleeding, but are you still attracted?
You clearly know but why are you staring at me?
However, her push back does not seem to work at all as the man appears to cling desperately to his fantasies even with the danger, “Can’t you see? Your hand that can’t let go is slowly getting red.” Throughout the song, Sunmi becomes more and more direct even saying “The beautiful me of your fantasies doesn’t exist (Can’t you see that boy?).” showing a great annoyance with these men’s failure to deal with reality.
Sunmi should be recognized and acknowledged as a great songwriter. Her songs are great pop songs, yes but they also feature well-crafted lyrics which are filled with imagery and symbolism and tackle interesting topics that are not usually covered in K-pop.
(Youtube; Images via Makeus Entertainment, JYP Entertainment)