One thing that Sunmi isn’t is a fluke. Since the unfortunate disbandment of Wonder Girls, Sunmi has extravagantly carved out her own space within the pop sphere that has seen her turning out self-reflective bangers always accompanied with though-provoking visuals. Her past hits, “Heroine” and “Noir” displayed Sunmi’s personal experiences on her sleeve detailing her struggle with her critics and her relationship with the toxicity of social media.
This time around, Sunmi’s brand of dynamic choreography and quirky visuals are cemented boldly with the release of her latest single “Lalalay.” Taking inspiration from the traditional Korean instrument taepyeongso, the song produced alongside DJ Frants, evokes an electro-pop flair complete with a sleek chorus drop. The vibrancy of the song is completed with the added whistle notes of the taepyeongso which turns the production into a dancehall-esque rhythm as Sunmi repeats the song’s title, “Lalalay.” Although its instrumentation might be a grower to some listeners, it’s really the music video that focuses on Sunmi’s current state of mind.
Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, the opening shot from the “Lalalay” music video parallels this natural cycle with Sunmi slowly opening herself up from a suitcase as she emerges fiercely to face the camera. Her dark green dress is paired with a short-haired platinum wig and funky 70’s sunglasses transforming Sunmi into a very Sia-inspired disguise. She is backed by several dances all in the same uniform attire as they monotonously start dancing in union. Of course, within every Sunmi music video is a deeper message waiting to be deciphered and “Lalalay” is no exception to the rule.
It’s hard not to connect Sunmi’s extravagant disguise to her life under the spotlight. From the start of her rookie days to a member of a generation’s girl group to her transition as a soloist, Sunmi has taken up many personas and undergone countless transformations. However, for the most part, Sunmi’s image as an idol is the projection of how her audience wants to see her as we are rightfully not entitled to know all details of Sunmi’s personal life. Nevertheless, we take what we can get and for Sunmi, the idea of having to disguise herself is a form of protection from both critics and the larger social world of netizens that have long gave her a reason to hide under a fabricated imaged forged by a company.
From the explicit commentary about her weight to the harsh critique of her legitimacy as an artist, Sunmi is no longer using a cacoon to hide beneath it all. Instead, what “Lalalay” offers is the transition from a misunderstood underdog to the confident idol that is no longer afraid of confrontation and being herself. This transition is echoed throughout the MV as the physical embodiment of a butterfly who seeks to showcase its colored wings to the world. When Sunmi hits up a salon her platinum wig is replaced by full luscious pigtails, eccentric as they are long. Her wardrobe is also altered to match a bold and colorful palette that subsequently matches the boldness of the song’s lyrics.
Because if the mood is good, I’m okay
If I’m criticized until I cruble to dust, I’m okay
What? No matter what you’re doing
You know I’m okay
“Lalalay” is told from Sunmi’s own perspective. It is detailing her unwillingness for negativity to break her wings. However, it doesn’t try to oversell how content she is within her current positon. Instead, more neutral terms like “I’m okay” and “fine” are used which is a perfect middle point between complete happiness and discontent as in the idol world no artist can really have their cake and eat it too.
Sunmi’s neutral emotions of stability are showcased in the MV as she takes the role of a captain miming the control of the plane. The plane is another illusion to a butterfly and as it tilts from side to side it is creativity able to showcase the turbulence of a butterfly’s journey filled with unexpected shifts and turns. But with Sunmi as the head captain, it reiterates her sentiment that through it all she will be doing okay because as a K-pop idol being Ok is the perfect survival instinct for achieving success.
The music video ends with Sunmi looking back towards a large portrait of a butterfly where her face is hidden below the wing’s flaps. This is her completed metamorphosis. Sunmi’s transformation only gets solidified in the last shot as she looks at herself in the mirror and takes off her synthetic wig. Not only does this demonstrate growth but it also displays Sunmi’s vulnerability that she showcased to the audience. From an onlooker’s perspective, it makes us requestion how we have perceived Sunmi and the ways in which we able to see her in a new light, leaving behind her past as she enters a new stage of maturity and artistic relevance.
“Lalalay” sees Sunmi at her most creative state as it is able to present a personal narrative with dynamic relatability. The music video is a tell-all showing Sunmi to be just fine as she navigates her stardom filled lifestyle that naturally comes with as many lows as there are highs. If this era personifies Sunmi as a butterfly ready to take flight, there is no exact assurance of where she will go next especially in concerning her sound but it’s best to just step aside and watch the beauty happen.
(YouTube, Images via: MakeUs Entertainment)