Sunmi – ‘1/6’ review: a retro-inspired deep dive into the K-pop star’s mental health

The former Wonder Girls member uses her third mini-album to reiterate her reputation as K-pop’s premier female soloist through vulnerability and experimentation

“I think it’s important to reflect on yourself, to learn what you like and what you’re good at, to learn how to deal with your feelings,” Sunmi once said of her mental health. At the time, the singer was one of the stars of the Mnet reality TV series Running Girls – alongside Chung Ha, EXID’s Hani, LOONA’s Chuu and OH MY GIRL’s YooA – where she opened up about being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

The singer explained how her struggles have influenced many of the decisions she’s made regarding her career – an experience that, undoubtedly, has had an impact on the kind of music she produces. That’s certainly evident in her third mini-album ‘1/6’, a six-track project that uses the lively retro elements to give insight into her personal struggles and anxieties.

On it, Sunmi opens up about her experiences with borderline personality disorder. “When my helpless thoughts are submerged / Under one glass of water and three pills / The many noises disappear,” she croons on the mini-album’s namesake ‘1/6’. The track provides a calming change to her normally dance-driven songs, combining elements of indie rock and synth-pop to deliver an ethereal, evocative listen.

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‘Borderline’, meanwhile, delves deeper into the emotional aspect of her diagnosis. First released in 2020, the English-language track showcases Sunmi’s ability to paint vivid imagery through her songwriting (“I got too hyped, unstable eyes / Hands, hair, and words are all over the place”). Drawing influences from alternative rock, Sunmi closes the mini-album with the strongest and most moving showcase of her artistry.

But not all of Sunmi’s emotionally-charged musings on mental health draw inspiration from rock. One such example is ‘Narcissism’, a track that takes elements from the EDM pop songs of 2015 to chronicle the experience of losing your sense of self (“I don’t even know who I am / I shrunk myself into the mold that you built”)

And in true Sunmi fashion, the mini-album isn’t without its retro-inspired songs. Since her early days with Wonder Girls to even now in her own solo material, Sunmi has tried it all, from disco (2010’s ‘2 Different Tears’) to city pop (2020’s ‘Pporappippam’) and nearly everything between. This time around, she tries her hand at synthwave (think TWICE’s ‘I Can’t Stop Me’ and EVERGLOW’s ‘La Di Da’) on the mini-album’s title track ‘You Can’t Sit With Us’.

Sunmi manages to make it into her own with an off-kilter arrangement (courtesy of co-writers Melanie Fontana, Michel “Lindgren” Schulz and Ross Golan) that uses a moody, infectious chorus to drive the track forward, alongside a rapid-fire English-language rap verse – although Sunmi’s self-penned lyrics do come off a tab bit awkward at times.

Of the retro-inspired concepts that Sunmi has utilised thus far, ‘You Can’t Sit With Us’ is definitely the most in-your-face, using ’80s elements in both the song and its flashy music video to give the track energy without overpowering Sunmi’s vocal delivery.

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Its succeeding track, ‘Sunny’, employs vivid imagery of summer love and lazy days by the beach. The track retains the lively, high-energy momentum that pushed the title track forward through a snappy combination of rhythmic kickdrums and synthesizers – but its strength lies in the clever, tongue-in-cheek lyricism (“I’ll be your Sunmi, Sunmi / Under this sky we are sunny, sunny”).

Offering a thematic contrast to the romantic nature of ‘Sunny’ is ‘Call’, a nu-disco track that talks about the aftermath of a bad break-up (“Used to call you, ‘my boy’ / And now you call me, ‘mad girl’). Unfortunately, the track as a whole falls flat, with the beat running a little stagnant and it fails to be as memorable as the rest of the songs on the album.

The beauty of Sunmi’s third mini-album ‘1/6’ lies in its ability to take the lively, upbeat elements of synth- and dance pop and use them to confront her anxieties. Through ‘1/6’, Sunmi showcases never-before-seen dimensions of herself – both as an artist finding new ways to innovate and as a person coming to terms with their mental health – all while producing music that establishes her reputation as one of South Korea’s top female solo performers.

Details

sunmi 1/6 review you can’t sit with us
  • Release date: August 6
  • Record label: Abyss Company
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