Since Wonder Girls disbanded in 2017, Sunmi has ensured that her own music stepped away from the girl group’s signature retro-inspired sound, working closely with hitmakers like Teddy Park and Frants (aka Choi Seok) to reinvent herself. But even after a clutch of non-album singles – plus two solo EPs, one released on her former agency JYP Entertainment – there’s still an air of mystery surrounding Sunmi’s artistic identity. It beckons the question: Who is the real Sunmi, after all? Enter ‘TAIL’, an alluring two-song concept release that is intent on proving her seriousness as a solo artist.
Penned by Sunmi and co-composed with Frants, the lead single ‘TAIL’ taps into the singer’s sexual desires and fantasies. It’s described as a song about a “super sensitive cat woman villainess who wants love with all her heart, expressing her deepest instinctive feelings”. Think DC Comics’ anti-heroine Selina Kyle, but if she was put in a musical, and her only crime is being a hopeless romantic rather than a skilled thief.
“Animals use their tail to express their emotions,” Sunmi explains of the concept behind ‘TAIL’, per The Korean Herald. “I liked the frankness of this instinctive behaviour and the word ‘tail’ just left a huge impact in my mind.”
Sunmi manifests these animalistic ideas through various ways: she stretches out her vocals and draws them out to mimic a feline’s yowl, and instead of crooning, she purrs. There’s also clever use of metaphors peppered throughout. “Kiss each other like crazy / Wag our tails frantically,” she coos.
The concept is brought to life visually, too. In the accompanying music video, Sunmi plays her own version of Catwoman, borrowing liberally and specifically from Michelle Pfeiffer’s on-screen adaptation of Kyle. She prances around in a skintight leather outfit and recreates Pfeiffer’s dramatic interpretation of the woman scorned. It’s flirty and seductive, and a bold offering from a star who wants to leave her mark.
Meanwhile, the soul-infused B-side track ‘What The Flower’ – a cheeky wordplay on the common English swear phrase – is a welcome addition to Sunmi’s synth-laden discography. Her lush vocals moving nimbly across sparkling guitar work and warm piano. “You’re such a flower,” she mocks, “What the flower.” It’s disguised as a sophisticated kiss-off with a wistful undertone (Why, you don’t have to smile / Because you’ll still be pretty), but the subtle sarcasm in Sunmi’s voice is perfectly in line with her ballsy, middle-fingers-up persona.
Although it makes perfect sense that ‘TAIL’ was picked as the lead single from the project, it’s such a shame that ‘Flower’ wasn’t given a chance to shine. If Sunmi’s goal was to demonstrate her capabilities as a versatile artist, then it has been a huge misstep not to take the risk. While it isn’t a guaranteed chart-smasher like her previous electroglam bangers ‘Gashina’ or ‘Siren’, ‘What The Flower’ is refreshing because it utterly defies the Sunmi formula; the simplicity in its melody, production and lyricism make it outstanding and attractive. It’s also a joy to hear Sunmi’s vocals front and centre, freed from bombastic productions that sometimes threaten to swallow her whole.
The pair of songs work well together, presenting new facades to a beloved veteran performer. They act as a promising preview of Sunmi’s new era, which points, quite possibly, to a proper studio full-length at last. During a showcase performance for ‘TAIL’, Sunmi had hinted that a longer project is in the pipeline, though it’s unclear if the new songs are a prelude to her upcoming release.
But if ‘TAIL’ and ‘What The Flower’ are anything to go by, then by all means, bring on Sunmi’s album.