The Korea Herald


Singer-songwriter Sunmi: 'My music is an exhibition of myself'

Sunmi returns with self-made album, 'Stranger'

By Choi Ji-won

Published : Oct. 17, 2023 - 18:20

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Sunmi poses for picture at a conference for her new single, Sunmi poses for picture at a conference for her new single, "Stranger," in Seoul, Tuesday. (Abyss Company)

Solo singer Sunmi's music is definitely one-of-a-kind, so much so that it has earned itself the name "Sunmi-pop" from the public.

A decade into walking her own path, Sunmi says she now has nothing new to show with her music. Instead of bringing "new" to the stage, she hopes to deliver music that reflects her true self.

The latest of such efforts is visible in her new single, "Stranger." Sunmi returned to the music scene for the first time in a year and four months, during which she toured the world with her second global concert series.

While many singers stress about what novelty their new album carries, Sunmi says "Stranger" is about the Sunmi that we all know and have missed for so long.

"'Sunmi-ish' would be the best description for this album. In all things 'Sunmi-ish,' there is humor within the serious. In the new music video, I'm always poring over something and working really hard, but for a reason, it's comical. That's who I am," the singer said Tuesday during a press conference for "Stranger."

"Stranger" is a three-song single produced by the singer. It consists of three songs that she composed and penned lyrics to: "Stranger," "Calm Myself" and "Call My Name."

With the title song "Stranger," Sunmi, herself, becomes a stranger.

"I've always shown Sunmi in different situations, but this time, I viewed myself from an outside perspective. I became the stranger," she said.

The "Mr. Stranger" inside the lyrics is a genderless expression symbolizing the unfamiliar being, she explained. In the music video, the real Sunmi creates an imaginary Sunmi.

"That process of crafting a new Sunmi is what I've always done as a singer. Sunmi off the stage and on stage are very different and I've always felt that the onstage Sunmi is strange. I still do actually, and I portrayed that emotion with the song," she said.

Narcissism threads through the three songs, the singer noted. With "Calm Myself," an English-lyric song that opens the album, Sunmi sings of healing herself.

"I wrote the song when I realized that I've become stronger. I sing that a cup of tea is enough to calm me, which means I'm now able to regain composure easily even when I break down."

Sunmi poses for picture at a conference for her new single, Sunmi poses for picture at a conference for her new single, "Stranger," in Seoul, Tuesday. (Abyss Company)

The moment of realization opened her eyes to a new side of herself, and "Calm Myself" naturally leads to the next track, "Stranger."

The last song, "Call My Name," is about self-love sung from the fans' perspective.

"I became a fan of myself. It's about loving oneself, something I've repeatedly emphasized over the past years to everyone. If we don't look after ourselves, no one will. This is also the overall message of the whole album. It embodies the love for oneself and for the people who love us."

The last track was inspired by her fans, Miya-ne, she said.

"I wrote down the messages my fans had sent me. Many fans tell me, 'If you say you're worthless, I'll tell you you're valuable. If you say you're ugly, I'll tell you you're pretty.' And, I also say this back to my fans. One of the biggest reasons why I write songs is them. I want to heal and comfort them with my songs."

Sunmi is now in the seventeenth year of her singing career. She debuted in 2007 as a member of the girl group Wonder Girls, and came out solo in 2013 with her mega-hit "24 Hours." Since then, she has established her own niche of toxically addictive melodies matched by stunning performances.

While staying true to her own colors, she kept on exploring new things as an artist, the 31-year-old musician said.

Turning into a singer-songwriter was one big challenge that she continued throughout her solo career. And that is why she believes people listen to her music.

"I think people (relate to) me because I share my own stories. They're curious about what I would talk about through my music and performances. That's why I've always thought I had to become a producer eventually."

Realistically speaking, producing has also helped Sunmi navigate and survive the cutthroat K-pop industry.

"It's not easy for female solo singers to thrive for long. I was very lucky to continue like this for 17 years, and I think one big factor that played critically in prolonging my longevity was that I started producing. It's granted me more opportunities and extended my time," Sunmi said.

Sunmi poses for picture at a conference for her new single, Sunmi poses for picture at a conference for her new single, "Stranger," in Seoul, Tuesday. (Abyss Company)

The singer hoped to continue music as a means of manifestation. Rather than competing with someone or even with her past self, she hoped to make music through which she could express the real "Sunmi."

"I don't think about overcoming my past self or outperforming it. Doing music now feels more like making an exhibition about Sunmi. ... Hopefully I can continue to be a singer and producer who tells my own stories."

Sunmi's new single "Stranger" came out at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.