Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

Sunmi – Siren

Pound the alarm…


Ryo Miyauchi: Coming from “Gashina,” with one inert drop as a hook to Sunmi’s break-up-driven vengeance, the chorus of “Siren” redeems what could’ve been by leaning deeply into her thrilling relationship drama. Not only does the galloping electro bass line add a feeling of acceleration missing from the blown-up chorus of “Heroine,” it intensifies the sense of collapse as if she must rush to the finish or else she will be caved in the emotional rubble. It provides enough power to outshine the other parts: her “it’s not you, it’s me” story in the verses isn’t very essential, and the breakdown ends up stunting the momentum. Everything else just takes time away from its beating chorus.

Lilly Gray: Sunmi is hitting that Amazon (Wonder Woman, not Jeff Bezos) stride in this release, as her two previous songs we’ve covered here seem along the same lines: the world is a ridiculous no-win setup for women, so why not stomp right through it? Kiss the boys and make them cry. Or bleed. I like Sunmi’s theatrical, lawless woman, but I do not like that drop at around the 2:40 mark. If you’re supposed to take off one accessory before leaving the house, that rule should apply to decorative, jarring, rap-or-otherwise breaks. It reminds me of 4Minute’s “Mirror, Mirror,” actually, and even the great “Get away out of my face” sounds like, had that group made it to 2018, something they would have belted.

Stephen Eisermann: Perfectly crafted moody power-pop is always welcome. Sunmi’s detached tone matches the angsty pop production and that chorus is pop perfection. All of it makes me want to dance in front of my mirror into a hair brush.

Alfred Soto: A frantic, freestyle-indebted study in dance floor hysteria, and it doesn’t scream “pastiche.”

Anna Suiter: Siren has the same issue that both of Sunmi’s recent singles have had– they’re carried nearly entirely by a piece of the chorus. There’s always that one thing in her songs that makes it stick enough to feel like it’s good, but there’s really nothing beyond that. Siren has that mixed metaphor, between the mythological creature and the alarm, but wordplay can’t save everything. Although that fuzzy breakdown is kind of fun, it ends up blending in with almost everything else. Besides the hook, of course.

Micha Cavaseno: The K-pop industry is as flush as it needs to be as Sunmi keeps them afloat with a continuous output of saccharine dance records that lack enough character or melody to sustain themselves but does wonders as wicked fuel for 7/10 music videos. Between the obnoxiously overwrought “Gashina” or the dull escapades of “Heroine,” Sunmi’s reign for the last year or so makes me feel like a lot of writers just want thinkpieces or just really hate to think that Wonder Girls weren’t interesting and that the years of being beaten over the head by JYP’s Spectorian Oneness With God Propaganda was a period of their lives they wasted and cannot get back (saying this as someone who would like to see his life violently shortened in a method involving jumper cables after subjecting me to Twice’s “BDZ,” so I don’t fault you for the denial). “Siren” is nothing but a bunch of attempts to grate mistaken for earworms, a true mark of naked cynicism in this so-called turn into arty maturity, and another chapter in a truly ghastly solo career.

Julian Baldsing: It’s hard to discern if “Siren” is about accepting the ugliest parts of yourself or just finally giving into them, but underneath the bravado of Sunmi’s performance lives an uneasiness that suggests neither decision is sitting quite right. These little wobbles reveal themselves when Sunmi actually doubles down on her role as the villain — betraying a not-completely natural determination to excel (and revel) in her newly designated title. It comes across as method acting, with Sunmi finding increasingly theatrical ways to exude what she believes to be inherent. Ultimately, her growing frustration at her inability to fully own the self-destructive patterns governing her life only fuels more negative energy towards a song that thrives off it — but for a track that wants nothing more than to be Bad, it’s amazing that half its potency comes from the idea that its harshness stems from a place of helplessness as well.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Get away, out of my face, don’t come any closer” roars the chorus. It contains the piercing ferocity that characterized the lyrics in Sunmi’s “Gashina,” but it’s shortly followed by dramatic vocalizing that recalls the heartache of “Heroine.” On the former, she delivered a fiery kiss-off that found her standing tall amidst a disheartening breakup. The latter was billed as a prequel to “Gashina” and found Sunmi pleading to remain at the hands of her abuser. With the release of “Siren” — a precursor to that — the entire trilogy finally reveals itself to be a searing indictment on the patriarchal ideologies that shape how women grapple with identity, self-love, and relationships. You see, the chorus here may sound like another courageous declaration, but it’s underpinned by a creeping anxiety. The verses find Sunmi announcing that she only causes harm, and how this potential lover would be best off avoiding her. “I’ll hurt you, the beautiful me of your fantasies doesn’t exist” she sings, and the “can’t you see that boy?” line proves to be a question birthed from similar fears and insecurities. She believes that she’s lesser, that she’s bad at love — how could she possibly live up to someone else’s romantic expectations? When she proclaims that she won’t cry despite feeling sad, it’s less an empowering moment of resilience than a submission to what the world has taught her to be: an always-quiet, always-compliant vessel of love. For those not privy to how defeated that line actually is, a plaintive synth melody traces her voice: a soft acknowledgement that her pain is heard. Despite the English title, “Heroine” found Sunmi assigning the man the role of the hero. It’s obvious now, though, that there was no discrepancy between the lyrics and the seemingly contradictory title. “Do whatever you want, even if you’re mean” she sang. For such “virtuous” persistence she receives her lone accolade. Naturally, it’s one that applauds her powerlessness. With the closing of this trilogy, “Siren” brands Sunmi with one final name, one tell-all descriptor that describes the whole of her existence. For a mythological creature known for its beauty and terror, one can imagine Sunmi’s lover reducing her to such qualities on “Heroine” and “Gashina” respectively. On “Siren,” it’s her turn to believe it. Never is it more profoundly distressing than on the song’s ugly bridge, an unexpected breakdown whose clumsy, booming low end stands in stark contrast to the song’s more dignified synth pulses. Here, she sounds caustic and stripped of all warmth: grotesquely non-human. If this is what the world tells her to be, it’s what she’ll become. Don’t say she didn’t warn you.

Alex Clifton: Sirens, both the mermaid and ambulance kind, should be memorable; sadly this one is not.

Reader average: [8.66] (6 votes)

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8 Responses to “Sunmi – Siren”

  1. You have to work pretty hard to hate that much on Sunmi’s solo career. Free-wheeling, in control of her looks, the songs, the songwriting, exuberantly allowed to be free of pigeonholed ‘concepts’, finding her own groove through dance routines Shakira could’ve considered for ‘She-Wolf’ — for a female dance pop artist this isn’t all that common a combination in k-pop, not when considering Sunmi’s also wildly successful commercially. For that bit of variation alone, I would welcome her new wave.

    The songs we can of course disagree on .. I like some more than others, but I think when she performs them she owns them and they gain a lot from her presence, the web of nuances she adds to her universe with each set of lyrics, as Joshua notes, and her joy in doing all of this. They’re also really catchy, which explains some of her popularity. But I think mostly people fall in love with her.

  2. ambulance sirens should be memorable?

    this song is great

  3. didn’t care for her two previous Teddy-produced singles but this rules, but i’m guaranteed to love it when kpop goes anywhere near freestyle

  4. How the hell did this end up lower than gashina lol

  5. I love love love this, Heroine, and 24 Hours but yea, Gashina (and Full Moon) are both not so hot. Also, the choreography during the chorus in the video is *so* Lia Kim that it makes it feel even more personal.

    Also glad to hear that someone else thought of 4Minute, my mind went to “Volume Up” while listening to this.

  6. I’m not 100% on board with JMK’s interpretation (or Julian’s, for that matter) but I definitely wouldn’t have characterized “Gashina” as overwrought — if anything that struck me as not wrought enough. (Which ended up working to its favor: if the song had been more emotionally charged it might not have proven so memeable.)

  7. Not particularly crazy about “Siren” but “Black Pearl” from the same EP is killer. What an outstanding song and that soprano saxophone section floors me.

  8. #TeamBlackPearl

    i prefer “Black Pearl” over “Siren”