Friday, December 13th, 2019

Sunmi – Noir

A reminder, were it needed, to look out for each other as best we can.


Iris Xie: Kicking off “Noir,” the gauzy, haunting fade-in shudders as Sunmi starts singing the title. Combined with the expanse of that stuttering low-end synth, these elements cut a wide swath through the despair and paint a landscape of luxurious decay. It’s almost dangerous — that same decadence fuels Sunmi’s self-aware cynicism about the purpose of discussing your mental health on social media — is it for yourself to seek help and support, or is it for your likes? To your followers, is there really any difference? And also, are those really the only two decisions in a world where proper mental healthcare is often out of reach, unaffordable, and sometimes, incredibly, lets you down? (I can’t help but think about Jonghyun, Sulli, Hara, Sojin from Baby Kara, and many others I’ve seen pass while following K-pop, while also thinking about surviving one of my own friends, RIP.) Taking the song and lyrics together though, I get the message that if your whole brand, especially if you’re a K-pop star, is giving everything, it would seem wrong to not indulge yourself and your audience by opening up. Sunmi breaking apart the word “Noir,” decimating the “oir” part into almost stylish, lively yelps, injects some energy into a solid hook that floats above these contemplations. But what really has kept this song in the back of my mind throughout 2019 and ended up making me nominate this for Amnesty is the verse-verse pairing, and the slight slowing of the tempo for the second time she starts singing “I’ve already seen this before”. The snare drum is impatient and highlights the desperation that lurks right underneath the stoic cool of her vocals. One can rest on the restless apathy of that slowdown alone and fade into a preferable obsolescence, trying to find a way to escape into something that isn’t the now. Why not? In the hellscape that’s 2019, finding true rest is difficult. But a void that alludes to chaos, and a fantasy of a so-called sweet nothingness? At least that’s tangible.

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: A more restrained but far more elegant Sunmi, with a more sober production, complete with ’80s-indebted atmospheric synths that underscore her remarkable hook delivery. At first, “Noir” feels like a departure from the vigorous gestures and big drops of “Gashina” and “Heroine”, but on repeated listens, it comes off as a more natural progression; the third stage of her imperial phase. 

Kayla Beardslee: The hook took some decoding for me, as I knew the connotations of film noir but not its actual definition as a genre of crime narratives “characterized by cynicism and moral ambiguity” — but in using it to describe modern communication and digital relationships, Sunmi hits the nail on the head. The moral ambiguity of social media lies not so much in its users (we’ve all seen online debates settle into a binary of right and wrong), but in the assignment of blame for the shit that goes down. How incensed should we be at individual users or fanbases who drive harmful discourse, when developers and CEOs are the ones gamifying the validation of our lives? Even more interesting implications offer themselves up with the comparison to noir: the idea that social media encourages us to lean into personality tropes (“I’ve already seen this before”) and therefore flattens unique ideas, the idea that our struggles are being stylized and filtered through a screen for others’ entertainment. The song itself has the common K-pop quality of filling every inch of its space with plush synths, which I can only get so excited about. But the production isn’t the focus: I began my blurb thinking “Noir” was a decent [5], but as I kept writing and falling into new analytical chasms, my score kept creeping up, and now I want to write an entire paper about the fascinating music video. What better way to explore the danger of artifice than with bubbly, vibrant pop?

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Sleek to the point of anonymity — the only thing that really stands out is when Sunmi leans into the camp, counting down from three or sing-talking about bullshit. There’s nothing particularly bad here, but that’s mostly because there’s nothing here at all.

Kylo Nocom: I can do without whining over outrun for the rest of my life. “Noir” boasts perhaps the most annoying chorus of the year and very little else to show for all its self-impressed drama.

Iain Mew: It took watching the video for me to get “Noir.” It sounds impenetrable and worn out, and before that I thought it was just passing me by, but now I think it’s the point. Putting across weariness in a song isn’t hard, but putting across weariness in such a tightly constructed semi-banger is another matter, and here it is. The sound of layers of emotional armour, of seeing a fire and just taking it as a routine selfie opportunity. If I was feeling bleaker I might fall for it after all.

Reader average: [9.5] (6 votes)

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One Response to “Sunmi – Noir”

  1. In the age of the Influencer™, the music video of “Noir” flicks the light on to reveal how the wasteland we call social media is inhabited by moral corpses (why is Logan Paul still a thing?) and superficial allegiances, the type of social commentary that rivals “Parasite” with its gnarled teeth and satirized spectacle. Take away the visuals though, and the song isn’t nearly half as hard to swallow. There are still redeeming moments (mainly when the atmosphere thins out and Sunmi chews up the phrase “You know what?” as if savoring each bite of sass), but taken as a whole, the sonic landscape feels at a crossroads between Ghost-era Sky Ferreira and Lolo Zouaï that fails to commit to either, the R&B/trap insert at the end of the second verse feeling more like a ploy to delay a press on that much-needed skip button than a change with purpose.

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