There’s been a storm of hype and controversy surrounding the solo debut of former Wonder Girls star, Sunmi, and rightly so. Wonder Girls are arguably the most iconic and influential Korean girl group of the past ten years, and they were at the absolute peak of their popularity when Sunmi split more than three years ago. The Korean public has never quite forgiven the now 21-year-old for choosing to leave the spotlight so abruptly, so when JYP Entertainment announced earlier this month that Sunmi was coming back as a solo artist with a sexy new image, the reaction from netizens was largely negative. But fuck ’em all, right?
Sunmi’s single, “24 Hours,” is a carnal dance-pop tune detailing the all-consuming passion that a young woman feels after falling in love for the first time. It’s rife with erotic metaphors (“I drink your love and I still feel thirsty,” is one of the more outrageous lines), and from a lyrical standpoint, it paints a rather vivid picture of someone being so engrossed in a lover that even spending every waking moment with them still isn’t enough to satisfy. Sunmi’s not much of a vocalist, but like Britney Spears or Janet Jackson, she’s got a sexy voice and she knows how to use it (which certainly comes in handy when singing about this kind of thing).
On its own, “24 Hours” falls short of being a really great pop song (Wonder Girls, 2PM, and miss A have all served up much better in the past 18 months), but when the subject matter, concept, and music video are all factored in, it’s a total knockout.
In the video, Sunmi –now sporting a short pink bob and barely any clothes– sits in her bedroom and fantasizes about all the different ways she wants to have sex with her boyfriend. It’s a bold transformation that recalls Park Ji Yoon’s career-defining “Coming of Age Ceremony,” but that’s not where the K-diva homages stop: The raunchy, complicated choreography is pure Ivy, while the song’s tango breakdown echoes early Baek Ji Young. You get the sense that Sunmi’s keen to shake off the girl group tag and follow in the footsteps of the women who came before her, and it works.
And if you weren’t convinced by the music video that Sunmi has what it takes to go solo, just check out her M! Countdown performance. She oozes an icy confidence on stage, and her dance moves are impeccable. Okay, so she might not be Ga-in or Ivy level, but considering that she hasn’t performed live for almost four years (and not once as a soloist) she utterly killed it. (Also, note to Western pop stars: When you can’t really sing that well, please practice and become good at dancing like Sunmi did).
With artists like G.NA, Ailee, and HyunA, the new generation of K-divas is really starting to take shape and catch up to the quality of the last generation, which consisted of ladies like Seo In Young, Son Dam Bi, and Ivy. It’s exciting to see Sunmi return in such a major and unexpected way, and even with just one song behind her so far, it’s one that’s good enough to win her a place among the new breed of top female soloists.