Sunmi is in the middle of what many music fans would call an “imperial phase,” where basically everything she releases is gold. New single Noir arrives without any music show promotion and very little pre-release teasing, yet will be the track on everyone’s playlist based on her name alone. And with two singles in my top ten countdown of last year, I’ve fallen under her spell as well. It’s with these sky-high expectations that Noir (누아르) feels just a bit underwhelming at first, even if it’s a very strong song in its own right.
Noir continues Sunmi’s love affair with synth-fueled, 80’s production. It’s a musical style I never want her to abandon, and fits her commanding voice perfectly. The song itself feels less populist than her 2018 work, dulling its hooks and upping its subversion. After a moody opening, the instrumental launches right into its propulsive groove, heightened by touches of rhythm guitar and drum machines. In contrast to this brisk tempo, the verses’ melody wafts over the top, drawing out its phrasing rather than opting for a more rhythmic delivery. This heightens the mood but softens the overall impact.
Noir’s strongest element is its chorus, which ups the drama with a full-throated vocal that manages to be hypnotic and powerful at the same time. It’s not as instant as Siren’s megawatt hook or Heroine’s juggernaut drop, but I suspect it will age well. I’m not as thrilled by the trap-influenced break just before the second chorus. It feels shoehorned in — a concession to trends rather than a vital part of the track. But, Sunmi gets away with it. She is the most magnetic solo performer working in K-pop right now, and Noir continues to harness that lethal charisma.