Since debuting as a soloist, Sunmi has been a reliable producer of high-quality, slightly left-of-center K-pop. She had a particularly strong 2018, perfecting a musical style that drew heavily on 80’s inspirations. She’s been quieter this year, spending more time on tour than on music shows. During her concerts, she’s unveiled a couple new tracks that seem to complement the vibes of past singles like Heroine and Siren. Surprisingly, though, new single Lalalay (날라리) is a much closer sibling to her 2017 comeback Gashina, built around an aggressive instrumental loop rather than traditional chorus.
Inspired by the Latin leg of her tour, Lalalay is definitive Sunmi, but sacrifices melody for attitude. This isn’t always a bad approach. After all, Gashina ended up being a slow burn hit for me, as well as one of its year’s most iconic (and oft-imitated) tracks. In comparison, Lalalay feels more like a retread. Sunmi’s charisma is strong enough to propel nearly any song into greatness, but I miss hearing her arresting voice attack a full-throated chorus.
Co-written with producer Frants, who also worked on Siren, Lalalay is most compelling during its verses. The instrumental twists its Latin influences just enough to make them feel fresh, and offers a satisfying sense of propulsion as Sunmi weaves through a maze of guitar, gurgling electronics and stomping percussion. The melody here isn’t as strong as most of her 2018 work, but at least it gives her voice the opportunity to take center stage. Unfortunately, the noisy loop at Lalalay‘s center (courtesy of traditional instrument taepyeongso) is a bit of a buzzkill. It renders the song hollow right when it needs to explode. At just under three minutes, there’s not enough meat around this melodic chasm to compensate. I have no doubt that Lalalay will ingratiate itself in time (it’s Sunmi, after all!), but after a long hiatus I would have loved to hear her deliver something more ambitious.
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Honestly, I am a bit surprised this is rated higher than “Gashina”. To me most of the part sounds like very juvenile songwriting. I am even dreaded that the k-future will be saturated with “Solo” wannabes.
In retrospect, Gashina should have scored an 8.5 or 8.75. Of all the songs I’ve reviewed on the blog, it was one of the biggest growers. I like it much more than Lalalay, though my review at the time doesn’t show that.
I am underwhelmed. To be honest, it sounds like something G-idle would come out with. And then it ends. I suppose with al the turmoil at YG, plus the behind schedule debut for Treasure Box and whenever Black Pink’s next comeback is, Teddy was not available. (good thing?)
Although, to be fair and state my bias openly: I do recognize that Sunmi is of the highest caliber female soloist in kpop these days, akin to our Taylor or Katy etc, but she is just not my style, nor are any of those western ones. Except Pink. Pink is awesome.
Nick, I appreciate that you informed us that that noise in the drop chorus is the traditional instrument “taepyeongso” (which I had to look up! I learned something today!) because otherwise I would have thought it was something someone made up late one night playing around with all the wave function programming on a synthesizer.
Knowing this now, I wish she had used more sounds from the taepyeongso in addition to that one sampled sound repeated in the chorus.
The only new release I am digging so far this week is a solo ballad from Kim Dong Jun, one of the main singers from Z:ea. His voice sounds better than it ever did in Z:ea days. He dialed back all the theatricality he usually uses and what is left is a lovely lyricism. It is about as typical of a sentimental ballad as it gets in Korean music, but the performance is very nice. And if everyone who reads this blog go listens to it, it will double the youtube views.
Yes this song is extraordinarily short and even during less than 3 min it manages to get you bored. It just shows that on her own Sunmi doesn’t seem to have much to come up with this song. The limited vocal technique also doesn’t help. Will check out your recommendation though
I think the issue Sunmi is running into is that she’s so talented she has the power to sell weaker material so she doesn’t have to push herself as hard now that she’s established. I watched a live performance of this song and the choreography combined with her stage presence made it really entertaining, I’d totally buy a ticket and I want to see more of her, but it still doesn’t make me excited for this song.
In conclusion: sunmi is sunmi. I’m looking forward more to her releasing another album with b-sides as good as the last one (another black pearl would be much appreciated). Btw I was wondering if you’d heard RUANN’s debut song. I didn’t love the song but her situation is pretty unique —she’s a Japanese soloist debuting in Korea
Yes, I have heard it. I think it is perky and precocious. It seems to skew young, and seems to be trying a little too hard. The performance is fine.
As far as non-Koreans in kpop, I haven’t seen any examples where this has had any market traction in Korea except for the situation of a single foreign member, perhaps two, in a much larger group. Ten Jackson Amber Henry Kenta etc. Honey Popcorn isn’t really going anywhere. UHSN had a brief moment with “Popsicle”, to mixed reviews, but that was a one off from a reality show. Kpop is also a really small pond crowded market.
Yukika seems to have been pretty well received and is developing a pretty decent following for a nugu soloist, people loved “Neon.” “Cherries Jubiles” is kind of flopping though.
I get that the comments section isn’t loving this and all… but after a few listens “Lalalay” really clicked for me? Maybe it’s been years since The Great Bass Drop Infestation of 2015 and my musical mores have finally worn down, but I – I enjoy it? Like, we’re not looking at another “Siren” or “24 Hours; I’ll admit that. And maybe my bias for Sunmi’s vocal timbre is showing (hot take: she’s one of the only artists in k-pop that adds texture to songs, and you can absolutely fight me on that), but… look. The verse melodies work, the percussion is top notch, and the instrumental has enough detail to make me want to dig in more. Yeah, I could have used a proper chorus and more taepyeongso goodness, but I’ll take it as is.
I think, more than anything, Lalalay only suffers from the precedent set before it. After Gashina, Heroine, Siren and Noir, Sunmi set the bar incredibly high and — while a solid song in its own right — Lalalay just can’t quite reach those heights.
(Totally agree with her timbre adding texture, btw)
Agreed. I guess it’s like I enjoy “Lalalay” in the same way I enjoy “Ddu-du Ddu-du” – it’s not “Playing With Fire,” but also – what is? Even T-ara (May OT6 Be Reunited With This Blessing) decided to release “So Crazy” instead of the fifty million “Sugar Free” retreads the world wanted, but it’s not like I wouldn’t have liked “So Crazy” from any other group.
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