I first heard Sunmi’s Borderline back in March 2019 on her Warning tour, where she introduced it as a personal, self-penned track performed entirely in English. Back then, I assumed it would be placed on an impending album. But seventeen months later, we’re still only getting a new single here and there. But, she’s been kind enough to release a special music video for the song, though the audio isn’t available digitally. Maybe that album is still around the corner?
At any rate, Borderline is an ultra-atmospheric, vaguely retro-sounding mid-tempo. Not everyone could get away with a track like this, but Sunmi’s always-compelling voice makes Borderline work. This is despite a languid melody that never quite builds to a moment of catharsis. From verse to chorus, the entire song feels in a haze, reflecting Borderline’s subject matter and mood. It plays more like a confessional than a pop track, and that may be why she decided to release it in the manner she did.
Borderline enlists 80’s-adjacent synths as a smoky backdrop, complimenting the rest of her post-2017 discography. Their muted texture forms a claustrophobic ambiance, which was no doubt intentional. However, I think the song would have been even more effective if it had played with contrast. Give me some sharp, highly-polished synths and bring the tempo up a notch. Then, lay those confessional lyrics over the top to give the song a “crying on the dancefloor” appeal. That clash between song and instrumental might have been even more affecting, while playing up the lyrical content of performer vs. person. Still, this is clearly a more intimate track than much of Sunmi’s work, so I understand the nuanced approach she took with it.