That bass. That sax. That curt voice inflexion at the end of a verse. There’s a lot to bask in when listening to Sunmi’s “Black Pearl,” off her dreamy EP Warning. The EP itself is varied, with the bops (“Siren,” “Heroine”) and the ballad (“Secret Tape”). “Black Pearl” and “Curve” are the clear standouts though. “Curve” has a piano melody that sounds like an Animal Crossing b-side, while “Black Pearl” is, simply, lush; from how the bass builds up steadily to greet the saxophone after the chorus, to how it complements Sunmi’s lyrics about enduring the “dirty, painful” parts of life, appearing shiny and pretty like a pearl.
This is Sunmi’s second solo EP, another notch in her five-year comeback to the K-pop scene after taking a hiatus in 2010 to focus on her academic career. She returned with a vengeance: first solo, then rejoining Wonder Girls as a bassist-singer extraordinaire for the 80s-tinged Reboot. Last year, Wonder Girls disbanded and she went off to tackle her own solo project again, culminating in this year’s Warning. On it, you hear her confidence. You get the feeling that now, here in 2018, she’s finally found her sound; her calling. And you see it in the credits, where she’s the sole songwriter on five out of its seven tracks (with credits on the other two), and even worked on the music and arrangement for certain tracks.
“Black Pearl” is where she touches nearly everything. The music—I have to wonder if she picked up the bass again for that killer bass line—and the lyrics were written by her, the former with assistance from producer Frants. There’s no video for “Black Pearl” yet, but on a performance on M Countdown, she stands squarely in the midst of the stage, heavily contrasting the bold, sexy choreography of her prior performance of “Siren” on the same very stage. She’s wearing a black leather dress and seemingly killed a bunch of crows to make her feathery boots. Despite the thick beat, she doesn’t need any lavish choreography like what made “Gashina” such a hit. For “Black Pearl,” it speaks for itself. Sunmi, finally, speaks for herself.