There isn’t a single way to look at the landscape of K-pop without recognizing the impact that second-generation girl groups have left on both fans and other artists for nearly two decades. Talent like Wonder Girls, Girls Generation, and 2NE1 was each perceived as unstoppable artists that piqued the interest of viewers across the world and opened a door for global audiences – with a range of modern pop concoctions to the satisfying nostalgia of styles from decades prior.
Wonder Girls, in particular, consisted of seven interchanging members throughout its glorious run, with the essential addition of singer, dancer, and songwriter SUNMI (@miyayeah) who would go on to dip in and out throughout their creative union before embracing the potential of a solo path.
As a soloist, she’s worked with (and befriended) some of the biggest names in the industry, due to her uncanny ability to dominate every release with originality that’s been unforgettably coined “Sunmi-pop”. For 15 years now, SUNMI has reliably constructed tracks with a stylistic fusion that has brought sensuality through “Tail”, the infectious glittery pop sound of “You Can’t Sit With Us”, or the inspiring charm of “pporappippam”, with a firm grip on exploratory art that speaks to every generation in some capacity.
Now, SUNMI reflects on that longstanding hold on pop music and shares her feelings on the growth that’s taken place since her Wonder Girls debut.
You’ve been in the industry for 15 years this year and that’s a huge milestone to celebrate. How have your views on the music industry changed in that span of time?
SUNMI: Korean content is spreading all over the world and is loved by many people. In this respect, it has become an era in which the border between countries is no longer important when it comes to my music career.
It’s widely recognized that Wonder Girls really contributed to the global expansion of K-pop over the years. Is there a particular quality or trait that you believe has been vital to the group’s long-running connection with listeners?
SUNMI: Group identity is the most important. The clearer a group identity and its direction are, the easier a group is imprinted on the public. Wonder Girls, for example, was able to become a popular group across generations because the musical sound and fashion were always accompanied by retro characteristics. It was familiar to the older generations and new to the younger generations.
Since then, you’ve absolutely flourished as a soloist – and on your own terms, which is a really unique point to get to as a young artist. What was that adjustment period like?
SUNMI: Working as a soloist was quite different from working as a group. I had to find SUNMI’s unique characteristics, not Wonder Girls’. I didn’t want to do music that excluded the public. So I thought a lot about how to harmonize the mood, music, and popularity that I am aiming for.
You’ve released so many hits in that period of time, and all feel so incredibly different from one another. At this point in your career, how do you know when a song feels like it’s “the one”?
SUNMI: When I can clearly picture what kind of performance I’m going to talk about on the stage or in the music video.
You’ve expressed your admiration for pop music and that particular space, so what would you say is something that defines modern pop music?
SUNMI: I think everything in the world has its likes and dislikes. Every moment is divided into good or bad, ok or so-so. This is also the same in music. The fewer dislikes, the more popular it means. I think this is also true when it comes to pop music.
Fashion has always appeared to play such a colorful part in your artistry as well. How would you currently describe your ideal style?
SUNMI: I like to match with contrasting items. For example, a chiffon dress with a feminine mood and a pair of chunky, bold walkers or boots. The Y2K (the early 2000s) style is also interesting these days.
You’ve shown that you’re unafraid to speak your mind, which I believe is such an important quality to impart to today’s youth. What has been your favorite thing about the evolution of K-pop from an artist’s perspective?
SUNMI: The language barrier has broken down. The Squid Game, which is all in Korean, has gained great popularity around the world, and BTS’ Korean songs topped the Billboard chart. Global fans who don’t know my language sing my songs in Korean. It’s such an amazing phenomenon.
When you think about the next 15 years of your expansive career – do you have aspirations in mind, or are you simply enjoying the ride?
SUNMI: Even after just 10 years, I still want to become a person who dances and sings on stage in a fresh and new way. I’d like to challenge myself by trying more various genres in the future.
Finally, what would you like your ‘legacy’ to be when it comes to future generations of performers?
SUNMI: Being a good role model people can think of when they’re not sure which way to go.