Sunmi, the ex-Wonder Girls star who is one of K-pop’s most famous female singers
Since making her debut as a solo artist in 2013, Sunmi has had a string of No 1 hits, shown she can be quirky as well as sexy, and revealed a troubled past that only increased her appeal
The past year has been one of unadulterated success for Sunmi, the former member of K-pop outfit Wonder Girls.
Sunmi has hit No 1 with all her latest singles, and is the face of major cosmetics and fashion brands. Her quirky appearances on popular TV variety shows have endeared her to those who have not fallen for her sexy image.
Many were shocked and moved when Sunmi revealed she had a difficult childhood – something that is still unusual for a K-pop star. She made headlines after a tearful account of her troubled younger years during a TV programme, which gave an insight into the pain and hardships she has endured despite her K-pop fame.
Contrary to her sexy image, Sunmi has shown other sides to her personality, such as spending time last year with a victim of the Sewol ferry disaster in South Korean in 2014 that claimed hundreds of lives. The encounter was shown on a YouTube channel and many were moved by her insight and genuine sense of empathy.
Her down-to-earth, sisterly relationship with her manager was recently revealed on a Korean reality show, providing further insight into her genuine and lively character.
Here is everything you need to know about Sunmi, one of the most recognisable faces in K-pop today.
Her early life
Born Sun Mi in 1992 in the provincial town of Iksan, North Jeolla province, Sunmi was raised by a single father with two younger brothers. She revealed that she decided to become a K-pop singer at the age of nine after her father became bedridden with an illness. Sunmi has said she thought this was the only way to make quick money before reaching adulthood.
After attending auditions as a primary school student, she was taken on by entertainment company JYP Entertainment at the age of 11.
When she was a trainee, she received a text message from her father asking her to take care of her younger brothers. As she was busy training, she did not reply, but the next day her father died. It was an incident that left her traumatised.
Her role in Wonder Girls
Despite being a good dancer and a decent singer with a deep voice, Sunmi was never the centre of attention as a member of Wonder Girls. This may be due to the phenomenal popularity of the band’s main member Sohee, and the fact that Sunmi had to take a break from performing due to an ankle injury in the middle of their drive to break into the US market.
Ironically, after quitting Wonder Girls and moving to a smaller management company, she experienced a career high.
Sunmi’s image has evolved throughout her career. She was only 14 when she debuted as a Wonder Girl, but since maturing and becoming a solo artist she has adopted a more sexy image. Recently she has been showing her quirky side in her music videos and on reality shows.
In the Siren music video, Sunmi makes fun of her sexy image by contrasting her sultry side with a more natural and realistic version of herself. On stage, however, Sunmi is 100 per cent the sexy diva with the choreography to match.
Her solo work
Sunmi became a solo artist in 2013 with the release of 24 Hours while she was still at JYP. She reached No 1 with the mini album Full Moon the following year. After a brief stint with Wonder Girls as a bassist/singer, Sunmi decided to leave JYP and move to a smaller management company.
The singles Gashina, Heroine and Siren, all partly written by Sunmi, reached No 1 in South Korea, and her innovative music videos have been praised by critics and the public alike.
In her own words
“While 24 Hours and Full Moon were about women being passive and waiting for the guy, Gashina is about a woman who is a go-getter. I wrote the lyrics myself. It felt good to express myself and talk about women being active. I finally felt free,” she said in an interview with the South Korean Esquire in September 2018.
“I don’t expose myself – I express sexiness with my eyes. I think I have special eyes that can do that,” she said in the interview with Esquire.