These days, Korea runs on audition programs. From Superstar K to K-pop Star, we’ve seen our fair share of overnight superstars over the past three years. Roy Kim, Huh Gak, Park Ji Min, John Park — just to name a few. Of all these diamonds in the rough, no soloist’s debut single comes close to that of 16-year-old Lee Hi.
Stealing the hearts of viewers with her lovable onscreen awkwardness and her soulful performances, this 16-year-old siren placed second on the first season of SBS’ Survival Audition K-pop Star last April. Her mature, smokey vocals earned her a plethora of nicknames, like “Reversal Girl” and “Grown-up Child” for her misleadingly childlike appearance and “Korea’s Duffy” for her rendition of the Welsh singer-songwriter’s “Mercy.”
She soon signed with YG Entertainment, teasing fans a few months later with a guest feature on label mate Epik High’s “It’s Cold,” which showcased a softer, chill side to her vocals.
It was the perfect distraction. When Lee Hi finally made her official debut with the retro-soul brilliance of “1, 2, 3, 4,” the single immediately conquered the major domestic music charts for a clean all-kill, sitting pretty at #1 for almost a full week.
A pretty great start to an illustrious career, if you ask us. So we have to ask, why does she rate her debut a 5/10? With her physical debut album just beyond the horizon, Lee Hi reflects on her K-pop Star roots, her newfound popularity and her YG-backed debut.
Please introduce yourself for MTV K readers.
Hello, MTV K fans! This is Lee Hi. Happy New Year to all my fans who love and support me. I hope you keep supporting me, and stay tuned for my latest news!
Congratulations on your debut! How does it feel to have received so much love so quickly?
At first, it felt so unreal, but as all the fans kept cheering for me, they uplifted my spirit, and I am very grateful and happy for that.
What has changed the most since you debuted?
The biggest change since I signed with YG is that I get organized by having strategic education in singing, dancing and even with my facial expressions on stage. I am happy that I have a place to practice this now. Also, at YG Entertainment there are many artists with distinct personalities that I admire a lot.
What’s the most fun thing about being an idol celebrity now?
The most fun thing is that I can continue to sing songs that I like. When I practiced by myself, I was lacking in certain areas of my singing, but after I appeared on TV and was able to monitor myself, I began spotting my weaknesses and now I can feel the progress in my singing as time goes by. Of course, the makeup and working out helped a lot too!
What’s the best part about being an artist under YG? Have you gotten close with any of your seniors yet?
I am a very shy person, so I still feel a little awkward around the other YG artists. But I am going to approach them more often and try to get closer with them in the New Year.
You featured on Epik High’s “It’s Cold” even before your official debut. How was that experience?
When I worked on the song, “It’s Cold” with Tablo from Epik High, he told me that he watched me on K-pop Star, which was such an honor. I was also very comfortable working with him. As I was recording this song, I had a feeling that this would be the sound for me when I debuted in the future. I was very happy that I could work with one of the top artists and collaborate on this song together. And since it became a huge hit, I was very happy about that as well.
What other artists do you dream of collaborating with in the future?
Who are your favorite musical influences?
Nowadays, I tend to listen to more upbeat songs. Among them, I recently listened to Jonny Lang’s “Bump in the Road.” I really like how his voice sounds. In addition to that, I really like Adele. She is very unique, and I can say that she has a very mainstream sound with a distinct voice, which I refer to a lot on my own.
If you had to pick one song that describes ‘Lee Hi’ the singer, which would you choose?
If I had to pick one song, it would be Duffy’s “Mercy,” which was noticed and loved by many of my fans when I performed it. This song means a lot to me.
What styles of music do you definitely want to try with your future releases?
I can’t really say exactly what the musical style or genre will be for my album, but I’m looking forward to what Mr. YG recommends for me. I think I like songs that are more mature than my age, but Mr. YG is very good at selecting songs that are appropriate for me and that also bring out the color of my voice. “1, 2, 3, 4” was in the musical style that I favor. In the future, I would love to try various styles and be appreciated by my fans for singing many different genres.
What are the biggest charms of your title track, “1, 2, 3, 4”?
Nowadays, it seems like many artists use electronic music, but I wanted to show a different color to express my own feeling. So, I ended up going with a retro style for “1, 2, 3, 4.” Fortunately and gratefully, a lot of fans loved it. Even on YouTube, you can find a lot of acoustic covers of the song.
Any funny episodes from filming your “1, 2, 3, 4″ music video?
I felt a bit awkward when I was shooting the “1, 2, 3, 4” music video. During the filming of K-pop Star, when the camera was on me, I couldn’t speak at all. But when filming a music video, not only do you have to sing, but you also have to act and use many facial expressions, and I was very embarrassed by that. But, overall it was very fun and exciting for me.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your debut? What would you like to improve on?
I think I would give myself a 5/10. The reason why I take 5 points off is because of my first music video. It wasn’t perfect, and I feel like I could have approached my fans in a friendlier manner. I will show them more of this in the future. If I think about the future ahead of me, I like to give myself a 5 for now. In terms of music, I would like to sing better. Also, I would like to practice more, so I can hear people say that I am good at all aspects of my performance. In 2013, I want to grow more as an artist.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from competing on K-pop Star?
Through my experience with K-pop Star, I learned a lot about the nature of competition itself. Just because it’s a competition doesn’t mean you’re in cutthroat circumstances. Instead I think this becomes the bridge that cements close relationships with the other participants. I realized that you can compete with your friends, and through that experience, you become more mature at the end.