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(Yonhap Interview) Diva wants to champion South Korea on world stage

All News 17:41 March 14, 2016

By Chung Joo-won

SEOUL, March 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korean pop singer Lee Hi has made a fabulous comeback to the K-pop scene after a three-year hiatus, topping the music charts with her recently released album "SEOULITE."

"SEOULITE" encompasses a variety of genres, including hip-hop, with collaborations with Code Kunst, Tablo and DJ Tukutz of Epik High, Jonghyun of SHINee, Chancellor, DEAN and The Barberettes.

The 20-year-old singer said Monday she was pleasantly surprised at the success of her latest EP. But the heroine of SBS' talent audition show "K-Pop Star: Season 1" wants a broader stage outside the Korean music realm.

"I am native to Bucheon, born and raised in Korea, and I have never been to the U.S. But I want to have a world tour, as my predecessors, BigBang and Epik High, did," Lee said in an interview with a group of local news media at a cafe in northwestern Seoul on Monday. Bucheon is a city located just west of Seoul.

In fact, "World Tour" is a song from her five-track album. The previous day Lee mentioned the track while appearing in labelmate WINNER's concert, saying artists seem to live up to the titles of their songs.

Upon the release of "SEOULITE" on Wednesday, Lee claimed the No. 1 spot on the iTunes charts for Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

After the longer-than-expected hiatus, Lee seemed far more mature and hungry for music.

But the young artist also touched on the realistic side of the chances of a South Korean female solo artist having a world tour.

"So far, (Korean female artists) had chances to show up in the Asian region. But in the U.S. and Europe, the chances were thin. Now we have (precedents set by) Psy and BigBang who have built up their way to these markets. I believe that we will start to see more such opportunities."

Pinning high hopes on presenting her music in the international music arena, Lee explored her own dream of being a "hallyu" star, or a global artist who contributes to the proliferation of Korean pop culture.

"YG is a big company, and have predecessors who laid out the first blocks to such opportunity. If I am given a chance, I will be facing a bit easier mission (than the pioneers). But if I can, I would love to have my company help me keep my true musical color all the way through (my career,)" the aspiring world star said.

Her perception of being a "South Korean pop artist" was quite different from what the public would have guessed.

"Korean music lovers are not bound to a particular single genre. In fact, I found them in love with hip hop and other not-so-mainstream genres as well. Then I was convinced that they would approve of my music even when I diversify my musical assets. Blending pop with something authentically Korean could lead to a true distinctiveness," Lee said.

Such features hit high in "Breathe," one of the two title tracks. After the release of the soothing ballad, she was faced with mixed responses, including criticism that ballad and the jazzy singer clash. In the first 10 seconds of the singer's close-up scene in the "Breathe" music video, reviews were torn between "this is new" and "this is not Lee Hi."

But the song is not only a true Lee, but also a distinctive Lee, according to the singer. She tried to add "han," a traditional sentiment of sorrow that is elevated to the state of aestheticism.

"'Breathe,' my title track, has a sentiment of 'han.' In the old days, people would ask me what 'soul' in 'soul music' is. I gave them different answers at different times. But now, I think 'han' has been piling up in my (soul) music, paving the way to true Korean soul music."

The song also has factors of "chang," or the musical component of Korean traditional vocal art "pansori."

Lee said those who listen to "Breathe" can be healed of little or big hurts inflicted by the busy hustles of city life in Seoul.

"Only, I wish people don't take the song's image as too old," the singer grinned.

The singer said she has been working hard on her foreign language skills as well.

"I can listen and understand English but speaking is more challenging. I can speak some Japanese, can't speak Chinese at all -- but I'm working hard on the languages."

The singer picked "retro" and "groovy" as the most comfortable fit to describe her style of music.

"I don't have a genre that I find totally at odds. But I want to show a groovy vibe in my songs. I'm not a quiet person, and I feel like who I am when I sing is something exciting."

The singer said her fashion code was "comfortable, black, and elongating."

"Since I was little, I loved to wear comfortable clothes. After my debut as a singer, I came to realize that I cannot wear comfortable clothes all the time. Now I try to wear clothes that make me look taller, while compromising comfort to a certain level."

The singer had collected sneakers throughout her teen life. After coming of age, she began collecting high-heels instead.

Upon leaving her teens, the 20-year-old secretly hoped that her boss Yang Hyun-suk, the chief of YG Entertainment, would lift the dating ban, so that she could start exploring the whole new world of dating. To her disappointment, the ban was kept -- and away flew Lee's dreams of a romantic love life.

Concerning other albums to come, Lee expects to do more collaboration.

"('SEOULITE') is a half album. I have the other half to come, in which you will see another batch of collaborative works," she said.


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