By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, July 4 (Yonhap) -- Today's K-pop has a plethora of talented, self-producing idol artists, such as Highlight, WINNER and EXID, just to name a few. But the supposed first-generation bands back in the '90s were almost exclusively manufactured and tailored -- from songs, to style and even public behavior -- as are still many new budding teams nowadays.
So it may come as a surprise when Lee Hyo-ri of the mega-successful '90s band FIN.K.L, announced her comeback by pre-releasing "Seoul," a self-composed song from her new solo album. More striking is its dark tone and rather deep lyrics, an about face from her vibrant and sexy public facade from the past.
"I think Seoul was at its darkest when I wrote the song. I wrote the music when the candlelight vigils were taking place, I didn't know when Seoul was splendid and pretty but when watching the city become jolted, I felt pity for my home city," Lee said Tuesday at a media showcase for her sixth full-length album "Black" at Konkuk University in eastern Seoul.
"Black" carries a total of 10 new songs, written mostly by Lee herself with the help of fellow songwriter-producer Kim Do-hyun, responsible for Lee's break out solo track "10 Minutes" back in 2003.
The album's lead single, also named "Black," is a mid-tempo song free of electronic sound and has a band-heavy quality to it. It is arranged using jangling electronic guitars, and hefty bass and drum sounds. The song is literally about the color black, in the sense that black is the most basic of all colors, used as a metaphor in returning to one's true inner self.
Lee as a person has had a mid-life awakening over the past few years. After marrying guitarist Lee Sang-soon in 2013, she moved to the country's southern Jeju Island, away from show business and public life. She has embraced an organic and ecological lifestyle, growing crops herself for sustenance and also for profit, and also opened a studio to teach yoga.
Her soul-searching ways of life in Jeju clearly shows in her album, in songs such as "White Snake," which includes lyrics in Sanskrit. As opposed to trying to please her fans and the public, she focused on writing and saying what she wanted to convey through her music, which for the most part has a serious introspective tone.
"In the past, I was often described as being colorful. Make up-wise I used a lot of colors and probably tried out all sorts of color lenses," Lee said.
She further explained: "Then I started wondering, what person would I be if took out all the color? Would people love me the way I am?" Lee added "deep inside, we all have a darker side to us. I wanted to reflect that side of mine in the music."
Not all of the songs are dark or serious per se though. Lee said she tried to maintain a balance by including brighter, cheery songs as well.
Through her shift in artistic direction, Lee is clearly aiming for a life-long career arc in music by transforming herself from an idol to a singer-songwriter. This is partly due to the K-pop culture of emphasizing youth and beauty, especially with women.
"It's regrettable that attention towards an artist wanes as their appearance withers with age, when a musician's work only deepens with age," said Lee.
"I can't change the fact that I will age and my appearance will wither. So I thought I should develop my inner side."
"Black" marks Lee's return to show business after four years, since her 2013 album "Monochrome." She saw the industry has changed a lot and admitted she herself has a lot of catching up to do.
"Nowadays the music scene has changed into a single-centric release system. I recorded the album from January to June. Society was mostly gloomy and I myself was too back then," she said.
"But by the time came out I think society became a bit brighter. I learned why singers released singles that are in line with the times," Lee said, promising to focus more on smaller projects with more frequent roll outs.
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