It’s been three years since YG Entertainment has pushed forth projects involving new faces in the music industry, but as it’s been made clear this year, they’ve found enough established success with 2NE1 and Big Bang to finally move on to the next generation of YG superstars. The next chapter comes to us in the form of SBS “K-Pop Star” contestant and runner-up, Lee Hi.
Having already worked with K-pop hip-hop mega-trio Epik High and achieving all-kills and shit right out of the gate, it goes to show how quickly a career in Korea can take flight these days. It also makes enough of a point that The Big Three labels are still very well in command of mass consumer interest, as Lee Hi not only scored big in numbers, but the YG backing also helps her sit in comfort among high-profile names in K-pop today.
Of course, charting and popularity means very little when it comes to actually justifying musical value in the pop arena. Even then however, the fact that she has bounced off a singing competition, which takes musicianship and gifted merits into consideration, I think all of Lee Hi’s massive immediate success is well-deserved. One listen to “1, 2, 3, 4“, Lee Hi’s debut single, and all the momentum moving this rookie up the ladder makes for an even easier story to follow.
I managed to catch bits and pieces of “K-Pop Star” as it was airing, and even back then it was very clear that Lee Hi’s musical identity was a soulful one, so it was a relief that YG stuck to that intuition in crafting the poppy yet feisty first single for the young chanteuse. “1, 2, 3, 4″ bares a strong resemblance to Welsh singer-songwriter Duffy‘s musical style, in that much like “Mercy“, it’s very 50s-60s inspired. The baseline and phrasing is undeniably Motown, with pipe organs clutching every off-beat and Lee Hi’s smoky vocals delivering a pleasant color unheard of from YG Entertainment until now. It’s a unique style for a rookie, but one that works for Lee Hi’s voice. Just listening to her reminds me of a younger, less intense Ali. She’s missing a lot of the emotional wherewithal, which is where I think Lee Hi’s music leaves the most room for polish.
“1, 2, 3, 4″ is a sassy single and Lee Hi delivers it well. The vocal performance is excellent, though if framed differently, could be surprisingly brilliant. I know it’ll happen eventually, and I’m hoping to hear it flourish on her upcoming debut album.