Listening to a Lee Hi would make one think the 19-year-old was a seasoned soul diva. The K-pop star recently returned to the scene with her new album, Seoulite, that not only boasted retro anthems like "My Star" and "Hold My Hand," but also her ability to completely possess a gorgeous ballad in "Breathe."
As part of Fuse's ongoing Teen Takeover Week, we talk to one of the 19 Under 19 honorees about teenage life, how her new music represents her peers and entering into the notoriously competitive Korean pop scene at just 14.
All this week, tune into Teen Takeover Week music-video blocks featuring Fifth Harmony, One Direction and many more. Find Fuse in your area with our Channel Finder.
FUSE: What's it like being a teen musician? There are a lot of young musicians in your industry, but you must be one of the youngest to reach this level of stardom.
Lee Hi: There are a lot of advantages being a teen musician. Being young means that I have the opportunity to try out different genres of music and styles in the future.
What values are important to teenagers today?
Rather than the word "value" I'd like to express it in another way. I think that teenagers have a lot of concern towards their future and what they want to become. I, too, had worries of finding my dream before I became an artist. I wasn’t great at school and my parents thought the life of a musician was way too tough. But at 14, I began to gain confidence after applying and appearing on [Korean singing competition] Kpop Star. I felt doing what I love and what I do best is the greatest value ever. For those teens who are worried over their dreams, I’d like to advise them that they should be brave when it comes to finding what they love most. It'll be the most important value to prepare for in their twenties.
How do you think being a teenage K-pop star has changed from, say, five to 10 years ago?
Ten years ago, I was nine so I’m not really sure, but I do know that 10 years ago, the genre of K-pop was unfamiliar in the international stage and was in the process of development. So I think that artists at the time probably would have gone through a lot of hardship. Thanks to these artists, K-pop has become much more popular and young artists nowadays have many more opportunities to perform, not just in Korea, but around the world. With worldwide K-pop listeners, and the popularity of K-pop rising, the audience of K-pop has also become much more diverse in comparison to 10 years ago.
“Teens can do anything, and this is what makes this age so awesome.”
You recently released your Seoulite album. Are there any songs that you think people your age and teens connect with the most? Why?
To begin with, I’ll explain the meaning of my new album title Seoulite. There are two meanings: A person living in Seoul, and the lights of Seoul. In Korea, where I live, the city of Seoul is a wonderful and bright place. I wanted to show fans from many different countries and listeners what type of place Seoul is, what type of music I create and sing in Seoul, and myself as the shining Lee Hi in Seoul.
To tell you more about the songs included in the album, I must start with the album artwork. When you take a look at the motion-image artwork, my half album shows Seoul’s daytime, while the full album shows Seoul’s nighttime, and these two combine into one whole album. Personally, I think teens can relate to the songs "World Tour," "Fxxk Wit Us," and "Passing By." Teenagers who are going through daily routines and are bored with life may relate to the lyrics of "World Tour." The lyrics to "Fxxk Wit Us" may sound aggressive, but if I were going through adolescence, listening to this song would have been really refreshing. The lyrics also express my emotions of when adults tried to teach me in a patronized manner. Adults too aren’t perfect, people all have imperfections, and that’s why I think people should never easily point out flaws in others, especially without a specific reason. That’s why I think defiant teens may connect to this song.
Last but not least, "Passing By" is a song that I wrote when I was 16. At that time I was really lonely, no one seemed to stand beside me and I thought that everyone was leaving. The song expresses the emotions of reaching adulthood, so those who have an empty heart may click to this song.
In your career, is it sometimes tough to make your voice and artistic decisions heard because of your age?
When I debuted at 16, there were, of course, difficulties because of my young age. Since I was so young, it was hard to express my opinion, as was working with staff members much older than me. But nowadays, I don’t have the same hardships. If I don’t speak up and express my opinion, I know that we will not be able to come up with an outstanding performance. That’s why I tend to stay balanced with much larger sense of responsibility, trying to strongly state my opinion. Everyone, regardless of age, has gathered to make outstanding pieces of work, and so I try to actively express my view or ideas in relations to stage setting, song selection and the overall album work procedure.
“It was hard to express my opinion, as was working with staff members much older than me.”
What do you think is the biggest thing adults don't understand about teen life today?
In a fast-evolving society, there is an increasing number of social network sites like Instagram and Twitter, where people can upload their personal opinions and pass them on to another person at great speed. I think there may be adults who might not understand them. As a SNS [social networking site] user myself, there are both pros and cons, but I think there are much more advantages. Yes, teens and adults may not agree on this issue, but if they both try to understand each other, they might see that teens and adults aren’t much different after all. My parents and I think similarly.
What message or words of encouragement do you have for people your age?
To those who are having trouble finding their dreams and paths to achieve their dreams, I want to tell them to enjoy the process a little more and challenge diverse things. It may be scary challenging something for the first time, but throughout the procedure you will find other sides of yourself, and things that you are good at and love. So did I. If you courageously challenge yourself, you will become a greater person in the future. Teens can do anything, and this is what makes this age so awesome! Good luck!