Lee Hi, "1, 2, 3, 4"
Not having followed K-Pop Star, I had no idea this girl even existed until she did "It's Cold" with Epik High for their new album. So coming into this with no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. Given that I had said earlier that JYP was the entertainment company who had the best chance of delivering a song with some soul, I was not expecting this from YG at all. I was expecting some sort of synthed-up pop track, but instead I have a stripped back soul instrumental - funk guitar, drums, a little electric piano - that allows Lee Hayi's gorgeous voice to shine. Don't expect elaborate vocal gymnastics a la Ailee here - Lee Hayi is all about the low, gravelly, laid-back delivery, and it works for the track. She has a truly unique voice, and that really sets this song apart in the sea of retro-inspired tracks that have come out of k-pop in recent years. Credit goes to Lydia Paek, Choice37 and MastaWu, who are (finally) bringing some new-new to YG's musical repertoire. This song is very clearly in the vein of Duffy's stripped down soul sound, but that's not a bad thing. K-pop desperately needs some soul and sass, and Lee Hi is bringing it... even if her video only gives us a glimpse of that. Besides, Duffy was riffing off of the sound of many black singers before her, so it's not like anyone's reinventing the wheel here.
Even though she has issues emoting (there since her K-Pop Star days, apparently) as the video progresses Hayi gets better, and is actually pretty adorable and engaging in that last scene outside the theatre. While this is not my favorite of director Han Sa-min's work (that'd have to be BIGBANG's "Blue") I do like the gradual transformation she makes from from regular girl to fresh young star. And I LOVE the elevator projection at the first chorus.
She's still a little rough around the edges, but Lee Hi has delivered a solid track that should put her fellow K-Pop Star graduates (Park Ji-min and Baek Ah-yeon) on notice. Dull ballads and short-lived star power aren't going to cut it when you're competing with girls just as vocally talented, as well as older, more established stars for the solo singer spotlight. Sisters better recognize.