Friday, March 8, 2013

[Review] Lee Hi, First Love / Part I

Hey everyone! I'm back!

It's been a minute (understatement of the year, I know) - things have been hectic on this end, but I am seriously thinking about getting this blog on a more regular schedule. That may mean switching things up a bit content-wise, but not to worry - I will still be bringing you coverage of k-pop, k-indie and k-WTF. That's all still in the works, though, so let's hurry up and get to what brought be out of my hermit hole in the first place: part I of Lee Hi's debut album, First Love.

So, upon hearing the intro track "Turn It Up," I was excited to hear more of those R&B realness with horns and everything on the album itself. This mini-album, though, it didn't quite end up being what I expected.

The lead single, "It's Over," is another one of those times when k-pop decides to do cabaret jazz. I generally ignore these tracks, because for the most part they're boring as all hell get out (though TaeTiSeo actually did pretty good with "OMG"). "It's Over" is more laid-back than "OMG" - a casual dismissal of a former flame that starts out cool and collected and becomes more firm in her decision to ditch the dude as the song progresses. It's a slow burner, and not as peppy as "1, 2, 3, 4," but it's still fun, and I love Lee Hi's voice so that keeps it interesting enough until the instrumental's fully fleshed out and I'm full engaged.



To my great disappointment, however, the energy level drops on the next track and never picks up. Everything else is a downtempo track. I'm baffled as to why this mini-album is so... dreary. Lee Hi is fifteen years old - she's much too young to be such a downer. Maybe I've been watching too much Sailor Moon recently, but even in my (distant) memory of being a teenager, no girl at that age is so serious.  And even if they are, I know that Lee Hi didn't write this mini, so it just comes off as an attempt to make her seem more mature than she is. (I mean, have they seen this video?) Which is totally unnecessary, in my opinion - let the kid be a kid. I feel like girls her age may not listen to this album, but older people would - another example of how I feel like k-pop's musical choices aren't targeted to the actual listeners, but to the critics and industry execs who dictate TV/radio appearances.

"Special" is musically an alternate iteration of Tablo's "The Tide" from Fever's End, and knowing that, it's hard to match the song to my image of Lee Hi. Also, it's kinda boring. I was hoping that the pace would pick up at the chorus a la Sammie's "I Like It" (still one of the better tween pop-R&B songs, btw), but it just drags itself through this snore-fest of a non-chorus. Heck, Hayi and Jennie sound like they'd rather be in school than singing this song. It's fine, but that's really all I can say about it. I've seen this kind of low-to-mid-tempo R&B song done just as well - and arguably, better - by countless young girl groups - Sugababes, 3LW, (twice), and Cleopatra name a few, so this doesn't do much for me.* Heck, even EvoL did better (one of my favorite k-pop songs from last year, btw).

"One-Sided Love" is the song that made me realize that they were going for an Adele vibe with this mini-album. It's... nice? But it's basically 19 and 22 rolled into one track - it's derivative, and I think this is a misstep. If YG wants to establish Lee Hi as a solo artist, she needs to have her own sound - and if she can't, it's not the greatest idea to copy her sound from the hottest pop vocalist at the moment.

That criticism non-withstanding, "Dream" - the other Adele B-side track on this mini - manages to be my favorite track on this album after "Turn It Up," solely due to Lee Hi's vocal performance. There's a tension and urgency in her voice here that's absent in the other tracks - every syllable is heavy with significance. It's only here that a comparison to Adele is a positive one as opposed to a negative one - technical proficiency meets conviction, and Hayi delivers my favorite ballad performance of hers since her cover of Lim Jae-bum's "For You". Of all the tracks on this album, this one felt real. It may be that she has a personal connection here that's lacking in the other tracks, or it may just be that this was the only song where she was 100% on during recording, and not sleep-deprived and overworked. But them's the breaks with idol music: you throw them into the studio and simply hope that they turn up diamonds.

I'm guessing/hoping that the uptempo tracks are on the full album. I don't mind YG using this tactic as a means of upping their physical sales, but the mini-album version of the album should be cohesive on its own - and that doesn't mean everything has to be ballads. First Love / Part I is slow and it drags on - 3/5 songs seem a full minute longer than they need to be. Overall, I find it just as dull as the minis released by Hayi's fellow K-Pop Star alumni last year, so I'm hoping that the full album brings us the energy that "1, 2, 3, 4" showed us Hayi was capable of.

*The songs linked in that paragraph are essentially what I used to bump on my big sister's stereo in middle school. Totally making a Spotify playlist of these.

4 comments:

  1. Big k-pop fan here, despite being a metalhead. "1,2,3,4" was waaaay better and really surprised me. But, on the whole, I don't think we can expect a lot from the younger pop artists. Always dug your blog's name, btw. Creative and artsy-sounding.

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    1. Yeah, I realize that most of these kids are still pretty green. I just wish the entertainment companies were more modest about their expectations for them, and give them one good single, or a few good songs, instead of albums full of snooze.

      And thanks! I actually wanted to put up some artwork as a header photo - I should look into that again.

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  2. Hi Hun! I know very little about Ms. Lee Hi beyond "1, 2, 3, 4", which I was totes late to the party for. I've been hearing such mixed reviews for this, but I'm usually not here for the ballads unless they bring the heat and emotion, like you were saying. Her cute image is so contrasting to her deep, articulate vocal (like in "It's Over"...so confused). I'll have to look into this one more. Loving your girl groups of yore references -- pretty sure you and I were the same chick just in different places. ;) You're on Spotify? Look me up (LeAnna Christiansen) - I've got playlists a plenty. ;)

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  3. Great review! ;) I believe Lee Hi will have a great career path ahead of her.

    On a side note, do visit my review blog too! ;) http://kosongr.wordpress.com

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