[Review] Lee Hi 'First Love Pt. 1'
I had elected to do a review of Lee Hi's newest release when we first heard of its possibility months ago. In typical YG Entertainment fashion, Lee Hi's release kept on being pushed back, with hazy hints of its actual release being thrown in every possible direction during the process. To the pleasant surprise of most fans of the singer once dubbed as the "Monster Rookie", YG satiated us by releasing the first half of her album 'First Love', named 'First Love Pt. 1'. While it would be far more kosher to wait for the actual release to give a full review, I'm going to follow YG's marketing skills and write this in two parts. I figure this will be the best remedy to alleviate my anxiety I've been experiencing as of late regarding this release.
While it's not technically the first track on this release, I will discuss the headlining track "It's Over" first, as I'm sure this is the song that the majority of people care most about. As a disclaimer, please don't view any negative statements I may discuss impede on what I actually think of the song: "It's Over" is more than just good, it's great. I'd even go as far as saying this will be in a strong running for the Song of the Year on the various K-pop award shows in this current cycle. Moreover, this is among the more memorable vocal performances thus far in 2013.
Now that I got that out of the way, here's my primary concern about the song: people are seemingly overreacting as to how great the song or Lee Hi actually is at the moment. Don't get me wrong, Lee Hi does possess a very unique set of pipes and attitude among her K-Pop contemporaries. Furthermore, her uncalculated success as a rookie was one of the better feel-good stories of K-Pop in 2012. However, listening to this song I find it is obvious that she has to mature a bit more vocally to truly become the force that she is imagined to be now. There is not denying the potential—she has as much potential as Google has servers—but she just seems restricted in general at the moment. While certainly she stands head and shoulders above most female "singers" in K-Pop, when I listen to someone like, for example, Gummy—particularly her 'In The Bloom' album—I can certainly argue that Lee Hi is nowhere near the idolized musician status she is being thought to be now. Obviously this is a slightly unfair comparison between the seasoned Gummy and the shockingly young Lee Hi. Yet, I prefer not to dwell on hypotheticals, so I stand by this statement. Furthermore, the song itself doesn't exactly help this cause. While of course she kills whatever parts are slayable, the song itself is pretty standard and tends to become tinged with a bit of dullness at points. Thus, I find it curious when I read comments claiming this the best thing since sliced bread.
Of course, I am being overly nit-picky above, so I digress. As far as traditional pop songs go in K-Pop, this is one of the most enjoyable and well-produced tracks to listen to this year. Lee Hi's confident husky vocals and slurred inflections pair well over the foot stomping, swinging orchestra which a sonic scape that one can't help by sway to. I'm particularly fond of 3:09-3:25, where the surprisingly lush (for K-Pop anyway) swing orchestration provides a perfect synthesis with Lee Hi's unique vocal delivery. Oddly enough it is the refrains that are the weak point of this song. The stagnantly repeated, boppy syllables prove to be somewhat static and lacking the creativity found elsewhere this continually driving song. Overall, this song is well worth the attention it's receiving. Is this the best we'll hear from Lee Hi? I anticipate not. Is it better than "22.214.171.124"? In some ways yes, though I can easily conjure a counterargument. This song certainly is not a step backwards. Regardless, it certainly destroys the dirge of K-Pop releases that I've been listening to in recent weeks.
Should my reservations about Lee Hi's unreached potential not be with a grain of salt prior, I believe the rest of the release confirms my critique. There is a theory in jazz studies that concerns progression of the performance practices of the blooming improviser. One's natural progression occurs in three steps: Imitation, Assimilation, and Innovation. Should I classify Lee Hi's artistry thus far in these terms, I would put her somewhere between the first two phases. Her imitation process is clearly evident through her evident vocal style imitation of leading pop stars. Her intro song, "Turn It Up" is clearly reminiscent of a non-Barbadian Rihanna. Furthermore, her last song, "Dream"—which I believe is next strongest track on this release—seems to almost be a direct reprisal of Adele's "Turning Tables" or "Hometown Glory". Now while I can't argue against imitating these singers in making your way through the pop world—I mean, who would ever discredit a direct comparison to Adele?—being able to identify these voices so readily demonstrates that Lee Hi hasn't quite found Lee Hi yet. However, she simultaneously demonstrates the assimilation phase as well, particularly in "Crush" where it is evident that she's studied and internalized the greats of Motown and early R&B, but can't be directly compared to a particular great in thus style, and is beginning to carve out her niche. While she technically isn't innovating anything at the moment, sticking to the styles of "Crush" and "It's Over" will undoubtedly allow her to complete this stage in her future endeavours.
And yes, since you're undoubtedly wondering, it is refreshing to be talking in such terms in the realm of K-Pop.
In sum, I can't stop listening to this release. It's far and away one of the strongest overall packages that has been released in quite some time. Honestly, this may have been enough of in a release to stand on it's own, and would have likely received a very, very high rating from myself. Unfortunately, I am left with an even greater sense of impatience for the gifts I imagine we will receive in "First Love Pt. 2". Should this release be any indication of what is to come, we may be faced with this year's 'Alive'. But for now, I've found my new loop for my iTunes and I envision it will stay there for a while… or at least until March 21.
Editors Note: The author chose to withhold his rating until release of the album in its entirety.
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