Among the many musical treats offered by SXSW 2018, Lee Hi's first-ever performance in the United States was a huge one with the K-pop songbird's husky vocals livening up the crowd as one of the final performers at the 2018 Korea Spotlight showcase. Despite the singer's last release coming via 2016's Seoulite, the 21-year-old delivered a fully rounded set that covered some of her chart-topping hits, but seemed to focus more on her recent hip-hop- and R&B-heavy collaborations that have dropped more recently. Speaking to Fuse backstage at the show, the singer-songwriter shared an update on her upcoming LP, her '90s musical influences and a message to the fans waiting for more.
FUSE: What's going through your mind when you play a festival like SXSW? It's very different than a K-pop festival.
Lee Hi: It's a very special, unique experience because every other festival I've been to is usually under one genre or, just like you said, it's a K-pop festival. But it's my first time seeing so many people coming from so many different places and playing so many different genres. SXSW actually sent offers for me to perform here several times and it didn't work out, but I was always hoping to be on the official showcase. I'm not trying to promote new songs or anything, I'm actually just happy to be a part of the SXSW festival. I don't get a lot of chances to meet overseas audiences and there are a lot of people who don't know me so I want to provide a good performance for the different audience.
Your most recent album Seoulite was really impressive and you got to show more of your songwriting talents. How do you look back on the release?
I actually didn't have as much time to prepare for that album as I thought I would, but even through that situation, I love each and every song so that means a lot to me. And with a song like "Passing By," I wrote it when she was 15 or 14 and I actually got to release that song. I want to keep having that feeling where I'm creating something that's special to me. I'm writing new songs for my new album as well.
“I want to make this album perfect. I write lyrics every day.”
Do you have an idea of when that new album will be coming or what the concept or genre will be?
The thing is, I was actually expecting the new album to come out beginning of this year, but I keep searching for better songs, like the songs that I love even more, so I really can't say. I love listening to R&B, singing R&B, but also it's important for my fans to like the songs so I'm trying to find a middle point for it too. But I'm still searching for better music, I want to make this album perfect. I actually write lyrics every day, like a diary.
Who are your favorite R&B artists?
There are too many! [Laughs] It's really hard to explain what's on my mind vibe-wise, but I really like the classic singers. Oh, I've been listening to Brownstone's first album [1995's From the Bottom Up] a lot recently. I like Floetry. I like H.E.R.—H.E.R. actually included a cover of Floetry [on the 2016 song "Wait for It'].
From your love of R&B to hip-hop collaborations and you'll soon be performing at Seoul Jazz Festival in May, you seem to have a lot of influences.
I actually kind of grew up listening to jazz because my older sister majored in jazz so it was natural for me to listen to jazz. Because I showed more of that side in my audition program [K-pop Star], a lot of fans actually see me as, like, a jazz artist kind rather than an R&B artist. But I do love jazz.
Is your family very musical?
I guess you can say it's a musical family. My father really wanted to be a singer and my parents love music—my sister also do. It was a very music-friendly family.
What else do fans need to know?
First of all, I feel sorry for my fans because they're always waiting on my new album, but I'm still thankful because they're always supporting me no matter what. As time goes by, I really believe that there are certain times for me to reach out to certain fans in my own style. Like, the album I released during my teenager years was right for me as a teenager. I'm going towards my mid-20s and I believe there's a new kind of music and vibe I can share with this album. But I want to keep on making music, keep on growing, and keep on changing, and even though it takes a long time, I'm asking fans to actually wait, support and expect the new version of myself.