Of all of YG Entertainment’s active artists, Lee Hi has been denied a comeback the longest. Though she’s collaborated with others more recently, it’s been since 2013 that we’ve heard solo material. A wait like this does nothing but build expectations sky high. With Seoulite, she’s returned with two title tracks. Do either of them exceed the high bar raised by fans’ lofty anticipation?
Of the two, Breathe seems to be the song getting the most attention. As a minimalist soul ballad, it’s tailored perfectly to Lee Hi’s supple, velvety voice. The accompaniment (mostly just piano and strings) puts that voice front and center, from the subdued verses to the more explosive chorus. There isn’t much ornamentation in her delivery, but the straightforward nature of the melody gives the track a stark, immediate power. It’s a testament to the star power evident in Hi’s performance. She magnetizes with only her voice.
In some ways, I’m surprised at how traditional the song is. Despite taking some cues from similar western artists like Adele, Breathe feels very much like a good old fashioned Korean ballad. It probably could have been sung by any number of artists within the genre, but in doing so would have lost that spark that makes it special. It manages to stay just short of the sentimental bombast of many of its contemporaries, opting instead to offer something more pensive and restrained.