Lee Hi’s recent output is solid and rewarding, but it’s been a long time since I’d call one of her singles “fun.” Granted, K-pop has more than enough upbeat, exciting material. Lee Hi is in no way required to jump into a style that’s not a match for her ambition or personality. But, I’ve always hoped for a new single that continues the enticing energy of 1,2,3,4 or I’m Different. By embracing K-pop’s current retro trend, Red Lipstick (빨간 립스틱) answers that call.
I wouldn’t have expected Lee Hi to venture down this route, and that’s half the fun of the track. The funky synth deposits listeners in the past, with musical touchstones from the 80’s and 90’s. The production casts a familiar tone but never overplays its hand. At the same time, Lipstick’s melody feels more indebted to the early 2000’s. This trio of influences works especially well, as the legendary Yoon Mi-rae ties everything together with a double punch of charismatic rap verses. Her vocal is especially well-suited to this material — especially as electro squiggles swoop in to add a bright party atmosphere.
Lee Hi feels less comfortable with the sound, and that’s to be expected. I’m pretty picky when it comes to vocalists in this genre, and can’t help but feel that Lipstick might have been elevated by a more rhythmic vocal performance. Hi doesn’t have a dancer’s instincts for groove and her voice never quite lives inside the rhythm. This is especially evident when contrasted against Mi-rae’s effortless performance. But, her soulful tone compensates, adding texture to the track. Producer Chancellor does a lot of the heavy lifting, delivering a supple groove that makes everything go down easy.