Park Ji Yoon, the k-pop star behind the 2000 k-pop hit “Coming-of-Age Ceremony”, recently released her newest single a year after releasing her previous album, “Tree of Life” (definitely check the album out if you haven’t as it is a k-indie gem). K-drama fans will also recognize her as the stoic assistant in “Lie to Me” (yup, this badass sings, writes songs, models, and acts).
“Mr. Lee” is a flirty, upbeat track that is in alignment with the jazz fad that k-pop seems to be swept up in at the moment. While hopping aboard a fad train typically means sacrificing originality for hype, Yoon’s uniquely subdued voice coupled with eclectic instrumental choices create a rather vibrant soundscape. “Mr. Lee” is definitely one of the more standout tracks among the jazz releases in k-pop at the moment, putting Ms. Park Ji Yoon comfortably back into the scene.
I really loved the visual aspects of this release. Black and white with colorful words and icons flashing on screen now and then, I really enjoyed the minimalistic take on the music video. The whole drawing tally marks on her hand to show how many “Mr. Lee”s she has gone through was clever and a very refreshing role reversal of the womanizing males that dominate the k-pop scene.
I also liked how pictures of the instrument being introduced into the song pop up in the video as they play in the song. It adds a splash of color to an otherwise binary palette.
I liked that the music video was edgy but did not push the envelope too much. It was subdued, slick, and quirky, paralleling nicely with the song that it is showcasing.
I am a fan of this song for a couple reasons.
Firstly, jazz. I love this take on jazz because it sounds a bit edgier than say IU’s take on the genre on her latest release. There were more risks taken in the instrumentation, resulting in a very diverse sound. I would liken this release to a more modern, upbeat version of this song by Swedish electronic jazz duo Koop, “Summer Sun”. “Mr. Lee” definitely shares the same exact melody for the bridge (“어떻게 시작해볼까? [eotteoke sijakhaebolkka?]”) and some of the instrumental choices so the connection is evident though “Mr. Lee” takes a more upbeat route most likely because of the k-pop audience Park Ji Yoon is targeting.
Secondly, Yoon’s vocals. Park Ji Yoon has a very distinct quality to her voice. She doesn’t exactly belt things out and doesn’t have the most commanding voice but that’s her trump card. Her voice is beautifully wavering and delicate and it sounds really great in this genre of music. Her chill and smooth vocals contrast nicely with the upbeat instrumentals backing her up. One could argue that the horns that interject in the song at the end of sections of the song are abrasive but I think it adds that needed rough sound to counter Yoon’s decidedly flat dynamics.
Thirdly, San E’s contribution. Rap breaks are a bit of an overdone thing in k-pop but I think it works well for this release because this song seems to welcome a rap break, with all of the hip hop elements that were thrown into the instrumentation. San E is a very competent rapper and does his job very well here, adding his own quirky sound into the mix. While rap breaks tend to destroy the coherency of a track, I would say it helps the coherency in this one. Yoon’s vocals need counteracting sounds for the song to sound full and complete, especially if it is an uptempo track such as this one, so I believe the rap break was justified.
Park Ji Yoon’s release is a very solid one. The release isn’t as serious as other releases but that’s the point. “Mr. Lee” is a light-hearted single that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Elements of jazz and hip hop get counterbalanced by quirky lines and quirky delivery. Soft vocals get a boost from abrasive horns. This release won’t be revolutionary but it is balanced and modest and I think that was the whole point. It wasn’t designed to be the next “Gee”, it was designed to be a piece of music for the sake of music and that is very refreshing in a genre that produces music through metaphorical factories.
Very quirky and upbeat instrumentation for a light and jazzy song with subdued but solid vocals from Park Ji Yoon.