How Su Lee Turned Quarantine Boredom In South Korea To Global Music Stardom

A quarantine star is born.

Su Lee turned her quarantine feelings and frustration into music. A couple of viral hits later, she is now one of the most exciting new acts of today.

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When the initial lashing of the pandemic forced millions around the world into quarantine, the new environment changed the landscape of many livelihood. Spending months at home brought some people into new careers or changes in lifestyle. That very much was applicable for Korean musician Su Lee. Pre-pandemic, she was just another cog in the corporate machine. But when quarantine hit, she used the moment to pursue a long-held passion, music. She then dropped tracks such as I’ll Just Dance, which went viral and soon built herself a following that extended well beyond her apartment, also known as her 10×10 box room where she makes all her music.

To listen to Su Lee is like listening to a contradiction. Her music is raw and real as she isn’t afraid to channel her own doubts, anxieties, and insecurities into music. But her production and beats very much lean towards a DIY and bedroom kind of pop. Most of her visuals and music videos feel quite homemade, which is not a bad thing at all. It’s a mix of these things, her uniqueness, penchant for making catchy music, and ability to turn her personal struggles into relatable tunes that made her the rising star that she is today. You feel like you’re listening to a friend when you listen to her tracks.

STEPPING OUT OF THE BOX

Harnessing Gen Z anxiety that rings with honesty, the young musician though has begun expanding her wings beyond her room. Her releases, Super Happy and Jump, both mark the first time Su has made music outside her 10×10 box, collaborated with another artist (Columbian musician Ariza), and produced trilingual tracks. Yet all these firsts did not take away from what made Su Lee so special in the first place.

The English, Korean, and Spanish worded lyrics are all optimistic reminders to live in the present to live in the present, all while touching upon the doubts that run at the back of the mind. NYLON Manila recently got the chance to chat with the South Korean artist where she opened up about her new music, this new chapter of her career, Gen Z, and much more.

What made you decide to pursue a career in music?

I was fed up with the schmoozing culture of corporate jobs and having to use my creativity for someone else’s needs. So, I decided to walk away from it and gave myself a year to do what I’ve always wanted to do full-time, which was music.

How would you describe your music?

An excuse for me to be super duper vulnerable and be very TMI about my life experiences and emotions.

If quarantine never happened, do you think that you would still be making music?

My guess is a no. I’ll Just Dance was the song that got me my first break during the pandemic. And a lot of people have graciously called it their “quarantine anthem” and have told me it has helped them go through some tough moments during it. Although the song personally wasn’t even about the pandemic, I think I was just very lucky in having released that music at the right time for a lot of people to be able to relate to it.

What was it like working with Ariza? How did the collaboration come about?

Ariza and I met through social media. I can’t quite remember who reached out to who first, but we just really dug each other’s musical styles from the get go.

Collaborating with Ariza was done purely via email. I sent him some voice notes of ideas for songs, he would reply back about which ones stood out to him, I would send him back recordings and notes, so on and so forth. It was a slow process, but it was also really satisfying to see the songs developing and taking shape with each email.

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You normally make music in your 10×10 bedroom. But your latest releases saw you step out of that zone. What was that experience like?

I’ve recently decided to do an extended stay in LA to focus on collaborating as much as possible and finishing off my upcoming album. It has been such an eventful last couple months; I feel like more has happened for me in the last few months of working in LA than it has over the span of a year in my 10×10 bedroom in South Korea.

Do you think making tracks inside your box room vs outside of it changes the way your music sounds and feels?

No, at least not fundamentally. I think each and every one of my songs would always sound different just by its nature. But my main focus when making music has and will always be that it represents myself fully. And as long as I don’t lose this focus, my music will always feel like a “Su Lee music” no matter where I make it.

Photo by Lauren Desberg

Given how different Super Happy and Jump are to your past releases, did that change the way you approached working on them as compared to before?

The process was definitely different in that it was a collaboration between myself and Ariza as opposed to writing and producing everything all on my own. The biggest difference was that I made sure that I stayed open minded throughout the whole process. A lot of the suggestions and input that came from Ariza weren’t something that I was used to implementing in my songs. But I think that is exactly what gave birth to the new, fresh sound of Super Happy and Jump!

How do you manage to balance discussing serious topics while still keeping that playful and DIY touch to your music?

By reminding myself: “DO NOT OVERTHINK THIS SH*T AND JUST F*CKING DO WHAT FEELS GOOD AND FUN.”

Do you ever get nervous of being too honest in your music?

No, not really. If anything, I feel like music is the medium that I feel the most safe being “overly honest” with. There’s something comforting about turning a vulnerable experience into a fun work of art.

How would you describe Gen Z?

Probably how I would describe any other generations of humans—a group of people who just want to feel connected and heard.

What is one thing about Gen Z that you wish people would stop getting wrong?

Just because we’re self-deprecating doesn’t mean we’re stupid or don’t have opinions.

What advice would you give to people who also deal with social and mental anxieties?

I would sa,y “Hey, if you’re reading this, just know that I’m answering this question for NYLON Manila while I’m sh*tting myself about potentially messing up that meeting I’ve got scheduled on Wednesday, or asking my crush out on a date when he’s clearly not interested in me, or just generally nervous that my career and life could end horribly someday. So, I hope this makes you feel a little less alone.”

Photo by Sela Shiloni

What’s next for you? Do you see yourself continuing to make music outside of your apartment?

YES, YES, YES. I love being out here in LA, meeting fellow creatives, making new styles of music. I always jokingly say that I’m ready to walk away from being a musician altogether, but in truth, I want to tour more, grow as an artist, and expand my career as much as possible!

For first-time listeners, which song/s of yours do you think they should play if they want to get into Su Lee?

I’ll Just Dance would be the classic, but also Super Happy for some trilingual booty shaking session!!!!! 🙂

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