In the summer of 2019, LeeHi gave us all the beautiful summer EP we longed for in 24°C. After two years where she’s only put out the odd single, soundtrack or collaboration, LeeHi’s has finally made a full comeback in newest LP 4 ONLY, a introspective record that reminds listeners why she’s so beloved.
The album balances between fun, radio friendly tracks and gentler, more soulful ballads. The title track here truly lives up to its name: ‘Red Lipstick (feat. Yoonmirae)’ is another disco bop that, whilst very on trend, has a chorus that allows for the beauty of LeeHi’s voice to take centre stage. When she sings ‘dance, dance, dance’ during the chorus’ hook you can’t help but wish to be taken away to whatever party LeeHi is hosting. The music video helps to emphasise the escapist message of the song even further — getting away from all the worries and the naysayers, and if your lipstick has a little smudge… well, does it really matter?
Upbeat tracks like ‘Waterride’ and ‘Bye’ keep putting out what ‘Red Lipstick’ is selling, both funk and pop earworms that show the joy of ‘Red Lipstick’ isn’t a one off, and the catchy chorus in ‘Bye’ could easily have been the album’s title track were ‘Red Lipstick’ not so damn good.
However, the majority of the album is softer and more introspective. Where 2018’s Seoulite mixed an urban feel in with LeeHi’s soulful sound, 4 ONLY feels distinctly like an album written and developed during the pandemic, a record designed to give comfort and put the listener back in touch with the tender and gentler sides of life, especially when it comes to love. The love songs LeeHi gives us are full of those moments that one remembers when you’re old: not the big, overblown gestures, but the tender moments that reminds you when love is genuine. In ‘ONLY’ she sings:
‘On tiring nights and busy daytimes
Please make room in your heart for me to rest
I’ll do better when you share your love with me’
Even in the more yearning, wistfully romantic songs such as ‘Savior (feat. B.I)’, LeeHi sings of love that brings passion and meaning into the everyday, as opposed to creating unrealistic illusion:
‘You got me to give meaning to small things like breathing
I project myself on every beautiful thing
You make me want to live…’
The album notably starts slow and ends slow, allowing the listener to relax at the beginnings of the album’s journey and also lay back and allow themselves to be lulled into the album’s gentle goodbye. If albums are like symphonies, 4 ONLY wants you to feel relaxed and contemplative throughout.
LeeHi is a notably insconspicuous artist, with her name rarely in headlines unless she appears on a soundtrack or collaboration. In a life that comes across as drama-free and earnest, in many ways she still seems to be the same artist that dropped First Love in 2013. There is a constant debate that rages about how much an artist needs to grow, shift or change to be worth any commentary or to be called ‘great’ in any way. Yet LeeHi is proof that artistic evolution doesn’t need to be radical in order to be visible, genuine and beautiful. The same gentle observations to life and existence still exist in 4 ONLY and although there’s a greater depth to how she percieves people, relationships and the self in this record than in previous offerings by her, it’s a comfort to know that desipte all her experience in the industry she still maintains much awarness of the artist she wants to be.
4 ONLY is a gentle record that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to LeeHi’s sound: and she doesn’t need to. Her abilities as a vocalist are most evident when she has tracks to play with that don’t try to be bigger than the voice that carries it. LeeHi is an artist that, when spoken about, is often linked to the concepts of introspection, joy and empathy.
In 4 ONLY, she makes more than a welcome return via new ways to convey these same, heartfelt messages. Hopefully next time, it won’t be two years until we hear the next symphony she has up her sleeve.