What Lee Hyun’s up to in 2021
How did “Big Hit’s Jeong Dojeon” find a new foothold on YouTube?
“Black Glasses,” a song released by Eru in 2006, was covered by famous users on video sharing platform TikTok this year and rode that popularity to the Melon TOP100 chart. During the “online Tapgol Park” retro music trend of 2019, the video of Yang Joon Il’s concert on KBS’s Gayo Top 10 from 30 years earlier had over three million views on YouTube, and the singer soon rose to stardom after appearing on JTBC’s Two Yoo Project: Sugar Man. The MBC show Hangout with Yoo sent the original 1994 DEUX version of “In the Summer”—after it was covered in 2020 by experimental group SSAK3—and old hit songs from SG WANNABE that were popular in the mid-2000s, and which inspired the TV show’s group MSG WANNABE, into the upper ranks of the music charts. While the pandemic has reduced the frequency of song use outdoors, variety shows on TV have become that much more influential. On top of that, word of mouth through social media like TikTok challenges, YouTube highlight videos and Instagram Reels are playing an important role in turning songs into hits, with many instances where older songs “reversing back” up the streaming charts.
Singer Lee Hyun, who’s taken on the nickname Big Hit’s Jeong Dojeon, has recently found his own way of keeping up with these changing trends. Lee rose to popularity through songs like “Without a Heart,” “Goodbye My Lover” and “Close That Lip” with his debut mixed-gender group 8eight, “Still Eating Well” as part of the duo Homme, and “You Are the Best of My Life” as a solo artist. In March of this year he launched a YouTube channel, Hyunie Combo TV, where he creates videos under the persona Big Hit’s Jeong Dojeon. “When I say I’m with Big Hit, everybody says, ‘What are you doing at BTS’s agency?’ ” Lee said by way of a personal introduction on MBC’s Radio Star in 2018, cheerfully describing his role at BIGHIT MUSIC, now a label under HYBE. “But I was at Big Hit since the beginning. I’m Big Hit’s first.” He combines that character with his singer persona when he films for Hyunie Combo TV. Lee posted a video tour worthy of the Big Hit’s Jeong Dojeon epithet when HYBE moved their headquarters and also demonstrated his relationship with other HYBE artists and the staff when BTS’s “Permission to Dance” challenge was popular and he learned the dance moves from performance director and the song’s choreo creator Son Sung Deuk. Lee also managed to take viewers behind the scenes in his reaction videos by inviting Son and producer Pdogg for BTS’s “Butter” and producer Slow Rabbit for TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You).”
As an artist who’s also known them a long time, Lee said the reason the videos are inevitably “reaction videos without the reaction” and “more like behind-the-scenes” peeks is that “that’s the way it is when you’re artists who’ve known each other a long time and you worked on” the videos they watch. The idea for meeting TOMORROW X TOGETHER as a member of the content creation team also came from his encounter with the artist when they worked out together; “Whenever I work out between nine and midnight, TOMORROW X TOGETHER come to see me when they’re finished work,” he said, adding that, “At first I just watched them, but then I helped them out with their form and it was like I became their personal trainer.” A different experience was behind his decision to be on BTS’s management team. “One time I was doing a concert in Japan at the same time BTS was, and at the hotel we kept saying to each other, ‘We have to be appreciative of everything the staff members do.’ ” As “Big Hit’s first,” Lee leverages his relationships with the label’s artists and staff to create content for viewers that other YouTube channels—without his level of access to the places where the artists and staff members work—aren’t able to.
As of August 31, the two episodes documenting Lee’s time on BTS’s management team had around 2.3 and 2.6 million views each, with 7,000 to 9,000 comments per video. The comments sections are filled with feedback in all different languages and the number of overseas viewers for his live YouTube broadcasts is on the rise. On July 13 Lee posted a video showing off the Silver Play Button he received from YouTube in light of the increased buzz; as of August 31, he’d amassed more than 356,000 subscribers. And he’s gradually showing people more of his life as a singer through the interest he generates through his work as a YouTuber and creator who makes videos about HYBE artists. As “most people consume music these days where they are and there aren’t many opportunities to hear live music,” Lee is providing a steady output of content, like his “cool live practice studio” live streams, a playlist called “Hyunie, are you singing?” and a series of “live clips” released alongside his comeback in July. He revealed that he “wanted to make a hub where people could listen to my music” and that he hopes “people will have an easier time listening to my music” through his YouTube channel. He’s found a way to get his face out there in the new media environment and is turning that attention into an opportunity for people to listen to his songs. In an era where success on music streaming sites involves leveraging a combination of promotional TV appearances, trending on social media, and portraying both yourself and a version of yourself in character, Lee is essentially doing his own combination of Hangout with Yoo, Sugar Man and KBS’s Yu Huiyeol’s Sketchbook under the HYBE umbrella all by himself on YouTube.
The versions of “You Are the Best of My Life,” “Goodbye My Lover,” “Still Eating Well” and other songs that Lee has uploaded to Hyuni Combo TV are completely different from how they once sounded. Unlike the versions he’s performed on stage for TV or in concert in the past, these were filmed in a softly candlelit bedroom or on a studio sofa surrounded by an arrangement of plants. The dark eye makeup, stiff waxed hair, and tight-fitting jeans and jacket look once popular in the 2000s and early 2010s is replaced by more natural hair and makeup, loose shirts and slacks, resulting in an entirely different vibe. His vocal style, too, has changed. When he was a trainee and early on in his debut, “the songs that Si Hyuk had me sing were all very detailed,” Lee said. “There are a lot of songs that fit in with the current style of sentimental ballads, so I practiced those old songs in detail” and in a more modern, 2020s style. On the MBC Radio show Kim Shin Young’s Noon Song of Hope, he demonstrated a line from his new song “Moon in the Ocean”—“felt only fear from the ocean”—in his traditional style, then again using a different vocal tone, noting that he “actually emulated Jung Kook. I used him as my reference.” The reason, Lee says, is that he wants to make “music that keeps in step with the times”: “Since I’m a singer, when I listen to a BTS or TOMORROW X TOGETHER song and some part in the vocals piques my interest, I just want to try singing along to it. I like the texture of their music and what they’re going for, too, and people love those songs. And I like trying to act like them, because I’ll try expressing myself and sometimes realize the way I used to think was best isn’t—that there are other ways.” For example, unlike the original 2011 version of “You Are the Best of My Life,” when Lee emphasized the sense of sadness to convey the idea of someone who’s just experienced a breakup, in his 2021 “Live Clip” version, he gently murmurs the final syllable of each line and the high notes, changing the song to impart a sense of reminiscing on a time since passed. Lee’s emergence as a YouTuber is, therefore, a result of him choosing to change in order to better fit in with the era as well.
“Everyone wants to love, to succeed, and to have good things happen,” Lee said, explaining the “Moon in the Ocean” lyrics. “But they can’t have it without putting in the effort or getting hurt. The song started with the idea that, when it comes to love, it’s impossible to have it without sacrifice.” At the same time, it sounds not unlike the story behind what he’s doing now to keep on singing. He overcame his fear—“Could I do something that’s a little newer? If not, there’s no point in doing anything”—by starting to make himself known in a new way. “I’m not a born vocalist and I usually take a long time to get the hang of a song, so I felt nervous about how different it was.” But he’s put in the effort to overcome that feeling, and to be able to sing songs that people will like—a singer from 2007 working his way to keep singing new songs, even in 2021.
Article. Minji Oh
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC
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