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[Herald Interview] ‘It took 10 years to be called singer Lee So-jung’

From Ladies’ Code Sojung to soloist Lee So-jung, on last 10 years and more to come

Singer Lee So-jung (JTBC Studios)
Singer Lee So-jung (JTBC Studios)

Lee So-jung reintroduced herself as a soloist to the public through JTBC’s popular “Sing Again” last year. Stepping outside her long-held comfort zone as part of Ladies’ Code and shrugging aside the burdens that came with the name, she said she “now hopes to become a singer who can smile” during the show.

A year has passed since then, and Lee now thinks that she is happy, the artist said in an interview conducted in January at Herald Square in Yongsan, Seoul.

“I’m much happier. I’m doing things that I’ve been hoping to do for a long time, although I wouldn’t say that I’m satisfied as I still have more to show as a singer,” Lee said.

The interview came following the release of her single “Love in the Clouds” on Jan. 15, which the singer described as a feel-good song like downy clouds floating in a clear sky.

“People take pictures of the sky when it’s clear and share it on social media, and I sang this song, hoping it could give that pleasant feeling we get on a good day.”

While many Koreans previously recognized Lee as a member of K-pop girl group Ladies’ Code before her breakout on the JTBC show, she has released six solo singles since 2017, when she made her soloist debut in the ballad “Better Than Me.”

Album cover image of Lee So-jung's
Album cover image of Lee So-jung's "Love in the Clouds" (JTBC Studios)
The JTBC series was like a second solo debut for Lee, not just to the public but for herself.

“Before I went on the program, I was feeling really unstable and anxious about myself, about whether I’d be able to make it work as a solo musician without the title of Ladies’ Code,” she said.

“But, through the show, I realized that so many people were supporting me and the huge love I’d been receiving from the public, and I felt confident then that I could make it work as just Lee So-jung, and not Sojung of Ladies’ Code.”

As happy as she is now walking her own path, she says a different kind of burden now weighs down on her as she tries to deliver more delicate emotions through her voices at a deeper level.

“There’s always a clear emotional message that I want to deliver through my performances,” she said. “If performing as Ladies’ Code was just fun, these days I feel more nervous on the stage, but that’s also why the catharsis that follows is also more explosive.”

Defining the emotion and empathizing with it herself before she voices it, she has been acclaimed by many listeners and experts for her heartfelt delivery of emotions.

Lee first received the public spotlight in 2012, when she appeared on the first season of Mnet’s “The Voice of Korea.”

She said she went on the audition show not hoping to become a singer, but to get a chance to sing in front of people.

“When I was in middle school, I saw this video of Amy Winehouse singing so effortlessly on stage. I didn’t think about becoming a singer then, but I felt an urge to perform in front of an audience,” she said.

Finishing the show at No. 7, Lee faced an unexpected dilemma about her career.

“I was still undecided over whether I should be an idol or a soloist, and during ‘The Voice of Korea’ afterparty (the show’s judge and veteran singer) Baek Ji-young told me, ‘You’re going to sing for a long time. Do what you can do now.’ And that really hit me hard.”

Lee made her first appearance in the industry as part of Ladies’ Code in 2013, along with bandmates Ashley, Zuny, RiSe and EunB. She had spent the past eight years as Sojung of Ladies’ Code -- a group that turned from a quintet into a trio in 2014 following a tragic car accident -- and the past two years silently laying the foundations to kick off her solo career, with few public appearances.

Singer Lee So-jung (JTBC Studios)
Singer Lee So-jung (JTBC Studios)
During the interview, Lee was ever so careful in putting her answers into words, pausing now and then to mull her thoughts.

Her decision to perform Jung Joon-il’s “Hug Me” during the 2021 singing competition also followed a weighed and considered process.

“I think I was the most honest with myself with that song. I tried to deliver the message that, ‘I’m in pain, so please hug me,’ which is something I’d never voiced through songs before.”

Making into the top 10, she was finally referred to by her name and not by her number -- No. 11. And Lee says she still cannot forget the overwhelming emotion she felt when her name was first called out.

“I think it was almost 10 years that I had been called by my name, Lee So-jung, on the stage. I started singing at 19 through ‘The Voice of Korea,’ during which I was briefly called by name. But during the years of Ladies’ Code, ‘Sojung of Ladies’ Code’ was like a single name for me,” she said.

“When (singer and ‘Sing Again’ emcee) Lee Seung-gi introduced me onto the stage as ‘singer Lee So-jung,’ I felt like crying. It might be just a three-word phrase to some, but it’s taken so long for me to be called by my own name.”

Although she has embarked successfully on the next step of her music career as a soloist, Lee assured Ladies’ Code was still very much intact and open to making a comeback at any time.

“We text almost every day, and I actually texted with them just yesterday,” she said.

The trio dropped their last group album in 2019, with the EP “Set Me Free,” which was also the third of the band’s “Code” series, coming six years since “Code #02 Pretty Pretty,” released just before the group’s tragedy.

The three bandmates departed from Polaris Entertainment in February 2020 at the end of their contract with the label and each has been focusing on their solo careers, Junny as a musician and Ashley as a show host.

“Although it’s just my idea for now, I’m thinking about dropping our 10th anniversary album. We have a year left until then, and I think it would be meaningful to make one. I want to include at least one ballad song. We’re actually quite good with ballads, and maybe we could write the lyrics together to tell our stories.”

Having turned 30 in Korean age this year -- considered a turning point in life by many here -- Lee said she was looking forward to her next decade.

“I think I’ll be able to show a different, more complete version of myself from now,” she said. “Since I was young, people used to tell me that I sounded too old for my age when I sing. Many told me to sing ‘like a young person,’ but I was just singing in my own style. Since then, I’ve been waiting for that moment when my voice, my age and my music all balanced out.”

The perfect balance may not be happening soon, Lee said, as she does not feel quite ready. Asked if she’d know when that point comes, Lee answered with a firm “yes.”

“I feel I’m too small, and I have much to learn before I could really enjoy everything. I’d know that the ‘moment’ is here when I find myself just having fun,” she said.

Her biggest concerns these days are about what she could do more as a musician other than singing. So far, Lee has only performed the songs written by others. Although she continues to work on writing lyrics and composing her own music, Lee said she does not have a clear plan to release self-made songs yet.

Looking back on her decadelong career, Lee picked the highlight as becoming part of Ladies’ Code. “I was fortunate to have met Ladies’ Code. It’s the most important and valuable (moment) to me,” she said.

With that at heart, Lee now hopes to become a singer who is like a friend to her listeners.

“I want people to feel comfortable listening to me, like a friend who doesn’t just say, ‘It’s OK’ when you’re sad, but sits beside and cries with you,” she said.

“I’ll be singing for a long, long time, so it’s OK to get tired, but I hope I could just stay a steady, diligent person.”

By Choi Ji-won (
Korea Herald Youtube