Su Lee is no stranger to turning deep pain into ethereal pop music. With her new song “Wide Awake,” a moody self-produced track, she works through overwhelming pressures of those early days in her career and feelings of loneliness and sorrow. “I miss my hometown where I was a part of a family of craziеs and dreams,” she laments.
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Her voice darts across a blanket of synths and piano, a minimalistic approach that gives her even more agency of expression. “I wrote [this song] during the period when I had almost no audience. It was one of those days when I felt overwhelmed by striving alone with no one to talk to,” the Seoul-based artist tells American Songwriter. “So, I wrote a song as a reminder for myself (and others in similar positions) to keep dreaming and never lose touch with our imaginations.”
The song’s rich organic texture switch between the weight of solitude and the hope we all have buried deep inside. “I’ve never really liked overly processing my vocals or having the songs be meticulously produced with a super pop quality,” she explains. “But I did want ‘Wide Awake,’ in particular, to feel like a sort of a magical voice message to the listeners. I had a lot of fun humming lots of ‘ahh’s and ‘ohh’s and experimenting with different production methods to add a bit of that ‘magical spark’ to the song.”
The accompanying visual, filmed predominantly in her 10-foot by 10-foot apartment, leans into a similar approach ─ using plenty of green screen sequences to showcase her quirky personality and a way of finding solace on her own. “The idea from the get-go was to show the separation of my dreams and reality becoming one,” she says. “It was really fun to brainstorm ideas of all the different magical elements that I could put in the music video prior to shooting the green screen footage. The vertical video parts were all just collections of footage from my daily life.”
Since day one, Lee has “always been a massive daydreamer as far as I can remember,” she reflects. It’s no surprise her work benefits so greatly with a wild imagination, and even more importantly, she finds herself “turning to my imagination and daydreams much more intensely when I’m going through a particularly difficult period in my life.”
Songwriting has naturally played into her ability to cope with anxiety and being alone. “[It] gives me a chance to turn pain or any particularly intense emotion into something beautiful and artistic. It really is the ultimate catharsis,” she offers, “but sometimes, loneliness can just feel unsolvable with any remedy. And during those times, the best I can do is to remind myself that all people go through loneliness and that I’m not alone.”
Lee began releasing singles last year, starting with “Bitches in My Head,” and her streaming success took off earlier this year with “I’ll Just Dance.” She has also released two EPs, The Rough and These Are Not My Songs.
While her work largely leans into atmospheric alt-pop music, she has long “admired the raw honesty in hip-hop tracks and rap verses. It blows my mind when I listen to Eminem rap his mind out completely unfiltered for five minutes straight,” she notes of one of her greatest influences. Artists like Tyler, the Creator and Ed Sheeran have also left lasting imprints.
Watch the “Wide Awake” video below.
Photo by Su Lee