Su Lee is an artist like no other. From the small 10 foot by 10 foot space of her apartment in Seoul, she creates music and music videos and shares them through YouTube. They’ve gone viral. “I’ll Just Dance” has already racked up over two million views. From the comfort of her home like so many of us in quarantine, Su Lee creates music for the soul. Vulnerability, authenticity, and raw honesty informs her work and is what connects so many people to her music and ideas. We caught up with the viral musician to talk about her work and what keeps her going.
Mark Benjamin: What was the moment when you thought okay I’m ready to start putting myself out there online? Did you expect your music to pop off the way it has?
Su Lee: It was a gradual process. At first I was really nervous and overthinking every single post I made. I still feel this to a certain level, but it’s definitely gotten easier and more intuitive over the last few months.
The “popping off” was totally unexpected. It felt very strange (in a pleasant way!) to suddenly have a group of people listening to my music and giving feedback.
MB: I feel like you touch on weighty things almost like a psychologist or philosopher. Vulnerability and relatability are also very unique to your work. Do you want to help people with your music?
SL: I do, I do. Although my music is deeply rooted in my own personal experience, I hope it brings some cathartic relief to the listeners. I just try to be as honest with my feelings as possible when making music, rather than consciously trying to create something for the sheer purpose of helping others. But that’s the greatest thing about making music – the more you immerse yourself into your work as an artist, the greater its power to touch those who are going through similar things.
“The Internet has become so oversaturated that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with everything that’s trending and shifting anyway. We have to, for the sake of our mental well-being, keep reminding ourselves to be selective over what to show ourselves.”
MB: I really love “Wide Awake (daily life of a day dreamer)” and the video. It sort has the airiness of The Postal Service with a tinge of psychadelia which I guess is more or less dreaming. I think of my favorite lines is “I’m getting used to all of my peers look at me like an alien.” Tell me about your journey to freely express yourself and what does it mean to be wide awake?
SL: Growing up and constantly moving schools and countries, I was always trying to fit in, be accepted, and meet all the social standards of being a “worthy, cool human being” (whatever that means depending on different cultures). But then I got tired of always being in denial of my nature and gradually learned to be more honest with myself.
The state of being “wide awake” can mean different things to people – there’s no set definition for it. But for me, at least, it’s the state of finally reaping what I have always dreamed of; it’s the ecstasy of witnessing my dreams finally taking shape and becoming tangible.
MB: You also mention in this song you moved from your home town to Seoul. How has life been adjusting to the energy of the city?
SL: Seoul is an amazing city. I always look forward to my little trips to Gangnam – I enjoy walking among all the strangers, travelers, and commuters in the city. But it can get quite lonely sometimes because I don’t have many friends back here in Korea. When I get lonely, I text or call up my friends back in the UK and chat for hours.
MB: Despite the carefree vibe of your music I take you as someone very thoughtful and actually quite serious about the messages you’re sending. Would you agree?
SL: Yes. It’s strange because I consider myself an overly hypochondriac, overthinking, paranoid person. But music is an exception. Whenever I write or produce songs, I can seem to make bold decisions and not overcomplicate things in my head. That’s probably why I consider making music as one of the most effective forms of therapy for me.
MB: You touch on mental health and the love/hate relationship with technology in your latest “all the noise.” How do you make sense of what’s happening in our immersive digital world?
SL: By not trying too hard to make sense of what’s happening in the digital world.
The Internet has become so oversaturated that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with everything that’s trending and shifting anyway. We have to, for the sake of our mental well-being, keep reminding ourselves to be selective over what to show ourselves.
MB: Are there other creatives that you’re consistently or deeply inspired by?
SL: I get really inspired by production styles of artists like Tyler, the Creator or Jack Stauber – those who break boundaries and create their own unique sound.
MB: If you didn’t have music or animation how do you think you’d be trying to express yourself?
SL: Probably making ambiguous surrealist sculptures and pretending that I’m Salvador Dali.