She never thought her cover of "Hello" would lead to such success.
Alexander Pan

17 Feb 2017 - 3:38 PM  UPDATED 17 Feb 2017 - 5:13 PM

When, then, 18-year-old Lydia Lee recorded a video cover performing Adele's "Hello", it was meant to be nothing more than a high school project that might get a few views online, and maybe a few laughs from friends.

What happened next is something few expected - the video became an overnight viral sensation that not only racked up millions of views, it led to an invitation from Ellen DeGeneres to perform on her show, which ultimately opened up a career path for Lydia as a musician. And she's just released her debut single "Blue".

That all happened in the span of one year.

So what does Lydia make of her whirlwind journey - a journey that comes around less often than Halley's Comet but is dreamed about more than there are stars in the sky?

To paraphrase, "It all still feels like a dream!"

Aside from being incredibly charming, you get the feeling that despite Lydia's young age (she's only 19), she has her feet firmly planted on the ground amidst the whirlwind of events that has happened in the last year.

Born in Korea but raised in New Zealand for most her childhood, Lydia's love of music was fostered early on when she was introduced to the piano by her parents. It wasn't until she swapped out the piano for the violin that pieces begun to align.

"Playing the violin, I just started to love performing," she tells SBS PopAsia.

After moving back to Korean for middle school, Lydia then auditioned and successfully made it into Seoul Music High School, where she thrived in an environment that nurtured the music and arts. It was here where - she called says - her "dream" began.

Tasked with an assignment that involved covering a popular song, Lydia picked Adele's "Hello", which just so happened to be the biggest hit in the world at the time. Upon completion, her cover was uploaded to YouTube. A week after uploading, Lydia's cover racked up millions of views and she was immediately invited onto Ellen Degeneres' show Ellen.

Some will be familiar with her Ellen appearance, but not the journey she took after to become a rising musician. After Ellen, Lydia was asked to perform five additional Western song covers backstage away from the main cameras, which resulted in interest from record labels and producers.

In the months following Lydia travelled from Atlanta to London to New York, all while writing and collaborating with a number of talented musicians.

"It was a very productive and fantastic period," Lydia says.

Not only were many songs written, but she had the opportunity to work with people from a variety of differing musical backgrounds. There were writers from SM Entertainment who worked with her in Atlanta, and musicians who wrote for One Direction and Ed Sheeran in London.

When asked who she'd most like to collaborate with, the answer's a definitive, "Damien Rice.

"I think that all my songs were collaborations since I worked with so many great writers, but if I were to collaborate with anyone, it would be Damien Rice.

"It's just the way he conveys so much and and is yet so subtle." 

It's not surprising; listening to her music, you can detect a folk sound. However, this is mixed with many different influences. Chet Baker, Lianne La Havas, Bill Evans, Ady Suleiman, King Krule, AC/DC and Nirvana. We talk about Lydia's love of rock and Jazz, and the bottom line is that she simply loves all kinds of music. It helps her creative process, which is how her debut single "Blue" came about.

Upon delving into the inspiration behind "Blue," Lydia says that her initial intention was to create something that would shed her image as, "that girl who did that 'Hello' cover."

Lydia says she just wrote what she knows. The lyrics came out of her personal experiences; about being born with a blue birthmark on her face and learning that being different is perfectly okay. However, that only tells half the story.

While the song's lyrical content was something Lydia deeply connected with, the music itself was new territory for her.

"Blue was interesting because while the lyrics were based on personal experiences, the music genre was something that I haven't done before since I'm normally into my Jazz and Folk, so I was quite nervous at the beginning," she says.


After announcing Lydia's U.S. "Blue" debut, there were questions about why she wasn't debuting in South Korea. 

"Hello is a Western song, that video was a huge hit mainly to Western audiences, and I worked with mainly Western writers and musicians for my single, so it just made sense to start off in the U.S," she explains.

But K-pop retains a spot in her ever-expanding musical world. She likes all the new releases from bands like BTS and Black Pink, but BIGBANG is her favourite Korean artist.

"Maybe not collaborate, but I would just love to meet G-Dragon," she says shyly.

So now that she's released her first single, what's next for Lydia Lee?

"I still feel like I'm in a dream" Lydia says, reminding us that despite all that's happened, she's still only 19. "I don't know how long this will last, so I'm just going to enjoy it while it lasts," she says.

"I would still love to study at university, and maybe major in something Arts related, though not music related since my life revolves around music anyway!"

For now there'll be a new single out next month (something "more acoustic and more relaxed"), followed by a showcase and art exhibition in South Korea. Beyond that, more singles will be released throughout 2017, and there's a possibility of an album in 2018. 

"I would love to visit Australia and to go back to New Zealand, but we'll have to see," she laughs. 

Viral stars who parlay the wave of momentum into a pop career of some sort usually either face backlash, or burn out very quickly. After talking to her for nearly an hour about music and various other things, one gets the feeling that when this whirlwind finally stops - should it stop - Lydia will come out of it just fine.

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