Shinhwa member Lee Minwoo will be presenting a solo concert as M Lee Minwoo. Lee Minwoo will be holding his M STEP concert on 24-25 May at the Olympic Hall in Seoul’s Olympic Park. Having released a special album in 2014 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his solo career, Lee Minwoo is also actively working on his solo activities with appearances on SBS’ ‘Laws of the Jungle’, Mnet’s ‘Dancing 9’, as well as an upcoming Asia concert tour – placing his talents on full display.
As M Lee Minwoo heads towards his 11th anniversary as a soloist, M Lee Minwoo – and not Shinhwa’s Lee Minwoo – has also built up a robust discography. In addition, since 2006 Lee Minwoo has been regularly holding solo concerts, and in 2012 and 2013, he has also been holding Christmas concerts, showing himself to be a prolific performer. With his solo album released in February after a long break, and his solo concert, expectations have never been higher for Lee Minwoo to present a variety of performances for the show.
Lee Minwoo is one of those singers who shine on stage. He commands attention with his well-known dancing skills and his stage manners that elicit cheers from the audience. People who have seen Shinhwa on stage would have seen and marveled at the passion that Lee Minwoo emits on stage. Even Shinhwa leader Eric says to Lee Minwoo, “On stage you’re the leader.” What’s his secret? Even though he is naturally talented, he sweats through daily practice just to prepare for one performance. We visit Lee Minwoo, currently preparing for his upcoming solo concert, in his rehearsal studio to hear what he has to say.
Q. We heard EXO’s ‘Growl’ as we entered the studio. Are we going to see Lee Minwoo’s version of ‘Growl’ at this concert?
Lee Minwoo: That’s right. I often rearrange songs from the junior groups. In the past, I rearranged and performed songs from the Wonder Girls and 2NE1 in my style for the unplugged concert. At that time, I added a sound and singing style that was in line with the unplugged theme of the concert, and this time, I prepared arrangements that are more suited for the bigger stage. Starting off with Girl’s Day’s ‘Something’ and naturally connecting to EXO’s ‘Growl’ with a slightly different dance, I hope to present a more soulful and sexy version.
Q. This concert is your first concert as soloist Lee Minwoo since the release of your special album M+TEN. If it can be said that your concerts for the previous 2 years had a Christmas atmosphere, this concert is really purely soloist Lee Minwoo’s concert.
Lee Minwoo: Since the concert title is M STEP, it has the meaning of taking another step with the intention of starting over again. Starting from Seoul I’ll be moving on to 4 or 5 other Asian cities. If everything works out I’d like to hold an encore concert in Seoul. Also, I’ll be performing all the songs from my M+TEN album.
Q. Isn’t this an Asia tour? Will there be anything special for the Korean fans that sets the Seoul concert apart from the other shows?
Lee Minwoo: For the Seoul concert, all the stage facilities including technology, lighting, sound are of good quality. The music will also change slightly depending on different venues. Because the music arrangements are varied, there will be some adaptations depending on the performance venue. Just for ‘The M Style’ alone, there are already 4 different versions. There are also 2 versions of ‘Bump’. For this concert, I’ve completely rearranged ‘Don’t Trust Men’. I tend to select the songs based on the performance venue and the stage size. That’s why the Seoul concert will be completely new and different from previous ones.
Q. In an interview done in February, you said you would paint the stage in your mind as you hear the song. You have to rearrange the songs separately for the concert, so what kind of stage have you painted?
Lee Minwoo: The rearranging was done in a really primitive manner (laughs). I just hummed and grasped the groove, tried adding in the beats at home, and spontaneously put it together with the band. Previously on Mnet’s ‘Yoon Do Hyun’s MUST’, I performed ‘Perfect Man’ with a new twist, and I like changing up songs in this manner. Looking at people who write music, I naturally developed a desire for rearranging. And with the band sometimes there are good songs and sometimes the songs don’t come out well, and at times like this I’ll change it boldly. I really like spontaneity so I talk a lot about how it will be good to go with the feel at that moment. And the band that I work with currently are people who have worked with me since 2006, so I work really well with them.
Q. Other than EXO’s ‘Growl’, Girl’s Day’s ‘Something’, are there other songs you’ll be doing covers of?
Lee Minwoo: I’ll be covering Shinhwa’s songs too. And I like pop, and during the 3 weeks I was in the US, I kept hearing Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’. For this concert, not just through my songs but a variety of other songs, I’d like to show a different feel when these songs are sung by the singer called M.
Q. Seems like you really enjoy arranging music.
Lee Minwoo: Making covers of songs, rearranging songs, these are all different types of music composition. I think it’s because of this that I hold concerts. Before MBC’s ‘I Am A Singer’ or KBS’ ‘Immortal Song’, I always thought how great it would be to have programmes where you can freely rearrange songs and perform songs in a variety of genres. It’s great that such programmes are now happening. I really want to be active as a composer but Shinhwa comes first! Haha.
Q. Everyone’s curious about your surprise guest. Last year Junjin appeared, didn’t he?
Lee Minwoo: Eric will be appearing. Eric featured on rap for M+TEN’s title track ‘Taxi’, but he felt bad that he wasn’t able to help out for my promotion activities. (Laughs) So maybe that’s why he bought me things like a knife for my trip to the jungle. For the concert everyone will be able to hear the original rap for ‘Taxi’.
Q. And there’s a lot of anticipation for the dance choreography for ‘Kiss It Away’ to be unveiled at the concert.
Lee Minwoo: Actually I have been mulling over this. There has always been a bigger proportion of focus on the performance aspects at my concerts. But ‘Kiss It Away’ gears more towards emotional sensitivity, and if I pay too much attention to the dance, the distinct emotions of the song wouldn’t be felt as much. I’m mulling about how to show the balance tof focus on the dance and the song.
Q. Whether it’s a Shinhwa concert or a Lee Minwoo concert, Lee Minwoo’s unique energy and stage manners always stand out the most. What’s your secret?
Lee Minwoo: Shinhwa’s leader Eric told me before, “On stage you’re the leader”. Previously there was once when I vented my unhappiness. I wasn’t the one leading the show but the members all spoke while taking the cue from me, and when I was shouting to elicit reactions from the audience the members should have done it together but they didn’t… Now everyone can do it well but in the past I felt that I was the only one doing it so I voiced out my unhappiness. And the members said, “We trust and follow you.” Now, the parts are split up and distributed so it’s more natural. If I do the opening, Hyesungie would be in charge of the second ment. Now my role is just to organise things neatly and ensure that the flow doesn’t break. Haha.
Q: The best thing about concerts is that the other gems on the albums overshadowed by the title tracks can also be heard. In the whole of Lee Minwoo’s 11 years of solo history, what’s the song that you’re most disappointed that you haven’t been able to make known?
Lee Minwoo: ‘Punch’ comes to mind. ‘Punch’ was written in the midst of the scorching summer heat. In 2003, the house I was staying in was a 4-storey villa apartment with an ensuite rooftop house. The working studio couldn’t be fit into the living room so the rooftop room became the studio, but that room had no air-conditioning so it was really hot. It was a song written then so I’m particularly attached to it. And at that time, it was used as the intro to Eric’s Megapass CF. Now when I heard the original ‘Punch’ I’m a little embarrassed… Although I have a variety of songs that I’m attached to, ‘Punch’ is a song that could have taken off.
Q. Isn’t it a well-known fact that the title track of your 2nd solo album, ‘Bump’, was written within 10 minutes? How was the process like then?
Lee Minwoo: ‘Bump’ was written in 2004 during the production of Shinhwa’s Winter Story album. At the time I was filming the MBC sitcom ‘Nonstop 5’ and I suddenly had an inspiration. The moment I went home I worked through the night and put a beat to it. The melody itself was completed within 10 minutes. The instrumentation input for ‘Bump’ is really simple, and the song moves once the riff is caught. It became the title track, it hit number 1 on the chart, and I received an award for it. Back then, what I felt was that, “As long as I work hard, it will work out. Thanks to the fans I even got an award.” I worked on the album while I was filming ‘Nonstop 5’ so it was really hard work, but that fatigue went away all at once.
Q. Are there any instruments that you’ve mastered? You’ve written many songs but since when did you develop your own way of writing songs?
Lee Minwoo: During Shinhwa’s trainee days, I thought Yoo Youngjin hyungnim was really cool as a songwriter so I asked him “What must I do to write songs?” Back then hyungnim said, “You dance well so you have a sense of rhythm, and I think you should be able to make good rhythms.” And hed asked me how I was going to work on instrument sources or chords if I don’t learn, and told me to practise. So I rallied my courage and from then on, I really listened to a lot of music. If I listened to a lot of music I listened to sounds. I listened to chords, I listened to how the bass note flows. And naturally as I practised more songwriting, I developed my own pattern and work with it.
Q. You’re moving into your 11th year as soloist M Lee Minwoo. How is Shinhwa’s Lee Minwoo different from M Lee Minwoo?
Lee Minwoo: There was a time when I didn’t know what Shinhwa’s distinct hues and my distinct hues were. Now I know. Shinhwa gives a classy and aristocratic feeling. While having masculinity, Shinhwa is easy and relaxed, with nary a hair out of place. When one thinks of Shinhwa, strong and fit men wearing suits come to mind. M Lee Minwoo’s music is free. It can be warm, it can be cute, it can be sexy. It’s a carefree hue where I do as I want. And because I like African-American music, I can’t abandon the influences I’ve gained from it, but lately I’ve been into a more acoustic sound and feel, and I’ve been talking to the band a lot about this.
Q. It has been said that the star’s personality and the fans’ personalities are similar. Do you sense any differences between Shinhwa concerts and your solo concerts?
Lee Minwoo: Lee Minwoo fans are better at letting their hair down. The Shinhwa Changjo community as a whole likes Shinhwa and not just one person, but I can feel that they follow their individual personalities. I like to dance in a lively way, and cheerfully do things spontaneously, so maybe fans also feel like I’m just like a friend. Like a friend who’s on the same frequency. During the opening they know how to have fun spectacularly and crazily, during the sweeter songs they know how to enjoy the date-like atmosphere. I can see their sensitive sides as they focus on me. For the encore, as I look at the fans during the encore, they seem to know that the time together is the most precious and important. I see that.
Q. Any tips for the fans coming to the concert?
Lee Minwoo: It will be great if they can have fun together and wear something comfortable. If not, it will be good to pack an extra t-shirt. Because they could get drenched with sweat. Haha. And the seats in Olympic Hall are red, so that’s good. Since I’m the master for the red team on ‘Dancing 9’. I’m a master who’s fixated on color. Haha. I still haven’t seen the Olympic Hall stage yet, but I’m always worried for the fans in the standing area who have to grapple with height difference. There will always be people who want to come in sneakers but end up coming in heels because of their height. Next time round should I have individual standing platforms made available as merchandise items?
Q. When having a concert, what words that you hear do you find most worthwhile?
Lee Minwoo: When I monitor the fans’ reactions, I see fans saying in their recaps that they enjoyed themselves. Out of these, I love hearing them say that they are “looking forward to the next concert”. The most burdensome comment is, “Now I’m looking forward to your song arrangements.” (Laughs) I try not to disappoint fans who look forward to it. This time, the fans will be able to see ‘The M Style’ interspersed with Justin Timberlake’s ‘Sexyback’.
Q. When are the moments that you find yourself coolest? Vague answers like when you’re dancing on stage will be rejected.
Lee Minwoo: I’ve asked a longtime friend before, “What’s so good about me?” That friend said, “Apart from anything else, I like it that you play fair.” I tend to take care of and embrace people. I think of not making enemies within my boundaries. It’s not to show others but every once in a while I show a warmer side of me. For example, when the staff members are having a hard time I pat their backs and comfort them, when I listen to their troubles we would talk together, and during moments like this I’d think to myself, “I’m a pretty decent guy”, “I’m a guy who plays fair”. I’d think, “It’s great that there’s such a side to a guy like me.”
Q. You’re into your second season as a master on Mnet’s ‘Dancing 9’. How is it?
Lee Minwoo: Firstly I’m working towards 2 wins. Unlike Season 1, we’ve selected members to show a different kind of picture. There’s an overseas training mission in Saipan in mid-May, and there will be 1 contestant booted out with 9 contestants remaining. As a hint, we’re thinking of pitting female dancers for the trump card. While we can’t ignore the stronger role of male dancers, this time the ladies are developing their powerful and sophisticated sides. There’s a lot of anticipation. The Blue Eye team is not to be trifled with as well. The competition will probably be cutthroat.
Q. Just before Shinhwa’s March concert, you headed off to the jungle, and this time just before M Lee Minwoo’s solo concert, you took a trip to Saipan. 2014 has been a very busy year for you.
Lee Minwoo: That is why I stayed in the US for 3 weeks to relieve the stress from the hard work. Haha. But while in the US I was down with a cold and a fever for 3 days. I was so sick that I was calling out for my mom. Hoho. I hope the busy schedule will give me energy for 2014. There’s also the meaning of telling me to work harder. Of course Shinhwa is the most important. Apart from any incidents and accidents, it will be great if this year can be a year where the members really get to spread their influence individually. I’m running right now, but I’d like to look forward to seeing the other members being active.
Q. Is there anything that could have been better for your M+TEN promotions?
Lee Minwoo: I felt that there were gaps that could be filled. For myself, I thought “a lot has changed”. Not that things were changed and became awkward, but I felt sorry about the instant-style music industry and I also felt disappointed in myself. There are many people who work hard to make one song, but it’s a little frustrating that it can be heard with a simple click. I think the challenge now is to create something to fill up these frustrations.
Q. Recently g.o.d has regrouped. Aren’t you happy to see them?
Lee Minwoo: I was really glad. Before that I got a call from g.o.d member (Kim) Taewoo and he asked me a few things. Shinhwa has managed to stay together as a team so I shared a few tips. The most important thing is that all the members are making a comeback with a strong will. As long as one person has a weak will, it will not work out. The timing is right where everyone has a strong will, which is good to see. And I’m glad to hear the song ‘Ugly Duckling’. I thought about the old days, and I vividly remember the scenes in the waiting room. Taewoo always looked at me and made fun of me for being short. Hahahaha. g.o.d and Shinhwa were active during the same period and it felt like we’re friends from different classes.
Q. Last question, would you think of coloring your hair silver again?
Lee Minwoo: Haha. I think out of all the Shinhwa members, I’m the one who changes hair color the most. I think I’ve tried all the different hair dyes… have I done pink yet? (Laughs) Silver hair will come when I’m in my 60s and 70s, isn’t it? Even I get older, I want to show that I’m fit and healthy. One of my thoughts as I get older is that people tend to be have preconceived notions about idols, and it shouldn’t be this way. To break out of those notions, I want to show a good side of me to the juniors. In future if there’s an opportunity, I’d like Shinhwa to really work out and sculpt our bodies, and attack not with the packs we use on our faces but the packs we can show off. Haha.