"I gave it my best last year, but a lot of unfortunate stuff happened. Hopefully this year will be better. Instead of looking for simple popularity, this year I'm hoping people will see I'm improving my singing, dancing and acting skills."
Thanks to a plagiarism scandal that flared around the title track from her album "Get Ya," Lee Hyo-ri (28) called last year the worst of her career. Now, after weathering the storm, Lee has emerged even stronger, with a new agency, a W2.2 billion contract and a role as "Anystar" in a commercial for Samsung Anycall mobile phones.
Lee is anticipating the reaction to a digital single album of three songs due Jan 17 and an upcoming hour-long music drama. Keeping the stress at bay is a matter of will-power. "I try to keep calm by thinking of it as a warm-up for the full album later this year" she said.
Asked how she felt winning the country's highest-ever entertainment contract, she seemed surprised to hear that it really was the highest. "I think I was pretty naive to stay with my former agency for eight years without a contract. But now I've got an agency that I think can really help me. I'm happy with the notion that my value is being recognized."
She admitted that the plagiarism flap still stings. "That album was the result of a lot of hard work and sleepless nights, so it hurt when all that happened," she said. "When that song first came to me, I did think the rhythm might be similar to Britney Spears' song, but I never expected it would create such a serious fuss. I guess I didn't realize how much attention I would draw." "In the end, I came through that experience with more than what I lost," she added. "The most valuable thing I got from it was realizing how much I love singing on stage."
Lee Hyo-ri found herself unexpectedly in the media spotlight last October after coming to the aid of a drunk who had fallen in the street. A witness tipped off the Chosun Ilbo bout her Good Samaritan performance. "I passed out on the street once myself, and it wasn't very nice. If you pass out in the summer you get attacked by mosquitoes, and in the winter you can freeze to death. So if I see a drunk woman in the street I'll try to make sure she gets home. If it's a man, I'll wake him up. Usually people don't recognize me, but that time the guy's brother showed up to collect him. Maybe I meddle too much in other people's business."
In a recent survey by a women's magazine, Lee ranked third among the country's top 10 most powerful women, following former Grand National Party head Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook. "I'm very honored. I think people chose me because I look friendly," she said. "I don't know if I deserve to be called the top female star, but I can accept it if they call me the female singer who receives the most attention." As for Lee's role models, she finds inspiration in Madonna's trend-setting style and self-assurance.
Lee's new album is a mix of ballads, dance and mid-tempo songs. At a concert late last month, she debuted her latest track in a sexy lingerie outfit with some hot feline-like dance moves. "I don't want to be remembered as just some sexy star, of course. But for humans as well as animals, dancing in front of the opposite sex is one way to lure your target. In that context, I think I've succeeded as an entertainer. I still want to be sexier than anyone in the world."