K-Pop Star Ailee Comes Home to America, Hints at New Music

Kevin Truong Photography

"I’m trying to stay as humble as possible," says the Jersey-raised K-pop starlet after breakout year

To say Ailee had a big debut would be an understatement. The solo female star made her K-pop debut last February and has already racked up three K-Pop Hot 100 Top 3 singles -- including last week’s No. 1 "Shower of Tears" with BAE CHI GI -- as well as the MAMA Award (Korea’s Grammy equivalent) for Best New Female Artist. Ailee's impressive start also got some stateside recognition--during Grammy week of all times.

Last month, Billboard broke the news that Ailee -- Denver-born and raised in New Jersey -- would be a guest of honor at Mnet America’s first annual Pre-GRAMMY Party on Feb. 7. Thursday night she was awarded the Mnet America Rising Star Award based on her accomplishments from her first year. “I didn’t expect any of this to happen so fast,” the K-pop star tells Billboard with a laugh. “Everything feels like a dream I’m just really happy and excited.”

Lead-up week to the Grammys included performances from America’s biggest stars and Ailee was also one of those performers. Surprised that a K-pop act performed during Grammys week? Seems like no one was more surprised than Ailee herself.

“It was really weird they were all singing along in Korean lyrics,” she recalls of her LA performance. “To think they actually recognized who I was, was really surprising for me, because I didn’t think that a lot of people would know who I was when I came here. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, it was really, really fun.”

Will Ailee return again for more fun? "Right now, I don't think I have anything planned," she says. It's been three years since she came home to America so she's eager and hopeful to come back soon.

Despite no immediate plans to return to America, it looks we will be getting music in English from Ailee soon. She reveals there may be an English track included on either her next album or the subsequent release. Ailee international fans a treat this past winter when she released both a Korean and English version of holiday song “My Grown Up Christmas List.”

Yet when it comes to her fellow K-pop acts, who are also going international, Ailee is overjoyed by the success. “I feel like it’s about time!” she laughs. “K-pop has come a long way. I’m really, really proud to be part of this movement and hopefully I can be one of the people that enhances K-pop.” In the genre, Ailee’s favorite artists are BIGBANG (“I love that group,” she says) and 2NE1. She also lists Whitney Houston, Rihanna, Beyonce and as favorite American pop acts. The last two names she may have brushed shoulders with at the Grammys Sunday night as she did attend ceremony. Ailee has a big thank you to give Beyonce after rising to prominence with a cover of "Halo" on reality show "Singer and Trainee."

The self-proclaimed "Jersey girl" hopes her new album will be released this year in spring or summer, but her direction has not been set yet. She is still recording and deciding tracks.

Regardless of the direction, a likely bet is the songs will be hits. (Just this week, her one-off soundtrack contribution “Ice Flower” rises 20 spots from No. 31 to No. 11.) “I don’t know why the songs do so well, but I’m just so thankful about everything,” the singer says. “I’m just really thankful. I’m trying to stay as humble as possible about it.”