"I didn't release this album thinking it would achieve tremendous results," Lee tells Billboard of the accomplishment. "Everything about this album was far from what I have been doing for years, so I was unsure how it was going to be perceived. I knew it was a good song, but I had no idea it would outperform 'Gangnam Style' and chart for such a long time. So I'm still a bit puzzled,” he adds, seemingly still astonished from the feat.
"Return" is lifted off of the star's mini-album, "Forest," a disc that signaled a new musical venture. "It was an album that I started to challenge myself; it's a mini-album of my new musical aspirations," he says. "It is such a gratifying result for me that I set a new record. I learned a lot working on this album, because before I didn’t have a specific musical color or style. I'm not sure if I would continue to with music like this, but I think that it's time for me to have my own signature sound."
"Forest," a collaborative effort between Lee and Epitone Project (the stage name of indie musician Cha Sae Jung), was an unexpected move as he had only worked with top composers in the past.
“Hitmakers are extremely intelligent and they have a set philosophy for success, so it was right for me to work with them earlier in my career. But as I started developing my own musical colors -- I wanted something different, which is why I reached out to Epitone Project. After I met him I became even more adamant about working with him. He became a turning point in my musical career. I knew something refreshing would come out from our collaboration."
As the seasons grow colder, the Korean musical landscape drastically changed. "Healing music" has begun seeing huge chart success becoming huge competition to the EDM-influenced tracks.
Lee thinks that PSY, a 35-year-old veteran rapper in Korea, may have played a big part to different types of artists getting recognition in his country, despite "Gangnam Style" being electronic dance-infleunced. He reflects, “PSY made a major impact and changed the way the [Korean] public looks and approaches music, which is why I think my song did so well. Before, specialized and talented idol groups led the music scene, but now, I think, artists that make their own music with their own style of stage performances are being spotlighted as well. I think the public is ready to embrace different types of music genre."
PSY was also a huge impact on Lee's career. He rose to superstardom with his breakout single, "Because You Are My Girl," in 2004, which was written and composed by -- you guessed it -- PSY, along with Yoo Gun Hyung (who co-wrote and co-produced “Gangnam Style”).
Does he have any plans to crossover to the States like his mentor? "I would consider if I had a worldwide hit like PSY! PSY is a legend. I am just proud that a world star has risen from Korea and that a longtime friend was met with such astounding success," he laughs. "I think I need to study a lot more and be prepared. Honestly, I don't think I am confident enough to reach over to the U.S. yet. I'm going to focus on my Asia promotions and hopefully that will lead me into the right direction."
Looking forward to 2013 Lee explains, "In the first half of 2013, I'm going to focus on acting. I would like to release another album this year. I haven't thought about the concept yet, so I can't really say what the album is going to be like, but I think it will be something that fits the sentiment of that time."