Lee started her career as part of the Korean pop girl group Fin.K.L. Lee Hyori, who would become the group leader as she was the oldest member, was discovered while taking sticker pictures with her friends and was actually the last to join the group, just before their launch in January 1998. Fin. K.L. debuted officially on May 22, 1998 with their first single "Blue Rain." It was received quite well, but it was not until their second release from their first album: To My Boyfriend, that Fin. K.L. truly proved their popularity. "To My Boyfriend" became the first of their numerous number one hits. Fin K.L. became one of the most popular and successful Korean groups of all-time and rivaled with fellow popular girl group S.E.S..
Establishing a solo entertainment career
Following Fin K.L.'s fourth album Forever, Lee branched out into television, becoming an MC for Time Machine and Happy Together; she is still a part of Happy Together: Friends to this day. Her solo album was released at the end of 2003, and was titled Stylish. The singer nearly swept the 2003 Daesangs, the most prestigious South Korean music award, winning more than seven of them, including three of the four main ones. Stylish sold over 153,590 copies in South Korea alone, according to the Music Industry Association of Korea. Her popularity in her various activities eventually was dubbed as the "Hyori Syndrome" in South Korea, and the Korean Media nicknamed 2003 "The Year of Hyori" as she was rarely out of the news all year.
Lee Hyori has also appeared as the lead female actress in the SBS drama Three Leaf Clover co-starring opposite Ryu Jin, Kim Jung Hwa, Kim Kang Woo and Lee Hoon. However, the ratings were continually low, and it ended after 16 episodes. On August 8, 2005 she co-hosted the annual Korean Music Festival for the second year running.
In February 2006, Lee released her follow up album, Dark Angel. The first single, "Get Ya", featured heavy choreography and sexually suggestive attire, which has become Lee's trademark. However, there was controversy over the single as the songwriters of Britney Spears' single "Do Somethin'" accused the "Get Ya" songwriters of plagiarism (Lee did not contribute to the song). After media attention increased, Lee and her record company quickly stopped all promotion for the single, taking a short break to prepare for "Shall We Dance", her followup single. Due to the negative attention, both the single and album were not successful, and promotions were stopped. "Straight Up" was released as a final single, but it was not promoted by Lee.
Move to M-Net
In November 2006, it was revealed that Lee has signed a 3 year contract with M-Net Entertainment for ₩2.2 billion, becoming the highest paid female singer in South Korea.
Early in 2007, Lee Hyori showed up an hour late to a press conference, leading to backlash in the media. The media also criticized her sexual image, stating that she was "facing an image crisis" and urging her to downplay her sexuality. Meanwhile, Lee prepared a new "mini-drama" during February 2007, despite her previous drama flopping. She starred alongside Lee Dong Gun in If In Love... Like Them which, although originally announced as being only one episode long, ran for four episodes on MNet. An edited two-episode version of the drama also ran on SBS. During filming for the drama, part of a roof Lee was standing on collapsed. Only her foot fell through and she was able to be saved, as it was reported the fall would have been fatal if co-star Lee Dong Gun had not been able to save her.
In February 2007, Lee announced her new digital single which would essentially be the soundtrack to If In Love... Like Them. She had her comeback on SBS Inkigayo on February 25, 2007, performing all three main tracks from the single. The lead song was "Toc Toc Toc", which was a sexy R&B number like her previous efforts. However, the single also gave Lee an opportunity to sing ballads and to slowly move her image away from the "sexy superstar" that she is known to be. The single, although initially given a digital-only release, was given a limited retail release of only 30,000 copies, and was appropriately titled If In Love Like Them. Released on March 6, 2007, it included 3 the tracks found in the digital single, along with a reworked version of "Toc Toc Toc". It was the best-selling album for that month, selling 27,845 copies.
Although her single succeeded, her drama was heavily penalized for violating advertising guidelines, as If In Love had several scenes advertising the products of its sponsors, in addition to using Lee's songs as a soundtrack. The Korean Broadcasting Committee has ruled that the drama can never be aired in South Korea again, and that the network must apologize to its viewers.
According to The Chosun Ilbo, Lee has also been promoting her work in Japan. Japanese network Fuji TV decided to air If In Love... Like Them and has even invited the singera/actress to visit Japan to promote the drama, where she will be treated to the same VIP treatment offered to other international stars. However, the drama was broadcast on satellite station CS Fuji, a smaller network that Fuji TV owned. The Japanese considered the leading part of this drama to be Lee Dong-gun.
Although Lee has done many endorsements for various companies (including Dole), her most prominent commercials were made for Samsung Anycall. In late 2004, Lee signed an advertising contract with Samsung, for which she would make three musical commercials and songs for their Anycall cell phones. The first commercial and song, "Anymotion", were released in early 2005, featuring Eric Mun from K-pop group Shinhwa. In early 2006, the followup commercial "Anyclub" was released in two parts; this also featured Eric Mun in addition to Korean actor Kwon Sang Woo. The songs from the commercials served as singles for Lee in between her albums. The final commercial was released in December 2006, titled "Anystar". The commercial differed from the first two in that it featured mostly dialogue. The commercial starred Korean actor and singer Lee Jun Ki and also YG Family trainee Park Bom.
Lee Hyori finished her contract with Biotherm early February 2007. Lee is no longer a Biotherm representative. She was recently chosen as first ever Asian-wide model for Calvin Klein Jeans, modeling for the "Pure Calvin" Collection.
Hyori has released a total of six singles from her debut and second album. These six singles never received a commercial release in Korea, only promotional.
- 10 Minutes
- Hey Girl
- Remember Me
- Get Ya
- Shall We Dance
- Straight Up
Hyori has released a total of four commercial singles (three being digital purchases only). She released her very first commercial CD single in March 2007.
- Anymotion (featuring Eric & Kwon Sang Woo)
- Anyclub (featuring Teddy)
- Anystar (featuring Lee Jun Ki)
- Toc Toc Toc
- Don't Love Her
The chronological order of Hyori's singles go as,
10 Minutes, Hey Girl, Remember Me, Anymotion, Anyclub, Get Ya, Shall We Dance, Straight Up, Anystar, Toc Toc Toc, Scolded, and Don't Love Her
- 2005: SBS Three Leaf Clover
- 2007: SBS If In Love...Like Them