12 K-pop Producers and Composers You Should Know
Ever wondered who wrote your favourite K-pop song? Usually when people talk about K-pop, they focus on the idols – the people on stage and in front of the camera. The ones overlooked are often the creative folk working behind the scenes to create the song and performance that the audience gets to see. While there are hundreds of songwriters working in and around K-pop, like many music industries, responsibility for most of the big hits lies in the hands of relatively few. To shed light on the people behind some of your favourite K-pop hits, here is a list of 12 of K-pop’s most successful composers and producers.
Yoo Young-jin could quite possibly be described as the god father of the modern K-pop sound. Having been with SM Entertainment since the beginning, Yoo is the main pioneer of the SM Performance sound which has been incredibly influential across the whole idol industry and has helped define what K-pop sounds like. At the heart of SM Performance style is the emphasis on music that makes a good performance, combining a wide range of different styles into one song to create something that can lie as the backdrop to a great dance routine. This has led to the creation a frenetic, unyielding style which, regardless of whether you like it or hate it, is hard not to pay attention to.
Other representative tracks: Super Junior’s Sorry Sorry, HOT’s Warrior’s Descendent, BoA’s Girls On Top
Former member of original idol group 1TYM, Teddy Park is the brains behind many of YG Entertainment’s greatest hits. Since 1TYM went on hiatus in 2006, Teddy has been working mostly on Big Bang and 2NE1’s group and solo projects. Most of the hits the company has produced since then have involved his input in some way and he has collaborated extensively with other artists and composers within the company including Big Bang’s G-Dragon, 2NE1’s CL, Choice37, Lydia Paek and Kush.
Other representative tracks: 1TYM’s, Big Bang’s Fantastic Baby, 2NE1’s Lonely, CL’s Baddest Female
So obvious that he is sometimes forgotten, Park Jin-young (aka JYP) consistently tops the list of highest annual earnings from song royalties in Korea. While this is not surprising after over fifteen years of chart hits, it is quite impressive that he continues to create songs that capture the public’s interest after all this time. On top of Park himself, his company JYP Entertainment also has a publishing arm that produces successful music not just for JYP artists but also for performers outside of the company.
Other representative tracks: g.o.d’s Friday Night, 2PM’s Heartbeat, Miss A’s Bad Girl Good Girl
This duo made their name in 2008 and 2009 by creating many of KARA’s biggest hits including Mister, Wanna, Lupin and Jumping. Since then they have continued working with KARA and have also written a string of hits for Infinite and many of Boyfriend and Nine Muses’ lead singles. Made up of Han Jae-ho and Kim Seung-soo, Sweetune are known for their retro electronic sound and have been known to incorporate elements of older styles of Korean pop and traditional music into their songs.
Other representative tracks: KARA’s Mister, Infinite’s The Chaser, Nine Muses’ Dolls
Dsign is a Norway based composition and production company which has become one of SM Entertainment’s biggest hit makers in the past few years. Their first big K-pop hit came in 2009 with SNSD’s “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)” and since then they have been working extensively on releases for all of SM’s top artists as well as other K-pop acts including Lee Hyori. Although the company is based in Norway, they regularly travel to Seoul for music writing workshops and now also have Korean writers and producers working for them.
Representative tracks: f(x)’s Rum Pum Pum, SPICA’s Tonight, Lee Hyori’s Bad Girls
Shinsadong Tiger is without doubt one of the most consistently successful composer/producers working in K-pop. He works mainly with Cube Entertainment and Core Contents Media artists and has produced dozens of hit singles for groups like T-ara, 4Minute and Beast. His success has been a little on the decline over the last couple of years after producing many of the biggest K-pop songs of 2009, 2010 and 2011 but he continues to produce consistently catchy songs for whoever he is working with.
Other representative tracks: Beast’s Fiction, T-ara’s Lovey-Dovey, A Pink’s NoNoNo
Gang Dong-chul aka Brave Brothers (yes, he is only one person despite the name) started out as an in-house producer and composer for YG Entertainment. His success working under the label was somewhat limited – he produced mainly B-sides and album tracks – but he was involved in producing two of Big Bang’s first big hits – Lies and Last Farewell. In 2008 he left YG to start his own company and has since grown into one of K-pop’s most prolific and successful composers. With his background in organised crime and repetitive and, some would argue, mindless style, he cuts quite the divisive figure but like him or loathe him, it’s undeniable that Brave Brothers is extremely influential in K-pop.
Representative tracks: After School’s Because of You, 4Minute’s What’s Your Name?, Teen Top’s Miss Right
Duble Sidekick are relative newcomers to the K-pop hit-making scene having only really made their name in 2012. Arguably one of their biggest successes in the K-pop scene has been taking the sound of Sistar, created almost entirely by Brave Brothers, and refining it – in the process helping make the group into one of Korea’s current biggest girl groups. Something which distinguishes them from other composers in K-pop is their versatility having created everything from heart-wrenching ballads such as Baek Ji-young’s Voice to unrelenting electro-pop such as T-ara N4’s Jeon Won Diary.
Other representative tracks: Sistar’s Loving U, MBLAQ’s It’s War, Skull and Haha’s Busan Vacance
This is a composer with a style that’s quite different from all the others on this list. Signed with LOEN Entertainment, Lee Minsoo is responsible for most of the releases of LOEN and Nega Network artists. Most well-known for his musical-like style and his electro dance pop, Lee Minsoo is behind most of IU, Brown Eyed Girls and Sunny Hill’s biggest hits. His work with lyricist Kim Eana and music video director Hwang Soo Ah is often some of the most creative and boundary-pushing that can be found in K-pop.
Other representative Tracks: IU’s The Red Shoes, Gain’s Bloom, Sunny Hill’s Midnight Circus
E-Tribe will go down forever in K-pop history as the composers of the K-pop smash hit Gee by Girls’ Generation. Although this has definitely been the peak of the duo’s career, they continue to produce successful singles for various groups, the most recent being Miss A’s Hush, and also produce their own artists, including Dal Shabet, through their label, Happy Face Entertainment.
Other representative tracks: Miss A’s Hush, Super Junior’s It’s You, Lee Hyori’s U Go Girl
Joombas Music Group
Based in both Los Angeles and Seoul, Joombas is a good example of how global and de-centralised the creative production of K-pop is becoming. The man behind Joombas, Hyuk Shin was previously a singer-songwriter in Korea before moving to the US to study at Berklee College of Music pursue his dreams of getting one of his songs onto the Billboard charts. He did this in 2009 when his composition “One Less Lonely Girl”, performed by Justin Bieber, made it to number 16. He then established Joombas Music Group in 2012 and since then have been creating songs for various K-pop acts from their base in Hollywood.
Other representative tracks: EXO’s Growl, VIXX’s Voodoo Doll, Teen Top’s Supa Luv
Often there is a disconnect between music that is popular nationally Korea and music that is popular internationally with non-Korean K-pop fans – Kim Dohoon sits firmly on the national side of the fence. Kim has written many of K.Will’s biggest hits, someone who immense popularity in Korea doesn’t quite translate internationally, and was also behind Soyou and Junggigo’s recent hit single Some. Having said that he has written popular songs for various idol artists and one of his most notable compositions was CNBLUE’s hugely popular I’m A Loner.
Other representative tracks: K.Will’s Please Don’t, Dal Shabet’s Have Don’t Have, CNBLUE’s I’m A Loner
This is list is by no means exhaustive and there are many other talented songwriters working in K-pop. If we missed out any of your favourites, let us know in the comments.