Behind the Music – Interview with Will Simms, composer of EXO’s Wolf and Girls’ Generation’s I Got A Boy
Will Simms is definitely one of the most interesting composers working in K-pop. He’s written some of SM Entertainment’s most distinctive singles in the past few years. Girls’ Generation’s I Got A Boy, EXO’s Wolf, Red Velvet’s Happiness – his back catalogue represents some of the last three years’ most interesting idol releases. Often his work splits opinion but his tracks are always memorable and provide a great platform for entertaining and unique dance performances.
We recently had the chance to chat with him his working process, his plans for the future and how he came up with THAT song. You can hear even more of his thoughts in the latest episode of Beyond Hallyu podcast.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the K-pop songs that you’ve written?
As you know, my name is Will Simms. I am French-born but I live in England. I’ve been making K-pop for a few years now and some of the songs I have made are I Got A Boy by Girls’ Generation, Wolf by Exo and Happiness by Red Velvet. Recently I’ve also done Woof Woof for SHINee on their new album. I also did songs with f(x) on their Red Light album and many, many more.
What’s your production process like?
It really depends. For me, one of the things I’ve been doing for K-pop is before I even start making anything, I try to think of a concept. K-pop is very visual so you have to think about the videos and everything. What they do with K-pop is always grand so you get in the studio and you think of a concept – something crazy. Then you can build a whole story around it – with the track, with the sounds that you use, with the song that you write on top of the track. So that’s what I try to do, basically. That’s one of main starting points when I do K-pop.
Is the choreography important to you when you’re writing a K-pop song?
Yes, that also, of course. Once you’ve thought of the concept and built a world around it then you think ‘Ok, how are they going to dance to that?’. And then you can think about how they will perform that concept. So then you start using certain sounds and certain rhythms to keep in mind the choreography because you know there are going to be at least 3 or 4 dancers.
So, yes, you always have to think about the choreography. Especially when you are writing uptempo K-pop. I haven’t really done any ballads so I can’t comment on that but from the stuff that I’ve done. Yes. Always. You’ve got to think about the dancing. Like sometimes you have to think about making a dance break where’s there’s no vocal so they can just dance and some people can perform the singing while others perform the dancing.
The song you wrote ‘I Got A Boy’ got a lot of attention when it came out for the complexity of its structure. How did you come up with that?
It was kind of by accident if I’m honest. I started with trying to figure out a hip hop beat. In my head I wanted to make something that sounded a bit like old school hip hop. And then when I played it to my co-writers, they really liked it and we started writing the verses. And then I was like “Where do we go from here?” and I did know what to do after that. So I thought “Ok, why don’t we try something completely just nuts? Why don’t we change the tempo and use different sounds and just switch as if we’re going into another song?” and it worked. For some reason it actually worked. Once we did that, I sort of developed from that and decided “why not put an extra bit at the end again?”
Originally there were three bits to the song and then when we finished the song SM asked us to add another bit to it. So I did that, they got it back and then they finished it all up. They moved a few things around to make an arrangement that everyone would be happy with and it became what it became.
How does that transition process from your initial track to their final product with the vocals work?
We give them what we believe to be the finished version on the song and then they get someone in Korea to write the lyrics. After that they’ll maybe ask us to change a few things around and then they record the vocal over there with the singers. They need to record with someone who can make sure they sing with the right diction. Obviously I can’t do that because I don’t 100% know what it’s supposed to sound like when someone sings in Korean so I can’t direct them. Finally they get it mixed and then the record comes out!
Korean and English have quite different rhythmic patterns. Does that mean you end up with changes in the rhythm of the song?
Not necessarily because even though we write in English we try to write with the rhythms that we think with work for Korean. So usually if there is change, it’s very minimal. They try to fit around the exact rhythms and melodies that we have worked out together.
Do you have any plans for K-pop for the rest of the year?
Yes. I mean, I’m always working on new material. I can’t say much more than that but let’s just wait and see. I think there’s possibly going to be another release with Red Velvet and it’s a very fun track. So keep an eye out for that.
You can hear even more of Will’s thoughts on what makes a hit K-pop song in our newest podcast episode.