Far from monolithic, K-pop sounds can run the gamut between jazzy soul, teen idol pop, southern rap, reggae and dancehall, and even Swedish pop. Powering the Korean pop industry juggernaut are producers with hit-making skills rivaling their Western contemporaries.
These six producers below represent the power and diversity within K-pop. Among them, there are the old guard, the upstarts, the mainstays and the independents, bubblegum pop and hip-hop weird. Some are working within K-pop’s three biggest agencies (YG Entertainment, SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment). Others are freelancers, gaining prestige with their unique added touch. All of them are running things.
Has worked with: Lee Hi, 2NE1, CL, Big Bang, Se7en, Taeyang
Bio: Arguably the heart of hip-hop-influenced K-pop, Teddy Park was born in Korea, but raised in the United States. From 1998-2005, he was a member of the YG’s prolific b-boy band 1TYM. After his performing career, he turned to writing and producing for YG, strengthening the roster’s contemporary hip-hop and R&B edge. He also began infusing his signature reggae sounds. His productions helped to set 2NE1 apart from their contemporaries with island-influenced songs like “I Am the Best” and MTV Iggy’s current Song of the Summer “Falling in Love,” co-produced with Choice 37. His use of current electronic music undercurrents like trap music’s hi-hat and snare rolls (on songs like CL’s “The Baddest Female“) puts him in a similar class with producers like Big Bang’s G-Dragon. He still has a sweet side, though, evident in songs like Lee Hi’s “Rose” (co-produced with 1TYM bandmate Song Baekkyung).
Has worked with: SISTAR, B.A.P., MBLAQ, Skull and Haha, Baek Ji-Young.
Bio: The production duo came together in 2010 when composer Michael Kim (also known as Chance from trio One Way) paired up with lyricist Park Jang Geun. After producing a well-received mini-album, 100%, by MBLAQ, they became of one of the most in-demand freelance production squads of 2012. Their feel-good brand of pop-R&B has been applied to ballads, dance tracks, and mainstream pop. They also topped MTV K’s next generation producers list. “Stop It” by B.A.P. shows off exactly why they are considered such a reputable hit-making machine.
Has worked with: MBLAQ, Zion T, Dynamic Duo, Eluphant, Supreme Team
Bio: If Teddy Park is the heart, then Primary is the soul of hip-hop-influenced K-pop. Choi Dong Hoon started in producing in 2004 and has been quietly fueling the rise of jazzy piano-based R&B in Dynamic Duo’s label, Amoeba Culture. His unique signature “look” is the cardboard box head he wears when he performs. Although masking has become a norm in European DJ culture, this DIY touch is much more quirky and charming on Primary. 2012′s Primary and the Messengers gave him a chance to stand front and center for his productions, a rarity in K-pop. Check out MTV K’s interview with him for more insights. Infinite H’s “Without You” gives you a hint of the funky sounds percolating under the cardboard.
Has worked with: Girls Generation, Super Junior, TVXQ!, BoA, SHINee, EXO
Bio: A representative of Scandinavian producers working in the K-pop, Denmark’s Thomas Troelson got his start with his own pop group PRIVATE, in 2006. He started producing on the side, composing Junior Senior’s infectiously catchy “Move Your Feet” and Germany’s 2008 entry for Eurovision “Disappear.” He began working with K-pop artists like TVXQ! in 2008. He frequently works with SM Entertainment stars co-writing with another Dane, Remee Mikkel Sigvardt Jackman. The Troelson sound is Prince-meets-Terminator, utilizing ’80s synths, New Jack Swing beats, and disinfected engineering. In referring to his mindset when producing K-pop, he’s said in an interview, “I always try and imagine what pop music would sound like in the year 3075.” That’s not difficult to imagine when watching EXO-K’s “History” (co-produced with Jackman and Yoo Young-jin), which bears a striking resemblance to the aforementioned Purple One’s “Kiss”.
Has Worked With: MBLAQ, Jay Park, Epik High, Double K
Bio: Doing double duty as a rapper and producer, Dok2 made his debut with 2008′s Thunderground Musik. His southern rap style might make him so much of an outlier that it’s a bit of a stretch to lump him in with other K-pop artists. But if you take a look into the thuggish-ruggish style of pop stars like Big Bang, CL and frequent collaborator Jay Park, Dok2′s place as a star in the industry’s solar system is reaffirmed. He is a member of the hip-hop collective, the Movement Crew and signed to Epik High’s label Map The Soul. Break out your snapback and nod along to Dok2 and Double K’s “It’s Time.”
Has worked with: EXID, 4Minute, T-ara, Beast, Jewelry, and A Pink
Bio: Lee Ho-yang, otherwise known as Shinsadong Tiger, got his start in 2005. One of K-pop’s most successful freelance producers, he made his breakthrough for his work on Jewelry’s “One More Time.” The Tiger’s style is hook-y idol pop and although his songs aren’t especially sophisticated, they are insanely catchy. He helped to launch the careers of 4Minute and Beast for Cube Entertainment before setting up his own shop, AB Entertainment and then launching his own group, EXID. JS & HyunA (star dancers of Beast and 4Minute) benefited from his deftness in their song “Trouble Maker.”
For ridiculously good K-pop coverage, head on over to MTV K.
Alexis Stephens (@pm_jawn) is a staff writer at MTV Iggy.