[Herald Interview] ‘My goal is to hoist K-pop to No. 1 music genre in the world’

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[Herald Interview] ‘My goal is to hoist K-pop to No. 1 music genre in the world’

Veteran K-pop producer Ryan Jhun poses for photos during a recent interview with The Korea Herald at Superbell Company’s headquarters in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

K-pop is a genre stemming from South Korea as part of its culture. The ever-increasing success and popularity of K-pop are highly visible these days, with big-name artists such as BTS and Blackpink taking the world by sweeping global music streamers’ charts, as well as well-recognized awards.

While numerous songs were released in recent years and loved by global K-pop fans, without veteran composer and producer Ryan Jhun and his songwriting team, chart-topping songs including IU’s “Celebrity,” Oh My Girl’s “Dun Dun Dance,” Ive’s “Eleven” and “After Like,” and aespa’s “Girls” were not able to delight listeners’ ears.

“There is K-pop songs’ unbeatable formula that can gratify various listeners. To interact with listeners through music, composers need to acknowledge that the key (song making) ingredients should be unchanged like mom’s heartfelt meal,” Ryan Jhun said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald at his agency Superbell Company’s headquarters in Mapo-gu, western Seoul.

The hit song maker further said that good music requires sensitivity, as well as proper proportion and balance. With the belief that K-pop is visible music, Jhun had to find his way of making creative music that can also capture listeners’ ears and hearts. He gets inspired by being each artist’s zealot to fully understand their characteristics to apply the uniqueness to their songs, he said.

Veteran K-pop producer Ryan Jhun speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at Superbell Company's headquarters in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Veteran K-pop producer Ryan Jhun speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at Superbell Company’s headquarters in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

The 43-year-old is now considered a top-tier producer in the K-pop scene, but he had to face many hurdles to get the spotlight with IU’s “Celebrity” last year, he said. Yet Lee Hyo-ri’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” released in 2010 was officially the first K-pop song that he composed.

When Jhun was 15, he started dreaming of becoming a singer-songwriter, but then a composer. However, he had to give up on the dream as his family moved to New York in 1996. He was forced to stop having vision and face the reality, but he still had unresolved feelings toward music.

“My eagerness for being a composer pressed emptiness to my heart and it was so painful. … I was once an automobile salesperson, club DJ and even an entrepreneur running a quite successful chicken business. I quit everything one day to officially begin a musical career. Instead of playing someone else’s music as a DJ, I wanted to make my own,” Jhun said.

He knocked on numerous music labels in the US but had to encounter racial discrimination in return. In 2008, he flew to Korea with 200,000-won worth of living expenses to look for other opportunities at K-pop agencies here, but he was disregarded again. SM Entertainment appreciated Jhun’s songwriting ability and signed a contract to make songs for the agency’s affiliated artists, including TVXQ, Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, SHINee and EXO.

Veteran K-pop producer Ryan Jhun speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at Superbell Company's headquarters in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Veteran K-pop producer Ryan Jhun speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at Superbell Company’s headquarters in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

The producer said, “K-pop was not a global phenomenon at that time. I gnash my teeth, aiming to capture global listeners with K-pop songs (as revenge.) Thanks to SM, which considers music as the No. 1 priority. The company respected my music and I was able to let the world know how great K-pop songs are and I’m so proud to be part of the process.”

Jhun’s team is the biggest of its kind here, where over 700 songwriters work together to make K-pop songs. These talented K-pop songwriters from here and abroad were also able to gather through “K-pop songwriting camp,” a gathering of professional songwriters and producers where they create songs or content at the request of artists, groups and music labels.

While these camps have fundamentally changed the way music sounds, the veteran producer is planning on holding a big one in November in Korea. He said, “Since I was blessed (in the past), I also wish to give a helping hand to those who wish to become a hitmaker. … ‘Ryan Jhun avengers’ will gather together soon to produce many masterpieces!”

Veteran K-pop producer Ryan Jhun poses for photos during a recent interview with The Korea Herald at Superbell Company's headquarters in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Veteran K-pop producer Ryan Jhun poses for photos during a recent interview with The Korea Herald at Superbell Company’s headquarters in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

When asked about the reason behind an increasing number of global producers and songwriters setting their feet in the local music scene, Jhun attributed the cause to the K-pop’s classical factors and its solid performance in the global music market.

“K-pop was able to strengthen its position since local artists still actively manufacture CDs when releasing new albums and the market is buoyed by a solid fandom culture. It was able to be loved by not only song makers but also listeners from out there too because of its charming vibe and more relatable topics such as love,” he said.

To further spread K-pop’s charm to a wide range of audiences, he chose to appear on the state-run KBS2’s K-pop producer battle program “Listen-Up.” Rather than showing a desire to declare the show’s winner, he thanked the opportunity to produce songs without his style being limited, while he was often being asked to create songs that suit K-pop agencies’ tastes in normal life.

While many titles could be used to describe Jhun — from songwriter and producer to artists and repertoire representative and K-pop idol maker — the chart-topping song maker is still thirst for reaching another milestone. “My ultimate goal is to hoist K-pop to the No. 1 music genre in the world. I want to be a stepping-stone to its path and obtain the title of ‘living legend.”

By Jie Ye-eun ([email protected])


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