When Swedish musician Ellen Berg first heard a K-pop song, in 2013, her reaction was typical of many Western listeners: “What the hell is this?” she recalled the thought.
Berg, 31 years old, studying at Musikmakarna — a songwriting academy about 330 miles north of Stockholm — and her class was asked to write a Korean hit.
To get into the mood of aspiring musicians, the students listened to “I have a little boyFrom Girls’ Generation, a hugely popular K-pop girl group. “It’s one of the craziest K-pop songs ever,” Berg said by phone recently. The track includes raps, bursts of fast-paced dance music and even a rock ballad-style verse. “It’s really five different songs in one,” says Berg.
The whole class is given a week to write something like it. “Things are not going well,” Berg said with a laugh.
Eight years later, Berg has certainly improved her k-pop songwriting: She’s now one of dozens of Swedish musicians who make a living writing for the genre. She contributed to a hit for the pop juggler BTSas well as hugely successful tracks by groups like Red velvet and Itzy.
While the Swede has long been the face of American pop stars – with musicians like Max Martin and Shellback producing or co-writing songs for Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, the Weeknd and others – then Swedish musicians are now becoming a force in K-pop, too.
Berg is signed with EKKOa music publishing house based in Korea with studios in Stockholm, where Berg works alongside Moa Carlebecker, a sought-after K-pop musician by her stage name, Cazzi Opeia. The two musicians (who collaborate with the name Sunshine) also frequently write with the same duo – Ludvig Evers and Jonatan Gusmark, who call themselves Moonshine – based in a studio next door. Seven other Swedish musicians working on K-pop tracks have studios in the same building.
Berg, Carlebecker, Evers and Gusmark first worked together in 2017 on “oooh,” a Red Velvet song that Berg likened to an old “Scooby-Doo” episode or a trip to a haunted house. “Peek-a-Boo” has since been played more than 217 million times on YouTube.
EKKO is not the only company developing K-pop in Stockholm. CosmosOne publisher has seven musicians working full-time on K-pop tracks, said Peo Nylen, the label’s creative director. CribAnother songwriting company, Iggy said, employs 14 K-pop writers Strange-Dahl, one of its founders.
Michael Fuhr, a German scholar, said K-pop seems to be a recent phenomenon to Western music fans who have caught up with the rise of BTS, but Korean record labels Quoc has been looking for European musicians since the late 1990s to global success. who wrote a book about Korean pop. “They were thinking about Max Martin products,” he says, adding that the first successful European K-pop writers were actually Finnish and Norwegian, not Swedish.
Today, musicians of many nationalities are trying to make K-pop hits, says Fuhr, attracted in part by the fact that Koreans still buy CDs, so there’s a lot of money to create out. SM Entertainment, a Korean entertainment group, says on its website it works with 864 musicians worldwide, including 451 in Europe and 210 in North America.
Fuhr says many K-pop hits have been written in songwriting “camps” hosted by record labels or publishers that invite musicians from around the world. For days, musicians work in groups to create new songs. (American pop songs are also often written this way.)
Carlebecker said in a video interview that she was drawn to K-pop when she first heard it, in 2016. As a child, she fell in love with it. Spice Girlsshe says — “I’ve got all the posters, I’ve got all the CDs” — so K-pop immediately feels familiar, with its multitude of boy and girl groups, in which each member members have a distinct personality.
She immediately understood that K-pop tracks had to have multiple passages for each member of the group to have a chance to shine, she said, whether they wanted to rap, sing softly or tighten a chorus. . She adds that there are more pieces that offer more opportunities to be creative than a typical Western pop song.
“There are no rules in K-pop — you can have three sentences in a row, if you feel like it,” says Carlebecker. “You can be crazy and colorful, and that’s the hottest thing.”
Carlebecker, who has a full neck tattoo from head to toe – an appearance hard to come by on a real K-pop star – says she only knows two Korean words: “annyeonghaseyo” (hello) and “gamsahabnida” (hello) thank) .
But that doesn’t affect her songwriting, she said: Carlebecker writes in English, and then Korean musicians add new lyrics to her tunes, often using a few English words. He randomizes to help the song stand out.
In their interviews, Berg and Carlebecker have come up with many theories to explain why the Swedes produce such good K-pop hits, including the country’s strong songwriting tradition and system. Comprehensive music education. Berg notes that Sweden is cold, which means there’s “nothing better to do” than to stay and work on the music.
For some Koreans, the reason is actually quite simple: Swedes write tunes that are so catchy that fans want to sing them at crowded stadium performances and at their local karaoke bars. surname.
Michelle Cho, a Korean musician who also searches for foreign musicians for Korean record labels, said in a phone interview: “The Swedes seem to understand Koreans very well. we. “They write melodies that seem to really hit our hearts.”
Whatever the reason, as K-pop booms, the competition among musicians all over the world is getting stiff. Evers, of Moonshine, says that a few years ago, some musicians in Sweden considered his work to be “a bit lame”, as if he had failed to sign a contract with other musicians. American or European artist and must now pursue his work. trade in Asia. Now, says Evers, those same people have come up to him in a bar and said, “We should write K-pop sometime!”
Thanks to his success, he added, he’s starting to gain insight into the life of a K-pop idol. K-pop fans regularly reach out to Moonshine on social media to praise the duo for their work, says Evers, and a popular K-pop YouTube channel interviewed him.
Swedish K-pop writers are also gaining attention in Sweden. In November, Carlebecker was named “International Success of the Year” at the annual Swedish songwriting awards, beating Max Martin (and Moonshine). Articles about musicians appeared in major national newspapersBerg and Carlebecker were interviewed for the television news.
However, Evers said, not everyone understands how important K-pop is to the Swedish music industry.
“My grandmother still doesn’t understand what I do for a living,” says Evers. “She doesn’t think it’s real.”
An earlier version of this article misrepresented the age of Swedish musician Ellen Berg. She’s 31, not 35.
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