While many K-pop artists are managed to varying degrees by entertainment agencies, there have always been those who participate in the creative production of music.
It is common for those who write about K-pop groups to bemoan the lack of creative input by K-pop artists, particularly those who are identified as “idols,” individuals who engage in extra-musical activities in addition to musical performance. When writers do recognize such input, they often do so to point to a handful of K-pop artists who defy the odds and participate in the production of their own music. For example, in a story on Monsta X, Taylor Glasby writes, “K-pop can seem like a factory, its idols helpless drones rather than artists, and the stress and fatigue are often in the spotlight.” Writers frequently point to the casting and training system as a factory stifles creativity. They often highlight recent groups as those who have defied the odds. Monsta X debuted in 2015.
Doing so alludes to an unspoken comparison to “authentic” artists who are involved in the production of their own music. However, this ignores the very long and prominent history of prominent pop artists not being involved in the creation of their music, as well as musical collaboration in American pop music, much of which goes uncredited. The documentary The Wrecking Crew (2008)reveals the impact of a group of session players responsible for many songs in American pop music in the 1960s. The documentary notes that this group of musicians often made up a lot of arrangements themselves beyond what may have been written, and sometimes, the artists themselves were never involved in the production of the music. The music industry has only become more collaborative, with musicians, producers and arrangers working from various locations. They do not even have to be in the same room to make a song. When K-pop artists are routinely characterized as not participating in the music creation process, it suggests that they are not legitimate.
However, it is the very casting and training system that also trains some K-pop artists to contribute creatively to music production. Shin Hyunjoon notes that “in a multi-story building with recording studios, rehearsal rooms and conference rooms, the staff and employees work as songwriter-arrangers, recording engineers, managers, choreographers, costume designers, design coordinators. . . . Not only singer-dancer-actor aspirants but also those who want to work for the company can get the relevant education in a classroom located in the entertainment companies’ buildings” (510). It seems a bit unrealistic to expect new trainees who may be in their early to-mid teens to become conversant in music production and work on a song. However, undergoing training process and debuting and performing as a group has given trainees the necessary experience, as several artists have gone on to become music producers.
More recent K-pop groups seem more likely to be involved in the production of their own music. allkpop points to members of BigBang, Highlight (formerly BEAST), Block B, B.A.P, VIXX, BTS, CNBlue, 2PM and BTOB as individuals who have either composed, produced or written lyrics for songs. Several of these groups are newer to K-pop. Some point to them, saying that the industry is changing by allowing them to participate in the production of their own music.
However, K-pop has always has some artists who provided creative input into music production for their own groups, their solo work and other people. As longtime fans know, H.O.T, widely acknowledged as the first successful male “idol” group, began to participate in the production of their own music with the album Outside Castle (2000). Kangta, a member of H.O.T, is credited with lyrics, composing and arranging “Pray for You” from Outside Castle and “Bit” (Hope) from Resurrection (1998), a song that ends up becoming the encore song for SM Town concerts.
After H.O.T’s disbandment, Kangta contributes to music production for other SM Entertainment artists, including Fly to the Sky, BoA, Girls’ Generation and Shinhwa (before the group left the label in 2003). For example, Kangta is credited with the lyrics (with Brian Joo, one of the two members of Fly to the Sky), composition and arrangement for Fly To the Sky’s 2001 track”Shy Love.”
Kangta also embarks on a solo music career following the disbandment of H.O.T. He not only collaborates with Vanness Wu for a Mandopop album, but also writes, arranges and produces a number of tracks for his own solo albums Polaris (2001), Pine Tree (2002), and Persona (2005). While his work with Vanness is electronic dance music, Kangta consistently relies on the ballad and natural instrumentation that emphasizes his voice, such as the track “Mabi (Paralysis)”:
Kangta demonstrates that some K-pop artists have participated in music production since the beginning of K-pop. This trend has become more commonplace recently, making the K-pop landscape more complicated, one that includes those who sing music produced by others (a long-time tradition in pop music) as well as those who produce music for themselves and others.
elliefilet. “Kangta of H.O.T Says He Wants To Get Married.” allkpop. 16 Sept 2017. https://www.allkpop.com/article/2017/09/kangta-of-hot-says-he-wants-to-get-married (25 May 2018).
Shin Hyunjoon. “Have You Ever Seen The Rain? And Who’ll Stop the Rain?: The Globalizing Project of Korean pop (K-pop).” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 10.4 (2009): 507-523. DOI: 10.1080/14649370903166150.
Taylor Glasby. “Monsta X: The Boyband Surviving the K-pop Factory.” The Guardian. 4 May 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/may/04/monsta-x-the-boyband-surviving-the-k-pop-factory (25 May 2018).
SONEPANDA01. “HD] All Artists – Hope @ SMTown World Tour in Tokyo.” YouTube. 27 Oct 2012. https://youtu.be/mSVppYAeH9g (25 May 2018).
Zeroforce14. “Kangta – Paralysis.” YouTube. 12 Dec 2011. https://youtu.be/4282VnkgkPI (25 May 2018).
The Creative Input of K-pop Artists by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.