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From catching tuna to teen love: producer of the biggest K-pop stars | South Korea

When Jin of superstar boy band BTS released Super Tuna – an upbeat song about his favorite pastime, fishing – she immediately became popular.

Written to celebrate the star’s birthday, the song has seen over 53 million views on YouTube since December, and on TikTok, the #SuperTuna hashtag inspired a viral dance challenge.

With the popularity of groups such as BTS and the girl group Blackpink, which have an international fan base of tens of millions, K-pop dominates pop culture far beyond its homeland of South Korea. As the industry grows in importance, so does the importance of the bands that power K-pop – creators of every act responsible for music, fashion, choreography and more.

Among them is Bumzu. The 30-year-old solo artist who became a songwriter and producer who co-produced Super Tuna has become one of the most influential people in the K-pop industry. Seventeen, his biggest band, has sold over 10 million albums in South Korea and had four hits at number one on the Billboard’s World Albums chart. Bumzu has also worked on songs for other big names including Nu’est, Shinee, Rain, and 2PM.

Boyband Seventeen is one of South Korea’s best-selling K-pop bands over the past decade. Photo: Pledis Entertainment

“Honestly, I feel a lot of pressure. Many times this pressure destroys me. But it’s also true that this feeling makes me stronger again, ”said Bumzu, whose real name is Kye Beom-joo.

K-pop is part of a multi-billion dollar industry that has become one of South Korea’s most valuable cultural products, with the domestic content industry exporting a record $ 11.92 billion in 2020. K-pop’s popularity continues to grow as the Korean Wave gains popularity, which also includes film, TV, food, and beauty. In addition to being a cultural phenomenon, it has also become an important source of political soft power for South Korea – and one of the fans’ efforts to support a wide variety of causes from climate action to human rights.

However, even Bumzu has trouble identifying the causes of K-pop’s global appeal. “It’s like asking why the grill is so delicious and hearing it’s because there is meat,” jokes Bumzu.

“I don’t think we can define K-pop with just a few factors. We just make music that touches the heart. “

From a wonderful musician to a producer

Bumzu grew up in Seoul surrounded by music. A talented children’s violinist, he invented melodies and texts at the age of five.

His older brother was passionate about music and filled the house with equipment, which left a lasting impression on Bumzu. He was not allowed to touch anything for fear of breaking him, so he started working part-time and saving money to buy his own equipment. He explored music production with computer software not too distant from the techniques he uses today.

Bumzu was fascinated by visual kei – a mixture of glam rock, metal and punk popular in Japan since the 1980s. He later fell in love with hip-hop, making beats and singing over them, as well as R&B, listening over and over again to Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight.

Already in high school, he was determined to become a musician. In the fashionable university district of Hongdae, Hongdae, he began operating in the underground music scene.

“We used to call it underground at the time. Most of the people who made music there are now making what audiences call K-hip-hop. It’s not underground anymore – he says.

James Corden is seen with J-Hope, Jin, Jimin, V and Jungkook of the K-pop band BTS during the filming of The Late Late Show With James Corden in 2021.
The BTS movie The Late Late Show starring James Corden in 2021. Photo: Bellocqimages / Bauer-Griffin / GC Images

Bumzu’s career as a singer took off after competing on the TV talent show Superstar K in 2012. Even though he didn’t come to the end, he gained popularity and released his first EP a year later.

He joined Pledis Entertainment – the agency recently acquired by the parent company Big Hit Music that stands behind BTS – and began working as a vocal trainer for a group of young interns who later became Seventeen. Bumzu was responsible for Seventeen’s first hit, Adore U, about a teenage boy’s innocent confession of love.

“When I composed this song, I thought it would be the perfect debut single for the band,” says Bumzu. “It helped me develop and perfect my style.”

“No one can achieve it all or shine alone”

Bumzu spends most of the day writing songs for artists, working in the studio, and attending meetings. There are a few breaks. He constantly collaborates with other producers, artists and label representatives.

“We live in an age of collaboration and open communication, and no one can achieve it or shine alone. I have a team that strengthens my knowledge and I always consult professionals from other fields – he says.

South Korean band NU'EST.
Bumzu is also producing the boy band Nu’est. Photo: Pledis Entertainment

One of the most important parts of Bumz’s work is to give each act a unique sound. “Each band, each artist has their own style, direction or purpose,” he says. “The most important topic that we worry about every day is the unique style, color of this artist, this band.”

Seventeen Bumzu works closely with band member, close friend and gym buddy Woozim, who co-creates and co-produces many of the group’s discographies.

“He is a very talented artist and songwriter,” says Bumzu. “We share ideas, discuss a lot and complement each other’s techniques.

“I once asked a member of Seventeen Hoshi to think about the choreography first. Then we worked on the rhythm and then on the melody. I do not have an agreed order. “

Bumzu says the song’s composition begins and ends with an inspiration that could come from anything. “There are times when I think of ideas for songs and tunes in my head while holding dumbbells in the gym,” he says.

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“I feel proud of the word K-pop that starts with a” K “for Korea,” says Bumzu. Photo: Pledis Entertainment

“I feel like I’m in the same boat with the singers I produce for. We know that teamwork is important and everyone tries to go in one direction. If I paddle the other way, we can’t go where we want. Even a small oar can have a big impact. “

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