5 Canadians who are helping craft K-pop's biggest hits
As the genre continues to grow worldwide so does its roster of songwriters and producers
K-pop is both an industry and a product that stems directly from South Korea, but in order to create some of the most high-quality pop music today, hit-making teams bring in songwriters and producers from all over the world.
It's not uncommon to find a long list of names in the credits of K-pop songs. Not only do K-pop creatives cherry pick verses, lyrics or harmonies from different contributors to create a Frankenstein hit, but in working with foreign musicians, translators become integral to the songwriting process.
It makes sense that, in addition to American hit-makers, K-pop would look to Canada for a helping hand. After all, Canada is a dominant force on the charts thanks to stars like Drake, the Weeknd, Carly Rae Jepsen and many more.
Below are five Canadian songwriters, producers and engineers who have helped craft songs for K-pop artists in recent years. Although other artists are mentioned, you'll notice the majority of the Canadians below are credited on songs by BTS because of their breakthrough in America in recent years, which has led to singles featuring more English lyrics — perhaps a sign of what's to come if other acts (like Seventeen or TXT) find a way to squeeze in as a result of BTS' historic inroads.
Toronto's Denzil Remedios, better known as DR, is a Canadian songwriter and producer whose K-pop bona fides show a range of artists. (DR is notably the only non-BTS affiliate on this list.) DR got his break in K-pop when he co-wrote the 2010 hit "No Other" by Super Junior. He has since worked with some of K-pop's most formative groups of the 2010s, including Girls' Generation, Red Velvet and Shinee, helping form a sonic foundation for a sound that combined North American pop, hip hop and more into an eclectic mix that's still present in some of today's acts.
Toronto's DJ Swivel was once Beyoncé's personal recording engineer. Working with the pop star for two years, travelling around the world with her, DJ Swivel told Rolling Stone in 2018 that the singer's devoted Beyhive fanbase, while fervent, is nothing compared to BTS' Army, noting he "never once saw fandom like this." DJ Swivel, who also works as a mixer, producer and songwriter, has worked with Britney Spears, Jay Z, Kanye West and the Chainsmokers, and began working with BTS in 2018, co-writing and producing a number of songs off their third studio album, Love Yourself: Tear. That collaborative relationship continued on 2020's Map of the Soul: 7, including work on its penultimate song, "We are Bulletproof: The Eternal." That same year, DJ Swivel co-wrote and produced "Depend on You" by popular K-pop girl group Twice. He also produced "Up From Here" by WayV, a Chinese boy band and a sub-unit of the K-pop supergroup NCT.
Calgary-born artist and songwriter Jenna Andrews has written for some of music's biggest stars, from Drake and Lil Nas X to Noah Cyrus, Carly Rae Jepsen and Benee. (Andrews co-wrote Benee's 2019 breakout hit, "Supalonely.") She has also been a notable name among K-pop songwriters for the past seven years, helping compose songs and write lyrics for duo TVXQ!, Girls' Generation and, recently, Tomorrow X Together (TXT)'s English-language summer hit, "Magic," which the group has performed live on Good Morning America and The Late Late Show With James Corden. Andrews is probably best known for co-writing BTS' trio of English hits, though: the Grammy-nominated "Dynamite" and its followups, "Butter" and "Permission to Dance." In an interview with CBC's Q, Andrews said, "Working with them has been a complete pleasure," though she jokingly noted that, due to the pandemic, she had yet to meet the group in person.
A solo artist in her own right, Ontario-born Allie X has also had lots of success writing music for other musicians, most prominently for Australian pop star Troye Sivan. In fact, she teamed up with Sivan, as well as mutual collaborators Bram Inscore and Leland, to co-write for K-pop's biggest export, BTS. Together they worked on "Louder Than Bombs," a dark and dramatic number off the South Korean group's seventh studio album, Map of the Soul: 7. In an interview with GQ, Sivan revealed that "Louder Than Bombs" was a song they originally wrote six years prior for his album. Once it was scrapped, Sivan "completely forgot about it" until "somehow, it got into the hands of the BTS boys, who I love and they loved the song." Outside of BTS, Allie X also co-wrote the 2017 song "Moonlight" for former Girls' Generation member, Seohyun.
Another Canadian who appears in the credits of BTS' Map of the Soul: 7 is Toronto's August Rigo. The songwriter/producer has landed song placements with pop juggernauts like Justin Bieber and One Direction, but he has also had his foot in the K-pop door since 2013, as he told Variety last year, of when he first entered that industry: "I had a very North American ego. The first time I got [to South Korea], I really had to learn the process of what they're looking for and how to integrate what I do into what they do." Rigo was eventually tapped to work on the lyrics and melodies for "Black Swan" and "On," the latter of which served as the lead single for Map of the Soul: 7.