Bumzu is one of the most influential people in K-pop, helping to shape South Korea’s multi-billion dollar global music industry
By Raphael Rashid / The Guardian
With the popularity of groups such as BTS and girl group Blackpink boasting tens of millions of international fans, K-pop dominates pop culture far beyond its South Korean homeland. As the importance of the industry intensifies, so does the importance of the teams that power K-pop – the creators behind every act responsible for music, fashion, choreography and more.
Bumzu is among them. The 30-year-old solo artist turned songwriter-producer, who co-produced Super Tuna, has become one of the most influential people in the K-pop industry. Seventeen, his biggest number, has sold over 10 million albums in South Korea and had four No. 1 hits on Billboard’s World Albums chart. Bumzu has also worked on tracks for other big names including Nu’est, Shinee, Rain and 2PM.
“Honestly, I feel a lot of pressure. There are many times when this pressure eats at me. But it is also true that this feeling pushes me to become stronger again,” said Bumzu, real name 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 country’s content industry exporting a record US$11.92 billion. in 2020. The popularity of K-pop continues to grow amid the rise of the Korean Wave, which also includes film, television, food, and beauty. As well as being a cultural phenomenon, he has also become an important source of political soft power for South Korea – and a source of fan activism for causes ranging from climate action to human rights. .
Yet even Bumzu struggles to identify the reasons for K-pop’s global appeal.
“It’s like asking why barbecue is so delicious and being told it’s because there’s meat in it,” jokes Bumzu.
“I don’t think we can define K-pop by a few factors. We just make music that touches the heart.
FROM MUSICAL PRODIGY TO PRODUCER
Bumzu grew up in Seoul surrounded by music. A talented child violinist, he was already imagining tunes and lyrics in his head 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 wasn’t allowed to touch anything for fear of breaking it, so he started working part-time and saving money to buy his own equipment. He explored music production using computer software, not too far removed 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 80s. He later fell in love with hip-hop, making beats and singing to it, and also R&B, listening to Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight on repeat.
In high school, he was determined to become a musician. In Seoul’s trendy Hongdae university district, he became active in the underground music scene.
“At the time, we called it underground. Most of the people who made music there are now creating what the public calls K-hip-hop. It’s not underground anymore,” he says.
James Corden is seen with J-Hope, Jin, Jimin, V and Jungkook of K-pop group BTS filming for Bumzu’s career as a singer took off after appearing on TV show Superstar K in 2012 Although he didn’t make it to the end, he gained popularity and released his first EP a year later.
He joined Pledis Entertainment – an agency recently acquired by Big Hit Music’s parent company, which is the origin of BTS – and began working as a vocal coach for a group of young trainees who would later become Seventeen. Bumzu was responsible for Seventeen’s debut hit, Adore U, about a teenager’s innocent confession of love.
“When composing the song, I thought it would be the perfect debut single for a group,” Bumzu said. “It helped me develop and refine my style.”
“NO ONE CAN SHINE ALONE”
Most of Bumzu’s day is spent writing songs for artists, working in the studio, and attending meetings. There are few breaks. He constantly interacts with other producers, artists and label representatives.
“We live in an age of collaboration and open communication, and no one can accomplish everything or shine alone. I have a team to strengthen my expertise and I always consult professionals in other fields,” he says.
One of the most important parts of Bumzu’s work is giving each act a unique sound.
“Each band, each artist, has their own style, their own direction or their own goal,” he says. “The most important topic that we concern ourselves with every day is the unique flair, the color of this artist, this team.”
With Seventeen, Bumzu works most closely with band member, close friend and gym buddy Woozi, who co-writes and co-produces many of the band’s discographies.
“He’s a very talented artist and songwriter,” says Bumzu. “We share ideas, talk a lot and complement each other. Once I asked Seventeen member Hoshi to think about choreography first. We then worked the rhythm from that, then the melody after that. I don’t have a fixed order.
Bumzu says songwriting begins and ends with inspiration, which can come from anything. “There are times when I make track ideas and melodies in my head while holding dumbbells in the gym,” he says.
“I feel like I’m in the same boat as the singers I produce for. We know that teamwork is important and everyone is trying to go in one direction. If I row in the opposite direction, we can’t sail where we want to go. Even a small paddle can have a big impact.
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