The music industry is ever-changing. The rise and fall of many songwriters continue to spark much debate about the authenticity an artist desperately tries to convey in their music. We have artists like Taylor Swift, Shawn Mendes, and Lady Gaga, who produce and write their songs with startling levels of creativity.
Even so, a new music genre has been taking the world by storm, bringing in more influence and different stylistic choices of music. This music genre is none other than Kpop, also known as Korean pop. With infectious melodies, enthralling tunes, and captivating performances, it is interesting to see artists from this particular genre blend Western influences into their own unique music. Although these artists draw inspiration from Western culture, how does freedom in Kpop songwriting creativity differ from that of Western Pop artists?
In general, Kpop focuses on a wide range of technicalities to create musical masterpieces. However, despite the industry’s growing status and its potentially fruitful future, Kpop artists may be unable to fully establish their talents and songwriting skills to the world.
You see, Kpop singers are cast as idols, not artists.
Their freedom is therefore limited. Here is where a deep dive into comparing both industries and how they deal with songwriting creativity would be helpful to shed some light onto the issue.
The Pop Industry
The most notable singer-songwriter every music enthusiast would likely know is Taylor Swift. Starting off as a country singer in a small Pennsylvania town, Taylor Swift would continue to climb the ranks of fame. Her shift from country music to a fusion of country and pop attracted a loyal following for her. Her skill and prowess ultimately granted Swift her first Grammy award in 2009 at the age of 20 for her album Fearless.
It is well known that Taylor Swift gains inspiration from her personal life and past relationships to create songs that her fans and even casual listeners greatly enjoy for their emotional depth and relatability. This freedom to explore the topics she desires eventually expands more into her career as she creates a wide variety of songs. Whether you are up for indulgent songs that leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside or if you are looking for a rollercoaster of crashing emotions, there’s a Taylor Swift song for you.
Conan Gray, an upcoming singer-songwriter, is another pop artist who writes about heartbreak and occasions of unrequited love. It goes to show how his steady rise in success was the result of his own ideas and expressiveness that shaped how his songs continued to progress over the years of his music career.
A significant album that Conan Gray released is ‘Kid Krow’ in 2020, which focused heavily on his detachment from his childhood and longing for friendship. This intensifies greatly how much Pop artists, in general, write their songs to reflect on their own unique experiences, styles, and identity.
In most cases with Pop music, diversity is a consistent aspect that is always explored through a wide range of musical influences as well as bold experimenting with different styles of production to create an artistic piece that speaks volumes to the audience. The added touch of originality and genuineness when songwriters make songs that they pour their heart and soul into easily shines through every lyric and tune.
The Kpop Industry
Much like the Pop industry, Kpop heavily relies on creating meaning in the songs that are produced by every group or soloist. Still, as much as there are artists in this industry that create and produce their own music, songwriting is considered more a privilege rather than a right.
For example, SM Entertainment is an example of a company that provides minimum to zero creative freedom for artists to produce their own songs for their individual groups. With the only creativity in songwriting being the rap lines for Mark and Taeyong from NCT, this reveals the strict levels of freedom idols are exposed to when it comes to producing songs and performing it to live audiences. The “Big 3” Kpop entertainment agencies, which are SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, YG Entertainment, are companies that do not offer much creative power to their artists unless it fully benefits the brand and image that is being expressed.
Stray Kids is an example of a group from JYP Entertainment that has full control over the songs they produce. However, this is only possible in the first place when Stray Kids share their songs with Park Jinyoung (JYP) beforehand.
Songs produced by an artist in the industry are typically given either the green light or red light depending on how much trust is put into the group. Despite it being their own lyrics and melodies, it is likely that their produced songs will only be accepted only when it fits their brand image. This means that they are not given the means of diversifying their music variety.
Nevertheless, groups like Seventeen and (G)I-dle are self-producing groups that stray away from the idea of sticking in a bubble where their artistic creativity may be limited.
Seventeen is a 13-member group that debuted in 2015 under PLEDIS Entertainment and started their self-producing and writing journey since then. As much as the other members participated in the writing and producing of their songs over the years, one of the members, Woozi, was the main man in the studio that handled the songs they released. Ranging from hip-hop beats to gut-wrenching vocal-powered songs, examples being ‘Don’t Wanna Cry’ or ‘Fear’, their musical evolution is gradual rather than drastic.
Quite recently, Seventeen came back with the title track, ‘Super’ which expressed tunes and beats that portray an assortment of traditional Korean melodies with a hint of Pop influence. This illustrates that Kpop artists can produce songs from their own culture whilst integrating it with modern music, somewhat like how Taylor Swift created her own fusion of country and pop music.
(G)I-dle debuted in 2018 under CUBE Entertainment, home to another self-producing artist, Hui, in the boy group Pentagon. (G)I-dle started their career with their hit debut title song, ‘Latata’ composed by Leader, Jeon Soyeon. Initially a participant in shows Produce 101 and Unpretty Rapstar, Soyeon eventually climbed her way to finally debuting in a group after years of trying.
Jeon Soyeon is the mastermind behind songs such as ‘Tomboy’, ‘Oh my god’, and even ‘Nxde’. There are more songs she has produced. However, these three songs vary in lyric creativity as well as arrangement in musical tunes. There is no specific style that links each song together, which further demonstrates Soyeon’s musical abilities in creating different yet digestible music that music listeners can enjoy without needing to relate to the lyrics.
When a Kpop artist writes a song, there is more often than not symbolism greatly demonstrated in almost every track of their discography. For example, Huh Yunjin from Le Sserafim released a song called ‘I ≠ DOLL’ which expressed and stated in the lyrics how an idol was more than just a pretty face.
This song is one to be emphasised as it fully focuses on the struggles of a Kpop idol, especially from an artist that only recently debuted. It also speaks fully on the current and changing trend of speaking up and expressing through one’s songwriting abilities. Huh Yunjin, coming from HYBE Corporation (also known as Hybe Labels), a multinational entertainment agency, was able to write a song and release it to the public, showing how the Kpop industry is essentially changing with time. This may be a sign that Kpop artists will eventually be given the chance to play an important role in the production of their music.
Is There a Difference?
There is definitely a difference in how freedom in songwriting creativity varies between the industries. Pop artists rely more on relatability and Kpop artists rely on symbolism to grab the listener’s attention.
Even with their contrasting differences, there is one common goal most artists from these industries strive to achieve: to create music that resonates and connects with individuals around the world. Regardless of how either genres are able to entice a listener’s interest through their emotional lyrics or impressive hooks, both Pop and Kpop hold the power to inspire people to sing and dance.
With the Pop industry already being progressive in allowing musical freedom and creativity for their artists, artists in the Kpop industry should also be given as much of an opportunity to express their originality in due time.
Written by: Lavanya