BUMZU Breaks Down His K-Pop Process & Creating Music With ‘An Unchanging Set of Values’

BUMZU Breaks Down His K-Pop Process & Creating Music With ‘An Unchanging Set of Values’

It can be cliché to refer to songs as “babies” when an artist describes their work. But few artists can talk so passionately and vividly remember the smallest details of a song like BUMZU .. That attention is the tangible result of the Korean singer-songwriter-producer’s personal and positive approach to becoming one of K-pop‘s most influential creatives.

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The 31-year-old has spent more than a decade in Korea’s music industry and BUMZU’s tight relationship with chart-topping acts like SEVENTEEN (he co-wrote and composed the group’s 2015 peppy debut single “Adore U” and worked on every track from this year’s Sector 17, their first top 5 album on the Billboard 200) allow him to observe how songs he worked on click with audiences overseas.

“I got the chance to see how the American fans digest SEVENTEEN’s music and the connection points between the fans and artists,” the humble-but-eloquent BUMZU tells Billboard a week after attending the group’s Be the Sun concert in Los Angeles earlier this year. “The moments I saw allow for these connections were what I hoped would be and that was huge

BUMZU and his A&R crew went straight into the studio despite jetlag and having exhausted their energy at The Kia Forum concert. While the singer-producer is tight-lipped about the “great, really interesting project” from the post-concert midnight session, he says the experience left him “re-energized” in his latest creative step navigating and juggling multiple parts of the K-pop industry.

BUMZU, a Korean musician, was raised in a musical home. He played violin from childhood and dabbled in beatmaking and rapping in his youth. The prodigy’s first mainstream plug came around age 19-20 when he composed for Woo Hyuk Jang of pioneering ’90s K-pop boy band H.O.T. in the early ’10s. By 2012, BUMZU was a finalist in the popular singing competition show Superstar K (which included PSY as a judge in post-“Gangnam Style” fame), igniting his solo career and landing the first connections to his future label home of PLEDIS Entertainment.

While he landed some cuts with then-PLEDIS artists like After School and NU’EST, BUMZU had begun vocal coaching the label’s young trainees who later formed SEVENTEEN. He was also a co-CEO at Prismfilter Music Group, which represents names like ANCHOR and Kitae Park. Simultaneously, BUMZU was becoming a primary name behind much of NU’EST and SEVENTEEN’s hit discographies to help lift PLEDIS into a major industry player and become one of the jewels in the HYBE LABELS system after the corporation acquired the agency in 2020.

BUMZU believes that his passion for fast-paced work was a result of the informal work culture at PLEDIS, which is a mix of creatives, executives and artists.

He says, “We aren’t very business-minded nor strict.” “The artists are my friends. They can reach me and the A&R by phone. We discuss where they want to go. They send messages on [Korean SMS service] KakaoTalk. Sometimes we just do it on Zoom .”

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BUMZU is wearing a comfortable sweatshirt and sweatpants, with a slight five-o’clock stubble. He is trying to embrace the slower pace of life on the West Coast, as opposed to the more chaotic days in Seoul. “I don’t really have a set sleeping time; sometimes I’ll be awake for 36-48 hours on end,” he says. “I love my job, but there are so many things I need to do. Sometimes I need to be awake to wait for the artists. But when I’m writing songs or toiling over my own artistic dilemmas as a solo artist or as a member Prismfilter, and thinking about which direction to take the team or which direction we should all go as a group, it’s a lot of work, but I love the job. It wasn’t like someone came up to me and said, “If you don’t do that, you’re not going make it.””

He actually had a life-affirming moment, when COVID forced his to stop his solo career.

“I held a concert in [early February] 2020 and after we went to meet about preparing for my solo album, and that is right when COVID hit,” he shares of his first planned comeback since last releasing an EP in 2017. “The plans had to be changed right in the middle my solo album preparation, but it felt good .”

PLEDIS shared that BUMZU is still working on a solo album, but that the musical genius isn’t slowing down. As much as he wants to craft hits for massive audiences, the prodigy-turned-producer wants to open people’s minds to respecting all the ways K-pop stars operate.

He says, “As someone who communicates with artists every day, I believe that artists have a job. They can express themselves in any form, shape, or manner they choose.” “Some artists show their art through inspiring staff or through the producers. I respect that aspect of it and I just don’t understand why there’s criticism [of K-pop acts’ lack of involvement].”

BUMZU cannot pick a favorite moment of SEVENTEEN’s concert (“I was in almost all the songs so they are all like my babies”) but he can say that he is proud that his songs contain positive and uplifting mantras.

He shares his musical philosophy, “We live in a world that is constantly changing and I consider myself one who keeps up with the changes.” “No matter how much the world is changing, the most important thing to remember is that we are all simply living our lives. I try to make sure that all the artists and songs I work with have great messages. Through these songs and the messages they convey, I hope to create a set of values that is timeless in a constantly changing world. I will do my best to achieve that goal and thank everyone for their support

Next, you will find BUMZU’s reflections on important works from his career.

Jin, “Super Tuna” (2021): The main point of that song was, “Let’s not make it serious.” We wanted people to just have pure joy from listening to it, almost childlike happiness, and not think too hard. Jin is a huge artist, but he feels that sometimes we need that childhood-like brightness back.

The legend behind the song is quite amazing. [Laughs] We were out fishing in an area where professional fishermen fish and they were all telling us, “You’re not going to catch anything, it’s not going to happen.” I went up to Jin and said, “Yo. You got [a] Billboard Number One. You’re the man. You’re the man, so you’re going be able to catch tuna.” He was the first to throw his line and caught one when we played “Super Tuna.”

After that, the fishermen were like, “Some things are just meant to be, but we’re going to challenge you again.” So, I repeated that line, “You’re Billboard Number One. He said, “You’re the man and you’re going be able to catch sharks.” He threw the bait in again. The baby shark began to circle as soon as he dropped it in. We thought it was possible to catch it, but we thought it was too freaky so we just took the bait.

NU’EST, “Bet Bet” (2019): One “TMI” about this one is the lyrics for “Bet Bet” were excruciatingly hard. It took nearly a month to get the lyrics out. It took almost a month to get the lyrics out. That word was discussed a lot and especially for that album since it’s the album where the members got back together after the Produce 101 series. They wanted it to convey the feeling of “We are back together now, and we’re going all in,” which was one of the best ideas we discussed.

The lyrics were not the most important thing, but the track and the topline were quick and fun. It was a lot of fun to make, but the lyrics were a nightmare. [Laughs]

fromis_9, “Glass Shoes” (2017): It always cracks me up when I think back on this song. It was one of the most enjoyable lyrical experiences I have ever had in my life. I was so full of ideas, some of them were like going back to Mars, so I had to cut it down and make it more manageable. We wanted to convey a special feeling to the audience. We were also trying to fit the Cinderella story into fromis_9 and because of that, I was using words like “binggeureu binggeureu,” which is spinning around, and that kind of stuff. I would be working on the sofa and write my lyrics. I’d laugh out loud. This is definitely one of my favorite works.

I would probably not be able to do a girl’s group if you asked me now. It’s not a deadline. If I get a great opportunity, I’d jump on it. With everything going on with me and SEVENTEEN, I want more to be able to focus on what I have.

I don’t hate girl groups. If I have the opportunity later in time, I will do it. But right now, there are so many things I need to be focused on. One thing I like about my songs is that I don’t use the pronouns “he,” “she,” or “her” very often. I concentrate on the lyrics, the message or point we are trying to convey in the song. Instead of worrying about “Oh, they’re girl groups, I have this thing, and because they’re boys, I have this done a certain way,” I don’t. I am more focused on “Does this song suit this artist?” Is this song compatible with this lyric. Does the topline match this lyric?” This is what I am most concerned about, not the genders of the groups.

NCT 127, “Back 2 U (AM 01: 27)” (2017): It was for a songwriting camp with SM [Entertainment] that I participated in and that session was with The Stereotypes [the production team who’s won Grammys for their work with Bruno Mars and Chris Brown], who are very famous, and August Rigo [BTS, Chris Brown, One Direction]. We were all just good at cooking. It was a happy, enjoyable session. It took us only three takes to finish the topline. We used different parts of this to complete the song on-the-spot. It was a wonderful experience. August also participated in SEVENTEEN’s “Hot” recently. So, it was great to work with him again.

2PM, “How Is It?” (2016): It’s still surreal. 2PM was a big artist growing up. My song was a number on their album. I was stunned. My song is in 2PM’s album.” But, the best thing was meeting 2PM.

I was asked to sing the song by JYP [Entertainment] and I can’t recall who it was. But they took great care of me. They would buy me coffee or anything. I was a baby in the music industry at the time. I remember seeing them so kind and caring towards their staff. It was an experience I will never forget.

SEVENTEEN, “Very Nice” (2016): I had a feeling this was going to be a hit because I literally locked myself in my room for two days to make it. I was just enjoying coffee and listening to music. I promised myself that I wouldn’t leave the room until I had finished something worthwhile. After that long and exhausting process, I reached a point where I thought, “Oh, this is going be a hit.” I realized that I was partying alone. I was screaming and going insane. Woozi was the only person I spoke to for those two days. He was on his own schedule, but kept me informed about everything and how it was going. Literally, he was the only one I spoke to during those 48 hours.

Woozi, S.Coups, and I were all sitting in a room talking about how we wanted “nice” to be one of the key words. S.Coups came up with the idea for “Very Nice” and the lyrics began to come together. The idea of nice was derived from the same idea as “nice shot”, like when golfers play golf and someone has a nice shot. Then, the “nice” became “very nice”. Today, I am a golf maniac, but back then, I was not playing. S.Coups came up with some amazing ideas that helped create that song, and it still decorates SEVENTEEN’s encore stages.

SHINee, “Hold You” (2015): I participated along with a producer named Deez [Red Velvet, VIVIZ, SuperM] in another song camp, he’s one of my favorite senior hyungs. Although the song sounds simple, it is very complex if you look at the files.

There are two songs in my career that I have put the most effort into the vocal production: one is “Thank You (Evening by Evening)” by NU’EST, and then “Hold You.” In both of them, I wanted to use their vocal harmonies almost as an instrument in the song composition instead of just harmony.

After School, “Make-Up & Tears” (2013): Interesting story about that one is, that was the first song that I participated in after joining PLEDIS. Although I still put my all into music, this was my first. I literally gave my life to get it to that level.

The lyrics are about a breakup. I wanted stories from people who were normal. Your eyes puff up when you cry. To reduce swelling, you can freeze a spoon and place it on your eyes. I called all my friends to ask because it was a girl band song and I am a man. I didn’t have the experience or perspective to see how it could be applicable to many people. I was on my phone, looking through my contacts. I didn’t know what was right and what was wrong, because I didn’t have the same track record as I do now.

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