Interview with idol representatives of “composer-idols”… “the salary is a secret…shall we compose together?”
“My stylist dressed me younger-looking today. In case I looked older than these guys….”(Kim Jaejoong)
JYJ’s Kim Jaejoong (28) casually walked into the photo shoot complaining. Younger BEAST’s Yong Junhyung and Block B’s Zico smiled awkwardly saying, “We don’t have young looking face though…”
The image of the three of them standing together made them look like a team for sure.
“Since we have one vocal singer and two rappers, we can make a team. Jaejoong, Yong Junhyung, Jiho (Zico’s real name) initials together make JYJ. Hahaha.”
The similarity between them is the fact that they are “idol singers with composing abilities.” They don’t get their name placed in the album credits just by muttering the melody, but they are Korean music industry’s “copyright idols” who can easily compose-write-edit music for their own albums and even give songs to other artists.
According to the Korea Music Copyright Association, Kim Jaejoong composed/wrote 37 songs, Yong Junhyung 60 songs, and Zico 46 songs.
Recently, at the interview in one recording studio located in Samsungdong, the three of them looked very close. Yong Junhyung had a rap featuring in Kim Jaejoong’s song “Don’t Walk Away” last year and Zico had worked with Yong Junhyung on an album before his debut in Block B. Maybe it was because they were all music composers, but they were all happy saying, “it’s fun because we get to be together.”
Zico stated, “It’s crazy that I’m here right now. I remember being in a talent show during grade school with the song “The Way You Are” and during my second year in middle school with the song “Rising Sun”. When I was studying abroad in China, DBSK popularity was so big.”
“Recently I was feeling down so was drinking alone around 3~4AM, but then I got a call from Jaejoong hyung. Hyung told me that he was drinking alone too and came to join me. He is someone who will understand all of me when I don’t say a word, so I think we feel the same things.” (Yong Junhyung)
Kim Jaejoong said, “There are times when Junhyungie will look sad. So when I met him I told him that he looked good when he smiles.” Zico added along, “I think hyungs are people who enjoy sad emotions.”
◇ “The reason why I stated composing…”
Each one of them had a different reason for composing.
Kim Jaejoong had been writing song before JYJ, during his DBSK days. He would secretly share his own compositions on his MP3 in the waiting rooms. His first composition to be on an album was “Love Don’t Cry” which was placed on DBSK’s 4th album in 2008.
“Since I was a singer, I wanted to sing a song that had my own message. In the beginning, it was half out of curiosity and the other half was enjoyment. I was first interested in arrangement. It was because the song changes into a different song based on how you arrange it.” (Kim Jaejoong)
Yong Junhyung started making songs during his trainee days to escape the suffocating dorm life and repetitive days. “I would ask to for permission to visit Shinsadong Tiger’s studio and leave.”
He explained, “Watching composer hyungs work looked as if they were enjoying a game. When I told them that I wanted to try too they told me to start writing first. After I started writing a bit, I wanted to make melodies and then I moved on to full tracks.”
Zico wanted to be “high technician” as a rapper. He didn’t even dream of being a composer. However, because his past company didn’t have a producer available, he decided that he would have to take charge.
“Back then I couldn’t handle MIDI programs and I got tracks from other people. I went to classes with my own money and learned programs like Logic and Cubase. I realized that I had to learn it in order to talk to composers who were making the tracks for me. And then I got greedy and then make the track for Block B’s first album, “Nilriri Mambo”. (Zico)
Composing songs ranging from dance, ballad, pop, hip hop, rock, and more, they each had their way of composing.
For Kim Jaejoong who composes alone at home, when he puts his mind to it, he would just make songs with a notebook and a piano. He formulates the style of the song by making the melody and adds in the lyrics at the end.
When Yong Junhyung doesn’t have schedules, he would head to his studio to talk with his friends and when he gets an idea, he would start writing. He would always choose the song title first.
Yong Junhyung explained, “Because you need the public’s approval, you need to be able to compromise to some extent. The basic sound might be electronic, but you might have to replace with piano or guitar for that melodic acoustic sound. Or if the track is pop genre, then you need to find the right melody for that.
For Zico, who got his own studio 3 months ago in Seochodong, he makes a track with rhythm and loop. Then he adds in the melody and last writes his lyrics.
They all agreed, “The order might be different, but the process we go through is the same. Even though it might be really good song written by a different person, we don’t get tempted to just simply work off it. We have an open mind.”
Lyrics are usually based off experiences. When Yong Junhyung said that he pushed for having ‘Caffeine’ as BEAST’s Yang Yoseob’s solo title song, Zico and Jaejoong joked, “isn’t it because you put in your own break up experience in the song?”
“It’s experience mixed with imagination. Haha.” (Yong Junhyung)
“Now you mention that, the lyrics to your solo song ‘Flower’ seems more like your real life than ‘Caffeine’….”(Kim Jaejoong, Zico)
◇ “First copyright pay was few hundreds…it should be fun if we all compose together”
They each evaluated each others musical strengths.
“Zico is someone who can rap really well and his idea for the hook part of the song is amazing to the point I get jealous of it.” (Yong Junhyung)
“My music might be stimulating, but it has a lot of flaws. But for Jaejoong hyung his arrangement melody is succinct and distinct that it paves a road for perfect singing. Also, writing is just as important as composing, and the fact that all the lyrics appear in Junhyung hyung’s mind is amazing.” (Zico)
Kim Jaejoong added, “I’m not the only fan of them but even close friends of mine are fans of Junhyung and Zico. It’s because their skill and intuition is like no other.”
There was also an idea that it would be fun if they collaborated all together.
Kim Jaejoong said, “I am totally honored and welcoming of this.”
“One person can make the track and then the three of us can make the melody and rap. Or we can all just meet to work on the track. I think it will be really fun.” (Yong Junhyung)
Their copyright salary increased with the fact they were popular idol singers and that they started making their own hit songs. They looked at each other with the expression that it was uncomfortable to talk about how much they made.
Zico smiled saying. “Before debuting in Block B and when I used to be active in the indie music industry at the age of 18, the first amount I made was 150 dollars. Compared to that, now I make much more thankfully.”
Yong Junhyung started to say, “When I first used to compose for BEAST’s debut album, I made about 100-200 dollars. Back then I didn’t even know about things like copyright money.” Kim Jaejoong added, “I think I made more than that…”
Even though they make different amounts, they all have to watch out for plagiarism. Last year, the music industry suffered a lot from this issue.
Yong Junhyung commented honestly, “You can easily add another melody to your song without knowing so not having any thought is really scary. By monitoring other songs, I inspect my own songs. However, I think about how the melody I made could have been made many years ago on the opposite side of the world and realize if it’s really possible to make a whole new song.”
Kim Jaejoong said, “I don’t think about plagiarism and just make songs according to the inspirations I get. However, if you have the same melody, rhythm, and loop, that is questionable. It’s really hard to get the same beat in all three of those.”
◇ Line between artist and idol…”the prejudice is disappointing”
After 2 hours into the interview, the topic turned to the reality of idol singers.
In Korea, idols are often admired and at the same time they are easily the subject of criticism. Especially, when you get the idol title in your name, you have the tendency to be looked down upon by other musicians. Because of this, management companies emphasize the fact that the members participated in composing and writing in order to add the artist and musician image.
If that is the case, these guys are on the line between idol and artists.
Zico explained, “I feel like the words like idol and artist are completely removed of their definitions and we use it to fit our language. I think it’s a disappointment to see that by being an idol or wearing sunglasses, you are judged even more. Members who are good at singing or rapping tend to outshine others who compose well in different conditions.”
Yong Junhyung who was nodding his head at Zico’s words joined.
“I’m grateful that people see me as an artist or an idol, but I don’t want to be defined by that. I will continue to work hard until people realized my music abilities and this is something that I can’t infuse on to the public.” (Yong Junhyung)
The oldest hyung, Kim Jaejoong, who passed his 10 years since debut last year said a transparent answer.
He said, “Management companies debut idol singers in order to make them stars and that’s what we wanted. But, if you wanted to become successful by being called a musician, this is not the way to debut and you should have chosen a different path. So in the end, you shouldn’t be feeling too disappointed about it.”
Now that some of them had experiences in producing, would they ever dream about being Yang Hyunseok (YG) or Park Jinyoung (JYP) in the future?
Yong Junhyung said, “I think I can see my future in a producer who makes music and assign concepts, not a producer who owns a company.”
Zico said, “I agree” and Kim Jaejoong laughed saying, “I will have to see once I get older.”
After the interview, the three of them headed to a samgeupsal (Korean pork BBQ) restaurant. When the youngest Zico started cooking the meat, he took a picture with his phone saying that he was cute.
“I really like cooking the meat, but I guess Zico took my utensil today. Haha.” (Kim Jaejoong)