Albi Albertsson may not fit the mould of what you imagine someone in the K-pop industry to look. But the German-Japanese songwriter has been composing tunes for massive Korean bands for six years, and despite the obvious hurdles, (not speaking Korean, for example), believes he has found his niche.
Albertsson is responsible for writing the music for some of the most catchy K-pop songs in recent years: Red Velvet’s Russian Roulette, Girls’ Generation’s Party and EXO’s Exodus are just some of the mega hits he’s contributed to. He was working for the record label BMG as a songwriter in Berlin, Germany, when he was invited to take part in a sort of boot camp for musicians, set up by one of Korea’s biggest entertainment companies.
“SM Entertainment visited Berlin and organised a song camp in collaboration with BMG Rights Management. SM Entertainment first introduced me to K-pop; and the camp experience, as well as talking to their A&Rs [Artists and Repertoire] helped me really understand K-pop.”
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Some composers don’t enjoy the collaborative nature of song camp, or feel uncomfortable in the slightly competitive atmosphere. But Albertsson sees it almost as a sport.
“I really enjoy it. Comfortable might be the wrong expression, since these collaborations are not necessarily supposed to be comfortable,” the 30-year-old says of taking part in a song camp. “It’s a creative challenge, but that’s the beauty of it. You set out on a mission with complete strangers under a lot of time pressure, and on the way, you have to figure out how to best work together to achieve that goal.”
The first K-pop songs he wrote were Machine and Two Moons for the massive boy band EXO, released in April 2012. He soon set up his own label, Mussashi Publishing, so that he could pitch songs directly to labels.
Albertsson has also written music for J-pop artists such as Kat-Tun, Arashi and J Soul Brothers III – he’s written more than 25 No 1 songs between the two markets. While some people may think the two genres are comparable, he says that’s not the case.
“K-pop is more modern, and follows worldwide trends, especially when it comes to the production side of the music, while also having its own K-pop identity. J-pop follows worldwide trends less, instead finding its strength through a very strong identity that comes in many, more ‘classic’ styles,” he says.
With K-pop, he says, the challenge lies in staying up to date with the latest sounds, and understanding trends and production techniques, while with J-pop, you need a deep understanding of the genre itself.
While much of the music he writes ends up in songs at the top of the charts, he doesn’t necessarily aim to write title songs, or tracks that will be released as singles.
“That said, there are surely genres that are more fit for B-Sides [songs not released as singles], while title songs have very specific requirements. One of the most important aspects regarding title songs is the performance and choreography. The music needs to enable powerful choreography, otherwise, it will never become a title song.”
Of all the songs he has written so far, the one that has the most meaning for him is On and On, a 2013 chart-topper he penned for boy band Vixx. It was this track that really established the band as ones to watch; their fourth album, Eau de Vixx, was released this week.
Being a part of these megastars’ success, and making his mark on one of the most interesting and competitive industries in the world, is what makes Albertsson’s job so fulfilling.
“It is completely unique. It’s a mixture of art, craft, marketing, all on the highest levels,” he says. “It’s the kind of environment that is tough and extremely challenging, but most rewarding at the same time.”
Edited by Karly Cox