K‑pop is a truly global music style, and BTS’s successful assault on the US charts was led by a British mix engineer.
K‑pop band BTS, aka Bangtan Boys, made history in May when their third Korean‑language album, Love Yourself: Tear, became the first K‑pop album to reach number one in the US. The album was also a big hit in many other Western nations, including the UK, where it reached number eight. Following K‑pop’s first worldwide megahit, Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ in 2012, this was another landmark moment for Korean music.
Modern K‑pop has been around since the early 1990s, and draws heavily on Western popular music styles. K‑pop acts tend to be the South Korean equivalent of Western boy and girl bands, with attractive young singers performing music made for them by others, and BTS’s Wikipedia page states that the band were “formed by Big Hit Entertainment”, one of South Korea’s largest music companies. The seven‑piece have since become K‑pop’s biggest act, the most retweeted artist on Twitter, and this year topped the Forbes Power Celebrity list, which ranks the country’s most influential celebrities.
BTS consists of three vocalists and four rappers, and unlike many K‑pop acts, band members often co‑write their songs. The band’s most prominent behind‑the‑scenes songwriters are Bang Si‑hyuk, aka ‘Hitman Bang’, the founder and CEO of Big Hit Entertainment, and Pdogg, winner of the Best Producer Award at the 2017 Mnet Asian Music Awards. Unsurprisingly, given that Western influences are dominant in K‑pop, Western songwriters, mixers and producers are regularly involved. In the case of BTS, the list included Chris ‘Tricky’ Stewart (Katy Perry, Beyoncé), top EDM artist Steve Aoki, and DJ Swivel (Beyoncé, the Chainsmokers).
One unsung Western hero behind BTS’s astronomical success is British mixer and producer James F Reynolds. From his Beach Studios in West London, Reynolds recalls: “I have worked with BTS pretty much since they started. They did some research stylistically when they were looking for the right mixer for their sound, and then got in touch with my manager. I ended up talking with Mr Bang, and I have since mixed all their singles, including ‘Fake Love’ [the lead single from Love Yourself: Tear]. I tend to do the Korean‑language versions first, and then later mix the Japanese‑language versions. You’d think I’d just push the latter through the same chains, but with seven singers, there are tons of backing vocals, and you’re talking 50‑60 vocal tracks that need replacing, so it’s not quite as simple as that! I also co‑wrote and co‑produced a track on their previous album, ‘Am I Wrong.’”
What Mr Bang found when he did his research was that Reynolds has an impressive list of credits, including Paloma Faith, Ellie Goulding, Emeli Sandé, Calvin Harris and Tinie Tempah. Presumably Mr Bang also noticed that Reynolds was an artist and beatmaker for many years, while the fact that he also is a baronet is obviously not relevant in this particular context. Reynolds, while proud of his family...
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