The crash course: Shinsadong Tiger? Is he okay? (Yes.)

First, an update from an entry we wrote three months ago: Momoland’s “Bboom Bboom” has become a legitimate hit. (Just when I got cautious in making that prediction.) It never quite topped the official Gaon charts (they were held off by Ikon) but it lingered in the top ten for months. And, in a scene where songs have a relatively short lifespan, it finds itself stretching its arms out around the world, a feat usually reserved for groups from bigger agencies. I’ve just seen two cousins of mine, who’d otherwise not post about K-pop, talk about how “Bboom Bboom” is stuck in their heads – and they’re just among many others on my feeds. So, we’re reacting to that by featuring five songs from famed Korean producer Shinsadong Tiger, he who’s responsible for that earworm – and many others across this wave of K-pop success.


Lee Ho-yang wanted to make it as a singer during the late-90s heyday of K-pop’s first wave, but after some failed auditions, he shifted his focus to composing and producing songs. His first big success came in 2008, when first-generation girl group Jewelry returned after a hiatus with “One More Time”, what would become their best-selling single. That forced his shift to a more commercial, pop-driven sound, responsible for tracks like Secret’s “Magic” and Ailee’s “U&I”. The best place to start with his work, however, is T-ARA, for whom he would help shape their intense, hook-heavy sound, particularly during their halcyon early years, before a (fake) bullying scandal scuttled them for good. “Roly-Poly”, released in 2011, was their biggest success, but Shinsadong Tiger (the nickname was a gamer one) was also responsible for early hit “Bo Peep Bo Peep”, and later, “Sugar Free”, “Lovey-Dovey” and “Number Nine”.


His relationship with talent agency Cube Entertainment saw him work for some of their biggest acts as well. One of them is HyunA, who first joined 4minute after a shortened stint with the Wonder Girls (yes, those Wonder Girls). For that group he co-produced their debut “Hot Issue”, as well as later hits “I My Me Mine” and “Mirror Mirror”. He would also have a hand with her breakthrough solo debut single, “Change”, her other viral hit “Bubble Pop”, and one of her more recent singles, the subtly earworm-y “Babe”, released a year after 4minute’s split. He would also produce for Trouble Maker, a two-release unit with HyunA and Beast’s Jang Hyun-seung.


That brings us to Beast, the other Cube Entertaiment group he often worked with. He had a hand in many of their early singles, from their debut “Bad Girl”, to “Mystery”, to “Shock”. As notable with other Korean groups at certain points in the career, Beast would soon co-write their singles; the last time Shinsadong Tiger worked on them was on “Fiction”, from their first full-length album, 2011’s Fiction or Fact. Still, he helped navigate the boys through several reinventions, in part stemming from the group being more known for their members’ lack of success. Something must’ve worked: Beast is now known as one of K-pop’s veterans, strong enough to have allowed them to quit Cube, form their own agency, and rebrand themselves as Highlight – at least, five of them. Hyun-seung was the one left behind.


While Shinsadong Tiger made his name on those K-pop songs some would call “bops” – and those bops did define a particular era in K-pop history – he also had a hand in more, um, gentle hits. He’s worked a lot with Apink, for instance, from their debut EP Seven Springs of Apink (not the debut single, though) to some of their signature songs: “NoNoNo”, “Luv”, “Remember”, and their most recent (for now) single, “Five”. Sure, intense pop will never be Apink’s thing, considering how they’ve lasted seven years maintaining an innocent “big sister” image, but those songs can be earworms in a more subtle manner. Also hear CLC’s “No Oh Oh” and Cosmic Girls’ “Secret”. All right, there’s still a Cube Entertainment connection: Apink were with Cube until their sub-label was spun-off, while CLC is with Cube directly. (Cosmic Girls are with Starship; the connection is more tenuous, I’ll say.)


In 2011, Shinsadong Tiger decided to try his hand at managing his own group. He formed EXID with a bunch of JYP trainees (the exception being their rapper LE, who was slugging her way through the underground at the time) and, while he produced their singles, success was not immediate. 2014’s “Up & Down” was the first song where the group’s killer instinct (my term) first surfaced, but it wouldn’t really be a hit during its first promo cycle. It took that now-legendary fancam of Hani being, well, Hani for the song to gain the attention it deserved, and suddenly they’re big, with later songs “Ah Yeah” and “Hot Pink” continuing the streak, and “L.I.E” and “Night Rather Than Day” showing off some versatility. EXID’s where Shinsadong Tiger gets to show all his weapons – and his 90s pop influences, and his love of the trumpet – moving from the fast-paced early 2010s to a more subtle, arguably mellow, second half of the decade. And he’s just 34. [NB]

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