Not doing too well on the charts? Need that one hit that will finally get people talking? Looking to debut with a splash? You know who to call – Lee Ho-yang, the man behind countless mega-hits, better known as Shinsadong Tiger. Unlike previously covered hit-makers: SM’s Yoo Young-jin, YG’s Teddy Park, and JYP’s head honcho Park Jin-young, Shinsadong Tiger shows no loyalty. He is not restricted to producing almost exclusively for one company. This freelance producer shows no remorse as he sells his endless number of chart-topping hits from agency to agency. He’s been proclaimed as having the “Midas Hand” for his ability to produce tracks of pure commercial gold and to elevate the status of the artists he’s worked with. Looking to reel in more of that success for himself, he’s recently started his own agency and has undergone exclusive management of his own rookie girl group while still cranking out hit after hit for his exclusive clients. Who is this wholesale distributor of K-pop hits?
Unlike the aforementioned producers of the big three, Shinsadong Tiger did not first establish himself a career as an artist before becoming a producer. After auditioning for JYP Entertainment and being rejected, he earned his name in the industry through contracting his musical production talents out to artists from a variety of different entertainment companies. Although his work earned him production credits as early as 2005, the name Shinsadong Tiger did not draw noticeable attention until Jewelry’s comeback hit “One More Time” in 2008. Capitalizing on the trend of using English in the main hook of the chorus, the song helped return Jewelry to prominence, topping music award shows for a whopping seven weeks.
Perhaps in starting a new trend, both Cube rookie groups attempted to push the envelope when they gained attention due to controversial lyrics in songs off of their debut albums. 4Minute’s “Won’t Give You” was banned from airplay due to an ambiguous line that could have been misinterpreted as sexually suggestive. Beast’s “Yet” was similarly banned due to the presence of a swear word that could have been questionably interpreted. Whether it was this slight trick or the songs themselves that got people noticing, Shinsadong Tiger played a significant role in the stellar debuts of these two groups, thus putting his name out there as a prominent producer.
2009 also marked Shinsadong Tiger’s initial collaboration with T-ara, another group that he would help bring into the spotlight. T-ara debuted with a full album, and of the 14 songs, only two were contributed by Shinsadong Tiger. Going against their own fan poll, T-ara’s debut release was Shinsadong Tiger’s “Bo Peep Bo Peep,” which became the new standard for hook songs. Not only was the hook simplistic, nonsensical, and intensely repetitive, the beat itself was insanely simple and repetitive, the perfect formula for a good ear worm. Other than hearing the lyrics “bo peep” repeated over and over, the listener is again subjugated to heavy synths, an electro bass, and autotune while hearing the same two bars stuck on endless repeat. As unbelievably simple as this sounds, the result was a highly charted song that even brought home music show hardware. Adding to the camaraderie was the release of a sexually explicit MV that was deemed inappropriate for minors. Once again, heavy hooks and controversy lead to a strong debut.
Shinsadong Tiger would go on to make his name a staple in K-pop through his continuing work and success with the three groups which he brought into the spotlight with strong debuts. While “Shock” and “Soom” helped bring Beast out of nugu status, it wasn’t until last year’s “Fiction” that Beast began flirting with top-tier boy band status. The song took home numerous awards and even won “Song of the Year” at the KBS Music Festival. Although the song still uses many of Shinsadong Tiger’s trademarks, like a heavy hook and a captivating beat, its reliance on a soft piano pop sound and emphasis on strong vocals rather than autotune displays a developing progression in his music.
Meanwhile, Shinsadong Tiger continued working with 4Minute in producing all their major releases including “Mirror Mirror” and “Heart to Heart,” which solidified their status as a major girl group. Shinsadong Tiger’s biggest (dis)favor to 4Minute, however, was his hand in crafting their star, Hyuna. Starting with “Change,” then “Bubble Pop!” and “Troublemaker,” Hyuna has gone from being known as the former Wonder Girl to K-pop’s new sex icon. While “Change” followed the heavy hip hop sound popularized by YG, “Bubble Pop” brought a heavy trance sound and introduced the dubstep dance break that has infested K-pop like a plague. Continuing the pattern of controversy, both MVs of Hyuna’s first two solo releases were deemed unsuitable for minors due to Hyuna’s provocative dancing. Despite the ban, “Bubble Pop!” became highly popular online and her next release with Beast’s Hyunseung, “Troublemaker,” became all the rage for its sexually-charged dancing which barely escaped the ban hammer. This time Shinsadong Tiger went with a soft and sensual pop sound to go along with Hyuna’s sexy glamour. Through Hyuna’s hits, Shinsadong Tiger not only showed off his musical diversity, but also his willingness to test the industry’s boundaries through producing songs which cater to as well as stretch the assets of his artists.
Shinsadong Tiger’s greatest achievement is perhaps bringing a mismanaged and overworked girl group onto the brink of top-tierdom (before they messed it all up). Following the success of “Bo Peep Bo Peep,” T-ara rode the momentum in consolidating their place in the industry, setting them up for the trifecta of Shinsadong Tiger hits that was supposed to solidify their spot as a top girl group. Well, at least they tried. “Roly Poly” was a summer hit that stayed on top of the charts for many weeks and went on to become the top grossing song of 2011. Its incorporation of a fresh and funky Seventies disco flavor along with its signature dance and extended drama MV brought the group much deserved attention. “Lovey Dovey” proceeded with the same formula, introducing a Europop beat, combined with a popular shuffle dance, and this time with a catchy dance MV to accompany the extended drama MV. It too stayed atop the charts for many weeks, and just when it seemed that T-ara was primed to overtake the charts again with “Sexy Love,” controversy struck, T-ara returned prematurely, and the song achieved only moderate success despite an immensely catchy, synth-heavy beat, signature robot dance, and well produced drama and dance MVs. Although some would criticize T-ara’s musical direction for sticking with an overused formula as reason for their deflation on the charts, Shinsadong Tiger had by this time already proven that his “Midas Touch” was highly certified, and that by simply putting his name on a track, it would almost guarantee a song’s or group’s well-being.
While Shinsadong Tiger rose to fame for his work with Beast, 4Minute, and T-ara, he didn’t hesitate to take on projects from other artists in the industry. He helped long time veterans Park Jung-min and Jang Woo-hyuk make strong solo returns to the industry. He also contributed to A-Pink’s comeback, “My My,” bringing them much recognition with their first music show award after battling it out on the charts with “Troublemaker” and “Lovey Dovey” for several consecutive weeks. He’s also continued catering to his established clientele this year, producing 4Minute’s “Volume Up,” Beast’s “Midnight,” and Jewelry’s recent release, “Look at Me.” During this time, he was named “New Generation Producer” by the Korean Culture Entertainment Awards and honored by OSEN as an influential music figure in the industry.
Aside from his collaborations with other artists, Shinsadong Tiger has also found time to work on his own projects such as his production of a singles album and establishing his own entertainment company and girl group. One thing which Shinsadong Tiger had never had in his career was complete control over his musical productions, being that he had to collaborate with other artists, lyricists, and composers in most of his work. His self-produced digital releases, performed mostly by Cube artists, show a different side of his musical background that deviates from his typical hook songs.
Recently, Shinsadong Tiger has limited his freelance activities as he has established his own entertainment company, AB Entertainment, and is busy managing, producing, and marketing his rookie girl group, EXID. The group enjoys many advantages being under the wing of Shinsadong Tiger such as being the beneficiaries of name dropping, receiving permission to cover Shinsadong Tiger’s hit songs, and receiving quality material from a hit-maker who knows how to display the talents of his artists.
In today’s fast and furious world of K-pop, producers are seeing an enhanced role in dictating the success of a K-pop act. As much as artist success is determined by the backing of an established agency, it is also important that they receive the backing of a strong producer. Especially in the case of rookie artists, their mere survival depends on whether or not they have the support and guidance of quality hit-makers who will supply them with jaw-dropping releases. With the trend of well known producers starting their own entertainment companies, Shinsadong Tiger proves that he is still the industry’s most influential hit-maker through his careful management of EXID. With his incorporation of strong hooks, catchy beats, and knowledge of his artists put into his music, Shinsadong Tiger continues to push the boundaries of K-pop, attempting to change the game with each and every production.
What are your favorite hits from Shinsadong Tiger? In the next segment, I will be looking into the man behind the robotic audio signatures of Brave Sound. What other hit-makers would you like us to cover?