There are few music crazes that take the world by storm and then STAY with us, becoming a lasting phenomenon with the power to bridge cultures and unite us in entertainment. K-pop has done just that, and the genre’s contribution to music worldwide is truly exciting. In 2022, the K-pop industry generated $4 billion in sales and four K-pop albums hit No. 1 on the Billboard list.
The music is now an indelible part of film, television, video games and other on-screen projects, its catchy lyrics, upbeat melodies and choreography-friendly characteristics providing a powerful energy boost that helps shape moods and storylines. Recognizing this growing demand among our clients, ALIBI was thrilled when we were able to enlist one of K-pop’s top songwriters to compose new music for our catalogue.
Darren Ellis Smith, whose K-pop writing credits read like a “who’s who” in his field, recently composed ALIBI’s highly anticipated K-Pop 3 album for us, working closely with vocalist Selin Park to inject authenticity into its empowering songs. We sat down with Darren to delve into his musical journey, what most people don’t know about K-pop, the inspiration for this new ALIBI album, and what’s ahead:
ALIBI: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in K-pop and beyond?
Darren: Yes of course. I’ve been fortunate enough to write K-pop for the last decade, starting with Girls Generation’s hit “Lion Heart.” I have over 80 major label releases in K-pop with some of the biggest groups like Exo, Twice, Monsta X, Red Velvet and many more, totaling over 3.5 million sales of physical albums so far.
Outside of K-pop, I’ve had a Top 5 single with Samantha Mumba in the UK, and a very popular single with Reggae artist Collie Buddz. Regarding TV, I’ve had over 600 episodes with my music on it so far with shows like “Dancing with the Stars,” “Kelly and Ryan,” Disney’s “Bunk’d,” “American Pickers,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Vanderpump Rules,” to name a few. It’s been a wide range of credits so far, I’m very thankful for that.
ALIBI: Have you earned any honors or awards for your songwriting/composition?
Darren: Yes! A quick rundown of awards and honors would be two Golden Disk Awards (considered the “Grammys” of South Korea) for “Best Album,” a Golden Trailer Award in 2021, multiple Platinum Certifications, and a Gold Certification for sales. I have also had several Billboard-charting songs, including four No. 1 rankings on the Billboard Global Charts.
ALIBI: What is one interesting thing most people don't know about K-pop music?
Darren: The process for a K-pop group to be revealed to the public is a very long one. The labels are very particular about the members of the group, and who they pick. It can take many years of practice and rehearsals before the group even debuts their first song.
I think the other most interesting thing that most people don't know is that most K-pop songs are written first in English, and are then translated after to Korean before the release.
ALIBI: What was your inspiration for the new K-pop album you worked on for ALIBI?
Darren: I’ve been very fortune in my time working in K-pop to have songs released by some of the best female groups like Twice, Red Velvet, GFriend and Oh My Girl. I used a lot of these groups as my inspiration, as well as some of the edgier groups like Black Pink, New Jeans and aespa for this album. The theme of the songs is very focused on empowerment, friendship and love.
ALIBI: What is most unique about your approach to a project like this?
Darren: How I work changes with every song. I usually start by asking, “What is the most important part of this song I’m going to write?” If it’s vocals, drums, guitar etc., that’s the instrument I’ll start writing the song with and everything else falls into place. Because of this method, I never start and write a song the same way, and it helps me come up with new and interesting ideas while I’m writing.
ALIBI: How did you work with the artist on this album?
Darren: All these amazing vocals were done by Selin Park. For this album, I needed to find someone who could write and sing in Korean, and through a long search process, Selin was recommended to me. After watching a few of her YouTube videos, I knew she would be perfect for this project and she really delivered!
I approached the album the same as I would when I write for K-pop groups, so each song I wrote in English to start. After I finished writing and producing each song, Selin would come to my studio and we would discuss which parts to change to Korean and which to keep in English. I think it turned into a wonderful collaboration, and I’m looking forward to working with her more.
ALIBI: Where do you envision this music being used when you think of your top choice?
Darren: The way I wrote the songs for this album is multi-use. The first goal was always to make the best K-pop songs possible, and second, to make great songs that work well for film and TV. I tried very hard to keep all of these things in mind while writing, and I hope it comes across that way. Each song is meant to be able to be listened to on its own. These are not just “sync” songs; these are the same songs I would send out to labels for K-pop artists, but – at the same time – I put extra attention into making sure they could enhance a mood or scene for editors.
ALIBI: What are you most excited about with this release?
Darren: I think I’m most excited for people to hear some new great K-pop songs, and hopefully they resonate with the audience!
This was actually my first time working with ALIBI! However, I am working on new projects with them already. I really enjoy working with ALIBI and can't wait to release more music together very soon.
ALIBI: Are you doing anything exciting right now that you'd like to share with the world?
Darren: Yes! I just had a song called “Crazy Love” come out with the K-pop group “Secret Number.” I hope everyone enjoys it!
ALIBI: How can people follow your work (website/Spotify/social channels)?
Darren: You can check out my website, which has more credits and info, at https://darrenellissmith.com/ or follow me on Instagram: darrenesmith.music Thank you!