From tuna fishing to teen love: the producer behind K-pop’s biggest stars

When Jin from the superstar boyband BTS released Super Tuna – an upbeat song about his favourite pastime, fishing – it instantly went viral.

The track, written to commemorate the star’s birthday, has logged more than 53m YouTube views since December, and on TikTok the #SuperTuna hashtag has inspired a viral dance challenge.

With the popularity of groups such as BTS and the girl group Blackpink, which have international fanbases that number in the tens of millions, K-pop dominates pop culture far beyond its South Korean homeland. As the significance of the industry intensifies, so too does the importance of the teams that power K-pop – the creators behind every act responsible for music, fashion, choreography and more.

Bumzu is among them. The 30-year-old solo artist turned songwriter-producer, who co-produced Super Tuna, has emerged as one of the industry’s most influential people in K-pop. Seventeen, his biggest act, has sold more than 10m albums in South Korea and had four No 1 hits on Billboard’s World Albums chart. Bumzu has also worked on tracks for other big names including Nu’est, Shinee, Rain and 2PM.

Boyband Seventeen
The boyband Seventeen is one of South Korea’s biggest-selling K-pop acts over the past decade. Photograph: Pledis Entertainment

“Frankly, I feel a lot of pressure. There are many times when that pressure gnaws away at me. But it’s also true that this feeling drives me to become stronger again,” said Bumzu, whose real name is Kye Beom-joo.

K-pop forms part of a multibillion-dollar industry that has become one of South Korea’s most valuable cultural products, with the country’s content industry exporting a record $11.92bn in 2020. The popularity of K-pop continues to grow amid the rise of the Korean Wave, which also includes film, TV, food and beauty. On top of being a cultural phenomenon, it has also emerged as an important source of political soft power for South Korea – and one of fanbased activism in support of causes ranging from…

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