Support for LAist comes from
Made of L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Arts and Entertainment

The Making Of A K-Pop Hit

A K-pop band onstage, dancing. Five young Asian women who appear to be in their late teens or early 20s are all turned to face the right of the frame, with their knees slightly bent and their arms in motion. They wear all white, with short skirts and long sleeved tops. Their faces are turned towards the camera.
Girl group Red Velvet performs on stage during the eighth Gaon Chart K-Pop Awards on Jan. 23, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea.
(Chung Sung-Jun
Getty Images AsiaPac)
Support your source for local news!
The local news you read here every day is crafted for you, but right now, we need your help to keep it going. In these uncertain times, your support is even more important. Today, put a dollar value on the trustworthy reporting you rely on all year long. We can't hold those in power accountable and uplift voices from the community without your partnership. Thank you.

When it comes to writing massive K-pop songs, it takes a village to raise a roof.

The process often happens at what’s called a songwriting camp — or song camp — put together by K-pop publishing companies and music labels. They take place all over the world, including Sweden, South Korea and the U.S., bringing together songwriting talents from just as many places to produce catchy bangers for some of the biggest names in K-pop.

Listen to the podcast

K-Pop Dreaming - Bonus #2: The Making of Red Velvet's "Psycho"

Support for LAist comes from

The song camp experience

Andrew “Druski” Scott is an L.A.-based songwriter and producer who’s worked with a number of American recording artists. Druski says his style has been called “avant-garde” because he is consistently “breaking a lot of rules and barriers.”

This quality drew the attention of one of his friends in the industry — a friend with ties to K-pop. Druski recalls his friend reaching out to him, saying, “You know, Dru, the music that you make would be perfect for K-pop."

This connection set the wheels in motion. In 2017, Druski was invited to a song camp held by SM Entertainment, one of the leading K-pop music companies.

Druski had participated in a smaller SM songwriting camp that took place in Malibu before, so technically this wasn’t his first rodeo. The key difference this time around was that this camp was being held at SM Entertainment’s splashy headquarters in Seoul.

“It was my first time going to the SM building,” Druski says. “When you get to SM it’s so interesting because there's paparazzi. There are fans, and people with their phones out just recording anyone that's going in and out of the SM building. Because artists are always in and out of the building.”

Little did he know that once he was inside that building, he would become part of a team responsible for creating a mega hit for the legendary K-pop girl group, Red Velvet.

How a K-pop song is made

After arriving at the SM headquarters, Druski remembers entering a room full of people, including songwriters, A&R folks and other SM personnel.

Support for LAist comes from

“It's kind of like summer camp. It's over the course of maybe like a week or two,” says Druski. He recalls songwriters from all over the world being there “from Sweden, Switzerland, Korea, America, Latin America.”

Once everyone was in attendance, the A&R team welcomed the international group and laid out expectations and ground rules.

“They pretty much explained the intention of the camp,” Druski says. “Their biggest expectation was for us to be bold and be different and to come up with fresh ideas. They wanted us to bring what makes us unique in our own genres and bring that to K-pop.”

The songwriters were quickly separated into small groups.

“It's like a social experiment, you know, a lot of times with these camps,” Druski says. “Like, they put one producer and maybe two or three writers in the room.”

Druski immediately recognized a familiar face — a Korean American songwriter he’d worked with named EJAE from New York. The third writer assigned to the group was Cazzi Opeia, who is a well-known and prolific K-pop songwriter from Sweden.

It’s common for writers not to know which K-pop groups they’re writing for. The three immediately got to work brainstorming ideas.

Druski talks about their writing process, saying, “SM artists are very high performing artists. So we wanted to make sure there were dance elements.”

K-pop songs tend to have more complex structures than Western pop songs so that each performer can show off their unique personality. It’s not unusual to hear elements of R&B, soul, EDM, and hip-hop in one song.

Druski says, “K-pop is very, very big on melodies.” EJAE and Cazzi took turns singing on the mic and layering vocals over Druski’s instrumental beds. They did multiple takes and started piecing it together.

And the song’s famous, earwormy chorus?

“The chorus, that was EJAE,” Druski recalls. “The words came out of her mouth, like, ‘You got me feeling like a psycho.’”

Immediately, Druski says, “We were like, ‘That's it!’"

Cazzi improvised a pre-chorus. Druski freestyled rap verses. The three of them started riffing on lyrics, and suddenly, all the different elements started congealing into a coherent demo. The process took less than an hour.

“Like the song wrote itself,” says Druski. “For day one to start like that. It was like, holy sh-t.”

They titled the song, “Psycho.”

The reception

Even though they had written the song on day one, they had to wait until the last day of camp to discover what SM thought about “Psycho.” The last day is when all the participants debut their songs in front of the A&R team.

And there was no guarantee their song would even be “cut” — or licensed — by SM Entertainment. And, if it was picked up, it wasn’t certain which of the label’s K-pop groups would record it.

Druski had a Korean American friend in A&R who tried to manage his expectations about how the team might respond to their song.

“She was like, you know, ‘The A&R people are very respectable when it comes to music. They might not snap their fingers or dance, or bop their heads while they're listening to songs, but that doesn't mean that they don't like the song,’” Druski says. “She was like, ‘That’s part of our culture.’"

But in spite of her preemptive warning, Druski was still surprised at the A&R team’s muted reaction when they listened to “Psycho” for the first time.

“I was looking around the room 'cause you know, my head was like bopping. Cazzi and EJAE, too, were into it. And I'm looking, and the A&Rs were just kind of stoic,” Druski says. “And I was like, "OK. Um, all right."

That night, SM threw a big wrap party for the song camp where all the participants were invited to come together to eat, drink and celebrate their work.

”SM has their own restaurant. A five-star restaurant. And they're like, ‘Order whatever you want. It's all on us,’” says Druski.

Each of the songs written during the week of song camp were played over the restaurant sound system. And Druski noticed something.

“They kept on going back to 'Psycho,' and they kept on playing it,” he says.

The next day, shortly before he boarded a plane back to the U.S., Druski got a phone call from his friend on the A&R team.

“‘Hey, Dru,’ she was like, ‘We would love to purchase the song,’” Druski says. “‘And we want it for Red Velvet.”

‘Psycho’ tops the charts

Druski, EJAE and Cazzi spent the next several months refining “Psycho” before sending it to the in-house SM producers to finalize the mix and change some of the lyrics to Korean.

A screengrab of an Instagram post. A young Asian woman gazes at the camera. Her shoulders are bare and she wears dark red lipstick, her hair pulled back and large earrings. The post's caption reads, in part: "I woke up to being part of the #1 album in 43 countries and #1 K-Pop song!!"
(Andrew “Druski” Scott

On Dec. 23, 2019, Red Velvet released “Psycho,” which soared to the top of the charts, becoming an instant hit.

Critics called “Psycho” one of the best K-pop songs of 2019, despite it having dropped just days before the end of year. The single debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales chart, and its video became Red Velvet’s first-ever to garner 200 million YouTube views. “Psycho” is consistently cited by critics and fans as one of Red Velvet’s best songs among the group’s vast discography.

Three years after the song’s release, its success and legacy still has one person in disbelief.

“If you were to tell me, a kid from the south side of Sacramento with a single parent raising four kids ... If you were to tell me that I would have the biggest song for a Korean label — I would have thought that you were out of your damn mind,” says Druski.

For more K-pop
  • Listen to all of LAist Studios’ new podcast, K-Pop Dreaming. Host Vivian Yoon follows the rise of K-pop through the perspective of the Korean American diaspora in Los Angeles. 

What questions do you have about Southern California?

Most Read