These days, K-pop is all about powerful female artists who are taking over the charts with their catchy songs, girl-power lyrics, hit choreography, and great concepts. From singers like Chungha and Hyuna to groups like LOONA and TWICE, fans just can’t get enough of their favorite girl groups and soloists. Behind the talented singers, the impressive videos, the flashy costumes, and the interesting concepts, however, is an equally important part of the K-pop system: the songwriters.
One such songwriter is Anna Timgren. A bright, young songwriter from Finland, she has joined the K-pop industry in recent years and seen great success writing for some of the top female artists in the business. She has written songs like LOONA‘s “So What,” HyunA‘s “FLOWER SHOWER,” BVNDIT‘s “Cool,” IZ*ONE‘s “AYAYAYA,” TWICE‘s “Get Loud,” and many more. She has also written multiple songs for Chungha including “Stay Tonight,” “Chica,” “Flourishing,” Bad Boy,” and “Make a Wish.” In addition, she has also written for other groups like Weki Meki, Rocket Punch, DreamNote, Lovelyz, CLC, Nature, and GFRIEND.
To find out more about the songwriting process behind these K-pop hits and how a songwriter from Finland became one of K-pop’ most in-demand writers for girl groups these days, we were able to interview Anna and get to know her a bit more. Check it out below!
WTK: Anna, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! It’s an honor to be able to speak with you and learn more about you and your songwriting process. For fans who aren’t familiar with you yet, can you introduce yourself?
AT: Thank you so much for having me! My name is Anna Timgren. I’m a Finnish singer/songwriter/animal lover, living in the Finnish countryside, writing K-pop. Actually, I’m a Swedish-speaking Finn, which also is important info! (laughs)
WTK: You’ve written for so many wonderful female artists in K-pop! When it comes to being a fan of K-pop yourself, can you tell us some of your favorite songs that have been released in the K-pop world?
AT: Oh, that’s not an easy one to answer. There are so many great songs! If I listen to a K-pop playlist, I always go extra “yeaaah” whenever Mamamoo’s “Gogobebe,” CLC’s “NO,” Chungha’s “Gotta Go,” ITZY’s “DALLA DALLA,” IZ*ONE’s “La Vie en Rose” and many more come on.
WTK: What about songs released outside the K-pop world? Do you have any favorites that you would like to recommend to our readers?
AT: I really don’t listen to a lot of music for fun. I know that sounds weird, but I like the quiet when I’m not working. If I want to have some music on in the background, John Mayer is my go to guy.
WTK: How did you first begin to learn about K-pop?
AT: The first K-pop song I heard was probably “Gangnam Style” by PSY. I remember working in a bar here in Finland and the whole bar always going crazy when it came on, doing the dance moves and singing even though no one knew the lyrics!
Later on, I was introduced to the K-pop scene via a Finnish music publisher Sugar House Publishing. That’s when I started learning about K-pop and analyzing song structures, vocal sounds, etc. I can now say it took a long time for me to really crack the code, because this was in 2014, and I had my first Korean release in 2017! Can you imagine? But persistence and hard work really pays off!
WTK: How has writing for K-pop artists changed your career?
AT: Let’s just say I didn’t have a career before K-pop! I wanted to become a professional songwriter, but I struggled a lot and didn’t know which way to go. After years of figuring out what my strengths are, what works for me, and who I want to work with, I started getting some cuts in Korea, and I can now work full time with music, which is an insane dream come true to me!
WTK: You’re from Finland and still live there, right? So, what does the songwriting process involve for you when working for artists who are in Korea?
AT: That’s right! It’s pretty simple, I’ve got my recording equipment here and the rest happens online. A producer(s) sends me an instrumental, a track. If it inspires me, I start making a melody to it, singing “blablabla” and recording a rough “topline,” which is the melody and lyrics (everything that the artist sings).
Sometimes there is a specific artist or group we want to write for, in that case I analyze their vocal sound and check if they have a rapper and so on, trying to make the song as fit for them as possible.
When I’m happy with my rough topline, I write English lyrics, record all the demo vocals, send them off to the producer who makes a final mix, and the song is sent to a publisher or label. If we’re lucky, it’s a cut and the lyrics are translated to Korean!
WTK: You also take part in songwriting camps. I watched your YouTube vlog about the “Into The Woods” songwriting camp which you attended in Norway. Before I became involved in K-pop myself, I had never heard of songwriting camps. Was this something you had participated in before K-pop or was it a new concept for you? Can you explain a little bit about the process to our readers?
AT: Yeah, I do sometimes! The camps are great for meeting business people and other songwriters and producers and for making friends obviously!
It was definitely a new concept for me when I started out. I went to my first camp in 2014 in Helsinki and I loved every minute of it. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was in the right place for sure!
So, the camps are held pretty much everywhere. You don’t have to go far to find one. If you want to apply to a camp, you have to submit a biography to the organizer, or you get an invitation to the camp. You work for a couple of days up to a week or so, and the camps usually have some kind of theme like K-pop, J-pop, or Eurovision, etc. The organizer makes groups of two to four people with different ones each day. The goal is to write and record at least one song per day. It’s easy peasy, super fun and really exhausting! (laughs)
WTK: In that particular songwriting camp, you also worked on C-pop. Do you work in other genres of Asian pop as well or mostly just in K-pop?
AT: My main focus is K-pop, but I write a little C-pop as well.
WTK: How does writing for these genres differ?
AT: Well, Korea follows a lot of music trends from the west, which means that the next K-pop hype might be predictable. In turn, the Chinese music scene follows a lot of Korean trends. So, when I write K-pop, I try to make the topline sound fresh and new, even to my own ears, and when I write C-pop, I go for a little older K-pop sound.
WTK: Even within K-pop, there are different concepts for each group you write for. Which concept or style of music is the most rewarding for you personally?
AT: Hmm, that’s maybe mood based. I enjoy writing girl crush songs, yes, but after doing a couple of those, it feels like a relief making something lighter like a cute and fun concept or even a ballad.
WTK: Since the concepts are so diverse for each group, do you feel you have to switch modes to fit the concept?
AT: I do. When I record a song for a cute girl group, I try to sound a bit younger and softer. When I record a girl crush song, I pretend to be a cool, bad girl! The diversity is fun. It doesn’t get boring!
WTK: What has been your favorite K-pop song to write so far?
AT: I usually enjoy writing most of my songs, but one that was a game changer for me was “So What” by LOONA. That was the first really strong girl crush song I did with a lot of raps and edgy vocals which took me out of my comfort zone, and I learned a new way of writing and singing during that process. I have to thank the producer David Anthony for that because he pushed me and really made me a better songwriter during those days of work!
WTK: In a world where male K-pop artists tend to dominate the charts, how does it feel to write for so many powerful female artists who have done so well on the charts also?
AT: Oh it’s awesome. It’s such an honor to be a part of these amazing female artists’ journeys, on and off the charts.
WTK: Would you like to write songs for male K-pop artists as well?
AT: I wouldn’t mind. I think it’s a different way of writing and the melodic language is different, but for those demos, I’d need a male vocalist and it’s just easier for me to do the work myself. So, for now I’ll focus on female songs!
WTK: When it comes to writing songs, where you do you find inspiration?
AT: Well, the easy answer would be nature, but I think it’s become a mindset for me. Since I write every day, I have to click into that work mode and just start writing. Since it a creative job, it depends a lot on the mood, but I’ve become much better at not letting my mood control my creativity. That said, I am very good at shutting my brain off when the work day is done. It’s super important for me to get that time off in order to stay sane!
WTK: Out of all the songs you’ve written, is there a music video that you thought especially suited the song?
AT: Oh, I’d like to say “FLOWER SHOWER” by Hyuna! It’s full of flowers! And she looks so happy herself and everything goes so well together. The K-pop music videos are so cool and spectacular. I was also totally blown away by LOONA’s “So What” and Chungha’s “Stay Tonight.”
WTK: Since you’re in Finland, it’s different working with the artists from so far away. Do you also work in Korea at times? Have you been able to meet the artists personally?
AT: I’ve never been to Korea. I do want to go when the time is right! I’ve never met any of the artists personally, but I went to KCON in Bangkok 2019 and saw many of the great artists perform! That was an eye opener for me. I saw how big K-pop really is and how amazing the artists are. I was blown away hearing some of my songs being performed at that stage!
WTK: What are your goals for 2020? What can we expect from Anna Timgren?
AT: Oh man I’m gonna work hard, I’m gonna keep learning and become better and hopefully release a lot of songs that the public will love!
WTK: Any last words for readers?
AT: I’m very thankful for all the support from fans. All this would be pointless without you guys. I promise I will do my best in the future to write good songs for you!
WTK: Thank you so much Anna! We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today and allowing our readers the chance to get to know you and understand the process that goes on to make these amazing K-pop songs. We look forward to hearing more of your songs and seeing more from you in K-pop and beyond!
Many thanks to Anna Timgren for allowing us the chance to interview her!
What did you think of this interview? Were you surprised to find out how the songwriting process works for overseas songwriters who work in K-pop? Did you already know that Anna Timgren had written so many of your favorite songs? Let us know your thoughts by tweeting to us @whatthekpop1!
Media: Anna Timgren