Composer makes debut as singer

Singapore's Gen Neo, a composer and producer in South Korea, is working towards releasing an EP

Gen Neo hopes to move back to Singapore eventually.
Gen Neo hopes to move back to Singapore eventually. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

As a new singer, Singapore's Gen Neo could have asked any of his famous K-pop friends such as Eric Nam and Amber for free publicity.

But the 27-year-old, who has composed songs for the Korean stars, is too embarrassed to do anything of the sort, he says.

"It's not nice to ask them to do this kind of thing. I am lucky to be good friends with a whole bunch of singers in South Korea, but I'm too shy to ask them to help me," he tells The Straits Times in a mix of English and Mandarin.

Even so, his K-pop friends are clearly fans of his music, as they have been sharing his work on their respective social media accounts on their own accord.

Singers Nam, G.Na and Henry of Super Junior-M have tweeted his songs to their fans or posted them on their Instagram accounts, while rapper Amber of girl group f(x) did a short cover of his Korean single, Think About Us, and posted it online.

Neo, who is based in Seoul, says: "I'm just really, really grateful to all of them. I have been working in the music industry for a while, but as a singer, I'm starting from scratch."

The former Catholic High School and Victoria Junior College student, who gained his strong K-pop connections from his time working behind-the-scenes as a composer and producer in South Korea, is now making his debut as a singer.

While the multilinguist is open to singing in various languages, such as English and Korean, his focus for now is to sing in Mandarin.

"I know that it seems to make sense for me to sing more Korean songs since I work and live in Seoul, but Mandopop is what I grew up listening to. I love Jay Chou, Wang Leehom, David Tao and, more recently, Khalil Fong."

He released his first Mandopop single Stop Sugar two weeks ago, which charted on the iTunes Mandopop Charts at No. 12 next to veterans such as JJ Lin and Jay Chou.

He is working towards releasing an EP in the new year.

"My style is very urban R&B, which is quite different from the usual Mandopop ballads. There is nothing wrong with what's available on Mandopop now, of course, but I hope to bring a different, trendier sound to the arena."

His musical influences come from not just K-pop, but also American R&B artists such as Drake.

Between doing promos for his new single across Chinese-speaking markets in Asia, which will take him to Hong Kong in February and, hopefully, China after that, he continues to write and produce music in South Korea.

Some of the songs that he has written include f(x)'s Goodbye Summer, Super Junior-M's My Love For You as well as soundtrack tunes for K-dramas such as Oh My Venus (2015-2016) and Sweet Stranger And Me (2016).

He first made his inroad into the South Korean market four years ago, at the behest of his Berklee College Of Music college mate Henry.

During their undergraduate days, they collaborated and wrote songs together, some of which went on to feature on Super Junior-M's mini- album Perfection (2012).

Neo says: "Henry and I click in terms of music. When he asked me to go to South Korea, I told him I'd give it a year. I never planned on staying so long, but I have been lucky to get all these great opportunities there."

But why step into the limelight and be a singer now?

"When you're writing your own music, you sometimes feel like the only person who can really interpret the songs is yourself. So I thought I'd give this a shot," he says.

Should his Mandopop singing career take off, he eventually hopes to move back to Singapore and work from this part of the world.

"I've been having fun in South Korea, but I get homesick from time to time. You're out there on your own and it does get lonely. Plus, I really need my chicken rice fix."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Gen Neo's single Stop Sugar is available on iTunes.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline Composer makes debut as singer. Subscribe