Meet the Singaporean behind Super Junior-M hits

Songwriter Gen Neo, who wrote tunes such as It's You, made inroads with help of university mate who is in Korean group

Songwriter Gen Neo (above), who met Super Junior-M’s Henry in Boston, has also written songs for girl group f(x) and Super Junior members Donghae and Eunhyuk. -- PHOTO: ZAOBAO FILE
Songwriter Gen Neo (above), who met Super Junior-M’s Henry in Boston, has also written songs for girl group f(x) and Super Junior members Donghae and Eunhyuk. -- PHOTO: ZAOBAO FILE

It pays to keep in touch with old college mates - especially when they are K-pop idols.

So Singaporean songwriter Gen Neo has found, after making inroads into the Korean pop music market with the help of his university mate, Henry Lau of K-pop group Super Junior-M fame.

Speaking to Life! over the telephone from Seoul, where he has been based for the past 11/2 years, Neo, 25, says:

"Growing up, I listened to Jay Chou and Wang Leehom, so I never thought I'd be someone who would ever get into the Korean industry.

"But it was Henry who asked me to come over to South Korea and write songs with him. I took up his offer, packed my suitcase and ended up trying to make my way over here - and it's just been great so far. K-pop is huge the world over, and I'm obviously very grateful to Henry."

Neo and Lau, 24, met at the renowned Berklee College Of Music in Boston, from which Neo graduated in 2012.

Lau, a Canadian-Chinese, was chosen to join Super Junior-M in 2006 after attending open auditions in Toronto held by major Korean media company S.M. Entertainment.

Super Junior-M is the Mandarin sub-unit of popular K-pop group Super Junior which puts out primarily Mandarin tunes to target the ever-growing China market.

During their undergraduate days, Neo wrote the Mandarin lyrics for Lau's solo track Off My Mind, which was later featured on Super Junior-M's mini-album Perfection (2011).

"I guess Henry must have liked it. Otherwise, he would never have invited me to come over to South Korea right?" says Neo with a chuckle.

In fact, the two are such good buddies that they share an apartment in Seoul with another friend of Lau's.

Neo says with a laugh: "Henry once said on a variety show that we are dirty and never clean up the place but, actually, he's the messiest one.

"But he's been really welcoming. I got sick one time and didn't know how to get to the hospital and he was the one who took me to see a doctor."

He adds: "Henry and I just click. We have good chemistry and we think in the same way in terms of music, our goals and what we want. Of course, celebrity-wise, he is on a very different level."

Since Off My Mind was released, Neo has gone on to write several more tunes for Super Junior-M, including Go, It's You, and My Love For You. For Lau's solo outings, he composed the songs Ready 2 Love and My Everything.

Outside of Super Junior-M, he has also written the songs Goodbye Summer for Korean girl group f(x) and Love That I Need for main Super Junior members Donghae and Eunhyuk.

He describes his composition style as "R&B neo-soul", but he will tailor tunes to whatever the singers need.

The songwriter says: "It hasn't been an easy journey, but after getting my name in the Korean industry for one song, it definitely helped a lot in getting more gigs. I believe I am the only Singaporean doing this in K-pop right now."

For each song, he is mostly in charge of composing the melody as well as handling the arrangement.

"I do almost everything for the songs except for the lyrics, unless the songs are in Mandarin. My Korean isn't good enough to write lyrics," he says, adding that his command of the Korean language is "conversational at best".

He declined to disclose how much he earns for a song, but says he gets paid an upfront song fee as well as royalties.

"When I first came over, I didn't speak a word of Korean. But you're forced to learn if you want to work here. I have to direct K-pop idols in production and I have to be able to say more than just 'start' and 'stop'."

He adds that he has already written another "300 to 400 songs saved in my hard disk drive, waiting to be used".

"Music companies are always looking for new songs, but timing and opportunity are also very important. There's a lot of competition in K-pop, but I will keep pitching."

Neo, formerly a student of Catholic High School and Victoria Junior College, says unabashedly that he hopes to do more Mandarin music as well.

"Chinese pop used to be such a huge deal in Asia and it would be so great if we could help bring that back again to the level of popularity it once enjoyed. For now, I've been learning a great deal in the world of K-pop and I would love to put my newfound knowledge to use and really make myself as international and versatile as possible."

Down the road, there are dreams of establishing himself as a singer too.

Says Neo, who is single: "I definitely want to sing my own songs one day. It's why I started writing songs in the first place. Other than music, I think, honestly, there's nothing else I'm good at."

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