When East meets West.
When artistic minds come together, some of the most creative concoctions come to fruition in delightfully unexpected ways.
Take K-pop—Korea’s mainstream idol genre that’s secretly been tapping some of the West’s biggest names for duets. We’re talking Kanye, Skrillex. Whether featuring, performing, or producing, these artists had a hand in these Korean tracks or invited K-pop artists to do the same in theirs.
The results? Often, magic. Check out the best collaborations:
1. Baauer — “Temple”
Last month record producer Baauer (who is best known for the “Harlem Shake“) released the Asian-inspired trap song, “Temple.” A portion of the song leaked at an Alexander Wang runway show last month, but now Baauer is here with the full version—featuring rappers M.I.A. and Big Bang leader G-Dragon. M.I.A.’s and G-Dragon’s powerful verses betray the calm beat. This isn’t G-Dragon’s first collaboration with American artists either—more from him later—and the idol raps in both Korean and English for the song.
2. Lee Hi — “Fxxk Wit Us”
The 19-year-old solo artist released her second album, Seoulite, this month which was produced under Highgrnd—a sub-company of YG Entertainment led by labelmate Tablo of Epik High. On her album comes the track “Fxxk Wit Us,” a product of the four-day “Song Camp” between Highgrnd and Kanye West’s record label G.O.O.D. Music.
During the intensive workshop, the G.O.O.D. Music team met with artists from Highgrnd such as Epik High, Oh Hyuk, and Lee Hi to produce 14 songs in four days—the jazzy, hip-hop “Fxxk Wit Us” being one of them.
3. Taemin — “Press Your Number”
Popular boy group Shinee’s youngest member is back with his second solo endeavor, returning with a song written by none other than Bruno Mars. The dramatic track, pepped up with some energetic strings, showcases Mars’s signature sound, but Taemin pulls it off well—especially with his smooth voice and sharp dance moves. He even penned some original Korean lyrics for the song.
4. 4Minute — “Hate”
Girl group 4Minute’s most recent track, “Hate,” was composed and arranged by EDM DJ Skrillex. The girls take on a dynamic track from the DJ, sporting urgent, electronic verses to go along with their gentler vocals and then switching gears with a heavy, brassy chorus and powerful singing.
5. Ed Sheeran — “Sing”
While you might not be able to tell from the video alone, Ed Sheeran drew inspiration for it from an unlikely friend, Psy. According to MTV, the singer met up with Psy in Seoul for a night out of drinking, dancing, and karaoke, which was the primary creative influence for the “Sing” music video. On the flip side, Psy returned the favor by releasing a mix of his own for “Sing” on his December album, Chiljip Psy-da.
For his seventh studio album, Psy actually collaborated with other artists for many of the tracks, including another Western artist, will.i.am, for a song called “ROCKnROLLbaby.”
6. Pet Shop Boys — “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”/”Vocal”
At the 2015 Mnet Asian Music Awards (or MAMAs for short), English synth-pop pioneers the Pet Shop Boys received the Worldwide Inspiration Award. At the show, the duo performed their 1987 song “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” and their 2013 release “Vocal” alongside electro-pop group f(x). As f(x) boasts a Euro-dance style, unique to the K-pop world, their sounds seamlessly fit together.
The MAMAs host a handful of international artist awards every year and in spirit of their slogan “Music Makes One,” there is usually an East-meets-West collaboration onstage. In 2014, John Legend performed “Green Light” with Chen of Exo and Tiffany of Girls Generation (arguably Korea’s most popular boy and girl groups, respectively). Past awards shows invited artists such as Icona Pop, Stevie Wonder, and B.o.B.
7. Dean — “I’m Not Sorry”
Alternative R&B singer Dean has been songwriting and composing music since 2013 for popular K-pop groups such as Exo and Vixx. Since making his U.S. debut with “I’m Not Sorry” featuring Eric Bellinger in July, he has seen an explosion in popularity. Bellinger is a successful songwriter and producer who has worked with A-listers like Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, and Usher. Here he sings passionately about being “too busy turnin’ up” to think about a past love.
Dean has continued to collaborate with Korean and American artists alike, including Anderson Paak for “Put My Hands On You” and most recently, Jeff Bernat for “what2do.” Through his growing popularity, Dean was invited to the Spotify House in last month’s South by Southwest festival as its first Asian performer.
8. Diplo — “Doctor Pepper”
In August, producer Diplo recruited CL of 2NE1 and American rappers Riff Raff and OG Maco for “Doctor Pepper.” CL delivers the hook of the trap track, with each rapper spitting a verse in their signature styles. The video features CGI Doctor Peppers raining on-screen and back-up dancers slamming cans of soda on the ground while laying face down. Everything about this release wastes no opportunity to showcase the legendary soda pop, even down to the lyrics.
This isn’t CL’s first time collaborating with Diplo either. In 2014, both she and G-Dragon featured together with Diplo in Skrillex’s song “Dirty Vibe.”
9. Rap Monster — “P.D.D. (Please Don’t Die)”
Last March, leader of boy group BTS Rap Monster released his first solo mixtape, collaborating with Warren G for his official single. The American rapper produced the song and provided the beat for Rap Monster’s lyrics and recording.
Rap Monster has been a target among haters because of his idol status in K-pop. Coming from the underground rap scene, rappers like B-Free call him a sellout, but Rap Monster addresses his haters through the lyrics of “P.D.D.”
10. G-Dragon — “Niliria”
On his 2013 album, Coup d’Etat, G-Dragon included the song “Niliria,” which was inspired by a traditional Korean folk song with a similar name. Although he originally didn’t intend to bring on another voice for the track, he began to like the idea, as reported by Kpopstarz. The Big Bang leader explained how he chose Missy Elliott to work with him because he was looking for a female artist who wasn’t popular today, but “more of the past” to fit the antique feel of a folk song. (And of course, it also had to do with the fact that he is a fan of hers.) They mostly collaborated via phone and email, but performed together at the annual Korean culture and music convention, KCON, in 2013 in Los Angeles.
Diplo also deserves an honorable mention here. The producer had a hand in G-Dragon’s title trackf that shares the album name, “Coup d’Etat.”
11. JYJ — “Ayy Girl”
One of the most legendary collaborations among K-pop fans is “Ayy Girl” by three-member boy group JYJ. Although a bit of an oldie (it was released in 2010), it’s always a goodie. The introduction features Malik Yusef and Kanye West rapping while the video showcases solo shots of each member. Yusef and West don’t actually appear in the video, but their voices give them a strong and unique presence. The song is also entirely in English, a rare occurrence in the K-pop world.
12. Funny or Die — “Anna Kendrick goes K-Pop with F(x)”
This one isn’t a song, but rather a skit. The comedy short features Anna Kendrick flying to Seoul to try to join girl group f(x) in her attempts to become “Asia’s sweetheart.” Pushed into it by her manager, Kendrick struggles to get along and fit in with f(x), facing many challenges with Korean pronunciation and K-pop dance moves. As the description explains, “it goes about as well as you’d expect.”
Funny Or Die published a second collaboration video a year later, featuring singer Rita Ora and idol HyunA, from 4Minute. The sketch is called “Girl, You Better Walk” and is just as hilarious, pitting the two stars against each other in a walk-off.
With the way K-pop is rapidly globalizing, we can probably expect to see more cross-country collaborations in the future. Are there any duos you’d like to see?