The production duo has helmed hits for Justin Timberlake and Beyonce -- plus Korean boy bands TVXQ! & SHINee
With production credits on Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Beyonce records, the Underdogs have been a familiar production team to Western audiences for more than a decade. But they'll soon make a big inroad in the K-pop scene after producing the new single by one of Asia's biggest girl groups, Girls' Generation.
On Feb. 10, the girl group dropped a 38-second teaser video featuring the nine members in a chilling, pink hospital set soundtracked by a crunchy, electro-pop/hip-hop-hybrid beat. News surfaced that the Underdogs had crafted the track and the production company's CEOs Harvey Mason and Damon Thomas not only confirm it's their work, but also speak exclusively to Billboard about the track and their upcoming projects -- K-pop and beyond.
While Girls' Generation's latest single "I Got a Boy" (below), released in January 2013, got fans talking for its genre and tempo shifts, the Underdogs say "Mr.Mr." will be less schizophrenic, with the teaser clip being a good indication of the new single's sound.
"It's a pop song with some urban influences," Thomas says. "The way they do the videos, the way they do the choreography, I think the rhythmic element is very important. So we wanted to give them a strong pop record that people can really grab onto, but has that urban undertone so they can do the videos -- with the crazy video treatments they do -- and the choreography."
And "Mr.Mr." isn't some Beyonce leftover: The track was personally crafted for the ninesome.
"We're fans of Girls' Generation, we know their music and we listen to what they've done before," adds Thomas. "There's parts of the song that suits their singing style and they can do specific choreography to... it's an up-tempo record that we made specifically for them. We went over to Seoul and focused a couple of different acts. 'Mr.Mr.' was a record we put together for them."
It's not the first time the Underdogs have dipped into the K-pop world. Male duo TVXQ! enlisted them for an album track "Viva," off their 2012 LP "Catch Me." Plus, boy band SHINee released the Underdogs-produced "Symptoms" as a buzz track for its "Everybody" EP, released last October. Both acts, along with Girls' Generation, are under South Korean super-label SM Entertainment who have a special business relationship with the Underdogs.
"SM tells us who they're looking for songs for," explains Thomas. "We made a couple trips to Seoul before and ['Mr.Mr.'] was on one of the trips... we just try to make records that would be applicable for that group. We have some very exciting records that are being recorded."
The duo further explains their process, adding, "We work with a Korean translation. We do the full record, we write it completely in English, sing demo and give them the vocal arrangement. Then there's a Korean translator that translates it to sound cool and still relevant in Korea."
Mason and Thomas add they are confident in the act's international charm (the girls have recorded in English, Korean, Japanese and Chinese) can make the track appealing to non-speakers. "I think just Girls' Generation appeals across the board and across the world," Mason says. "The YouTube Award they just won is a testament to the size of their audience and how many people are listening and watching. It's crazy."
While Girls' Generation fanaticism has impressed them, the duo also shows love for the overall Korean music industry
"We really enjoy working on the K-pop stuff because it allows you to be so creative," Thomas reflects. "They are very open-minded about their music and it's not as genre-specific as, a lot of times, American artists are. You can just really be creative, really try things and think outside the box musically. The sections in their songs can all be different, the lyrics can say unique things, it's refreshing to work on artists like that."
"Mr.Mr." is set to drop via its new music video soon. The Underdogs say they have only seen some footage of the visual. A new album is said to follow days after the single premiere.
Meanwhile, the Underdogs have been working on Usher's new album, the Mick Jagger-produced James Brown biopic and are in talks to work on the second "Pitch Perfect" soundtrack.