TWICE's 'Scandal' Producers Talk K-Pop's Global Appeal, Japanese Music Scene & More

Kristoffer Tømmerbakke, Erik Smaaland
Courtesy of Billboard Japan

Kristoffer Tømmerbakke and Erik Smaaland

Norwegian producers/songwriters Erik Smaaland & Kristoffer Tømmerbakke open up to Billboard Japan about how the song came together.

In June, TWICE’s album Taste of Love debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200, earning the nine-member K-pop girl group its first top 10. The album captures the feeling and euphoria of being in love while showcasing the group’s growth musically and creatively through tracks written by some of the members.

Norwegian producers/songwriters Erik Smaaland and Kristoffer Tømmerbakke, who composed and arranged “Scandal” for the album, shared how the catchy Dahyun-penned track, which features a seductive whisper, came together, and their thoughts on the rise of K-pop and the Japanese music scene in an email interview with Billboard Japan.

What led you guys to contribute to TWICE’s “Scandal”?

We already had a demo for the song and sent it to JYP Entertainment. They really understood the vision for the song, and it was a great process taking it from demo to finished master with TWICE.

Taste of Love showcases the group’s growth musically and visually and “Scandal” captures their maturity perfectly. What was on your mind in terms of melody, arrangement and balancing the sonics to the lyrics?

Thank you! We had a demo, but Dahyun came in on the lyric side and really managed to get the best out of the concept. We wanted the song to be playful, a bit cheeky, dance-forward and at the same time showcase TWICE’s musicality, vocal strength and lyrical flair.

Do you see a change in K-pop music over the last decade, in terms of the beat, song length, tempo, etc.?

We feel K-pop is pushing boundaries and limits for global pop music right now and is refreshingly original, creative and free when it comes to genres and styles. That’s probably why K-pop is doing so well globally!

In recent years, the rise of TikTok has had a major impact on a song’s popularity. Which musical element do you feel is most important in the current music scene?

The music scene is constantly evolving and there will always be a new platform that’s the new thing. We’ve always been very focused on melodies both musically and vocally, but lately find ourselves focusing more and more on lyrics and especially strong concepts. Maybe that’s a result of TikTok and virality, but at the end of the day, a great song will always be king no matter what platform is hot at any given moment.

In 2014, you composed a song for a Japanese group called V6 titled “Ashita Wa Kurukara." The current trend in J-pop is user-generated content such as covers and dance videos on TikTok or YouTube. At the same time, a physical CD single will sell over 10k to 100k copies almost every week, which is very rare outside of Japan. What are your thoughts on the Japanese music market?

We have great memories from getting to make a song with V6 and “Ashita Wa Kurukara” was our first encounter with J-pop. It feels great to be back, this time with a K-pop song.

It’s fantastic that people still are interested in getting a physical product in their hands, both listening to music at higher quality and maybe looking at the pictures, lyrics and extra content in the CD cover at the same time. We are also happy that music always keeps evolving and finding new ways to play a part in people’s lives through platforms like TikTok and YouTube.

Having worked with globally successful artists, what do you consider to be a key factor in having a song that transcends borders? Do you think it's necessary for artists to sing in English, even if it’s not their first language?

In general we would recommend singing in English if you want to obtain global success. But bringing elements from other languages and cultures brings uniqueness, strong identity, originality and purpose to the music, which also are very important factors!

How do you find out about music outside of Norway?

Spotify is our main source for new music. But radio, Instagram, YouTube and word of mouth also play a part in discovering new music.

Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with in the future? NiziU, who made their debut from JYPE and Sony Japan, is widely popular -- would you be open to collaborating with any Japanese artists?

We have a lot of exciting projects going on, but we’ll keep them a secret for now. Sure it would be awesome working with NiziU! Other acts we would love to work with include Arashi, BTS, BLACKPINK, Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber and Kygo, among others.