As I revisited my favorite Korean Pop albums of 2021, I found myself listening to “Magic Carpet Ride” by NCT 127 on repeat. I grew up in the 90’s where R&B was king and you would sit anticipating when you could here your favorite songs on the radio. “Magic Carpet Ride” give me the same feel as I did back then with NCT’s amazing vocals, harmonies and instrumentals that set the mood. After my 5th consecutive repeat listen I wanted to explore who had actual wrote and produced the track that I love so much. The credits show written by Cho Yoon-Kyung and composed by Harvey Mason Jr., J.Que, Britt Burton, and Dewaine Whitmore, arranged by Harvey Mason Jr. It’s not unusual to see Western names in a list of credits for Idol groups, especially from SM Entertainment. Some of SM’s most popular Title tracks and B-Sides have been written and produced in part by Western songwriters and producers. However, the name that looked the most familiar was Harvey Mason Jr. With a quick Google search the first credit to his name is “…current CEO of The Recording Academy” aka the entity responsible for the Grammy Awards.
Harvey Mason Jr.: CEO
Now I knew why his name looked so familiar. Harvey “…. was elected as chairman of The Recording Academy in June 2019, became its interim president and CEO on January 16, 2020, and then assumed the permanent role of CEO on May 13, 2021″(Wikipedia). I remember seeing him on the Grammy’s January 2021 telecast speaking of the need for diversity, representation and transparency for the next generation. For years the Academy had been plagued with negative press and outcry from music lovers and artist for more transparency about the nomination process, diversity on the board and it’s voting members. With Harvey coming on board as of May 2021, The Recording Academy made sure that this was one of the first topics to be addressed as a focus. However, how that change will come about remains to be seen. For the Korean pop music fan, this change is even more important as we ask for the Academy to take a serious look into inclusivity of “K-Pop” music in both Grammy nominations and on air representation during telecasts. Here is Harvey Mason Jr.’s 2021 speech: https://youtu.be/56510Nj8vAw
Harvey Mason Jr.: Career in Korean Pop
Harvey Mason Jr.’s career as a songwriter and producer spans almost 30 years. He has written and produced for Western artist Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, Mary J Blige, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake just to name a few. In addition, he has an impressive resume for writing and producing tracks for some of Korean Pop music’s A-list Idol groups and artist. Going all the back to 2014 working with EXO on the Overdose Album with writing and production credits on “Overdose” and “Moonlight”; and other EXO hits “Diamond”, “Sign” and “24/7”. He continued to work with SM Artist including EXO-CBX, Girls Generation, Jonghyun, NCT, NCT 127 and TVXQ. With this caliber of work with one of the largest entertainment companies in South Korea, one could say he is quite familiar with the industry known as K-pop.
The Recording Academy and The Grammy’s
The Recording Academy has come under fire for decades for lack of diverse representation in age and ethnicities in it’s voting members. This outcry for change has also caused artist to boycott their own nominations for Grammy awards. In 2021, Drake withdrew his two 2022 Grammy nominations after speaking openly about The Recording Academy’s snub of artist the Weeknd and other artist. “We play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport,” Drake said. “You’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown… Look, if there’s people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending money to buy tickets to your shows, you don’t need this right here. You already won.” (Rolling Stone-Digital December 6,2021 https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/drake-grammy-2022-nominations-withdraw-1267649/)
A drastic move from a 47 time Grammy nominated artist is hopefully a wake up call for Mr. Mason and the rest of The Recording Academy that change that reflects the current shape of the global music industry is needed ASAP. In 2019 Bang Si-Hyuk and all the members of BTS were invited to become voting members of The Academy. For both PD Bang and the guys this means they will be eligible to vote on nominations and winners for specific categories based on their type of membership. Is this a win for K-Pop? Well, not necessarily a win, but it is a start. At least they have a sit at the table of one of Western music’s most prestigious institutions for music. Yet, it will not be enough for effective change. But, now that Harvey Mason Jr. is CEO that change may have a little more momentum.
Allies For Change
Unlike the categories of Classical, Jazz, Blues, Pop, Hip/Hop and R&B, Korean Pop does not have very many allies or representation in The Recording Academy. Allies come in many forms, not just fellow artist, but songwriters, producers, engineers, executives and music critics. Whether or not K-pop aka Korean Pop music is a genre all by itself is a topic for deep discussion. Without a doubt, the level of hard work and preparation that goes into becoming a successful idol is unmatched in the Western music. Most idols go through years of training in singing, rapping, dancing and stage presentation; all of this without a guarantee of actually debuting. Any fan of K-Pop music can tell you that EP’s from most of these Idol Groups will not fit into one genre. You can have a mix of Pop, R&B, EDM and Hip/Hop all in one track. I can not think of one western artist or group that can consistently carry that torch of eclectic musical stylings in a single song or album. However how Korean Pop music fits into the collective global music industry remains to be seen. This is where a need for allies comes into play. Until those in the industry, with power and means start to advocate for artist that are being dismissed or underrepresented, inequality in the Western Music industry will continue. Hopefully with Harvey Mason Jr., as CEO, this is a step in the right direction for the discussion of Korean Pop to be seen as equals in the industry. Hopefully he is the ally that we have been looking.
Until next time…….