Interview, K-Pop

Making Taemin ‘Move’: An Interview With Songwriter Curtis Richa

Taemin Move Curtis Richa Shinee

Yes, there’s a dude doing the Super Bowl next year who claims he’s responsible, but in fact, Taemin is the one who’s actually bringing sexy back.

The 24-year-old member of SHINee, the five-member South Korean boy band still going strong since their 2008 debut, broke out for the second time on his own with his sophomore solo studio album Move, released last week (October 16).

The sleek and varied collection of silky-smooth R&B melodies, shape-shifting electronica and big-voiced balladry (“Rise,” my heart!) is easily one of 2017’s best Korean pop releases, with its shadowy and seductive title track leading the charge.

“I honestly think ‘Move’ is kind of iconic,” Curtis Richa, one of the song’s co-writers, told me in a Skype call from Amsterdam last week.

A U.S.-based songwriter who’s found himself in the liner notes of major releases by everyone from Koda Kumi to Jennifer Lopez to Rihanna since the early ’00s, Curtis was pleasantly surprised to learn that Taemin’s team not only wanted his submission – originally titled “Don’t Fight the Music” – but planned to make it the pop star’s lead single.

“I feel like it surpassed what we originally envisioned it to be,” Curtis admitted of the track, which was penned alongside Adien Lewis and Angelique Cinelu, and later translated by Ji Eum Seo.

“We didn’t have any big aspirations for the song. We loved the original song, but Taemin and S.M. took it to a level that’s just earth-shattering to me. I didn’t think it would be this big, this impactful.”

The song is understated in its approach, supplying subtle-yet-undeniable hooks above dark, pulsating, ever-so-slightly menacing synths perfectly suited for the Halloween season, similar sonically to The Weeknd‘s transition to Max Martin Top 40 slick pop – and even The King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.

“The singing style is so different from what I’m used to hearing from him. It’s a more breathy, sensual, kind of mysterious dark record with an air of brightness to it,” Curtis explained.

As for the video – well, all three of them to be exact? If the song wasn’t enough of a selling point, Taemin’s smoldering screen presence surely seals the deal.

There are three visual experiences: the main music video (above), a solo choreography version, and a duo dance between Taemin and the video’s Japanese choreographer (and frequent collaborator), Sugawara Koharu.

Pulling off fierce choreography in the rain (and even fiercer fashion), Taemin toes the line between masculine and feminine as a gorgeously androgynous idol – not unlike some of the West’s most legendary male music icons. Taemin’s movements alternate between strong and precise to seductively soft, limp-wristed and femme – he’s captivatingly versatile as a performer.

“For me, just the way he did the video, it kind of has shades of Michael Jackson in it…but it’s also Taemin. He has his own style,” Curtis said.

Just don’t ask the song’s own co-writer to explain the meaning of “Move”: as with most Western artists who submit songs to be recorded by Korean artists, Curtis had no say whatsoever in the English-to-Korean lyrical crossover.

“I don’t know what the meaning of ‘Move’ is, but I know what the original record was. It was meant to be sexy, sensual and really mysterious,” he revealed.

“They [S.M. Entertainment] actually bring in the translator. They work with the translator to get what they want for the Korean lyrics. But there are some lyrics in ‘Move’ that are still there – that ‘you got the rhythm!‘ – that’s my lyric…there are a couple English lyrics in there. Adien’s voice is layered somewhere in there with Taemin’s and Andrew Choi. I think Adien is still in there somewhere in the background.”

At the moment, Taemin’s been making moves with “Move,” as one does as a massive K-Pop idol, performing his own solo showcase and taking the stage nightly on music shows, which are still a major factor in the Korean music industry. (The TRL reboot could take a few notes, but that’s another story.)

While he’s not there to experience the Taemin takeover in person, Curtis is more than pleased with what he’s seeing from afar.

“I can’t stop watching these videos. I’m blown away by them. I get a big kick out of it. It makes me respect the composition more. I love that record. I always did,” he insisted. “But Taemin’s performance, and the energy in the mix…I was just extremely happy with that.”

Haven’t discovered the song and album yet? Your move now.

Move was released on October 16. (iTunes / Spotify)