Meet Kyler Niko– the songwriter behind some of our favorite chart-topping K-pop bops! The multi-platinum, award-winning composer and vocalist is based in London, England and has become a force to be reckoned with in the K-pop industry. He is known for his incredible talent and energetic passion which help him to produce one great track after another.
A well-known hit-maker, Kyler is genuinely sincere about his craft and has quickly established himself as a name who can be trusted when it comes to K-pop music. What The K-pop recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kyler Niko for an interview, delving deeper into his creative process and learning what it’s like to work in an industry that’s taking the world by storm.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the interview was conducted virtually, but that proved no obstacle as Kyler was able to connect on a grassroots level with his thoughtful answers even through a screen.
From working with K-pop royalty like Taemin and EXO to finding time to create his own solo music, keep reading to find out more about this charming and sincere artist and songwriter.
WTK: It’s been years since you first started writing music professionally and even longer since you started writing music in general. Can you tell us more about the journey and what inspired you to pursue songwriting?
KYLER: So, my journey has been incredible! It all started when I was really young and, quite stereotypically, my Asian parents got me learning an instrument— the piano. So, for years, I was classically trained. I remember I never really enjoyed it too much, but little did I know that it would be conducive to who I am today. I played regularly for my school which introduced me to this world of performing, and I loved it! From there, I joined an indie band comprised of mates, and I very quickly fell in love with being on stage. Then one day on the piano as I was playing some chords, just out of nowhere I started humming a melody on top. And it was in that moment that I was like, “Oh, what’s this? This is kinda cool.” That was the very moment my songwriting venture began. This is going back like six [or] seven years. Or more than that actually? Maybe about 10 years ago. I remember I wanted to be an artist so badly! Like an Asian Bieber. *laughs* That was like my thing.
Fast forward a few years, my music career took an incredible turn. I was in a studio playing some of my music to a friend. My now-publisher was sitting at the back of the studio, who then goes, “Hey, can I hear that again?” I went, “Okay, fine.” I played it, and then he says, “You realize you’re writing K-pop right?” and all I’m thinking is, “Who’s this strange man?!” *laughs* Fast forward another few years, and I’m here writing a ton of K-pop and working together with him every day.
WTK: A lot of producers and songwriters I’ve talked to before were never really exposed to K-pop or J-pop before they actually started writing it. Was that the same case with you?
KYLER: I was already very familiar with K-pop because of my Asian background and because a lot of my friends were already into it as well. Also, I was such a huge BIGBANG fan at the time too.
WTK: Well, of course! Who isn’t, right?
KYLER: Of course! *laughs* Actually, just to side track slightly… about eight years ago, I had these posters on the ceiling above my bed which were essentially my music goals. The idea was that I’d be reminded of them every time I woke up. In fact, one of them was of BIGBANG, and so it’s really awesome to see myself now working in K-pop.
WTK: Part of the process can often mean budding artists struggle with transforming their passion into something solid. What was something that helped you realize your presence in the industry?
KYLER: Well, I passionately believe that everyone is spectacular at something and that there’s a different pocket for every person. However, people tend to be too heavily led by big, existing artists, and as a result they end up doing a poor job of copying them— trying to be another version of them. To me, that’s not how you’re going to make it. For example, Ariana Grande… she’s such a unique and well-designed product, you know? There will never be a second Ariana Grande. Yet, there are so many artists and songwriters that want to be and sound like her. It’s just not the right approach in my opinion.
So, with me, when I was younger, I definitely wanted to be like Max Martin because all I wanted to do was to write songs for American artists. It was very one dimensional, whereas where I actually belonged was in K-pop. Had that door not opened for me, the likelihood is that I wouldn’t be where I am right now. So, my advice is absolutely to be inquisitive and to try new things. Take risks, but [do it] with the aim of finding something unique to you.
WTK: In recent years, we’re seeing more European songwriters that are writing more for K-pop. Why do you think that is?
KYLER: With my limited knowledge, I would personally say that Sweden, the UK, and a lot of Europe is a vast creative hub that has given birth to a lot of really great songwriters. With K-pop being so eclectic, the industry has definitely been very active in reaching out to songwriters from all over Europe, I guess. Kpop is fast-moving and ever-changing in its sound and style, and you can really see where the inspiration has come from the West. That’s what I find exciting, the crazy mix of all these international writers in the music… it’s great.
WTK: We know that when you’re not making music, you are hitting the gym. When you’re working out, what are some of your favorite K-pop and non-K-pop songs on your exercise playlist?
KYLER: I listen to a variety of genres when I’m training, but that’s not to do with the workout. It’s more to do with my mood, I guess. I definitely tend to like my K-pop songs and anything that’s sort of upbeat and high-energy! I love a bit of new BTS and a bit of old BTS as well. When it comes to some non-K-pop songs, it would be mostly EDM, pop, and hip-hop. Just no ballads!
WTK: You’re not a ballad kind of guy, huh?
KYLER: Definitely not when I’m training. *laughs*
WTK: There are so many different things involved in the writing process, from composing, arranging, and more. What’s your favorite part of the process?
KYLER: That is a really difficult question! I sincerely enjoy every single part of the process. All the way from the songwriting to laying vocals down. I think that’s why I love this career so much. I just love bringing my ideas to life. Arranging in particular is always fun because that’s all about the energy of the song to me: all about experiencing the song through the listeners’ perspective. So, you’re really going, “Okay, this is how they hear it. I want them to feel this. I want them to stay up here and then be down here at this point.”.
Actually, if I did have to choose a favorite part, it would be right at the end when I’ve just finished a song that I’m absolutely chuffed about. It’s when I get to hear the whole song in its entirety for the first time and experiencing it as if I were the listener. That is a pretty amazing moment just because you’re emotionally having a bit of a party. And on the flipside, when the song turns out bad— that’s when you go off and cry. *laughs*
WTK: When you started doing this as a hobby and then began learning it to do it professionally, was there a part of the process that you found the most difficult to learn?
KYLER: Yeah. I would say mixing and sort of more towards the production side of things. Mixing, for example, is a skill that cannot be achieved overnight as it takes times to learn sonic balance and to learn how to manipulate plug-ins to do what you want. So, when I’m able to send decent mixes to producers nowadays, it’s remarkably rewarding.
I would say the other thing that was challenging, but absolutely essential to develop, was of course how to write a hit. In other words, developing the ‘taste bud’ for a real banger. Obviously, like five or six years ago, that taste bud was very much unrefined. It’s been a process to become better at that.
WTK: You’re obviously a very creative, artistic person. We know that you have enjoyed sketching and drawing ever since you were a child. Do you still find time to participate in your art?
KYLER: Not as much as I would like. Art was everything that I did before music. There was a phase in which I was doing a lot of illustration. I was drawing a lot of manga art and so I actually wanted to design game characters as a career path, but I guess somewhere along the way, things changed. But yeah, I still love to sketch and paint!
WTK: You do your own solo music as well. Would you ever think about designing cover art or something for one of your songs?
KYLER: I studied graphic design quite extensively, so I have in the past used it to design cover art for other artists, including my own feature release called “Crazy” a couple years ago.
WTK: Speaking of which, as a vocalist yourself, do you find it harder to produce your own songs than that of other artists? Or does it come more naturally for you to produce songs for yourself?
KYLER: I would say that a massive portion of my early songwriting journey was writing songs for myself and I guess at that stage it felt easy because there was never any real feedback. When you’re in your own little songwriting bubble, everything sounds good to you! *laughs*
Nowadays, when you have built an identity around your name, I would say that the pressure is on to make sure that you deliver a song that’s going to be what people expect from me on a similar or greater level than what I’ve done before. But, that’s a challenge that I enjoy. So, is it easy? Is it hard? I will say that some days it comes quickly, and then on other days I’m like, “Why am I in this industry? I can’t write anything!” *laughs*
WTK: Your song “My Turn” was represented at Eurovision 2017 by the great singer Martina Barta. How did it feel to have that kind of exposure and recognition of your song?
KYLER: You feel amazing and alive because Eurovision really has this unique, sparkling energy. So, when you get to be part of that bubble, it’s exciting! I would say that the exposure is great obviously too, and you get to meet a whole new world of songwriters that are so passionate about music. Also, there are a lot of crazy people in this space, so it’s always good fun.
WTK: When you’re writing songs for Western artists versus writing ones for K-pop or J-pop artists, is the songwriting process different?
KYLER: I would say that they are definitely different and the same in many ways. What’s the same is the feeling of a hit, that never changes. What’s different is the way you approach your melodies, vibes, arrangements, etc. And although it’s a creative process, there is a different mathematic discipline to each genre.
So, the more efficient you become, the more natural it becomes to switch [back and forth]. I would say that if you’re somebody who regularly has the opportunity to write Western and K-pop, that’s great, as you’ll find it much easier to catch the right vibes.
WTK: We know all of the artists you have worked with are special, but do you have any favorite songs or tracks that you’re especially proud of in the K-pop genre?
KYLER: I don’t think I have a favorite and that’s genuinely because every song that has been released is special to me different ways.
I’m fascinated mostly by how my songs are transformed into stunning audio pieces and music videos, and how different artists offer different deliveries. The visual element of K-pop is really on another level, and so the MV and all the promotional album artwork is always very exciting to see!
If I HAD to pick one that resonated with me most, it would be my cut with EXO. Those boys are unbelievably talented, and they really know how to put on a show. So, my song [“Electric Kiss”] with them is awesome in that sense. Astro’s “All Night” is also very special to me as I really do love the song and I thought their delivery was on point. It felt classic and timeless.
I also love my cut with The Boyz as I’m a huge fan of the band, I think they’ve got some really cool members! And again, they took my track, “Bloom Bloom,” and just injected this world of color and energy to it which took it to a whole new level. I watched it and I was just like, “Wooaaahhhh!” I remember seeing it for the first time in the gym, and I literally stopped my whole training session for a good 20 minutes to watch the MV on repeat. *laughs*
WTK: Some of the songs that you have written have helped earned K-pop groups their first music show wins, therefore helping them become a bit more firmly established in the industry. How does this make you feel? Is it a blessing or do you feel the burden to keep delivering more songs like this for more artists?
KYLER: No, when I’m writing a song, I’m not thinking about any of this. When I’m writing, it’s simply a constant pursuit of that “hit” feeling and just making sure that the song really pops. That’s all. However, when it translates into an opportunity for a younger band to really excel and to make a name for themselves, it’s incredibly fulfilling— sometimes more fulfilling than writing a song for a much bigger group actually. I also think this ‘first [music show] win’ award is such a cool, unique thing that only K-pop has to offer, and it’s really exciting to be able to help rookie bands reach this milestone.
WTK: Apart from songs for younger groups, you have also written songs like “Colors” for SHINee’s Taemin, “Circus” for Super Junior-D&E, and more. Do you feel a different sort of pressure when writing for groups that have such established fandoms globally? Or do you even know when a song is going to a certain group?
KYLER: To me, the pressure is equal [when writing for younger groups versus writing for established groups]. There’s pressure in both wanting to impress global fanbases for big bands, and for igniting global fanbases for younger bands.
With big bands, it’s interesting in the way that the song I’ve written either fits in with or leads the label’s vision on where they want the band to be next. That’s always interesting. Let’s take Super Junior-D&E’s “Circus,” as an example. I remember being sat there trying to come up with a song title that was just one word, a word that really inspired both me in my writing and the artist in terms of choreography, visual themes, the music video, etc. So, I remember literally jumping onto Google and searching for crazy words before stumbling across “circus”. I was like, “This is the one! It’s exciting and packed with visual energy!” So, to see how much this one decision influenced the band’s stage presence, costumes, MV, and just the overall direction was really fascinating. It’s always humbling to be able to have that kind of influence.
As to your second question, do I know who I am writing for? So, this is ever-changing as sometimes I’m writing directly for label briefs, and other times I’m simply blind writing. However, one of the great gifts that my producer has bestowed onto me is the discipline of not focusing too much on who the song is for. It can really distract you from writing a great song if you overload yourself with information like previous releases, your pre-existing idea of the band’s style, references, all that kind of stuff. It’s easy to let those distractions cause you to write the obvious song rather than one that sounds trend-setting and fresh. The last thing you want is a song which sounds like something from their previous album!
There are some things that I need to look out for though— for example, if a band has prominent rappers, let’s say, [it’s] MONSTA X, for example. Then I would be like, “Okay. I need a couple dedicated sections for rappers.” Those types of things are what you must include. Otherwise, it’s really just about writing something that hits hard and feels amazing.
WTK: Having already achieved so much, what motivates you to keep going and working harder?
KYLER: The reality is that it brings me a huge amount of joy, it never feels like work, and it’s an integral part of my day. And I’m quite a driven person, so I’m always trying to achieve more and to reach new levels. Also, there are so many more artists out there that I want to write music for!
WTK: Can you give us any hints about your future projects, including your own solo music?
KYLER: So, aside from my solo stuff, I have recently begun working with a couple more Korean labels and will be expecting some of my most exciting releases yet! In terms of my own music, I’m in the middle of a solo project where I’m definitely taking my time to experiment creatively to discover what sound and style I’m looking for as an artist.
WTK: Since we’ve been talking so much about music and your work in the industry, will you tell our readers three personal things about you so they can get to know your more in this kind of way as well?
KYLER: Okay. This is a hard question as much of my life is already on Instagram! *laughs* I’m actually not a very private person!
WTK: Aren’t you a private person? I feel like you are. *laughs*
KYLER: You know what I think? It’s a combination of being focused on so much over the last few years and people not being able to witness much of that journey as most of it is behind the scenes. You guys only see me in action through artists releasing songs and through the occasional post on social media when I manage to catch my breath!
So, three things about me… I’m passionate about life. I’m addicted to developing people and connecting them with something they’re excited about. Just setting them off on the right path and helping them grow is something I find incredibly rewarding.
The second thing is my love for animals. I’m a huge supporter of WWF. I’m a loyal donor and that’s something that gives me joy as I know I’m contributing to the preservation of nature. The wallpaper on my phone and my laptop is always the WWF wallpaper of the month. *shows his phone* This month— it’s tigers!
The third thing is my dream of having a music studio in a villa, by the sea, in Spain. Where I can call up Rihanna and be like, “Hey Rhi Rhi, wanna pop over?” *laughs*
WTK: *laughs* So, do you speak Spanish?
KYLER: Hablo un poquito de español!
WTK: Well, Kyler, thank you so much. You’re so easy to talk to that I’ve taken up too much of your time today! You’re so kind and charming, and I was able to learn so much about you. It’s great hearing you talk about your work. I can tell you’re so passionate about what you do, and that really comes across in the music you write as well.
KYLER: Thank you so much! Actually, before I go, I really want to give a shout out to my incredible publisher and manager, Obi Mhondera, who is at the core of everything I do and a big reason as to how I’m here today. To be honest, the whole A&R and Publishing team, is just so special.
One of the reasons why I love what I do is that there is never any pressure from this lot and that it’s 100% about enjoying yourself, staying driven, loving what you do, being kind, and staying humble. I cannot imagine myself operating in a different environment. They are a huge part of what keeps me anchored to songwriting and to K-pop. So, I want to thank them all for that.
And thank YOU so much for today. I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you for organizing this and for inviting me to have this interview.
WTK: I’m glad that you were able to take time out of your schedule to speak with us. Thank you again!
Kyler Niko may be a young artist and songwriter, but he has already accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. Apart from the many artists mentioned in the interview above, he has also worked on great songs, in both the K-pop and J-pop genres, such as “Everyday” by TVXQ, “Be The Naked” by Lead, “Power” by SHINee’s Key, “Freak Out” by King & Prince, and many more.
Throughout the interview, it became very apparent that music is Kyler’s number one passion, making it easy to understand why that translates so easily through the engaging and upbeat music he writes. He is confident in his work, and although oozing with charm and wit, it never smacks of pride. Instead, Kyler’s openness and friendly personality are refreshing to see.
From BIGBANG fan to successful K-pop songwriter, the journey of Kyler Niko has been an interesting one. However, we have no doubt that it will be a path that will continue to flourish in even greater ways in the future!
What do you think of this interview with Kyler Niko? Were you already familiar with this talented songwriter? What is your favorite song that he has worked on in K-pop or J-pop? Let us know your thoughts by tweeting to us @whatthekpop1!
*A special thank you to Kyler Niko, Cecilia Mörtzell Johansson and INNERV8 MUSIQ!
Media/Images: Kyler Niko
Interview: Amy Leigh, Ishani Sarkar