T-ara’s comeback track “What’s My Name?” has been on heavy rotation all month, but I’ve also been weirdly obsessed with Qri’s solo b-side “Diamonds.” With it’s ice cold swagger and indie-pop edge, it sounds much closer to Pitchfork’s Track of the Day than a catchy K-pop tune.
What’s even stranger is that Qri’s the one that recorded it. Her exaggerated gyaru looks are offset by what seems to be extreme introversion, making her one of Korea’s most mysterious idols. Seeing a cooly confident Qri kill her “Diamonds” performance on The Show last week, I couldn’t believe that I was watching the same girl that rarely speaks on variety shows and barely sings in T-ara’s songs.
All of this has made me fascinated with “Diamonds,” so I reached out to one of main writers and producers behind the track, John Ho, to find out how it all came together. Outside of K-pop, John’s worked with Destiny’s Child diva Michelle Williams, R&B legend Charlie Wilson, and one of the few decent American girl groups to exist this millennium, Danity Kane. But I’m sure most K-pop fans will agree that he reached a new peak with Qri!
Arcadey: A lot of your work so far has been with American artists like Mya and Danity Kane. How did you end up on a T-ara album?
One of the collaborators on “Diamonds” Jimmy Burney has written for a lot of K-Pop artists and so his management was able to pitch our record to T-ara’s label.
Arcadey: Is there an American artist that you had “Diamonds” in mind for before Qri got it? Listening to it, I can imagine Selena Gomez recording it because she’s a pop star but she’s starting to experiment with some edgier sounds now, and “Diamonds” has that vibe.
John: Well, originally we were writing for [Dutch singer] Natalie La Rose, a big artist here in America, but the record didn’t really fit the direction she was going for at the moment.
Arcadey: How did you come up with the idea and the sound for “Diamonds”? What was the process of creating it?
John: When we get in the studio, we really don’t try to make a record with anyone in mind. It’s just about the vibe and what we’re all feeling at the moment.
Jimmy and I were in the studio with Natalie, and we were going through some instrumental ideas and this one stuck out. I had worked on it a couple days previously with another producer, Jeff Shum, and so we just started writing from there.
We were going for a Lorde “Royals” vibe, and it sort of just transformed into this fun song about coming from the bottom and all of a sudden swimming in riches. It’s basically the opposite concept of “Royals” if you think about it [laughs].
So we finished writing and Natalie recorded it with her vocals. She ended up not using the record for her own project so we began pitching it to other artists. You really have no idea where your records can go, and the last thing we imagined was a K-Pop artist wanting it.
Arcadey: What did you think of the finished product? Were you happy with how Qri did it? She’s usually known for having a cuter image, so the fans were really surprised to see this cooler, sexier side of her through “Diamonds.”
John: Yeah, Qri put a dope spin on it! It’s not an easy record to sing, rhythmically it can be challenging for a lot of artists, but she did a great job.
Arcadey: Would you work with T-ara or Qri again if you had the chance?
John: Yes, of course!
Arcadey: Have you heard any other T-ara songs?
John: After we got the call that they wanted the record, I did a little research to check out their songs. I think K-pop is great, the production is always incredible. But I also love lyrics, and because of the language barrier, I feel like I’m missing a lot of the nuances I’d otherwise find in English.
I think Dean is a really cool artist, he’s doing a lot of experimental stuff and I really dig that.
Arcadey: What do you find different about working with K-pop artists compared to American artists?
John: Language and the process. Lots of times, we’re not in the studio together. It’s just pitching records and then them recording separately. The process isn’t as organic as you’d think. Conflicting schedules, distance, and language all make it difficult to actually work together.
Arcadey: Do you have any K-pop stuff coming up, or are there any particular K-pop artists you’d be interested in working with?
John: I want to work with artists who aren’t afraid to take some risks and get a little weird! If you’re weird, hit me up!