How NIve Went From Clarinet Player to Producing for K-Pop’s Big Stars

VICE spoke with singer-songwriter NIve about his new EP “Broken Kaleidoscope,” finding authenticity in music, and working with BTS’ V, EXO, Heize, and Sam Kim.

27 July 2021, 9:23am

“Feeling negativity is just natural. It’s not you, it’s the world. The world is pretty sad, you know?” singer, songwriter, and producer NIve said while sitting in his label’s studio on a hot summer afternoon in Seoul.

He was there to talk about his first EP Broken Kaleidoscope, which dropped on Tuesday, but a conversation about his music and K-pop quickly turned emotional. 

Over a Zoom interview with VICE, he explained how, despite K-pop’s reputation for churning out high-energy music, sadness is a consistent theme in his work. In contrast to the warm weather outside, NIve’s demeanor was cool, calm, and unfiltered, as his stage name (pronounced “neev”) would suggest. It came from an Urban Dictionary entry meaning “cool without actually having to say cool.” 

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Under his real name, Jisoo Park, he has written and produced for some of the biggest artists in K-pop. He has produced songs for boy bands EXO and NCT U and girl group CLC, written and jammed with BTS member V, and collaborated with soloists like Paul Kim, Sam Kim, and Heize

None of this was planned, NIve said. They were a result of going with the flow and being at the right place at the right time. 

“I never had planned myself out to be a writer, producer, or artist,” he told VICE. 

NIve was born in the United States but grew up in both South Korea and Australia. He intended to pursue a professional career as a clarinet player but during his studies at the Mannes School of Music in New York, he decided to take a year off “to experience new things musically” by singing and playing other instruments like the guitar and piano. 

“At the time, I felt that I was gonna play clarinet for the rest of my life, so before that, [I thought], maybe I should take a year off and do things that I wanted to do [first],” he said.  

Singer-songwriter NIve. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Music Group

His path changed when he auditioned for the South Korean talent show Superstar K 6, where he was one of the top nine finalists. But instead of immediately pursuing a career as a singer, he dabbled in songwriting under the 153/Joombas Music Group, a publishing company and label owned by renowned record producer and singer-songwriter Shin Hyuk. During his time at the company, a ballad he wrote was chosen to be part of EXO member Chen’s solo album April, and a Flower, and became the title track “Beautiful Goodbye.”  Peaking at number two on the Billboard K-pop Hot 100 chart in 2019 and winning first place on Korean music shows like Inkigayo and Show! Music Core, the song led to more opportunities for NIve to write and produce.  

Amid all of the chaos and work that comes with creating the perfect K-pop song, it’s easy for some artists to forget why they create music in the first place. Over the years, the industry’s rigorous trainee system, carefully crafted image, and fast-paced comeback cycle has earned it a reputation for being manufactured and insincere. NIve, however, believes that even within this system, authenticity is crucial. 

“I think that you can generalize segments and genres of music, but I think that you cannot generalize your desire to express through music itself. I think whether it’s K-pop or just pop, or UK-pop, or J-pop, or C-pop, it really doesn’t matter because it’s music. We do it to have fun, express, and share. The most important thing is to share our emotions. And I think K-pop’s doing really well with sharing those,” he said. 

To achieve this, NIve approaches music from a diaristic perspective that doesn’t shy away from sharing his true emotions. 

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“Music’s a very strong tool. While movies take two to three hours to deliver one message or a few messages, music, in my opinion, can deliver a lot within four to five minutes. I think that’s why I chose music to be my speaker,” he said.   

“Music’s a very strong tool. While movies take two to three hours to deliver one message or a few messages, music, in my opinion, can deliver a lot within four to five minutes. I think that’s why I chose music to be my speaker.”

NIve believes that his sincerity and ability to listen to what an artist wants is the reason why they like working with him. 

“To be a good producer, you just need to understand the fundamentals of feelings in general, whether they are negative or positive,” he said. “Sadness and anxiety are inevitable feelings. It is very natural that we try to face away from negativity or sorrow, sadness or anger. And most of the time, it is important to find the right timing to express it. But what I’m saying is that you have to express it. You have to go through that in order to truly embrace yourself and really get to know yourself and continue to live.” 

As a producer, it’s never just about work for NIve. To him, working on a song with an artist is like writing their diary. He often tries to get to know artists more personally, asking them simple questions like “Did you eat?” or “How are you feeling today?” before beginning the writing sessions. 

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“I really want them to be happy with what they release,” NIve said. “But one thing that I learned is that you have to be a good listener, [rather] than a good speaker or a good talker, because if you don’t have the ability to sit down and listen to what they want to say or what they want to express, I feel like you’ll never be able to come up with something that they’re truly happy with.”  

And it shows in his work. Whether it’s a soul-infused R&B track for another artist or a melancholic ballad for his own album, NIve’s mark is evident in the sincere emotions evoked through the lyrics and melodies. 

In his 2019 song Tired,” he sings about burnout over a chorus of whistles. “Losing direction / If I scream all I want in my bedroom / Will my life get much better than right now?” 

And in “ESCAPE,” a single released in June, he uses driving bass lines to stress the importance of following your own path and not caring what others think. “What other people say / It don’t really mean a thing.” 

His new mini album Broken Kaleidoscope is a diary in music form—a condensed version of a series of notes app screenshots he regularly posts on his Instagram Stories. During one of his live streams, NIve explained why he chose the title.

“It’s a toy that, when you look [through] it from a different angle, [what you see is] never in the same shape. I thought that reminds me of how my mind works—it means that there’s a lot of myself in me,” he said.  

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Everything on the five-track self-produced EP—from the uptempo pop rock influences of “I’m Alive” and “ESCAPE,” to the somber guitar ballad “To: My Dear Friend”—represents how he felt about himself in the past year. 

Despite feeling anxious, NIve said having his innermost thoughts and feelings out in the world is more therapeutic than anything else. 

“To be 180 percent honest with you, I’m doing it to really save myself, and I’m hoping that people will get it and can relate to it. That’s all I ever want for this album.” 

And even though the songs are a bit challenging to sing live, NIve said he looks forward to performing them for an audience one day. 

“I’m prepared for silence, I’m prepared for loud noises, but the fact that I’m doing this will give me a lot of good feelings of liberation.” 

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Tagged:

Culture, Music, South Korea, Entertainment

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