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Brazil Hits K-pop — Isa Guerra’s First K-pop Cut Shows a Changing Reality For Foreign Songwriters

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

Latin America has long been the home of some of the biggest K-pop fanbases in the world, from countries such as Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Brazil. When it comes to crafting K-pop music, Latin America also has a lot to offer, although it still makes for a small share of the foreign songwriters in K-pop. From Colombian producer and engineer Marco Reyes (EXO’s “Universe”, Taemin’s “Love”) to Mexican-American songwriter Pau Cerrilla (GFRIEND’s “Mago”, LE SSERAFIM’s “Fearless), the Latin American creators in K-pop aren’t many. Reality seems to be changing, though. The year 2022 alone saw a small yet significant jump in the range of Latin American songwriters in K-pop, as Honduran-born Isabella Lovestory and Brazilian-born and based Isa Guerra entered the scene.


While Lovestory brought her reggaeton and perreo background to LE SSERAFIM’s “Antifragile”, Isa Guerra’s credit in tripleS’s “Dimension” adds a remarkable page to the passionate history of Brazil’s relationship with K-pop. The biggest country in Latin America is one of the main consumers of K-pop music and goods across the globe, and it has influenced K-pop music in more ways than one. One could only imagine Brazil would inevitably penetrate the K-pop writing world too. The day has finally come, and not without much effort; however, it signals a changing reality for foreign songwriters who long to make a career in K-pop.


From bossa nova’s infusion in K-pop to Guerra’s K-pop debut, let’s take a look at the history of Brazilians in K-pop, and what it says about the future of foreign songwriters in K-pop.


Photo credit: Marcelo Casal Jr., via Agência EBC


K-pop & Brazil: an enduring relationship

The popularity of K-pop’s music and culture in Brazil comes from a long time, and it grew to the point that the country quickly became one of the most relevant markets for K-pop. Today, it is among the main countries streaming K-pop on Spotify and consuming K-pop goods. According a 2019 study by the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange, as published in a Harvard Business Review article, Brazil is the second country that spends the most on K-pop, with an average spend of USD 156 per year (an impressive amount when you take into consideration that most products are imported, and the conversion rate can be in the proportion of BRL 5 to USD 1). And in 2021, Brazil ranked #8 in the list of countries that tweeted the most about K-pop.

The Brazilians’ passion for K-pop hasn’t gone unnoticed by concert promoters. The 2010s were a prosperous time for K-pop concerts in Brazil, with Rio de Janeiro even holding an edition of the Music Bank World Tour in 2014; K.A.R.D. selling out concert tickets in São Paulo nearly 6 months after releasing their first single; and BTS adding Brazil in three of their world tours, even choosing São Paulo to record one of their DVDs. The post-pandemic times are expected to bring an even tighter schedule for Brazilian fans of K-pop, and even other genres of Korean music. In 2022, hip hop group DPR Live performed for the first time in São Paulo and sold out tickets within an hour.


K-pop artists and companies definitely keep an eye on Brazil, but could a Brazilian artist have made it into K-pop as well?


Are there Brazilian artists in K-pop?

K-pop companies such as PLEDIS and SM Entertainment held auditions in Brazil, in 2013 and 2017, respectively. However, it wouldn’t be until 2020 that a K-pop group would have its first Brazilian member: Larissa Sakata, who joined girl group BLACKSWAN (formerly known as Rania) under the alias LEIA.


On the other hand, Brazil has an undeniable influence on K-pop songwriting and production.

Bossa nova has inspired several songs such as MAMAMOO’s “Words Don’t Come Easy”, IU’s “Obliviate”, TWICE’s “Alcohol-Free”, CRAVITY’s “Go Go”, and so much more. The beats of Brazilian funk (also known as baile funk) were the foundation for music from girl groups TRI.BE (“DOOM DOOM TA”) and Bling Bling (“G.G.B”). Attentive and passionate music lovers can also hear samba in the bridge of f(x)’s “Rum Pum Pum Pum”. And while it’s not confirmed to be a direct reference or inspiration, the pre-chorus of TWICE’s “CHEER UP” and the intro of 9MUSES’ “TICKET” bring up tecnobrega to mind.


Prestigious Brazilian production duo Tropkillaz accidentally made their way into K-pop by putting a sample pack on the royalty-free samples platform Splice. One of their beats was used in a performance by MAMAMOO at the 2018 Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA), and was later used in the arrangements for WOODZ’ “Buck” and the solo debut of Blackpink’s Lisa, “Lalisa”. Since the platform’s Terms of Use do not require that the beatmakers should be credited and do not allow the use of her names in promotions without their explicit permission, Tropkillaz do not appear in these songs’ credits. Until not very long ago, we were yet to see a Brazilian name among the credits of a K-pop album. But of course, it was only a matter of time before it would happen.


A timeline of Brazilians in K-pop

2018

MAMAMOO’s HwaSa uses beat by Brazilian producers Tropkillaz in a MAMA performance

2020

Brazilian singer Leia joins K-pop group BLACKSWAN

2021

Brazilian singer Francinne collaborates with former BLANC7 member SPAX

2022

Brazilian songwriter Isa Guerra co-writes tripleS’s “Dimension”

2022

Brazilian singer Francinne makes her debut on Korean TV, performing a Korean song on Simply K-pop CON-TOUR



How Brazilian songwriter Isa Guerra got her first K-pop cut


As a teenager, singer-songwriter Isa Guerra was one of the many Brazilian fans of BTS and Korean music. Little did she know she could become the first Brazilian songwriter to get a cut in the K-pop industry.


Composed by now 23-year-old Isa (along with BADD, San Yoon, Yi Yi Jin, Jaden Jeong, and Choi Young Kyoung), “Dimension” is featured on tripleS’s Acid Angels from Asia, released on October 28, 2022. It marks Guerra’s debut as a K-pop songwriter, making her one of the rare Latin American songwriters in K-pop.


But writing for K-pop wasn’t always among Isa’s plans. She started releasing music independently in 2018, the same year she made the final rounds of the 7th Brazilian edition of The Voice. But as told in an exclusive interview for SPARWK, it was the pandemic that triggered her to re-think her relationship with music and her career. That was when she rediscovered her passion for K-pop — or, in her own words, “maybe it was K-pop that found me again.”


Guerra decided to write songs for the K-pop market, and she wouldn’t rest until she reached that goal. “In the beginning, I wouldn’t even know how to contact people”, she says. “But this was a goal that installed itself in me. And I’m very obsessed [with my goals].”


Guerra had to self-teach her way towards the K-pop circles, and she acknowledges the value that her baggage as a recording artist added to that phase. Even her The Voice popularity, which gave her a verified Instagram account, helped her find “her people”, as she describes. But writing skills and access to K-pop writers weren’t enough — Isa needed a plan.


“I thought to myself: ‘I don’t have enough songs, I’m not working as much as I should, and I’m not sure the quality of my writing is good enough’”, Guerra shares. So she decided to put total focus on improving her writing skills and setting small goals for herself, such as getting to collaborate with as many people as possible. “I asked my friends not to invite me to go out, or do anything. My life would be all about [writing for K-pop]. There were many sleepless nights thinking about how much I wanted this.”


Guerra became a song credit nerd and researched the work of the songwriters and producers she’d see in the K-pop album credits. After lots of networking and equally as many unanswered messages, she found her first opportunity to compose a chorus for a track. Even though it wouldn’t make it into any K-pop release, that first topline put Isa in the sight of producers and writers who’d pitch songs to K-pop labels — including her “Dimension” co-writers. “I don’t think my work was really that good in the beginning, but I kept progressing”, she says. “And as I worked with more people, we progressed together as well.”

Isa Guerra. Photo: courtesy of the artist.


While Guerra has written for herself and other artists before, she had to adopt a different mindset to write for K-pop. The first challenge was understanding how the K-pop industry functions. “I didn’t even know what a lead was”, she says, referring to the briefing sent by K-pop labels to songwriters where they explain what they want from a song. Second, Guerra knew that composing K-pop wouldn’t be the same as she was used to. “When I first showed my previous work [to a K-pop producer], they said: ‘That’s nice, but that’s not K-pop”, she tells SPARWK. All the years listening to K-pop paid off, though, and saved time in setting her songwriting strategies. “I have always listened to K-pop, so I know what a K-pop song sounds like”, she says. “It’s very important to listen to a lot of K-pop music.” All the peculiar traits of K-pop songwriting are actually what makes the process enjoyable for Guerra.


“K-pop is more likely to embrace things that are different or that may sound weird when you are writing. Things like a scream, or a note that sounds like it shouldn’t be there; K-pop embraces that. Also, each song we work on is so different from each other. One day you’re working on a darker song, the next day you’re working on a cute song. K-pop has a diversity of genres. All these differences make writing for K-pop really fun.” Isa Guerra

What does the future hold for foreign songwriters in K-pop?

Ever since Isa Guerra decided to commit 100% to K-pop, it took her 6 months to have one of her co-writing on a K-pop EP for the first time. It may not seem like much time compared to what many songwriters take. But along with all of Isa’s talent and dedication, her rapid achievement comes in the light of a changing reality for foreign songwriters in K-pop: while the industry still has its own particular systems and culture, it’s getting increasingly more open to foreign songwriters in the last years. And thanks to the Internet, creators like Guerra can connect with like-minded professionals and get access to information that will help them get closer to their goals. “I was lucky to connect with people that ended up becoming friends [as well as collaborators], and having many people help me and answer my questions”, Guerra shares. Not that it was easy, though. “You have to put a lot of dedication and a lot of time into it, be attentive and listen to a lot of K-pop music.”


As Isa Guerra breaks ground as a Brazilian songwriter in K-pop, she is well aware of what it means for K-pop fans and creators who dream of writing for K-pop as well. “Brazilian K-pop fans are so passionate. The fact that I’m receiving so much love and seeing so many people excited over a Brazilian writer in a K-pop song makes me really emotional”, she says.


Guerra also hopes there is room for more Brazilians in K-pop — and it might not take long until it happens. Just a few weeks after Guerra's K-pop songwriting debut, Brazilian songwriter Lucas Santos (who writes and produces for Brazilian superstar Luan Santana) was revealed to have co-written a song in the debut album of &TEAM. The group is Japanese, but their label is a subsidiary of the Korean company HYBE (manager of BTS and TXT,) and that alone is a K-pop connection that many songwriters dream of.


While we may expect to see more Brazilians writing for K-pop in the future, can we expect to hear more Brazilian styles in K-pop music as well? It's hard to say, but the possibility itself is fun for Guerra. She even tried toplining a K-pop track with Portuguese lyrics to channel her Brazilian identity into the track.


“It’s been a long time since I haven’t felt so much like myself”, Guerra says about her experience with writing K-pop music. Like her, many foreign songwriters are finding K-pop to be a window to explore their creativity and diversify their portfolio. The interest is mutual: K-pop is also opening itself to more foreign music genres and talents. As all these worlds collide, the future is bound to sound as diverse and experimental as ever.



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This content is published for informational and entertainment purposes and does not constitute promotion of any of the companies or artists here mentioned.

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