Chances are you’ve heard Bleu’s music whether you were aware of it or not. Bleu is an award winning songwriter, producer, composer, and recording artist. He has had songs released with Gold and Platinum selling acts such as Demi Lovato, Big Freedia, Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, various K-Pop idols, amongst many other celebrated artists. Once signed to Columbia Records, he released five studio albums, various cult side projects, and now often works directly with some of the biggest labels, film/TV studios, and show runners in the industry. His songs have been featured on shows such as Shameless,The Good Place, and Wizards of Waverly Place. His music has also been featured in acclaimed movies such as Spider-Man and Tinkerbell and the Legends of the Never Beast as well as in commercials for companies like eBay, BOSE, and EA Sports. Brown Interviews’s Evan Stein sat down with Bleu to talk about K-pop, crowdfunding, and artistic fulfillment.
Evan Stein: With the rise to cultural dominance that K-pop has had over the past few decades, many Americans have been left wondering what is so different and special about the pop music coming from Korea. Can you provide some insight on that? Do you approach writing for K-pop idols differently than you do American artists?
Bleu: First of all, great question. You hear a lot of the same questions over and over again and I have absolutely never been asked that or anything even kind of like that. I think it’s a really cool question! If I’m writing specifically for K-pop, I’ll approach it differently but several of the K-pop cuts I’ve had were not songs I originally wrote for the K-pop market. They usually have to be messed with in order to fit the K-pop market.
I just finished working on a K-pop song that looks like it’ll get released. It wasn’t a song I originally wrote for the K-pop market but they liked it! The things that I had to change about it to get it ready for this particular artist were quite significant. The K-pop world, in general, likes a lot of variety. Both stylistically and within the arrangement of a song, they expect a lot more of it than we expect in America. They want to go on a ride within each song. They want you to always be excited or surprised.
That’s one of the coolest things about K-pop. It might go into a bridge that is totally different than the rest of the song. Then after that there’s a rap section that is also not like any other part of the song. Then you get to the last chorus and there’s an entirely different hook under the original one. Those are all some very specific things I had to do for this particular song I just finished working on but it represents that industry as a whole. This new cut I worked on had the craziest A&R notes I’ve ever seen in my entire career. In that way, I think there’s a sense of fun to it. Most K-Pop songs are little roller coasters.
So it’s that sort of playful ridiculousness that gives the genre so much appeal?
In that market, it isn’t ridiculous. It’s expected! It’s almost like they want to get their money’s worth in every song.
For your fourth album, Four, you crowdfunded the entire project and departed from your old label. What specific roadblocks accompany crowdfunding an album rather than seeking label support? With the ever-growing irritation amongst musicians over streaming royalties, do you see a future in platforms such as Patreon and even Onlyfans for funding music projects?
There is a continued future but I think it’s going to morph. In terms of what the challenges are, they are numerous. The main problem is that you have to do everything yourself. Establishing a fan base is much more difficult than interfacing with a pre-existing fanbase. That’s what I was doing. I already had fans. If I had to establish an audience from scratch on one of those platforms, that would be extremely challenging. I think the skillset required is very different than when I was coming up as a musician. What you had to do to be successful was very very different than what you have to do now. I think it can be difficult for people to transition in that sense.
Think back to the old classical composers. Sometimes they were creating small works, if that was what was needed, and other times they were crafting incredible symphonies. You just have to follow what the people want. The people, as a single entity, will be supporting what they find the most interest in. That may be live performances, jams, demos, singles, or albums. It’s about being cognizant of what’s going on.
Your music has been featured by many companies such as BOSE, EA Sports, and eBay as well as in multiple shows such as The Good Place and Shameless. How do you view those two separate types of projects? Is an artistic use of your music for soundtracking more meaningful to you than your music being used to aid selling a product?
I’m happy with whatever attention can be brought to my music. Generally, I try my best to keep the quality at a threshold where if it’s out there, I can be proud of it. However one of my songs is used, it is given a platform and that is always a plus. Now, I’ve never had one of my songs featured in a product or company that I don’t support. The Republican National Convention has never come to me asking to use one of my songs. I’ve never been asked to make a song for a Viagra commercial. If I had to make decisions like that, my work might be a bit harder but I’ve never personally been approached by something like that. If it’s eBay or The Good Place, I’m happy. Why wouldn’t I be?
Is it fulfilling to see your art enrich art of a different medium? Is your song being used at an emotive moment in a show like Shameless something special to you?
It depends on the use. When it comes to something like Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Never Beast, I am writing specifically for the movie. I’m collaborating with the writers and the directors to help tell a story. That has its own very specific, cool reward. In that case, I am very proud of the music I have made.
In the case of Shameless, I didn’t write that song specifically for the show. I appreciate the novelty of it though. I try to appreciate it for what it is and remember it’s a collaboration between my song and the other creators. If you go in with that attitude, it’s impossible to be disappointed.
Do you have a different process for two shows of very different tones, such as Shameless vs The Ghost and Molly McGee?
The variety is the whole point to me. I love the fun upbeat songs and I love the more serious, introspective songs. I love working in different genres. I love working on cuts with Big Freedia as well as Demi Lovato. The fun is being able to do a lot of other things.
You’ve written songs with Boys Like Girls, a classic pop punk band. Your song “I won’t apologize” with Selena Gomez, to me, sounds like a pop punk song and as you’ve said, “No one calls it rock and roll anymore.” How would you define your relationship with the rock scene?
I like where rock music is at right now. A lot of people would call a lot of rock today pop but I’m okay with that. I like that! I like really poppy rock. Don’t get me wrong, I still like Metallica and a lot of heavier stuff. I also really like pure pop but poppy rock is my sweet spot. I hope that I’ll have more chances to work in the rock sphere. I still love it and I think there’s a lot of really exciting things going on there.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview! Are there any final words or shoutouts you’d like to throw out before we finish up?
Everyone check out “A Crazy Life” which is featured on the Now That’s What I Call Music: Volume 80 compilation. Same compilation as Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, and Olivia Rodrigo. Check that out! Check out the newer, smaller artists sitting at the end. Check out the music video. We’re really proud of it. It’s weird and wonderful.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.