Exclusive Interview With Songwriter Melanie Fontana: From Justin Bieber To BTS, She’s Done It All
Born in Newington, Connecticut, USA on October 3rd, 1986, Melanie Joy Fontana is an incredibly brilliant songwriter who has contributed much to not just the US pop music scene but also to the K-Pop industry as well.
Having written music for a handful of world famous artists including Justin Bieber (Home This Christmas), Girls’ Generation (Stay Girls), f(x) (Boom, Bang, Boom), I.O.I (Crush), AOA (Cherry Pop), Britney Spears (Mood Ring), The Chainsmokers (Setting Fire), and BTS (Euphoria), she has definitely built an admirable reputation for herself as one of this generation’s most sought after songwriter.
And despite her enormous success as an industry professional and artist, she is ever so down-to-earth, humble, hard-working, and continues to exhibit a natural finesse in her craft.
Exclusive Interview With Melanie Fontana
How did you first get into songwriting?
“I remember I was 5 when my music teacher pulled me aside after class and asked me to sing at an event outside of school. I loved that my teacher saw something special in me, because while my parents knew how much I loved to sing, I don’t know if they would’ve taken the initiative the way he did. Fast forward through the next decade of vocal lessons and theater work to me at age 17 when I begged my family to help me move to NYC. I’d completed high school pretty early through a homeschool program, so for all my hard work, they happily obliged. I think my mom and dad believed in me then much more than I did!
I spent about 10 years plowing away at music and performing live-gigs in NYC. During this timeframe, I worked my way into Sony Studios on the west side through their studio manager Tony Drootin. I’d go into the studio weekly, sometimes daily to do odd jobs for them like recording demos or picking up random items for artists. While living in NYC, I ran into a majorly successful producer who was based in LA; we actually met online! After a lot of research and a bit of deliberation, I decided it was worth giving our business relationship a go. I blindly packed up my bags and moved to LA. While this whole particular situation crashed and burned, less than a year later I managed to use the connections and friendships I built during the time I worked with this super-producer to connect me to bigger and better musical collabs. And here we sit. ”
What are three main differences between kpop and us pop based on your experience?
“1. K-Pop is unafraid! I feel like American-based pop music is sometimes trying to be cool, whereas Kpop isn’t self-conscious.
2. K-Pop lends itself to being more happy sounding than most US-based pop music.
3. K-Pop is much more visually experimental when it comes to music videos, whereas it seems an American pop artist sticks to the tried and true.”
Why do you think K-Pop is so big in the US at the moment?
“It’s just one of those things: it’s SO bright, loud and vividly viral. When you see something so exciting, like the music video Psy made a few years ago for “Gangnam Style,” you can’t help but share it, tweet it and talk about it amongst peers.”
If you could write a song for any K-Pop group right now which group would it be and why?
“Right now ‘TWICE’ is on fire! I’ve yet to write for YG artists and I’d love to add working with them and their wonderful team to my roster.”
A hit song sung in English (ex: Shape Of You), may sound awkward if sung in Korean. In your opinion, what would be one way of overcoming this obstacle?
“Korean, to me, is such a great sounding percussive language. I was told once by a Korean A&R to make sure when writing for his K-Pop artists, that my English lyrics contain a lot of rhythm, so that the translating lyricist would have enough to work with when he or she adapts the song. I actually think “Shape Of You” would sound awesome if it got re-interpreted into Korean!”
You write songs, both pop and K-Pop, what is the hardest part about making K-Pop music?
“I think the singing part of K-Pop is much more intense. When I write American music, I find that I get the most response from when my delivery is a bit lazy and my harmonies are less prominent. In American pop music, the vocals are ‘talky,’ whereas K-Pop music is HIGHLY intense to sing. There are boatloads of harmonies, stacks and adlibs. Most Kpop music is just bigger.”
If you could create an idol group, what kind of idol group would you create?
“I’d love to create a super group that has the rap swag of CL and the vocal chops of someone as brilliant as Hyolyn featuring the color palette of the Chinese-Australian YouTuber Wengie.”
Which artists or songwriters are your biggest influence and inspiration?
“Growing up, I adored the artist Robyn (and I still do!). She drew the blueprint for Britney Spears career. I eventually latched onto artists like Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, 98º, BSB, NSYNC & 5IVE. Even back when I was a pre-teen, I actually found that the producers of the songs I loved were more intriguing to me. I worshipped writers like Diane Warren and Ester Dean. I was always blown away by anyone at the Max Martin camp.”
Which K-Pop group do you feel is underrated?
Where is f(x) these days!? I miss them!!! I wrote a song for them called “Boom Bang Boom” and was SO proud of that tune.
If you had to pick one song that was most difficult to write, which one would it be and why?
Funny enough: if I have to fight too hard through a songwriting session or argue with a co-writer, the song usually turns out pretty sh*%ty. Most songs I’ve written that’ve come out and gained success have been easy for me to create. I write best when I feel free to just blab out thoughts and feelings. I will admit: the process of getting “Mood Ring” onto Britney Spears’ “Glory” made me sweat. First it was slated as a single, then I heard it was kicked out by “Make Me Ooh” featuring G-Eazy, then I heard it was going to be an album track, then I got wind her A&R threw it off the project completely. At that moment, I laid in bed with my disappointment and cried for hours. About a week after that, I heard it was back on the project. PHEW.
Which K-Pop group and which us artist would you like to see collaborate?
I’d love to see more cross-genre east/west collabs. I want to hear Ariana Grande collab with Hyolyn. I’d love to see The Chainsmokers do a song with BTS. I’d love to write both of these hypothetical songs, by the way.
If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing instead?
Yuck. What a terrible thought!! Well, I can’t lie, I actually always toyed with the idea of being a personal trainer. I even got ACE certified back several years ago.
What is the best and worst part of being a songwriter?
The best part of being a songwriter is being able to speak to people’s hearts without making them feel awkward; when an artist sings something that touches a person’s spirit, it’s like spilling their secrets out loud and no one has to know it’s theirs! I really like the fact I can be someone’s diary entry; a release of emotion. The absolute worst part of songwriting is the politics. For instance: when a particular writer “gets hot” or has a streak of successful songs, sometimes the higher-ups at labels or management firms would just rather take a throwaway song from a “hot writer” than an INCREDIBLE masterpiece from someone who maybe doesn’t have as much PR. That’s literally the definition of how crappy songs get on the radio.
Who is your favorite K-Pop idol? And why?
It’s SO hard to choose because I’ve had beautiful music come out with several different idols. That’s like asking a mom to pick a favorite kid!
Would your advice to an aspiring pop songwriter be the same to an aspiring K-Pop songwriter? If so or if not, why?
YES. I’d tell both to work hard and tirelessly. Even if you’ve slept 2 hours, pretend you’ve had a full 8. LISTEN TO AND TAKE THE ADVICE OF people who have done more than you. Gaining the respect of the people who place your music with these amazing artists is often times more important than your talent.