K-Pop star AleXa and Kuwaiti-Saudi artist Bader Al Shuaibi
K-Pop star AleXa and Kuwaiti-Saudi artist Bader Al Shuaibi Image Credit: Spotify

The Korean wave — known as the Hallyu wave — is nothing new to the Middle East. K-Pop artists such as BTS, Exo, Seventeen and Momoland have been welcomed with open arms in the region, while K-Pop is one of the most streamed genres here.

In a collaboration that reflects this thriving trend, Kuwaiti-Saudi artist Bader Al Shuaibi and Korean pop singer AleXa have collaborated on a uniquely blended track that released on May 21. ‘Is It On’ has been made as part of Spotify’s RADAR programme, which aims to offer support to global emerging artists by offering them resources and expanded reach.

In an interview with Gulf News, Al Shuaibi and AleXa spoke about the track, their love for K-Pop and which other international acts they’d love to work with.

What does it feel like to be part of a project with Spotify, which has such major reach?

Bader Al Shuaibi: It’s an amazing experience. It has been a dream of mine to break the cycle of my style and get out of my comfort zone to create something with an international artist. It’s really cool.

AleXa: It’s a tremendous honour to be a part of something as big as RADAR. Truly a blessing and a wonderful opportunity to be able to collaborate on such a large-scale project.

How has the programme helped you and what do you hope it can do for other artists?

Al Shuaibi: RADAR is connecting the world by creating fusion cross cultural content which is an important part of bringing people together. One race, one planet with RADAR.

AleXa: RADAR has given me the wonderful opportunity to expand my reach as an upcoming artist. I believe that other new artists have the potential to grow their fanbase and further their exposure, globally, through RADAR.

Were you familiar with K-Pop music before this collaboration? What were your first impressions of the genre?

Al Shuaibi: Three years ago, I noticed how the fan base of K-Pop artists like BTS is growing in our region. I got obsessed with it. I wanted to know more about how a group of artists out of the States and Europe expanded their listeners to the world. Then I became a fan.

Were you familiar with Khaleeji/Arabic music before this collaboration?

AleXa: I wasn’t familiar with many artists or songs, but after this collaboration, I’ve looked into the genre and discovered some incredibly talented artists! Arabic is a beautiful language to listen to.

What was it like working on this song?

Al Shuaibi: Because of the pandemic, things were pushed and changed a couple of times which helped me to develop my creative process and try something new — which is singing in a fast flow aka rapping. It was fun and interesting.

AleXa: It was a fun process. Hearing my side of the track for the first time was incredible, and then hearing it mixed with Bader’s work was absolutely amazing. It’s a sonically interesting track to listen to.

What can listeners expect from the track?

Al Shuaibi: Nothing is predictable. It goes up and down and moves you in the right ways.

AleXa: Listeners can expect a blend of cultures — we have lyrics in Arabic, English and Korean. It’s a diverse track in its musicality.

The lines between countries and genres are now blurring. What are your favourite international styles of music?

Al Shuaibi: I don’t have a certain style of music. I’ve tried everything in my last two albums but the closest to my heart is the diversity and the creative output of Egyptian artists such as our Arabic legend Amr Diab.

AleXa: I’m personally a huge fan of Latin music, but after releasing this song, I’m slowly falling down the rabbit hole of Khaleeji music.

Are there any other international artists you’d like to work with?

Al Shuaibi: The Weeknd, Post Malone and Billie Eilish.

AleXa: I’d personally love to work with Anitta, Ashnikko, Pabllo Vittar, and several other artists.

How would you convince someone who is wary of K-Pop to check out the song?

Al Shuaibi: Music is like food. You can’t force it on people. All I can say is listen to it once and it will be on repeat.

AleXa: While K-Pop might not be your cup of tea, this song is truly a multicultural experience. It’s not just K-Pop, it’s not just Khaleeji music, and it’s not just your typical western pop song. There are some lyrics in Korean, but don’t let that distract you from the musical journey this song can take you on!

The rise of K-Pop has been immense. What is the future of the genre, in your opinion?

AleXa: With the ever-growing popularity of the Hallyu Wave abroad, I see K-Pop as a genre that will continue to grow and explore many more different facets of sound, visuals and experimentalism.