Korean artist MIDNATT made history earlier this year by using AI to help him translate his debut single “Masquerade” into six different languages. Though it wasn’t a major commercial success, its seamless execution by the HYBE-owned voice synthesis company Supertone proved there was a new, positive application of musical AI on the horizon that went beyond unauthorized deepfakes and (often disappointing) lo-fi beats.
Enter Jordan “DJ Swivel” Young, a Grammy-winning mixing engineer and producer, known best for his work with Beyonce, BTS and Dua Lipa. His new AI voice company Hooky is one of many new start-ups trying to popularize voice cloning, but unlike much of his competition, Young is still an active and well-known collaborator for today’s musical elite. After connecting with pop star Lauv, whom he worked with briefly years before as an engineer, Young’s Hooky developed an AI voice model of Lauv’s voice so that they could translate the singer-songwriter’s new single “Love U Like That” into Korean.
It’s the first major Western artist to take part in the AI translation trend. Lauv wants the new translated version of “Love U Like That” to be a way of showing his love to his Korean fanbase and to celebrate his biggest headline show to date, which recently took place in Seoul.
Though many fans around the world listen to English-speaking music in high numbers, Will Page, author and former chief economist at Spotify, and Chris Dalla Riva, a musician and Audiomack employee, noted in a recent report that many international audiences are increasingly turning their interest back to their local language music – a trend they nicknamed “Glocalization.” With Hooky, Supertone and other AI voice synthesis companies all working to master translation, English-speaking artists now have the opportunity to participate in this growing movement and to form tighter bonds with international fans.
To explain the creation of “Love U Like That (Korean Version),” out Wednesday (Nov. 8), Lauv and Young spoke in an exclusive interview to Billboard.
When did you first hear what was possible with AI voice filters?
Lauv: I think the first time was that Drake and The Weeknd song [“Heart On My Sleeve” by Ghostwriter]. I thought it was crazy. Then when my friend and I were working on my album, we started playing each other’s music. He pulled out a demo. They were pitching it to Nicki Minaj, and he was singing it and then put it into Nicki Minaj’s voice. I remember thinking it’s so insane this is possible.
Why did you want to get involved with AI voice technology yourself?
Lauv: I truly believe that the only way forward is to embrace what is possible now, no matter what. I think being able to embrace a tool like this in a way that’s beneficial and able to get artists paid is great.
Jordan, how did you get acquainted with Lauv, and why did you feel he was the right artist to mark your first major collaboration?
Jordan “DJ Swivel” Young: We’ve done a lot of general outreach to record companies, managers, etcetera. We met Range Media Partners, Lauv’s management team, and they really resonated with Hooky. The timing was perfect: he was wrapping up his Asian tour and had done the biggest show of his life in South Korea. Plus, he has done a few collaborations with BTS. I’ve worked on a number of BTS songs too. There was a lot of synergy between us.
Why did you choose Korean as the language that you wanted to translate a song into?
Lauv: Well, in the future, I would love to have the opportunity to do this in as many different languages as possible, but Seoul has been a place that has become really close to my heart, and it was the place of my biggest headline show to date. I just wanted to start by doing something special for those Korean fans.
What is the process of actually translating the song?
Young: We received the original audio files for the song “Love U Like That,” and we rewrote the song with former K-Pop idol Kevin Woo. The thing with translating lyrics or poetry is it can’t be a direct translation. You have to make culturally appropriate choices, words that flow well. So Kevin did that and we re-recorded Kevin’s voice singing the translation, then we mixed the song again exactly as the original was done to match it sonically. All the background vocals were at the correct volume and the right reverbs were used. I think we’ve done a good job of matching it. Then we used our AI voice technology to match Lauv’s voice, and we converted Kevin’s Korean version into Lauv’s voice.
Lauv: To help them make the model of my voice, I sent over a bunch of raw vocals that were just me singing in different registers. Then I met up with him and Kevin. It was riveting to hear my voice like that. I gave a couple of notes – very minor things – after hearing the initial version of the translation, and then they went back and modified. I really trusted Jordan and Kevin on how to make this authentic and respectful to Korean culture.
Is there an art to translating lyrics?
Lauv: Totally. When I was listening back to it, that’s what struck me. There’s certain parts that are so pleasing to the ear. I still love hearing the Korean version phonetically as someone from the outside. Certain parts of Kevin’s translation, like certain rhythm schemes, hit me so much harder than hearing it in English actually.
Do you foresee that there will be more opportunities for translators as this space develops?
Young: Absolutely. I call them songwriters more than translators though, actually. They play a huge role. I used to work with Beyonce as an engineer, and I’ve watched her do a couple songs in Spanish. It required a whole new vocal producer, a new team just to pull off those songs. It’s daunting to sing something that’s not your natural language. I even did some Korean background vocals myself on a BTS song I wrote. They provided me with the phonetics, and I can say it was honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever recorded. It’s hard to sing with the right emotion when you’re focused on pronouncing things correctly. But Hooky allows the artist to perform in other languages but with all the emotion that’s expected. Sure, there’s another songwriter doing the Korean performance, but Lauv was there for the whole process. His fingerprint is on it from beginning to end. I think this is the future of how music will be consumed.
I think this could bring more opportunities for the mixing engineers too. When Dolby Atmos came out that offered more chances for mixers, and with the translations, I think there are now even more opportunities. I think it’s empowering the songwriter, the engineer, and the artist all at once. There could even be a new opportunity created for a demo singer, if it’s different from the songwriter who translated the song.
Would you be open to making your voice model that you used for this song available to the public to use?
Lauv: Without thinking it through too much, I think my ideal self is a very open person, and so I feel like I want to say hell yeah. If people have song ideas and want to hear my voice singing their ideas, why not? As long as it’s clear to the world which songs were written and made by me and what was written by someone else using my voice tone. As long as the backend stuff makes sense, I don’t see any reason why not.
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