Meet NewJeans’ Secret Weapon: R&B Songwriter Erika de Casier

You might not have heard of Erika de Casier. But the Portugal-born, Copenhagen-based singer-songwriter helped bring “Super Shy” and “Cool With You” to life on the K-pop group’s Billboard chart-topping new EP, Get Up. And now, she’s poised for a breakout year herself.

Meet NewJeans' Secret Weapon RB Songwriter Erika de Casier

As of press time, the Copenhagen-based singer-songwriter Erika de Casier boasts a relatively modest 38.6k followers on Instagram, 7.78k subscribers on YouTube, and 281,948 monthly listeners on Spotify. But to some of music’s biggest names, de Casier is an IYKYK secret weapon.

Those relatively humble numbers are pulled into focus when you realize who’s listening: In 2020, pop superstar Dua Lipa slid into her DMs, professed her admiration for de Casier’s music, and commissioned a remix of her Future Nostalgia single “Physical.” Last year, over Instagram DMs with Dev Hynes, she was drafted to sing on Blood Orange’s “Relax and Run.”

“I remember I woke up and it was a notification from Dua Lipa,” de Casier remembers, laughing. “I was just like, ‘What is this fake account that wrote me?’”

This year, the 33-year-old is having another surreal moment—this time, as a songwriter drafted in by Hybe’s indie label ADOR for the buzzy K-pop girl group NewJeans. Co-writing four out of six songs on NewJeans’ blockbuster Get Up EP, which sits at No. 1 on the Billboard charts (and includes global smashes like “Super Shy” and “Cool With You”), de Casier has lent her increasingly distinctive sound—unfussy, unhurried, Y2K pop and UK garage-indebted R&B—to a genre that has traditionally leaned on maximalist pop hooks.

De Casier honed that sound over two albums of sexy, skittish, bedroom jams for introverts. And as she prepares to release her just-finished third album (“coming soon,” she says), she seems poised for a breakout moment of her own.

Erika de Casier’s curious trajectory is a case study in pop music’s globalized present. She’s a Portugal-born, Copenhagen-based singer-songwriter of Belgian and Cape Verdean descent, who grew up on a steady diet of US and UK pop and R&B acts like Destiny’s Child, Craig David and Sugababes. Recently, de Casier talked to GQ about writing for NewJeans, the influence of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and the magic of multilingual pop.

GQ: You’ve built quite a following for yourself as an independent act who’s done things on their own terms. How has working with big pop entities like NewJeans and Dua Lipa—and even more established acts like Blood Orange—influenced your work?

Erika de Casier: NewJeans is the first project that I’ve written for that’s not my own. For me, it was really freeing to write for another artist, because it lets you put yourself aside in another way. I think I’ve maybe in the past been afraid that if you write for others, it takes away some of the creativity or something from your own stuff. And that is not true at all, because it actually just makes you more aware of what your style is and what you really want to do.

I just had a lot of fun writing those songs and that’s something I can bring to when I’m making my own music. For me, it develops your creativity in another direction, which then can shed light on how you do your own stuff.

And also, I don’t know, it just takes away the ego. And it takes away the pressure—which is funny, because you would think there would be so much more pressure because it’s for such a big name as NewJeans. When writing for NewJeans, I just felt like, “Well, if they don’t like it, they can always just say no to it.” [Laughs]

How did you end up writing for NewJeans?

So I just got this email from one of their team members that just said like, “Hey, we’re having a session in Copenhagen, we would love to see you there.” And then I was randomly talking to my friends, Catharina [Stoltenberg] and Henriette [Motzfeldt] from [Norwegian electronic pop act] Smerz, and my friend Fine [Glindvad Jensen, a singer-songwriter] and they were like, “Oh, we got that email as well… What? That’s so random.” And then we just decided, okay, let’s all just go there. We met there and wrote one of the songs “ASAP” together, the four of us.

There was these also other producers that we wrote a bunch of songs with like Frankie [Scoca] from New York, Kristine Bogan who lives in Berlin but is from the States, and there was another guy called Monro from the UK. So it was just all these different people and then my best friends.

It’s kind of mind-blowing.

Yeah, because I don’t know how they heard of me. Because on that [massive pop] scale, we’re just so small. And in Copenhagen… Why did they have a session in Copenhagen? It’s so weird! [Laughs] But yeah, I’m so happy about it.

Erika de Casier

Photograph courtesy of Dennis Morton; Collage: Gabe Conte

What I find so interesting about this whole thing is it really shows how global music is now, and that music is really the language of the world. Someone from Korea can hear your music from Copenhagen and see all of these possibilities.

One of the first questions they asked me was, “Do you listen a lot to K-Pop?” And I got so nervous and I had to be honest and said, “No, I haven’t yet explored that genre.” And they’re like, “Good, because we want something new. We want something fresh.” And I’m like, “Okay, okay, okay.”

It’s so interesting that you’re really good friends with some of the other songwriters, because you do hear that camaraderie in the songwriting. It didn’t feel like it was made in a factory, I felt the friendship.

And also they kept the songs exactly how they were, from when we left the studio. They didn’t change anything. I thought they would put it through a machine and make it super extra [smooth] or something. But they didn’t change anything, they didn’t change any melodies. I think that’s why [the camaraderie] comes across. I feel it almost sounds like it’s spontaneous and like playing—you can hear the playfulness. Because it was. It was playtime.

Okay, so I want to ask you about the songs themselves. Let’s talk about “Cool With You” first. I feel like that song sounds like your own work so much. I hear you on that song, even the way they sing that hook. I’m almost curious, is there a demo with you singing it?

Oh, yeah, there is a demo of all the songs of me singing it. [Laughs] So the demos exist, but not for [the public]. [Laughs]

Yes, of course! I’m sure it’s under lock and key somewhere in a basement in Korea. But yes, that hook that goes “Cooh…” [attempts to sing the hook] I’m not going to try to sing it. [Laughs] But that line, that’s a run you do in your own music. How did you guys come up with that hook? Because it’s such an unconventional melody for a pop song. For one, it’s hard to sing.

It was one of the last songs we wrote. And me and Fine, we just had a good playfulness in just shooting ideas. So we were just singing with our phones [recording voice memos] and we were just throwing around ideas. And then we just, I don’t know… how do you make stuff up? You hear the beat and then you just go with it and whatever comes naturally to you, you just sing it.

And I think “Cool With You” just felt right. That melody came out. And I think, for me at least, those R&B, jazzy melodies come very [instinctive]. You don’t even have to think. We just went with it.

I actually didn’t think “Cool With You” was going to make the cut, because it was one of the most spontaneous songs.

The next song I wanted to ask you about is “ASAP,” which almost reminds me of those interludes on TLC or Janet Jackson albums. It’s such a laid back song.

“ASAP” was the very last song [we worked on]. I think [it’s laidback] because it was the end, it was late afternoon and we were sitting chilling. Catharina and Henriette, they were by the computer, and then just made this beat and we just threw some ideas out there.

That was also one of the tracks where we were just throwing stuff around, playing. I think that’s the theme—it’s play with these songs. We were playing so much. It’s not like we [were instructed] like, ‘The lyrics need to be about this or this.’ It’s just do whatever. So it’s just getting a blank canvas and you just throw some color on there.

Also, I just thought that while they had a session in Copenhagen, they must also have one in London, and in New York, and in Seoul… And I just thought it would be a 1% chance [of making the cut] or something. So I think maybe that’s also what made it chill. It was just because we thought that they would never [go for us].

That’s interesting. And it says a lot about how you guys approach music and your career. Because for some people, if they think it’s just a small chance, they put so much pressure on themselves to like, “Oh, it needs to be super engineered to be this pop thing.” But for you guys, it’s like, “Ah, let’s just do our thing because it might not make it anyway, it’s fine.”

For me, it’s always ‘Low stakes is best.’ [Laughs]

I was going to ask you about the song “New Jeans,” which again is very playful. It reminds me of—and I know you grew up on this stuff too—but those turn-of-the-millennium UK garage songs from Artful Dodger and Craig David. I feel a lot of that energy. And then also there’s that OutKast reference. And then even the Powerpuff Girls visual reminds me of when the Sugababes did a Powerpuff Girls video in the early 2000s. How did you guys put together the song “New Jeans”? Because it’s like the mission statement, right?

Yeah, I remember that. I came up with the “new year, new me, NewJeans.” And then I was just looking at Fine. And Fine was like, “That could work.” And then she just went on it and boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.

And then because Fine and I also listened to a lot of [Danish pop duo] S.O.A.P. and Aqua—

Did you say Aqua? Like “Barbie Girl”?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. “Barbie Girl,” Aqua.

Oh, interesting!

Yeah, yeah. There was just this, “na-na, new year, new jeans, you and me,” it was almost call and response, kind of like that stuff you saw in a lot of [‘90s and] 2000s pop music.

When people hear it, they tell me the same [thing as you said], “Oh, you hear some Artful Dodger.” But it’s also just the call and response, which you haven’t heard it in a while. For me, it kind of reminds me of those games that you play when you’re a kid in the courtyard? Like a playful song to bring people together, especially girls with this very…

It’s almost like a playground chant.

Exactly, I think that’s what we were trying to do. Because also, when writing for NewJeans, we knew that they’re young girls, and we had a lot of conversations about how we didn’t want the lyrics to be super explicit, we just wanted it to be for them, because it’s their songs. So that was very important.

Tell me about “Super Shy.” This is a song that’s kind of become like a meme now. I see people online using that for photo captions or whatever. How did you guys come up with that line and with that song?

So that was the first song we co-wrote at the camp, at the writing session. Me and Kristine, we were just going through the lyrics and making sure it made sense. I was just thinking, when I was a teen, what was I thinking about? I was super shy, not wanting to talk to some popular person at school. It was very innocent, the thought behind it!

And again, NewJeans just made it so much their own. And I think that they just have such a talented team that just knew how to present it in the best way possible.

That’s another thing with the lyrics. I thought everything would be translated. I thought, there’s not so much pressure on these lyrics because—of course it has to make sense—but they’re going to be translated. So it was just super spontaneous. Whatever came out, we just were like, “Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s go.”

So, do the Korean lyrics happen after? You guys submit the demo and then they translate?

Yeah. So the [same] melodies but they translate bits to Korean.

You grew up all over the world. How has that influenced the way you’ve seen language in music?

I think it’s changed a lot in recent years. I grew up with so much English music. But also, when I moved to Denmark, I used to listen to a lot of Danish music. And obviously, coming from Portugal, I’ve listened to a lot of Portuguese music, and Cape Verdean music.

And recently I’ve rediscovered writing in Danish again, and really noticing how it’s just a bunch of sounds, how the words sound, like how different languages work. And what I find really interesting is also, especially with Korean, it blends so well with the English bits that you don’t even notice [one language from another] in a way, which I think is magical.

I think it just brings more color to music, the more languages you have in there. Even if you don’t understand—even if I don’t understand the Korean bits in NewJeans’s songs—maybe even more, you become one with the music because you’re not thinking about the words. And it becomes almost like an instrument when you can’t understand.

Erika, I’m so interested in how your career has progressed. You’re in your early 30s now and I feel like a generation or two ago, being in your 30s was death for an R&B star. But for you, it feels like your career is just building, like the best is yet to come.

I don’t think about it that way. I know so many talented artists that are almost 40, and even over 40, even 60.

I think it was [on my mind] when I was younger. I remember turning 20 and having a crisis because I thought, “I’m not a teenager anymore, and I’m old now, and I can never become a musician now because I’m too old!” Because you had this pop idea of Britney Spears, she started when she was 16 or something. And I think that, especially in doing alternative music, there isn’t the same pressure of youth, which I’m really, really grateful for.

I think especially as a woman, [you were told] there was this expiration date where it’s not the same for men. In the ‘80s, ‘90s, [you see] a bunch of middle-aged older men that had loads of success in the music industry.

I think definitely something here’s changing. I think people like to follow artists throughout their whole musical career. It’s not like, “Oh, you’re older now, so I’m not going to…” Because the people that grow up with the music, they also get older. And I think it’s just a beautiful thing that there is room for it now and room for both. I think it just gives perspective.

Speaking of perspective, you’re in your 30s writing for the New Jeans girls… Just the fact that you said that you guys wanted to make sure that these songs were for young girls and the themes weren’t too mature, I feel like that’s you watching out for these younger girls.

Definitely, yeah. Also what we know now from how younger artists were treated in the ‘90s and beginning of the 2000s, how Britney Spears was treated, and even Justin Bieber more recently… There are some things that just weren’t right. And I think with that knowledge, we could create a more safe space for the new artists today, which I think is really cool.

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