Even if you’re not familiar with who Sam Kim is, you’ve probably heard of him plenty of times before – or at least, heard his songs through your favourite Korean dramas. Making his official debut in 2016 with the six-track EP ‘I Am Sam’, Kim first came to prominence three years prior, after he came in second place on the third season of the reality TV singing competition K-pop Star.
Yet, almost six years since his big break, the Korean-American singer-songwriter has relatively laid low – in 2018 he released his first full-length album ‘Sun And Moon’, with a handful of singles and collaborations sprinkled in between.
But Kim’s niche seems to be in songwriting, composing and original soundtracks (OSTs). When the 23-year-old isn’t producing or penning lyrics for his peers like IU, or most recently GRAY, Kim lends his soulful voice to notable Korean dramas, which have included the likes of Guardian: The Lonely And Great God (Goblin), Search: WWW and 2020’s megahit It’s Okay Not To Be Okay.
His latest OST contribution is ‘Love Me Like That’ for the popular JTBC original series Nevertheless. Dubbed as a “hyper realistic romance”, the show stars Song Kang and Han Sohee as Park Jaeon and Yoo Na-bi, a pair of college students learning to navigate the complicated web of adult relationships.
Kim’s confessional acoustic ballad, which has been woven into each episode, has also struck a chord with its viewers: since its official release at the end of July, ‘Love Me Like That’ has amassed 11million streams on Spotify alone, with dozens of fan covers on YouTube and TikTok.
Ahead of Nevertheless’ final episode out tomorrow (August 21), NME catches up with Kim to discuss the unexpected success of his latest song, his most recent collaboration with Akdong Musician (AKMU), and how he thinks the ending of the K-drama should turn out.
‘Love Me Like That’ is a major highlight of each episode in Nevertheless. Did you ever expect the soundtrack to become such a viral hit?
Sam Kim: “Not at all, actually. I wrote this song years ago, roughly three years ago maybe? And at that time I remember just kind of going with the flow and writing it, and I never imagined that it would come to be an OST to such an interesting drama, to say the least [laughs].”
Can you tell us how you came to write the song?
“Artists do something called song camps, where an artist meets another artist, or an artist meets a producer. And for that day, or however long you guys chose to be together, you guys write a song from scratch. That day, particularly, I don’t know, maybe I was feeling a little unloved or maybe I was feeling a little bit insecure. Or just having one of those days where I wanted a hug [laughs].
“But anyways, I remember feeling just kind of down and blue, and I wanted some love. So I started singing and playing the guitar, and the song just came out.”
What is the real story that you wanted to tell with it?
“I wanted to portray how I felt when I’m in a relationship and how I feel, and I’m sure a lot of other people feel insecurities and they want to feel loved by their partner and stuff like that.
“I think at that time that’s what I wanted to say the most [was], ‘Can you love me the way that I want to be loved?’. Because I do get insecure, I am fragile, I break easily. ‘Please take care of me’ is the main message.”
One thing you’re best known for is the beautiful soundtracks that you’ve contributed to popular K-dramas like Guardian: The Lonely And Great God and It’s Okay Not To Be Okay. Among those songs you’ve put out so far, which one is your favourite and why?
“Honestly, I would have to pick ‘Love Me Like That’ only because it’s one of the only songs that I actually wrote myself. It’s an original track – that makes me like it the most.
“I mean, I’m thankful for all of them. Dokkaebi (Goblin) introduced the name Sam Kim to more people. And ‘Breath’ from It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, that’s just a really fun song to sing. But yeah, obviously my favourite has to be the one that I wrote.”
Other than soundtracks, you’ve also been working hard on your own solo releases. When can we expect a follow-up to 2018’s ‘Sun And Moon’?
“I’m thinking… Well I want to release a single before the year ends.”
Also, you recently teamed up with Lee Chan-hyuk and Lee Su-hyun of AKMU on their collaborative EP ‘Next Episode’. What was it like working together on the song ‘EVEREST’?
“I had so much fun. Well, when Chan-hyuk hyung [older brother] first called me to ask if I wanted to sing the song, I was very nervous. I think because, you know, Chan-hyuk hyung is such a recognised and famous singer-songwriter producer. I wanted to impress them, obviously. I wanted to look good in front of them. I think that’s what caused the nerves but, you know, once I got into the studio with him, he treated me so well. He was like, ‘Dude, you’re doing amazing’.
“It was a lot of fun, and to shoot the music video with Su-hyun too was fun. [Su-hyun and I] love to talk about a lot of little life things. It was like seeing my little sister that I haven’t seen in a while, so it was great.”
Lastly, fans of Nevertheless have been divided about the show’s imminent ending. If you had to choose who Nabi should end up with, whose side are you on: Team Jaeon, Team Do-hyuk or Team no one?
“[In Korean] Neither of them are good. [laughs] I think, Nabi should drop both of them and go into a mountain and meditate for a little bit before choosing a man.
“Because for one, Jaeon is a walking red flag. And Do-hyuk, potato boy, he’s nice but a little too nice. So he needs to calm down a little bit. She, you know what? No, no, she needs to… She needs to chill [laughs].”
Sam Kim’s ‘Love Me Like That’ is out now. Nevertheless is now streaming on Netflix.