How do you follow an all-conquering, Grammy-nominated hit like BTS’ “Dynamite”? By strategically crafting an even bigger one. That was the goal a group of songwriters and producers set for “Butter.” And, remarkably, they achieved it. The K-pop group’s second English-language single, Variety’s Hitmakers Record of the Year, broke YouTube and Spotify marks during its 10-week reign at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Butter” was recorded at the start of 2021. But the song’s journey began three years earlier when Stephen Kirk penned a banger called “Down to a Tee.” Hibernating on his computer, it came to mind when songwriter-producer Rob Grimaldi reached out in search of material for BTS. That song would provide the bones for “Butter.” “We ended up making a lot of changes, but the melody is pretty much identical,” Kirk says.
Grimaldi saw massive potential in the demo. “When you’re dealing with global superstars, you want to give them a record that completely aligns with who they are, both as a brand and as artists,” he says. “We wanted to create something super up-tempo and danceable that would be able to show off each of their strengths.” Having found a solid starting point, Grimaldi looped in fellow songwriter Jenna Andrews.
“Stephen and Rob sent me the demo in February,” Andrews remembers. “I thought the melody was incredible for BTS.”
Andrews played it for Ron Perry, Columbia Records’ chairman and CEO. The label’s chief executive, who is credited as a writer and producer on the track, encouraged the collaborators to refine the lyrics, a process that would take three months. “Ron wanted something like Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal,’” she says. “I came up with, ‘Smooth like butter, like a criminal undercover,’ and everything started to fall into place from there.”
The hitmakers knew they had to craft an absolutely undeniable record. “For two minutes and 44 seconds, we wanted you to be completely invested,” Grimaldi says. While the songwriters and producers were committed to making “Butter” a perfect pop song, they still needed to win over BTS. It turned out to be a fait accompli. Once the seven-member troupe heard the demo, they were in — and the long-distance recording sessions began.
“BTS was absolutely instrumental,” Kirk says of the supergroup’s input. “They knew what they did and didn’t want to say.” RM was particularly involved, co-writing his rap with Andrews over WhatsApp from Seoul. “I’d wake up to an idea RM had sent,” she says. “Then we would just communicate back and forth.” The K-pop outfit’s vocals were recorded the same way. Despite the time and geographic difference, Andrews describes the process as “surprisingly smooth.”
“The song ‘Butter’ holds a special place in our heart,” BTS tells Variety. “We shared the song with everyone in hopes of lifting spirits, and the energy and excitement from all those that enjoyed the song across the world, in turn, helped us move forward as well.”
Now that “Butter” has logged more than 650 million streams on Spotify, the superstars have a message for those who supported it, including their group of devoted superfans: “We are incredibly glad and grateful that the spirit of the song resonated with many, and we feel we owe everyone who listened to the song (and of course, ARMY) a celebration over all that ‘Butter’ has achieved.”