Sometimes, there’s a successful song—it’ll sell a lot of copies and rack up a good amount of streams, it’ll find its way onto the radio, it might chart or even reach No. 1 if it’s lucky. But other times, there’s a song that’s so successful that its entry onto the scene becomes a momentous occasion unto itself, ushering in a paradigm shift in the music industry’s landscape. BTS’ mega-hit “Butter” definitely falls into the coveted latter category.
Videos by American Songwriter
Released on May 21, 2021, the song instantly became a record-breaking success—on its first day, it earned the most streams within 24 hours of any song in Spotify history, racking up over 11 million listens. Likewise, it became the biggest premiere in YouTube history, bringing in over 108 million views in over 24 hours. In fact, when it debuted on YouTube, it reached over 10 million views within 13 minutes, and 100 million views within 21 hours, which are both records too—in total, the song’s premiere garnered them five Guinness World Records.
And after its premiere, the success kept going—it became the longest-running No. 1 debut in Hot 100 history. As of the writing of this article in November, it’s still No. 25 on the global 200.
Yet, the massively successful single had humble origins, as one of its writers, Jenna Andrews, explains to American Songwriter.
Originally connecting with BTS as the vocal producer on their first English song, “Dynamite”—which held a lot of the same records “Butter” broke—Andrews had become uber-familiar with the style and vibe of the K-Pop icons. So, when she got a new song idea in her inbox from Rob Grimaldi, her brain instantly lit up with ideas.
“Rob sent me the song and I immediately was like, ‘This would be amazing for BTS!’” Andrews explains. “I heard the hook and was like ‘This is it!’ We showed it to Ron Perry [one of the song’s other co-writers] and he totally agreed.”
From there, the team knew they were onto something, but they wanted to hone in the lyrical ideas to make sure that it was the strongest song it could be… when you’re working with a group like BTS, you want nothing shy of the best.
“A lot of what you hear on the track now was what it was in the original demo, but we knew we wanted to get the lyrics dialed in just right,” Andrews says. “We would log onto Zoom sessions and try to come up with the perfect lyrics for the song—it was really amazing to be able to push and challenge each other to come up with the best thing we possibly could. Everybody was really good about it, it was an amazing combination of people. That’s what’s so nice about working with BTS—they’re so open, and I love that. They really appreciated all of our notes and we really appreciated theirs, it was just good synergy.”
With that collaborative spirit in the air, the Golden Ticket idea came one day when Ron suggested that the song have a fun feel a la Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”
“That made me think ‘Smooth like butter, like a criminal undercover,’” Andrews says. “That was the moment we knew we had something special—from there, we followed the idea and did around 20 different rewrites until we really got into the zone. At that point, we started sending it back and forth with the boys and RM had all these great ideas for the rap. Then, we added in all the references to Michael Jackson and Usher and Justin Timberlake and things like that to make it so that it would appeal to Gen Z and older audiences.”
With great ideas firing off left and right, the team worked around the clock across multiple time zones, striving for perfection… and, eventually, they found it. “After about 50 rewrites in total, we got the version that everyone knows and loves.”
Ooh, when I look in the mirror / I’ll melt your heart into two / I got that superstar glow, so
Ooh (do the boogie, like) Side step, right-left, to my beat / High like the moon, rock with me, baby / Know that I got that heat / Let me show you ’cause talk is cheap / Side step, right-left, to my beat / Get it, let it roll,” they sing in the chorus.
Reprising her role assisting with vocal production, the final recording of “Butter” was made and, before too long, it debuted into the world, earning all those aforementioned records and accolades. While the team obviously had that level of success in mind, Andrews is still in awe of the whirlwind journey the creative endeavor has been… and with the song still on the charts, its journey is still far from over.
“You can dream or hope for those types of things, but when you see, like, ‘10-week No. 1 hit’ and you realize that you have the biggest song of 2021, it doesn’t stop being surreal,” Andrews says. “We’re so grateful for it.”
Watch the music video for BTS’ “Butter” below:
Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions