The Canadian songwriter talked about the inspiration behind the Michael Jackson references in the song
BTS recently topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the fourth time in their career with “Butter.” Produced by Ron Perry, Rob Grimaldi, and Stephen Kirk, the song wouldn’t have been possible without the songwriting contributions of Jenna Andrews.
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and raised in Calgary, Andrews taught herself to play the piano when she was five-years-old. Her childhood was filled with choir and dance practices and touring with a performance arts group. As a kid, she starred in stage shows with Sesame Street Canada and later lent her voice to Raspberry Jazzberry Jam, an animated kids’ TV show for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Her life changed when she released the song “The One I Adore.” The song was based on her experience as a teenager in Vancouver one Christmas, where she was “so broke [she] didn’t even have the gas money to drive to see [her] parents.” She would pull over on the side of the road that day and pour her feelings into a song dedicated to them. She posted the song on MySpace and she was discovered by manager Chris Smith, whose roster includes Nelly Furtado and Alessia Cara. He would introduce her to L.A. Reid, who subsequently signed her to a record deal with Island Def Jam in 2008 and kicked off her music career.
Since then, she’s helped write songs for Drake (“You & the 6”), BANKS (“Mind Games”), and BENEE (“Supalonely”). Genius caught up with Jenna Andrews over the phone to talk about how she came to co-write and vocal produce BTS’ “Butter.”Jenna Andrews: I co-wrote “Supalonely” with Benee and Gus Dapperton, which really took off at the beginning of quarantine. The success of that song prompted [BTS’ label] HYBE’s A&R team to reach out to me for a possible collaboration. Initially, the inquiry was about writing for their junior boy band, TXT. The HYBE team and I developed an incredible working relationship through that.[Columbia Records CEO] Ron Perry reached out to me at basically the 11th hour to ask me to assist on vocal production for “Dynamite.” I honestly just felt very grateful, it was a huge compliment and honor to be asked by BTS, HYBE, [producer] David Stewart, and Columbia to vocal produce the track. The boys delivered a world-class performance like they always do, and with the help of ARMY, well, everybody knows how it performed.
Work started on “Butter” as far back as February 2020. We did a crazy amount of rewrites, as many as 50, because we wanted to make sure every single detail was absolutely perfect. We couldn’t have had better partners in BTS/HYBE because of their patience and a similar commitment to perfection.
Initially, I was involved mainly in a publisher/A&R executive role. The original demo came from a session between songwriter Stephen Kirk, producer Rob Grimaldi, and producer Sebastian Garcia. Stephen wrote the initial chorus melody and lyrics and Rob, who is signed to me and [Founder of RECORDS] Barry Weiss under our 27 Publishing venture with Sony, sent the session over to me for feedback.
Something about the melody just stuck with me and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I knew it was going to be something big. Unfortunately, many I played it for brushed it off until it got to Ron Perry. He was the one who really threw his weight behind it and pushed for me to get back in the studio and do a rewrite to get the rest of the song on par with that melody. Stephen Kirk, Rob, Ron, songwriter Alex Bilowitz, and I went to work and we came out with the first demo for “Butter.”
Ron Perry has the rare co-production credit on this song as the CEO of Columbia Records. Can you speak on his contributions?
Something people don’t really know about Ron, and I think sometimes he doesn’t receive enough credit for, is his background as an artist and musician before becoming an executive. He’s like those old school A&R executives, Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre, etc., who could make all the business deals and still run with the best of them in the studio. That plays heavily into his work and business strategy today.
Aside from being the biggest supporter of the original demo for “Butter,” he actually was the one who suggested trying a Michael Jackson “Smooth Criminal” concept and vibe for the song. I freestyled “Smooth like butter/Like a criminal undercover” as soon as he said that and we knew we had a concept to run with from there. Ron also came up with the melody for the talkbox sections and directly contributed to several lines such as “I got that superstar glow” in the pre-chorus. His close relationship with HYBE was evident in his feedback so his presence gave us a lot of confidence while writing.
What inspired all the nostalgic references in “Butter”?
As soon as Ron said “Michael Jackson vibe” all these lyrical ‘90s references like “Man In The Mirror,” “Rock With You,” “Trouble,” etc. became super intentional. Our goal was to hit that sweet spot for the retro sound where millennials and older would know everything by heart and Gen Z would get the vibe but might not know some of the smaller details.
What was collaborating with BTS’ group leader/executive producer RM like?
RM really doesn’t get enough credit for his world-class executive production talent. Many who aren’t ARMY tend to forget or don’t know, that on top of being an artist and performer, he’s been behind the scenes helming the sound of the biggest group in the world. A role that many across the world get cushy salaries for without the heavy burden of an artist schedule.