It finally feels like summer now. Everything feels sunny and refreshing after giving this record that’s just shy of three minutes a spin. BTS’s “Butter” is a song for the kind of summer that seems to have been wiped off the face of the planet after 2019. Contrary to the title, there’s hardly anything greasy(?) about the song; it’s more like a fizzy drink: sweet, satisfying and cool, with the top about to pop off. Continuing on from their song “Dynamite,” the influence of old pop songs, especially disco, is found all throughout. That’s true right away, starting with the beat, a four-on-the-floor dance rhythm clocking in at the brisk walking pace of 110 BPM (for comparison, “Dynamite” was 115 BPM). However, it’s not straight disco the way “Dynamite” was. It’s a refreshing summer party track armed with familiar features and enough variety to fit the vibe with 2021.
BTS have already teamed up with “Butter” principal songwriter Jenna Andrews once before, following her vocal production work on the group’s remix of “Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat).” The vocal performance is unquestionably tighter here than on “Dynamite.” Even when singing the same melody, each member brings it to life with their own unique take: Jimin draws you in by lightly elevating the last note, while Jung Kook gives it his all with a vocal fry at the end, dramatically boosting the song’s drive at the same part. The various approaches keep the dynamics of the entire song interesting. But it doesn’t stop there: Their diction hits the beat perfectly and the choice of tones that suit each vocal range just right really stands out, too.
The pre-chorus in old pop songs usually builds up slowly over eight bars, but when Jin sings the pre-chorus in “Butter” (“Oh when I look in the mirror …”) it’s only four bars long. Right after Jin’s soft singing, RM shouts out, “Do the boogie like,” and with that, he snatches the energy back and the song breaks into refreshing, festival-like EDM. The chorus busts out a cool, clear, and scratchy synth and the words, “Side step right left to my beat / High like the moon, rock with me.” Everything is layered to make a fuller sound so that it contrasts with the previous section. The deep, thumping bass drum, the instruments that continuously rise and fall to leave no space unfilled, and the irresistible pop melody resonating overtop of the music make up the core of “Butter.” The lyrics completely reflect the dance moves in words. When you listen to the song, you feel a desire to dance rise in your body the same as it does for BTS. As I said, it’s exactly like a fizzy drink—a refreshing sensation that tingles the second it reaches your ears.
Listening to the first verse, you’ll hear Jung Kook sing, “Smooth like butter / Like a criminal undercover,” using a scale that makes a fun descent from a B♭. This is called the mixolydian scale. While the commonly heard major scale sounds bright and simple, the mixolydian scale—just a single half-note down (flat) from the major scale—is similar to its major cousin but gives off a chic impression and not quite as bright and innocent. Though this musical mode was mainly popular with rock bands of the second half of the 20th century, the song’s descending melody is more akin to the opening verse of the disco masterpiece “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang. We can hear another disco classic, “Good Times” by Chic, in the bassline of “Butter” shortly after when V sings the four bars that start with “Cool shade stunner / Yeah I owe it all to my mother.” To keep time with the beat, try mouthing the rhythm like, “one, two, three, (rest) / t-ta ta, ta ta,” to form a set, with one bar that’s a simple count to three and a second, syncopated bar. From here on, disco’s gravitational pull takes over; you can’t resist moving your shoulders. One popular opinion was that the part is reminiscent of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. However, we also need to mention “Good Times.” Many songs are influenced by this song including “Another One Bites the Dust” as well as this verse in “Butter.”
Compared to “Dynamite,” the lyrics to “Butter” are a bit more in sync with the singers themselves. The song has a way of adding little humorous glimpses into each and every member’s personality. You can see it everywhere from Jin receiving worldwide attention cleverly reflected in the lyrics in his part (“Oh when I look in the mirror / I’ll melt your heart into two”) to V’s playful Usher reference (“Don’t need no Usher / To remind me you got it bad”).
There are also a string of references to some of the group’s earlier songs in the rap, which RM wrote in part. You can hear echoes of the flawless, charming “good boy” image from “Boy with Luv” in the line, “I’m that nice guy / Got that right body and that right mind.” They also repeat a sentiment that’s been covered before in songs like “MIC Drop” and “IDOL”: recognizing but also accepting that there’s hatred directed toward the group through the short line, “Hate us (love us).” Another line, “Got ARMY right behind us when we say,” has many parallels with the numerous songs dedicated to fans that BTS have released over time, adding this additional English single into the world of their existing discography.
To get the outro started and entice everyone to join in, j-hope borrows a famous flow from “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. This line—“And you know we don’t stop”—has become a regularly occurring homage in endless party rap songs, from American hip hop like Coolio’s “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” to J-pop group m-flo’s “The Love Bug” (feat. BoA). The gang vocal (aka sing-along) response in the back sends the party to its climax. The song title, which has up to this point only appeared in the lyrics “smooth like butter,” comes back one last time at the end in “hotter, sweeter, cooler, butter” to rhyme with “summer.”
“Dynamite” was an exception among BTS’s releases. Unlike previous singles, which had mainly been powerful songs in minor scales, it was a bright, light, major-scale song, and the first of their singles to be recorded entirely in English. And now, with the introduction of “Butter,” a total of two English singles have been released. If “Dynamite” once existed as a single point, then a timeline has appeared that now connects it with “Butter,” and the relationship between the two songs becomes its own frame of reference, just as their previous Japanese limited releases (like “FOR YOU,” “Crystal Snow,” “LIGHTS,” and “Film Out”) have formed a different line and frame of reference from the Korean singles.
The exciting but peculiar sense of nostalgia in the song comes from more than just the old pop song sound. Perhaps it’s because we’re not able to have a festive summer like the one recreated in “Butter” just yet. That makes the theme of a picturesque summer shine through the song clearly. It’s still too early to secure a performance where the audience can join in and cheer, but I don’t want to forget that high-spirited sensation in the meantime. I can’t wait for when we can finally have that summer promised in “Butter,” and see BTS singing about it in real life.