Like the lyrics “side step left to my beat” in the chorus of “Butter” suggest, BTS make good use of steps in the performance for their new song. In the first verse, Jung Kook quickly runs out from the other members lined up back to front, who then change the pace of their own steps as they approach him. The chorus is composed primarily of various foot movements, like guiding the leg to draw a semicircle, walking forward or stepping in place. Following the chorus, the second verse also begins with steps, this time with V and Jimin side by side. Here, on the word “bad” as they sing “to remind you got it bad,” V, Jung Kook, Jimin and Jin turn themselves around once and move into a new position, and it’s at this moment that we see why “Butter” features steps as the centerpiece of its performance. In this repeating melody the note for “bad” is held a little longer and is a bit higher-pitched, at which time the change of steps visually expresses the melody as well. In the chorus, too, when the song becomes livelier (“side step”), the melody is expressed through a step that traces a large semicircle.

The running time of “Butter” is less than three minutes. On top of that, a simple drum beat starts at the beginning of the song and continues through to the end, while the melody repeats not only in the first and second verses, but in the chorus as well. The trends of short running times and repetitive elements emerged in American pop as we entered the streaming era, when it’s easy to hear any song, anytime, anywhere. While “Butter” musically goes with the current flow of the US music industry, the performance centers around steps to add a colorful and flashy edge to the song. In the chorus, after the members of BTS draw semicircles with their legs, they sidestep to the front and sing “high like the moon rock with my baby” as they gather in the center. In the next two verses that follow, Jimin and Jin each make small steps in place. Though the melody and beat continue to repeat, the choreography starts with sweeping movements that make use of the wider area of the stage and gradually shifts to smaller dance moves as the boys meet together in the middle. By doing so, BTS draws our attention to center stage when they gather there, and reflect the energetic, fluctuating style of “Butter” as they switch again to a choreography with larger-than-life actions and formations.
Although the group also used steps in “Dynamite” to show off all their movements, movement in the upper body makes up the core of their “Butter” performance. With actions like pretending to flip their hair with a comb, or reaching out to their sides and shaking their bodies, everything places emphasis on the way their upper bodies move while they’re standing. Naturally, they stand in place while performing leg kicks as well. On the other hand, there is an emphasis on the group’s different formations as they move with various steps. As “Butter” moves into its second verse, most of the members give way for V and Jimin to dance together in a formation that’s similar to the one that V and j-hope assume in “DNA.” Moreover, “Butter” opens with BTS scattering to the sides from their elongated front-to-back starting position, and as the performance continues through the first verse, the members increase from three, to five, and finally to seven at the center of the stage to help visualize the melody’s progressive climb to its climax. From “No More Dream” to “Butter,” BTS have constantly changed the style of their music. If, musically speaking, “Butter” is the point in that evolution where BTS have broken into the world of mainstream American pop, then the performance shows how BTS maintain but also fuse their unique feelings within a framework of constant change.

After the second verse, j-hope slowly walks out from the group, the rest of whom are spread out side to side. Beginning with him, the members dance without vocals for a while. In K-pop, a section that highlights the choreography this way is sometimes known as a dance break. In the case of “Butter,” though, it’s an interlude that naturally arises from the excitement of the melody in the chorus. It would be easy to gloss over j-hope’s slow steps as just another K-pop dance break that makes us start to concentrate on BTS’s dancing. Plus, SUGA and RM’s rap following the interlude adds something a bit jarring to the otherwise bright, airy atmosphere of the song. Both rapping parts in the latter half of the song begin with all the members slowly move forward. While the performance concentrated on various step-centric dance moves and formations earlier, the boys now guide the song once again to a climax through their slow walk. All of this amounts to a pop song that can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere, but which has added energy and spectacle when watched for its performance. It’s possible to explain the song somewhat as an amalgamation of cheerful pop music, happy-go-lucky yet elaborate American teen musicals like Grease, and the kind of performances characteristic of K-pop boy bands, but it’s also something more than that, which doesn’t fit into any category. In that sense, “Butter” is BTS-pop—something that only BTS can pull off, and only now. Only a team that holds onto its Korean idol group roots while also topping the Billboard Hot 100 could possibly come up with “Butter.”

“Butter” opens with Jin kissing his hand, one of the actions that reminds us of his signature move of blowing a kiss and his nickname, Worldwide Handsome as BTS grew in popularity. V also puts on his sunglasses the same way he did in the video for “Dynamite.” The scene where j-hope walks out by himself in the second half of “Butter,” too, is similar to the dance breaks he has performed at many awards ceremonies, including the disco dance he did at last year’s MMA 2020. The performance for “Dynamite” was centered around disco, with many of the dance moves easily recognizable to those familiar with American pop culture. On the other hand, the performance for “Butter” reflects their individual styles, which have developed throughout the group’s history together. This may be one of the reasons they sing, “Got ARMY right behind us when we say so / Let’s go.” Officially recognized as the world’s most successful artist after last year’s Billboard Hot 100 number one hit, the team is now incorporating the seven individual styles that they’ve always shared with their fanbase ARMY, as well as the special relationship they have with their fans, into the most famous pop songs on Earth. All of this is now possible because everyone knows these pop icons BTS have themselves become as well as how important of a role their fans have played in the history of these iconic figures. They really have come a long way, this team that has always had ARMY behind them and shouts out to them to keep moving forward.
Article. Myungseok Kang
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC
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BTS Other Cuts
2020.11.29