Fresh off their newest record-breaking album ‘Map of the Soul: Persona’, BTS’ addictive song ‘Boy With Luv’ featuring American artist Halsey represented a new and higher apex for the boy band this year.
It became one of the biggest and sturdiest tunes of the year and is their second song to be a certified platinum hit by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA).
Behind the success of the popular track is American singer-songwriter Melanie Fontana, who is known to have co-written the song specifically for the boys.
Over the years, Fontana has worked with the likes of Afrojack, Britney Spears, Icona Pop, Marshmello, Justin Bieber, The Chainsmokers, Daya, Nick Carter, TLC and Lady Antebellum.
But it’s in South Korea that she has really shone as a songwriter, launching her to even greater heights.
It all started 10 years ago when the prolific songwriter was first introduced to K-Pop by a friend who showed her Girls’ Generation’s ‘Run Devil Run’ music video at a studio late at night.
I always feel that pressure like kind of resting on my shoulders, but it’s a driving force for me because if I’m not competing with myself, if I’m not trying to make myself better than I’m not going to write great songs.
“I just fell in love,” Fontana tells Gulf News tabloid! over the phone in her LA home. “It’s like a level of perfection that isn’t achieved with American music or Western music in general”.
The multi-platinum, Billboard No 1 songstress has gone to work on a slew of releases for K-Pop’s rising and biggest names, including Hyolyn, Tiffany Young, Minzy, Girls’ Generation, Melody Day, and f(x).
She has also written debut songs that launched rookie groups like TXT — BTS’s brother group — and Everglow to success.
It wasn’t until she co-wrote popular song ‘Euphoria’ with DJ Swivel and his partner, Candace Nichole Sosa, and ended up in BTS’ 2018 chart-topping album, ‘Love Yourself: Answer’.
Sung by BTS’ youngest member Jungkook, the single took off her career in K-Pop and kick-started a successful partnership with the group’s label Big Hit Entertainment.
Fontana went on to co-write another smasher, ‘Boy With Luv’ about how love and strength come from finding joy in the smallest things in life, paralleling their 2014 teen anthem ‘Boy In Luv’
On the song’s creative process to make it distinctly BTS, Fontana says the group’s label first sent the beats to ‘Boy With Luv’, which took about a week for her and her husband, Michel ‘Lindgren’ Schulz, to work on.
“They had a very strong direction that they ask of the writers, which I really love because it leaves less chance of failure as a writer,” she says.
While writing the song, she watched some BTS videos on mute to observe their movements and get inspired by who they are. After passing ideas back and forth back with member RM and the record label, Fontana and her husband knew it was “special” the moment they came up with the chorus melody.
Also co-written by the band who Fontana says are “incredible writers” and “put their heart and soul into those verses”, the single was undeniably hit an all-time high.
The album and it’s lead single were a domestic and international hit, including the UAE.
Both soared to the top of the local iTunes charts the day of its release. ‘Boy With Luv’ received radio airplay across the UAE and was featured on Spotify Arabia’s ‘Top Hits Gulf’ playlist.
Like the rest of the world, she first found out Halsey was featured in the song the day the music video dropped, and when she received a text message form her A&R or liaison at Big Hit congratulating her on the new collaborative single early in the morning.
“It was one of the best moments of my life,” she confesses. “Here’s the thing, BTS has the power with or without collaboration. They’ve already conquered the world. But I feel like now that they’re pulling in other pop stars into the mix with them, they’re only going to grow bigger and stronger because I feel like collaboration is the key to anyone’s success.”
Back in April, Fontana met BTS for the first time at the group’s historic performance at SNL where she sang backup just a few feet away on stage. The singer-songwriter shares that it felt like finally meeting a “long-lost brother” and “meeting old friends that you hadn’t seen in a long time.”
“We just instantly connected,” Fontana adds. “Lots of laughing and joking around. I said like the only thing that disconnected us was the language barrier. RM, he’s a fabulous translator. So, it was easy for me to communicate with the guys because I would talk to them and then RM would just like quickly translate what I had just said from English to Korean.”
Apart from the K-Pop phenomenon amassing a devoted ARMY fan base for their self-produced music and proactive presence on social media, it’s also their work ethic and lovable personalities that are a driving force of BTS’s popularity.
“They are so good at their job. They go from being buddies to being a professional superstar group of insane talented people within the snap of a finger. They’re joking around on stage and then the music comes on, the “oh, oh, oh, oh, oh”, it’s like boom. And they’re like, on.”
In addition to dominating the charts, the septet shattered YouTube’s record for most views in 24 hours.
When asked about why ‘Boy With Luv’ became a such a sensation and impacted a lot of people, Fontana shares that collaboration is the next step in K-Pop.
“I think that’s the movement. I think it was very self-contained for a long time and now they’re bringing people on board that you wouldn’t normally expect to see in a K-Pop song,” she explains.
She adds that the idea that it’s “becoming more widely accepted by people who are icons in the music industry is why it’s spreading so fast because it is ‘monkey see monkey do’ in the world.”
With the song’s impressive achievements, she confesses that she does feel the pressure of keeping that momentum with other new K-Pop songs following the success of ‘Boy With Luv’ and has faced insecurities as a writer.
Fontana shares that she’s already in competition with herself to write the next BTS or TXT single.
“I always feel that pressure like kind of resting on my shoulders, but it’s a driving force for me because if I’m not competing with myself, if I’m not trying to make myself better than I’m not going to write great songs. And that’s my goal,” she adds.
While her goal is to “to always write the best songs” she can for them, Fontana adds it’s difficult “getting people to just trust you” as a songwriter.
Despite the challenges, Fontana has found that her songwriting style has changed but “not drastically” since she started writing K-Pop songs.
“I used to be very, very lyric-driven and then the lyric would drive the melody. But over the last few months, in fact, probably the last year that I’ve really gotten some traction in Korea and with K-Pop in general, I’ve realised that the melody is king,” Fontana explains. “So, I’ve started to focus more on my melodies as opposed to the lyrics.”
“The lyrics do matter, but if you’re going to write specifically for K-Pop, it’s really all about the world being able to connect with the song without being able to speak Korean,” she adds.
With that being said, K-Pop fans should look forward to more music soon. During their stay in Korea, both Fontana and her husband worked with Big Hit Entertainment on some new records and shares that new songs from solo singers Hyolyn and Minzy will be coming out.
The songwriter expresses her desire to work with co-ed group KARD and Taeyeon as well as other SM Entertainment female singers. She adds that she loves Tiffany Young as well as now-disbanded project group I.O. I and has written songs for them but never met.
In terms of cross-cultural collaboration, she says that she’d love to see one between Ariana Grande and Hyolyn. As she puts, it would be her “ultimate girl power moment”.
As for aspiring K-Pop songwriters, her biggest piece of advice is to always say yes to writing sections and every opportunity, even though it’s for a rookie group or an act they’ve never heard.
When she got into the music phenomenon, Fontana says that she didn’t really know what she was getting into and didn’t realise “what a world K-Pop creates for their fans” although already being a fan.
She adds that Eastern artists do everything for their fans whereas Western artists do things for themselves and hope fans will like it.
Uploading songs on SoundCloud and on Instagram with #KPop or #BTSARMY is what Fontana also advices.