PHOTO: The Chosunilbo JNS / Contributor
Smooth Like "Butter": How BTS' GRAMMY-Nominated Mega Hit Came To Be
"Butter" — the second English-language single from K-pop group BTS — is nominated for Best Pop/Duo/Performance at the 64th GRAMMY Awards. Co-writer Rob Grimaldi discusses creating the record-breaking hit for one of the world's biggest bands.
What does it take to create a hit song? Musicians, songwriters and producers have attempted to answer this question since the inception of the music industry and the beginning of the pop star.
While some songwriters and producers feel hit records can be created through a precise science or formulaic approach, others claim that hit records are created based on feeling. Songwriter, producer and A&R Rob Grimaldi advocates for the latter, using BTS' "Butter" as his evidence.
"Butter" is the second English-language single from BTS, the smooth, groove-heavy South Korean boy band. After forming in 2010, BTS burst onto the American scene in 2017 with “DNA” — their first song to chart on the Billboard 100. In 2018, the seven-member group became the first Korean band to play a U.S. stadium and, three years later, BTS' "Butter" surpassed 800 million streams on Spotify and spent a record-breaking 10 weeks at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
"Butter" highlights the charming, infectious swagger that has become synonymous with the Bangtan septet of Jungkook, Park Ji-min, J-Hope, Jin, RM, Suga and V. It also illustrates the stellar song crafting abilities of Jenna Andrews, Stephen Kirk, Alex Bilowitz, Sebastian Garcia, Ron Perry, RM and Rob Grimaldi, who developed "Butter" over a three-month period.
Grimaldi, a multi-instrumentalist from Bergen County, NJ, has a knack for mirroring the style of whatever artist he's working with at the moment. Using this gift, Grimaldi has helped create songs for and with stars such as BLACKPINK, Queen Naija, Jimmie, Tim McGraw, Noah Cyrus and JoJo. His BTS success is the result of years of attention to detail.
"Butter gave that feeling that we were trying to capture for BTS," Grimaldi told GRAMMY.com over Zoom. "It was nostalgic yet fresh; it incorporated what BTS has already done so well and took it to another level."
"Butter" is nominated for Best Pop/Duo/Performance at the 64th GRAMMY Awards. Grimaldi offers insight about creating this No. 1 hit, collaborating with a group of songwriters and producers, and what it was like working with one of the biggest groups in the world.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
When did you first get into producing/songwriting and what was your first chart-hitting single as a songwriter/producer?
Music has been a forever for me. I started playing piano before I could even read or write at about 3 years old. I also began playing drums around the same time, so I think music has always been something that I wanted to pursue. I did classical and jazz training in middle school from a writing perspective.
Around 12 or 13, I began diving deeper into pop music, and I knew I wanted to start writing. I remember my parents taking me to a studio to cut my first instrumental mini-album around this same time; that was my first look into creating and recording. The first charter that I had was Queen Naija's "Karma" — it was the first record I made with Queen…on Capitol Records, and it went No. 1.
And from that promising beginning, you eventually worked on BTS' "Butter." You, Jenna Andrews, Stephen Kirk, Alex Bilowitz, Sebastian Garcia and Ron Perry were involved with the songwriting, and you, Kirk and Perry alone handled the production. How did you all come together to create what would be known as "Butter?"
I think one of the most remarkable aspects of "Butter's" story is the team aspect. And I'm a big team player who believes the team dynamic in music is underrated. For "Butter" specifically, every member of this project had a unique skill set. And that created such a special moment in crafting this song because we were able to shine in our way, using our strengths to come together and build a hit record.
Everybody had a job to do, but we never forced it; we knew what we did well. The experience of being together for three months straight was fantastic personally, but you really get to know each other professionally. And at the end of those "Butter" sessions, we left with a better understanding of each other and what we were capable of when we truly pushed ourselves.
Did you all know each other before working on "Butter?"
We all had worked together and known each other separately, but we had never worked together on this level of intensity. People's relationships, both personal and professional, were established before, but you have to get after it when you're working on something like this.
Everyone did such an incredible job of realizing that we have to work together as a squad if we want to make the best piece of art. Collaboration isn't always easy, but it felt natural to get right to work in this case.
So, walk me through the "Butter" miracle [Laughs]: Could you describe how those studio sessions were? Why did it take three months? And just for clarification, the "Butter" sessions took place during the pandemic, correct?
Yes! And the fun part about it was that a lot of it was over Zoom — even if we were in the same place at times. Whether online or in-person, getting together became routine after a while. We would do our sessions throughout the day and fulfill our calendar, but after dinner, it almost felt like a daily thing of, Okay, it's time to work on 'Butter,' let's get everyone together.
Regarding the three months for the song's creation, the length of design and process depends on the project, and it varies constantly. If you and I were in the studio, some songs would be able to be finished in a day or maybe six to eight hours. At the same time, other songs take three months. "Butter" was a song where everyone was so passionate about getting it right.
Now, don't get me wrong [laughs], I don't believe there is anything on earth that is perfect. I think that is a word we throw around, but we were all so incredibly motivated and diligent to get this song as close to perfect as possible for BTS. It was extra important for us. We knew what was on the line, and we also knew how talented and fabulous BTS is. The strategy for a record like this took longer than others because we wanted every piece to work correctly. Whether it was working on the track, tweaking a lyric or being competitive through our sonics, these things led to an excellent record, and we took our time to make sure it was ready to go!
What a process! How many drafts of "Butter" did the squad create through this three-month session before you got to the performance that the world fell in love with?
Marc, I can't even tell you the number; I have the session and all of the prints saved on an external hard drive to put in a case somewhere and look at 10 years from now. But there were countless edits both to production and lyrics; we made changes when cutting the demo, cutting the master, and I think there were so many stages of this process that made it magical.
Looking back at this and saying, "This is where we started and look where we finished," is very rewarding, especially as a producer. I'm sure it's the same feeling as a songwriter, but watching that transformation is incredible. I have to tell you, the moment that we looked at the song from the beginning, we knew it was a hit. But it was in watching the art transform and take different forms was the most satisfying, I would say, about the three-month process. So many versions of the song exist, but I'm glad the one we loved is the one the world loves.
The Beatles have a litany of re-releases with different versions of their songs; maybe we get something like that for BTS' "Butter?" I would not be mad at that!
Hey, if you want to do it, I would be happy to help [Laughs].
I know that most producers/songwriters don't go into the studio to create a hit. But you mentioned that you knew this song was a hit from the beginning. Did you or any other songwriters/producers ever verbally say that this song was a hit during its creation?
I think it was immediate for me. As a producer, writer and A&R, you have that one folder on your computer of records that you genuinely believe in, and before this song became "Butter," this was one of those songs for me. It took one listen to understand it and know that there was something exceptional about it, and it's very rare to find those.
This is [an idea] that the squad and I have had discussions about. When you're writing five songs a week or however many, capturing that undeniable ability and feeling is rare. It makes you even more grateful when you feel that way about something. It pushes you and motivates you to make sure you finish it and get it in the right hands because this one was special.
This song was a feeling that you caught when you listened to it, but it had the formula to be great from a music perspective. The vibe of the song, the energy, that let me know we were on to something rare.
"Butter" is a celebration of pop music, as it includes various references to other mega pop stars and chart topping songs. For example, the Michael Jackson and Usher references in the first verse. Was the idea of paying homage an intentional part of "Butter's" song creation, or did that happen more organically?
I think it originally began organically, but the squad had those discussions as the song evolved. We thought about it like, okay, BTS is the most significant group globally, and they're coming off a pretty big hit already. So it wasn't about one-upping; it was about creating something that checked all the boxes.
The nostalgia and the feeling that merges a lot of our favorites before BTS was an important facet, at least to me, and I know Ron and Stephen on production felt the same about taking influence from records that we loved in the past.
Even more than influence, though, ["Butter" was informed by] a feeling [of] let's try and create something that makes you feel a certain way, but feels new and fresh. Lyrically, it's the same idea as an Usher song and an MJ song…but when you dive into it, it all points to the same place of outstanding classic records. And that's really what the goal was.
Do you know how BTS felt when they initially heard the song? You can't speak for them, obviously, but did you get a chance to listen to them speak their piece about "Butter?" And how did that drive you guys from that point forward?
Through the grapevine, I know they were excited when they heard it, but I don't have the specifics to tell you what was said and what wasn't. But I can tell you that the song needed to be immediate for them, which was the goal of lyric, melody and production. The song had great bones. If you just played the music on a piano, you would still be able to understand and sing it back constantly, and there was just a lot to work with.
So the process of working the song out and making the song what they heard was crucial because they needed something that sounded like a hit as soon as they heard it. So from the beginning to the end, every moment of the song had to give you that feeling. Any sign of weakness on that front, and we may not have gotten the reaction of Wow, this is it.
There is so much to think about when describing the "making of" in that way. What were some of the best strategies and skills you learned from the other songwriters/producers present for "Butter's" creation?
There was a bunch that I learned, and first and foremost, I want to thank the squad because everyone's antennas were up on this song. The attention to detail throughout this track's creation was incredible. When you share that passion with a group you're working with, everyone holds each other accountable and wants what's best for the song and the group. So it was meaningful to me to share that with the squad of producers/songwriters that I was a part of.
From an A&R perspective, so much was learned. But, of course, the first thing had to be knowing your talent. In this case, it was studying BTS and getting to know them as a whole. We had to figure out what they stand for and what they believe in, what they say, how they like their records to sound, and what we can do to bring out the best in each member of BTS. Talking about it is not something you discuss when working on a hit record, but in this case, it served us incredibly well. Having that knowledge of who we were writing for dictated the decision-making in the record.
With the number of details that went into this song, it is genuinely no wonder "Butter" has had the global reach and success it did. Recently, I saw on your Instagram story that "Butter" surpassed 800 million streams on Spotify. With that success still coming in, have any artists come to ask you to replicate the magic that went into BTS' hit song?
The industry is always aware of successful moments. We've seen this in the past with a million other things; when you're going to create for someone and the A&R, producer, songwriter generally says, "I would love a song that sounds like this." "Butter" has become that.
Yes, I have been asked by many people since — and I know the "Butter" squad has as well — not to recreate "Butter" but a hit that feels like that. As mentioned earlier, these are such rare moments in finding the one. Still, it is satisfying knowing that people are watching this and really appreciate the art, the group and want to find that success in themselves.
"Butter" has become a moment that other people are trying to replicate not only because of the commercial success of the song but the fact because the song has lived this long at the top. BTS will be BTS with or without us; they do that greatness regardless because they're great. But the song's longevity has been proof to me that this worked.
Have you or the squad contacted BTS since the release of Butter? If so, have you all flirted with the idea of getting the gang back together for another single?
There has been communication with all members of the squad and BTS. Obviously, there is a want to continue the work we did after having so much success with them. However, one of the biggest reasons for wanting to work with them again is how much they learned about them.
Now moving forward…we understand the formula that worked before, it's certainly not easy recreating that magic. Still, there is so much experience attached there that can move with a clear mind from the beginning. So yeah, lines of communication have definitely been open. Working on "Butter," we got a chance to live in their world creatively, and doing that with BTS was special.
When you saw that "Butter" had been nominated for a GRAMMY this year, how did that make you feel?
I was so excited for BTS. Obviously, there is a personal side of this where each of us who worked on the record is a big moment, and I would never downplay that. But there was a deep sense of satisfaction for BTS as well; they are making their way into the American market, and the GRAMMYs are a big deal.
It's in my hopes and prayers that they take this one home because I think they are on the top of the world right now, and winning a GRAMMY would be another huge moment of growth for them. But, my feelings are pretty simple on it: I was elated, and this is the end goal — a chance to be on that stage.
Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for BAM
11 Iconic Concert Films To Watch After 'Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour'
The concert film seems to be having a moment. From the Talking Heads to Queen, read on for 11 concert film experiences that will help keep the party going.
A lavender haze has descended upon movie theaters across America.
Taylor Swift’s filmed version of her historic Eras tour is the movie-music event of the year, dominating the box office becoming highest grossing dometic concert film in Hollywood history after a single weekend. Byt the time the Eras credits roll, you know all too well that you’re going to want to keep the party going.
Luckily, there are a breadth of artists whose musical singularity is reflected on the silver screen. Swift's major influence notwithstanding, the concert film seems to be having a moment in recent years: Pop stars such as Lizzo (Live in Concert), Selena Gomez (My Mind and Me) and Lewis Capaldi have released popular concert films.
Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce (2019)
When Beyoncé headlined the Coachella Music and Arts Festival — the first Black woman to do so — in 2018, she didn’t just perform; she delivered a tour de force extravaganza that spurred a whole new moniker: Beychella.
Shot over two nights, the Netflix film Homecoming includes a discography-spanning retrospective and memorable performances of "Run the World," "Single Ladies" and "Formation." Layered in ware nods to the Historically Black College and University experience, legends like Nina Simone and dazzling array of choreography, wardrobe and vocal chops.
The New Yorker later hailed it a "triumphant self portrait" and "a spectacle of soul." Directed by Queen Bey herself, Homecoming took home the golden gramophone for Best Music Film at hte 62nd GRAMMYs.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
The filmmaker Jonathan Demme is known for classics like Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, but he was also a major force in concert films. Among his achievements in this field is Stop Making Sense, his 1984 portrait of David Byrne and his Talking Heads.
Filmed at the peak of the band's popularity and following the release of Speaking in Tongues (which featured "This Must Be The Place" and "Burning Down the House,"), Stop Making Sense is a cult classic, from its array of hits to the band’s massive suits which became their calling card.
The film was re-released in theaters last month. "I'm kind of looking at it and thinking, who is that guy?," said David Byrne in a recent interview with NPR about watching his younger self. "I'm impressed with the film and impressed with our performance. But I'm also having this really jarring experience of thinking, ‘He's so serious.’"
BTS: Yet to Come in Cinemas (2023)
While the GRAMMY-nominated South Korean superstars BTS may be on a break — Jung Kook recently announced that he will release his debut solo full-length- bask in the glow of the K-pop and their rollicking concert film earlier this year. In the film, Jung Kook alongside Jin, RM, Jimin, V, J-Hope as they smoothly perform their calvadace of hits, including "Butter" and"Dynamite" in a 2022 performance for Busan, South Korea’s rally to host the 2030 World Expo.
The boys are actually no stranger to the genre, with Yet To Come marking their fifth concert film in addition to BTS Permission to Dance on Stage — Seoul: Live Viewing and 2020’s Break the Silence: The Movie among others.
Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991)
With off-stage footage shot in black and white and performances in vivid color, this early '90s classic depicts Queen Madge at the height of her power. Taken from an actual game Madonna and friends play towards the end of the film (to scandalous results), Truth or Dare showcases the breadth of Madonna’s superstardom up until that point with performances of classics like "Holiday" and "Like a Virgin" with its artfully-shot juxtaposition of performance and documentary footage a trailblazer in the concert film genre.
"The surprise of Truth or Dare is just what a blast Madonna is," wrote the Guardian on the occasion of the film’s 30th anniversary. "Nastily funny, openly horny, undisguised in her contempt for anyone she deems less fabulous than herself and her blessed collaborators."
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011)
Way before Swiftmania, there was Bieber Fever. In the wake of Justin Bieber’s explosive rise, Never Say Never interspersed performances with snapshots of his journey from humble Canadian roots to global pop force to be reckoned with.
Helmed by Jon M. Chu (who’d go onto direct blockbusters like Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights), Never Say Never is a time capsule of a younger, more innocent Bieber and his early earworm bubblegum hits. Until Swift's Eras is tallied it’s the top-grossing concert movie ever released in the USA.
Prince: Sign o’ the Times (1987)
This iconic concert film was once hard to come by; after its theatrical run, Sign o’ the Times was only issued on VHS and eventually went out of print. But thanks to the magic of streaming, one can now easily transport oneself back to the '80s and enjoy the magic that is Prince.
Directed by the artist and using his acclaimed 1987 album Sign o’ the Times as a jumping off point (the album itself was a 2017 inductee into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame), the film reminds viewers of the Purple One's magnetism. Under an array of colorful lights and performing to a raucous crowd, the icon may have died in 2016, but Sign o’ the Times serves as a deft time capsule of his royal talent.
Katy Perry: Part of Me (2012)
As Katy Perry was in the midst of releasing her acclaimed album Teenage Dream, the pop singer had the foresight to chronicle the ensuing pandemonium.
"I feel like it was, like, a big wave coming," she told ABC upon the release of Katy Perry: Part of Me, the 2012 concert film that documented her blockbuster California Dreams tour. "I thought to myself, 'Well, I think this is going to be a moment. Maybe I should catch it on tape. I'm either going to go completely mental, completely bankrupt, or have the best success of my life."
Fortunately the later wound up occurring, with the subsequent film a celebrity-packed (featuring everyone from Lady Gaga to Adele) hit-filled ("Teenage Dream" and "California Girls") look into the life, times and music of the star.
Queen: Live at Wembley ‘86 (1986)
Songs like "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" fit right in on Wembley's massive stage, with the concert film depicting the thundering live versions of those classics. Relive those heady days with this film which showcases just what made Mercury and his band rock icons, and huge ones at that.
"Mercury was indeed a born ringmaster," wrote CNN in a piece about their status as stadium savants. "There was no alienating affectation, no wallowing in sentiment... Queen consciously wrote their songs as vehicles for theatrics."
Summer of Soul (2021)
Back in 1969, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Nina Simone and B.B. King joined forces for the Harlem Cultural Festival, a mostly forgotten multi-week legendary summit. That all changed when Roots frontman Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson obtained a treasure trove worth of footage and directed this stunning film, aptly dubbed Summer of Soul, which brought the event back to vivid life and subsequent acclaim including a GRAMMY Award for Best Music Film.
"It was gold," Thompson told Pitchfork of his process of sifting through the footage to create what would become a passion project. "If anything, it was an embarrassment of riches. It was too much. I kept this on a 24-hour loop for about six months straight. Slept to it. Traveled to it. It was the only thing I consumed."
Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids (2016)
Also directed by Jonathan Demme and released before his 2017 death, Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids showcases Timberlake's popular 20/20 Experience World Tour and litany of solo hits including "Sexyback" and "Suit & Tie."
"I don’t think anything can compete with live performance," admitted Demme to Rolling Stone before his death in 2017. "You can’t beat it. But we strive to provide the most exciting interpretation of that feeling, as filmmakers. We can provide a roving best seat in the house. We can linger on closeups. We can follow the dynamics of the music. I love shooting music."
The Last Waltz (1978)
One of the earliest projects of director Martin Scorsese’s career was helping edit the monumental film version of Woodstock in 1970. But as that decade progressed and the auteur became known for narrative features including Mean Streets, he revisited his roots by directing The Last Waltz. A trailblazer in the genre, the film captures the last performance of The Band featuring frontman Robbie Robertson alongside a range of guests including Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton. Filmed on Thanksgiving Day in 1976, it’s a time capsule of the day’s biggest acts at the height of their artistry.
"It's a picture that kind of saved my life at the time," Scorsese told an audience at the Toronto International Film Festival during a 2019 screening. "It's very special to me. Forty years on, it's very special to a great number of us."
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: BIGHIT MUSIC
Everything We Know About Jung Kook’s New Album ‘Golden’: Release Date, Album Cover, Tracklist & More
BTS member Jung Kook announced his debut full-length solo album. 'GOLDEN' will drop on Nov. 3; here's everything we know about the K-pop release.
The latest member of K-pop juggernaut BTS has announced a new solo album. Due Nov. 3, Jung Kook's GOLDEN is his first full-length solo release.
The youngest member of the GRAMMY-nominated septet, Jung Kook has long stood out for his creativity in vocals, dancing, and rap skills. In recent years, he's made a distinctive impact via tracks like 2018’s "Euphoria" and 2020's "Still With You," and collaborations with artists like Latto and Charlie Puth. Along with music, he has also expanded his brand presence by venturing into fashion, including a campaign with Calvin Klein.
GOLDEN will include Jung Kook's recent collaboration with Jack Harlow, a catchy pop track with melodies heavily influenced by 2000s-era boy bands.
Jung Kook's debut album follows BTS' hiatus for mandatory Korean military service. For BTS fans — known as ARMY — GOLDEN is a highly anticipated addition to the ensemble's universe.
Although details on GOLDEN are sparse, read more on everything we know about Jung Kook's debut solo album.
GOLDEN Comes Out Exactly One Month After Being Announced
Mark your calendars! Jung Kook is dropping GOLDEN on Nov. 3, exactly a month after announcing it on Oct. 3.
The Album Cover Hasn't Been Unveiled
While the official cover for GOLDEN hasn't been unveiled, the album announcement featured a green background with a golden border and GOLDEN centered in bold. The album announcement photo is a different, much more reserved vibe in comparison to Jung Kook's associated press images. In the latter, the singer is set against a futuristic background in a Y2K-era outfit.
GOLDEN Has A Significant Meaning
The title of the album refers to Jung Kook's moniker the "Golden Maknae," which was gifted by bandmate RM. The Korean phrase maknae means "golden youngest" and, at 26 years old, Jung Kook is the baby brother of the group.
The album is "inspired by the golden moments of Jung Kook, the Golden Maknae of BTS and a solo artist," according to a press release. Given Jung Kook's versatility and skill, his forthcoming album will certainly mark him as a gold star.
The Tracklist Is Still Being Teased
The album will feature 11 songs, including already-released singles "Seven (ft. Latto)," which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Jung Kook's Jack Harlow collab will also be on the record; the song and No. 3 on UK Official Chart, along with "3D" feat. Jack Harlow, which topped the iTunes Top Song chart in 100 countries/regions.
Pre-Orders Are Already Underway
For fans hoping to get their hands on the album, pre-orders for digital and physical copies begin at Oct.3. at 10 p.m. ET.
Fans Should Expect Upcoming Performances
According to BIGHIT Music, Jung Kook will be making special performances and appearances throughout the album’s release.
Photo courtesy of the artist
South Korean Rockers The Rose Are Ready To Show The World Their Duality
Known for creating vulnerable, emotional songs in both English and Korean, the Rose continue to expand their sound on 'DUAL.' In an interview, the band details their history as buskers, big year of touring and what's next.
South Korean indie rock band the Rose have reached new heights over the past year. The quartet — which began six years ago as a group of street performers — have toured the world and performed at major music festivals including BST Hyde Park and Lollapalooza, but have never forgotten their busking roots.
During a Lollapalooza midnight aftershow, the Rose went back to basics: They did away with their setlist and instead took requests from the audience testing their improvisation and memorization skills.
Known for creating vulnerable, emotional songs in both English and Korean, the Rose are continuing to expand their sound. Their recently-released second studio album, DUAL, reflects on their past, present and future.
"I think experimenting with music and trying to connect different genres is really fun as a writer, and to showcase our personality,” said the Rose’s leader, vocalist and guitarist Woosung in an interview with GRAMMY.com.
The Rose's busking origin story is unique among Korean groups, many of which are formed by entertainment companies. Keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Dojoon and bassist Jaehyeong first connected busking in the same neighborhood drummer Hajoon and Jaehyeong were working with the same entertainment company. The trio then formed a band called Windfall — now the name of the Rose’s self-made label — and later recruited Woosung.
The Rose made its official debut in 2017 with the soft-rock ballad "Sorry." The song reached No. 14 on the Billboard World Digital Songs Sales chart, and was named among the best "K-pop songs of 2017." The band's debut album, HEAL, followed in October 2022.
The Rose caught up with GRAMMY.com over Zoom in Seoul to talk about their new album, their musical influences growing up and preparing for their upcoming North American tour, which will see them playing some of the biggest venues of their career thus far.
What is the story you wanted to tell with DUAL after the release of your first album, HEAL?
Woosung: HEAL was definitely us coming back after a hiatus. We really wanted to heal through our music and writing it and the whole process of reminding ourselves why we love music and why we love doing music. In terms of the sound, it was more natural. We wrote what we felt.
DUAL, I think, is a little more intentional, in a way where we are giving two sides of a genre and two sides of a tone that we want to present to the audience as the Rose. There’s a dawn side and a dusk side. It’s really showing the listeners the duality of our music, and why it could be dark but also why it could be bright.
Can you elaborate on those two representations of the Rose?
Woosung: Dawn side has more daytime vibes, happier, easier. Dusk side is a little bit darker in a way.
I think our music always did showcase both sides. "Sorry" would be more of the dusk side. Our song "Red" would be more on the dawn side. Whenever we wrote an album, I feel like we always had a dawn and a dusk side. We wanted to showcase that we are capable of both and this is where our music is headed. I think it really depends on the person hearing it.
What can you share about your latest single "You’re Beautiful"?
Woosung: We’re saying that beauty is just a state of mind. We believe anybody should be beautiful in their own way. There isn’t one statement or one face or one thing that makes a person beautiful in this world. There are many things that could be beautiful. And that's why we believe that beauty is just a state of mind. You are all beautiful in this world, no matter what race, what gender.
Dojoon: When you go to an art museum, it’s like somebody thinks something is ugly, but someone [else] thinks it’s very beautiful. That’s what we want to talk about here.
Your other singles sound quite different. And you’ve mentioned before that this project is meant to show a more amusing side to yourselves. Was that why you decided to incorporate some dubstep in the middle of your song "Alive"?
Woosung: Yeah. When we let our team hear that song with that part attached, not all of our team agreed that it was a good rendition of the song. However, the four of us definitely felt like we wanted something like that in there. I know it’s so random, but it also works so well with the song. [Laughs.]
I think we're just influenced by going to a lot of festivals, looking at different artists and enjoying their concerts or DJ sets. We wanted to just try something that was not always on the same line as what you would expect.
"Back to Me" takes me back to the pop-punk songs you’d hear in the early 2000s. The kind of song you’d yell out or release anger or tension with.
Woosung: I think we grew up listening to alternative, pop-punk. We always had it in us to create something like that and sing it ourselves. It’s such a rock band song. We’re just bringing it back.
What were some of the pop punk bands that you’d all listen to?
Woosung: All Time Low, Boys Like Girls, We The Kings. Never Shout Never. All those bands. Panic! At the Disco.
Jaehyeong: I was listening to Green Day, All Time Low.
Hajoon: I used to listen to Bon Jovi or Green Day.
Dojoon: Avril Lavigne, Green Day! Those kinds of legends.
Hajoon: Muse as well!
Woosung: My Chemical Romance.
You have also had a big year as a group, playing at big festivals and completing a world tour. What would you say this year has been like for your group?
Woosung: Going to these different festivals and seeing different people — not just our fans — enjoy our music, has put a lot of perspective in how we do music and how we want to take on the Rose in the future. I think performing in front of these crowds gave us a lot of good lessons.
You celebrated your sixth anniversary the same day that you played Lollapalooza. How would you describe the moment, and being with your fans, known as Black Roses?
Woosung: Words can’t describe it. We said it during the show as well because we started out as a street performing band. If we did a club show, there were like 15 people and five of them were our friends.. So for us to celebrate six years of the Rose with I don’t know how many people, it was very meaningful. It showed how far the Rose brand and the Rose’s music has come. We’re just happy to be on the journey with our fans.
A day later, you performed an aftershow with no setlist and took requests from the crowd. Where did that idea come from?
Woosung: Just busking, street performing. We were just true to how we started.
Dojoon: It was a back-to-back show in the same city. Obviously for Lollapalooza, there was a setlist for that. So maybe instead of doing the same thing over again the next day, why don’t we kind of have a little moment between Black Roses and our fans? We wanted to make something special.
Was there a song that really surprised you during that show?
Dojoon: There was a few fans who actually requested the first song we wrote together, which was "Photographer." We didn’t memorize it all perfectly. So that was all very interesting.
Rock music isn’t something many people in North America would associate with the Korean music industry right now. Do you see the Rose playing a role in getting people to explore different genres from Korea?
Woosung: I think rock has always been there, but not like how K-pop is famous. Right now, the music industry really does like more dance pop, and the culture has shifted a little bit that way. But [rock] bands have always been there.
I don’t know if we’re really sparking anybody to become a rock band or anything. And if we are, we are very,very honored and will be happy that we could be even a little influence to the industry for more instrument-playing musicians. At the end of the day, rock, pop, ballad — it’s all just music. We’re just happy to do music in the way we love doing music.
Dojoon: We really want to talk more about the spirit, like the rock spirit. You know, even rap stars or other pop stars say, "rock and roll" and "we are rockstars." I think now, Korea is more open and they’re starting to open up to the image of a band. Like the structure of a four-piece band.
Woosung, you collaborated with BTS’s Suga on his latest album and featured on the song "Snooze." In his documentary SUGA: Road To D-DAY, he mentioned the song was written with artists in mind, especially when it comes to not giving up on their dreams. I feel like that mirrors a lot of the Rose’s journey. What was that experience of being part of the song like for you?
Woosung: For him to have advice on life was what was beautiful, because it could fit a lot of the general population and what people are going through this day even without music being a part of their life. We’re just happy to share the message of support. That’s what the Rose is, and that’s what the Rose’s music is always. And, that’s why I think Suga maybe felt like I would be a good fit to the song.
When I first received the rapping parts and the lyrics of it all, I definitely had a feeling of warmth with the messaging. I wanted to do my best to write the best chorus that would fit his rapping with the right lyrics that would really portray the initial message better.
You’re heading back to Canada and the U.S. soon. What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?
Woosung: We’re actually practicing for the tour right now. We’re just arranging songs, practicing them and trying to get the right setlist and the right production. Our shows have been great, but this one is definitely a level up.
It’s a whole new set with bigger lighting, bigger screens. We always had this in our head, but we just couldn’t make them come to life in the venues we were doing it at. I think music is just not for listening, but it’s also for seeing and [with] that comes bigger emotions.