Once we got an idea of what they were looking for, we really just put our heads together. I’m quite good at working to a brief. If there’s a clear goal, I always find it quite easy to hit the target. The brief was kind of open-ended. It just needed to be uptempo, fun, not take itself too seriously, almost a bit like Bruno Mars. That’s naturally my pocket, that’s kind of what I do. I had a conversation with one of my managers and he said to me, “You should go back, re-listen to some Jamiroquai and see if you can take any inspiration from that.” I did and then, about three or four days later, we delivered “Dynamite” and we hit the bull’s-eye straight off the first shot.
That’s a quick turnaround. Which came first, the music or the lyrics?
It’s always different. Sometimes you can start with a title, sometimes you can start with a melody. In this specific case, we started with a chord structure and a bunch of mumbles. Even though the lyrics are still kind of off the wall, a bit weird and wacky, they were originally much more weird and wacky. They weren’t originally quite as PG as they are now. We had to tailor them to what was correct for BTS. That was how it started and the song was initially called “Mr Dynamite.” We ended up looking at the phonetics of the song and changed the hook from “So call me Mr Dynamite” to “Light it up like dynamite.” Sometimes you can write a song backwards like that, sometimes end up at that bit first. Often, the way that songs come about is you work on the melody and the cadence first before the actual lyrics, unless, like I said, you have a magic title, in which case you sometimes write the song backwards, or the song almost writes itself, in that case.
“Dynamite” must be one of the catchiest songs of 2020. What’s the key to writing a song that people will remember for the rest of their day?
God, if I really knew the answer to that I would be absolutely swimming in it. Simplicity is the key, really, and a good title. Because of the way the streaming is, you have to capture people’s attention very quickly. There are 100 zillion other things I could think of, but I would say simplicity and catching people’s attention quickly is quite important. I’ve always been a big chorus guy. I am good at doing an understated chorus, but what I’ve always loved is a big, in-your-face chorus, hence the key change at the end of “Dynamite.” There’s nothing subtle about that.
How did you make sure you captured people’s attention quickly in “Dynamite”?
Even if we weren’t in the Spotify era, that first line of the song is super important. In fact, that’s something that Example taught me. He was like, “That first line is so key, because it just grabs you straight in.” But then there are also little tricks that you can do, such as making sure that you’ve got ear candy coming in every four bars to keep the listener inside the song. With “Dynamite,” we did the Beatles’ method, which is to start with the chorus. That way, you’re instantly hooked in. Before you’ve even got to a verse, you’ve already heard half the chorus anyway. It’s kind of designed to seep into your brain straightaway.
‘I received 173 vocal stems from BTS, which is… a lot, to say the least’
How did BTS’s record label originally respond to the song?
It was silent for a bit. But we had a shared link and we could see them playing the song over and over again. Just from experience, if someone likes something they often do play it over and over and it gets passed around the team and all that kind of stuff. Weirdly, there was another song that we’d written and I got called about two weeks before and was told, “I think they’re going to use that one.” That was quite exciting, but I didn’t get my hopes up. Then two weeks later, my manager forwarded on an email from Ron Perry, the head of Columbia Records, saying, “Yeah, it’s on and we need to get this thing moving because we want to shoot the video ASAP.” It became real when Ron FaceTimed me. It was just the break that I thought I was going to have with “What A Man Gotta Do” at the start of the year. Even though that was a hit, it didn’t do what “Dynamite” was going to do. Ron was pretty confident that it was going to go to No1. You hear that from someone you go, “OK, cool.” Until it really happens, it’s not real. It was pretty crazy, as I just had an offer accepted on a flat that I now live in and I was thinking, “Oh, my God, I just need one little thing to come in to help me not worry about paying off the mortgage for the flat.” Three days later this came in.