Keep It Clean
Songwriter Bekuh Boom, who has crafted several hits for Blackpink that mix Korean and English, knows a few things are always off the table: drug references, most profanity and explicitly sexual lyrics. Yet Boom, a huge hip-hop fan, says that anything too “gangsta” won’t work, either. A scrapped line from the group’s 2018 hit “Ddu-du Ddu-du” — “Hitting up the block like a blacksmith” — wasn’t right for “sweet girls who have an edge but can’t claim to be from the hood,” she says. Similarly, Agombar and Stewart axed a “Dynamite” line about “Playboy bunnies in Hollywood” because it didn’t fit the band’s image.
Veteran hitmaker Claude Kelly, who wrote English-language material for K-pop girl group Wonder Girls, avoids phrases that are challenging for non-native speakers to pronounce, which can distract listeners. “You want them to lose themselves in the song, not pick out the accent and lose the fantasy,” he says. But the artists should still sound like themselves, says songwriter Jenna Andrews, who did vocal production on “Dynamite.” While reviewing hundreds of vocal takes, Andrews studied every word and syllable to ensure the performances made sense in English but also felt natural to each member. “You don’t want to make them sound too American to the point where it’s not believable for BTS fans,” she says.
Aim For Timelessness
Kelly is careful to avoid regional idioms (“Hit the road” doesn’t translate abroad) or buzzwords tied to websites or digital devices, which can rapidly change and vary across the globe. “You don’t want to come off as corny or outdated,” he says. That goes for any artist, no matter the language: a clear concept and a relatable message tend to go far. “We wanted the most fun, exuberant lyrics that would pop, which is why we went with ‘Dynamite,’ ” says Agombar. “You know what it stands for and can get the energy behind the song.”