But while fans around the world reveled in the septet’s big day, it was also a significant moment for the woman sharing the stage with BTS, singing backup just a few feet away. That person was Melanie Fontana, the American songwriter responsible for “Boy With Luv,” the lead single from BTS’ newest album, Map of the Soul: Persona.
The road that has led Fontana to this life-changing moment was long and is bolstered by her impressive resume, having written songs for U.S. superstars such as Britney Spears and Justin Bieber, as well as K-pop queens Girls’ Generation. But things truly took a turn when “Euphoria,” which she co-wrote with DJ Swivel and his partner, Candace Sosa, ended up in the hands of BTS and as a lead song on their 2018 No.1 album Love Yourself: Answer. For Map of the Soul: Persona, released on Friday, April 12, Fontana contributed two tracks: “Mikrokosmos,” an airy, twinkling anthem that compares loved ones to stars in the galaxy, and "Boy With Luv" featuring Halsey, which shattered YouTube viewing records.
Refinery29 caught up with Fontana about performing on Saturday Night Live, co-writing “Boy With Luv,” and the freedom and family that BTS has given her.
Refinery29: What does that moment, when you’re on the SNL stage, mean to you?
Melanie Fontana: “Frankly, so far it's the most incredible thing that's happened to me in my entire career. There's something different about this particular band and this particular moment. I got to write the song with my best friend [husband and writing partner, Michael “Lindgren” Schulz], and I got to work on it with people who were so easy to work with. And then, to be invited to perform it live — my song, my little brainchild baby — on a stage, in front of not thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people, but millions and millions of eyes...It's the single greatest honor. If the Queen knighted me, it would be less of an honor than being onstage with BTS.”
SNL was actually your first time meeting the group in person. What was it like to finally connect after so long?
“I was standing onstage and when I saw them walk in, I feel like it was an instant connection. They pointed at me and I pointed back at them and said, "My babes!" And I ran off the stage and I hugged them and Jungkook, obviously, because we have the ‘Euphoria’ connection. And we just talked. We sat on the edge of the stage and we just talked for a while about the state of the music industry, streaming, performing live, and what it's like to not sleep that much. I really did — and do — feel like part of their family.
“RM and I sat at one point and I asked, ‘So, how is like writing my English lyrics into Korean?’ And he just said, ‘Oh man, you saved us with your melodies.’ My breath caught in my throat. I said, ‘No! You just saved me with just being yourself.’”
Has it been a difficult journey to get here?
“This is a dream come true for me because in my career I've been through a lot of bullshit. I've had people promise me things and say things are going to happen for me. This is the first time I can say, ‘Wow, I did this by myself.’ I created my relationship with the record label. I created these songs with Lindgren. I did this, and I feel very, very accomplished.”
How did the SNL performance of “Boy With Luv” come together?
“With ‘Euphoria,’ we wrote it first and then BTS chose it, thankfully. But with this song, I think they were interested in having a certain palette. Because, as you know, the feel and concept of a [K-pop] album are nearly as important as the song itself. They had a track ready, Lindgren and I sent our idea back, and they said, ‘Cool, send us the stems.’ Usually, when a record label asks for vocal stems, that means somebody's recording it. I met up with their A&R for coffee, and she tells me, ‘By the way, you have the next BTS single.’ I really tried to play it cool."
What do you think is particularly special about “Boy With Luv”?
“It's intelligent pop music. I feel like [BTS] were very concerned with the instrumentation, and that everything flowed together and it wasn't just mumbo jumbo. It's definitely within some of the strange vocal production they use in the beginning — that ‘Ooah, ooah, ooah, ooah, ahh.’ There's just a lot of stuff on the radio that doesn't have too much thought put into it, but they put a lot of thought into this — even before anyone started composing it. Halsey’s addition is what I like to call a ‘subtle collaboration,’ because it's not about separating out a featured artist. It's more like, ‘Check out Halsey with us, we're a family, here’s her beautiful voice.’”
When you’re writing a song, what do you think makes it distinctly BTS?
“I feel like it's the really beautiful mixture of masculinity and femininity that they're so unabashedly known for. They're not afraid to use what some people would call more feminine-sounding melodies because they make it their own. I think that that's what's so sexy about them. They go for almost ethereal melodies that you wouldn't necessarily write for a male boy band.”
Is that a roadblock that you encounter when you write for other male artists?
“Yes. And that's why they're so successful. They're unafraid to take chances. They're not afraid of being different. Sure, they rap, but they're not afraid of using a high, sweet melody that a more masculine-sounding group in the U.S. would be nervous to do because it's not the most macho thing in the world. But, in their not being so cookie-cutter, they're actually more groundbreaking for men than ever because they're so free. I think that's why people love them: they just look, sound, and act free of the stereotypical norms.”
Do you think people are craving that?
“Definitely. They're tired of the stereotype of a guy in Timberland boots stomping around on the stage. Remember the old *NSYNC stuff? They really led the way for many boy bands, but there was definitely a divide between what a boy band a girl band looks like. I feel like BTS is mixing all of that to get one beautiful thing.”