Earlier this year, word spread through the music industry: The star K-Pop group BTS was on the hunt, prowling for a new single. “It was a bit of a holy grail cut,” says the English writer-producer David Stewart. “I had quite a few conversations with big producers and writers in America who were trying to get it.”
Stewart ended up winning the BTS lottery along with Jessica Agombar: The pair penned “Dynamite,” the K-Pop septet’s first all-English-language single. The lite-funk track, complete with scrubbing rhythm guitar and stabbing horns, set several streaming records within 24 hours of its release.
While this commercial enthusiasm is typical for BTS, it remains “totally and utterly wild” for Stewart, who spent more than a decade in supporting roles on the road and in studios before earning his breakout moment. “I made that song out of my bedroom in my parents’ house; I didn’t do it in the flashy studio with a big console,” he says. “This is 12 years in the making, me in my bedroom just working.”
Long before he was writing YouTube record-breakers, Stewart was steeped in the entertainment business: His father acted and sang, his mother acted before starting a hospitality company that worked with major tours. After “living in theaters from a young age,” Stewart broke into the music industry as a session guitarist, and played more than 500 shows with Example, the English singer-rapper-producer who was a constant presence on the U.K. dance charts in the early 2010s.
Stewart’s path into professional writing started in earnest in Atlanta, where he spent two years. “I was doing two or three sessions a day, graveyard shifts,” Stewart recalls. “I wrote hundreds and hundreds of songs through those two years, and I really learned a lot, especially about things like vocal production.”
When Stewart returned to the U.K., he began writing and producing for young or up-and-coming artists. He credits two moments with introducing him to the major-label A&Rs that collect songs for pop’s 1%: First, Stewart landed a cut with the U.K. rapper Tinie Tempah, 2017’s “Cameras;” second, he discovered and worked closely with the singer Claudia Valentina, who soon started to attract a lot of major-label interest. “That really put me in a lot of A&Rs’ mouths as someone who could develop an artist,” Stewart explains.
The third key moment: Stewart had been overseeing the business aspects of his career personally — no small feat since writer-producers have to constantly chase checks and negotiate deals — but he handed that responsibility off to a pair of co-managers. He now works with Charlie Christie, who got his start managing Rex Orange County and is an A&R at Interscope, and Neil Jacobson, the former president of Geffen Records who runs the company Hallwood Media (clients include the producers Jeff Bhasker and Brendan O’Brien). Within three months of this transition, Stewart landed cuts with Hailee Steinfeld and the Jonas Brothers.
Jacobson also heard from Ron Perry, the head of Columbia Records, that BTS were searching for a new track. “They were looking for an English single; it had to have tempo, be exciting,” Stewart says. And thanks to all his time supporting others on stage and in the studio, “one thing I’m good at is writing to brief.” He worked again with Agombar, a former member of the U.K. group Parade and a regular collaborator over the last five years. While Stewart played nearly every instrument, from guitar to bass to keys, he brought in Johnny Thirkell (who played on Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” among many, many others) to handle the horn parts.
Once the track met with Perry’s approval, Stewart and Agombar went back and forth with BTS to make sure “Dynamite” met their specifications. “We changed four or five little bits — a few of the lines were maybe not something that would make sense for BTS to say,” Stewart explains.
After teasing “Dynamite” throughout August, the track was finally released on Friday; it promptly broke single-day streaming records on both YouTube and Spotify. The members of BTS have now started a simple “Dynamite” dance challenge on TikTok, just in case the song didn’t have enough momentum already; Stewart is planning to have his girlfriend teach him the routine so he can participate in the trend.
The writer-producer still sounds slightly dazed by his work’s overnight global ubiquity. “I did it on my laptop in my bedroom,” Stewart says. “It’s mind boggling to me that something so big can come from something so modest.”
From Rolling Stone US