In the future, most of us will likely shudder at memories of the dark days of 2020 and 2021, but probably not Jenna Andrews. The Toronto-based multi-hyphenate (singer, songwriter, vocal producer, music publisher) is currently enjoying a stellar moment. As of July 19, 2021, she has writing credits on the U.S. No. 1 song (“Butter” by BTS) and the U.K. No. 6 song (“Heartbreak Anthem” by David Guetta, Little Mix, and Galantis). She also co-wrote the B-side for “Butter,” “Permission to Dance,” and both songs were performed to ecstatic reviews the week before on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Andrews spent the week flying between Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville, so her recollection of the pandemic will be substantially different from yours and ours.
She caught the attention of the BTS’s label Big Hit, with “Supalonely,” a song she’d co-written for the New Zealand singer Benee. They contacted her to work with their other act, TXT, which led to a strong relationship with the BTS team. On the phone from New York during her hectic pan-American travels, Andrews explained that, “in that time period, Ron Perry [Chairman and CEO of Columbia Records] was working on their first [sung-in-]English single, ‘Dynamite,’ and, in the eleventh hour, Ron asked if I’d be down to work on vocal production. Of course I was thrilled, especially during the pandemic.”
Andrews instinctively fell into the role. “I grew up singing in church,” she says, “so I love harmony and all that stuff, which really works out when it’s a band, whether it’s a boy-band or a girl-band. So, basically, I wrote all the harmonies and all the ‘ad lib’ parts that they sing. I would sing all the harmonies, and then I would send it to them, and they’d be, like, ‘Oh, we like these ones,’ or ‘We don’t like these ones.’ I would sing an ad lib and they’d send it back and I’d say, ‘Please try it this way.’”
Once inside the BTS tent, Andrews had the label’s ear, so she put on her publisher’s hat. In 2019 she and veteran U.S. music executive Barry Weiss signed a deal with Sony/ATV for their publishing venture, Twentyseven Music. The company had been sent a demo (written by Stephen Kirk, Sebastian Garcia, and Robert Grimaldi) that Andrews thought was incredible. “The hook melody was amazing,” she says, “and I was immediately thinking, ‘This could be BTS’s next single.’ However, I didn’t think the lyric was very strong.” She played it for several people to no avail, but Ron Perry at Columbia “was on the same page as me.” They went to work with the others on Zoom.
Andrews recalls how, “Ron, one day, just said, ‘How about I try something like “Smooth Criminal,” by Michael Jackson?’ Immediately that made me think of, ‘Smooth like butter, like a criminal undercover,’ and that was it. That’s when we came up with the concept and knew that we had something special.”
There are seven songwriters credited on “Butter,” and 14 on “Heartbreak Anthem,” but Andrews doesn’t think that it’s peculiar to have so many people involved. “Nowadays, songwriting isn’t [necessarily] just as basic as everyone sitting around a campfire and writing a song,” she says. “Maybe it’s someone from New Zealand that comes up with an amazing drum loop that inspires a song, [then] I might come up with a melody, and send it to my friend who may come up with a great lyric. Then the artist comes in, and may want to change things – they love the song but maybe the lyrics aren’t right for their brand, so they end up writing. And that’s how it ends up becoming more and more writers, depending on the song. During the streaming era there can be, like, 20 writers on a song.”