7 things learned (or confirmed) about BTS’ songwriting and production from PROOF’s CD 3

Ana Clara Ribeiro
9 min readAug 21, 2022
“BTS ‘Proof’ Live Photo Sketch”, posted on Weverse, June 20th 2022

[ Disclaimer: Many of my thoughts in this piece are assumptions or just conclusions I personally came to by listening to the songs in the album. ]

When BTS announced the release of their anthology PROOF, many were surprised to learn that the group had enough music to release an anthology. Well, they have enough to release a 3-CD anthology, which also features new tracks.

To ARMY (BTS’s fanbase), however, just as exciting as the new tracks in the anthology was its CD 3, which features demos of the songs previously released by the group, as well as some unreleased songs.

That’s every music fan’s dream: to have a glimpse of their favorite musician’s creative process, and have access to rare material from them. After all, these are opportunities to learn more about an artist and satisfy your craving for their music beyond the patterns that you’ve already consumed thousands of times. Listening to the less polished versions of the songs you love can totally change your relationship with these songs.

For those who didn’t know BTS that well, the CD 3 of Proof is an opportunity to learn more about their songwriting and production process. For those who know BTS’s music catalogue back to front, the CD brings them even closer to BTS.

Here are a few things I learned, or confirmed, about BTS’ songwriting and production from CD 3 of PROOF.

[PROOF’s CD 3 is not available on streaming platforms, which is why this post doesn’t feature any videos or links.]

PROOF’s CD 3 tracklist. Source: BigHit Music.

Music really is the core of BTS’s artistic project

The very fact that PROOF’s CD 3 exists is already proof (pun intended) that music is the core of BTS’s artistic project; which can seem obvious at first. But let’s not forget that the music industry relies on music just as much as it relies on entertainment content and fantasies created around celebrities.

It doesn’t matter what country you are from, you probably know musicians whose careers and popularity are not necessarily driven by their music. That is not a bad thing per se, but it shows that (as paradoxical as it may sound,) not everyone in the music industry has music in the best of their interest.

BTS engages in different kinds of entertainment and has different revenue streams besides their music. But with the amount of effort and care that goes into creating every song and lyric, as the demos in PROOF’s CD 3 show, it’s hard to deny how much they perceive music as a craft and a process rather than just a product.

PROOF’s CD 3 suggests that to BTS, showcasing themselves as creators is more or just as important than just presenting perfectly-polished songs.

K-pop, specifically, is highly oriented toward perfection. This is not to say there is no organic musicality in K-pop whatsoever, but it’s not that common that K-pop artists will share the rawest version of themselves as songwriters, singers, and producers. (Maybe PROOF can be influential in that sense? Hopefully so.)

And this is not just about K-pop. Pop, in general, has a reputation for being manufactured and less organic than the other genres; and that is not true for all artists and cases, but it’s rarer that pop artists will share the backstage of their creative process. Most compilations of this genre are almost often released by bands — for example, the Beatles’ Esher Demos and Let It Be Special Edition: Super Deluxe Edition, The Cure’s Join The Dots: B-Sides & Rarities, No Doubt’s Everything in Time (B-sides, Rarities, Remixes), — or singer-songwriters — Bob Dylan’s The Bootlet Series, PJ Harvey’s 4-Track Demos etc.

This is changing, as many of today’s pop stars are deeply involved in the creative process and share a lot with their fans through social media and documentaries. BTS is among these artists.

Finally, BTS sharing the behind-the-scenes of their song making in PROOF’s CD 3 is not only symptomatic of how much they value music, but also of how aware they are that this is what their fans value about them too.

All members participate in the creative process

All BTS members have at least one songwriting or production credit on CD 3 of PROOF.

If seeing BTS members’ names in songwriting credits spare across different albums wasn’t enough, PROOF’s CD 3 gives an immediate and comprehensive view of how involved they are in the making of the music.

Naturally, some names will be spotted on songwriting credits more often than others. Rappers RM, SUGA and j-hope’s, for example, are usually all over the albums, which is justified by how nearly every BTS song features rap sections.

But as much as the level of contribution may vary from member to member, and song to song, all of them are involved, and that surely makes the music closer to their identity and style.

Also, the vocalists’ degree of involvement has gradually increased over the years.

BTS’ PROOF official photoshoot. Photo source: BigHit Music.

The first toplines are usually simpler than the final versions

It is a characteristic of BTS’s songs that the melodies are thick in how they feature a lot of lines, with a lot of note variation in one same line, and little space between lines.

But the demos in CD 3 of PROOF suggest that the songs aren’t necessarily born like this.

For example, the j-hope topline for “DNA” features more space in between lines than the final version, and a softer chorus with longer notes. That might be related to j-hope’s particular songwriting style, which reflects his background as a dancer. The spacing of the syllables of words in his lyrics follows a particular rhythm that sounds like they are dictated by his body moves (pay attention to the spelling of “D-N-A” in the first verse of his demo, for example).

However, other demos in CD 3 show a similar pattern of spaced lyrics and simpler melodies too (except, perhaps, for the rap sections).

The melody in the demo of “Epiphany”, for example, is built in stable notes with less variation of notes than the final version, which has more variation and instability. The demo is just as emotional, but feels more resolved; while the final “Epiphany” conveys a stronger feeling of a newfound emotion, like a cry from someone who had just come to their senses — an epiphany, indeed.

High-pitch BTS is not always the rule

BTS vocalists Jungkook, Jin and Jimin can blow us always with their vocal range when they hit super high notes in BTS songs like “ON”, “Blood, Sweat & Tears” and “Dionysus” respectively, among many others. Even V, who is a baritone, reaches impressively high notes sometimes, in songs like “Stigma”.

But are the songs always thought-out to be that high?

There seems not to be a pattern.

RM’s demo of “I NEED U” in PROOF’s CD 3 is lower than the final version; while j-hope’s demo of “DNA” is higher than the final version.

Deciding the right key for a song is definitely a hard task when you have 7 vocals in a song. However, it is also known that Pdogg, one of BTS’s main music producers, has a preference for high keys and vocals.

Pdogg is not alone in his love for high-pitched vocals: when it comes to pop music, usually, the higher the song, the catchier it can be.

SUGA has a thing for beat changes

When we think of BTS tracks produced by SUGA, such as “Jump” and “Interlude: Shadow”, many of them have one thing in common: a sudden beat change near the end of the track.

While the demo of “Jump” in PROOF’s CD 3 confirms that the track was always meant to have a beat change, the demo of “Tony Montana” show that it was also produced with one, although it didn’t make it to the version released in the Agust D mixtape.

Even the “Seesaw” demo in CD 3 has less groove than the final version and has more ups and downs in the beats featured in its arrangement.

In an interview for Weverse Magazine in June 2022, SUGA confessed his love for beat changes and variations in the instrumentals of the songs he produces:

Pop songs are shorter in length nowadays and it isn’t easy to add changes as far as the arrangement goes within such a short timeframe. I try to do this and that within that space. I’ll try changing the source, changing the rhythm in the middle or inserting elements that make it more interesting for people who listen closely. The music I grew up with had all kinds of changes to its sources, even for songs with the same hip hop beat.

RM goes synthpop when he wants to hit hard

RM started his career in the underground rap world. But as BTS started to embrace pop more and more, so did him.

His second solo project, mono (2018), features beautiful synthpop sounds like in “uhgood” and “everythingoes”. To me, these are the most emotional songs in mono, and it might not be a coincidence that both are produced in an ethereal synthpop style. The reverbs and beats convey a sensation of space — or perhaps, getting lost in space.

The same feeling is found in “Forever Young”, a BTS song which he produced. The demo in PROOF’s CD 3 shows that the original melodies were also a perfect blend of sad and hopeful (and that, too, is a mark of RM’s songwriting), so “Forever Young” was probably meant to be a hard-hitting synthpop song from the beginning.

BTS’ PROOF official photoshoot. Photo source: BigHit Music.

It takes a lot of work to blend 7 (or more!) totally different styles’ together

As I’ve mentioned across the earlier points of this post:

  • all BTS members care a lot about music and are involved in the process of making it;
  • each BTS member has their particular taste in songwriting and music production;
  • sometimes, the personal taste of BTS’s music team members (such as producer Pdogg) shapes the sound of their music too.

So how do you blend it all?

It takes a lot of work not only to come to one final version of a song but also, to repeat this process again and again, cohesively in a way that a group’s discography won’t become a Frankenstein-ish bunch.

You have all kinds of voices in the vocal line (Jin’s crystaline voice, Jimin’s unique half-angelic-half-sensual tone, Taehyung’s soulful baritone, Jungkook’s pop-tailored tenor), all kinds of writing styles in the rap line (RM’s love for wordplay, SUGA’s use of punch lines and non-speech sounds, j-hope’s street dance-shaped flow). But the rappers sing too, and the vocalists write and produce too!

Each of them has different tastes in music and is inspired by different things.
When they come together as BTS, they have one cohesive message they want to showcase to fans: they speak about their dreams and pains as young people in a world meant to oppress those who dare think different.

It’s hard to stay true to one’s message and create a distinctive musical identity as a group when you have 7 individuals who are so different from each other.

That only comes to show how the story of BTS’s music is more than just the story of a group of people making music for another group of people (ARMY): it’s also the story of 7 men constantly making numerous efforts, choices and concessions day by day in the studio.

My work as a music writer and critic is independent. This blog is not monetized.

My articles and reviews have been published in PopMatters, Rolling Stone Korea, The Line of Best Fit, Remezcla, Sounds and Colours, Tenho Mais Discos que Amigos, Consequence of Sound, and more.

The reviews and articles posted in this blog are original and have not been published on any of the websites I write for.



Ana Clara Ribeiro

Intellectual Property attorney (BR). Writer of songs & content. Top Writer in Music on Medium. Consultant at 3Três Consultoria e Criação (BR).