Cover Songwriting duo Arcades, consisting of Max Graham and Matt Thomson (Photo: Courtesy of Arcades)

In an exclusive interview with Tatler, the songwriting duo consisting of Max Graham and Matt Thomson talks about working with BTS again—this time with Jungkook and Suga for Korean OST, Stay Alive

Rising British electronic music duo Arcade, which consists of Max Graham and Matt Thomson, has worked with many K-pop acts but among the most notable is pop superstar group, BTS.

The two first worked on co-writing and production of BTS’ two best-selling albums, Map of the Soul: Persona (particularly Mikrokosmos and Jamais Vu) and Map of the Soul: 7 (particularly Inner Child). BTS rapper, J-hope is also a fan of the duo, having added their debut single, In the Air to his “J-Hope’s Jam” Spotify playlist (now renamed to “J-hope’s Favourite Tracks”). And the rest they say, is history.

Now, the duo is once again working with BTS but this time, with Jungkook and Suga for the soundtrack of Hybe’s original webtoon, 7Fates: Chakho. Main vocalist Jungkook, lent his soulful voice to the song while Suga flexed his production skills—it was the “YoonKook” sub-unit that many fans were finally waiting for.

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The song is a pop ballad that excludes a dreamy, sublime energy meant to complement the storyline and the atmosphere of the urban fantasy story that portrays the confrontation between humans and the Beom tribe. The title is a nod to the characters as they try to survive in the vicious world.

The song has already broken records and made history including the first Korean OST to enter UK’s Official Singles Chart, the fastest song by any Korean soloist to hit number one on iTunes Top Songs in 80 different regions and the first Korean OST to sweep the top spot in eight of the world’s biggest music markets. In short, just another typical historic-making smash hit from BTS.

We caught up with the songwriting duo to talk about their collaboration with Jungkook and Suga, how they felt when they heard the song for the first time as well as their reaction to the massive success of Stay Alive.

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There are a lot of people involved in creating Stay Alive including, of course, Jungkook and Suga. Could you walk us through the creative process?

Every song we ended up getting involved with always has a different process, whether it’s to do with the production or the topline, we just take each project as it comes. However, with the topline side of things, neither of us speak Korean so we never get involved in the lyrics unless there is an English version or a section in the track. Also, BTS and BigHit Music as a label, both have a strong sense of their identity and their message, so it’s always better coming from them.

On this occasion, Stay Alive was sent over to us as an instrumental (which we later found out was produced by Suga) so our contribution was topline melody which we worked on with our super talented friend, Gabriel Brandes. The label then took all the parts that were submitted and made a ‘best of’ which was then completed with Jungkook’s incredible vocal performance, to create what you hear now. It’s always a team effort with BigHit to end up with the best result.

The song is the soundtrack for Hybe’s original webtoon, 7Fates: Chakho. Other than the webtoon, was there any other sort of inspiration for the song?

The label often sends us their vision of what they are after for the song, whether it be with a reference, a title, or sometimes more of a visual cue. With Stay Alive, we were given a very brief indication of what it was for but nothing set in stone so we were given the freedom to explore melodies and all. Although with Suga’s production, there was already a sense of melancholy and drama, and it was also very beautiful, so we tried to play on those ideas to find something that would complement it.

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Were you able to read the webtoon before working on the song?

We didn’t see the webtoon before it came out. However, we had enough information from the label and also from the sound of the track that we know exactly what we wanted to do with it from our end.

The final decision on what gets used, however, always comes from the label and BTS themselves. By not hearing or seeing [the final version] prior to the release means we also get to experience the excitement in the build-up to its release which we really enjoy. 

It’s not your first time working with BTS since you co-write two songs from their album, Map of the Soul: Persona. How was it like working with Jungkook and Suga this time? Was it any different from the last time?

Map of the Soul: Persona was the first time for us to work with the guys at the label so we weren’t sure what to expect or what their process was like. The biggest difference between those songs [Mikrokosmos and Jamais Vu] with Stay Alive, was that we also worked on the production of Persona.

But like I mentioned, every project is different and you just have to trust the process. It’s great to see all the members grow as artists and also producers over time!

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Have you been able to meet BTS since working with them on Persona?

We haven’t met up with the group yet as we had planned to be in Seoul shortly after Map of the Soul: 7 dropped. However, the pandemic happened and stopped any plans for travelling. We’re still hoping to get out as soon as possible though and if we get to meet BTS, then it would be fantastic. We have so much to thank them and the label for and congratulate them on everything they have achieved.

How did you feel when you heard the final version of Stay Alive?

First thing we thought when we heard the final song was how beautifully Jungkook’s voice sits with Suga’s production. Strings can be challenging to programme and to get sounding real and emotional, but everything about the track and the production feels beautiful. We listened to it over and over once it dropped.

How did the initial collaboration with BTS come about?

Mikrokosmos and Jamais Vu were songs that we got involved in from the production side after we were given briefs that came from the label. We just pitched a bunch of songs to BigHit Music and they contacted us to say they wanted to work on those with us…we nearly hit the roof with excitement!

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How do you both feel about the massive response that Stay Alive has gotten, especially from BTS’ fans, ARMY?

Stay Alive has had such an incredible response. It has broken so many records and given that it’s a solo for an OST, it just goes to show the power of BTS and of ARMY! Both always make us feel like part of the family which we love.

Do you hope to work with BTS again?

We feel so blessed every time we get to work with the group and we would work with them every day if we could. But whatever happens in the future, we are forever grateful for the opportunities we have had.

What else can we look forward to both from you?

We both spend every day writing, producing and working as hard as we can. We have been lucky enough to work with so many incredible artists so hopefully, [we can do] some more of that.

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Listen to Stay Alive here. You can also watch the official music video below.

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