The reality of writing a pop hit – the team behind Beyonce, Swift and Bieber

Taylor Swift, an apple and the World's Most Powerful Problem Solver

Taylor Swift

When it comes to songwriting in pop there’s more to it than meets the eye, so Getintothis’ Steph Niciu asks who should get the credit for all your favourite pop hits.   

Back in May, Taylor Swift won Songwriter of the Year at the BMI Pop Awards in California for her work on 1989. Adele was awarded the same accolade at the Ivor Novello Awards in the same month. Both Swift and Adele were recognised for their talent as singer-songwriters. But is it fair to have an award that is given to just one writer when the reality is different?

Well, this writer doesn’t think so. When it comes to song-writing in pop, big names like Swift, Adele, Katy PerryBeyonce, Justin Bieber and Rihanna all get more than a little help when penning their songs. More often than not, they work with a team of writers. Some artists may choose to work with the same writers repeatedly over a number of years, or they will choose to switch it up and get different writers to compose songs.

Now there’s nothing wrong with working as part of team. When you do you can pool your talents together to create something truly epic. Swedish popstar Tove Lo, who is part of the song-writing collective Wolf Cousins, started by Max Martin, discussed the benefits of working on a song as a team in a Hunger TV interview.

She said:  “When you find people who you actually love working with, there really is nothing better. You inspire each other, you know what each other likes. You’re more daring, more willing to try new things and take risks. You can understand why, after a few years, people tend to stick to the same group of writers.”

See, team work is cool. It gets you places. Swedish songwriter Max Martin  has produced and developed a strong song-writing team during his career, which includes the likes of Shellback. But let’s not forget that he is an extraordinary songwriter in his own right. He was the only writer to pen Britney‘s …Baby One More Time, which is amazing. Yes, he works with a team now, but you can’t deny that he is talented, and of course the music industry must recognise that.

But when it comes to accolades, we think that it’s better to recognise a team rather than a single writer. Again, we think that Tay-Tay is the talented at what she does, but we ought to give credit to the team more so.

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Let’s take a look at Rihanna as an example. When Umbrella came out in 2007, it was pop smash. It still is, frankly. Written by Christopher Stewart, Terius Nas, Kuk Harrell, Shawn Carter, it’s a song that demonstrates the power of good song-writing. People still love it, and it’s one of the most recognisable hits of Rihanna‘s career mainly because of an insanely catchy chorus.

When the sun shines, we’ll shine together
Told you I’ll be here forever
Said I’ll always be your friend
Took an oath, I’mma stick it out till the end

Now that it’s rainin’ more than ever
Know that we’ll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella
Ella ella, eh eh eh
Under my umbrella
Ella ella, eh eh eh
Under my umbrella
Ella ella, eh eh eh
Under my umbrella
Ella ella, eh eh eh eh, eh eh 

Rihanna has never claimed to be songwriter, but she has been credited as writer on some of her songs. But then the question is how much do they write? Of course, there are artists that contribute to the songwriting process, while others are merely credited because they pay to be. For example, it’s been disputed how much involvement Beyonce had when she was credited for HaloThis applies to songwriters too. Some are credited for just tweaking words within a song, changing a pronoun can get you 10%, which is tough for those who have done the bulk of the work. 

Linda Perry, who has penned hits for Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera and P!nk, alleged in a chat on Reddit in 2014; “Beyonce changing one word on a song and getting writing credit, well hahaha um thats not songwriting. But some of these artists believe if it wasnt for them your song would never get out there so they take a cut just because they are who they are. But everyone knows the real truth even Beyonce. She is talented but in a completely different way.

But working in a songwriting team doesn’t always guarantee quality. It took eight writers, yes eight, to write Rihanna‘s Work with Ri-Ri credited as part of that team. Similarly, it took six writers to pen Beyonce‘s Run the World (Girls). And, we have to say that, it probably wasn’t a huge challenge for writers to come up with the lyrics for either of these songs.

Professional songwriter Helienne Lindvall wrote an article for The Guardian in 2008, in which she stated; “In a songwriting situation that doesn’t involve a band, being in the room when the song is composed tends to be what matters, and I’m a firm believer in splitting the composition equally there.” This probably explains why Justin Bieber‘s Purpose album has a whopping 38 writers over 13 tracks.

Whether you write as part of a team or not, penning a well-written and catchy pop tune is what it’s always going to be about. But instead of Songwriter of the Year, why not Songwriting Team of the Year? So we can give those who work hard at their craft the credit that they deserve.