Who wrote that? Ghostwriting in Pop Music

By Conor Bulkeley-Krane

CatlinSpeak (Portland, Oregon)

Fancy by Iggy Azalea

… written by Charlotte Emma Aitchison


Hot N Cold by Katy Perry

… written by Max Martin


What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction

… written by Savan Kotecha


Gone are the days when the singer of a song was solely responsible for all parts of the music. With the globalization of music, and the mass exportation of pop music as a consumer good, often times a musician’s only involvement in their hit song is singing words that someone else wrote.

This phenomena is called ghost writing, and it occurs when a certain artist has a compelling image or voice, but not the time or skill to produce their own material.

In many cases, such as that of Taylor Swift, an artist will start off as a small time performer and songwriter and will dream of making their own album. Once they are discovered, if their first few songs perform well big time music executives will put together a team to research the artists target audience. They will then use statistics and sociology to predict what types of songs would get the artists the most commercial success. The marketing team will then share their findings with songwriters who will help to guide the artists music towards the direction that will bring the record label the most money. This process is why artists, such as Taylor Swift, often produce the most distinctive music early in their career.

Recently, in pop music, Justin Bieber has made a massive comeback in the mainstream. In his new album, Bieber has taken credit for maturing and evolving to write highly personal music from the soul.

In reality, Justin Bieber “collaborates” with a swarm of talented songwriters and producers who make a first draft of the song happen. Next, it will be presented to the creative directors of the album who will determine if it fits into their overarching plan.

For example, in Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” was written primarily by Ben Lavin, a writer and producer who helped make pop hits such as Katy Perry’s “California Girls,” Kesha’s “Tik Tok,” Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite, and many others. Surprisingly enough, Ed Sheeran also played a large role in making writing this record as well.

This occurs in hip hop as well. It is widely known that some famous rappers will often outsource writing to ghostwriters. For example, Donald Glover, or Childish Gambino wrote Lil Wayne’s “A Milli.” In hip hop however, ghost writing is also a point of pride.

Rapper Meek Mill has claimed Drake “don’t write his own raps” and named Quentin Miller, who wrote various songs on his chart-topping album, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.” Unlike in pop music, claiming that a rapper uses ghostwriting has serious potential consequences. Because hip-hop is so lyrically driven, Meek Mill’s claim has lead to a twitter feud between the two rappers.

The trend of ghost writing is even present in electronic music, despite the usual lack of vocals ghostwriting is highly prevalent. There are a plethora of websites like EDM Ghost Producer and Producer Factory where “artists” can buy songs that a ghost producer has made, and release them as their own. These websites allow people to commission “unique” songs in all different types of electronic music that. There are also individual ghost producers like Maarten Vorwerk who electronic music celebrities will go to for tracks to sell as their own. For example, Borgeous bought his smash hit “Tsunami” from Vorwerk for 15,000 euros. Borgeous received lots of criticism when this was revealed, but continues to use ghost written songs to this day.

Many believe that ghostwriting and ghost producing is only respectable when the artists are open and upfront about who made the song. Others, however, claim that anyone that receives any help have no artistic integrity. This debate rages on today, and there is no clear verdict on what is right. Meanwhile, artists continue to take credit for work which they contributed relatively little.

Image Credit: Hollywood Reporter

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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