I read an excellent article in the Atlantic recently, on ghostwriting. About how the vast majority of big radio hits in the US are written not by the big names that perform them, i.e. Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, etc. but in fact by professional songwriters that generally happen to be middle aged Scandinavian men. I had heard of Max Martin, and was never assuming that Britney Spears was writing her own music, but I didn’t realize the extent of this pop songwriting pipeline.
While learning of this bit of industry sausage making might outrage some people and make others shrug, my reaction is mostly one of admiration for these songwriters. They’re the true artists here, and the singers and dancers who bring their creations to the stage are really mostly performers in my estimation. Obviously this is nothing new, I am a big fan of Motown and oldies and and lots of the music that The Wrecking Crew played on, and the vast majority of that stuff was ghost written. “Write a word, get a third,” as the saying goes.
This article made me think about my priorities and what I value about art and music, and how these things have changed as I’ve gotten older. I no longer value technical prowess. To me, all that does is provide headroom. That probably speaks to the genres of music I like. If you’re a bebop fan, valuing chops is only natural.
But I love pop music, all genres of it. I love hooks. I love dance beats. I love sing-alongs. I love music that speaks instantly and irresistibly to a large audience. I love pop songwriting. And consequently, I value Max Martin and the Swedish song cabal a lot more than I value Beyonce and the other artists that perform songs they didn’t create. It’s not disappointment exactly, but my admiration has shifted.
Though I am a bit disappointed that Tay Tay doesn’t write her hits. Maybe all she had in her was country music.