Behind every pop star is an army. Few make it to the top without a team of publicists, managers, assistants and stylists but out of all these key players, none are more essential than the songwriters.
During the early 2000s, Swedish penman Max Martin become synonymous with oddly worded top 10 hits.
Everything from Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way and Baby One More Time by Britney Spears to Katy Perry's I Kissed A Girl, bore the Martin signature and his head-scratching foreign syntax. Most notably, Martin formed the pop song formula that became something of a template in modern songwriting. While Martin's reign has continued over the past decade, with hits like Taylor Swift's Bad Blood and I Don't Care, Ed Sheeran's recent collaboration with Justin Bieber, his success has inspired a new school of wordsmiths.
In 2017, the release of Work by Barbados superstar Rihanna brought a new talent to the forefront. While the song had as many as seven different songwriters, it was Jahron Anthony Brathwaite otherwise known as PARTYNEXTDOOR who garnered attention for his catchy hooks.
Signed to Drake's OVO Sound record label, one of PARTY's earliest writing credits was on the Canadian rapper's 2015 mixtape, If You're Reading This It's Too Late. He's since gone onto write tracks for Christina Aguilera (Maria), Kanye West (Ghost Town), DJ Khaled (Wild Thoughts) and other hits for Rihanna including Sex With Me.
While PARTY has written his own songs, spanning collaborations with Zayn, Halsey and Drake, they've failed to capture the same attention as his pop star-driven jaunts. He maintains an air of anonymity in a position where he's regularly surrounded by the world's biggest stars. But for the Ontario native, songwriting isn't just about a road to fame, but something he uses as an escape. “It’s the same process [as when I write for myself],” he said, “but I can go into imagination with other people. You know, go into a different bag.”
When you think of iconic, era-defining hits like Pick Up The Phone by Young Thug and Travis Scott it's hard to get that hook out of your head: "Pick up the phone, baby (like brrrrr) I know you're home, baby (it's lit!) I'm in the zone, baby (straight up!) I just poured up a four baby (yeah, yeah)." What you likely don't know is there's a 29-year-old writer named Starrah behind one of the biggest songs of the last decade.
Born Brittany Hazzard, Starrah is in her own right, a singer, rapper and songwriter. Penning hits with a unique inimitable flow for stars like Nicki Minaj (No Frauds), Charli XCX (Dreamer) and Camila Cabello (Havana, Inside Out), Starrah provides a fresh perspective for a generation of music makers and fans.
She started by selling hooks on Instagram for $100 a pop, which quickly snowballed into an A&R person at Madonna's Maverick Records helping her land her first placement with Kid Ink's Be Real. Her scope might fall into hip-hop and R&B but Starrah's found herself gaining a reputation in the pop realm, writing songs for Madonna (Crazy), Halsey (Now or Never) and Katy Perry (Swish Swish).
The mastermind behind Billie Eilish's slew of hits, her older brother Finneas O'Connell has become somewhat of an enigmatic force in the pop arena. Their viral collaboration in 2016 with Ocean Eyes when Billie was just 14 set the two up as a force to be reckoned with. And ever since, Finneas has been tapped for his songwriting and production chops.
While his early work saw him rack up writing credits for The Knocks, internet sensation Rebecca Black (remember Friday?) and American singer Ashe, Eilish's recent surge to superstardom has seen Finneas add a few new names to his resume.
This year, Finneas wrote a slew of hits on Billie's critically-acclaimed record, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and has since written tracks for Julia Michaels, Camila Cabello and Selena Gomez.
Mike Will Made-It
Atlanta native, Mike Will Made-It's production tag is synonymous with modern hip-hop. The silvery anonymous female voice that announces his presence on a song isn't just an audio signature but the mark of a certifiable hit. Yet few may know that Mike Will's talents spread further than creating a fresh beat, but he's also written songs for artists like Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Rae Sremmurd and Eminem.
Making his mark in Southern hip-hop, Mike Will's biggest co-writing credit has to be one of Beyoncé's most recognisable hits, Formation. But the hip-hop juggernaut also counts Rae Sremmurd's Black Beatles, Kendrick Lamar's HUMBLE., and Ciara's Body Party in his long list of writing credits. Before this, he helped Miley Cyrus transform into a tongue-wagging, twerking, hip-hop tourist on her divisive Bangerz album.
According to his 2013 Billboard cover story, Mike Will said he made $75,000 to $100,000 per track. Now armed with a Beyoncé writing credit, we're sure the price has skyrocketed since.
Hailing from Melbourne, Australian Sarah Aarons is an unlikely up-and-comer in the world of songwriting. However, following her success with Zedd's chart-topping hit Stay she's gone on to become a highly sought after collaborator.
With early writing credits on songs by Guy Sebastian, Jessie Ware, Mabel and Camila Cabello, Aarons has spent 2019 working with the likes of the Jonas Brothers, Cashmere Cat, John Legend and Khalid. Unlike other songwriters, who end up forging solo careers in a bid for a slice of the spotlight, Aarons is happy to work behind-the-scenes.
While she bears an autoimmune disease, Aarons hopes that the industry will develop to work with her. “I have to do well enough that if I am in a wheelchair one day, they will build a ramp to a studio to get me in it,” she told ABC News. “That was always my goal.”
Now, at 25 she lives in Los Angeles, with a Grammy nomination under her belt and a bright future ahead of her.
There are a few reasons why songwriter, Ester Dean is dubbed 'The Song Factory,' but it all comes down to her uncanny ability to create hit after hit without fail. The Oklahoma native has been in the game for over a decade but continues to find ways to add a certain exuberance to pop music that other veterans can't match (plus she plays the role of Cynthia-Rose Adams in the Pitch Perfect films).
Penning Rihanna's most recognisable hits including Rude Boy, What's My Name and S&M she's also flexed her pen for David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, Mary J. Blige, Sean Paul, Little Mix, Flo Rida and the queen herself, Beyoncé.
But what makes Dean so special isn't just her talent, but her incredible process. In a 2012 interview with The New Yorker, Dean described how she likes to get into the zone. "I go into the booth and I scream and I sing and I yell, and sometimes it's words but most time its not...and I just see when I get this little chill [on her upper arm, below the shoulder] and then I'm, like, 'Yeah, that's the hook.'