The Age of the Songwriter: The Call for Authenticity
The era of manufactured popstars is coming to a close. Through boybands and lip-syncing divas, the media’s pendulum is swinging towards more authentic artists who write, produce, and sing live. Perfection is no longer at the forefront of fans’ minds. Instead, people want a genuine artist, who bring their ideas from paper to microphone, drawing from raw emotions and faults. In Vulture’s recent review of Ariana Grande’s latest album, Dangerous Woman, the article stated that “Focus,” her first – and later abandoned – single on the album “was calculated to a fault, too polished for a time when pop’s biggest stars, particularly its women, are letting their flaws bleed into the music.” With a new wave of audience preferences has come a traditional, yet enhanced musical archetype – the songwriter.
One of the most prominent modern day songwriters is Sia Furler, an Australian singer who came into the spotlight with her song “Breathe Me,” and once again when her penned hit “Diamonds” climbed the charts with Rihanna’s vocals. Although it has been a long journey for Sia in the music industry, she has become one of the most infamous “hit-makers” of our time. She has provided majors singles for industry giants like Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Eminem, David Guetta, Flo Rida, and, now, herself. Now donning a wig that covers her face in all public appearances, Sia has gained a following not only because of her endearing rejection of fame, but also because of her talents with both the pen and unique vocal capabilities.
With a similar reluctance to fame, OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder is another songwriter who has taken the industry by storm. Without any intention of entering the mainstream world, the massive hit “Apologize” transformed OneRepublic from an alternative rock band to a pop powerhouse. Ryan writes all of the band’s songs, and he has also written chart-topping songs for Beyoncé, Ellie Goulding, and Kelly Clarkson.
The world of songwriting has some blurred lines on the financial side. Some songwriters rave about the riches they receive from each song, whereas others demand justice for the poor wages they get despite all of the work they put into the music. Essentially, songwriters make money through royalties, which include the purchasing, performing, and licensing of their songs. So, the payoff really depends on the scale and longevity of the song.
Now the spotlight has started to move towards the songwriter. But, the idea of a performer writing his or her own songs is nothing new. It is the original archetypal musician. Unlike many of the pop superstars today, the legendary artists we know from the past were extremely involved in the creation of their art, like Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Billy Joel, and Prince. These artists were recognized for their creative minds and their amazing performances.
Now today, like Sia and Ryan Tedder, musicians with the gift of writing are returning to the forefront. For example, Pharrell Williams and Ne-Yo have had extremely successful writing careers, and have also crossed over to performance. Many artists who have been behind the scenes for years are also finally realizing larger recognition, like Max Martin and Bonnie McKee, who both are responsible for countless songs at the top of the charts. And finally, we are once again starting to see a greater appreciation for the songwriter, like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Adele. Audiences have started to miss seeing an artist sing their own words on stage and witness a true artist in action.
For further reading, here is Rolling Stone’s list of “The Top 100 Songwriters of All Time” -