Co-writing has been a topic of contention for decades in the music business. The debate has risen its head once more following the release of Beyoncé’s new album, Renaissance, which features the track ‘Alien Superstar’ — a song credited to 24 songwriters.
Legendary songwriter Diane Warren, who always chooses to write alone and has penned hits such as Cher’s ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, and Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’, was dumbfounded by the number, and tweeted, “How can there be 24 writers on a song?” Although Warren quickly backed down after facing the wrath of the Bey Hive, it is a question worth exploring.
While 24 songwriters writing on one song seems impossible to comprehend, three songs are sampled on ‘Alien Superstar’; therefore, all of the original writers are credited. Yet, that is only responsible for seven of the 24 names credited.
Beyoncé has always adopted a collaborative approach to the creative process, and 2016’s Lemonade saw her enlist 72 songwriters. Purists take umbrage with this method and believe songwriting should be dealt with in-house, but is that just an old-school mindset or do they genuinely have a valid point?
Using co-writers is commonplace across the musical spectrum, and even artists like Phoebe Bridgers have frequent collaborators with who they work alongside. It must be said, Bridgers working with the help of two or three trusted friends is a stark contrast to crediting 24 people on one song and highlights why it’s not helpful to tarnish everybody who works with co-writers with the same brush.
There’s no difference between working with some fellow songwriters as there is writing with bandmates, but it isn’t viewed that way. As long as it’s a collaborative process, there shouldn’t be an issue with musicians using co-writers, but when that number spirals into double figures, how much of an artist’s personality can be stamped on the song?
Noel Gallagher firmly believes that artists using co-writers is a sacrilege. In 2015, he told Shortlist: “I’ve heard it said, in interviews, by these characters who use songwriters that, ‘Well, you need help to write songs.’ And what I would say to people like that is, ‘Well, if you need help to write songs, join a fucking band.’ Right? That’s why music is dying.”
He added: “I remember when Jake (Bugg) came on tour with me, it was great, and he was like ‘The Great White Hope’, to coin a phrase. He gave me his album backstage, middle of Europe. I was flicking through it and was like, ‘Who’s this other fucking guy in the credits?’ I was heartbroken in a way, fucking heartbroken.”
The job of the co-writer is to assist the artist’s vision and help it come to life, which will undoubtedly be the case with Beyoncé, who will have the final say on the creations. It’s a different question when it’s newer artists who have less authority, and the co-writers aren’t friends but people that their label has brought in.
In the current UK Singles Chart, it’s only Central Cee’s ‘Doja’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, which don’t feature co-writers. It’s an accepted part of pop music and has been for decades. As long as an artist is honest about their songwriting methods, it shouldn’t be an issue.
If somebody uses professional songwriters to create a faux persona to hide behind, then their artistic integrity should be scrutinised. Furthermore, if a musician positions themselves as a singer-songwriter who writes from the heart and then credits 24 songwriters on one song, that would be inauthentic, but Beyoncé has never claimed to be that person.