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Why Do We Look Down on Pop Stars Who Don't Write Their Own Songs?

The art of curation can impact storytelling just as much as songwriting—but why does it pick up less respect?

by Alim Kheraj
Mar 27 2017, 4:48pm

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK. 

There's a lot more to making an album than one person writing and recording some songs, packaging them in a way that looks OK and sticking them on Spotify. You've got label meetings about everything from release strategy to marketing budgets, social media campaigns to "activate" and singles that need to reach a certain level of success so your manager won't be pacing the record label offices, sweating all over himself before deciding to drop you. And while the most important element should be whether the music is actually good, this can often get lost along the way.

To that end, take a look at the liner notes for nearly any album over the past 20 years and you'll see loads of names attached to a single track—from songwriters to producers—because that's how music is usually made: collaboratively. But weirdly, there's nothing that upsets self-proclaimed "real music fans" more. I'm sure you can remember that Facebook meme (the worst kind of meme) that very smugly compared the number of writers on Beyoncé's self-titled opus with those on Beck's Morning Phase when people questioned why the latter had won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2015. Getting salty or questioning the talent and validity of pop stars because they might not solely write all their own material is nothing new. But the album process goes way beyond just being able to write a tune.

"Why do we get so mad at singers who don't write their own songs?!" songwriter Justin Tranter, who's written for everyone from Ariana Grande to Fall Out Boy, recently asked during a podcast hosted by fellow songwriter Ross Golan. "No one's furious with Meryl Streep for not writing her Oscar-winning screenplay. Some singers are not meant to be writers, they're just amazing storytellers; they're interpreters. That is amazing. We need them. We would have nothing without them." Tranter and Golan then name-checked Selena Gomez, someone they both praise as being "the best curator in the business". As Jamila Scott, A&R at Method Music, told me via email, "curation means bringing together various different elements (whether that's writers, artists, samples, whatever) to showcase a specific artistic end goal."

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