I love music. I spend too many hours curating playlists and listening to them at all hours of the day. When I find a song I love, I listen to it obsessively on repeat, sometimes for days at a time.
Unfortunately, I have absolutely no musical talent. Though I played piano when I was younger and starred in a school musical when I was 10, I’ve never had the spark of songwriting creativity. Creating music, to me, has always seemed like a quasi-magical art form — my brain can’t fathom the concept that songs simply pop into some people’s minds. This incomprehension has given me a fascination with seeing how a song comes to life.
A TV show that does exactly that returned to the air two weeks ago: Songland on NBC. In this show, a celebrity musician makes a guest appearance each week and has four songs pitched to them by up-and-coming songwriters. The artist chooses three of the four songs to move on to phase two, in which some of the industry’s top producers (Ryan Tedder of One Republic, Shane McAnally and Ester Dean) collaborate with the songwriters to rework lyrics and melodies to better suit the guest. The three revised songs are then performed in front of the artist, and they choose one to record and release as a single.
Guests of season one included Macklemore, the Jonas Brothers and Kelsea Ballerini among other superstars.
It’s phase two of each Songland episode that I enjoy most. The brainstorming and the changes the producers and artist propose for each song are so intuitive to them, but seem completely novel and genius to me. Not to mention that after almost every episode, I find the catchy tune that the artist decided to record stuck in my head for days on end.
“Diary of a Song” by The New York Times has a somewhat similar concept — in this series, culture reporter Joe Coscarelli dives into the stories behind some of the biggest recent hits with the artists who created them.“Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, “Lover” by Taylor Swift and “Juice” by Lizzo are a few of the songs that have been examined. My personal favorite is “Shape of You: Making 2017’s Biggest Track.” The fact that this song was basically an accident never fails to blow my mind.
I can’t fully explain why this kind of content appeals to me so much — maybe it’s a kind of wish fulfillment, maybe it’s just the magnetism of celebrities or maybe, given my utter lack of musical ability, it’s the closest I can come to seeing a kind of magic manifest itself in the real world. Whatever it is, I have the best time watching songs come to life and will probably never cease to be awed by the brilliance of songwriters.
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