EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW WITH BONNIE MCKEE

bonnie-mckeeBonnie McKee is no stranger to the top of the Billboard charts.

Over the past three years, McKee has been responsible for penning nine No. 1 pop anthems and has sold more than 28 million records worldwide. She’s worked with the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Ke$ha, Adam Lambert, and Kylie Minogue, and her biggest smashes to date include Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me,” Taio Cruz’ “Dynamite,” and a whole slew of Katy Perry’s greatest hits – including “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” “Part of Me,” and the current #1 single in the country, “Roar.”

But earlier this summer, McKee decided to step out from behind the scenes and revisit her dreams of becoming a performing artist. Thus, with the release of “American Girl,” the debut single (available on iTunes) from her upcoming album, the California-born singer/songwriter made the transition from just being the voice behind the lyrics to actually being the voice singing them.

As she prepares for the release of her as-of-yet-untitled album (slated to be released by Epic Records in 2014), McKee chatted with me about the release of “American Girl,” her creative process, her secret recipe for songwriting success, how she plans to balance her performing and songwriting career, and much more!

Congratulations on the success of “American Girl” so far!

Thank you so much! We’re still in the grind so I won’t be happy until it’s gone all the way.

You’re responsible for writing nine of the biggest pop songs of the past few years. Which one would you say is your favorite and which one would you say is your crowning achievement?

Let’s see. Well, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “Teenage Dream.” That’s a big one for me. But I think my favorite right now is “Roar,” the new one that I wrote for Katy Perry.

You started out as a performer then switched to exclusively songwriting for a little while. Why did you decide that now was the perfect time for you to re-emerge as a performer again?

Well, after I released my first album, I got dropped from my label, and I kind of had to start writing out of necessity. It was always my secret plan to be an artist again, so I just knew that I had to come back ripe with ammunition. I needed to have a story and I needed to catch people’s attention. I was good at songwriting and I hoped that through that, I could get back to being my own artist again.

How indicative is “American Girl” of the sound of your upcoming album?

Very. It’s all very colorful and full of pop anthems. I’m pulling a lot from my influences like Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson. It’s definitely going to be really big and fun!

Do you have a title and/or release date planned yet?

Not yet. I’m still writing. Most of it’s done, but I like to write up until the last minute. You never know, it could be that last song you write that’s a spark of genius and could be the title of the album. So I’m going to wait until I decide what I’m going to call it.

Why did you choose “American Girl” as your re-introduction to the pop world?

Well I felt like “American Girl” was the quintessential Bonnie McKee song. I’m known for my lyrics and big melodies, so I felt like it was very me. I pulled from my own real life experiences and it just seemed like the most obvious choice.

The video for “American Girl” is filled with so many familiar faces. How did you get all of these celebrities to participate?

Most of them are friends of mine. I just sent out a mass text and e-mail. I wasn’t expecting that many people to participate! It was really moving actually. When I got the Tommy Lee video back of him in drag as me flying upside down in the air and playing the drums, I literally was bawling. I was crying. I filmed a reaction video and sent it to him and was like, “look what you’ve done to me, Tommy!” It was just so overwhelming because that song had been on my hard drive forever and no one had really heard it. So for the first people to be hearing it to be these people, and then for them to get so creative with it, was really over the top and overwhelming.

How is your creative process different when writing for yourself versus writing for other artists?

When I’m writing with other artists, most of the time, I have that artist in the room. It’s like a therapy session in a way because I’m picking their brains about what they’re going through and what they want to say. So they share their feelings and I take that and I turn it into a pop song. When it comes to myself, I have to dig a little deeper. I’ve written so many songs in my life that I really have to push myself. There really are so many things to write about in a pop song, so I like to get really creative with my lyrics and try to say something kinda quirky that I don’t think a lot of artists would want to say. So yeah, I’d say I get a little quirkier with my own lyrics.

For the fans that have been following you from the start of your career, will the songs you had featured on your MySpace in between your first album and now ever be available to download or buy?

Yes! There was one song called “Thunder” that got remixed by Rusko – he’s a really awesome DJ. I sent him the acapella and he did this whole thing to breathe new life into it, so that one got kind of a life again. “Stars In Your Heart” may actually make the album. I’m actually planning on making a video for that one either way, even if it’s just for online release. And then I think “Love Spell” will have a new life too. That’s a song that a lot of big names have recorded. A lot of people have wanted that song and I’ve heard so many great, famous voices on it. But I don’t want to give it up! It’s a song that I wrote for myself and is very personal to me, so I’m excited to sing it.

You’ve also written a lot with Max Martin and Dr. Luke, who are pop songwriting legends in their own rights. What’s the best piece of advice they’ve ever given you?

Literally every time I write with them, I learn something new. I always try and let the professionals do their thing and I try to pick up as much as I can. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned is simplicity. It’s easy to try to get overly clever, but I think it’s important to instead just pick and choose the moments where you want to be clever and let the record just be accessible. So yeah, I’d say simplicity is definitely the most important thing I’ve learned from Max Martin and Dr. Luke.

So is keeping it simple your secret formula for writing so many #1 hits?

I guess so. It also helps working with all of these amazing artists and songwriters, so it’s always a collaborative effort. But yes, I think that’s the key – writing a song that people can relate to, even if they don’t speak English. As long as you can sing along to it and still feel something, that’s what works. So phonetics are also really important.

I know you yourself weren’t present at the VMA’s this year, but what were your thoughts on the mob of redheads who were all chanting your name on camera?

I thought it was amazing! It was so cute. I didn’t even know that was coming, so when I saw it, I was like, “Oh my god!” It was quite a surprise. It was really cool. It’s awesome to know that you can have a Bonnie McKee costume – and the fact that it’s recognizable is really awesome. It really warmed my heart.

That must have been a really big moment for you!

Yeah! It was a big moment for me. It was one of those moments that I was like, “oh my god, this is really real,” so it was pretty cool.

Speaking of the VMAs, what was your favorite performance of the night?

There were some really good ones! It was a really exciting year this year. I feel like the past couple years have been pretty dull. I really enjoyed Lady Gaga’s performance because she always brings 110%. And of course, Katy. She’s always great. It’s always exciting to hear the songs that I wrote being performed. Every time I’ve seen someone perform a song live that we wrote together, I cry. Every single time. I’m a big cry-baby. So that’s always exciting. And of course, Bruno Mars.

It must be really interesting to see all the visual narratives and choreography and production value added to the performances of these songs that you wrote and seeing how all those things play out on stage together.

Yeah, it’s really cool! I’m always excited to see the music videos too because I feel like every time I write a song, I have a video for it in my head. I’m always imagining what the video for the song would look like. That’s kind of how I write, so it’s always fun to see how they turn out.

As a co-writer of “Roar,” what is your response to the allegations that the song sounds too similar to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave”?

Yeah, I heard about that. It’s funny because people forget that we wrote this song months ago. We wrote the song before “Brave” came out and I had never actually heard it. Then when I listened to it, I was like, “oh yeah, I guess that is kind of reminiscent,” but it’s a total coincidence. I had never heard the song before and I think it’s a great song, by the way. I love Sara. I think she’s so talented. And it happens all the time. I hear stuff on the radio that I’m like, “what?! I just wrote something like that!” but there’s no way that anyone could have copied that because nobody in the world’s ever heard it. But it’s just kind of something that happens and I think it happens all the time.

Will we be hearing more of your songs on Katy and/or Britney’s upcoming albums?

Yeah, I wrote 4 songs on the new Katy album, Prism. I’m really excited about those. We really had a lot of fun writing them together. They’re really different and fun. She likes to get experimental so they’re kind of a departure from her last album that I worked on with her. As far as Britney, I don’t know. If they call me, I’ll definitely do it. It’s always so exciting to hear an iconic voice like Britney’s singing the words that I’ve written.

That actually leads in nicely to my next question –  Do you ever get nervous or star-struck when collaborating with artists of that caliber? For instance, I heard you wrote a song on Cher’s upcoming album. That must have been quite an experience!

I know that Cher recorded a song that I wrote and that was really exciting, but I don’t know if it made the final cut of her album or not. That happens a lot – where the artist will record like 45 songs and they’ll pick the best from those, so I have no idea if she’ll be using it or not. But either way, it’s an honor to have her voice singing my song. She’s just an idol of mine. But yes, absolutely, I get nervous. Britney Spears is someone I grew up listening to and idolizing and watching and studying, so to see her in the flesh and to hear her voice was just really surreal. I’ve gotten to meet all kinds of people – like Steven Tyler was a big one for me. I got to sing for him and he got to sing for me, just me and him and a piano, so I’ve had tons of amazing experiences. It’s been very rewarding being behind the scenes.

What’s one song from the past year that you didn’t write but wish you had?

Hmm … “Call Me Maybe” is maybe 2-years-old now, but I wish I wrote that one. From top to bottom, it’s just a perfect pop song. There are no holes, no questions about it. It’s just a perfect pop song. And Carly Rae [Jepsen] is a total sweetheart.

After your album is released, how do you plan on balancing your career as a songwriter and your career as a popstar?

Well I’m fortunate in that I’m able to pick and choose who I want to write for and what I want to do. But I think for now, I’m an artist. It was always my #1 goal to be on stage and to be able to move people with my own voice and have that experience of sharing my music with people. There’s just nothing like that. So I think I’m going to focus more on my own artist project. As far as songwriting stuff – I’ll do things that I can’t say no to. If Katy calls, I’m not going to say no. If Britney calls, I’m not going to say no. If Cher calls, I’m definitely not going to say no.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your album or any of your upcoming plans that we didn’t talk about?

I don’t think so! I guess just buy the “American Girl” single on iTunes!

bonnie-mckee1Originally published on PopBytes

MADONNA SPILLS DETAILS ON NEW ALBUM AND SHARES OPINIONS ON LADY GAGA … AND HYDRANGEAS

by ALEX NAGORSKI

When it comes to successful pop music, 2011 has sparked a striking resemblance to an all-female commune – meaning there hasn’t been a male sighting in quite some time.

Since their live performances at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, sales have skyrocketed for artists like Beyoncé. After the show, her album, 4, had an 87% sales increase, making it the first time its numbers haven’t dropped since its initial release.

Following her heart wrenching performance, Adele’s latest single, “Someone Like You,” has just hit #1. Meanwhile, her album, 21, continues to cremate the sales of basically every other release this year, as it has done since it set up camp on top of the Billboard charts upon its debut in February.

But the VMAs aren’t the only thing that’s made ladies take over the industry. Even good ol’ Christina Aguilera recently got her first #1 single since 2001’s “Lady Marmalade.” Due to “Moves Like Jagger,” Aguilera now has a #1 single in each of the past three decades. I’ll give away a free copy of Bionic to anybody who saw that one coming.

With new singles just released by acts like Leona Lewis, JoJo and Kelly Clarkson (who today dropped the stunning cover art for her new album, Stronger) and upcoming albums by the likes of Demi Lovato and Rihanna, it looks as though the female reign of dominance won’t be letting up anytime soon.

But while all this girl power would make even the Spice Girls proud, there’s been a significant lack of the older women who defined the pop genre. The ones who paved the paths for all the little Selena Gomezes of the world. Namely: Madonna. Well folks, that’s all about to change.

As we prepare for the Holy Madge to descend upon us once more, I invite you to please join me as I usher in the parade to welcome a new era of pop music. Something I like to call, “meno-pop.”

Madonna is currently in the studio beginning work on her 12th studio album. While in Venice this past weekend promoting her directorial film debut, W.E., she spilled some details about the upcoming release (her first since leaving Warner Bros. Records and signing an exclusive, lavish contract with Live Nation).

In addition to confirming the rumors that she’ll be reuniting with Ray of Light and “Beautiful Stranger” producer, William Orbit, Madonna stated that the album’s lead single would be released in either February or March, followed by the full record later in the spring. Warning: the 2012 apocalypse may now come a few months early to regain the spotlight it lost upon this announcement.

So what other collaborators can we expect? Rumors have been circulating about involvement from French DJ extraordinaire David Guetta, although nothing has been officially confirmed. Yet. But one contemporary “it” act you most likely won’t be seeing on the album is Lady GaGa.

GaGa has always been an open Madonna fanatic. So much so that her biggest critics fuel on the allegations that she does nothing more than carbon copy Madonna’s early career. And despite appearing on SNL together, Madonna too seems less than flattered at GaGa’s standom. Or at the very least, confused by it.

“As for Lady GaGa, I have no comment to make about her obsessions having to do with me because I don’t know whether her behavior is rooted in something deep and meaningful or superficial,” Madonna allegedly told French newspaper Le Soir. Ouch.

In her own little passive aggressive bitch-quit-tryin-to-snatch-my-wig way, Madonna’s comments essentially just prove that GaGa is nothing but a hydrangea in her garden of followers. Some might be attracted to it and consider it a favorite, but Queen M? Oh no, she will not stand for it. Don’t know what I’m talking about? See for yourself with this (already viral) video from this past weekend.

But GaGa’s feelings shouldn’t be hurt for too long. Cher is reading the release of her next album with a lead single (rumored to hit airwaves this month) that is not only written by but also features GaGa. See Lady G? You can still get your slice of meno-pop pie.

When she returns to New York this fall, Madonna will be working on completing her as-of-yet untitled new album through the end of the year. While all other details about the record would be nothing more than speculation, one thing is certain: nobody knows what to expect.

Madonna’s sound has evolved dramatically with each album she’s put out. But no matter what this new album will end up sounding like, the time to start getting excited is now. After all, a new album usually a means a new tour, right?

And I hope for Adele’s sake, she has a nice little country home to retreat to full of fond memories and things that make her happy. Because once Madonna is back, there’ll be no room to share the throne.

What the Soundtrack to BURLESQUE Reveals About the Movie

Burlesque is that delicious fat-free, sugar-free, calorie-less, ab-enhancing Thanksgiving pie that gay men all around the world have been eagerly waiting for. Ever since news broke last year about the studio getting ready to bake this treat, homos have been salivating all over the blogosphere about the idea of being cut a slice. And who can blame them? It has all the essential ingredients: Stanley Tucci reprising his snarky yet simpatico grandpa-gay role from The Devil Wears Prada, Veronica Mars, McSteamy, and the Abercrombie-esque villain that made the first Twilight movie slightly watchable (except this time dipped in baby oil and wearing nothing but suspenders, a bowtie, and guyliner). As far as spices go, throw in excess amounts of sequins, corsets, slutty choreography, radio-ready pop music, and a musical theater modified version of the Coyote Ugly screenplay. Then there’s the crumble – the delectable topping that you scrape off when you want just a little taste: Christina Aguilera. But while all these sound like the makings of an irresistible guilty-pleasure, they’d be nothing without the crust: the base and the foundation that holds all of these ingredients together – the saving grace without which this would be more disaster than dessert: Cher.


This is what the trailer tells us about the film so far (set to be released on Wednesday, waging a box office war against Harry Potter, Disney’s Tangled and the Anne Hathaway/Mr. Taylor Swift romantic drama Love and Other Drugs): Aguilera plays a small town girl with an ugly wig who travels to L.A. and lands a job as a cocktail waitress at a glitzy nightclub for people who prefer watching Moulin Rouge over porn. The eager Aguilera decides that she, too, wants to sing on stage but doesn’t know if she has it in her to be in the spotlight. She harasses the club owner (Cher) as she’s applying collagen enhancing ruby red lipstick, and finds inspiration from the shirtless bartender. Before we know it, she’s doing an Ashlee Simpson-during-her SNL-fuck-up inspired dance routine on stage while Cher judges and Stanley Tucci is just being Stanley Tucci. She fails to impress Cher, but all that changes point five seconds later when she belts and scales her register and everyone acts like they’ve never heard Christina try to prove her worth this hard before. A montage then shows everyone in awe of the singer, as she rises to fame and makes out with the aforementioned bartender (still shirtless) on a couch. All of a sudden, Aguilera is the prima donna of the club with all the rest of the Pussycat Dolls consigned to the role of being her backup dancers.

As per most musicals, the soundtrack serves as a plot summary to the entire thing. After listening to it once and based on the order of the songs, this is what I can tell you this movie is going to be about:

1. Something’s Got A Hold On Me – In this Etta James cover, Aguilera will be seen in her small rural hometown having dreams of grandeur. Like in the beginning of Britney Spears’ Crossroads, there’s a good chance she’ll be dancing on top of her bed in her parent’s house singing into a hairbrush with just her underwear on. The song will continue as she steps onto a one-way bus to Los Angeles and she’ll sing as she stares longingly out the window and finds her way to the city of big lights.

2. Welcome To Burlesque – The first of the two Cher tracks on the soundtrack, this one’s title pretty much explains itself. This will be the song that Cher will be performing in a sailor hat and hooker boots doing leg swings over chairs and boys who literally killed to be dancers in this movie, while Aguilera first steps inside the “Burlesque” lounge and falls in love with it. It’ll inspire her to take a job there while confirming that Cher is still the baddest bitch in town.

3. Tough Lover – Ok, confession: the only reason I know what this song is actually about is because it’s the one they use in the trailer when Cher discovers Christina can sing. So that’s what this is: the song that Christina will belt until the veins in her temples pop out and makes Marley go hide under a tree to die from all the screeching. We haven’t heard Christina scale octaves like this since her days of singing empowering ballads for ugly people.

4. But I Am A Good Girl – Uh oh, looks like Christina has made it! In this song, she’s being showered with designer dresses and jewelry. A hardly veiled knock-off of Rainbow High from the musical “Evita,” this track has Aguilera doing her absolute best Madonna-doing-Marilyn-Monroe impression. And like in “Evita,” this song is the turning point where the small town girl is all of a sudden a major celebrity.

5. A Guy What Takes His Time – Now that Christina is the new “it” girl of the club, she needs a romantic interest, right? This mid-tempo jazz number signifies her discovery of Cam Gigandet’s character, a human Ken doll who’s dressed a little bit too much like Joel Grey in Cabaret. The message of this song is that she wants to see if their connection is real before she embarks on her maiden voyage with him, but luckily the song is under three minutes long, meaning that the waiting period is about the same as it is when going on a first date with someone you meet on D-List.

6. Express – This song is clearly the one that’s going to make Christina go from local celebrity to national superstar. Big bad McSteamy will enter as the evil and enticing talent scout trying to steal Christina away from the club and put her on the main Hollywood stage. He’ll watch her shake her feathered ass while he turns into Ursula the sea witch and Christina uses a quill to sign her voice and soul away to him.

7. You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me – Written by hit-making songwriter Diane Warren (Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” and Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me”), the second Cher song finds the legendary diva warbling about how down in the dumps she is. She’s sad because Christina will most likely have betrayed her and sided with McSteamy, saying that the club needs a “younger” and “fresher” Madame – something that despite pounds of Botox, Cher can’t provide. This will prompt her to have a Regina George-esque “But I like, discovered her” monologue, and she’ll find herself lost on the streets of L.A. feeling like all she’s worked for in her life has been taken away by a watered-down Lady GaGa wannabe and a TV doctor. This is also a song that applies heavily to Cher’s own life, as rumors are swirling about that at the conclusion of her Vegas show in February, she’ll go on her 97th international farewell tour and release a brand new album.

8. Bound To You – And since Cher was sad, Christina has to be too because Christina can’t ever not try to out-compete a fellow diva (remember when she signed with Coke after Britney was already the Pepsi girl?). This song has Christina crooning about feeling trapped under her new management, making her realize that throwing Regina … er, I mean Cher … under the bus may not have been the best idea. Either that or it accompanies a tragic S&M rape scene, which judging by Christina’s “Not Myself Tonight” music video this spring, does not seem that farfetched.

9. Show Me How You Burlesque – Here comes the showstopper! Everyone is happy again! Cher is back in the club and Christina is still the reigning queen of the spotlight! I don’t know if it counts as plagiarism when you’re ripping off your own former hits, but this song has Christina doing an excellent revamping of her previous Lady Marmalade. It’s also a less dangerous but trashier Cell Block Tango, where Christina will probably be wearing a fedora with a diamond encrusted thong and knee high boots she borrowed from the Pretty Woman storage closet. This is the song that Christina says ends the movie and “will have you leave the theater dancing and in a good mood.” Easily the catchiest song on the whole record.

10. The Beautiful People – Ah, the credits song. This one has a much more contemporary feel than the rest of the tracks. Mixing contemporary pop with a sprinkling of the flapper-chic music that composes the rest of the soundtrack, this song would have been a far better choice for the lead single (rather than “Express”). It’s a cute, upbeat song that will inspire at least half the audience to go buy enough glitter to bathe themselves in while they choreograph their own Fosse routines to it.

There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about Burlesque. That being said, it looks and seems absurd enough to be majorly enjoyable. The soundtrack is fun and brings Christina more into her comfort zone than Bionic, the horrendous “comeback” album she released earlier this year that garnered little to no sales and even fewer positive reviews. While this movie will most likely not be a box office champion, listening to this soundtrack has secured my ticket for tomorrow’s opening.

And while I may have been completely off with my predictions about what this film is actually going to be about, a few things I know for certain: 1) Stanley Tucci is only one Kurt Russell away from playing the gay best friend to every main character in Silkwood, 2) Cam Gigandet will make 98% of this film’s audience’s pants a little tighter, 3) It’s going to be better than Glitter, 4) The producers weren’t smart enough to have Cher and Christina sing a duet, 5) Cher will be a shoe-in to perform “You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me” at this year’s Academy Awards and 6) Director and writer Steve Antwin, better known as the fat kid from The Goonies, grew up to be EXTREMELY homosexual.