The Week In Pop

This Guy Is The Hottest Songwriter In Pop

Many songs on Juice WRLD’s Death Race For Love, the reigning #1 album in America, made me laugh out loud. A track called “HeMotions,” for instance, is already hilarious coming from an emo-informed SoundCloud sing-rapper who made his name on misogynistic self-pity, even before you even factor in lyrics like these: “Going through motions, muddy emotions/ Back on my bullshit, devil emoji.” Most of the album barrels headfirst into unintentional satire, but I’m pretty sure at least one song is funny on purpose. It’s called “Fast,” and besides smoothing out Juice WRLD’s most aggravating tics into something more like digestible pop music, it contains this punchline: “I go through so much, I’m 19 years old/ It’s been months since I felt at home/ But it’s OK ’cause I’m rich/ Psych! I’m still sad as a bitch!”

Perhaps not coincidentally, “Fast” is the one song on Death Race For Love that involves Louis Bell. It’s also the Juice WRLD song that sounds most like Post Malone, which makes perfect sense. Bell, 36, has been closely working with Post for the past four years. Starting with the Justin Bieber duet “Deja Vu” in 2016, he has writing and/or producing credits on most of Post’s biggest hits. “Congratulations,” “Candy Paint,” “Rockstar,” “Psycho,” “Better Now,” “Sunflower,” “Wow.” — Bell was involved in all of them, plus a large percentage of the deep cuts on Post’s blockbuster albums Stoney and Beerbongs & Bentleys.

“Deja Vu” also led to Bell collaborating with Bieber again on DJ Snake’s “Let Me Love You.” He co-wrote Camila Cabello and Young Thug’s #1 smash “Havana” and worked on a number of tracks from Cabello’s debut. He also co-wrote Marshmello and Selena Gomez’s “Wolves” and worked on another Gomez hit, the Kygo collab “It Ain’t Me.” He was a producer on Halsey’s “Alone,” Shawn Mendes’ “Lost In Japan,” and 5 Seconds Of Summer’s “Youngblood,” which he also co-wrote. He was part of Fall Out Boy’s song with iLoveMakonnen and the late Lil Peep. He’s credited on recent records by rap mainstays 21 Savage, Cardi B, and Vince Staples and pop strivers like Julia Michaels, Bebe Rexha, and Rita Ora. In less than four years, he’s quietly racked up an impressive number of hits — including six Hot 100 #1s — and is well on his way to becoming one of those characters who has worked with everyone in the music industry.

As of early 2019, it’s hard to describe Bell’s rise as quiet anymore. He has writing credits on three of the five songs that have reached #1 so far this year: Halsey’s “Without Me,” the aforementioned “Sunflower,” and the Jonas Brothers’ comeback hit “Sucker.” All of those songs remain in the top 10, as does Post Malone’s “Wow.” Thus, for the past two weeks, Bell has boasted writing credits on four of the 10 biggest songs in America. It’s an extremely rare feat. Sometimes popular artists such as Drake and Lil Wayne will end up with five, six, even seven writing credits in the top 10, but almost never does a behind-the-scenes figure tally that many monster hits simultaneously.

Exactly how uncommon is Bell’s current top 10 logjam? According to Billboard: “Among writers with no credited Hot 100 hits as an artist, Bell’s haul in the top 10 is the most in a week since Max Martin also tallied four in the tier eight years ago, on the chart dated March 26, 2011 (Katy Perry’s “E.T.,” featuring Kanye West; P!nk’s “Fuckin’ Perfect”; Britney Spears’ “Till The World Ends,” featuring Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha; and Ke$ha’s “Blow.”)” You read that correctly — no one has done what Bell is doing since Max Martin in 2011. When you are the first person to achieve a certain feat since 2011 Max Martin, you are operating on a level mere mortals do not traverse.

Bell, though, seems like a regular guy who sensed the clock ticking and decided to seize the day. A native of Quincy, Massachusetts, he grew up playing piano and producing beats but didn’t move to LA until 2013, well past his 30th birthday. According to this Billboard interview, in 2015, just as “White Iverson” was making Post Malone a star, Bell ended up in the studio with Post’s manager, Dre London. He offered to tweak Post’s vocals on a song with 50 Cent called “Tryna Fuck Me Over,” which led to meeting and hitting it off with the tattoo-faced Texan himself.

So manipulating artists’ voices was Bell’s ticket to the big-time, and it has continued to be one of his core disciplines. Beyond his more conventional writing and production work, he’s often credited as “vocal producer,” a specialized job that involves getting the best possible performance out of a singer via coaching, gear selection, and other environmental factors, then editing their takes into a coherent vocal. Bell handles this work on a lot of songs he writes or produces, and sometimes when he otherwise isn’t involved, such as on Khalid, Ty Dolla $ign, and 6LACK’s moody R&B summit “OTW.” He also sometimes jumps in later in the process for “vocal editing,” the task that got his foot in the door with Post Malone; that was his contribution to another Khalid song, “Eastside,” his top 10 hit with Benny Blanco and Halsey.

We can see the evolution of mainstream pop via the differences between Martin, who ruled at the dawn of this decade, and Bell, who is ascending at the end of the ’10s. The sleek, straight lines and energized EDM thump of Martin’s dominant era have increasingly given way to looser, loopier melodies and a chilled-out hip-hop influence. Whereas some of those Martin-penned hits featured rappers, rap is a foundational element of Bell’s writing and of pop at large. Not that he’s exclusively a hip-hop expert. The lines are too blurry for those kinds of distinctions nowadays, especially between rap and R&B. And anyhow, Bell’s output is versatile enough to include both EDM-oriented tracks like “Wolves” and rock-adjacent hits like “Sucker,” “Youngblood,” and “Lost In Japan.”

Post Malone, Halsey, Khalid, Camila Cabello — these are some of the key names on the new pop A-list, and they all count Louis Bell as a close collaborator. He’s ingratiated himself with the next generation of pop royalty, young artists who thrive on both the radio airwaves and streaming platforms. Increasingly, they seem to be turning to Bell to help them maintain that dominance. He’s already reached a rare plane of success, yet his momentum still seems to be building. Given their prior work together, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bell attached to multiple songs whenever Bieber’s next album drops. Could established elites like Rihanna, Drake, Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift be far behind? Frankly, he might not need those associations to cement his position at the top of pop. He’s become the secret weapon for the generation coming up behind, and given his massive success lately, it’s safe to say the secret’s out.

CREDIT: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

CHART WATCH

As explained above, Juice WRLD has his first #1 album on the Billboard 200. Death Race For Love, the whiny sing-rapper’s sophomore solo set, tallied 165,000 equivalent album units and 43,000 in sales in its first week. Per Billboard, he previously reached #2 with Future collaboration WRLD On Drugs and #8 with solo debut Goodbye & Good Riddance, both last year.

After Ariana Grande at #2 and A Star Is Born at #3 comes the debut of Maren Morris’ GIRL at #4 with 46,000 units/25,000 sales. It beats 2016’s #5-peaking Hero by one spot, becoming her best-charting album. Notably, according to Billboard, the album also sets a record for the largest debut-week streaming sum for a country album by a female artist; its tracks racked up 23.96 million on-demand streams during its first week on the market. The rest of the top 10: Bohemian Rhapsody, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Post Malone, Gunna, Drake, and Travis Scott.

Over on the Hot 100, Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” returns to #1 for a sixth nonconsecutive week. Post Malone is also having a great week on the singles chart with Swae Lee collab “Sunflower” back up to #2 and “Wow.” reaching a new #5 peak. Between those are Halsey’s “Without Me” at #3 and Cardi B and Bruno Mars’ “Please Me” at #4. Last week’s #1, the Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker,” is at #6 this week. Marshmello and Bastille’s “Happier” is at #7, J. Cole’s “Middle Child” is at #8, and Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” is at #9.

Finally, at #10 is Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” spending its 32nd straight week in the top 10. Per Billboard, if the song lingers in the top 10 for one more week, it will tie Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” and Maroon 5 and Cardi B’s “Girls Like You” for the most consecutive weeks in the top 10. Currently it’s tied with the Chainsmokers and Halsey’s “Closer” and LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live” for second place, though Rimes’ longevity is a lot more impressive than all these streaming-era songs.

POP FIVE

Lizzo – “Tempo” (Feat. Missy Elliott)
From the gnarly “Beat It”-style electric guitar intro to the Neptunes-revival production to the revelation that “slow songs are for skinny hoes,” this is a dream come true.

Why Don’t We & Macklemore – “I Don’t Belong In This Club”
“I’m feeling awkward as hell,” raps Macklemore. You and everyone else, buddy!

Iggy Azalea – “Sally Walker”
Iggy and Macklemore in the same pop column? It’s 2014 all over again! Except Azalea is trying to make hard rap songs instead of pop hits because in the Cardi B era sometimes they’re one and the same. “Sally Walker” is not a bad Cardi impression, tbh, but I’d prefer to just listen to “Money” again instead.

Lena – “Don’t Lie To Me”
Speaking of, um, strategic imitation, this is a much better Ellie Goulding song than any recent Ellie Goulding single. Also, am I the only one who gets extremely anxious at the part in the video where the iPhone low battery message pops up?

Alan Walker – “On My Way” (Feat. Sabrina Carpenter & Farruko)
Both Walker and Carpenter had low-key hits recently, so it makes sense that they’d team up on another one of Walker’s humongous EDM-pop excursions. Latin trap star Farruko is there too, perhaps to authenticate the reggaeton beat. It’s exceedingly bland, and I’m sure it will rack up 100 million YouTube plays.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • The Daily Mail asks if Lorde is secretly engaged. [Daily Mail]
  • Billie Eilish performed songs from her new album at SXSW’s Uber Eats club. [Austin 360]
  • Eilish also released an animated video for “you should see me in a crown,” created by Takashi Murakami. [iTunes]
  • Fall Out Boy have been sued by the makers of the llama puppets in their “Young And Menace” music video for using them beyond that project, including on merchandise and in concert. [Billboard]
  • John Stamos escalated his bromantic prank war with Nick Jonas by pretending to get Jonas’ face tattooed on his forearm. [People]
  • J. Cole’s Dreamville Fest lineup has SZA, Big Sean, 21 Savage, Nelly, and more. [HNHH]
  • Mumford & Sons released a video for “Beloved.” [YouTube]
  • After a “drunk as fuck” Instagram Live broadcast, Daniel Caeser was eviscerated on social media for defending influencer YesJulz (who had been accused of racism) and asking why black people are “being so mean to white people right now.” [TMZ]

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