Almost every hit song that appears on the radio is written by at least two or three people, and you may be surprised to learn just how many different tunes fronted by different musicians are actually created in a studio somewhere by many of the same people. Once you’ve scored a few hits as a songwriter, everybody seems to want to record your next potential smash, and a great career can be made crafting singles for other artists.
While she has only been marginally successful as a pop star in her own right (at least when it comes to numbers like chart positions and sales), Bonnie McKee is one of the most successful songwriters of the past decade, and she has the hits to prove how talented she is.
She is perhaps best known for her collaborations with Katy Perry, as their relationship has been incredibly fruitful. McKee and Perry went to the top of the charts with songs like “Teenage Dream,” California Gurls,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” “Part Of Me” and “Roar,” which earned the duo a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year. In addition to her work with Katy Perry, McKee has also handed hit singles to people like Britney Spears (“Hold It Against Me”), Taio Cruz (“Dynamite”), Kesha (“C’mon”) and Rita Ora (“How We Do [Party]”), to name just a few.
I spoke with the talented songwriter about the success she’s enjoyed with Perry and her solo career, which is one of the most underrated in pop music.
CEEK VR: What has changed in the years between your first album and your recent EP?
Bonnie McKee So much. My first album I wrote between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. I didn't do any collaborations or anything. It was just me sitting at a piano wanting to be Fiona Apple. I've definitely honed my craft and found myself as an artist. I feel like the main difference is just that the quality is better. I had all these years in the trenches writing for other artists now. It's a lot more fun too. My first album was really depressing. Kind of like my teenage diary.
CEEK VR: You have so much experience writing for pretty much everyone, how do you separate their sound from the Bonnie McKee sound?
Bonnie McKee: My strong suit is my lyrics. I can say things in my own songs that other artists might not want to put in there. When I go in with another artist it's kind of like a therapy session for them. I kind of pick their brain. What's going on in their life, what keeps them up at night, who broke her heart, you know.
CEEK VR: You said you had no collaborations on your last album. So does that mean we can expect some in the future?
Bonnie McKee: Yeah absolutely. I find when I write by myself I tend to second guess everything. I need someone else in the room to bounce ideas off of. Someone to validate me. I did a couple of songs with Max Martin and I did one with Greg Kurstin. I may have some other artists on there as well, but I don't want to say anything just yet.
CEEK VR: Would you ever want to do your own tour?
Bonnie McKee: Oh yeah absolutely. The plan is to have a whole world tour eventually. Just do the damn thing. This is a big stepping stone for me, and I'm really lucky to be going out with such a great group [Karmin]. I'm just grateful to be on stage. Especially after spending so much time in the studio. I get so excited to interact with the fans directly which is really what it's all about. I get so excited to see them and give them what they paid for.
CEEK VR: Of all the songs you've written for other people, do you have one that was your favorite and one that was the most difficult?
Bonnie McKee: They may be one in the same. I think my favorite is “Teenage Dream” and that was the most difficult to write. It was a serious undertaking. A lot of fighting, very time consuming, and we wrote five versions of it before we finally had “Teenage Dream.” That was definitely an alligator worth wrestling.
CEEK VR: You’ve had such massive success as a songwriter, do you feel any pressure to do the same of your own album?
Bonnie McKee: Absolutely. I've been very spoiled and now I'm used to being number one. But I have to remember that I'm a baby artist, and a lot of these artists that I've worked with that have gone to number one were already very well known. Gotta start somewhere, and again, I'm just so grateful to be a part of it all. I'm really psyched to have an audience. It doesn't happen to everyone. In fact it's really unlikely that anyone will hit number one, so I'm just grateful to be able to go on stage at all.