Few can argue that music is a form of art. Musicians show their emotions and thoughts with the music they play and the lyrics they choose. With that in mind, it may come as a surprise to many that, while singers are indeed talented, most of them don’t write their own lyrics. Instead, songwriters write the song and then they are given or sold to the singer. Often, that songwriter will even have a specific singer in mind when they write the song, but it may end up going to an entirely different singer or band.
Still, there are some singers out there that write their own songs. While singer-songwriters aren’t as common, they deserve a lot of attention for their dual artistry. Not only can they sing very well, but they can also craft some meaningful–and often fun–lyrics that strike a chord with fans and critics. Often it’s these singer-songwriters that also create the music and lyrics for the songs of their competitors as well.
Read on for our list of eight famous singers that write their own songs. You may be surprised by a few of these.
It’s hard to turn on the radio right now without hearing Sia‘s hauntingly beautiful song “Chandelier.” While the song is super popular right now and many American fans are just learning of this Australian singer-songwriter, she’s actually been a part of the music business since the 1990s. In addition to writing “Chandelier,” she’s also written a host of songs for other incredibly popular musical artists, including Madonna, Britney Spears, Christina Aquilera, Rihanna and Rita Ora. She won the 2002 Apra Music Award for Breakthrough Songwriter, among other prestigious accolades. Sia once said, “I’ll be the songwriter for pop stars and then they can be the front person and I don’t have to be famous.” Too late, Sia–you’re famous all over the world now, all thanks to “Chandelier.”
It’s rare to find a singer that writes their own songs in the R&B genre. Most songs are written by hired staff writers and are rarely co-written with the artists despite what the liner notes may say. One exception to this is Ne-Yo. Although he had been singing from a young age, it was his songwriting that originally got him notice in the music world, penning Marques Houston‘s “That Girl.” He kept on that songwriting tradition as he released his debut album, In My Own Words, in 2006. It reached the number one slot on the Billboard 200. In addition to writing his own music, he still writes songs for other artists including Beyonce, Rihanna and Jennifer Hudson.
When most people think of Ke$ha, they probably think of a party girl who comes off as a little dumb. It certainly doesn’t help that her two most popular songs, “Tik Tok” and “We R Who We R,” are all about partying. You may be surprised to find out that Ke$ha is actually an accomplished songwriter. Before she got famous with her own hits, she was writing songs for Britney Spears, Miranda Cosgrove and The Veronicas. Even after becoming a success in her own right, she continues to write songs for other artists. Something else you might be surprised to know about Ke$ha: she’s smart. According to Time Magazine, she scored a 1,500 out of 1,600 on the SATs.
5. Ed Sheeran
Despite the fact that Ed Sheeran is in his early twenties and is a part of the same generation as artists like Justin Bieber and One Direction, he’s often thought of as much more mature. Perhaps that’s because he writes about gritty and mature topics for his songs. The soulful singer said in an interview with The Huffington Post, “I think the moment you start trying to please a fan base is when you start going downhill. I’m going to always, always write about what I want even if it doesn’t necessarily cater to most of them.” That choice seems to be paying off. He’s won eight awards as of 2014, including a 2013 People’s Choice Award for Breakout Artist.
4. Taylor Swift
It will likely come to no surprise to most of you that Taylor Swift writes her own songs. These days, she seems to be just as much known for her music as she is for the love life that spawns her often melancholy lyrics. After her relationships end–whether with Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joe Jonas or others–she writes about it and immortalizes that relationship in song. Despite some of the criticism she’s gotten for writing about her relationships, she’s also gotten a lot of praise. Fellow singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran said to Billboard.com, “I’m a fan of Taylor’s. Not just her work but her ethics and that she writes her hits herself. She’s probably the only woman in her position in the industry who writes 100 percent of her hits. It’s a very cool thing.”
3. Ben Folds
Ben Folds is a giant in the music business both with his talents in singing and piano as well as his songwriting prowess. He’s also one of the judges on the reality singing competition The Sing-Off. With his very first hit song with his former band Ben Folds Five, Ben got lots of attention for the fact that he wrote “Brick” himself about a very touchy subject. He said on the Ben Folds Live album, “People ask me what this song’s about…But the song is about when I was in high school, me and my girlfriend had to get an abortion, and it was a very sad thing. And, I didn’t really want to write this song from any kind of political standpoint, or make a statement. I just wanted to reflect what it feels like.”
When most people think of Adele, they imagine her soulful voice that carries so much raw emotion and incredible talent. However, she’s also a songwriter. She’s said herself in an interview with the Denver Westword, “Most people don’t think I write my own songs. They must just think I’m like everyone else.” That’s right–Adele writes her own songs. And, like other writers on this list, a lot of her inspiration comes from failed relationships, as is the case with her hit song “Rolling in the Deep.” While she does co-write a lot of her songs with others, she is still the driving creative force behind her haunting ballads.
1. Pharrell Williams
It’s no surprise that Pharrell Williams won Producer of the Year at the 2014 Grammy Awards. The man has a long list of talents that he uses regularly in the music industry, from rapping to writing and producing. In addition to writing his own music, he also writes songs for other artists. He’s created tracks for Jay-Z, Kanye West, T.I., Snoop Dogg, and Beyonce, to name a few. He even wrote “Happy,” for Despicable Me 2, and the song was nominated for an Academy Award. When asked about his songwriting process for “Happy,” he told Oprah, “It’s because you’re out of ideas. And that’s what happened. I hit zero. And I just hit a place of openness because I had nothing else left.”