Nowadays fans are hardly shocked to find out a favorite musician won’t write all their own lyrics. Sometimes they will collaborate on a tune or sometimes they simply select a song from several submitted to them. What may be surprising for some fans, however, is discovering that some of those hit songs were written by fellow best-selling singers. It makes sense after all: why should a singer-songwriter be restricted to just writing music just for themselves?
We dug up some of the biggest hits ever written by one singer for another. Our list includes veteran lyrical geniuses, like Kanye West, to up-and-comers who are starting to make a name for themselves (at least where song-writing for others is concerned!), like Katy Perry. Even Taylor Swift (who’s notorious for her own kiss-and-tell tracks) is on here for helping write a fellow country crooner’s autobiographical love song on their behalf.
Check out our 10 biggest tracks written for singers by other singers now.
No. 10 – Lady Gaga Wrote Telephone for Britney Spears
The single Telephone sold 7.4 million copies upon release in early 2010 – not to mention that it was part of the Grammy-winning album, The Fame Monster, by Lady Gaga. This best-selling track that featured Beyonce also had an explosive, Quentin Tarantino-style, ten-minute music video (with cameo by Tyrese) to accompany it. Gaga certainly made it her own but originally wrote it with someone else in mind. Mother Monster penned the track for Britney Spears’s album, Circus, but the Pop Princess said no thanks. “I wrote it for [Spears] a long time ago and she just didn’t use it for her album,” Gaga said. “It’s fine because I love the song and I get to perform it now.” No hard feelings, it would seem, except for one small detail: Gaga wanted Brit to duet with her but then changed her mind and picked up the telephone to call Queen Bey to be a voice on the track instead.
No. 9 – Cee Lo Green Wrote Don’t Cha for the Pussycat Dolls
The breakout song by the Pussycat Dolls in 2005 was Don’t Cha, written by Thomas Callaway, Anthony Ray and Trevor Smith. Who? Maybe you’d recognize them better by their stage names: Cee Lo Green, Sir Mix-a-Lot and Busta Rhymes. That seems like a shocking trio to have written this sexy and sassy pop hit that sold over 6 million copies around the globe. Well maybe this will clear things up. Cee Lo originally wrote it for Tori Alamaze (Sir Mix-a-Lot gets credit thanks to a borrowed hook from his song). Although Alamaze released it, Don’t Cha flopped. The record label then offered the song to Paris Hilton (who said no) before giving it to PCD. Cee Lo didn’t know much about the up-and-coming girl group but was happy to work with them in the end. Busta Rhymes penned a rap verse, which Cee Lo added to get the song you know today.
No 8 – Jessie J Wrote Party in the USA for Miley Cyrus
Party in the USA, which was written by English chart-topper Jessie J with a few others, debuted on Miley Cyrus’ album The Time of Our Lives in 2009. The song was part of what Cyrus called a “transitioning album” away from her Hannah Montana image. Coming as the sixth highest-selling digital single of the year and hitting number two on Bilboard’s Hot 100, Party in the USA was one of Miley’s best selling singles – despite her admission of never having listened to a Jay Z song.
The song was written by Jessie J and intended for herself, but in the end, she found the tune to just not be edgy enough for her. “I don’t know if it’s me 100%,” she said. She decided to give it to Miley and softened it up from the original, making it more fun, to match the teen’s new image.
No. 7 – Katy Perry Wrote I Do Not Hook Up for Kelly Clarkson
Pop darling Katy Perry actually wrote I Do Not Hook Up for herself, but never got around to using it on an album. Once she switched labels, she decided it was time to give the song a refresh and sent it off to Kelly Clarkson in hopes she’d sing it. And she did – it was the first single off Clarkson’s fourth album. It sold nearly 700,000 digital copies in less than a year. Maybe it’d have done even better if it kept some of Perry’s saucy, original lyrics. “Keep your thing in your pants, your heart on your sleeve,” was changed to “keep your hand in my hand, your heart on your sleeve” for the American Idol’s pop-rock track.
No. 6 – Kesha Wrote Till the World Ends for Britney Spears
Ever wondered what Kesha’s last name is? If you were reading the album insert for Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale, then you’d see the pop singer’s last name is Serbert. (We can see why she dropped it – Kesha Serbert just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) Kesha penned Till the World Ends alongside Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Alexander Kronlund. Kesha spoke of the catchy dance-pop tune, saying she was imaging Spears touring the globe and having such a good time, that she wouldn’t want it to end. Till the World Ends sold 2.8+ million copies in the States. When discussing the track, Kesha also said, “I’ve never been more proud of anything in my career”.
No. 5 – Kanye West Wrote Izzo (H.O.V.A.) for Jay Z
Back before he was making headlines for his outlandish behaviour, controversial comments and ground breaking rap career, Kanye worked behind the scenes as a writer and producer. While Kanye’s mostly known as being producer for Izzo (H.O.V.A.) – constructing a memorable beat and integrating a sample from The Jackson 5’s I Want You Back – he also is credited as being a writer. Alongside Jay Z himself, Kanye helped the rapper pen one of his most popular songs yet. The track, from his legendary The Blueprint album, was one of Jay Z’s first-ever Billboard Hot 100 top 10 songs. Kanye also wrote the hit Beyonce-Jay Z duet ’03 Bonnie & Clyde for The Blueprint 2. Kanye’s written his own best selling tracks as well as for others (Keri Hilson’s Knock You Down, Alicia Keys’ You Don’t know My Name, etc).
No. 4 – Taylor Swift Wrote Best Days of Your Life for Kellie Pickler
Kellie Pickler’s biggest hit to date was Best Days of Your Life; it was her first top ten country song and first to exceed 1 million downloads. Pickler can credit her “little sister” Taylor Swift for the motivation and help to write the song. The former American Idol told Swift that she caught her boyfriend cheating on her while on tour with Brad Paisley, so Swift – who’s known to torch former loves in her feisty songs – convinced Pickler to put pen to paper. Swift and Pickler not only both wrote the track, but also both star in the video.
No. 3 – Ed Sheeran Wrote Little Things for One Direction
It only took one week to sell nearly 100,000 singles and six months to reach the one million mark for this track from boy band One Direction. Little Things was the second single off their Take Me Home album; for this record, the guys expressed wanting to work with singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. Sheeran had written Little Things over five years earlier with a friend, and found the lyrics just when he began working with 1D on their songs. They loved it – as did their fans – and they selected that along with Over Again for the record. When reflecting on Little Things, Sheeran shared: “It’s got one of my favorite lines ever that I’ve ever written in a song.” Besides making a hit for One Direction, Sheeran seems to have also helped cleared up any bad blood between Harry Styles and his close pal Taylor Swift. What can’t Ed Sheeran do!
No. 2 – Timbaland Wrote SexyBack for Justin Timberlake
He didn’t just rap on JT’s songs; he also didn’t just make the beat. No, Timothy Mosley (Timbaland) was also credited with writing some of the superstar’s most famous tracks including SexyBack. Timabaland, alongside Justin himself and another writer, created the lyrics for the track from Timerlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds record. The song not only went on to win a Grammy, but also sold 4.3+ million copies. It topped Billboard’s Hot 100 for seven weeks and made it to number one spot on the charts in 10 countries. The entire record was a huge success thanks to Timbaland’s infectious beats; he produced the entire album in addition to writing a handful of songs. Timbaland has also written hits for Rihanna, Nelly Furtado, Madonna, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Brandy, Flo Rida and Jay Z, among others.
No. 1 – OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder Wrote Halo for Beyonce
Ryan Tedder worked with Timbaland (who also makes our list) for two years early on in his career. Timbaland mentored the budding songwriter and set him up with plenty of industry contacts. Since then, Tedder has written songs for Adele, Demi Lovato, Leona Lewis, James Blunt, Adam Lambert, Ellie Goulding, Colbie Caillat and B.o.B. to name a few. He also penned Beyonce’s hit track Halo alongside Queen Bey herself. Halo sold over 3 million electronic copies in the US alone; it also won a Grammy.
Despite being a huge success, Tedder was unlucky enough to receive some harsh criticism from Kelly Clarkson, for whom he wrote Already Gone. Clarkson was just about to release her track by him when she heard Halo and called him on his honeymoon to admonish him for giving her a similar song. He said that they have different vocal melodies and aren’t the same, but the media did point out plenty of similarities when both tracks hit the airwaves.