Behind-The-Scenes Stories About Songs

Updated 2 minutes ago. Posted 1 hour ago

Did you know that Dolly Parton used her acrylic nails to write “9 to 5”?


Harry Styles wrote “Falling” in just a shower towel with Fine Line songwriter and producer Thomas Hull, aka Kid Harpoon, in only 20 minutes.

Columbia / Erskine

Styles told Zane Lowe in an interview for Apple Music that it took him only 20 minutes to write the emotional ballad “Falling”: “I was going out for dinner and I was getting picked up from Tom’s house. As I came out of the shower, he was playing. I went and stood next to him at the piano, just in a towel, and we just wrote the whole thing.”

Styles talked candidly about his emotional state while writing “Falling,” claiming that while he was recording Fine Line, “The times when I felt good and happy were the happiest I’ve ever felt in my life, and the times when I felt sad were the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life.”


Stevie Nicks wrote “Landslide” about her difficult breakup with Lindsey Buckingham in 1974 just before they joined Fleetwood Mac.

Timothy A. Clary / Getty Images / Reprise

On Oprah’s Master Class, Nicks revealed the real inspiration behind writing “Landslide.” She said that in 1974, her romantic relationship with Buckingham was turning unhealthy and stressful. The two songwriters hadn’t landed a record deal yet, they were running out of money, and Nicks was tired of working as a waitress all day and making music at night. She considered going back to school if their music career never panned out, and claimed that the year before she and Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac was a tumultuous one. “This didn’t do a lot for our relationship,” Nicks said, “because fear never helps relationships, and when you’re scared about where your next money is coming from, it’s really nerve-racking.”


While recording “Partition” in the studio, Beyoncé didn’t come prepared with any lyrics — she completely ad-libbed the song as soon as she heard the bass line and beat.

Parkwood / Columbia

In Beyoncé’s Self-Titled documentary, she revealed that she went into the recording studio without a pen and paper and just started singing into the mic. She said: “I’m in the studio and I hear this bass line and this beat. It has snaps, and it has two tracks — it’s very simple. It takes me back to when me and my husband first met and he’s trying to scoop me and he thinks I’m the hottest thing in the world.”

Beyoncé revealed that it was important for her to express her sexual fantasies in “Partition” because of the complex feelings women experience after giving birth for the first time. She said, “You could have your child and you could still have fun and still be sexy and still have dreams and still live for yourself. I don’t have any shame about being sexual, and I’m not embarrassed about it.”


When John Lennon divorced his first wife in the late ’60s, Paul McCartney wrote “Hey Jude” for Lennon’s son, Julian, to make him feel better.

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In a video for GQ where McCartney broke down his most popular songs, he revealed the story behind the Beatles classic “Hey Jude.” After Lennon and his first wife, Cynthia, got divorced, McCartney drove out to visit Cynthia and their son, Julian. He said: “I was thinking about the boy — whose name is Julian — and I started this idea: ‘Hey, Jules, don’t make it bad. It’s gonna be okay.’ It was a reassurance song.” McCartney said he changed the lyric from “Hey Jules” to “Hey Jude” because “Jules” was a mouthful to sing.


Dolly Parton used her acrylic nails to write “9 to 5” because she believed they sounded like a typewriter.

20th Century Fox

Parton reflected on her time writing the title track for 9 to 5 on The Tonight Show in 2019 and told Jimmy Fallon: “When I wrote this song, I used my acrylic nails on the set. I did because they make noise, and it kind of sounded like a typewriter to me. And I played it on the actual record — it says ‘Nails by Dolly’ on the album!”


Lil Nas X wrote “Old Town Road” for his Twitter followers during his first year of college instead of retaking a math class.


In an episode of How It Went Down for Billboard, Lil Nas X revealed how he wrote this monster hit while riding home from school during his first year of college. He said: “I’m supposed to start this math class and retake it, but I don’t do that — what I do is make a song for Twitter, ’cause I have a big Twitter following where I post memes and stuff.”

He talked about his songwriting process in great detail, telling Billboard how he found the perfect beat for “Old Town Road” on YouTube: “I go through, like, maybe 100 beats or more. I come across this one beat and it sounds different. In a way [it] relates to my situation, of what I wanted to do at the moment — which is just run away from life.”


When John Legend first played the wedding classic “All of Me” for his then-fiancé, Chrissy Teigen, she cried.

GOOD / Columbia

In an interview with Shazam, Legend talked about playing this wedding anthem for Teigen for the first time, and how she couldn’t help but cry. He said, “She really loved it and connected with the lyrics. When she heard some of the specific lyrics, she just knew it was about her — she felt it.”

Legend continued to explain the power “All of Me” has on relationships, specifically when he performs it in concert: “I know someone has proposed when I hear a big cheer from the crowd in the middle of the song. I love that so many people feel the lyrics and wanna include the song as a part of a very special moment in their lives.”


Billie Eilish wrote “Bellyache” from the perspective of a serial killer.

Darkroom / Interscope

At the 2018 Forbes Under 30 Summit, Eilish was asked about the inspiration behind her hit “Bellyache,” mainly because the lyrics felt very obscure. She said, “I like writing in characters — I like putting myself in a place that I normally wouldn’t be, or a place that somebody I know is in. I feel like you don’t have to go through exactly what you’re writing about — it’s art.”

Eilish continued to go into detail about the dark meaning behind “Bellyache,” and how she wrote it with her brother in her garage: “[‘Bellyache’] is from the perspective of a serial killer, and I don’t know how in the world that came about. [My brother] was like, ‘My friends aren’t far in the back of my car, are there bodies?’ And I was like, ‘No. It should be: In the back of my car, lay their bodies. And we both were, like, [screaming].”


Taylor Swift was inspired to write “Death by a Thousand Cuts” after watching the Netflix rom-com Someone Great.

Netflix / Republic

Swift couldn’t help but gush about the Netflix rom-com Someone Great in an interview with Elvis Duran in 2019. She loved the heart and depth of the movie and explained how greatly it impacted her life. Swift said, “For a week, I start waking up from dreams that I’m living out that scenario, that that’s happening to me. I have these lyrics in my head based on the dynamics of these characters.”

A few months after releasing Lover, Swift got a surprise email from the writer and director of Someone Great, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Swift told Duran: “[Jen Robinson’s] like, ‘I just wanted to thank you for mentioning my movie; it was about my own breakup. While I was moving across the country, the album I had on repeat was 1989.’ And so I’m sitting there [thinking], I just wrote a song based on something she made, which she made while listening to something I made, which is the most meta thing that’s ever happened to me.”


Donald Glover said that “This Is America” is a song for the people, and it’s up to them to interpret what it’s really about.

mcDJ / RCA

During a press tour for Solo: A Star Wars Story, Glover was asked about the meaning behind the “This Is America” music video. He refused to define it and responded with, “I feel like it’s not really my place to do that. I think it’s just something that should just be out there — it’s for the people. Just like Star Wars, you can watch this and walk away with whatever you need to walk away with.”


Alicia Keys wrote “If I Ain’t Got You” on a plane immediately after she found out that Aaliyah had died in a plane crash.

J / Kevin Winter / Getty Images

In an interview for The Voice in 2017, Keys said, “I wrote it right after I found out that Aaliyah passed away, and I was on a plane. I think being on the plane and knowing that she passed away after a plane crash — there was just this sentiment of being present in the moment and really nothing else mattering but those you love.”

Keys got candid about the difficult production process behind “If I Ain’t Got You” and how it turned out to be one of her favorite songs. She said, “I remember I wrote it really fast, but in order to produce it the way that you hear it, it took forever. Every arrangement that I did was wrong. You never really know what’s gonna come of them, [and] you never know who’s gonna fall in love with them.”


Frank Ocean wrote “Novacane” about the numbness you experience when you don’t love someone you’re in a relationship with.

Def Jam

In a rare BBC interview in 2012, Ocean discussed his songwriting technique and the meaning behind tunes from his first mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra. Ocean told the dark story behind his song “Novacane,” saying, “[I was] just trying to connect or articulate the feeling of being numb — the feeling of somebody trying to love you, but you can’t feel it. A lot of things can cause that numbing, and in the video, it was like some sort of topical anesthetic and a little bit of special effects.”


Lady Gaga actually wrote “Shallow” as the ending song of A Star Is Born because in the original script, Bradley Cooper’s character drowned.

Warner Bros. Pictures

In an interview for the Los Angeles Times, Gaga described the writing process behind “Shallow.” Cooper’s character was originally supposed to drown at the end of A Star Is Born, but after they revised the script and changed Cooper’s ending, “Shallow” needed some revisions as well. Gaga said, “We thought [‘Shallow’] might be the ending song. I do feel it was more than the literal drowning element of the original script. It was much more about wanting a deep connection and love than it was about water.”

Gaga described filming the “Shallow” scene for the movie as a scary and relatable experience. She said, “When I went out there and put my hands over my face, that was real. That was exactly how I felt. It was that insecurity. It was that ‘I’m not good enough, but I’m doing this anyway because he inspired me.'”


Jimi Hendrix completely made up “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” on the spot while someone was filming the Jimi Hendrix Experience recording music in the studio.

Warner Archive / Via

In a rare interview with Rolling Stone in 1970, Hendrix talked about his songwriting process, specifically with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, in the recording studio. He said, “With ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return),’ somebody was filming when we started doing that. We did that about three times because they wanted to film us in the studio, to make us [imitates a pompous voice] ‘Make it look like you’re recording, boys’ — one of them scenes, you know.”


Cyndi Lauper’s hit “She Bop” is actually about masturbation, and she read lifestyle and entertainment magazines like Blueboy for lyric inspiration.


In a 2014 interview, Lauper said that one of the She’s So Unusual songwriters called her up in the middle of the night and asked her to write a song about masturbation for the album. She revealed, “Stephen [Broughton Lunt] said, ‘No woman has had this before; you’ll be the first.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll be good for first — I was the first female streaker in my college.'”

Lauper was determined to be the first female artist to tackle this subject in a song, but she had a difficult time writing the lyrics. She made Lunt buy her magazines like Playgirl and Blueboy at a store near the recording studio for some lyric inspiration.


And “Ms. Jackson” by Outkast was André 3000’s apology to Erykah Badu’s mom for the breakup between the two hip-hop artists.

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