Bonnie McKee on Writing Hits for Pop's Leading Ladies: 'Britney Spears Is Just All Sex, All Day' (Q&A)
Pop divas look to THR's No. 8 Hitmaker for their next chart-topper. Now, the award-winning songwriter is taking her turn at a solo career.
Bonnie McKee has wildly divergent writing styles, producing massive pop hits for artists like Katy Perry (“Teenage Dream,” “Last Friday Night,” California Gurls,” “Part of Me,” “Wide Awake”), Britney Spears (“Hold It Against Me”), Rita Ora (“How We Do”) and Ke$ha ("C’Mon") -- and that's just in the last three years. The California native, who's repped by Pulse Management, turned to songwriting after her 2004 debut solo album tanked, and today, mainly partners with producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin, who helped transform her career. “It kept going up step by step by step where the names kept getting bigger and the sessions started getting more real,” McKee says, noting that Perry’s four million-selling “California Gurls” feels like her first real hit. Next up: another solo effort, being released by Epic Records.
The Hollywood Reporter: What song do you think was a turning point in your career?
Bonnie McKee: My experience in the industry was that you put all this heart and soul into shit and then it never happens. We wrote [Katy Perry’s] "California Gurls" and we thought, "Well, maybe this will work; maybe it won’t." And then when it came on the radio I was, like, "Wow I did that a couple months ago and I can’t believe it’s actually on the radio and it actually worked!" When that started playing a lot I was just in shock. I couldn’t believe it … I think ‘California Gurls’ is the first one that really showed me that.
THR: What song are you most proud of writing?
McKee: "Teenage Dream." That’s a title I’d had bouncing around in my head for years that I had been holding onto for myself … So that was tough one to give up. There’s a lot of little Bonnie-isms in "Teenage Dream" that I was hoping to keep for myself. But at that moment I didn’t have hot water, I didn’t have a cell phone, I didn’t have a car. So it was now or never. I’m glad that I did it. And of course I wouldn’t want anyone else to do it -- Katy is the perfect fit for that, so I’m really grateful to have an amazing artist to put my lyrics on. And then also [Britney Spears’] "Hold It Against Me" was a happy accident. It was actually inspired by Katy because I was writing with her at the time and I went in the other room where I was working on Britney in between. She came into the room in some tight, sexy little dress and I jokingly said, "Damn, Katy if I told you you had a nice body would you hold it against me?" I was like, "Bingo!" and I wrote that song.
THR: Does Britney know she has Katy to thank for that song?
McKee: I don’t think so. I never actually got to meet Britney when we worked on the album, which is funny because I’m singing a lot of it. But she knows who I am, and she’s been really sweet about praising me.
THR: What's the guiding principal when writing a song for Britney?
McKee: Britney Spears is just all sex, all day. It's like, how many sexual innuendos can I come up with?
THR: How would you describe the songs on your own upcoming album?
McKee: They’re big pop songs, radio stuff. Very ‘80s influenced, kind of nostalgic. Big vocals. I like big, soaring melodies and fun, splashy lyrics. Maybe like what Blondie would do in 2013.
THR: Are you working with Dr. Luke on it?
McKee: Yes. I just played a bunch of stuff for him. Max Martin, Dr. Luke and I are going to get together in the next few weeks and get some songs going. And also Katy Perry’s record is coming up too so we’re probably going to be working on that as well.
THR: Are partnerships with people like Dr. Luke and Katy Perry important for you?
McKee: Absolutely. I’ve done a lot of stuff with Max as well. We wrote a song for Christina Aguilera called “Let There Be Love” and we slaved over that together. It was really fun to work with Max one-on-one. They are all very important to be and my partner Oligee, who is one half of the group Oliver, has taught me so much as well.
THR: Do you have any other upcoming projects?
McKee: I also just worked on a Cobra Starship song that I’m also going to be featured on. And Lea Michele just did a couple of my songs. But I’m just mostly using my time for my own record -- that’s what I’m really excited about.
THR: When will your album come out?
McKee: We’ll probably do a single this spring and hopefully have a summer album release.