Hitmaker Ester Dean on Songwriting, Fighting and Eating Hot Dogs (Q&A)
The chart-topping songwriter -- whose hits include Rihanna's "Rude Boy" and Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" -- has expanded her world to include roles in voice acting ("Ice Age: Continental Drift") and feature film ("Pitch Perfect"). So what's next?
Ester Dean’s achievements are eclectic. While she has been a hitmaking songwriter for years -- getting her first No. 1 with Rihanna’s 2010 hit “Rude Boy” and penning Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” -- in 2012 she did voice work for Ice Age: Continental Drift and co-starred in the Anna Kendrick musical comedy Pitch Perfect. “[This year] is me really wanting to show myself as a whole, in a raw form,” says Dean, 28, who in January dropped the first single from her yet-untitled solo album, “How You Love It,” featuring Missy Elliott.
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The Hollywood Reporter: Tell me about your plans for 2013. What’s the plan for the release of your solo album?
Ester Dean: Songwriting has taken care of me as a whole -- and I would never have even known it was going to do that -- I am able to be blessed with so many opportunities just through songwriting, so I’m not really like, "I have to get the album out right now because we got to make some money." This album is going to go out to the people who want it, and I want to make sure that there are people out there who want it.
THR: What are your other goals for 2013 then?
Dean: [This year] is me really wanting to show myself as a whole, in a raw form. I represent the people who are in the raw, so in 2013 I have to show that with my songs, with the things that I choose. I’m the only girl songwriter that fights for a lot of things. I fight for songwriting fees, which record labels want you to shut up about. I’m only telling you this because if a songwriter reads this, they’ll know that I’m fighting for it, so you make sure you do too.
THR: When it comes to your songwriting, are their certain songs that you’re most proud of?
Dean: I’m proud of [Katy Perry’s] “Firework” because it was a song that touched people in a way that I didn’t know if would. At the time, [Rihanna’s] “S&M” was out, and that’s me, and so here I am with “S&M” and I thought with “Firework” being an inspirational song, is the radio going to take that? So here I had two songs on the same same chart that were totally different.
THR: Do you ever get tired of hearing your own songs?
Dean: I don’t really listen to them [once they're on the radio]. I listen to them before I give them away. I listened to “What’s My Name” and “S&M” a whole year before they came out on the radio.
THR: What’s your ideal working environment?
Dean: A heater at my feet. This strong ass coffee called Cool Brew, which is amazing. I call it coffee crack. As long as I have a comfortable environment. I was just in the Bahamas, and it wasn’t a comfortable environment, and so I had to go get hot dogs. If I’m out of town and I’m in a situation where I have to be creative, it has to be hot dogs because that’s my comfort food.
THR: Is there a song of yours that you felt should have been a hit but wasn’t?
Dean: Usher’s “Little Freak” with Nicki Minaj and Usher’s “Hot Tottie” with Jay-Z. I was like, "How in the hell is that not a hit?" Nicki when she first came out and Jay-Z and Usher! I’m still mad.
THR: How do you get feedback on new lyrics you're working on? Do you tweet them?
Dean: Hell no! I’ve got to keep my lyrics. It’s so funny because if you tweet your lyrics and then you hear it in a song next week you’re like, ‘Hey I had that same idea.’ I’m very secretive with my music. We have to send emails password protected. Because once that song gets out, you aren’t selling that thing.