The new music competition Songland continues tonight on NBC. Songwriters compete to have their tune recorded by that week’s mega-artist. Songwriter/producers Ryan Tedder, Shane McAnally and Ester Dean will help the contestants bring their ideas to life.
Four songwriters will present their tunes to Aloe Blacc and David Leitch, the director of the upcoming movie, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. The winning song will be recorded by Aloe for the movie soundtrack.
At the movie’s climax, explains the director, the heros, played by Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson, will go up against Idris Elba in an epic battle. Leitch is looking for a song that has “swagger” and is “super anthemic.” Aloe adds that the conflict is about “coming home” and “working with your family against the odds of an adversary.”
There’s so much synergy happening here. Songland gives Aloe a new single while promoting an upcoming film produced under the Comcast/Universal umbrella. Winning!
Note: After this tonight’s episode, Songland will go on a five week hiatus, returning to the NBC schedule on a new night and time. Starting August 14, Songland will air on Wednesdays at 9 pm ET/PT, after the America’s Got Talent results show.
Kyle Williams – I’m Just Getting Started – He’s from a small town in Oklahoma and spends hours a day thinking about music. The song he brings to Songland is about somebody who has worked all their life for something, and is now “just getting started.” “It’s got soul, it’s got an empowering melody,” says Kyle about the song. He’s seen EVERY film from the Fast and Furious franchise. Ester is also from Oklahoma and goes on about various places in the state. Ryan is too, but if he said anything about it, it was left on the cutting room floor. Heh. Fun fact: Kyle plays in a Christian band, but obviously hip hop is his thing too. Leitch is pleased. “There’s a swagger…that is undeniable, that is emblematic of those two [lead] characters in the Fast world,” he says. Aloe wants to add a bridge and a “niee drop.” Ryan adds that the song “needs to be as edgy as possible.”
Afika – Chosen – Afika Nxumalo was born to South African and Swazi immigrant parents in North Carolina. He was “totally broke” when he wrote the song. It’s about “facing a mountain of hardship and struggle” but having faith to get through to the other side. The song has hip hop and rap elements woven with African beats. “Nice energy,” says Aloe. He calls the chorus “vibey.” Ester thinks he should sing the rap part. Leitch can picture the song in a scene in the movie. Ryan recalls how Kanye handled the bass. Aloe, sings the verse. The panel is full of ideas for the song. They love the lyrics, but work to make the piece more dynamic.
TVTE – Call for a Hero – Maggie Gabbard was raised in Lexington, Kentucky. Her stage name TVTE is pronounced “Tate.” She explains that the odd (and nonsensical, frankly) way of spelling of her name is a way to “separate” herself from other artists. She currently lives in Wilmington, Delaware, a place plagued by drugs and crime. Her life has had challenges–the concept of the song is to “be your own hero.” Hm. This song is a little monotonous. The panel has a lot of work to do! The chorus is the best part of the song. Leitch likes the “hero element.” The panel suggests “arrangement changes”–major structural changes to the tune. Ryan compares the process to “puzzle pieces to put together.”
Steve Fee – Same Blood – The artist just moved to Franklin, Tennessee and is the most experienced of the four songwriters. He had a few hit songs on the Christian Contemporary charts between about 2009 and 2011 with his namesake band FEE. He’s an active Worship leader who has written a ton of service songs. Interesting, he doesn’t get a video package. The song is about how humans forge bonds and that “the family that you choose is often times stronger than the family you are born into.” I know he’s had hit songs, but I don’t like his voice at all. The song doesn’t seem suitable for the movie. “I felt your heart,” says Shane. He likes the lyrics. It’s message of understanding and inclusion, that resonates with him. Aloe singing the melody changes everythings–his soulful voice adds heft and a deeper meaning to the song.
Results! Moving ahead to the next round is TVTE, Kyle Williams and Steve Fee. I am REALLY surprised that Aloe didn’t pick Afika’s “Chosen,” considering how animated the jam session was. Aloe said the song “didn’t feel like the right direction” and that it would take too much work to “make it me and fit it into the movie.” He chose Kyle Williams “I’m Just Getting Started” with a caveat–it lacks a bridge.
TVTE works with Ester Dean, while Steve Fee collaborates with Shane McAnally. Kyle Williams works with Ryan Tedder. Shane suspects Steve’s song has a story behind it, which the artist shares. Years ago, a song he wrote for church was the favorite of a little five year old boy with cancer. Visiting the boy in the hospital, he sees the lyrics on pages pasted up all over the room. Sadly, the boy tragically passed away. But that day in the hospital, Steve meets the mom. They eventually fall in love and marry. He told her at the time “I’m here for you…we’re the same blood.” Ryan wants to turn Kyle’s song from a Twenty-One Pilots thing into something dirtier. Ester thinks TVTE’s song has too many parts. She slims it down. Aloe Face times in to add his suggestions. Shane works on Steve’s song to give it a gospelly sound.
The songwriters have a treat in store–they Facetime with the movie’s star, The Rock aka Dwayne Johnson. “Our music for Hobbs and Shaw is our soul, and the lifeline of the movie” Dwayne says while assuring the trio that the world “is about to know them.”
TVTE – Hero – The title is shortened to “Hero.” The new arrangement is more cogent than the original, with a clearer story to tell. The story is clearer as well. Leitch likes the chorus change up. Aloe LOVES the arrangement.
Kyle Williams – I’m Just Getting Started – The new arrangement doesn’t suit Kyle at all. He’s like a suburban dad singing hip-hop here. He’s got no swag, which Ryan makes clear is the thing he was going for. But the melody is memorable, and the song’s message clear. And most importantly, it’s a good fit for Aloe, who feels that the song will grab hearts.
Steve Fee – Same Blood – He’s got a gospel choir in the room with him. I still don’t like his vocal, and the chorus feels too much. I would have swapped Steve for Afika, actually. Aloe loved the change to the end of the chorus. “The lyric feels so strong,” he says. Shane suggests he share the story behind the song to the entire group. So, Shane tells it again, adding that he met the mom and her son in 2010 and that the boy died from cancer after the two were married. Not said: He was married before that and struggled with infidelity. Steve’s story has Ryan weeping.
RESULTS: Leitch believes all three songs are perfect. But Aloe chooses the song, and he picks Kyle Williams “I’m Just Getting Started.” The song’s theme of renewal fits, Aloe believes, because the film is the “beginning of a brand new franchise.” The song name is shortened to “Getting Started.”
There’s a card added at the very end explaining that Aloe also recorded Steve Fee’s “Same Blood.” Actually, I thought Steve’s emotional backstory would have tipped the scale in his favor. Instead, he got a consolation prize, which is better than no prize! TVTE’s version of “Hero” is up on iTunes along with the rest.
It seems crazy for NBC to break up Songland’s momentum with a five week hiatus. But here we are. An 8 week run of the comedy competition Bring the Funny will air in the slot. See you on August 14.