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 country singer and The Voice Comeback Stage coach Kelsea Ballerini who is looking for something new–a country root with a progressive twist on it.
Jack Newsome – Lying (Next to You) – He notes visual comparisons to Justin Bieber. He is not 16 years old! “I will probably be carded until the day I die,” the Los Angeles based artist admits. He was in a boyband growing up–that’s when he began writing. “Lying” is written like a country song, but with an electronic beat, he says. In other words, like nearly every song on country radio these days. His version is super poppy, like something a boybander would sing. I’m not hearing the country, other than the click track…SNERK. Kelsea likes the vibe. Shane imagines himself singing it. The song is about the tail end of a relationship. Ryan wants to change the melody “it doesn’t resolve.” he says. Kelsea wants a break in the verse. She’s impressed when Jack offers a quick fix to her liking.
Jess Jocoy – Easy – A Washington state native, Jess is currently based in Nashville and a 2017 Belmont graduate. Moving to music city was a big shock. “This song was a lesson learned the hard way,” she explains. She calls it a “healing” song after breaking up with a guy her friends warned her off. Now, this is country. I love her voice and what a beautiful melody. Shane loves the melody too. Kelsea appreciates its traditional feel. Shane thinks the song doesn’t tell the whole story and suggests taking the guy’s name out. The group plays around with the melody a little. Ester calls the it “infectious.” Shane thinks it has “good bones.”
Daniel Feels – Crush – A Los Angeles based singer/songwriter, he confesses that his real last name is Goldberger. This song isn’t very country either. It’s catchy though. It’s the kind of song that sticks in your head. The panel calls it a “feel good” song. Ryan strums the guitar while Kelsea plays with the melody and words. Shane compares Daniel to Paul Simon. Daniel loves Paul Simon! Ryan suggests stripping it down. Ryan likens the panel tinkering to “outpatient surgery vs emergency room open heart.”
Darius Coleman – Better Luck Next Time – According to this 2017 Revolt piece, Darius was a songwriter on the FOX musical drama, Empire. His song, “Sundown” was featured in a Cadillac corporate recap video. He writes pop music but says it would be “hashtag goals” if Kelsea picked a song from a Philadelphia black dude. He’s living in Los Angeles these days. Ryan has been on Darius’s “vision board” for awhile. Kelsea and Shane look like their heads will explode, as Darius performs. It’s a good song. Pretty melody, but it’s still not very country. It could be twanged up, though. Ryan gives him a big hug. Kelsea thinks it has a country hook. The group work on the melody. After he leaves the room, the group goes back to work on it. They like it!
Results time! Three will advance. One will be eliminated. Daniel Feels, Darius Coleman and Jack Newsome move on to the studio round. Jess Jacoy is eliminated. Kelsea says the song belongs to her.
Hm. Of the four artists, I thought Jess offered the best song. It’s probably too traditional for Kelsea, who was probably letting Jess down easy when she called the song “too personal” to take away from Jess.
Now it’s time to work in the studio. Shane collaborates with Jack Newsome, whose dimples he can’t stop mentioning. He thinks the song has a strong country hook. Shane goes to work on the lyrics to sharpen them up. Ester works with Daniel Feels. Kelsea dials in via Facetime. She wants to strip the song back more. And Darius Coleman gets to complete his vision with Ryan. They work to find the right key for Kelsea. Ryan is so familiar with her range, they figure it out pretty quickly. Shane “chops up” the guitar line of Jack’s song. He believes the instruments can tell the story. Daniel suggests stripping his song down to acoustic guitar. Ester also pares down the lyrics. Kelsea tries out the new key on Darius’ song and she’s happy. Oh. Ester and Daniel plan to recruit a female singer to perform the song for Kelsea. Darius is really happy with the direction the song is taking.
Jack Newsome – Lying Next to You – The arrangement is even more click tracky than before. Honestly, he should hand to song off to PRETTYMUCH or another boyband. I really can’t imagine Kelsea singing this song. He ends with an a’cappella outro, which is the nicest part. Kelsea explains that re-writing the end of the song was important. She uses Peter Pan as an example, where the last line “you don’t know what you lost” turns the song hopeful rather than sad.
Darius Coleman – Better Luck Next Time – The team changed the key and added electric guitar and backgrounds. It still doesn’t sound very country! But it’s a good song. Darius should cut it himself, actually, because this performance is pretty sweet. Kelsea loves the flip to the chorus. It was her only concern. Ryan is “covered in goosebumps.”
Daniel Feels – Crush – He accompanies a female singer on guitar. Using a female singer helps to envision Kelsea cutting the song. This is barely country as well. The girl they cut had the only authentically country song, but there you go! “It’s a whole different song,” says Kelsea. She compliments the singer, Annie. Ryan calls the song a classic pop melody and an “earworm.” The song is the catchiest of the three.
Decision time! The three songwriters gather in the room with Kelsea and the team. Kelsea says there are two songs she would have put on her last record. But she’s pushing herself in another direction now. She picks Darius Coleman’s “Better Luck Next Time.” It’s a good song. I’m not sure I’ll like Kelsea’s version more than the original, however. “It’s a lane that I haven’t really done,” she says. “It felt like me enough, but a departure enough to push me.”
Kelsea chooses Darius Coleman’s “Better Luck Next Time!
When Kelse says she wants to “move in another direction,” what she really means is “I want to crossover like Taylor Swift did.” Consider how quickly she rejected the only country song of the bunch.
Here’s the recorded version. Ha. With all the discussion of “country hooks” and country vibes, the result ended up 100 percent pop. Which I am sure was Kelsea’s goal all along. And yes, I prefer Darius’ version.