Songwriters are unsung heroes in a literal sense; they create the songs we know and love and then sit back in anonymity as someone else takes the spotlight. Our focus here at Ones to Watch is shining the spotlight on deserving up and coming artists, but at times the creation of the music gets overshadowed by the end result. This thought lead us to create “Anatomy of a Song,” a new section on the site that focuses on the backend of the creative process–songwriting and production.
We thought we’d kick things off with a bang and dive into the writing of one of the biggest songs of the past decade, Dua Lipa’s “New Rules.” Written by Ian Kirkpatrick, Caroline Ailin and Emily Warren, the song is currently closing in on a billion listens on Spotify alone, and 1.4 billion views on the accompanying music video. Nothing short of the ultimate breakup anthem, a listen to “New Rules” means hitting power poses, singing into a hairbrush and possibly even strutting around your bedroom in a towel. Emily Warren is a Grammy-winning multi-platinum songwriter with an impressive discography performed by the likes of Shawn Mendez, The Chainsmokers, Sean Paul and Frenship – in addition to an impressive artist with a growing solo discography as well.
We sat down with Warren to deconstruct the anatomy of the song that sent Ones to Watch alum Dua Lipa into international superstardom.
BRAIN: The Thought Process
OTW: So as you were writing lyrics, did you have live instruments out or was Ian producing?
Yeah Ian started producing, lyrics definitely were coming first. I think the chorus came together before anything else did. And actually the production that Ian did in the room ended up being really close to what the actual song came out as. There was no bridge at the time, and that actually came much later as Dua was jumping on it. Caroline and I wrote the bridge over text. I literally have voice notes that we were sending back and forth to each other trying melodies and trying lyrics and stuff.
OTW: How long did the initial session last for New Rules?
Emily Warren: I don’t remember exactly, probably six or seven hours though.
OTW: How is the final version different? Are there major changes or just small wording edits?
Emily Warren: No, if I remember correctly they wanted the opening lines to be stronger, so we just went back in and rewrote those. But same melody and same idea, just slightly reworked. Actually the chorus started fully as a rap, and there was no melody to it, so that came a little bit later. I think having it be a fully female song and not having a dude on it really helped with the video and the concept when the song came out.
HEART: The Core Emotion
OTW: What about this song made it so relatable and empowering to other women?
I was told when I first started writing to never make the lyric sound like the guy wasn’t going to get it, to always leave the possibility. That was four of five years ago, but this song did not do that. There’s things that I’ve heard on the radio in the past few years that I’m surprised at, because the lyrics are offensive or demeaning or you can tell it’s five dudes in a room writing for a female artist. And I think I’m now seeing so many more powerful female artists saying powerful things. Being involved in that movement in any way is more than you could hope for as a writer.
LEGS: The Means to Take Off
OTW: How did the song get in the hands of Dua Lipa?
Emily Warren: It’s funny because the day we wrote it, we played it for a couple people, and people weren’t really reacting to it. I mean we write songs almost every day, so when that happens you kind of just have to let it go. And it was one of those songs where I really hadn’t listened to it much since the day we wrote it. I remember when Dua was closing her album, Ian’s manager sent it over to her, and they all flipped out and wanted to make it the single.
OTW: Have you met Dua Lipa?
Emily Warren: Yeah! I’d worked with Dua a bunch before that song came together. I wrote “No Lie,” which she’s on with Sean Paul and we’d done a bunch of sessions leading up to that. So when I heard she was on the song I was like, “Oh hell yes!” I think I always believed Dua was gunna blow up and it was just the matter of the right song and the right time.
OTW: You’ve written popular songs for so many different artists, what do you think made “New Rules” such a massive hit?
Emily Warren: I wish I knew because then we could recreate it. I do think with that one it was just the perfect storm. It’s just so rare. I mean with the timing, there were all these think pieces coming out about how it was the anthem of the Me Too movement, which was so amazing–to have a song that had a message at that time, especially a female empowerment message. Dua absolutely killed it as well; I really don’t think that song would be what it is with anyone else on it. And the video was like the best video of the year, everything just worked out. I feel really lucky, I think we all do, to have had something like that happen because it was just like pure luck.
HANDS: Advice For Songwriters Who Need A Lift
OTW: The success you’ve had is amazing but unfortunately a lot of young songwriters struggle to keep their spirits up. What advice would you give?
Emily Warren: I think what’s really helped me the whole way is trusting my instincts. It’s hard to do that, especially when you’re willing to give things up or succumb to pressure when you don’t have much going on. That’s a mistake I got really close to making a number of times and got good enough advice not to sign the wrong contracts or work with the wrong people or give songs away to people I didn’t think suited the song. It’s either quick cash or the long game. I really feel like if you have any ability to wait on things, wait to sign a publishing deal, wait to work with a manager until it’s someone you really trust. It always rewards you in the long run. Especially as a female, it’s especially hard not to listen to a label head who’s a powerful dude who is telling you to do this, that and the other thing, but if it doesn’t feel right then it’s probably not right.
OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?
She’s not really a baby anymore, but Sigrid I think is really just beginning. I’ve worked with her a bunch and she’s a dream to work with. Bülow also, I’ve never worked with her but I just love her music. Lennon also, Lennon Stella.
OTW: Any final thoughts about “New Rules?”
I guess thank you to everyone who listened and supported that song. It’s changed my life for real.
Listen to Emily Warren’s debut album, Quiet Your Mind, below: