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THE GRAMMY CONVERSATIONS: BENNY BLANCO

Interview by Simon Glickman

Grammy Producer of the Year nominee Benny Blanco has helmed and/or co-written hits with Ed SheeranJustin BieberRihannaKaty PerryMaroon 5The WeekndKeshaHalseySiaWiz KhalifaJulia Michaels and Tory Lanez. He’s also received the Hal David Starlight Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame, was iHeartRadio’s 2017 Producer of the Year and recently renewed his deal to keep his own labels, Mad Love and Friends Keep Secrets, with Interscope Geffen A&M. After hearing us on the other end of the phone, though, the star producer probably wishes he’d reached for the mute button.

What do the Grammys signify for you?
That’s the pinnacle, the milestone—you made it. Until then, your parents are like, “What’s the backup plan?” Then you get one of those and they’re like, “All right, all right.” Once you win, do they stop asking you to consider law school?Yeah. If you’ve got one of those statues, you’re allowed three more years to decide what you want to do. 

You’ve really helped shape the way pop sounds now. Can you say a little about how that came to be?
I don’t listen to the radio, so I don’t try to chase anything. I just try to stay in my own bubble and make music that makes me and the friends I’m in the room with feel something. If I really like a song, I hope at least a few other people will like it. 

I know you’ve been influenced by hip-hop from the get-go.
It’s crazy—I never really knew how to make pop songs. I really liked rhythmic and electronic music and just did what I did, and it slowly started shifting that way. You’ve just got to make what you love. The labels are going to say, “This is the single; no, that’s the single,” but really, the way people ingest music now, they’re going to make their own decisions. Like Post Malone’s “rockstar”—that song’s #1. Then he had a song from his last album that wasn’t even a single that he performed once, and now it’s the second-biggest song in the world. You can’t force anything down people’s throats anymore. 

How is the changing marketplace affecting the way artists approach their projects?
I don’t try to work with artists that think about that stuff. I’m a sounding board; I go in and listen to [the artists’] problems. Writing songs is a release, a way to get your message across—but also to just be able to get it out for yourself. When I work with Ed Sheeran, he’s not sitting there thinking, “What’s going to be the big hit song?” He writes a song about breaking his leg. He’s just thinking of the best song he’s going to get out that day in the studio. 

"[Julia Michaels] became so confident, virtually overnight. I love to see women become powerful in music."

Of your recent projects, what were the biggest surprises? 
My favorite thing is when someone unknown suddenly becomes known. Take Julia Michaels. We did this song called “Issues.” She was a songwriter for other people who decided she wanted to be an artist, and we all supported her. “Issues” ended up being one of the biggest songs of the year. She became so confident, virtually overnight. I love to see women become powerful in music. It takes a lot of guts, but she nailed it.

What’s your perspective on how pop is evolving? What do you see on the horizon? 
It’s easier than ever to make and share music. So there’s a ton of bad music, but there are a lot of people who have that right at their fingertips and who can really be creative and different. There’s nothing holding people back. I’ve never been one to think “OK, this is pop,” or “This is urban.” Where things are heading, there is no genre. A polka song might be the fucking #1 song. No one knows. The unknown is the known.

What’s coming up for you?
I wake up every day, I sit there and think of what’s going to inspire me. Right now, my artists inspire me, all the artists signed to my label. I’m executive-producing Halsey’s album. I’ve got more stuff coming out with Ed from his last album. 

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