Musical superstar Adam Levine had this idea — instead of a TV competition for singers, how about one for songwriters? It’s called “Songland,” and it launched last week on NBC.
Your first reaction may be: Wouldn’t it be kind of boring to watch a show about the art of writing songs? But “Songland” has done everything in its power to make sure it’s got mass appeal.
Each of the 11 episodes (airing Tuesdays at 10 p.m.) features a big-name singer as a guest star: John Legend last week, will.i.am tomorrow, and, in the weeks ahead, the Jonas Brothers, Leona Lewis and Meghan Trainor. Five songwriters appeared in the premiere, each singing a song they composed in the hope that the week’s guest star will love it and record it.
The show also features a panel of accomplished songwriters and producers to chime in: Shane McAnally (he’s worked with Kelly Clarkson and Kacey Musgraves), OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder (who’s produced songs for Ed Sheeran, Adele and Paul McCartney) and Ester Dean (who’s written for Rihanna, Selena Gomez and Nicki Minaj). They’re a charismatic trio.
Along with the week’s guest star, they critique each offering, calling out issues such as cheesy clichés, “too many melodies” and flawed conceptualization of romance. (Is holding hands really considered an “old kinda loving” by today’s youth?)
Then things heat up. The celebrity guest picks three favorites, and each songwriter teams up with one of the panelists to break down the song and build it back up. Lyrics are rewritten, the number of beats per minute may be amped up. The fledgling songwriters graciously go along with the suggestions, so I guess the most important part of being a good songwriter is having extremely thick skin.
It actually turns out to be pretty cool to have an inside look at how a decent song can get better. Legend’s pick to record, “We Need Love,” morphed from a bouncy, reggae-influenced ditty to a melancholy plea, inspired by his suggestion that its predictable message be delivered in a “mournful” way. But the question must be asked: Is it still a song by office-worker-by-day Tebby Burrows or a concoction in which she played a part?
Meanwhile, everyone on Episode 1 missed a great songwriting opportunity. Impressed by songwriter Ollie Gabriel’s high hair and plaid suit, the effervescent Dean says, “You wear your fly well.” Is that not the title of a potential hit song or what?