Songwriter-producers Ester Dean, Shane McAnally and Ryan Tedder continue to show that the business of songwriting is half mayhem and half magic on NBC’s breakout hit, Songland. We’re just three episodes into the second season and the dynamic panel, who continuously raise the bar on themselves, has already garnered a legion of loyal fans. They also seem to recruit world class talent for their celebrity musical guests.
This week, singer-songwriter H.E.R. arrived knowing exactly what she was looking for. “I want to hear something that somebody has written from the heart, something I know is gonna make me feel something,” she said. “My sound is so many things. It’s definitely emotional. Sometimes it’s a lecture. It’s R&B at the core, but it’s so many other things.” Ryan went on to describe their guest saying, “Musically, she’s a little bit of a savant. She’s an incredible guitar player, incredible lyricist, incredible singer.”
If you’re new to the Songland audience, four songwriters start out in the competition performing an original number. One writer is eliminated and the three remaining are paired with either Ester, Ryan or Shane who helps them to refine their composition and prepare it to be presented again to the celebrity guest. The guest then selects their favorite, which they record and release immediately.
AXEL MANSOOR – Washington, D.C.
- Original song: “Scary” – wanted to write a song that made his girlfriend feel sexy
H.E.R.: “I love your voice. You know, it’s so special, based on your story it’s obvious that you found this passion. We all have trouble finding out what our superpower is. And that’s being unique, that’s being who you are. ‘I want you so bad, it’s scary.’”
SHANE: “Could the next line be, ‘I want you so bad, it scares me?’”
RYAN: “I need to hear another song to get that one out of my head.”
MILLY – San Antonio, Texas
- Original song: “Safe Place” – about not giving up on love.
H.E.R.: “It gives me Aaliyah vibes. Very sensual and it’s got that swag. It almost feels like a stream of consciousness.”
ESTER: “This song reads very well, it’s a conversational piece.”
JOCELYN ALICE – Calgary, Alberta, Canada
- Original song: “How Could You Not Know” – about unrequited love
H.E.R.: “It’s definitely very powerful and in your face, which goes with the concept. It’s giving me kind of ‘Love on the Brain’ vibes.”
RYAN: “For me, simplifying the arrangement. And I think there might be a way to punch up some of these lyrics. It’s like direct A.F., which is good, but I’m wondering is there a slight level of poetic-ness that we can dash in there…cleverness.”
RAQUEL CASTRO – Long Island, New York
Played Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez daughter in Jersey Girl
- Original song: “Wrong Places” – wrote it to get over a rough patch
H.E.R.: “You definitely hit everything on the mark. I think it would more so be like to make it for me.”
ESTER: “It’s a bunch of check marks for me. I didn’t find nothing.”
SHANE: “This is a little thing, but could you have said, ‘Show me how to love and then show me how to love again?’”
RYAN: “Also, love songs rule the world, they always have, right? But are we saying ‘love’ too much?”
Following the performances, H.E.R.’s picks were:
JOCELYN paired with Shane
RAQUEL paired with Ryan
AXEL paired with Ester
AXEL’s collaboration with Ester, “Scary,” started with an acoustic guitar. The new arrangement was richer and deeper, less staccato and choppy.
H.E.R.: “You sound so good singing it, but I’m gonna have to take that from you. That was amazing!”
RAQUEL’s collaboration with Ryan, “Wrong Places,” became a full band arrangement.
H.E.R.: “I love this song so much. It feels so good and then when the beat came in, it was like, ‘she’s got a little swagger in her.’”
JOCELYN’s collaboration with Shane, “How Could You Not Know,” changed many of the lyrics and the arrangement was much more subtle.
H.E.R.: “I love the song so much. You guys killed that.”
SHANE: “I go to bed singing it, I wake up singing it.”
H.E.R.: “I had to make some really, really, really tough decisions. I’ve been lucky to have three amazing songwriters. You guys write like you’ve been doing this all your life. The song I chose to record is ‘Wrong Places.’”