Why Artists Like Beyoncé Have So Many Songwriters on Their Albums

6 minute read

A week ahead of its release, Beyoncé revealed the track list for her hotly anticipated upcoming seventh studio album, Renaissance. The album will drop in the wee hours of the morning, at midnight on July 29, though it reportedly leaked two days ahead of its scheduled release. A single which dropped in June, “Break My Soul,” suggested that the album might be strongly influenced by house music.

Along with the 16-track list, Beyoncé released the credits for the artists, composers, producers, and songwriters with whom she collaborated for the album, featuring the likes of Pharrell, Drake, Raphael Saadiq, Big Freedia, Tems, The-Dream, and No ID. The addition of iconic artists of the disco era like Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Teena Marie, and James Brown have led to speculation that Beyoncé may be sampling them for an album that’s made for dancing. While Beyoncé has a songwriting credit for every song on the new album, her decision to tap many collaborators for the project is in keeping with her past work. This creative method has been a point of discussion about her music for years now, which reached a fever pitch in 2016 when she released her masterpiece, Lemonade.

That album boasted 72 songwriters in addition to Queen Bey. The sizable number spawned many a think piece and even a questionable meme, with detractors making the case that Beyoncé’s creative talent or finished project was somehow diminished by working with multiple collaborators. In reality, however, Beyoncé’s collaboration with other artists has a lot more to do with intellectual property law and the fairly modern practice of sampling (reusing part of an original sound recording in another recording) and interpolation (when a part of a recording is re-recorded and turned into something new).

Read More: 6 Revelations From Beyoncé’s New Album Renaissance

Why “Hold Up” credited 15 songwriters

In a series of viral TikToks this month, Patrick Hicks, a content creator who explains music narratives, skillfully broke down why a whopping 15 songwriters were credited on Lemonade’s second track, “Hold Up.” As Hick explains in the video, a demo of the song was originally written by Vampire Weekend’s frontman, Ezra Koenig, seemingly inspired by a 2011 tweet he had written that referenced the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2003 song “Maps.”

Koenig worked on the demo with the DJ and producer Diplo, with the pair creating a hook that interpolated the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ lyric, but was based on a loop from the 1963 Andy Williams track, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” which was written by the songwriting duo Jerome “Doc” Pomus and Mort Shuman. Koenig later decided that the song would be a better fit for Beyoncé, who received the demo from Diplo.

After hearing it, Beyoncé enlisted a range of songwriters to build on the demo; these range from Melo X (who in addition to helping to contribute lyrics, provides backup vocals on the track) to the dance pop artist MNEK, who initially wrote an entire song over the demo and eventually contributed three lines to the bridge. The most surprising of the songwriters might just be the polarizing indie rocker Father John Misty, who got connected with Beyoncé through the producer Emile Haynie (also a credited songwriter on the track). Father John Misty ended up writing the first verse and the catchy “jealous and crazy” refrain.

However, the songwriting credits for rapper Soulja Boy probably best epitomize why contemporary music, especially hip hop and R&B with their heavy sampling and interpolation, has so many songwriters. During its outro, “Hold Up” briefly samples the hook from Soulja Boy’s 2008 song “Turn My Swag On,” adding both him and the track’s co-writers, Natural Disaster and Antonio Randolph, to the song’s’ long list of credits.

Evolving legal precedent and giving due credit

Sampling and interpolation have now become mainstays of the music industry, especially as hip hop and R&B, genres that have long relied on samples as part of the craft, have become more mainstream. As samples and interpolation have become more widely used, the parameters of reference for intellectual property law have shifted, as have the definitions of what entails songwriting itself; two seminal and very expensive cases about the use of samples in rap music in 1991, involving the rapper Biz Markie and the legendary hip hop group De La Soul, helped set the current precedent in which samples and interpolation are given songwriting attribution.

Olivia Rodrigo’s 2021 album Sour had songwriting credits retroactively added because of apparent similarities on songs that were later determined to be interpolations of work by Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff, and St. Vincent as well as Paramore’s Hayley Williams and the band’s former guitarist Josh Farro. Swift, Antonoff, and St. Vincent’s credits came after Rodrigo said in an interview that the bridge for her song “Deja Vu” was inspired by Swift’s track, “Cruel Summer.” In the case of Williams and Farro, heightened attention from critics and fans who noted similarities between Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” and Paramore’s “Misery Business” seemingly prompted the credits.

Which is why another significant influx of collaborators for Beyoncé for Renaissance should be a point of celebration, and her commitment to crediting them, a good model for artists making music today. One only need look as far as “Break My Soul,” which credits house legend Robin S., thanks to an interpolation of the synths from her oft-sampled song “Show Me Love.” While the interpolation itself is fairly subtle, Beyoncé shows an admirable dedication to giving credit where credit is due to the artists whose work has touched her albums. The obvious legal imperatives aside, it shows that Beyoncé’s not afraid to take inspiration from many sources and to work with collaborators across genres, making the case that when it comes to making a memorable album, the more creative influences, the better the finished product.

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Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com