August 04, 2019
You might not be familiar with singer-songwriters Kamille and Tayla Parx, but the chances are you’ll know some of the many hit songs they’ve helped create.
Meet The Female Songwriters Who Are Changing The Face Of Pop Music
In the last decade, Kamille has co-written an impressive five UK number ones, for artists ranging from Jess Glynne and Clean Bandit to Little Mix, including the girl group’s signature hits Black Magic and Shout Out To My Ex.
And while Tayla Parx’s name might not ring any immediate bells, it wouldn’t take you long to recognise some of the huge hits she’s helped create in the last 18 months, which include Panic! At The Disco’s High Hopes and the chart-topping Ariana Grande tracks 7 Rings and Thank U, Next.
Both stars form part of a new wave of talented Women who work as songwriters within the world of pop, a genre where women have long gone unjustly underrepresented behind the scenes.
Of course, there have been exceptions along the way, but if you were to take a look at the songwriting credits on your favourite pop songs, you’d probably see the same few names coming up over and over again... and they’re more than likely to be male. Fortunately, this disparity is beginning to change, slowly.
Intriguingly, music wasn’t Kamille’s first choice of career, but one she fell into when the corporate world of stockbroking grew a little too boring for her.
“I hated it,” she says of her old profession, “It literally just made me want to do a 180. And I loved to sing, so I just started hanging around in studios. I used to listen to songs, find out who the producers were and then stalk them on Twitter, to try and get in their studio. So that’s where it all started… stalking.”From there, Kamille says, she began collaborating with various writers and producers, eventually catching the attention of a major UK label. Before long, she had bagged her first official songwriting credit, which wound up earning both herself and British girl group The Saturdays their first number one single, with What About Us
“After that, I was like, ‘OK, this is quite cool, I can do this for a living’,” she recalls. “So I just kept going with it. I was just messing around, honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing! I had no idea, but I knew that I loved to write, and I loved the process of making music.”
As with Kamille, Tayla Parx’s start in the music industry was an unusual one. Long before she was writing with music royalty like Christina Aguilera, Janelle Monáe and Alicia Keys, Tayla was cast as Little Inez in the musical remake of Hairspray, which debuted when she was still in her early teens.
Tayla describes her move into songwriting as something she did “out of necessity”, saying: “I was 13 years old and had a Grammy nomination from Hairspray… and I didn’t want to sign a record deal too young. But people saw that as... ‘OK, why would I work with an artist who doesn’t have a deal?’ 
“And so at that time I was like, ‘alright, nobody wants to write songs with me, or write for me, so I guess I could figure out if I can get a producer and an engineer and write myself’. And from then on I was like, ‘I like this!’ and it evolved from there.”Like Kamille and Tayla, Emily Warren has made a name for herself in the pop world in the last few years, co-writing recent hits for Rita Ora, Little Mix and Sigrid, as well as working on her own material.
However, her biggest success is undoubtedly as the co-writer of Dua Lipa’s breakthrough hit New Rules, which became the singer’s first song to top the UK singles chart and propelled her to international fame.
Emily also never saw herself pursuing a career in songwriting, admitting that at a time when she was still focussing on her own music career, she was initially put off at the thought of writing for other people.
“Someone I was working with said I should try writing songs for other people, and I was like, ‘definitely not doing that’,” she says with a laugh. “I started writing as an outlet and a diary for my own experiences, so the thought of selling a song to someone else and not writing about my own intensely personal thoughts was something that didn’t make any sense to me.
“Most people who are songwriters start out with their own projects and there’s kind of this purist thing of not wanting to switch from writing about your own thing to writing for other people.
“But I actually learned that they’re completely different artforms, and I ended up falling in love with talking to other people, asking them questions and helping them tell their stories… and it’s actually helped me learn how to tell my own story better, ultimately.”Finding herself in a male-dominated field at a young age is something that Emily admits was initially daunting, as she frequently found herself the lone woman in a room of male writers.
“I have three brothers so I think I was trained for it,” Emily jokes. “But one of the first sessions I had when I finally made it out to LA, I was with this really seasoned successful male writer, and he said to me at one point, after I suggested a lyric, ‘never write a lyric in which the guy isn’t gonna get it. You’ve got to leave a slither of hope’. And I remember being so shocked by that.”
Tayla also “most definitely” found her early studio sessions to be an intimidating experience, because of the gender imbalance. 
She says: “When I first started out, I was the only girl in the room. And I was also the youngest. So I was like, ‘OK, I’m a teenager and everybody around me is older, and I’m a girl on top of that’. You’d think that every odd was against me.
“I know that when I first started to write, I used to second guess blurting out an idea, whether it was wrong or right, because, you know, I was surrounded by men, and I didn’t want them to say, ‘OK, little girl, you just did a terrible job, that was a terrible idea, and now we can’t trust you’.”
Tayla soon found her voice, though, continuing: “I used to think twice [before speaking]. Now, I don’t care. I believe that I have something to say and what I have to say is worth hearing. And if more females had that type of mentality... then you find your way into those rooms and you can actually push forward, and hopefully inspire the next girl to do that, once she sees that it’s possible, and then you can take it to the next level.”“I realised once I became one of the females that was in the room that men just happened to have an easier opportunity to get there,” Tayla adds. “It wasn’t that all the men are better writers or engineers, or whatever, it was just that for women to get into that room, I noticed it was just a lot harder.” 
Teddy Geiger is best known for her work with Shawn Mendes, co-writing and producing hits like Treat You Better, Stitches and There’s Nothing Holding Me Back, as well as the vast majority of his self-titled third album.
She began her music career in the early 2000s, coming out as a transgender woman in October 2017, and now also releases her own music under the moniker Teddy<3, in addition to writing and producing for artists like Christina Aguilera, Lizzo and 5 Seconds Of Summer.
Even in the past few years of her career, Teddy has noticed a positive change for women in music, saying: “I’ve been in a lot of situations where there’s a girl who’s the only woman in the room. But that happens, I think, less and less now.
“Even in the past five or six years, that’s been changing and I think that’s a testament to the whole dialogue that’s being had about women in music.”
As a result of women’s voices being heard more within songwriting, Teddy says pop is helping “drive the culture to a more human place”.
“Being a human, it’s not just the male perspective and how men see the world,” she explains. “It’s this whole picture of how we all see it, and a whole human picture involves both sides, and I think that’s important for art to be human and whole.”“I remember it really started striking me,” Emily recalls, “I was paying attention to songs and their lyrics and noticing most of the songs by men were like, ‘I’m really good at this, I have her because of this’, and then a lot of the songs by women were saying ‘he did this to me, he broke my heart’, and even the empowering ones were like, ‘I’m stronger now because he messed me up and I got out of it’.”
Emily also reveals that she and co-writer Caroline Ailin specifically wanted to challenge this when they co-wrote New Rules, a song which would later be recorded by Dua Lipa, impacting the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
She says: “The fact that I had been told songs like that don’t work, and then Dua and her team picked it, and made it the single, and it did what it did... that’s like the major win for me as a songwriter. This song, with a message that kind of broke everything I had thought about what could work [as a hit single].”
“I think pop is becoming much more emotional, much more sentimental,” Kamille observes, which she credits to more women being involved in the creative process. “If you go on Spotify, a lot of new music is telling stories, and I’d say it’s a lot more in touch with emotion, which I’m really happy about.”
Tayla agrees that the rise of women within the songwriting world has “affected a lot of things”, explaining: “When you have women writing songs that empower women, you can really identify how you’re empowering a new generation. A new idea of feminism... which is more than the music, you’re kind of changing the landscape of how women feel about themselves, and young girls, who will eventually be grown women. And you’re affecting their self-esteem with the songs that you write.
“[Women songwriters are asking] ‘if I was younger, or if I could affect millions and millions of young girls or young people at once, what would I wanna say? What would I want my daughter to know about being a woman?’.”
Referencing changes since the rise of the Me Too movement in 2017, Emily adds: “There have been millions of times in sessions where I’d be working with guys... and they’d suggest something that was… ugh, I wouldn’t even want to go in the booth and put my voice on it. It wouldn’t feel right and would be uncomfortable, and I don’t want to say that. And those things are not being suggested anymore. For the most part, no one is suggesting them.
“There’s been a whole movement to make the female voice powerful, and not just be like [submissive]… you know, people are constantly now checking themselves in sessions, and being like ‘is this really a good thing for a female to be saying?’ ‘Do you really want to say... your whole life is built around him even though he’s terrible’? That kind of checking is very recent, and has been so incredible to watch and be in the room for.”According to Tayla, part of what has led this change in pop music lyrics is the trust female artists feel towards female writers during songwriting sessions, leading to more honesty, vulnerability and, ultimately, authenticity in the music itself.
“The most important thing is for an artist to feel comfortable enough to open up,” Tayla says. “But if I’m talking to a 50-year-old white man and they’re trying to open up to me, even if I told you [my] story a million times, you’ll never understand it.
“It’s a completely different thing, versus, with me and Ariana or me and Dua Lipa or me and Fifth Harmony, or all these other female artists, they see somebody that is a different kind of reflection of them.
“We might have had different stories that we learned along the way, with different highs and lows, but there’s still something that you see in each other that allows you to let your guard down a little bit more, and that’s where hit songs come from: honesty, and the ability to completely open up, and it’s a lot easier to do that with somebody who maybe looks or feels or lives life a little more similarly to you than a stranger who has a completely different road.”
Kamille has had similar experiences, noting: “Typically, I find that being in a room with Anne-Marie or Jess Glynne or those kind of people, it’s easier if they can just talk to me about something.
“And you know what? Typically, a lot of us women have had some really shitty experiences with men, just being real. So we tend to bond about really bad exes very easily. That’s typically, like, a really good starting point in a session. What is your ex saying? And then we’ll go from there.
“There’s nothing better than writing something with an artist that they’re actually going through, because then they’re going to be able to go and perform it and it’ll be real.”In fact, Emily even says that being one of only a few female songwriters has worked in her favour at times, as female artists have previously specifically requested a woman to help them write. 
“I kind of ended getting good leverage just being a [female songwriter] I was getting all these sessions with female artists, because they wanted to talk to another girl about what they were going through,” she admits. “And that’s kind of led to this whole thing years later where there’s now a lot of people talking about that there shouldn’t be a song written for a female artist or group without at least one female in the room.
“Because that’s when you end up with a song [about] what a guy thinks a girl would wanna say, which is often not the same as what a girl would actually want to say.”
Agreeing a group exclusively made up of men couldn’t come up with a song as relatable as New Rules, Emily continues: “I have this conversation all the time, and it’s so not a men-hating thing. 
“I don’t think guys are trying to be malicious or trying to put us backwards with some of the songs that a bunch of dudes sat in a room are writing for females, but there’s obviously such a difference between what a female is actually thinking, and what a guy thinks she’s thinking… it’s important to have that conversation and to get that perspective. You can’t know it, unless you’ve experienced it.” 
Having presented as male for many years of her career before beginning her transition, Teddy has a unique experience, and therefore her songwriting comes from a different place to many of her peers. 
“My perspective is not necessarily female, it’s not necessarily male,” she says. “It’s interesting for me because I lived, until I was 29, as a man... it’s hard for me to know what a female or a male perspective is, because I’ve always kind of felt caught in between, to some extent. 
“But when I write with Shawn [Mendes], I want it to come from him, you know? And I’m kind of there to help that vision and help round things out. But I want it to come from him, because he’s such a great artist and he really has something to say.”This approach is one that artists seem to appreciate, as has been the case for Emily and the artists she has collaborated with. 
She says: “It is really nice to be a support system, and it’s really necessary for women to have each other to do that. I mean, that’s what made me fall in love with writing for other people. I love asking questions, and I love finding out about other people’s stories.
“A lot of time in sessions I’ll start asking questions, even just ‘how are you, what’s going on?’ and they’ll be like ‘no one ever asks me that… this is happening, that’s happening and I feel this way about that’, it’s always kind of an outpouring, and it feels good to be able to catch that, and help turn it into something that gives it all meaning.”
Kamille agrees, having co-written Shout Out To My Ex with Little Mix at a time when band member Perrie Edwards’ personal life was the subject of much media scrutiny.
She recalls: “We turned something so rubbish into… their biggest song! They love that song... and it means something to them all, and it was such a hard time for them when they were going through all of that, especially Perrie. The fact that we managed to make that a positive thing, I’ll always be proud of that, yeah.”
However, because of these qualities that new female songwriters are bringing to the table, it’s becoming all the more obvious when a young woman is performing a hit written for them by a team of industry men.
“Sometimes I hear shit and I’m like, ‘there’s no way there was a girl in the room when that was written’,” Emily says with a laugh. “And so I’ll look it up and be like, ‘yup’.
“There were a couple of songs a few years ago where I was like, ‘how is this playing on the radio? And every little girl across America is singing along to these lyrics that are so the wrong message to internalise’. It’s no wonder that things are the way they are, when this is what’s playing on the radio, and no one’s flinching, everyone’s just singing along and letting their kids listen to it because they don’t realise what’s being said exactly.”Tayla reveals: “[There are times when] I’m like, ‘yo, this Singer must have some old asses writing their stuff, because I would never say this’. 
“The art of songwriting is the ability to take this artist’s emotions and identity, and most songwriters, I don’t think that they do that. I think that most songwriters are just giving away little pieces of themselves, rather than taking these pieces that an artist has given them and making it great.” 
However, although this increase in women becoming involved in songwriting might make it look like the music industry is becoming more inclusive, there’s still a huge gender imbalance, with roles in technical areas still largely falling to men.
Emily explains: “We’re always talking about why there aren’t more female producers and engineers, and the only thing I can come up with is that it’s a boys’ club, and there’s no examples of females, so you don’t even think about getting into production because who are you looking towards?”
One of the women hoping to change this is Kamille, who earned her first credit as a producer on the most recent Little Mix album, LM5. 
“Honestly, there’s so much testosterone in a studio session, it’s crazy,” Kamille says. “You’ll have a male producer, a male engineer, and that’s one of the reasons that I started learning how to produce myself.”
In fact, Kamille says that she’d already been producing for some time before she even realised that what she was contributing was actually production, admitting she hadn’t initially been confident enough to speak out about it because of the lack of women in that role.
“Unfortunately, I do think [producing is considered a man’s role],” she laments. “And that’s just because of the way it’s been.
“It’s not men’s fault. I don’t think they’re doing it on purpose and making us feel like we can’t be producers, I just think it’s what everyone is used to, and over time things can change, if enough women stand up and start learning how to produce, it’ll change.
“It’s not even a financial thing… some of the things I’m producing now, I don’t even want the financial credit, I don’t want it for that, I want to be proud to say, when I look at the credits, it says ‘Kamille was a producer’.”
“A lot of people just don’t do things because they don’t know that it can be done,” Tayla states. “Or they hear that it’s too hard to do. But the more that we allow these stories to come to the front, the more you will find the next Dianne Warren, the faster you’ll find the next great songwriters of our generation.
“Once you’ve been told that something is impossible, you’re a lot less likely to [try it], right? So now it’s our duty to affect the next 20 or 40 or 50 years of music, by telling people ‘hey this is what’s going on behind the scenes, and it’s possible for you to be a part of that change’.” Teddy has a similarly optimistic outlook, saying: “I think that idea of it being a boys’ club still applies through a lot of the music industry, there are these boy-cliques around, but I think kind of naturally that’s going to fall away, especially the way things are going right now.
“I definitely see it changing, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be pushed, and I see so many people pushing. There’s just a lot of strong women that are going to do what they’re going to do, and that’s what’s most important.”
“I don’t think we’re getting there quickly enough, I’m going to be real,” Kamille says. “I’m not going to sit here and be like, ‘yeah, it’s all great’, because it’s not, but I do think that with enough people talking about it, enough schools and colleges and universities encouraging it, and not making it seem like it’s a taboo to be a woman working in music production, that will help it change. 
“And things like me wanting credits, again, it’s not about the money, it’s about showing other women, I produced that, and that will help. So that’s why I’m really fighting for that on songs where I really feel like I have produced, I’m really making sure to say and be honest, I did produce some of that with these guys.
“In time, it’ll change. We’ve just got to be brave about it.”
Emily has some parting words for any women wanting to break into the world of songwriting.
“Art kind of imitates life imitates art, and more things are happening in music and in the world that are leaning towards giving females a platform and a voice. It’s all moving in the right direction,” she says.
“Whenever I’m asked in an interview what advice I have for young people and young writers, I say, ‘just don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable’, and I think in music, even now, after all the positive changes, it’s still a male-dominated industry, and not just on the creative side, on the business side too.
“It’s really easy for females to be like, ‘oh well, he’s really successful, he’s done this, this and this, so I’m gonna sign this and do this’... I think the ones that break through are the women who do it on their own terms.”MORE MUSIC INTERVIEWS... 'We've Never Felt So Ballsy Or So Happy In Our Lives': Little Mix On Their Album LM5 Why Singer Lewis Capaldi Is Absolutely Not Going To Let His Sudden Success Go To His Head Rising Star L Devine Says It's Time For LGBTQ Women In Music To Have Their Voices Heard
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