“Because we are Black and because they see us working with rappers or R&B singers, they do try to pigeonhole us,” she said. “You’ll go into a pop room, and let’s say the people are working with someone like Justin Bieber or Gaga or an artist like that—the poppiest of the pop—and then they’ll say, ‘I want to work on 21 Savage. I want to make a 21 Savage song today.’ It’s like, well, why all of a sudden do you want to work on this today? You didn’t want to work on that yesterday when you were with another writer who’s not Black. That’s the constant struggle that we go through every day as Black creatives.”
The fact this struggle exists is infuriating—because Black women have helped create so many pop hits by non-Black artists. Like, so many. Want proof? Look no further than to this nonexhaustive list.
“Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, cowritten by Nija Charles
Charles is one of music’s brightest young artists, with credits on all your faves’ tracks—from Beyoncé to Cardi B to Chloe x Halle. On her own personal ambitions, she told Glamour, “I’m going to start my own artistry, start putting out my own music. I don’t want to be looked at as just a writer. I want to become a mogul, so I’m starting my own production company. I want to sign artists and producers and writers and also give them the platform—to be in the position that I am in one day. I want to become a household name.”
“Vibes” by Zayn, cowritten by Nija Charles
“Who Says” by Selena Gomez, cowritten by Priscilla Renea
Renea is a music veteran with more than a decade of writing credits under her belt. She’s released two albums herself that span genres: electropop, country, soul, R&B. You name it, Priscilla Renea’s done it. (My personal recs from her: Her 2009 song “Dollhouse” and Madonna’s 2012 track “Love Spent,” which she cowrote.) See just a few of her most popular hits, below.
“Popular Song” by Ariana Grande and Mika, cowritten by Priscilla Renea
“Timber” by Kesha and Pitbull, cowritten by Priscilla Renea
“Worth It” by Fifth Harmony, cowritten by Priscilla Renea
“Bacon” by Nick Jonas, cowritten by Priscilla Renea
“Thumbs” by Sabrina Carpenter, cowritten by Priscilla Renea
“Love So Soft” by Kelly Clarkson, cowritten by Priscilla Renea
“Imagine,” “Just Like Magic,” and “Six Thirty” by Ariana Grande, all cowritten by Priscilla Renea
“Be Alright” by Ariana Grande, cowritten by Victoria Monét and Nao
Monét is another top-40 staple and a longtime collaborator with Ariana Grande. But you really should check out her own music, including her 2020 E.P., Jaguar. “Experience” with Khalid and SG Lewis is so good.
Meanwhile, Nao is an accomplished artist who earned a 2020 Grammy nomination for her album Saturn. She opened up about her experience in the music industry to musicweek.com.
“The pool for Black women is usually really tiny,” she said. “As an artist, it’s like you’re doing Black music but you’re having to do it in a white space. Navigating that is very tricky because some people can perceive Black women as being too outspoken or angry if they want to push a particular idea. It’s been really difficult, but the one beautiful blessing is to see how diverse the audience is, to see Black people, people of color, and white people come together and show love, that’s personally what I find most rewarding.”
“Ice Cream” by Selena Gomez and Blackpink, cowritten by Victoria Monét
In short: We have Black women to thank for some of the best songs by Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, and more popular artists. Why there’s still a barrier to entry when it comes to Black creatives and pop music is beyond confusing. Artists like Nija Charles talking about this issue is a step toward fixing it—but remember, it’s not her job to do that. I hope record executives are listening.