So, we counted. Beyonce’s new “Renaissance” album has not 24 writers, but 104, including Terius “The-Dream” Gesteelde-Diamant, A. G. Cook, Syd, Skrillex, Drake, Right Said Fred and Leven Kali.
Diane Warren struck a nerve when she questioned why the new Beyonce song “Alien Superstar” would need 24 songwriters, facing stinging backlash from the Beyhive for what was seen by many as a racially insensitive inquiry. Warren, a songwriting legend who has worked with Beyonce before, surely knew better.
This isn't meant as shade, I'm just curious
— Diane Warren (@Diane_Warren) August 1, 2022
But the rest of us may not.
The prevalence of sampling in modern pop music covers some of it. Even if a tiny snippet of a song is used, each source-material songwriter gets their name along for the ride, plus due royalties. As Beyonce has continued to rise in stature, so has her available sampling pool, which has included everything from Donna Summer to Led Zeppelin (yes, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have songwriting credits on “Lemonade,” and they probably weren’t cheap).
But a sampling boom doesn’t tell the whole story. “Renaissance” has 104 credited songwriters (including Beyonce herself), for a total of 170 songwriting credits (since several songwriters work on multiple tracks). With 16 songs, that’s an average of 10.6 credited songwriters per track.
By comparison, “Lemonade,” her 2016 tour de force and most recent LP, had 74 songwriters on its dozen tracks, for just over 6 writers per. Going back to her debut “Dangerously in Love” from 2003, we see 57 songwriters on 15 tracks, for 3.8 per song.
The song that Warren called out for its 24 songwriters — the most we could find on any Beyonce track — has four samples (“I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred, “Moonraker” by the Foremost Poets, “Unique” by Danube Dance and a speech by Barbara Ann Teer) with a total of seven songwriters. Minus Beyonce herself, that leaves 16 original contributors whose work is unaccounted for.
But the size of that group speaks to Beyonce’s power to command top talent, her process and modern pop-songsmithing in general. Nowadays there are beat gurus, sampling scholars, hook doctors, lyrics wizards, instrument aces and a whole host of people whose talents are being curated by, for the most part, Beyonce herself – the only individual with a writing credit on each of “Renaissance’s” 16 songs.
On the songwriter-heavy “Alien Superstar,” non-sample artists include prominent vocal arranger Atia Boggs p/k/a Ink; the ultra-hot Nova Wav songwriting duo of Brittany “@Chi_Coney” Coney and Denisia “Blu June” Andrews (with credit on eight “Renaissance” songs); the 57-year-old synthesizer and audio mixing wizard MIKE DEAN; and even Beyonce’s husband Jay-Z, billed on the record as S. Carter.
There’s quite a spectrum of roles to play. Credits can be entirely passive — someone brings Beyonce your song, she decides to use a bit of it, and you get a check one day — to actively working alongside the talent in the studio. Each gets a percentage of song revenue determined by a third party, based on the amount of contribution to the finished product.
On “Renaissance,” many of the 104 credited songwritres get a fleeting mention for a single track. Several others have work across most of the album, like Terius “The-Dream” Gesteelde-Diamant, the singer, songwriter and super-producer who has worked with Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Britney Spears and many more, who has credits on 11 “Renaissance” songs.
It was Gesteelde-Diamant, a multi-Grammy winner who took home a trophy for Beyonce’s 2008 mega-hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” who first called out Warren on Twitter on Monday:
You mean how’s does our (Black) culture have so many writers, well it started because we couldn’t afford certain things starting out,so we started sampling and it became an Artform, a major part of the Black Culture (hip hop) in America.Had that era not happen who knows. U good?
— MUSIC ICON THE-DREAM (@TheKingDream) August 1, 2022
Gesteelde-Diamant may not have known this fun fact: There’s believed to be only one Beyonce song in existence that’s credited to a single songwriter (and it’s not Beyonce).
That would be the 2011 release “I Was Here,” a reflective R&B ballad from her fourth studio album “4.”