Natasha Bedingfield talks songwriting, shoe shopping and sounding like Justin Bieber
I’m trying to think of a clever way to start this article, but nothing’s coming out.
But that’s okay, because this story is about Natasha Bedingfield. And for the British pop star, writer’s block is a recurring theme.
Just sift through her catalog, from her huge hits These Words (“Waste bin full of paper; clever rhymes, see you later...”) and Unwritten (“The pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned...”), to unreleased tracks like D.I.Y. (“Got a dozen ideas and a hundred more, like a pile of shoes that have never been worn...”). For a pop singer-songwriter, Bedingfield sure sings a lot about not writing pop songs.
But the occasional bout of writer’s block hasn’t hindered Bedingfield. Since debuting in America, she’s sold more than 10 million albums and singles worldwide, and her songs have soundtracked countless movies and TV shows. She’s currently performing a stripped-down tour at clubs across the U.S. in support of her latest disc, Strip Me.
Before she hits the Ritz Ybor on Thursday (tickets are $20; click here), Bedingfield called from a tour stop in Dallas to talk writer’s block, shoe shopping and the true meaning of the phrase “pocketful of sunshine.”
Did you know there’s a Facebook page called “Justin Bieber sounds like Natasha Bedingfield”?
It’s got 170 fans. Do you think there’s some validity to it?
That’s awesome! (laughs) I mean, he kind of sounds more like my brother, because Daniel also has some hits, right? And for a man, he has higher notes, higher tones than a lot of men. Justin sounds a bit like him. But that’s cool! I’m going to check that page out. (sings) Baby, baby ...
I think These Words is one of the most clever pop songs in recent years. Which is interesting because it’s all about writer’s block. Since you’re a co-writer of that song, can you talk about how it was created?
Every writer has a song or two about writer’s block, because it really is one of those things that every creative person faces at some point. It can just be overthinking something, or it can be just trying to be too clever. We were trying to figure out a really sophisticated way of saying “I love you,” because we didn’t want to use it; it can be over-cliched. And actually, when we came to it, we were like, “There is no other way of saying 'I love you’ than 'I love you.’” It just became this simple thing, and a rediscovery of what that means. It’s funny — some of the best love songs are quite simple, but they somehow find a way to say it in a way that no one has.
Cleverness isn’t something that seems to be in vogue in pop music these days.
It’s strange. Everyone’s dumbing it down a bit, aren’t they?
What’s wrong with writing a smart song?
I don’t know. I think for some people, it’s about having success and pleasing people, as many as possible. Record companies even have hit predictors. They’ll test little bits of songs, and they want everything to be perfect. I think it takes a risk to compose a song, and write something that is personal, instead of sticking to a formula. Music, to me, has always been more than just formulas and numbers and figures. My favorite albums aren’t always the ones on that have been on radio.
Do you have tips on how to do your job when you just feel like you’re banging your head against a wall?
Yeah, it’s just the best outlet in the world: Music and art. Music is something I can throw myself in, and it feels so rewarding, and it’s my passion. I don’t need any other hobbies. I do a bit of painting as well, but mostly, music is the thing for me. I’s just this fascination with expressing something that you don’t know how to say, and then you’ve actually said it, and you couldn’t think of a better way of saying it. Even when a song is finished, there’s this feeling of completion that you won’t take anything out of it or add anything to it. That feels really cool.
What’s been your hardest song to write?
There’s been some songs that took a couple of years. The main thing for me is, I always want to be very honest in my music — choosing to be open, choosing to be vulnerable, even though the more you love someone, the more they can hurt you; the more you show someone of you, the more they can use it against you. That’s a lifestyle choice, and an artistic choice, for me. I think a lot of pop is about putting an artist on a pedestal, so that no one could ever feel like they could come close to being who you are. To me, it’s the opposite.
On your blog recently, you had this post about your love of interesting shoes. You snapped some photos of unique footwear you saw on the road. If people were coming to your show and wanted to show off their shoes, what would catch your eye?
Things that are loud and proud and stand out. There’s a line in one of my songs that says, “My feet need a holiday from this neverending race.” I like that focus on the feet. They get us so many different places, so they should be celebrated. I myself run around in stilettoes throughout my whole show.
Do you shop for shoes on the road?
I’ve been buying a lot of shoes online recently. There’s a lovely website called Net-a-Porter that has a lot of amazing clothes, and it’s really addictive and dangerous, because you just click a button, and you’re going to have all these amazing gifts coming to your house, from yourself, gift-wrapped in bubble wrap. It’s like Christmas!
As you know, your songs have appeared on a lot of soundtracks. Have you seen every movie or TV show in which one of your songs plays?
I mean, I haven’t watched every episode of The Hills, but I’ve seen a couple of them. But a lot of the movies, I’ve seen. I’ll go to the premiere sometimes. I went to Something Borrowed, I went to Morning Glory. Sometimes there have been songs that have turned up in movies that I didn’t even know about, and I’m just an innocent moviegoer. I have a publishing company, and sometimes they’ll approve things that maybe I didn’t read the e-mail about.
When that happens, do you slink down in your seat in the theater? Or do you stand up, like, 'Hey, that’s me!”
There was one time on an airplane, I think it was Flicka, and my song Wild Horses played at the end of it. And that was one of the rare times I stood up and walked down the plane, like, “That’s my song!”
What’s your favorite movie that one of your songs has been in?
My favorite is Pocketful of Sunshine, in a couple of movies. Easy A is really funny, because it makes fun of how pop songs are kind of annoying, then they creep up on you and become part of the fabric of your life — they become your song. So that one’s my favorite. There’s another one with, what’s her name, Heigl. The Ugly Truth. She’s got vibrating underwear on, and she starts getting an orgasm while she’s at the table, because someone’s pressed the button on the vibrating underwear, and suddenly Pocketful of Sunshine comes on. That’s funny, because that’s a different meaning of the term “pocketful of sunshine.”
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo: Getty Images.