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Akon and RedOne talk working with Lady Gaga and creating “Just Dance”

Akon, RedOne on the hit that almost went to The Pussycat Dolls

A struggling artist from New York City, Lady Gaga had been signed and dropped by Def Jam by the time she was 20 years old. After songwriter Rob Fusari pushed the up-and-comer to producer Vincent Herbert (Toni Braxton, Destiny’s Child), the latter signed her to his new Streamline Records imprint at Interscope in November 2007 under the supervision of Jimmy Iovine. Work began on her debut album, The Fame, with Akon and producer RedOne.

REDONE: At that time, I just did my first hit with Kat DeLuna called “Whine Up.” After that hit, I told my management that I wanted to work with established artists. But they called me and said, “Hey, we [want you to work with] this girl…. She’s talented if you want to meet her for five minutes.”…. I met her outside of the Sony building in New York, and I liked the vibe I was getting! She was like, “Oh my God, I love ‘Whine Up!’” [Laughs]. In those five minutes, I felt like she was so special. And those five minutes turned into a few sessions. [Despite multiple attempts, EW could not reach Vincent Herbert for comment.] 

Gaga recorded “Boys Boys Boys” at RedOne’s Queens’ studio later that day.

REDONE: We were talking about rock like Mötley Crüe, you know, “Girls, girls, girls!” but we needed “Boys, boys, boys!” instead…and that created the sounds for the whole album. For “Just Dance,” I wanted to do a rock song with big drums but instead of guitars, it’s synths. That’s what “Just Dance” is! The opening [synths] are like a guitar chord…. [I began] taking her to every session I had with other artists, too, but as a writer. And every artist got scared of her and asked me to not bring her again. I remember telling her, “Gaga, you’re an incredible artist and they feel your energy!” She was so creative, giving them ideas about how to dress and how to behave, and they started feeling so small. And Gaga started crying, like, “I just want to help them!” I said, “Yes, but keep those ideas for yourself. You’re an incredible artist.” In one of those sessions, I presented her to an [industry friend] named Efe, and the first time I played her music he was like, “Oh my God, this girl is the next Madonna!”

AKON: I [was struck by] her in general. When I see a star, I just know it. From the moment she walked in [for our first meeting], her appearance and her attitude felt brand new and fresh. She was so fearless. When I [had discussions with] Jimmy Iovine, from that moment everything ignited. We got excited about her, started making records, and started to craft her image. At that time, she was doing jazz-type music, and I think she needed someone to hear it all the way out and see what made sense with her idea, her look, and then pairing her with music that meshed it all into one platform.

REDONE: After that, we did all the [iconic] songs: “Just Dance,” “Poker Face,” “LoveGame”…and Akon said, “Red, hold on to that file. Don’t give it to anybody until I come for it, because I want to take these songs to Jimmy so we can make her a priority!”

The pair presented their work to Iovine, who briefly suggested The Pussycat Dolls record “Just Dance” for their 2008 album Doll Domination

AKON: I was contracted to do songs for The Pussycat Dolls and I had writer’s block the day of, so I asked RedOne if we could collaborate together to open our minds…and “Just Dance” was originally going to be submitted for The Pussycat Dolls. When we finished, there was no way “Just Dance” could be for them.

REDONE: We met with Jimmy and he heard the songs. He said, “I love the song. Can I give [it] to The Pussycat Dolls?” And Akon was like, “No! It’s Gaga! She can be the next big thing!” Jimmy said, “Okay, but one thing: I have a problem with [Gaga’s similarities to] her highness.” I was like, “Who is her highness?” And he said, “Gwen Stefani. She reminds me of Gwen Stefani.’” And Akon goes, “No, she’s totally different!” [EW spoke to Iovine. Though he did not want to be quoted directly for this story, he felt that both Akon and RedOne were correct in expressing a desire to keep the song for Gaga.]

Gaga’s willingness to experiment in the studio made for instant chemistry, and her debut album, The Fame, was finished approximately one month later via Akon’s KonLive, Interscope, Streamline, and Martin Kierszenbaum’s Cherrytree.

AKON: Literally every song that we wrote was done within 30 minutes to an hour. It was all chemistry. The Fame was done in 30 days: mixed, mastered, and ready to push out. That was another reason I was so excited about working with her, because the ideas and things she sparked were so fresh. We opened our minds and tried everything. No bars, no barriers, whatever we felt that felt good, whatever we wanted to say, we said it. It was the first time she had no one telling her what she should be doing or how she should be doing it.

Read the rest of the interview on Entertainment Weekly: http://ew.com/music/2018/04/10/lady-gaga-just-dance-10-year-anniversary-redone-akon-interview/

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