Hitmaker of the Month: From Watching ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’ to Writing for Selena Gomez, How Kiddo A.I. Got Her Big Break
By the time Kiddo A.I. put pen to paper on a new verse for Rema’s “Calm Down,” the mellow afrobeats banger had already amassed hundreds of millions of streams and propelled the Nigerian artist to global stardom. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, the Miami-based songwriter had to capture the voice and allure of childhood hero Selena Gomez, who had been attached to the remix. She turned it around in a couple of hours.
Amanda Ibanez, her real name, was given the career-making opportunity by Interscope Records senior director of A&R Vanessa Angiuli. A month or so after connecting, the executive fired off a text asking if she would take a stab at writing a spec verse for Gomez. “I read it and freaked out — obviously,” Kiddo A.I., 26, remembers. “I ran up to my room and got on Logic, set up my mic. I was so nervous that I sent two options.”
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She tried to channel the pop star’s persona in an authentic way. “Like most girls my age, I grew up watching Selena on ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’ and always admired her demeanor of being so classy and collected,” Kiddo A.I. says. “So the first line is, ‘I know I look shy, but for you I get down,’ and I thought that that would be kind of fun for her to say, because she’s so proper, I feel, from the outside. I just wanted her to feel herself a little bit.”
And Kiddo A.I. didn’t have to wait long to get her reaction. Within hours, Angiuli told her the “Rare” hitmaker loved the verse and, over the next few weeks, Kiddo A.I. and Gomez went back and forth perfecting it. Later, the songwriter flew to L.A. to complete the song. “We had to write another part because it wasn’t long enough,” she says. “They wanted more of Selena on the track.” Namely, when Gomez comes back in after Rema’s second verse.
Given the success of Rema’s “Calm Down,” expectations for the remix were high. But it took a little while to gain traction. “I didn’t see it super high on the charts,” Kiddo A.I. recalls. “I was worried that it wasn’t going to do well.” Her fears were allayed over the next couple of months as the remix became a slowburn smash, reaching #1 on YouTube’s Global Top Songs, top 10 at pop radio, and top 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Kiddo A.I. is still coming to terms with the song’s omnipresence. “I’ll get into an Uber and hear it, and I’m like, ‘What’s happening?!’ It’s a very strange feeling. You work so hard to get to the point where you have a song on the radio and it’s the best feeling ever, but I gotta keep going.” “Calm Down” has also opened doors professionally for Kiddo A.I., who takes her moniker from Uma Thurman’s character in Quintin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.”
“It means a lot to me to get into more rooms and have a little more respect,” she says, before adding: “It’s rough out here for a writer!” That’s particularly true for female songwriters. “There’s still a little bit of a divide,” Kiddo A.I. admits. “I’ve been treated really nicely, but I could definitely see how, in the past, it could be difficult to get your ideas across without being questioned. That doesn’t really happen to men.”
When studio sessions get tough, Kiddo A.I. turns to fellow female songwriters for support. “Victoria Zaro is an amazing songwriter,” she lists, “Jenna Andrews, Feli Ferraro, Tia Scola — they’re all killing it in their own lane.” There’s a sense of camaraderie too. “We all cheer each other on,” Kiddo A.I. says. “If I had an issue with the session, I could call up a Feli, for example. She wrote [Coi Leray’s] ‘Players’ and is doing amazing. It’s really very supportive.”
Kiddo A.I. has come a long way since accidentally falling into music as a punishment. “I was taken out of school for doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing,” she laughs. “My mom homeschooled me and made me sing at church.” The then-teenager was discovered during a service and soon found herself trying to navigate the music industry. She eventually found her feet writing songs for artists like Anuel AA and Sueco.
After cutting her teeth with hip-hop and reggaeton, Kiddo A.I. branched into pop and now afrobeats. “I’m a huge fan of African music, I’m obsessed with that world,” she says. “It wasn’t that intimidating to me musically, but I was worried about the audience’s reaction because people are understandably protective of their culture and their music.” Happily, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
With a platinum certified smash in her discography, Kiddo A.I. is now looking to the future and hopes to work with Gomez again. “I feel like I can relate to her a lot,” the songwriter says. “She’s a very kind person and very personable, it’s really easy to get along with her. I send her ideas and I feel like I’m getting to understand her and what she wants to say.” In the meantime, Kiddo A.I. will keep grinding away, one studio session at a time.
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