If there were ever an example of the power of music to bring people together, it was one of the entries on this week’s episode of Songland, the show known as “Shark Tank for Songwriters.”
Monday’s guest artist was Luis Fonsi, one of the most massive acts in Latin music, who scored a worldwide mega-smash in 2017 with “Despacito.” So, of course it made sense that he’d be presented with a tune penned by a pop woman from Plymouth, England — who teamed with American country songwriter Shane McAnally and Season 1 Songland winner IRO, who hails from Tel Aviv. Compound this with the fact that Dyson has written songs for K-pop groups BTS and Girls Generation, and has a deal with Universal Music Publishing Group Sweden, and there was a serious international songwriting summit going on here.
U.K.-born Dyson came to the show with “Conditions,” a spirited uptempo jam with a retro-’90s Eurodisco vibe (think Dua Lipa’s excellent Future Nostalgia album) and a touch of Latin groove. Fonsi and all three Songland judges — McAnally, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, and Ester Dean — went loco for Dyson’s thumping, propulsive pre-chorus, although McAnally seemed the most excited of all, shouting, “What? I freakin’ love that song! I love it!” The song sounded even cooler once McAnally and Tedder picked up their acoustic guitars and added some flamenco-pop embellishment — giving it an Ed Sheeran “Shape of You” feel, with tons of crossover potential.
But even though “Conditions” was quickly taking shape, Fonsi didn’t love it unconditionally. He thought something was lost in, um, translation — namely, that the lyrics felt too preachy and aggressive coming from a male singer. So, in the workshop round, it was time for master wordsmith McAnally to come up with another title ending in the suffix “-tion.”
McAnally may not have seemed like the most ideal mentor for this week’s Latin music challenge. As a Nashville-based country expert who’s accustomed to penning hits for Sam Hunt or Reba McEntire, he actually had to resort to using a Spanish-to-English dictionary to work on Dyson’s track. (For instance, he freely/jokingly admitted that he thought “bailar” meant “to bail out of jail.”)
Hence the track’s new title, “Lost in Translation.” Not only was it a play on the whole bilingual concept, but it was a crafty metaphor about miscommunication in love, with a sexy twist about “bodies having a conversation.” Genius!
Fonsi wasn’t totally sold on the idea at first, but once he saw Dyson and IRO’s United Nations-style performance of the revamped tune, he admitted that he was impressed and needn’t have worried. “Cool way to flip that song, man! Let’s hug it out,” Fonsi told McAnally — though McAnally made sure to give Dyson all the credit, calling her the “perfect collaborator.”
This is what we like to call a HIT. 🙌 🎶 pic.twitter.com/rjjRdLg635— Songland (@NBCSongland) April 21, 2020
However, Fonsi ultimately decided his perfect collaborator was Pipobeats — choosing that contestant’s “Sway,” a Spanglish banger that Pipobeats described as “hitting you right in the face.” While the original version of “Sway” sounded overly familiar and had conflicting melodies and rhythmic lines that Fonsi and the judges found distracting and messy, once expert hitmaker Tedder streamlined it and made it “less dark, more pop,” it sounded like a summer smash. “The party just stared right away, from the beginning,” raved Fonsi. Compare and contrast both versions below:
I still preferred “Conditions/Lost in Translation,” and I hope that Dyson and IRO release their own version. (Another entry this week, Lauren Martinez’s midtempo “I Don’t Want to Know,” fell a bit flat and always seemed like a distant third place, even after Dean worked her magic with it.) Still, I couldn’t help but be delighted for Pipobeats. A Los Angeles-born son of Chilean immigrants, he’d actually written “Sway” specifically in the hopes that Fonsi would one day hear and record it. “Luis Fonsi has the biggest song on planet earth, and he chose this song that I made in my room,” marveled Pipobeats, his mind blown.
Check out Fonsi’s video for the official “Sway” single below. Next week, the hits keep coming as Songland returns with Grammy darling H.E.R.
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