17 surprising celebrities who have songwriting credits on popular tracks

Allie Lembo,Crystal Wall
·13 min read
taylor swift and joe alwyn
Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn. John Nacion/STAR/Getty Images / Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
  • Stars like Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, and Sia got their start in the music industry writing for others before they became big stars themselves.

  • Whitney Houston's version of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" became so famous that much of the public forgot it was a cover.

  • When they were 17 years old, Ed Sheeran wrote One Direction's "Little Things" and Finneas O'Connell wrote Billie Eilish's "Ocean Eyes."

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

It's no secret that not all musicians write their own songs. But some stars pen their own tracks and more — and several award-winning artists got their start as songwriters. 

Read on for 22 hit songs that were written by other celebrities.

Ed Sheeran wrote One Direction's "Little Things" when he was just 17 years old.

ed sheeran one direction
Ed Sheeran at the 2018 Brit Awards and One Direction at the 2014 American Music Awards. Vianney Le Caer/Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Ed Sheeran wrote "Little Things" as a teenager with his friend Fiona Bevan.

The song was lost over time, but Bevan found it again and sent it back to Sheeran, who played it for One Direction. The band then claimed it for their 2012 album, "Take Me Home."

Speaking about the band choosing the softer track as a single, Sheeran told Capital FM in 2012, "I think they just wanted to try something different. I think they did the same formula with the last single — it sounded like a One Direction song — and now I think they want to switch it up a bit."

Finneas O'Connell was also 17 when he wrote "Ocean Eyes."

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Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Finneas O'Connell penned and produced the track for his high-school band when he was only 17 years old.

But O'Connell told Ones to Watch in 2018 that he knew the track was perfect for his sister, pop star Billie Eilish

"My high school band did it before Billie. I knew it was meant for Billie the first time I heard her sing it though; she brought life to it that I couldn't believe," he said. 

Miley Cyrus' hit "Party in the USA" paid Jessie J's rent for three years.

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Miley Cyrus performing in 2009 and Jessie J in 2017. Jason DeCrow/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Before she recorded "Bang Bang" with pop icons Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, Jessie J was making most of her money with songwriting.

In 2015, she told Glamour UK, "'Party In The USA' paid my rent for, like, three years. Actually it was way longer than that. That's where I get most of my money. I write songs. I'm a singer. I love endorsements and stuff, but that's all added on."

Harry Styles wrote Grande's "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart" on a whim.

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Harry Styles penned Ariana Grande's "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart." Helene Marie Pambrun/Getty Images; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Harry Styles is no stranger to romantic ballads, so when he visited Grande's studio, the producers offered him the chance to write a song for the pop singer. Several hours later, the track was penned. 

Grande told MTV in 2014, "He went into the other room and they were writing for a while and I remember when I heard it I was like 'Wow that's a really strong verse, that's really beautiful' and then the pre, I was like 'wow that's a really beautiful pre, that's a really strong pre!' and then the chorus I was like crying!"

Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" was written by Ne-Yo.

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Ne-Yo wrote Beyoncé's hit song "Irreplaceable." Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP; Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

The pop hit was written by Ne-Yo, but he said he regrets not keeping the track for himself. 

In 2011, Ne-Yo told Choice FM, "I honestly wrote that song for myself. But that song actually taught me a very interesting lesson - men and women don't actually think that much differently on the grand scheme of things."

But he added that he has doubts if he could have pulled off the song the same way, saying, "However, a man singing it comes across a little bit misogynistic, a little bit mean."

Kesha's been writing for artists like Britney Spears since before she became a household name.

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Kesha and Britney Spears performing. Jonathan Short/AP

Kesha, formerly stylized with a dollar sign, wrote for artists like The Veronicas and K-pop group Girl's Generation during the early aughts.

Kesha even penned "Till the World Ends" for Britney Spears' 2011 album, "Femme Fatale."

Two huge stars passed on Sia's song "Pretty Hurts" before it was recorded by Beyoncé.

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Sia and Beyoncé. Rich Fury/Daniela Vesco/AP

According to The New York Times (via Vulture), Sia's ballad "Pretty Hurts" was originally written for Katy Perry, who didn't see her email.

Sia then sent the song to Rihanna's manager, who sat on it for eight months without making a move. But when Beyoncé first heard the track, she "slid into home base and just closed the deal."

When Perry eventually heard the song, she reportedly told Sia, "I'm pretty hurt you never sent me this song." To which Sia said, "Check your email."

Pink wrote (and later released her own version of) "Whataya Want From Me."

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Pink released her own recording of Adam Lambert's hit song "Whataya Want From Me." Adam Berry/Getty Images; Rich Polk/Getty Images

Pink originally recorded the song for her album "Funhouse," but ended up dropping it from the record. She passed the track along to "American Idol" winner Adam Lambert. 

The song hit No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Pink wrote 'Whataya Want From Me' and then decided she didn't want to put it on her album for personal reasons," Lambert told Billboard in 2016. "I think she was quoted  saying she didn't want to go into the sentiment of the song. I did! A great song is a song that means different things to different people."

Pink later included her recording of the song on her album "Greatest Hits...So Far!!!"

Sheeran wrote the pop song "Trust Fund Baby" for Why Don't We.

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Ed Sheeran at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival and Why Don't We performing in September 2018. Markus Schreiber/Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Sheeran has written for several boy bands — he also penned Why Don't We's track "Trust Fund Baby."

The catchy jam applauds women who make their own money, denouncing "trust fund babies." The song's sung rap verses are a hallmark of Sheeran's style, and producer Steve Mac helped nail the track's up-tempo beat.

Avril Lavigne was behind Kelly Clarkson's hit track "Breakaway."

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Avril Lavigne cowrote "Breakaway" about her own experiences. Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images, NBC/Getty Images

Kelly Clarkson's hit, originally from "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" soundtrack, was actually written by pop-punk singer Avril Lavigne.

Best known for her songs "Complicated" and "Sk8er Boi," Lavigne cowrote the track with Bridget Benenate and Matthew Gerrard. 

In 2012, Benenate told Songwriter Universe, "Avril talked about her life and what things were important to her – she was the inspiration for the song."

 

Bruno Mars let Cee Lo Green sing "Forget You."

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Bruno Mars at the 2018 Grammy Awards and Cee Lo Green. Charles Sykes/Invision/AP / Erik Kabik Photography/MediaPunch

Bruno Mars told "The Graham Norton Show" in 2011 that he wrote the hit song, alternatively titled, "F--k You," during a jam session with Cee Lo Green.

Clarkson's big hit, "Miss Independent," was supposed to be on Christina Aguilera's album.

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Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera. Lucy Nicholson/Lee Roth/AP

Pop singer Christina Aguilera abandoned "Miss Independent" during the production of her 2002 album, "Stripped." 

But when the song's co-producer Rhett Lawrence heard Clarkson's impressive voice, he revamped and finished the track for Clarkson's debut album, according to MTV.

Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" is a Dolly Parton creation.

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Whitney Houston performing at the 1994 American Music Awards and Dolly Parton. Mark J. Terrill/Harms/AP

The sweeping ballad "I Will Always Love You" topped the country charts when Dolly Parton's original debuted in 1974, and then again when Whitney Houston recorded it for "The Bodyguard" in 1992.

Parton said the split that inspired her song wasn't a romantic one, but a professional one — she wrote the track to explain to mentor Porter Wagoner why she was leaving his show.

"I said, 'Porter, sit down. I've written something I think you need to hear.' I started singing 'I Will Always Love You,' and he started crying," Parton told the Tennessean in 2015. "When I finished, he said, 'Well, hell! If you feel that strong about it, just go on — providing I get to produce that record because that's the best song you ever wrote.'"

According to MTV News, Houston's version was the best-selling single by a woman and stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 14 consecutive weeks, making her cover the longest-running No. 1 single released by a woman.

Sia wrote Rihanna's hit "Diamonds" in just 14 minutes.

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Sia at the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party and Rihanna performing in 2015. Evan Agostini/Rich Fury/Invision/AP

Sia said she wrote the famous track in only 14 minutes

In 2018, producing duo Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Storleer Eriksen told Entertainment Weekly that Rihanna loved the demo so much she imitated Sia's inflections on the vocals, committing several days to recording the track.

"Rihanna really went to work on that song because she wanted to capture that character that Sia has in her voice … ," Hermansen said. "It was very important for her to capture that feeling, and she did it so well that Sia thought it was her [own voice on the song]."

Sheeran wrote with Liam Payne after One Direction split up.

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Ed Sheeran called Liam Payne out of the blue. Michael Kovac/Getty Images; Tristan Fewings/Getty

Sheeran had a hand in Liam Payne's solo hit "Strip That Down."

Payne told Billboard in 2017 that the song was born from a surprise call from Sheeran. 

"I was in a gym in LA, and I got a call that said 'You have to get to London now. And we had literally just gotten to LA, so we U-turned straight back to London — which of course you do for Mr. Ed Sheeran …" Payne said. "We went in, sat around and discussed a bunch of things about life, and [the song] basically just came together."

Justin Bieber's "Love Yourself" was cowritten by Sheeran.

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Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran in 2015. David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage

"Love Yourself," Justin Bieber's single about saying goodbye to a narcissistic lover, was penned by Bieber, Sheeran, and Benny Blanco.

It was originally slated for Sheeran's album, "Divide," but after finding it to be too personal and harsh, he gave it to Bieber. 

Sheeran told CBC radio in 2017, "I've ruined friendships and relationships with people that I know by putting songs on my album. They're songs that people play on the radio but they have big repercussions in my personal life."

"'Love Yourself' would have really, really, really f---ed up some stuff so I was never ever going to record it or put it on an album," he added.

But Sheeran still provided backup vocals for the stripped-down breakup song.

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Pharrell helped write "Hollaback Girl."

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Pharrell and Gwen Stefani wrote the song together in New York. Pharrell/YouTube; REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

The 2005 song "Hollaback Girl" was the breakout hit of former No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani's solo career. But Pharrell actually cowrote the No. 1 track.

Stefani told Howard Stern in 2016 that Pharrell came up with the earworm beat after Stefani said she wanted the song to feel like a cheer. 

"He went, "Oh you mean, oh I think I have this beat.' And he just gets his little keyboard and starts doing this beat," Stefani recalled. "And I said, 'What do you mean you just think you have this beat? Like where was it? How come you didn't bring it up until now?'"

Taylor Swift surprised Little Big Town by sending them the song "Better Man."

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Taylor Swift surprised Little Big Town by sending them the song. Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images; Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Best known for their single "Girl Crush," country music group Little Big Town didn't ask Taylor Swift any questions after she sent them the track. 

"[Swift] sent us this song and it was one that was really special to her. She thought of us because of the harmonies," Big Little Town singer Karen Fairchild said in a 2016 press conference, according to Entertainment Weekly. "She's never pitched a song to anyone before and the moment that we heard it we were like, 'Man, that is a song that we're gonna cut.'"

Perry penned Minaj's "Get on Your Knees."

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Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. Reuters/Danny Moloshok; ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty

The track featured on Minaj's 2014 record "The Pinkprint."

It was rumored that Perry was supposed to also sing the hook of the song, but ultimately Grande sang the hit hook.

Meghan Trainor has written several songs for Fifth Harmony.

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Meghan Trainor wrote three songs on Fifth Harmony's debut album. Jason Merritt/Getty Images; eff Kravitz/AMA2015/Getty Images

Meghan Trainor wrote Fifth Harmony's first top-40 hit, "Sledgehammer."

She also wrote several other tracks on the girl group's debut 2015 album "Reflection," including "Suga Mama" and "Brave Honest Beautiful" — a track that featured Trainor.

Swift's mysterious "Folklore" cowriter is actually her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn.

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Joe Alwyn cowrote Taylor Swift's "Exile" and "Betty" under the pseudonym William Bowery. Jackson Lee/GC Images

After Swift dropped "Folklore" with little-to-no notice, fans were buzzing with excitement.

But even after countless listens, one question stilled remained: Who was William Bowery? Bowery is credited as a writer on the tracks "Betty" and "Exile," but for months, no one knew his real identity.

Rumors circled, and some fans even came up with the theory that Bowery was really Styles, but that notion was squashed in November of 2020. 

Swift revealed in her film "Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions" that Alwyn is the mysterious writer. She said that while quarantining with her boyfriend of four years, she proposed the idea of cowriting. 

"I was like, 'Hey, this could be really weird and we could hate this, so because we're in quarantine and there's nothing else going on, could we just try to see what it's like if we write this song together?'" she said. 

She added that Alwyn is an incredible pianist and that he wrote the entire first-verse and the piano bit of "Exile."

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