Emily Warren Breaks Down Writing Lyrics for Dua Lipa, Shawn Mendes, Chainsmokers & Charli XCX

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Emily Warren hugs Drew Taggart of The Chainsmokers onstage. / Danilo Lewis via Emily Warren

#BehindTheBangers is a series spotlighting songwriters and producers.

Singer-songwriter Emily Warren—who recently earned a coveted spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for music industry folks alongside Cardi B, Khalid, SZA, Joe Jonas, Bebe Rexha and Young Thug—wrote her first song when she was 11 years old.

"I had taken piano lessons from other teachers and felt like they all wanted to teach Bach and Beethoven, but Jen Bloom was the first teacher who was trying to teach me and my brothers songs that we were actually listening to," Warren, now 26, told ONE37pm on a phone call from Portugal where she was working. "At the end of every lesson, she played a song that she had written, and I remember it clicking for me. I was in fifth grade, and that night I wrote my first song. Songwriting was my outlet, my diary, for everything. I had a lot of emotions, and it was the only way to release it all."

Since that fateful day, she has graduated from NYU Tisch's Clive Davis Institute and soared onto the charts for hits she’s written for herself and co-written for other artists such as The Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa, Shawn Mendes, Charli XCX, Sean Paul, Jessie J, Noah Cyrus and Fifth Harmony. She made her first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2016 with the catchy breakup song “Capsize” with electropop duo Frenship. Her work on The Chainsmokers and Daya's banger "Don't Let Me Down" won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording in 2017. And co-penning Dua Lipa’s global hit “New Rules” just landed her a nomination for Spotify's Secret Genius Awards, a new awards show honoring songwriters, producers and engineers.  

Ahead of the Oct. 5 release of her first studio album Quiet Your Mind, she is climbing the charts with her latest Chainsmokers collaboration, “Side Effects,” which peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales chart and No. 66 on the Hot 100.

Dua Lipa // “New Rules” (2017)

Emily Warren: "I wrote this with an amazing producer named Ian Kirkpatrick and an amazing writer named Caroline Ailin… It's funny actually. When we wrote the song, it didn't really get much of a reaction. When you're writing songs every day you try not to get too attached, and if people don't react well to stuff, you just kinda forget about it. And I had almost forgotten about it. And then Ian's manager sent it to Dua. I had worked a bunch with Dua before and her album was just closing and they said we want to make this the next single, which is nuts. It was literally like the eleventh hour. Then the video came out, which was incredible. As a writer, you have pretty much no control over the video and you always hope that they'll do something that amazing, so when that came out we were all pumped about it. Dua’s vocal, her vibe, that viral video and the timing really was all kind of the perfect storm that made that song what it became.

"It kind of all went down at the same time as when the #MeToo movement was exploding, which was nuts and honestly such a transformative time. There were a few think pieces, there was one on Vice, about how ‘New Rules’ was the #MeToo anthem. That seriously, like, I don't know if I'll ever top that in my life or career as a writer. The fact that we had a pop song that had a message that was connecting with people in a way that actually meant something beyond just being like fun and catchy is the most you could possibly hope for. They always say it's part talent and part luck, and I really think that that was exactly what it was. We just got so lucky with the timing and Dua, and every piece of the puzzle just fit perfectly."

Charli XCX // “Boys” (2017)

Warren: "It was one of those songs that when I got involved there was already pieces of it written. I went into a session with Cass Lowe and he was like, ‘Oh, I just got this track, there's like a few bits and pieces on it.’ We worked on it and added some sections and then it kind of got passed around a little bit more, which usually is a disaster to be honest. But with this song it just worked perfectly. Every part became the best part that it could be and there weren’t really any weak moments, which is awesome. I contributed the bridge and the pre-chorus. It was a cool, a 2018 collaborative type experience. And then, obviously, Charli killed it. She sounds incredible. I mean I remember getting her version back and being like, ‘Holy shit, this sounds amazing.’ She just killed it and then she totally did the video herself, directed it and everything."

The Chainsmokers & Emily Warren // "Side Effects" (2018)

Warren: "I wrote that in a writing camp in Copenhagen and would have never thought to send it to The Chainsmokers because it's pretty different than what we've been doing together in the past. One of the other writers’ publisher sent it over to them and they flipped out. I woke up in the morning to a bunch of missed calls and texts from them being like, ‘What is this song? Can we get involved?’ We want to make this our next single and keep you on it.’ They kept my voice on it and then I heard on the radio for the first and began fully sobbing. They're homies. So getting to see them, do these one-off shows with them and do Good Morning America with them, it’s great because we just all get along really well. It's just fun hanging out with them. The video for it was shot in Los Angeles but [actress] Camila Mendes did her part in Miami."

The Chainsmokers & Daya // "Don't Let Me Down" (2016)

Warren: "That whole thing was insane. That was Scott Harris again. I'd met Drew Taggart one time because we had done a song of mine called ‘Until You Were Gone.’ And we went in to Drew's house to do a session with him. Scott's funny because every time we finish a song, he asks if it’s good. This time, we're standing at the elevator outside Drew’s apartment, and Scott ask if it’s good. And I was like, ‘Yeah, of course, it's good.’ And Drew goes, ‘You guys, it’s a smash, everyone loves it already,’ and slammed the door. It just totally took off. It was the first really big significant song that either Scott or I had had. I remember when it went number one on radio and Scott and I were on the phone crying to each other. The fact that that song won a Grammy was crazy. For it to get a Grammy was ridiculous. I remember they announced the Grammy during the pre-show when we were all in a car together going to the Grammys and I had just gotten my hair and makeup done and I was literally hysterically crying with my makeup running down. The best part of all of this is sharing it with friends and sharing it with people that you like and people that you're happy to see win. I can't think of better people than Scott, Drew and Alex [Pall]. It’s just an absolute joy to share something like that."

Shawn Mendes // 4 Songs from "Handwritten" (2015)

Warren: "Scott Harris basically got involved with Shawn at the very beginning when he was still unsigned as a kid on Vine. Scott got his song ‘Life Of The Party’ over to Shawn and then everything just started exploding. Shawn’s trajectory has been completely insane, and Scott brought me in on that early stuff and I jumped on a few songs for his Handwritten album ['Strings,' 'Aftertaste,' 'Air' and 'Lost'].  Shawn is so awesome to work with. He's just such a good person and has a good head on his shoulder. The craziest thing with Shawn is always the girls outside and the girls like standing, pounding on the glass outside of restaurants. That sounds terrible to me to have to deal with that, but he loves and obviously is really appreciative that there's people that are big fans at him and support him, so he is definitely the right person for that fame."

Jessie J // “Masterpiece” (2014)

Warren: "I couldn’t agree more in terms of her being one of the most underrated voices. I went to a show after her album came out and it was the craziest show I've ever seen; it was literally vocal Olympics. I usually try not to target someone when we're writing just because it's really hard to know what people want if they're not in a room. But that was Britt Burton who I'm here with now in Portugal and we kind of were thinking I should write something for Jessie J. I remember at the time it was when I had just moved out to Los Angeles and I kept hearing in sessions that you should never write a song that doesn't make it seem like the guy isn't going to get it and ‘Masterpiece’ was one of those empowering songs that had zero mention of a relationship or a guy or anything. When that went the whole distance and was chosen as the single, it really felt like a win because they felt like we were taking a risk and the label is taking a risk and she was taking a risk and it had a good reaction, which is always awesome."

Sean Paul & Dua Lipa // “No Lie” (2016)

Warren: "I had been doing a bunch with Sean Paul actually. I remember being asked if I wanted to write with him and I almost started crying because I grew up listening to Sean Paul and he was playing in every bar mitzvah I went to. That was like my whole life come full circle. We ended up doing almost a month straight together, and some of the songs are now kind of just coming to form, but he's so interesting to work with because his style of writing is so dramatically different from anyone. We'll get the chorus and then he'll go on the booth and start freestyling, but he likes to get the whole thing in one take, so if he messes up on the second line or the third line or the last line, he’d start the whole song over. It's a long process, but it's amazing to watch and honestly his voice is so distinct and amazing and I could listen to it all day long. ‘No Lie’ was awesome because we wrote it in a room together. And getting Dua involved was awesome."

Fifth Harmony // “Them Girls Be Like” (2015)

Warren: "I didn't write any lyrics or melody on this one, but Britt and I were in a Fifth Harmony writing camp and we had gotten kind of stuck on the track we were working on. Everyone left the room and Britt and I started hitting pencils on the pencil case and we ended up producing and being part of the beat. All those little weird sounds were us like shaking or hitting the stapler. We actually did track side on that. That's where the real good stuff comes from, when you're not taking it too seriously."

Noah Cyrus // “Stay Together” (2017)

Warren: "That's actually a Britt Burton again. We wrote that with Digital Farm Animals and then Noah got involved. She’s one of those singers whose voice is just so amazing and she just literally got on the mic and started singing and it was like, ‘Oh my god, this is perfect.’ And actually her mom was there and her mom like jumped on and did gang vocals and everyone was just kind of in the booth together having fun. So that was a great honor. She has such a special voice. There's so many artists who are so talented, but someone who can just like jump in the booth and make it sound amazing immediately is so rare. She's fully got that."

Emily Warren // "Paranoid" (2018)

Warren: "We were all in Hawaii writing for my album, and we kind of were trying to figure out how to separate the rooms. I wanted to be involved in everything, but it was too many people for one room and then one morning we were just like, ‘Fuck it,’ and we all went into one room and that song started happening. The concept of insecurity and jealousy is something my boyfriend was experiencing, and a lot of people go through it, especially in the early stages. We're really kind of trying to put it to bed by writing a song that convinced whoever was feeling this to not worry about it. It's a little more pop than I generally go on my own stuff, but it's like I needed to do some more fun uptempo stuff and I'm just really happy with that one and how it turned out. I've been doing all my videos with the keyboard player in my high school band and now he does a lot of film stuff. For this video, he came up with that concept. He was like, ‘I think the best angle to do is some kind of horror thing.’"

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