12 Famous People Who Started Out Writing Other Famous People’s Songs

Harry Styles She Is A Good Songwriter  Taylor Swift


Tomorrow marks the release of Sia’s sixth studio album, 1000 Forms Of Fear, which features that one song that Lena Dunham danced interpretively to for absolutely no reason. If you’re a fan of Sia, this is great news. And, if you’re a fan of learning random musical trivia that everyone in your real life will only pretend to be interested in, then I have even better news! Because, in addition to the songs that Sia’s written for her own famous self, she’s also written tons of songs for other celebrities. Like David Guetta’s “Titanium,” Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” Britney Spears’ “Perfume,” and Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts,” just to name a few lesser-known tunes.

And what better time to celebrate that fact than right now, with a list of 12 other famous guys and gals who have that hit-making gene in common with Sia? They all got their big breaks in the music industry by writing hit songs for super-famous celebrities and went on to become their peers. So, I like to think of it like an internship that’s rewarded with a lot more fame, money, and scandals, in the long run.

1. Kesha

Kesha Sticking Out Tongue


Most Notable Hit: Britney Spears’ “‘Til The World Ends”

Before any of us had ever obnoxiously referred to Kesha as “Ke-dollarsign-ha,” she was busy quietly penning music for the likes of Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus.

2. Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars Laughing


Most Notable Hit: Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You”

If Cee Lo’s infectious song that had moms everywhere dropping F bombs sounded suspiciously doo-wop-y (shh, that’s a word), it should totally make sense that Bruno Mars wrote it. That’s, like, his thing. You’ve seen the Elvis-inspired pompadour, you know.

3. Prince

Prince Hair Smooth


Most Notable Hit: Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”

Apparently, even the very biggest of stars had to start somewhere, too. Which is news to me because I’d always assumed they were just born all shiny and famous.

4. Ne-Yo

Ne-Yo Smile Hat


Most Notable Hit: Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable”

You have Ne-Yo to thank for that entire summer that you couldn’t stop singing, “To the left, to the left…” Of course, he has you to thank for the bajillion dollars I’m guessing he made from writing songs like that and Rihanna’s “Unfaithful”.

5. Jessie J

Jessie J Smile Wave


Most Notable Hit: Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The USA”

The song that began the official launch of Miley’s career as Not Hannah Montana came from the brain of Jessie J. I don’t know why this surprises me so much, but I’m thinking it’s a case of me not being able to figure out how the hell these two ever even met?

6. Keri Hilson

Keri Hilson Smile Shrug


Most Notable Hit: Britney Spears’ “Break The Ice”

So, basically, if you can snag a songwriting gig with Britney Spears, you’re pretty much on your way to a solo career.

7. Kanye West

Kanye West Dancing


Most Notable Hit: Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name”

Heeeey, remember when Kanye made music, instead of just starring in the never-ending train wreck that is the Kardashians’ day-to-day, like he does now? I do! And Alicia Keys, Jay Z, and Janet Jackson probably do, too, considering they’re among the celebs for whom he started out writing.

8. Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris Ellie Goulding Need Your Love Video Kiss


Most Notable Hit: Rihanna’s “We Found Love”

I just need to give Calvin extra props for a sec because I will still stop what I’m doing and dance to this song when it comes on, and I’ve heard it approximately 14 million times.

9. Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran Smile


Most Notable Hit: One Direction’s “Little Things”

Before Ed had the giant fan base and are-they-aren’t-they relationship with Taylor Swift that he has now, he was writing songs for everyone’s favorite group of floppy-haireds. What a small England!

10. Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga Blows Kiss


Most Notable Song: Jennifer Lopez’s “Invading My Mind”

Let’s be honest, no one’s ever heard this song by J.Lo. But it’s J.Lo! And having her on the list of artists you’ve written songs for, along with Fergie and (of course) Britney Spears, could only be a good thing. 

11. Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean Laugh


Most Notable Hit: Beyonce’s “I Miss You”

True, his solo album, Channel Orange, blew away music fans and critics, alike. But it wasn’t too long ago that he was writing for fellow pop stars, including a presumably pre-douchey Justin Bieber.

12. Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz Talking


Most Notable Hit: Madonna’s “Justify My Love”

Within just two years of his musical debut, Lenny was already writing songs for Madonna, who was arguably at the height of her career. Ya know, just so we’re all aware that he is, in fact, cooler than any of us will ever be. 

You can reach this post's author, Olivia Wilson, on twitter.
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    • Lily Savage

      I knew about Bruno Mars and Kesha, but I had no idea that Kanye West or Lady Gaga wrote songs for other people. I love this kind of trivia!! Keep it coming!

      • Olivia Wilson

        Prepare to dominate that very specific pop-culture round of bar trivia.

      • Lily Savage

        That’s the dream

      • FauxRealFaux

        Kanye West is an awesome producer and writer.

    • capoupascap

      Kacey Muscraves cowrite Your Mamas Broken Heart and Miranda Lambert then recorded it but now Kacey is all over country music (and allegedly didn’t want Miranda to sing the song and kinda hates her-country music has some amazing gossip/drama!)

      • Olivia Wilson

        Whoa, I need to know the details of that possible feud.

      • capoupascap

        Well according to gossip Kacey wanted to record the song herself but Miranda saw/heard it and loved it. Rumor has it Miranda called in every favor owed to her at their studio and was/is the bigger star so the studio kind of coerced Kasey into giving it to Miranda. Allegedly Kasey still hates Miranda and that was the reason for the death look/snub at the CMAs. Frankly I actually prefer Mirandas version (she just has the better voice) but I’d be really angry too in that situation especially with the song being such a huge award winner.

    • Lackadaisical

      Prince at number three isn’t Prince writing for someone else but someone covering his song. He was famous already by then and had already released it. Prince released it in the ’80s and O’Connor covered it about 1990 ish.

      Also David Bowie wrote “All the Young Dudes” for Mott and the Hoople. He was already established by then and wrote the song for himself but realised it didn’t fit his style so passed it to another band.

      • Olivia Wilson

        You are right about that! I guess that one was more a case of Sinead just popularizing Prince’s song.

        And wow, I didn’t know that David Bowie one. Consider it number 13.

      • Raquel

        I almost pointed out the same thing. He did write “Manic Monday” by the Bangles but he was already way famous by then.

      • FauxRealFaux

        She did not popularize the song the song was already famous prior to her remake.

        You obviously do not know much about music and this article shows your ignorance.

      • Olivia Wilson

        Jeeez! I only meant that Sinead made the song more well-known than Prince had. Not that Prince’s version was some unknown ditty played only in obscure parts of the world. Just that Sinead’s covering of it further popularized it.

      • Raquel

        You aren’t exactly wrong. It wasn’t “famous” by any stretch unless you’re talking to hard core Prince fans who are big fans of his side projects (apparently there are several of us on this site.) Sinead certainly made it more famous. The most popular Prince version with Rosie Gaines came out several years later. Trolls gonna troll, right?

      • Olivia Wilson

        Trollin’ with the homies *does the little Brittany Murphy hand dance*.

      • FauxRealFaux

        Stop projecting your trolling onto me. Grow up, buttercup.

      • Raquel

        You’re adorable. You’re harping on a point that was already addressed and acknowledged by the writer. Besides that you’re wrong. I’m sure you’re a blast at parties.

      • FauxRealFaux

        Prince should be removed and that shows the writer acknowledges her ignorance.

      • FauxRealFaux

        The title of your article does not apply for Prince. Prince was the famous artist that wrote this song for himself and it was LATER covered by an unknown artist who became famous because of HIS song.

        Like I said- you should stick to areas where you have a smidgen of knowledge.

        Side note: You probably think that Iggy runs Hip Hop too.

      • Raquel

        Prince didn’t write the song for himself, he wrote it for a side project. Just like he didn’t write “glamorous life” or “manic Monday” for himself. Maybe you’re right that the title doesn’t apply to Prince but no need to be a prick about it.

      • FauxRealFaux

        Wrong. Please stop typing.

        Prince wrote that song for his group The Family which consisted of Prince and The Time. So again, stop typing.

        I think it is highly disrespectful to Prince to include him in this article. Prince is one of the most influential artist of all time and shouldn’t be downplayed for a one hit wonder.

        Prince made O’Conner famous. Case closed.

      • Raquel

        Wrong. Prince was never in The Family. Granted he called all the shots, played all the instruments in the studio and directed the vocals, but he wasn’t “in” the band. He wrote the song, played the music and told them how to sing it but let the Family have the credit. So we’re both right, except that you’re being a jerk who won’t let go.

      • Raquel

        Famous isn’t exactly accurate, is it? The song didn’t chart for The Family. I think it’s fair to say Sinead’s version mainstreamed the song more than the original version ever did.

    • parisc

      Skylar Grey is another genius. She wrote “Love The Way You Lie” for Eminem/Rihanna! Saw her in concert last summer, she was not amused by my obsessive signature requests, though.

      • Olivia Wilson

        Ooh, another song no one could escape for a while there. How was her concert, though?

      • parisc

        She remained reasonably sweaty throughout the night, bothering absolutely no one. And I think she lip synced a few songs too, which was weird considering the venue had the spacial capacity of a hamster’s cage. It was a decent concert nonetheless, but worth only 10 of the $32 I paid for.

      • Olivia Wilson

        I give your review of it 5/5 stars for the fabulous imagery.

    • mich_nicole

      what about The Dream?? helloooo… He only wrote Umbrella and Single Ladies :]

      • Olivia Wilson

        That’s true, he’s got a million hits under his belt. He also co-wrote Justin Bieber’s Baby with his ex Christina Milian! But I think I just consider him more of a songwriter/producer than a full-on solo artist. It’s a weird way my brain is categorizing him.

    • FauxRealFaux

      A better list that fits the title of this article:

      1. Marvin Gaye
      2. Pharrell
      3. The Dream
      4. Skylar
      5. Kenny Edmonds

    • Jeremiah Newman

      God I love “Justify My Love”! Incredible lyrics by Lenny and amazing song by Madonna.

    • Pingback: Sia's Top 18 Songs That She's Written and Sung()

    • The_Magic_M

      Prince wrote “Nothing compares 2 U” in 1985, one year after “Purple Rain” was a big success album.
      Sinéad performed the song in 1990.

      A better example would’ve been “Manic Monday” which Prince wrote in 1984 and which the Bangles recorded in 1985. But still he was undoubtedly famous before he wrote successful songs for others, not the other way around.