Bonnie McKee: The 'American Girl' Songwriter Steps Into The Spotlight
You might not know her name, but you definitely know her music: Do the songs "California Gurls," "Teenage Dream," "Hold It Against Me," and "Dynamite" ring a bell? Since 2009, the 30-year-old Bonnie McKee has co-written nine number-one singles, and has worked with a wide array of artists ranging from Katy Perry and Ke$ha, to Taio Cruz, Carly Rae Jepsen, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and even Cher. Although McKee is arguably the most in-demand songwriter in the music industry and is responsible for shaping the sound of Top 40 radio in the United States over the past five years, she's remained relatively under-the-radar. Until now, that is.
Armed with an Epic Records recording contract, McKee is about to step out from behind-the-scenes and into the spotlight — she's set to release her first collection of new music since 2004 this spring. We figured now is the perfect time to meet the woman who's made so many of your in-car sing-along sessions possible. Given that songwriting is still a predominately male-dominated field, McKee is one powerful exception.
McKee's rise to the top of the pop songwriting game hasn't been an easy one. After getting kicked out of her Seattle high school in the ninth grade (she was a bit of a wild child), a demo of McKee's songs found its way into the hands of a prominent Los Angeles radio DJ. A record label bidding war ensued, and at the age of 16, McKee signed with Warner Bros. and moved to Los Angeles to begin recording her debut album, Trouble. While Trouble turned a few heads (the lead single "Somebody" was featured on the soundtrack for the movie Win a Date with Tad Hamilton), it was not a commercial success. After six years with Warner Bros. and only one album, McKee was dropped from the label.
In a video series posted to her official YouTube channel called Breaking Bonnie, McKee reveals that after she was dropped from Warner Bros., her "whole reality came crashing down." She entered a downward spiral of drinking and drug use. But one day, McKee says she finally "woke up" and decided to "get to work." In 2009, McKee began writing for her friend Perry's sophomore album, Teenage Dream (the two met at a Los Angeles thrift-shop when they were just teenagers), and the rest is history.
Perry's Teenage Dream spawned a record-breaking five consecutive number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. McKee cowrote "California Gurls," "Teenage Dream," and "Last Friday Night." But she didn't stop there. McKee found herself on top of the charts again in 2010 after co-writing Taio Cruz's hit single "Dynamite," and once again in 2011 after co-writing Britney Spears' massive comeback song, "Hold It Against Me." Most recently, McKee co-penned Perry's number-one song, "Roar," for which she also earned her first Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.
But McKee has always had ambitions beyond songwriting for the pop elite. This spring, she's set to relaunch her own solo career with a unique vibe that's totally different from the artists she's worked with in the past. McKee describes her new music as "what Blondie would do" in the present day. She says we can look forward to "big pop songs" with "soaring melodies" produced by the likes of pop super producers Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Greg Kurstin, and of course, McKee's boyfriend Oliver Goldstein (a.k.a. Oligee).
Last summer, McKee gave us a taste of what we can expect from her new music with "American Girl" — a criminally addictive track that celebrates McKee's goal of "takin' over the world." Since "American Girl's" release, McKee has continued to tease her fans (called "BonBons") with a few new songs: there's the spooky dance track, "Sleepwalker," a cautionary tale about wandering through life numb like a zombie, and "I Wanna F--king Call You," which outlines the struggle of wanting to call a boy after a date but not wanting to appear too eager. Who can't relate?
So is McKee the next big pop superstar? We'll have to wait and see — but we certainly wouldn't underestimate her.