Songland’s Ester Dean Wrote These 13 Chart-Topping Hits

By Amanda MitchellJun 3, 2019

Here’s one thing that’ll likely come up at your next book club meetingSongland, NBC’s new songwriting competition series. If you’ve yet to watch, the show gives aspiring songwriters the opportunity of a lifetime, a.k.a. the chance to write a song for (and have it recorded by) some of music’s biggest names. Each week, the newbies are paired with accomplished writers and producers Ester Dean, Shane McAnally, and Ryan Tedder—and while they’re all excellent, it’s Dean we’re a little obsessed with.

The 37-year-old is a singer, songwriter, producer, and actress, most known for her song “Dip It Low,” as well as her work in the Pitch Perfect movies. Dean boasts an all-star roster of people she can say she’s worked with, including Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Christina Aguilera, Florence + The Machine, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, and Lil Wayne. You’ve definitely heard some of her best songs, so here are 13 jams she’s written for.1“Come & Get It” by Selena Gomez

Gomez’s first solo single is a perfect blend of electro- and dance-pop that takes inspiration from Indian music. Dean originally recorded a demo for the song for Rihanna’s album, Talk That Talk, but when RiRi passed, Gomez took over. Speaking about Dean, Gomez told Billboard she “is just an incredible vocalist that a lot of people know, but if you actually hear her voice just solely on her own, it’s just stunning, and it’s really haunting.” The song was heavily praised, and eventually became Gomez’s first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was certified triple-platinum by RIAA.

LISTEN NOW2“(Drop Dead) Beautiful” by Britney Spears featuring Sabi

Considered to be one of the best songs on Spears’s 2011 album Femme Fatale, “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” came about when Spears contacted Dean in 2009 with the hopes of recording Dean’s eventual first single, “Drop It Low.” Spears would go on to record two songs co-written by Dean for Femme Fatale— “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” and “Selfish.” Despite not being released as a single, the song peaked at number 41 in South Korea and also made an appearance on Billboard‘s Dance/Electronic Digital Songs chart.

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3“Rude Boy” by Rihanna

Rihanna’s sixth US number-one single “Rude Boy” doubled as a turning point for Dean’s career as she collaborated with Rihanna on the song’s concept. This would be the beginning of a professional relationship between Dean and Rihanna, with Dean later being nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year as a producer on Rihanna’s albumLoud. “I think Rihanna is sexy and will say things that other chicks won’t say. Even if she says let’s go kiss some girls, who really cares … that’s Rihanna. Music is about fantasy. This is what people want to do, but are afraid to do,” Dean told The Boom Box about Rihanna.

LISTEN NOW4“Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj

Dean lends background vocals to this track, one of Minaj’s most famous and playful songs. You can hear Dean talk about the process of creating the song on the Songland podcast, where she tells the story about being called in the middle of the night to work on the track.

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5“Countdown” by Beyoncé

Beyoncé’s ode to love and self-empowerment blends 1970s musical styles with those of the 1990s as it samples Boyz II Men’s 1991 single, “Uhh Ahh.” As a result of their collaboration, Dean and Queen Bey became friendly, with Bey even going as far as to offer Dean some love advice

LISTEN NOW6“Hey Mama” by David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha and Afrojack

This track by French DJ and record producer David Guetta features Dean’s vocals, as well as those of Nicki Minaj and Bebe Rexha.

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7“Mr. Know It All” by Kelly Clarkson

“Mr. Know It All” signified a massive shift for Clarkson, who typically chose guitar-heavy anthems for her lead singles. In this case, Clarkson leaned into the R&B sound that Dean is known for.

LISTEN NOW8“Pills N Potions” by Nicki Minaj

One of 10 collaborations between Minaj and Dean, “Pills n Potions” was the lead single from Minaj’s 2014 album The Pinkprint, and is one of Minaj’s most soulful and uplifting songs.

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9“Not Myself Tonight” by Christina Aguilera

A sexy jam off Aguilera’s Bionic, the song marked a new era and sound for Aguilera, who called on Dean to help usher it in.

LISTEN NOW10“What’s My Name?” by Rihanna featuring Drake

Rihanna’s love song was her third number-one single in 2010 alone, and it marked her eighth appearance overall at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song was one of Dean’s four songs she contributed to Rihanna’s 2010 album Loud.

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11“Firework” by Katy Perry

Yep, Dean is the woman behind this 2010s anthem. To put it lightly, the song was a smash hit, reading number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and the top five on 20 charts around the world. “Firework” has sold over 10 million copies in the United States, and over one million in the United Kingdom. While discussing the collaboration, Dean told Billboard, “Katy already had the concept and the name in her head. That was one of the times when you allow yourself to be led by somebody who knows what he or she wants. She knew what she wanted, so I was like, ‘I’ll follow you.'”

LISTEN NOW12“Jai Ho! (You Are My Destiny)” by A. R. Rahman and The Pussycat Dolls featuring Nicole Scherzinger

After watching Slumdog Millionaire, record executives Jimmy Iovine and Ron Fairwanted to make their own pop interpretation of the song “Jai Ho” that ends the film. Iovine brought on Nicole Scherzinger to sing on the song, which would go on to debut at number 100 on the US Billboard Hot 100, eventually peaking at number 15. Dean was one of three songwriters hired to contribute to the song along with original producer A. R. Rahman. All of their interpretations were cobbled together—and the rest is history.

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13“S&M” by Rihanna

In an interview with BillboardDean opened up about the process of piecing together this racy song’s lyrics. “The first thing that came to me was ‘Come on, come on.’ I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know what in the hell this is about to be.’ And I remembered I’d seen something that said, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones.’ Then came ‘But chains and whips excite me,” Dean said, adding, “When people have a great track that speaks to me, it feels like it already has a story in it.”

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