3 Songs You Didn’t Know Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon Wrote for Other Artists

For Justin Vernon, frontman and key songwriter of Bon Iver, crafting some of his most transformative lyrics within the indie rock was the result of a three-month cabin seclusion in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Following the 2007 release of For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver—meaning “good winter” (bon hiver) in French—went on to win a Grammy for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album for the band’s eponymous 2012 release.

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Follow-up albums, 22, A Million, in 2016, and the fourth album, I, I, received heavy acclaim for Vernon, who is also a member of the bands Big Red Machine, along with The National’s Aaron Dessner, and Volcano Choir, Gayngs, and The Shouting Matches.

Flicking his falsetto vocals through earlier indie-folk tropes and into more experimental electronic elevations, Vernon has crafted some of the most incomparable sweeping soundscapes and heightened lyrical tomes.

Throughout Vernon’s career, he’s collaborated with a collective of singers, musicians, and songwriters, from Bruce Hornsby, James Blake, and The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, among many others.

Along the way, he’s also penned a few songs outside of his principal musical scope. Here’s a look at three songs Vernon wrote for other artists from 2010 through 2020.

1. “Dark Fantasy,” Kanye West (2010)
Written by Justin Vernon, RZA, Mike Dean, No I.D., Malik Yusef, Nicki Minaj, Jeff Bhasker

For Kanye West‘s fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Vernon co-wrote the opening “Dark Fantasy” and “Monster.” Vernon also appears on both tracks, in addition to “Lost in the World,” which features his faint vocals, along with samples from Bon Iver’s 2009 Blood Bank track “Woods.”

On “Dark Fantasy,” Vernon, who appears along with Nicki Minaj and Teyana Taylor, gives an opening narrative. The song also samples British composer Mike Oldfield’s 1983 song “In High Places.”

Recorded in Oahu, Hawaii, and produced by RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, the album, which went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200, also features contributions from Jay-Z, Rihanna, John Legend, Pusha T, Rick Ross, and Kid Cudi.

I fantasized ’bout this back in Chicago
Mercy, mercy me, that Murciélago
That’s me the first year that I blow
How you say broke in Spanish? Mi no hablo
Me drown sorrow in that Diablo
Me found bravery in my bravado
DJs need to listen to the models
You ain’t got no fuckin’ Yeezy in your Serato?
Stupid, but what the hell do I know?

2. “That’s My Bitch,” Jay-Z and Kanye West (2011)
Written by Jay-Z, Q-Tip, Kanye West, Jeff Bhasker

Following his work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Vernon worked on Kanye West and Jay-Z‘s collaborative album Watch the Throne (also called The Throne). Vernon co-wrote and appears on “That’s My Bitch.” Sharing some vocals with La Roux, Vernon also sings some portions on the track.

I’ve been waiting for a long, long time
Just to get off and throw my hands up high
And live my life, and live my life
Just to get off and throw my hands up high

3. “Evermore,” Taylor Swift (2020)
Written by Justin Vernon, Taylor Swift, Joe Alwyn

Less than five months after releasing folklore in 2020, Taylor Swift surprised everyone with another album, evermore. For the album, Vernon co-wrote the title track and is also featured on it, in addition to playing instruments and contributing backing vocals on several other tracks.

Prior to working with Swift, Vernon worked with evermore co-producer, The National’s Aaron Dessner, on the “Big Red Machine” (also the name of the duo’s band), in addition to contributing the track “Brackett, WI” for the album Dark Was the Night, which benefitted Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS. 

Gray November
I’ve been down since July
Motion capture
Put me in a bad light

I replay my footsteps on each stepping stone
Trying to find the one where I went wrong
Writing letters
Addressed to the fire

And I was catching my breath
Staring out an open window
Catching my death
And I couldn’t be sure
I had a feeling so peculiar
That this pain would be for

Photo by Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

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