It takes a lot to hold your own with Academy Award winner Julia Roberts, especially in a roomful of veteran entertainment industry elites. At last night’s ASCAP Pop Awards in Beverly Hills, red-hot singer Billie Eilish and her brother/producer Finneas O’Connell did so with a mesmerizing natural ease, displaying incredible vocal control and mature musical skill in the three-song acoustic set they performed after receiving the ASCAP Vanguard Award.
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Roberts was effusive and gushing with joy while presenting the award to the young siblings, which recognizes ASCAP members for their innovative work in shaping the future of music. “It is a great mystery to me how an artist, or artists in this case, take a blank page and make something remarkable. To be a fly on the wall in their room where Finneas and Billie compose indelible words again and again! That they are in fact brother and sister is pretty darn special.” Their lyrical and musical gift makes them fully deserving of the Vanguard Award. “Together they’ve built universes of chaos, heartbreak and humor that we never realized we’ve longed for, and now will never leave. They are like dancers really, weaving their verses and music around each other and us and knowing just when to turn this way and that and to move away and then closer still.”
Eilish was most appreciative of receiving an award which recognized her and her brother for “not just being a brand, name or face and actually appreciated for actually creating something, and writing it, and especially when we wrote it for nobody except us.” Finneas thanked his touring family “for leaving their real families at home… and microwaving rosarita beans for Billie,” and his own family, including his mother who gave him a ticket to attend the ASCAP Expo when he was sixteen. “To be in a room with so many people who have written all of my favorite songs, it’s really unbelievable.”
Jeff Lynne was short on words (“this one is the golden award at the end of the road. It’s a great one to get”) and let his unique fusion of rock and classical music speak for the ASCAP Founders Award he received. Accompanied by ace keyboardist and Heartbreakers member Benmont Tench, the ELO leader and noted record producer (Tom Petty, The Beatles) performed a three-song acoustic set of his classics “Telephone Line,” “Evil Woman,” and “All Over The World.
Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke of punk and new wave game-changers Blondie received the ASCAP Golden Note Award for their extraordinary career and influence on the worlds of music, fashion and art. The award has previously gone to such luminaries as Duran Duran, Lindsay Buckingham, Trent Reznor, George Michael, A Tribe Called Quest, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys and more. The band members delivered a power-packed live performance of their hits “Call Me,” “Long Time” and “Heart of Glass.”
Songwriter Louis Bell received the 2019 ASCAP Pop Music Songwriter of the Year award for his work on songs including “Better Now” (Post Malone), “Havana” (Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug) and “Wolves” (Selena Gomez & Marshmello). Two radio and streaming favorites nabbed top trophies for their popularity last year: “The Middle” (Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey) was recognized as Song of the Year, co-written by Stefan Johnson and Anton Zaslavski (Zedd) and published by 1916 Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music, Universal Music Publishing Group and Zedd Music Empire. The Most Streamed Song of the Year went to “God’s Plan” (Drake), co-written by Ronald “Cardo” La Tour, Matthew “Boi-1da” Samuels and Noah “40” Shebib and published by 1Damentional Publishing, Cardo on the Beat, Sony/ATV Tunes LLC and Universal Music Publishing Group. Songwriter Emily Warren performed an acoustic version of her Dua Lipa hit “New Rules,” also among the year’s most performed songs.
Publisher of the Year went to Sony/ATV for their role in multiple hits of the past year including “Girls Like You” (Maroon 5 Feat. Cardi B), “Something Just Like This” (The Chainsmokers & Coldplay) and “God’s Plan” (Drake). For their first time winning in this category, Kobalt Music took home Independent Publisher of the Year in recognition of hits including “God Is a Woman” (Ariana Grande), “I Like It” (Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin) and “High Hopes” (Panic! at the Disco).
American Songwriter chatted with several of the presenters and honorees on the red carpet prior to the event:
Desmond Child (songwriter, ASCAP board member):
You’ve worked with everyone from Alice Cooper to Kiss to Cher to Steve Vai. Who would you love to collaborate with next?
“I’d love to collaborate with Sia, 21 Savage, Bad Bunny… I’d love to collaborate again with Barbra Streisand… I’d love to write another song with Bon Jovi. We didn’t do bad last time with Livin’ on a Prayer!”
How did growing up with multicultural parents influence your musical development?
“My mother was a Cuban poet and songwriter, Elena Casals. She was writing songs all the time, and when I was born, she’d put my crib next to her piano. She’d be writing songs, and soon I was old enough to stand up and pretty soon I was old enough to sing along. Then, I was old enough to make lyric suggestions. I didn’t know people didn’t write songs. So, of course I would sit at the piano and I’d play my own little concertos and sing. Eventually, those turned into songs. So, I’m just made of music.”
Stefan Johnson (of production group Monsterz & Strangers; Song of the Year: “The Middle”)
What was your creative process in writing “The Middle”?
“When we wrote the song, we kind of had a chord progression that we were working on and Sarah Aarons was the songwriter we were working with that day. It was just in the first 30, 45 minutes of the session, really. We started messing around with that chorus melody and went into the booth. It kind of just evolved from there.”
Are there any upcoming or legacy artists you’d like to work with?
I’m just always honored when anybody wants to work with us… that’s just, like, a crazy thought. There was a time when nobody wanted to work with us. I’m just honored that people are even into “The Middle”, and I’m just here to work with people who want to write the best songs possible. I just really love the craft of songwriting, I’m always chasing writing a great song.
Ronald “Cardo” La Tour (Most Streamed Song: “God’s Plan”, performed by Drake)
Can you walk us through the tracking of “God’s Plan”?
Well, we produced the record with my cousin, Yung Exclusive. It was just one of the types of beats that was just uplifting. It was just the sound of the pads, you know, the melody,. It was just one of those feel-good-tune type of beats. But he came in and did his thing to it. So, before it became a huge hit, we weren’t expecting to… I mean, we knew it was gonna be a hit, but we didn’t know it was gonna be such a big hit like that. You don’t know what to expect in this music industry. You don’t know where things can go, what music can become, and it became one of those songs that is set in stone. I couldn’t be more proud than that.
Were there any particular artists/producers who inspired you to do what you do?
Yeah of course. There’s a lot of them. DJ Quick, Dr. Dre of course, Timbaland, Pharrell, DJ Paul Juicy J, man the list goes on, I don’t wanna leave anybody out! There was a lot of people I was inspired by. I grew up in the Midwest, so we were surrounded by everything. We hear the west, we hear the south, we hear the east, we hear everything. I was always influenced by all those sounds.
I want to work with Celine Dion! That’s the one person I just want to push the envelope with. I feel like I can do something. I’m also working on an album of mine, I signed with Interscope Records last year, so I’m working on the album AND a movie.
Red carpet interviews conducted by Michael Arrom.