Benny Blanco is the man behind some of the biggest pop songs of the last decade — writing and producing eight Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hits, starting with Kesha‘s 2009 breakthrough “Tik Tok.” But then he realized he was ready for something more.
“Nobody starts their life out and they’re like, ‘Man, I really want to be a record producer!'” he tells Billboard‘s Pop Shop Podcast (listen to the full episode below). “When I was growing up, you were like, ‘I wanna be an artist.’ And I tried being an artist and I was luckily not good at all, so I became a producer — and now I get to live out that little childhood dream again.”
He’s living out that childhood dream thanks to releasing his debut album, Friends Keep Secrets, back in December, which included the massive lead single “Eastside” with Halsey and Khalid. For the first time, he hit the top 10 of the Hot 100 and topped the Pop Songs airplay chart as a lead artist, and it’s led to “one of the most freeing years of my life.”
Below, find highlights of our super fun chat with the hitmaker all about becoming an “artist,” working on Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s Hot 100 No. 1 duet “Senorita,” getting Calvin Harris to sing again and much more. (Listen to the full conversation in the podcast above.)
How Dr. Dre Inspired Benny’s Debut Album
“I was with Ed Sheeran on tour, and I was sitting there, we were watching [HBO’s] The Defiant Ones, that Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre thing. So we’re sitting there, we’re watching it, we watched like all of them in a row, and Ed stands up and he looks at me and he’s like, ‘Dude, what the fuck are we doing with our lives? Look how much they’re doing. We’re not doing anything!’ Then he’s like, ‘All right, I’ll be right back, I’ve got to go play this show’ — literally to a stadium. And I’m like sitting there in the back, and I remember, I had this big teddy bear in my hands. And I’m like, ‘What the fuck are we doing with our lives?’ In that moment, I started thinking, ‘You know, Dr. Dre really figured it out when he started putting out his own music.’ It’s like, I make songs for other people. I’m never in charge of the video or how they promote it or how they carry themselves. I don’t get to do anything past making the song, you know?
“I was just like, ‘You know what? Why don’t I try this.’ And I asked a bunch of my friends, and I was just waiting for people to be like, ‘All right , dude, get the fuck back there. Keep making the songs.’ But I don’t know, people were just like, ‘Yeah, man, give it a try.'”
On Begging Calvin Harris to Sing Again for ‘I Found You’
“I was a very big fan of his music and I always wanted to do a song when he sings. That’s what inspired me the most. I was just like, ‘Dude, come on, let’s do one.’ And he didn’t want to do one. He was like, ‘I want to make house songs.’ I was like, ‘Come on, there’s got to be like an old start [of a song],’ and we found this one old song, because he won’t sing on them anymore. And we found this one from years before and just workshopped it together and made it good. And he’s so talented, I’m lucky to be in the room.”
On Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello’s ‘Señorita’ Finally Coming to Life
“That one, we worked on for soooo long. Before that song came out and everything from the first demo, it was over a year, a year and a half — maybe more. I think once we were all in the studio together — when it was me, Camila, Shawn, everyone else who wrote it … and we were cutting everything together, I was like, ‘Oh shit, I think it’s gonna happen!’ And even then, it was like, is it gonna happen? Is it gonna come out? You never know. And then it came out, and it’s crazy to me. No, I did not know it would be as big as it was going to be.”
On Reuniting With Camila & Working With Shawn for the Very First Time
“Now when I see her, I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ Like before, it was like, oh my god! It’s this girl who’s finding her own [voice]! And now you see her and it’s like, ‘I’m like a diva.’ [Laughs] There’s like theme music when she walks in now. … There’s definitely a heavy wind machine.
“[With Shawn,] we’ve been trying to [work together] for a long time. Actually, one of my friends brought me his music before he was even signed, when he was like 13, and was like, ‘You gotta work with this kid.’ … I see everything as time and a place. It was our time.”
On Balancing the Dozens of A-List Artists on Lil Dicky’s ‘Earth’
“It took three years to make. It was crazy. ‘Hey, man, we’re doing this thing. Let me explain it you.’ And it was so hard to explain to people before the video was made. Like, ‘No, you’re gonna be like an animal!’ I don’t fucking know. It just happened. I think people were into a good cause, and trying to do something to help. Like, we’re fucked. Look around. It’s hot as shit right now in LA. How many people have a voice and don’t really do anything with it?”
Another Album (Or Albums?) Is On the Way
“Honestly, the thought in my head is to have a four-part series. Four seven-song albums, coming atcha. How ’bout that bomb? … I’m just having fun. I’m just trying to make songs that inspire me. When you first start making songs, you have that feeling like when you’re a kid and you’re on a roller coaster and you don’t know when it’s going to stop, it’s like the wind’s almost knocked out of you and you get butterflies in your stomach. And as you make songs, for so many years, it becomes almost like a job, and you still love it, but you don’t necessarily still get that same feeling you got when you were a kid. And this project really puts me back into that feeling of being a kid again and not knowing — the unknown.”
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard‘s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard‘s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)