The phrase “Happy Birthday” is not the typical greeting one might use to introduce themselves for the first time, but Jason Boyd, better known as Poo Bear, is not your typical person. “‘Happy Birthday’ is a lifestyle, it’s become my brand. It started off as an ice breaker when meeting people and allowed me to be myself immediately,” he says of the greeting he’s used daily to introduce himself for the past 20 years. “When you wake up every day, it’s like a new birthday, it’s a new chance to be great again and make great decisions. I’ve had the ‘happy birthday’ tattoo for like 15 years now.”
Poo Bear has spent much of his 21-year songwriting career making the most of new chances while penning hits for artists including Usher, 112, Chris Brown, and Kelly Rowland among others. Then, he met Justin Bieber, who “was the first artist that I worked with consistently who actually promotes me,” he told Billboard previously. After connecting with Bieber for his sophomore album Journals, the two built a relationship that would further push Poo Bear’s creativity levels and later find the Canadian singer shedding his “Baby” days to embrace a more mature sound.
As Bieber’s not-so-secret weapon, Poo Bear has a lot to celebrate as his work with the “Love Yourself” singer earned the Grammy-award winning songwriter three singles on the Hot 100 this week — Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” and DJ Khaled’s “I’m The One” notched the first and second slots followed by David Guetta’s “2U” at No. 16 — which are also the top-three selling songs on this week’s Digital Song Sales chart.
Far from resting on his laurels, Poo Bear declares that this is only just the beginning. “It’s cool to have a big record but it’s even cooler for the world to love it and sing along to it in every club word-for-word. It’s a real feeling,” he said. “I never wanna settle, I never wanna be complacent – I gotta outwork everybody. We’re just kind of getting started.”
Billboard spoke with Poo Bear about having this week’s top three selling songs and his formula for crafting hit records.
The top three selling songs this week feature Justin Bieber on a hip-hop song (“I’m The One”), a Latin song (“Despacito”) and an electronic dance song (“2U”). What do you admire most about Justin Bieber’s artistry?
Working with Justin Bieber, I learned that he can literally do any genre — he’s a chameleon. His voice is so flexible that he’s not locked in to one genre and it just shows the world that he can really sing anything. We have all these records with different feelings that are basically inspired by different genres. It’s easy to be a pop star but it’s not easy to be connected to a Latin record and pull it off and then to come with a hip-hop song and be accepted in that community. I’m glad the world gets to see his flexibility and how diverse he is as an artist.
Is it challenging for you creating songs in other genres like Latin? I know you’ve worked with J Balvin previously.
The challenge is not creating it, it’s people accepting it. Even if I think the song is great, the people have to love it and connect with it. You can make records all day but if it doesn’t connect with the people then it’s pointless.
How’d you end up collaborating on “2U” with David Guetta?
I worked with David Guetta on the beat and we were actually working on it for it to be a part of a Justin project but the timing wasn’t right in order for it to make it onto Justin’s project with all the newer stuff we were doing. I started it in Las Vegas and Justin finished it in New York. It went through a lot of changes because Justin is a perfectionist so finally David got it to a place production-wise where Justin loved it. It was great recording it with Justin because it’s tough getting his vocals on a record since he’s touring all over the world but it’s special when it happens.
About how long did it take you and JB to write the verses for “I’m The One,” “Despacito” and “2U”?
My theory is the faster it takes to create it, the bigger the record. “I’m The One” was created about two and a half months ago and it was done probably in about 30 to 40 minutes as far as Justin’s part. Then for “Despacito,” that also took about 30 to 40 minutes to put the remix together. Nobody told him to do the remix. Justin’s ears are impeccable. He heard the song and wanted to be on it. The song was big already but I think it was just brought to mainstream America to become a monster hit with the remix. “2U” took about 45 minutes to an hour. I just think the longer you take to think about creating a song, the more natural magic and inspiration leaves the room so the faster you capture the magic, the better the song. When I’m working on a song and it takes me a longer time than usual, like an hour or hour and a half, I start feeling like something isn’t right. The magic comes from going off your instinct and your feelings and not over-thinking, just creating.
How do you know when a song is “the one”?
Every now and then I’ll have a feeling like, “Whoa, this is going to be a big record” but then a lot of times, I just know to stick to my formula. A lot of times I don’t know. Even on songs like “What Do You Mean?”, I wasn’t sure about it but it was [Bieber’s manager] Scooter [Braun] who said, “That’s a hit record, that’s Justin’s first single.” Sometimes all it takes is someone on the outside to say, “That’s a hit.” So I’d rather put my all into it and hope that it’ll turn into a hit or maybe it won’t but I know I gave it my all and it’s something I’m proud.
What’s it like writing for a solo Justin Bieber track versus a track with him and multiple artists?
It’s a lot easier creating a record with a group of people because you have the support system of other artists because then we’ll only need to focus on creating the hook or another part as opposed to creating a whole song. Creating with him for a solo project, it’s fun but it’s still a little bit more pressure – a good pressure – to make sure we’re delivering and giving the people what they want and what they love.
I like to think of songwriters as scientists so what would you say is your formula for crafting hit songs?
Keeping things simple and effective. Simple enough for people to sing along but effective enough that would inspire and intrigue someone’s mind, an adult’s mind so when they hear a catchphrase like, “Early morning in the Dawn, hope you wanna ride,” that’s a double meaning. A “dawn” is a Rolls Royce and dawn is also the morning so it’s those double entendres that spark people’s interest. You put it on a kid’s melody that everyone can sing along with and it works for everybody.
Have you found it challenging to create more mature songs for Bieber since he still has a young fan base?
When me and Justin got together, he was about 17, 18 coming from [his 2012 album] Believe and he expressed to me that he didn’t want to sing those types of songs anymore but he didn’t want to leave kids out. He said he was getting older and wanted to sing more mature music so what we created was Journals. If you listen to Journals, you’ll hear how he matured like on his record with R. Kelly and Chance the Rapper. That album allowed him to grow up and prepare his audience mentally and melodically for Purpose. I don’t think him going right from Believe to Purpose would’ve been believable. Journals was the bridge that brought him to a mature place.
Why do you think you and Justin collaborate so well together?
He brought me on the road with him on the end of the Believe Tour for about a year and during that time, traveling and recording songs in different countries, it allowed us to get to know each other. I got to see his heart and how we related on so many different levels so that when it came time for the creative part, we could just go into the studio and make great music that connected with him.
After working with Justin for the past few years, how would you say he challenges you creatively?
If I create something or have an idea and send it to him, he might not reply right away and for a couple of years, it bothered me a little bit because I like to know if you liked the idea. After a while, he told me, “You know Poo Bear, every idea you send me I love but I just don’t want you to get comfortable. I don’t want you to feel like everything you create is great because then I don’t want you to stop creating.”
How do you push Justin’s limits as an artist?
I like to push his limits vocally and melodically by just trying different things that I know the average singer wouldn’t be able to accomplish. I love challenging him with vocal riffs, falsettos, opening up his mind with different melodies that he then takes and makes them even better he sings. He’s limitless vocally and pushing him to try different things is what inspires him to go a step further with his music.
You wrote hits for R&B artists like 112, Kelly Rowland, Chris Brown, Usher and so many more. How do you sharpen your creativity in an industry that’s constantly shifting, especially working with one of the biggest pop stars of today?
Even with the success of those records and the records that are out right now, I don’t feel like I’m at a place where I can stop and celebrate. I’m in the studio every day. Most people I know who get hit records would throw a party and celebrate and I’m blessed and grateful for Justin’s loyalty and for Scooter Braun because it takes a team effort and my part of the team is staying ahead and seeing what’s next. I’m constantly thinking, “What’s the next concept?” or “What’s the next cool thing to say?” and I’ve been blessed to write songs for 21 years but I still feel like I’m in the beginning of my career. I stay on my toes and I’m constantly trying to impress myself and impress Justin with new ideas — that keeps me sharpening my pencil. I never feel like I’ve made it and honestly, I never want to have that feeling. I want to stay hungry like, yeah, we have the biggest Latin record right now but I want to outdo that song. Let’s outdo “I’m The One” and “2U”. Plus, I just had a little baby — my son who’s 21 days old today – and now I have to provide for this kid forever so now I have to work even harder than I’ve ever worked before.
Are there any other genres you want to delve into?
Well, I’ve done reggae with an artist named Jah Cure but another genre that I would love to break into would definitely be country. We touched on it a little bit with Purpose with “Life Is Worth Living” but I would love to do a country smash that’s respected by country musicians. One of my goals is to have a slew of hits across all genres. I did reggae, Latin, hip-hop, pop and now all that’s left is country.
What else can we expect from you for 2017?
I’m the music director on a show called Step Up on YouTube Red, which is from the movie franchise that they turned into a series, so that’s something me and Jared [Gutstadt] from the Jingle Punks are working on. Also, we just finished up Ty Dolla $ign’s album. I was blessed enough for him to call me up and invite me to be a part of his project and then there’s an Albanian artist named Elvana I’ve been working with so I’m proud to be a part of that project as well.