It might not be a name immediately familiar to pop fans, but it should be — and in all likelihood, by the end of 2019, it will be. Writer/producer Louis Bell is having a historic impact on the top of the Billboard charts this year, the level of which we only see from a non-recording artist a handful of times in a generation.
Scroll down the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 this week (dated March 23), and you’ll see Bell’s name on four credits before you even get to No. 7. He’s a writer and producer on Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower” (No. 2), Halsey’s “Without Me” (No. 3) and Post’s “Wow.” (No. 5), and a writer on the Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” (No. 6). Three of those four entries (“Sunflower,” “Without Me” and “Sucker”) have also gone to No. 1 on the chart this calendar year, which means that of the five songs to top the Hot 100 for the first time so far in 2019, more than half of them have bore Bell’s fingerprints.
And though this is his highest concentration of smash hits to date, this is also not really anything new for Bell on the Hot 100. Since breaking out as a writer on DJ Snake’s Justin Bieber-led “Let Me Love You” (as well as half the 14 tracks that comprised Post Malone’s starmaking Stoney album) in 2016, Bell has been a consistent presence on the chart. He’d already tallied credits on three No. 1 hits before this year — Post’s 21 Savage-featuring “Rockstar” and Ty Dolla $ign-featuring “Psycho,” as well as Camila Cabello’s Young Thug-assisted “Havana” — while also contributing to memorable hits for Selena Gomez (“Wolves” and Kygo collab “It Ain’t Me”), Shawn Mendes (“Lost in Japan”) and 5 Seconds of Summer (“Youngblood”), among many others.
If that seems like a pretty stunning resumé for what’s essentially two years of work in the mainstream, well, it is — even moreso when you consider the variety it encompasses. There’s plenty of rock, pop, R&B, hip-hop and dance to be found on his CV, though if his success suggests anything, it might be that there’s not really a ton separating those genres these days. While “Sucker,” “Without Me” and “Havana” might all be generally classified as “pop,” they don’t really sound any more or less like one another than they do a rock-based song like “Youngblood,” a dance-rooted banger like “It Ain’t Me” or an ostensible rap tag-team like “Sunflower.” In fact, you could very plausibly hear all six of them back to back on a top 40 radio station without thinking anything of it — and certainly without even noticing they had an architect in common.
And that’s really what makes Louis Bell’s success so noteworthy: He’s managed it without attracting much celebrity of his own. He’s not a visible figure in music videos or at award shows. He has fewer than 7,000 followers (and no blue check) on Twitter, where he mostly just retweets chart stats. He doesn’t have a producer ID booming out at the beginning of his productions, and none of the “Louis Bell” artist pages on Spotify are his. For an undeniable pop superproducer, he’s currently still fairly anonymous — without an obvious sonic signature or inextricable artist tie (despite his longstanding collaboration with Post Malone), he mostly feels like pop’s most prolific, accomplished and untethered freelancer of 2019.
In that sense, though, he’s not without precedent; in fact, that precedent is also the most recent non-recording artist to match Bell’s current tally of four credits within the same Hot 100 top 10. Writer-producer Max Martin — who pulled off the feat in 2011 — is now something of a household name now among pop fans, universally acknowledged as the godfather of contemporary top 40. But as a distinctly behind-the-scenes presence, he didn’t get to that level of recognition overnight: It was only after decades of blockbuster hits — which saw him evolving sonically from the R&B-influenced Euro-pop of Ace of Base and Backstreet Boys to the explosive pop-rock of P!nk and Kelly Clarkson to the maximalist bangers of Kesha and Katy Perry to the retro-futurism of Taylor Swift and The Weeknd — that Max Martin truly became Max Martin.
Will Louis Bell achieve the same renown? Far too early to tell, of course — there’s still only one Max Martin for a reason. But Bell’s combination of pop versatility and acuity (and personal anonymity) is certainly reminiscent of the Swedish GOAT in his early days. And if his name didn’t ring out for you before, it probably should by now.