But, they do have help from a few co-writers. And we mean, it's the same few for virtually every successful pop artist out there.
Capitol RecordsUh, Katy, we're thinking there's at least one guy's help you really don't need.
Tor Hermansen, Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, Mikkel Eriksen ... you've probably never heard of these men, and if we hadn't just told you that they're men, you might have guessed that they're Ikea floor lamps. But, they've written songs for Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Flo Rida, The Weeknd, NSYNC, Wiz Khalifa, Jessie J, Nicki Minaj, and so many, many more. Along with a few of their frequent collaborators, they've written almost every hit pop song of the past 20 years.
And then there's Karl Martin Sandberg, known in the biz as Max Martin. Sandberg left a gig in Saturday Night Live's house band to become a songwriter, and he's since had 54 songs crack the Billboard top 10 (and 21 reach #1), which is 20 more than some little band called the goddamn Beatles. He and his colleagues are secretly controlling both the creative direction of pop music and Europe's diabolical plan to lure us into a false sense of security with their silly names.
Martina Huber/RegeringskanslietThat's the face of a man who was destined to stand behind the stars.
Ester Dean also deserves mention, as in just a few years, she went from Oklahoma nursing assistant with zero industry connections to one of the most in-demand pop songwriters. She's written hits for Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and more, because it turns out that you can have a pretty lucrative career if you're willing to let other people take the fame, fortune, and inevitable self-destructive scandals that your hard work produces.
Interscope RecordsUnless you count working with Machine Gun Kelly as scandalous, which all right-thinking people should.
As for the whole co-writing thing, there's an industry expression -- "Change a word, get a third." In other words, if Taylor Swift ducks her head into the studio and says, "'suck it out' doesn't sound quite right, let's try 'shake it off'," before returning to her intensive meeting with her twee consultant, she gets a writing credit. Singers are given permission to make negligible alterations to finished songs in exchange for artistic credibility.
That may have shocked you into tearing down your T-Swift posters, but when you think about it, the idea that pop megastars would have time to write an album is ridiculous. Superstar is a demanding job full of lengthy world tours, constant interviews, award shows, secret Illuminati blood rituals, and other miscellaneous appearances. There's no way Swift's handlers are going to let her hunker down in a Big Sur cabin for three months with nothing but a guitar and her thoughts.
Larry Busacca/Getty Images"You just go out there and dance, Taylor. I'll date the assholes and get my heart broken, and then I'll let you know to feel about it."
So, if you've ever thought that all modern pop music sounds alike, only to have someone younger tell you that you're just old and out of touch, rest assured that you were right. Pop music does sounds the same, because it's all made by the same people following a very specific and very successful formula. Although, you are also getting older and out of touch. Sorry.
Patrick Coyne has written other things on his blog, Florida Cousins.
Psst ... want to give us feedback on the super-secret beta launch of the upcoming Cracked spin-off site, Braindrop? Well, simply follow us behind this curtain. Or, you know, click here: Braindrop.
For more depressing truths about the music industry, check out 5 Unknown People Who Secretly Made All Your Favorite Music and The 6 Most Hilarious Failures In Music Censorship History.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel, and check out The 5 Most Surreal Music Genres Around The World, and watch other videos you won't see on the site!
Also, follow us on Facebook, because we'll follow you everywhere.