Tebby is John Legend’s choice
Every artist is looking for their next great song, and John Legend may have found it in the single “We Need Love” written by Bahamian Tebby Burrows.
Tebby was one of four contestants on the premiere edition of the NBC series “Songland” on Tuesday in which four up-and-coming songwriters perform compositions for a panel of hit-making judges who critique the songs. Visiting guest artists pick a song a week to record on their own.
Tebby, who performed premiere night, did so in front of Legend who was joined by regular judges Ryan Tedder, Ester Dean and Shane McAnally. After listening to the writers play their songs and offering feedback, Legend narrowed the field to three tracks he liked – Tebby’s, Max Embers’ pop ballad “Back Home” and Ollie Gabriel’s retro love song “Something New”.
After hearing the reworked songs, Legend picked Tebby’s – the song that changed the most over the course of the episode.
After each song was laid out in front of the panel, the panel critiqued the offering and addressed how they would rearrange the melody, rewrite certain lines in the chorus, and/or change the pacing altogether.
After her initial performance, Tedder told Tebby the best part of the song was the chorus medley which he said was super catchy.
“My only critical comment is it’s getting a little too message-heavy,” said Tedder of the song which was anthemic in its call for everyone to love one another regardless of race or gender. “You have to be careful about preachiness and some of these lyrics tip up to that line.”
In Legend’s critique, he told her she was crossing into cheesy a little too often.
“I’ve done message songs before which is probably why you thought this would be a good song to pitch to me, but we always have to be careful that it still has like some edge, a little darkness, because if it’s so happy and so bouncy and it’s called ‘We Need Love’ – it’s like yay! It’s like a little too much. Make it sound a little more mournful… like crying for the world basically.”
Meanwhile Dean told her that every album should have one of those songs whether it’s preachy or not. She told Tebby that it was a beautiful message she was giving.
Before bells and whistles could be added to each tune, John had to make his first decision – to let go a songwriter, then pair the remaining with the three producers. He did away with James.
Tebby then hit the studio with McAnally to rework “We Need Love” into a stunning acoustic ballad. The song is unrecognizable when Tebby presented it once more to John, but all the more radio-friendly for the changes made.
Legend recorded the reworked Tebby’s song, which debuted on Tuesday, May 28 following the show and was already number one on iTunes R&B, number six on the overall chart, in 24 hours.
“Songland” is pulling back the curtain on the collaborative process. The show provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity for talented up-and-coming songwriters to be exposed to and mentored by three music producers per episode who are responsible for today’s biggest hits.
The unknown songwriters pitch and perform their original songs to one superstar recording artist and a panel of producers. By the end of the episode, the featured recording artist chooses one song to record and release through their label that same night.
Songwriters have a chance to work with Tedder, the OneRepublic songwriter/producer, currently riding the airwaves with his Jonas Brothers composition “Sucker” (OneRepublic, Taylor Swift, Adele, Beyoncé); “Firework” and “Super Bass” writer Dean (Rihanna, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj); and Grammy winner McAnally (Keith Urban, Kelly Clarkson, Sam Hunt).
Tebby had heard about “Songland” three years ago and submitted a song for the show then, went through the interview process, but didn’t get selected. Last year NBC greenlit the project and Tebby submitted a new song which was selected, and began the whole process of interviews and her flying to Los Angeles (L.A.) to shoot the show.
She did not know the artist she would be performing for, but did know that Tedder, Dean and McAnally would be judges.
She ended up performing on the 11-episode season opener for Legend.
Despite what people saw on the show, she said the feedback session was much longer than shown, and that she was given a lot of information that she just took in.
“I was like okay, if they pick me, then I’m going to take this feedback, because the song wasn’t written for John. When you see the artist you’re writing for, you have to figure out how they want to sound, how it would sound if they were the one singing it,” she said.
“He expressed how he would like it to sound.”
She was one of the three chosen to have their song reworked, and was paired up with McAnally who she said really understood because he speaks from a country music background.
“Shane understands storytelling, so we stripped [”We Need Love”] down. We took away the island beat and gave it something a little more soulful and a little sad, came back, presented, and [John] liked it.”
Tebby says she was shocked and didn’t expect the outcome.
“It was surreal. I didn’t think I was going to make it through the first round or the second round, so it was a lot of shock – like oh really! Oh my god! That’s amazing. I didn’t expect that.”
As she went through the process, she said the whole time she was thinking it was such a cool experience, regardless of the outcome.
“That was my entire mindset the whole time, so everything else was literally [a] cherry on the top.”
Going into her performance she said she was nervous, but that it was a different kind of nerves.
“Before I went in I was like I’m not going to focus on the outcome, I’m going to just be present, because who knows if I’m ever going to be able to be in a room with John Legend and with these powerhouse producers ever again, so I need to not be in my head. So, I really just tried to have both feet on the ground, and be there the whole time. I went in during the final cut thinking they’re not going to pick that song, but I’m just so happy that this happened.”
One of the big takeaways from the judges for her as a songwriter, she said, is that mainstream music is simplified. Tebby’s songs are written from her poetry.
“My verses were wordy and heavy. Like Shane said, they were beautiful on paper, but when you’re singing it, it needs to be condensed. So, we found a way to keep the same meaning, but condense the verses and we kept the chorus. One thing I know, I can write a good hook,” she said.
The show was filmed in February. Legend recorded “We Need Love” shortly thereafter.
Tebby, the daughter of Phillip Burrows and Bernadette Loretta Burrows, watched the show at a friend’s house in L.A. where they held a viewing party. But she was also calling her mom the entire time as she was having her own viewing party.
From the moment Tebby appeared on the show to Legend picking her song, Tebby says she’s had very little rest, as she’s been answering calls and responding to emails.
“A big, huge thank you shout out to The Bahamas; my mom says her phone hasn’t stopped ringing… my Instagram… everyone’s been so supportive. Aside from trying to walk in with my Bahamian flag waving, I really wanted to make sure that I represented The Bahamas, so it was really nice to feel all of the positive energy and it’s just for me. I hope that for everyone that feels like oh, I’m from a small island, these things aren’t attainable, or whatever, if you just work hard and stay focused and push forward, then the world is your oyster.”
And for Tebby, who began writing poetry during her young years, and by age 12 had picked up a guitar and started converting her poetry into songs, she said she’s going to keep doing what she’s been doing – songwriting, releasing music and collaborating with other producers.
She said her focus is laser-sharp.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.