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Spoiler alert! Contains details from Tuesday’s season premiere of NBC’s “Songland.”
Is “Songland” your next reality-TV addiction?
For a certain type of craft-loving music fan, the answer is a resounding “yes.” NBC’s ambitious but niche new series, which premiered Tuesday after “America’s Got Talent,” throws a wrench into your average singing competition: It invites five up-and-coming songwriters to perform original compositions for a panel of hit-making judges who critique the songs. And visiting guest artists, from John Legend to the Jonas Brothers to Meghan Trainor, can pick songs to record on their own.
The season opened with EGOT winner Legend, who was joined by regular judges Ryan Tedder, Ester Dean and Shane McNally. After listening to the writers play their songs and offering feedback, Legend narrowed the field to the three tracks he liked the most: Max Embers’ pop ballad “Back Home,” Tebby Burrows’ acceptance anthem “We Need Love” and Ollie Gabriel’s retro love song “Something New.”
From there, the writers had one-on-one sessions with the judges to fine-tune their compositions, which included rewriting lyrics, changing tempo or completely overhauling musical arrangements.
After hearing the reworked songs, Legend picked the one that changed the most over the course of the episode: Burrows’ “We Need Love,” which the panel had largely dismissed when the Bahamas native first played it.
“It’s getting a little too message-heavy,” Tedder said of the song, which implores everyone to love one another, regardless of race or gender. “You have to be careful that you don’t cross the line into preachiness.”
“You’re crossing into cheesy a little too often,” Legend added. “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 some edge and darkness to it. If it’s so happy and bouncy and called ‘We Need Love,’ it’s a little too much. Make it sound a little more mournful, like crying for the world.”
Once Burrows, 28, went into the studio with McNally to work on the track, they stripped away its buoyant Caribbean beat and replaced it with a mellow acoustic guitar, while also toning down some on-the-nose lyrics.
“The verses feel really nice now,” Legend said after Burrows sang the new version. “It’s super conversational. … It really gave me chills, I felt it and (I’m) ready to record it.”
Legend’s rendition of “We Need Love” was released onlineat the end of the episode. “Songland” continues next Tuesday (10 EDT/PDT).
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