• Tamar Lilienthal

Songland: The Hit-Making TV Show That's a Hit Itself

In a world of trashy competition shows like ABC’s The Bachelor: Listen to Your Heart and Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle, reality TV viewers may have lost hope that any quality content exists these days.

Cue NBC’s Songland.

Already in its second season, the goal of Songland is to give unknown songwriters both a platform and the chance to have their song cut by a major recording artist. (For those who are music terminology-challenged like myself, “cut” means that the professional artist records their song.) Every week, a new artist visits Songland, and the show’s guests have included the Jonas Brothers, Charlie Puth, Leona Lewis, and so many others.

Each episode of Songland begins with four writers presenting their songs to that week’s artist and to a panel of three veteran songwriters/producers - Ryan Tedder (who is also the lead singer of OneRepublic), Ester Dean, and Shane McAnally. After Round 1, the artist chooses three songs to continue on to the studio round. Each of the songwriters is then paired up with one of the producers to work on perfecting their song in the studio. Finally, the songwriters perform the most updated versions of their songs, and the artist chooses the winning track, which they then record and release.

One of the things that makes Songland so interesting is that it gives audiences a glimpse into what goes into the making of a hit song. Each episode contains extensive footage of the contestants’ studio sessions, so audience members get to see how and why different song elements are tweaked. As Ryan Tedder explained in an interview with Jimmy Fallon last year, “the top two most consumed things in the world are food and music,” and while people are hooked on cooking shows, “there hasn’t been a show about how you cook music.” But Songland doesn’t only show how “hits” are made in a hypothetical sense - the songs from the show have actually gone on to become massive hits! Multiple songs from season 1 ranked #1 on iTunes, including the Jonas Brothers’ “Greenlight” and Kelsea Ballerini’s “Better Luck Next Time.”

As someone who only found out about the show during season 2, I went back and watched a few available episodes from season 1, including an episode where OneRepublic was the musical guest of the week. In that episode, one of the songwriters began presenting their song, and I had a moment where I thought, “Wait - this song already exists!” After a second, I realized that yes, the song was OneRepublic’s wildly popular “Somebody to Love,” and it had come off of the show!

Another great element of Songland is the humor that the producers bring to every episode. Shane and Ester are a lot more prone to goofing off--even bursting into impromptu dancing during an episode with Luis Fonsi!--while Ryan tends to be more focused and to-the-point. But even Ryan has his lighthearted moments, including when he gets into banter with the others over whose suggestions the guest artist likes best.

Seeing unknown songwriters get their first cuts on Songland is incredibly moving and inspirational. The show brings songwriters to the forefront of the music scene, where they often go unnoticed. Overall, Songland is an engaging show for all different kinds of people, including those who consider themselves musicians and those who just like to listen to music for fun. There also isn’t much to it - the songwriters are talented, the producers are hilarious, and you don’t need to follow any complex plots or storylines. So if you’re looking for a new quarantine show that is good quality but doesn’t require a lot of focus, Songland might be your next hit!