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It has become fashionable for celebrities to post makeup-free selfies—and they look just like us. In the Netflix series Song Exploder (rated TV-MA for language), rock stars listen as interviewer Hrishikesh Hirway plays stripped-down vocal and instrumental tracks from their hit songs back to them. It’s not always pretty.
R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe winces as he listens to his isolated vocals from “Losing My Religion.” Drummer Bill Berry, hearing the drum track almost three decades after the song won two Grammys, says he didn’t know there were hand claps.
Members of the Killers groan at an awkward vocalization from a “When We Were Young” demo that didn’t make the final mix.
“You need people to tell you ‘no,’” singer Brandon Flowers admits, acknowledging the band’s co-producers.
“The secret sauce of the show,” Hirway tells a surprised Ty Dolla Sign, is the audio files the record labels share with him. Hirway also inquires about each song’s inspiration and meaning.
Hirway, himself a busy podcaster and musician, quizzes an eclectic bunch of artists. It might take viewers with equally diverse tastes to appreciate Nine Inch Nails and Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.
So, what’s the formula for a chart-topper? Alicia Keys explains that she and her collaborators “feel, play, vibe” and “words jump out.” That’s it, eh? Maybe there’s a songwriter in each of us, too.