Are songwriters the new stars of the music industry? According to Spotify, yes. As part of its “Secret Genius” program, intended to shine a light on the formidable role songwriters and producers play in the music industry, the streaming service hosted its inaugural Secret Genius Awards at Los Angeles’ Cathedral of Saint Vibiana on Wednesday to honor the people behind the scenes of the most-streamed hits from the past year.
“Songwriters are society’s truth-tellers, they have the ability to turn the experience of being human into songs we can relate to,” said Babyface, one of the show’s presenters.
Big names such as Rick Rubin were honored — he was presented the Legendary Genius award by Frank Ocean — and Shawn Mendes, Halsey and PartyNextDoor performed, yet it was the lesser-known songwriters and producers who were the central focus of the event.
And R&B/pop newcomer Starrah and veteran hitmaker Mike Elizondo were the big winners, as chosen by Spotify and the voters of the award show (made up of a panel of producers, songwriters and music publishers). Both picked up two awards each, with Starrah (real name: Brittany Hazzard) taking home the Secret Genius of the Year: Female award thanks to her songwriting on smashes “Fake Love” (Drake) and “Needed Me” (Rihanna), and the Secret Genius: Hip-Hop award for her work on “Fake Love.”
Elizondo was rewarded by peers for his work on Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens” and “Stressed Out,” for which he earned the Secret Genius: Rock award, as well as Secret Genius: Motion Picture Adaptation for “Heathens,” which is featured on the “Suicide Squad” soundtrack.
“I did not expect this — I’m grateful and humbled,” Elizondo said as the audience of peers and industry types cheered him on.
The winners of the two major awards of the evening were Secret Genius of the Year: Songwriter J Kash and, not surprisingly, Secret Genius of the Year: Producer Max Martin.
Kash (real name Jacob Kasher) was honored for his work on songs such as Maroon 5’s “Cold” and Charlie Puth’s “Attention,” and delivered one of the evening’s funnier lines while accepting his award: “I’ve never won an award. I feel like everyone here is better than me… except for like, maybe two people.”
Meanwhile, Martin — the most successful songwriter/producer of the past 20 years — has won plenty of awards, but this evening’s was exceptionally special because it was presented by legendary producer Quincy Jones.
According to Global Head of Songwriter Relations at Spotify, Tiffany Kumar, the new annual awards show is “really a night of celebration where we can be with the songwriters and the winners are decided by the songwriters, producers and publishers themselves, so it’s the peers that decide.”
Accordingly, many names familiar to only music publishers, other songwriters who toil away behind the scenes in Los Angeles or Nashville studio sessions, and the kinds of fans who study songwriting credits were nominated for multiple awards.
But the evening’s biggest honoree hasn’t been an anonymous no-name producer for decades. Troy Carter and Frank Ocean both helped give out the final honor of the evening to legendary producer Rick Rubin, who was on site to pick up the award (but gave no speech).
Carter, Spotify’s global head of creator services said of Rubin before handing out the Legendary Genius honor: “He isn’t just a producer’s producer, he’s a game-changer’s game-changer. He brought hip-hop to the mainstream and metal to the masses, lending gravity, soul and power to records. Few producers have been responsible for quite as much magic as tonight’s Legendary Genius, Rick Rubin.”
The full list of winners is below:
Secret Genius of the Year: Songwriter – J Kash
Songs: “We Don’t Talk Anymore” – Charlie Puth, “Don’t Wanna Know” – Maroon 5, “Swalla” (feat. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign) – Jason Derulo, “Cold” – Maroon 5 (feat. Future), “NO” – Meghan Trainor, “Shed A Light” (feat. Cheat Codes) – Robin Schulz, David Guetta, “Attention” – Charlie Puth, “Ain’t Your Mama” – Jennifer Lopez
Secret Genius of the Year: Producer – Max Martin
Songs: “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” – Justin Timberlake, “Side To Side” – Ariana Grande, “Into You” – Ariana Grande, “Send My Love (To Your New Love)” – Adele, “Dangerous Woman” – Ariana Grande, “Chained To The Rhythm” – Katy Perry (feat. Skip Marley)
Secret Genius of the Year: Female – Starrah
Songs: “Fake Love” – Drake, “Needed Me” – Rihanna
Secret Genius: Pop – Greg Kurstin
Song: “Cheap Thrills” – Sia
Secret Genius: Hip Hop – Starrah
Song: “Fake Love” – Drake
Secret Genius: R&B – PartyNextDoor
Songs: “Work” – Rihanna (feat. Drake), “Sex With Me” – Rihanna
Secret Genius: Dance – Ali Tamposi
Songs: “It Ain’t Me” – Kygo, Selena Gomez, “Let Me Love You” – DJ Snake (Justin Bieber)
Secret Genius: Latin – Rude Boyz
Songs: “Felices los 4” – Maluma, “Borro Cassette” – Maluma, “Chantaje” – Shakira
Secret Genius: Rock – Mike Elizondo
Songs: “Heathens” – Twenty One Pilots, “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots
Secret Genius: Country – Ashley Gorley
Songs: “T-Shirt” – Thomas Rhett, “Play It Again” – Luke Bryan, “Middle of a Memory” – Cole Swindell
Secret Genius: Breakthrough – Asia Whiteacre
“Starving” – Hailee Steinfeld, Zedd, Grey
Secret Genius: Motion Picture Adaptation – Mike Elizondo
Song: “Heathens” – Twenty One Pilots (Suicide Squad)
Secret Genius: Social Message – Warren Felder, Sebastian Kole, Andrew Wansel
Song: “Scars To Your Beautiful” – Alessia Cara