Long considered one of pop’s secret weapons, Michael Pollack’s cover was blown when Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” dropped in January and went nuclear. A disco-tinged ode to self-love and independence, the emotional track amassed a record-breaking 100 million-plus first-week Spotify streams and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. As a co-writer of a song that could stand for some time as 2023’s biggest, Pollack enjoys a status as one of music’s magic-makers that is now undeniable.
“The reception to ‘Flowers’ has been absolutely wild,” the Roslyn, New York native says of its runaway success. “It’s not lost on me how much of a unicorn this record is and how few times in your career you get to be a part of something like it.” The songwriter, who previously collaborated with Cyrus on 2020’s “Plastic Hearts,” started working on the demo that would become “Flowers” a little over a year ago, in early 2022.
“It started like a lot of the songs we wrote for this project — just Miley, ALDAE [aka Gregory Hein] and me around the piano,” Pollack says. “We started with the chorus and, if I remember correctly, the lyric, melody, and progression started to form simultaneously.” The songwriter then breaks it down further: “It’s one of those ‘circle of fifths’ songs where the melody informs the progression and vice versa. It practically wrote itself.”
The collaborators knew they were on to something special, but the song’s full potential wasn’t clear until “Flowers” was flipped from a stripped-back piano ballad (“the demo is just Miley singing and me playing Rhodes”) into an uptempo anthem. “I knew we wrote a special song that day, but I’d be lying if I said I thought it would be as big as it has been,” Pollack says. “It has definitely exceeded my expectations, I think it exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
When it comes to Cyrus, the hitmaker can’t speak highly enough of her. “She is an artist in every sense of the word,” Pollack says. “Her taste is impeccable and her creative vision is so clear that all you have to do is trust the process and follow her to the song.” He also praises her professionalism and hands-on approach: “She might be the only artist I’ve ever worked with that personally texts me start times and studio addresses for sessions.”
Their creative synergy will be felt on the pop star’s upcoming “Endless Summer Vacation,” due March 10. “I worked on a handful of records [for it],” Pollack says. “Almost every record I’m a part of started on the piano like ‘Flowers’ and I think you can tell when you listen to them.” The decision to focus on songcraft came from Cyrus. “Miley was adamant in her desire to first perfect the songs, and then tackle the production.”
When asked to name his favorite thing about working with Cyrus, the songwriter is seemingly spoiled for choice. “It’s so hard to pick one thing, but if I had to I would say her ability to balance her confidence in her own ideas and her trust in her co-writers,” Pollack says. “She’s such an unbelievable songwriter but she really doesn’t care where the best idea comes from — she just wants to create the best possible art.”
While “Flowers” is storming the charts, it’s not the only track he co-wrote making noise at the moment. For starters, Pollack has a cut on Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” courtesy of “Pure/Honey.” That session took place in February 2022 with BloodPop and Darius Dixson. “BloodPop’s track was so inspiring, and Dixson had such an incredible vision for what the topline could be,” he says. “I felt lucky just to be there that day and fill in the gaps.”
Pollack was blown away by the towering club anthem it became. “Beyoncé took what we started and elevated it to another level — lyrically, melodically, sonically, vocally, everything,” he says. “I feel so honored to have a song with such an iconic artist and to be a part of such a special album.” It’s another epic milestone for the songwriter who got his first “big break” in 2013 while still at college at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University.
“I attended a Billy Joel Q&A and asked to perform a song with him,” Pollack remembers. “He let me accompany him and the video of our performance went viral, eventually leading to a meeting with Pete Ganbarg who signed me to his publishing joint venture with Warner Chappell.” After graduating, Pollack headed straight to Los Angeles and moved in with Ari Leff (better known as alt-pop phenomenon Lauv) and Michael Matosic.
“I was surrounded by songwriters 24/7,” Pollack recalls warmly. “We would go to our sessions and write all day and then come home and write more.” Like many newcomers to the City of Angels, it took a while for him to find his footing. “It was definitely hard to get into rooms with notable artists at first,” he admits, “but the truth is I wasn’t ready yet, and I’m happy I got to hone my craft before bigger opportunities presented themselves.”
The first of those bigger opportunities was Maroon 5’s “Memories.” “My manager Jaime Zeluck connected me with Adam Levine,” Pollack says. “I definitely felt like the stakes got higher after ‘Memories’ came out and climbed the charts.” Hearing a song he started at an AirBnb “down the street from the house I grew up in” on the radio left an indelible impression on him.
“My friend Stefan Johnson [of the Monsters & Strangerz] once told me, ‘There’s a last time you’ll hear every single one of your songs on the radio,’” Pollack says, “so I try to savor the moment.” He now wants to share that feeling with the next generation of creators. “I spent the back half of last year working with newer artists,” he says. “There are so many special artists bubbling right now and it was so fun to help create the narrative rather than continue it.”
Whether he’s working with a complete newcomer or an established superstar like Cyrus, Pollack’s approach is the same. “It usually starts with a pseudo therapy session,” he says. “The goal is to get to the heart of the emotion the artist is feeling and then find the most universal way to convey it.” Pollack doesn’t want to speak for Cyrus in addressing the themes that are understood to have been drawn from her personal life for “Flowers.” But, ultimately, Pollack views songwriting as a form of storytelling: “A good song should sound like a good story, and ‘Flowers’ tells the listener a very personal story.”