Jasmine Thompson is a YouTube sensation, with more than 3.5 million subscribers and a record deal with Atlantic Records. The 19-year-old singer-songwriter describes her musical style as often being "melancholic," providing vocals and lyrics that can console anyone having a stay in the Heartbreak Hotel.
Zedd, a production powerhouse, blew 2019 away in pop collaborations with Katy Perry and Kehlani after earning his second No. 1 and three Grammy nominations for "The Middle," his hit with country star Maren Morris and Grey.
Not only do the artists have vastly different backgrounds, but they come from contrasting genres — and now the two have collaborated on a song of the summer contender, called "Funny," out today.
"Funny" is a strong mix of Zedd's long-established and bright style with the smooth, emotional vocals that Thompson brings to the table in each of her releases. The track centers on revenge through confidence when an ex reaches back out, with Thompson belting vocals that bleed independence: "It's funny how you miss me/ More than you could ever love me/ How you couldn't give me everything/ And now you want it from me."
The single is Zedd's first track of 2020 and the duo's debut collaboration, but the finished product sounds like they have worked together for years. Check out PAPER's interview with Zedd and Jasmine Thompson, below.
How did the two of you connect?
Zedd: It was through [The Monsters & Strangerz], right?
Jasmine Thompson: Yeah, I was in the studio in LA hanging out with The Monsters and working on "Funny." They all thought Zedd might actually like it, but they didn't tell me they sent it over to him [laughs]. And suddenly, I got an email from my manager with Zedd's wonderful production on it, and I was over the moon. I was completely surprised that Zedd actually was working on something I was singing on.
Was the song already written when Zedd jumped on?
Jasmine: Yeah, the song was already written before Zedd jumped on it, but it used to be a sadder song. It was all based on piano and I've got a habit of making quite melancholic songs. And then Zedd brought his Zedd-ness to it — you made it quite positive. It was really beautiful and it actually made me have a different outlook on the song because I was being a bit negative. [The track is now] a happy, feel-good revenge song. I think Zedd did write on it, because he switched the whole meaning, for me personally.
Was "Funny" worked on during quarantine?
Zedd: [Laughs] We met on Zoom!
Jasmine: Not long ago! It's so sad, I wish we could actually go hang out and have coffee. I don't know when we'll be able to. But yeah, I went to LA, literally for a weekend just to work on "Funny" because I'm based in London. I flew back home, and then everything happened online. It's fun, it means we can be a little more creative and DIY with the whole release.
"Whenever I sing music, I want to make sure that it touches something, like a different emotion." —Jasmine Thompson
Zedd, what was your approach when going in to produce "Funny"?
Zedd: This one was, to be fair, quite challenging for me. I loved the song from day one and it was a piano ballad. What was really special is that the chorus is a double chorus. I usually go with my typical formula that has a chorus, then I have the chorus again, slight variation, then the third time I would have a double chorus, but this song has a double chorus from the get-go. And the chorus being just half is only half of the message, so the tricky part was not separating the message of the whole chorus, but I also didn't want to reveal it too soon.
The solution was half-and-half where I have a drop with a hint of lyrics. It's a vocal chop, so if you listen closely, you'll be able to tell half of the lyrics, and then only in the bridge do we reveal the full double chorus lyric, which I thought was really interesting. Oftentimes, bridges are space fillers musically, and you're waiting for 15 to 30 seconds to get back to the usual program. Here, the bridge is almost the climax of the whole song.
I don't even know how many versions I made, but I think it's in the 20s, and we decided that this is the best way to go. I definitely like songs in a slightly more, I don't want to say positive, I think it's rather hopeful — the revenge song is the best way to put it. It's a positive outlook that you see what's going on and you move forward with it. That's how I like to see it instead of just a sad perspective.
When you go into a track to produce, is it always trial and error like you described?
Zedd: This was a very different process than my normal process. If I'm working on a pop song that starts with a vocal, I usually write the song around the vocal. I produce it to maybe 80%, so there's a good idea of the whole song without being completely done. And then I go on this long hunt for the right vocalist, which can be me having to record 10 singers and then after every singer, it takes me about four or five days to comp each vocal, and then listen to it. You're like, "This vocal doesn't sound believable, this vocal can't hit the highest note, this vocal doesn't give me this right emotion." So it's this hunt to find the perfect vocalist, which usually takes the longest time. When I have the final vocal, then I go and finish the last 20% because I can't mix a song without knowing exactly the color of the voice. In this case, I started with having a fully finished, perfect vocal from Jasmine. So, I was able to really produce it in one swing.
Jasmine, when you were writing the song, was this something that was really personal to you?
Jasmine: When the writers and producers were explaining the idea of "Funny," it really hit home and I thought it was a very relatable lyric. I like the way that they spun the idea that — not to sound cliché, but it is that sort of situation — where you only realize what you've lost when it's gone. And what was lovely is that we found a new, modern way to say it. The first line of the song that I love is, "So the curtains are closed now/ there's nothing to see." I think it's a very nice message just to be like, "Look, there's nothing more here."
Someone asked me, "Do you think of anyone in particular?" When I write songs, I don't like to give someone the satisfaction of knowing that there's a song written about them. In music, we write these songs and we perform them for the rest of our lives, especially when we love them so much. That creative process lives on throughout your whole music career, so I always try not to have someone particular in my mind, because otherwise you're going to have someone that you might hate popping into your head every time. Like memories, music is associated with people.
How did the two of you know that "Funny" was the right fit for you to take on together?
Jasmine: It's really beautiful when you have a collaboration between two different people from different music genres. It's a new box that we've made, but it's such a nice rewarding feeling. Music is all about creating and when you find new people in a different world, magically it just works. That's why I was so excited when I heard [Zedd] was going to collaborate on this track with me. I was so excited to hear what different flavors he could do.
Zedd: I love the message of the song; I love that it was bittersweet, but I have a positive outlook on those lyrics. To me, it's not as sad as it may be for Jasmine; you see through it, you learn from your past and you move forward. That's a positive thing, but you can also see it in a sad way. So maybe the reason the song sounds more uplifting now is because I interpreted it in a more positive manner.
And like Jasmine said, the whole point of collaborating is to achieve things you couldn't achieve yourself. If I was a great singer, I would sing myself, but I'm not. I suck at singing. So, my whole life is around finding these amazing talents like Jasmine and working with them. Collaborating means two people from two different worlds coming together and creating something that lives between both universes. And I think "Funny" lives in an amazing, beautiful universe between two artists.
"In this case, I started with having a fully finished, perfect vocal from Jasmine. So, I was able to really produce it in one swing." —Zedd
What, to each of you, makes a song a great one?
Zedd: Goosebumps is the real way to measure how good the song is, and not every song needs that. In my opinion, there's specific music that is made for specific environments. There's music that is perfect to be in an elevator, music that's perfect to be performed live. EDM, rave music has its purpose, while I would probably not listen to it at home. But if you zoom out a bit, a good song makes me emotional in whichever way. It could make me angry, but it still gives me emotion since the whole purpose of music is to get my heart rate up and feel something. This song to me from the start was incredibly emotional.
Jasmine: For me, there's always something that is unexplainable whenever I hear music. The reason I got into music in the first place is because, when I was younger, I would use it as a sort of therapy. Whenever I sing music, I want to make sure that it touches something, like a different emotion. A lot of people can get away with training and becoming a good technical singer, but I think every artist has to go down a spiritual path of finding what makes them different. A lot of that comes down to how much emotion you can put into a song. "Funny" definitely pushed me to a different energy level. Normally I do quite a lot of soft pop, and I don't really push my range this much, and "Funny" is definitely the most vocally challenging track I've ever been a part of. It's very rapid in the chorus and very high vocally, and it was so fun trying to achieve it.
Zedd: From my point of view, I'm sitting behind the scenes and usually recording the vocals. One thing you can change and work on always is the tune, the pitch. I've worked with perfect singers before that are genuinely flawless in how they sing and how perfect their pitch is, but there's just not any emotion coming through. I hear a word and I hear them sing it, and I just don't believe it at all. That's one thing you can't change, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you pitch — you can't change the expression and the emotion in somebody's voice. And then there's the opposite side: incredible singers that can't hit a note, but they're so emotional and so believable. There's a whole wide range, and Jasmine hits both. Obviously, she's an incredible singer, but it's also so believable. You hear that and you really feel like somebody's telling the story, which is the most important thing in the vocal.
When you listened to the final version of "Funny," was it different from what you walked into the process with?
Zedd: I wish I could hear my own music for the first time. That's why I, oftentimes, send my songs to friends and producers who I really trust. You only have one shot at getting somebody's first opinion on something, because after you hear a song for the first time, the majority of your opinion is already baked in, no matter what you explain afterward. The appeal of a first listen is to get an honest opinion about the song from that moment on. When you produce the song, you pretty much hear it 1,000 times in tiny steps and puzzle pieces all the way up until it's done. I never get to experience what the song feels like for the first time. The closest that I got to that was when I heard Jasmine's piano demo of the song and, because my brain is weird, it automatically imagined the song completed. And that's what made me want to jump on it and produce the record just because the thought of it was so exciting to me. The final mix was version 27 or 26 down the line, so I never got that full experience myself.
If you're going through that many versions of the song, that seems like it would be the right reaction.
Zedd: You build every single snare drum and every single bass riff and every single sample of a track piece by piece. The best you can do is not listen to a song for a few months and come back to it. That's probably the closest you'll ever get to that. This song definitely took a while, and I know for a fact that I'm incredibly happy with how it turned out. I've listened in every car I could find, in different studios and I think it's got everything a really good song needs.
"Sometimes that's how it goes with music, you can change one note and it can change how you perceive the entire record." —Zedd
Seeing this process in hindsight, what brings you the most pride when it comes to this new song?
Zedd: Production-wise, there's a lot of interesting elements. I remember The Monsters and I were texting about the one chord change in the drop and we were so excited. We were talking about that one chord for days, going back and forth listening to the last verse and being like, "Oh my god, that chord is so good. It changes the whole emotion of that entire part." Sometimes that's how it goes with music, you can change one note and it can change how you perceive the entire record. Sometimes I hear the first 40 seconds on a song and I can tell you exactly how the entire song is going to end. I feel like with this song, it's unpredictable, it develops constantly. The big reveal, you may think you know, but you don't really know with the lyrics in the bridge, and then you have the last chorus and you're like, "Oh, now I understand the whole side of the story." I find that interesting.
There's something new in this song for both of you in terms of sound. Does it feel like a new era for your music for both of you?
Jasmine: I took about two years out of music, and I released an EP last year that was more like a passion project. It was music that was creatively very different — built off of saxophone, different musical elements [that] I don't think I would normally put in a pop singer-songwriter EP. And then having this moment with "Funny," it's really opening up a lot of mental doors. I've been working on music, and there will be a lot more releases coming out soon. I woke up absolutely buzzing today, getting ready to just be happy and putting music out. Obviously, this is a very big venture to do a collaboration with [Zedd] and it's a different type of music, but it's also just really fun to put more out. I've got a couple of songs that I would like to release in the future, and it's just getting ready to get on the boat again.
Zedd: I don't know exactly where my album is going to land, which is the big project I'm working on, which is going to take a while. I wanted "Funny" to be a single [as soon as possible]. I didn't want it to be on an album because that would have taken forever to come out. I was really excited about the song. For me, "Funny" lives in the "Funny" universe. I don't know how that's going to affect the sound of my album, or if it will or not. I'll just focus on "Funny" now, and then I'll take the next step. I don't really make music to sound like something specific. I'm not going to try to make "Funny" part two afterward. I make the song that inspires me to make and that's how I go about it.
Photos courtesy of Nick Walker and Andrew Hobbs