Talent Recap

‘Songland’ Premiere Recap: John Legend Finds His Next Hit Song


Reading Time: 4 minutes

NBC’s new show Songland gives a behind-the-scenes look at the songwriting process. Each week, the star-studded cast and featured artists are searching for their next big hit! We’re kicking it off with The Voice‘s own John Legend.

Here’s how Songland works! Each episode, four or five songwriters will compete to be one of the three songwriters chosen to work with a mentor on the show. Then, the featured artist pairs the writers with either Ryan Tedder, Ester Dean, or Shane McAnally. Those mentors then work with the songwriters to produce/rewrite their songs. At the end, one song is chosen to be recorded by the featured artist.

So let’s get started with the premiere episode recap of Songland!


Max Embers

Max is from Herne, Germany. He talked about how he grew up listening to American pop music but he had to focus on the melody and music because he didn’t understand the lyrics. Max is singing his original song, “Back Home.” He had an amazing falsetto that I could definitely see John Legend crushing. I love how the mentors went right into feedback after his performance too. John played piano as Shane played guitar and they all sang along. That had to be such a surreal moment for Max!


Tebby Burrows

Tebby is from the Bahamas but lives in Miami, Florida. She works in marketing but is a songwriter by night. She is excited to have the chance to write for John Legend because he sings about social justice and inequality and that is the theme of her original song, ‘We Need Love.” John and the producers suggested slowing the song down to fit the message of the song. He plays piano to the melody she sang and it sounds EPIC. Seriously unreal. It’s easy to picture how that song could be John’s.


Sam James

Sam James is from Nashville and says a lot of his songs ride the country/folk line. His song, “Shinedown,” is about someone being a light in the darkness. Sam wrote it about his “light at the end of the tunnel,” his wife. The mentors suggested flipping the song to talk about how the woman is the one shining in the lyrics. John mentions that parts of the song don’t sound like “him,” but when he sings it in his style, it sounds pretty amazing. It’s so fun to see how all the artists interact with each other! When it came time to be paired with a mentor though, Sam was eliminated.


Ollie Gabriel

Ollie is from Southwest Louisiana. He’s an old soul, but his feel and style is still modern. The mentors instantly compliment Ollie’s song, “Something New.” His was definitely the song that already sounded like it could be a single by John Legend. Everyone especially loved and focused on his lyrics. Ollie felt like John “connected” with the song.


Tebby Burrows (with Shane McAnally)

Shane McAnally helped Tebby with her song. They worked on slowing it down and he encouraged her to perform it acoustically. When it came time to perform, she delivered. The song was broken down and simplified. It really hit hard, even more so than the first time. This was definitely transformed perfectly and John took notice of that. Plus, the message of the song is conveyed just right.


Ollie Gabriel (with Ester Dean)

Ollie was paired with Ester Dean. She encouraged him to work on the lyrics and wanted him to show even more soul. Ester also cut out half of a stanza to make it flow better overall. And Ollie did really well with it! It was so much more effective this way. The mentors all seemed to think so too.


Max Embers (with Ryan Tedder)

Max worked with Ryan Tedder. Ryan had Max speed the song up a little and changed a lot of the lyrics, which Max admitted he’s struggling to keep straight. He even changed the title since the original! But the new tempo and concept are met with praise by the mentors. To me, it sounded more like a Maroon 5 or OneRepublic song than a John Legend song.

The Winning Song is…

After hearing all the songs, John had to make a choice. And he went with…Tebby Burrows’ song, “We Need Love!” After the session with Shane, I knew this one would be a front-runner. They also teased it in the official Songland trailer so that’s a good sign.

Here is John singing his new single, “We Need Love.”


For more on the winning song, you can listen on NBC’s Songland Podcast! And tune in with us again next week for another recap.

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