About five years ago while I was on a college tour with my then H.S. Junior daughter, A&R Steven Vincent called to ask if I’d write a song for Disney’s Descendants a musical fantasy which tells the story of the 4 teenage children of Disney's most notorious villains and a choice before them: either sprinkle the planet with more evil or try to find the good in their hearts. That was a long sentence.
Allow me to refresh your memory…or for those who just started following…
Steven said the song should be about the evil nature of the villains. He already had a backing track (a pre-programmed piece of music) that he loved. He needed words! And melody! But mainly a catchy title and a concept.
I was never that into writing-to-backing-tracks but unlike so many other A&R, Steven didn’t make a habit of sending the same track out to 10 different writers at the same time and…it seemed like a fun assignment. So, I said Ok!
As my husband, daughter and I followed the backwards-walking tour guide around the Wesleyan campus the pieces started coming together in my head and by the time we got to NYU I came up with a title that I was quite frankly, excited about. “Rotten To The Core!” Thing is I wasn’t in proximity to recording equipment and I needed to document my idea so I could play it for Steven. So I hunkered down in the bathtub of The London Hotel (for privacy and reverb), imported that backing track into GarageBand, hunched over my laptop and sang!
I sent my vocal stems to my co-writer Joacim Persson in Sweden, who mixed them into his backing track, sent the song to Steven, who played it for director Kenny Ortega (congrats on his recent star on Hollywood Blvd!), who gave it a thumbs up and after some g-rated tweaking and hook perfecting Joacim and I were in the studio (a much more sophisticated one than a bathtub), recording vocals with the 4 villains played by (Booboo Stewart, Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson and Cameron Boyce).
After the debut of the film there was lots of love for “Rotten” and not just from parents who wrote to tell me their kids couldn’t stop singing it in the back of the car but from music “critics:” the song was called “surprisingly bold,” ”addictive,” “the best song on the album!”
But for every lover there’s a hater. I find it almost trollish that there were harsh words for such a harmless piece of fun: “disjointed,” “the worst song from a Disney Channel Movie,” and “a ridiculously cheesy song.” 🙁
In December 2015, I received one of Steven’s ‘famous-in-our-community’ uplifting emails: The Descendants Soundtrack went #1 and "Rotten To The Core" was the highest trending searched song on iTunes with over 25 million video views.
I don’t care about what chart a song is on or if it isn’t as sexy as a Rihanna cut. I’ll take a #1 any way I can get it.
The film (and the song) was then spun off into an animated series titled Descendants: Wicked World. And the following Christmas Disney released a holiday rewrite called “Jolly To the Core.” Thank you, Santa. And Steven .
Then came the hugely successful D2, the sequel to the original film which included my song “Evil,” performed by Dove Cameron (and written with my colleague Dan Book.) This went #1 on iTunes Soundtracks as well. And then just a few weeks ago — and a few months after my daughter graduated from college — “Rotten” was back in the credits when D3 was released. Hey, if it’s still making the kids happy, why not? The track was remixed with Justin Timberlake vibes and the lyrics were adjusted to accommodate the evolving story.
Yesterday I got yet another uplifting email from Steven saying D3 topped the iTunes Soundtrack chart for the 3rd time.
I write this blog because well, that bathtub scenario is worth repeating and…in a culture where songs are here today gone tomorrow, a songwriter has come to appreciate (more accurately cherish) a lasting copyright, or as we call them, “evergreen songs,” — ones that seem to keep regenerating and replenishing themselves. This is one of those moments.
It feels like an appropriate time to mention that one of the evil villains was played by the anything-but-evil Cameron Boyce who sadly lost his life recently. When Cameron came to the studio to record with Joacim and I he was fresh faced and freckled. He looked me in the eye when he was introduced and seemed genuinely excited to meet me. It didn’t feel like media training. I know it when I see it. You would too. He was honestly a delightful human being and the world will miss him. It already does.
I’m thankful for my good fortune, for still being called upon, for songs that keep giving, and for the good company I keep with some amazing songwriters (Joacim Perrson, Johan Alkenas, Tim James, Antonina Armato, Adam Comstock, In-Q, Matt Tishler, Marco Marinangeli, David Lawrence, David Goldsmith, John Kavanaugh, Jack Kugell, Jamie Jones, Matt Wong) who share the fun-loving Disney ride.
Do I hear a D4?