G. R. L. — “Ugly Heart”

Hearing Little Mix’s “Shout Out To My Ex” on the radio recently made me think of G. R. L.’s “Ugly Heart” from a couple of years ago.

Whilst I don’t want to spark another record-industry lawsuit, there’s at least a passing similarity between the two songs.

Both songs also have a cast of thousands named as composers and lyricists, which seems to be par for the course in boy-band and girl-band songs these days.

It’s hard to imagine that more than two or three people could significantly influence the overall shape and sound of a song, but there have been plenty of court cases over the years that demonstrate the importance of making sure the right people get named in the songwriting credits. Perhaps they were just erring on the side of caution…

That said, it’s funny…if not too surprising…that there aren’t many court cases where songwriters scrap over their share of the credit for writing songs that never became hits.

I’m not sure exactly who did what in the writing process for “Ugly Heart”. But there is no question at all that it was produced by long-time collaborators, Dr Luke and Cirkut.

Dr Luke is a controversial figure in the music industry these days after Kesha’s very public allegations. Only those two people know exactly what happened between them and I’m not speculating further here.

But in his time, Dr Luke has been involved in the writing and production process on a succession of monster hits like Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” and Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”.

Cirkut did similar duty for, amongst others, “Walks Like Rihanna” for The Wanted, “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus and “Timber” for Pitbull. More recently he’s been working with The Weeknd (yes, spellcheck, that is how you spell this group’s name) on their particular brand of effortlessly cool songs like “Starboy”.

I think it’s fair to say that both Dr Luke and Cirkut know a hit song when they hear one…although I surely can’t be the only person who wishes Dr Luke and Cirkut hadn’t made “Wrecking Ball” into a global mega-hit…

With a track record like that, I imagine they felt confident of another Top 10 hit when they co-wrote and shared the production duties on G. R. L.’s “Ugly Heart”.

I like the foot-stomping vibe of “Ugly Heart”. I suspect Dr Luke and Cirkut had probably enjoyed producing “Timber” for Pitbull so much a year earlier that they thought flexing their foot-stomping muscles one more time would be fun. Nice harmonies too.

Whoever wrote them, the lyrics of “Ugly Heart” dismantle some guy with “pretty boy” looks, but whose personality is…shall we say…less attractive.

I especially like these lyrics…

Okay you’re pretty
Your face is a work of art
Your smile could light up New York City after dark
Okay you’re Cover Boy pretty, stamped with a beauty mark
But it’s such a pity, a boy so pretty
With an ugly heart

The image of someone whose smile could light up New York City after dark is a really neat piece of lyric writing.

I also like the fact that “Ugly Heart” has quite an empowering lyric. I just hope G. R. L.’s young female fan base was listening. Essentially the band are saying — if you’re not a nice guy, and don’t treat me well, I won’t stay with you, no matter who you might be or what you might have.

Despite the lyrics…and sentiment…it is perhaps notable that there was only one woman on the songwriting and production team. I don’t know if Ester Dean was single-handedly responsible for the female empowerment theme…maybe all the guys wrote those lines…perhaps the world is becoming more respectful of women at long last…

At least that’s what I thought before I saw the video…

There is a little dissonance between an empowering lyric and a video showing five attractive young women being handcuffed and led away to appear in a variety of “women in jail” scenes.

I don’t remember ‘Prisoner Cell Block H’ being quite like that…

I can’t help feeling this wasn’t the only creative treatment open to the video producers although the video’s 63 million YouTube views to date suggest their decision was commercially well-judged.

Just once in a while, though, it might be nice if video producers tried something different for their girl band videos. I still live in hope on that front…

Sadly, tragedy followed close behind the release of this song.

Simone Battle from G. R. L. took her own life in September 2014. She suffered from depression at a time when her star was arguably never higher. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

Despite its other flaws, the producer made a fitting, if impossible to anticipate, tribute to Simone whose vocal both starts and ends “Ugly Heart”.

Try not to think of “Shout Out To My Ex” on the choruses…here’s G. R. L. with “Ugly Heart”…

The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here…https://open.spotify.com/track/1Vv0MPcooEoQzVZYfKMgKW

PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.

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