Don’t expect any weepy “victim songs” from Ali Tamposi. “They don’t make you feel better––they just reassure you of your pain,” she says. This songwriter prefers a more commanding message. “There is no better way to make someone feel better than five minutes of empowering lyrics in a cool, fuck you, twisted way.”
Her breakthrough song, “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger),” a No. 1 Grammy-nominated dance anthem for Kelly Clarkson, is a resounding case in point.
Since her arrival in Los Angeles from South Florida three years ago, the 23-year-old Tamposi, who envisioned a career as a recording artist, has blossomed as a formidable songwriter for marquee acts like Gary Clark Jr., Beyonce and Christina Aguilera. With her first co-writing ventures in Los Angeles she was expected to write topline––words and melody––to preexistent tracks. “Nine times out of 10 it never really meshes,” she notes. “There’s too much going on.”
She first met her “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” collaborator Jörgen Elofsson when a fortuitous set of circumstances landed her in a writing session with the Swedish hit man. “One of the producers was looking for a top line writer,” she recalls. “Two days before the session I got called. I knew Jörgen from ‘A Moment Like This’ (Kelly Clarkson). I was shaking with fear and excitement.”
After the session, Elofsson inquired about Tamposi’s publishing situation and invited her to Sweden to write. Since she didn’t have a publishing deal, and speculates that she probably had about $10 to her name, she didn’t think that a trans-Atlantic trip would be in the cards. She was mistaken. “Jörgen had just started his own publishing company, and wanted to sign me. He called his partner in that day. It was such a surreal moment; that whole process of going to Sweden and having a little bit of money.”
“What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” was written about a year and a half into the Elofsson/Tamposi creative partnership. (David Gamson and Greg Kurstin are additional co-writers.) “Swedes are not normal; they are on another level when it comes to melodies,” Tamposi laughs. “Writing with Jörgen, I have to come in with 10 different titles, and maybe of those 10 he’ll be okay with writing one. It’s a grueling process; he challenges me. The lyric has to be as good as his melody, and that’s hard to compete with.”
A torturous breakup back home in Florida provided the backstory for “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” and it also fueled the emotions of “Empty Words,” recorded by Christina Aguilera, who shares co-writing credit with Tamposi and her collaborators Nikki Flores and Michael Busbee. Although Aguilera added her spin on the song in the studio, Tamposi has since collaborated with the pop star who she calls “a dream writer,” in person. “She’s one of the artists who I feel most comfortable writing with. But then she lays her vocals down and it is mind-blowing.”
Tamposi explains her contributions to the collaborative chemistry. “Lyric and melody and concept, but not as much on the music side.” Although she says her mom “spent a shit ton of money on guitar and piano lessons. My musical skills aren’t enough to control a session.” She also notes that her current boyfriend “is an incredible guitar player, and I could never hold a candle to him.” He is James Valentine, lead guitarist for Maroon 5.
“Songwriting is a difficult job; there is a lot of pressure in every session. You have to be on your ‘A Game.’ It’s a dream job, but it’s also work,” stresses Tamposi. That said, she appreciates the breathtaking trajectory of her career. “I honestly feel like this isn’t my life, and that I’m dreaming and that it’s three years ago and I’m going to wake up with my crazy ex-boyfriend.”
For Tamposi, whose recent projects include Selena Gomez, Diplo, Shakira and Avicii, among others, the value of a song might be measured in a real message, a deep soul and a long life. “A great track with a great melody is a hit,” she concludes. “A great track, a great melody and a killer lyric make a copyright.”