It takes a village to raise a child
This often-quoted saying speaks for itself; creating a successful product is seldom a solo feat. In our case, the ‘child’ is that insistent synth-pop earworm of summers past, credited to producers Zedd and Gray, ft. Maren Morris. In 2018, ‘The Middle’ was nominated for 3 Grammy awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
As for our ‘village’, what better example of collaboration than the team of Zedd, Gray and Morris who were responsible for the track. Collaboration is something to be encouraged and celebrated – but is sometimes at odds with the need for acknowledgment and acclaim where it is due. One name that is not mentioned in the song’s credits is Sarah Aarons: a young Melbourne-born songwriter whose own lyrics and melody could be heard belted over the radio in Morris’ explosive voice.
Among her other hit singles are ‘Stay’ (Zedd again ft. Alessia Cara) and she has penned tracks for the likes of John Legend, Demi Lovato, Camila Cabello and Khalid, but her name largely remains in the limbo between obscurity and the hungry sensationalism of the Australian media. Inspired by another Australian songwriter, Sia, Aarons opted out of the more typical aspirations of musical celebrity as a performer, focusing instead on creating tracks to be sung by others. She was only 23 when she decided to relocate within her job at Sony/ATV Music Publishing to Los Angeles to jump-start her songwriting career, having found that Australian singers were not choosing her work.
After writing the multi-platinum single ‘Stay’, Aarons’ had established a name for herself within the industry. However, like so many other composers of her calibre, her role in the creation of so many musical triumphs is unrealised by the listener; the person who the song must resonate with to gain commercial success. It seems remiss to me that through this portal of emotional edification; there is no relationship between the artist and the audience, on account of the artist remaining unrecognised.
A simple Google search will reveal a plethora of famous songwriters – Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney… see if you can detect a pattern. Even Sia, Aarons’ inspiration, has only gained recognition for her own songwriting credits (among them ‘Diamonds’, sung by Rihanna and Beyonce’s iconic ‘Pretty Hurts’) since she has gained clout as a performer and an artistic persona in her own right. Aarons even recalls an anecdote for the Sydney Morning Herald in which she introduces herself to Maren Morris for the first time at the Grammy awards for which they shared a nomination. Does it not strike you as a disregard for her artistry that she was unable to meet with the singer to explain the song’s significance or offer commentary before her own song was published?
Is songwriting not a valid enough form of expression in itself without the need to physically embody the music to put one’s name to the song and its appreciation? Works of the Renaissance composers are recognised by name; Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss – and not the instruments which express their creativity. Why then in the contemporary music world has the composer – the villager responsible for conceiving the child – ceased to hold significance to the audience?
This is not to say that Aarons is the only one responsible for her hit singles – no doubt the pull of the names she composes for draws a crowd. It only seems to me that the composer without an artistic persona has sunk to lackey status in the music publishing industry, which is both unfortunate and unfair to their talents.
For her part, Aarons has expressed no interest in pursuing a career as a performer and has remained humble and content in her behind-the-scenes role. The richness of her story – her the courage of her move to L.A and the passion she has for her unique craft – strikes me as not extraordinary but a story that represents a greater unrecognised community. The cynic in me wonders if I only know about Sarah Aarons because it’s exciting when anyone Australian makes it big, or whether the Australian media’s fixation on her rags-to-riches story and her autoimmune disease made her a national news story.
Without question though, Sarah Aarons is a force to be reckoned with and should be recognised as such. Her songwriting style, as simple as it may seem to some, has ultimately captured the favour of the masses. It fills me with hope that her status as a creator is finally coming to light, that she is gaining a following of her own and that soon, others sharing her talents will also be recognised as the artists behind so much of the music we love to listen to every day.
art by Sadie Loeber