Artists Versus Labels: Songs Born of Frustration That Led to Fame

1. “Love Song,” Sara Bareilles

Sara Bareilles was inspired to write her famous hit “Love Song” after being fed up with industry rejection. Around the time that the track was written, Bareilles’ label wasn’t happy with anything she was putting out. As a result, Bareilles created a candid song about not wanting to write a love song on demand. I originally interpreted the lyrics to be a metaphor about rushing a relationship, as I’m sure many other listeners did. Bareilles has said that even her label had no idea she was writing about them. The song became the singer-songwriter’s first hit around the world.

2. “Harder To Breathe,” Maroon 5

This is another song that’s easy to interpret as a love-focused song, especially since the album it appears on—Songs About Jane—is more or less an album of love and breakup songs. However, this track was written about the frustration and smothering feelings that arose as the band was pressured to write a hit by their record label. As Maroon 5’s first single, “Harder To Breathe,” like so many other songs written in protest of labels, became the band’s first hit that helped launch them to stardom.

3. “Grace Kelly,” MIKA

MIKA was facing pressure from his record label when he wrote “Grace Kelly.” The song ended up being the most universally known and loved hit of the singer-songwriter’s and is arguably one of the best MIKA songs. The song highlights the frustrations that MIKA felt when label executives encouraged him to be someone other than himself to win their approval.

The song remains a timeless piece about being yourself against all odds; it hit Number One in numerous countries after its release and found new popularity with the Grace Kelly Challenge on TikTok in 2021, popularized by Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. “Grace Kelly” is yet another example of an artist being frustrated with a lack of agreement with record labels and finding fame as a result.

The Sinfonia Pop version above is my favorite arrangement, so enjoy!

Have any stories about songs related to record labels that you want to share? Let us know in the comments!

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