Meet Savan Kotecha, the Indian musician who wrote hit songs for Britney Spears and Arianna Grande
A film based on his teenage life is currently in the works
Savan Kotecha, 41, was in high school, he dreamt of being in a boy band. It was the ’90s after all, and groups like New Kids on the Block were at their peak. But after a well-meaning record producer told him to focus on songwriting instead by telling him, ‘There is no way a girl from Wisconsin is going to put an Indian guy’s poster on her wall,’ [“at the time he was right”], Kotecha found his talents lay elsewhere. “I realised I didn’t want to be the one on the dance floor; I wanted to be the one making the music to make [everyone] dance.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Over the years, Kotecha has received eight BMI awards, 18 ASCAP Awards, while his songs have earned 17 Grammy nominations and have sold more than 375 million copies. Not bad for an Indian kid from Texas.
“When I first moved to Austin, Texas [from Virginia], there were three minorities in my school—me, my sister, and another girl.” Kotecha once got into a minor car accident, and the teachers also pulled out the other Indian girl from class to tell her. “They just assumed we were related.” Kotecha had some limited formal musical training— “We learned Gujarati at an auntie’s place on Fridays, harmonium on Saturdays”—but it wasn’t until he stumbled upon his sister’s old Yamaha keyboard in high school that his love of music really took hold. He jokes that songwriting came out of being “too lazy to learn other people’s songs, so I just decided it was easier to write my own stuff.”
His parents were predictably reluctant of his newfound interest in music, but gave him two years after graduation to give it a fair go. Luckily he signed with a music publishing house just under the wire. Kotecha eventually moved to Sweden and stayed on for 15 years writing hit songs for everyone from Ariana Grande, Westlife to Britney Spears.
But it was during a stint on the UK version of The X Factor (where he helped launch the careers of another boy band One Direction) that he finally found the familial support that had eluded him for years. When his relatives saw him on their UK TV screens, they excitedly called his parents—and his mom finally felt reassured that he was doing okay.
Confident album cover by Demi Lovato
Kotecha went on to write One Direction’s first album, including the hit song ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ (which he wrote for his wife with whom he has two young boys), and moved back to LA to even more success writing songs for major musicians like Sam Smith and The Weeknd, as well as a long list of hits with Ariana Grande.
Things came full circle when Kotecha attended the wedding of an Indian friend from Texas in 2010, the year his massively successful song for Usher, ‘DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love’ came out. “The DJ [at the wedding] played it four or five times in a row. I had never seen the success of my music before. [Usually] I was in Sweden, or in the car, or a recording studio. I hadn’t felt my songs in culture before that moment.”
Up next? More songwriting, of course, but Kotecha is working on several TV pilots (one of which is based on his life) and also has a film project in the works. The subject? “A South Asian boy band.” Stay tuned.