“I’ve been doing this for 12 years,” Benny Blanco tells Apple Music. “After that long, it’s good to switch it up.” You might not know Blanco’s name, but you know his work. A prodigious songwriter from suburban Virginia who apprenticed under Dr. Luke, he’s written so many hits for so many stars (Rihanna, Sia, The Weeknd, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Kanye, Maroon 5...you get the idea) that it’s impossible to imagine contemporary pop music without him. Now, at 30, he’s stepping out from behind the curtain on his debut album—or at least the first version of it—FRIENDS KEEP SECRETS. Taking cues from Kanye West’s perpetually in-progress The Life of Pablo and 2018 G.O.O.D. Music releases, the project is an ever-evolving collection of songs that Blanco says he’ll update “whenever I want.” Here’s how he created what might be the blueprint for the modern pop album.
Maybe it isn’t an album at all. “Ultimately, I imagine this being, like, four mini-albums, but how I end up approaching that, I don’t know. I might release one song one day, and then six songs six months later. I was definitely inspired by Kanye working on those albums in real time, but I was also inspired by the way we live. This isn’t 40 years ago. There aren’t physical copies of this, I’m not going to tour. So why not be more spontaneous? Everyone is so scared, so precious about everything. I wanted these to feel as of-this-moment as possible.”
Procrastinate, then eat. “When the first batch of songs was due, like two weeks ago, I switched out four of them at the last minute. I made a lot of late changes—big stuff, too, like running down the street to get Ty Dolla $ign on a beat I’d just made and then smashing it into the track with 6LACK. But that’s kind of the point. We procrastinate until we absolutely cannot procrastinate anymore, and then we eat. You’ve got to loosen up to create.”
Keep an air of mystery. “We were working on the Francis and the Lights album in Wisconsin with Justin Vernon, Cashmere Cat, the whole gang. Maybe a year later, I sat down and went through my files and thought, This would be so cool for my album. I thought it’d be cool to let people hear some beautiful music [“Just For Us, Pt. 2”] without worrying about who’s on it. If you know, you know.”