Music

Ryan Beatty On His Crazy 2024, From Writing With Beyoncé to Touring With Noah Kahan & Maggie Rogers

Even before the release of Beyoncé’s Billboard 200-topping album Cowboy Carter, Ryan Beatty was having a banner 2024. His name is in the liner notes to Bleachers’ self-titled fourth album as a co-writer, and he’ll open for Noah Kahan this summer and Maggie Rogers in the fall — all in support of his own acclaimed 2023 third album, Calico, which earned praise from Elton John, who hosted Beatty on his Apple Music Radio show Rocket Hour last year, saying his songwriting is “beautiful, intense and meaningful.”

But his contributions to Cowboy Carter have been quietly in the works throughout his wins, extending across the past four years. Beatty, a California native and teen pop prodigy turned tender singer-songwriter, is credited with co-writing four songs on the blockbuster, including standouts “Bodyguard” and “II Hands II Heaven.” A closely guarded secret he has kept since 2020 (Beatty, 28, says he “worked on this pretty much from beginning to end”), his collaboration proved to be an inspirational boost. “It gave me this silent confidence for years,” he says. “I think when you’re patient through the process, you almost feel ready for all the things that happen.”

Below, he explains how he scored such major co-writes and what’s up next for his solo career.

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Ryan Beatty
Ryan Beatty

Even though Calico came out a year ago, do the past couple months feel like a milestone for you?

I think when you’re patient through the process, you feel ready for all the things that happen. I don’t mean to sound jaded, because it’s unreal all of the things that I’ve done and am getting to do. When I put my record out, I knew what I made and I knew how special it was to me. I’d hoped that it’d feel just as special to the people listening to it. I also know what I was willing to do and not willing to do. And I’m very adamant about staying authentic in every single decision I make when it comes to my music. And I think because I’ve been so protective of it, it’s been such a nice slow burn that the discovery of the record has been happening so naturally and effortlessly. 

I didn’t realize how much this record affected people until I started touring it. Seeing people really show up and really be there with me was really special. It’s nice to know that staying true to yourself pays off, because it’s so easy for you to bite the apple and try things that don’t feel right for you and you think, “Oh, this worked for somebody else so maybe it will work for me.” But I think every artist has that feeling in their gut when they know something is right for them or not, you just have to listen closely.

You were working on Cowboy Carter and Calico simultaneously. What was it like deciding which ideas and lyrics should be for which albums?

There was never a moment where I thought, “Should this go here or there?” Anytime I went in to work on music, it was very intentional to focus on where things existed. At the end of the day, my writing is going to be my writing. But it never blended too much; it was always “I’m making this song for Calico,” or “I’m making this song for Cowboy Carter.” I felt really propelled in my artistry and could feel myself growing as an artist, so working on something of such magnitude at that time also helped hone in on my album. I always call Calico a small record because it’s so close to the chest, and it’s really interesting being in both those worlds. Knowing that [Cowboy Carter] will be heard by every person on Earth, whereas on my record I’m whispering into the mic, I kind of enjoyed that.

How did you keep Cowboy Carter a secret for so long?

It was hard, but I also sort of enjoyed it. There were people in my life who didn’t know until the day it came out. I got phone calls and texts all day, like, “What are you talking about?” The entire time I wanted to honor what was being made, and I really believe in letting the work speak for itself. Not having expectations is the best move.

Your work is usually autobiographical. How does that affect your writing for other artists?

I put my own perspective into these songs. Even on a song like “Just for Fun,” [Beyoncé] sings about Clovis, which is the town I grew up in [in California]. So if you really look into the details of it, you can hear my perspective in there, I think.

How easy was it deciding whether or not to reflect your own queerness in your work?

It was instant for me. What excites me about making music is talking about my own life. So it wasn’t about should I or shouldn’t I. It was like, this is what excites me, let me be very forward about it.

What did you learn from working with Beyoncé and her team?

She makes things with so much intention, and I’ve always tried to do the same thing. Just seeing the work that goes into it definitely reminded me, “Oh, this is how you make greatness.” That was incredible to be around, and I felt highly respected through the entire process.

What can you share about “BODYGUARD,” which seems to be a fan favorite?

The line “Sometimes I hold you closer just to know you’re real” is one of my favorite lines I wrote for the whole record. Melody and lyric together can make something feel so much more beautiful. I think that melody, the way she sings it, and the line itself feels cute and intimate. I love that part of the song.

What can you reveal about collaborating on the Bleachers album? You are credited as a co-writer on “Call Me After Midnight.”

For that record, it’s one we started working on in 2017. It’s a song I wrote a long time ago. Jack [Antonoff, Bleachers frontman] was working on Kevin Abstract’s record, and I think they pulled that one up to revisit and Jack loved it and asked us if he could rework it and we were like, “Yeah, go for it.” To my surprise, it was on the latest Bleachers record and I’m really happy it went on there. It’s such a fun, beautiful record and I’ve been a fan of Jack’s for a really long time since way before I knew him, so that was a full circle moment at the same time, too. 

It was just announced that you’ll be opening up for Maggie Rogers on her upcoming tour. Do you ever spitball ideas with her? 

Maggie is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She’s just fun to talk to and she wears her heart on her sleeve. I think that I do the same, so I enjoy our conversations. 

Are your recent experiences influencing how you’ll write your next album?

Probably, but I wouldn’t know yet. I’d say, I’m grateful to know that the best way for me to write a record is for me to just live life. That sounds really simple, but I try not to go in “record-making mode” and to be honest, I don’t even know what that means. Calico was made over a time where I was like, “Okay, ‘I’m ready to write” and then I’d stop for six weeks. Then I’d go back and work on it a little more. I just want to live a beautiful life, make beautiful things and what comes of it, comes from it. That sounds really simple, but I think if you grip it too hard it ends up being over thought. There has to be ease and intention at the same time.

This story will appear in the April 27, 2024, issue of Billboard.

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