Dublin songwriter to the stars finding her own voice
After writing hits for Niall Horan and Britney Spears, Dubliner Ruth-Anne Cunningham is striking out on her own
Ruth-Anne Cunningham: “What I loved about Amy Winehouse was the vulnerability of her saying, ‘I’m not okay,’ and, ‘My heart is broken right now’
For the guts of 13 years Ruth-Anne Cunningham has worked behind the scenes, writing songs for Niall Horan, Britney Spears and One Direction. Now the Dublin-reared, Los Angeles-based songwriter is ready to launch a solo career.
Her first big songwriting gig came the day after she finished her Leaving Cert exams, in 2004, when she was flown to California by her then manager, Eamonn Maguire (who also managed The Script). After being introduced to Billy Steinberg – one of the songwriters behind Like a Virgin, Eternal Flame and True Colors – they wrote the song Too Little Too Late, which became an award-winning hit for JoJo.
“When I wrote it I didn’t know, obviously, what it was going to do, because I was 17 and clueless. It was meant to be for me, and I said to my manager at the time, I said, ‘That’s for JoJo,’ and two years later it went to her, and I knew then that giving it away was the right decision. Seeing how big a song could become, I was bitten by the bug.”
Los Angeles soon became home for Cunningham, who says that the songwriting process can take strange forms – such as when she unknowingly wrote the melodies for Britney Spears’s 2013 single Work B**ch. “That was surreal, because I actually didn’t meet her. It was written in different rooms, in all different places. Then will.i.am’s right-hand man” – her friend Anthony Preston, whom she wrote her parts with – “called and said, ‘Hey! Do you want to hear something? You remember that song we wrote the other week?’ And then he played me Britney Spears singing it.”
Cunningham’s melody was amalgamated with verses by other writers, and then, with just four days’ notice, the single was released by one of her idols. “Just to have a part of her legacy, Britney Spears, to just be part of that is crazy.”
While Work B**ch was a big production, Cunningham’s own music is different. “It’s definitely a soul record. It’s soul pop,” she says about her forthcoming album, which is due in September; she cites Lauryn Hill, John Legend and Carole King as influences.
“It’s really the stories of what I went through in LA as an Irish girl, being completely in deep water, with a very different culture, and just fending for myself in Hollywood, and the relationships I had with men, and celebrity relationships I had,” she says, her Dublin accent softened by American tones.
‘Take My Place’ is about me finding out on Instagram that my ex was dating a Playmate. Stalking on Instagram is what that song is about
“There’s a tendency in music now to keep it all happy and strong and confident and sexual, and what I loved about Amy Winehouse was the vulnerability of her saying, ‘I’m not okay,’ and, ‘My heart is broken right now.’ I just wanted to be honest, so the album is just me, my story.”
Her album has a lot of heartbreak, she says – but her debut single, The Vow, due on March 23rd, has a message of hope. By telling her own truth with love and relationships, she hopes people will “recognise themselves” in her music.
“Like, Take My Place is about me finding out on Instagram that my ex was dating a Playmate. Stalking on Instagram is what that song is about. That’s the reality of the world right now. You find out sh*t about your exes on social media, and you have to deal with it.”