How I wrote ‘If I Were A Boy’ for Beyoncé by BC Jean
How the global smash started life as a Californian girl’s break-up song, inspired by pizza and popcorn in Times Square
The only track Beyoncé didn’t write on her double album I Am… Sasha Fierce, the single If I Were A Boy became a worldwide No 1 smash and was one of the most played songs of 2009. It topped the charts in the UK and throughout Europe, and reached No 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. The track’s songwriter was San Diego-born singer and actress, Brittany Jean Carlson – better known by her stage name BC Jean – who penned the track with producer Toby Gad.
Speaking to BC, we learn the true story behind the empowering, gender-bending pop ballad’s genesis…
“I wanted to be a singer, so songwriting was just part of the deal for me. I’d written lots of songs and used those demos to get to the next producer I wanted to work with, and met Toby Gad – he’d worked with The Veronicas and Fergie and had a couple of cool hits. I flew to New York to work with him and wrote a handful of songs. I was 20 years old at this point, I was with my first boyfriend and things were going really well, but during the course of writing with Toby I found out my boyfriend had cheated on me. I didn’t want to write about it.
“When eventually I did, it was a complete accident. We were walking through Times Square on a lunch break. Toby carried around a recorder and any time I said something ‘weird’, as he called it, he’d record it. I was trying to fit into my skinny jeans, watching my weight and all that stuff, and I was like, ‘Oh man, I wish were a boy right now. I’d eat the pizza and the popcorn.’ He was like, ‘That’s so weird, how would you sing that?’ He put a recorder in front of my mouth and I sang, ‘If I were a boy…’ just like that. We ran back to the studio and it was what I like to call a therapy session or diary entry, because I’d finally decided to open my heart and 20 minutes later we had a song!
“It was probably the easiest song I’ve ever written. Then we recorded the demo that day, which I never changed – that was the one that Beyoncé eventually heard. Toby was crying, going ‘Oh my God, this is a smash!’ so he definitely knew it was special.
“The song wasn’t supposed to go to anybody, though – I wanted to sing it! Everyone wanted to sign me, but some people were trying to get it to their bigger artists because they knew it was such a smash. Then I believe Toby had a meeting with Beyoncé, and when she heard If I Were A Boy she said, ‘That’s it! I want to record that right now.’
“I wrote from such personal experiences, I never imagined that someone else would ever want to sing about my ex-boyfriend! So I was like, ‘Tell her, thank you,’ but they were like, ‘No, you don’t understand, she has to have this song!’ Then I got lots of calls from lots of people being very, very persuasive, and the next thing I know, Beyoncé is singing the song and I’m getting signed to Clive Davis’ label, J Records.
“You don’t realise a song has impacted so many people until you’re on the street and talk to people. So many girls were going through the same thing I was at that time and needed to hear those strong, empowering words. That makes it all worth it.”
EXPERT OPINION by James Linderman
“Everybody says to record everything, and for once everybody is right! Your therapy notes and diary entries are probably platinum-selling lyric material, but you have to be a certain kind of brave to make yourself sing them.”