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Song inspiration can come from anywhere.
First love. Heartbreak. Social injustices. Bad first dates.
It’s a story Ari has told many times since she dropped the Sound of Music-interpolating track exactly one year ago. A day at Tiffany’s and some bottles of bubbly led to, first, the purchase of the titular hardware (for her newly-single self and six of her closest girls) and then, after an afternoon in the studio, a killer trap-pop bop that would permeate the culture with its eminently quotable lyrics.
Listening to the superstar tell the tale, you may have found yourself wondering whether or not it really went down that serendipitously, whether a song that would debut atop the Billboard Hot 100 as only the 33rd song in history to do so could really be written so quickly. If you did, you certainly wouldn’t have been alone.
But, as co-writers Tayla Parx and Victoria Monét told E! News exclusively, in separate interviews ahead of their trip to the Grammys, it’s exactly how it happened.
“She was supposed to be at the studio, actually, but she was so excited that everything was going so well that week. It felt really therapeutic. And she ended up, unbeknownst to us—me and Tayla—going to Tiffany’s,” Monét, who was introduced to Grande in a writing session with Joe Jonas back when she was just the star of a Nickeloden show, eventually forming a tight professional bond, with writing credits on every single Ari album, as well as a close friendship, told us. “So we had started—I love The Sound of Music. Me and my grandma, like, grew up on it. And I know she likes theater as well. So when I started to sing the verse melody to Tayla, I texted her, ‘You’re gonna love this song that we’re working on.'”
As Parx, who also met Grande back in her Nick days, where the two gushed over each other’s appearances in the Hairspray musical film (Parx played Little Inez) and the Broadway show 13 (the musical was Ari’s professional debut), before being re-introduced to her as a songwriter years later, explained, “She literally sent a text message asking people’s ring sizes. And we were like, ‘OK….’ I didn’t know my ring size, so she just guessed mine, but we show up to the studio that day and, literally, she’s coming in with bags on bags. I’m like, ‘She had a good day. OK!’ Next thing you know, she’s pulling out some stuff. I’m like, ‘For little old me?’
Getty Images/Dave Hogan for One Love Manchester
“She’s like, ‘So, I had champagne and something happened, so I have something for all you guys,'” Monét added. “We were like, ‘What?!’ So then they suggested that we call the song ‘7 rings.’ And in my head, at first, I was like, ‘How the hell am I gonna make a song about seven rings?’ But it just came together naturally, just talking about what had gone on that day, how generous she is, how independent she is as an artist and as a person. “
As Monét explained, the song was an opportunity for her and Parx to show the world a side of their friend that hadn’t yet made its way into her music. “Tayla and I obviously had a lot of fun giving her the idea to just, like, not sing, to kind of rap and, you know, just kind of brag a little bit,” she said. “Be braggadocious without her vocals, but still add beautiful harmonies and everything underneath.”
The track allowed for the bringing together of all the disparate elements that makeup Grande’s musical interests. “Say Ari and I are in the car together. It sounds like the music we listen to,” Monét continued. “We have our hip-hop moments and then we have our theater moments. We’re kind of all over the place. So this kind of brought everything all together and allowed her to do something, I think, kind of left center from what people would expect of her. And to not have the hook be this grandiose…vocal, it was really cool for us. We listened to it so many times in the studio, just dancing and having more champagne. And I think at one point we dropped our rings in champagne, like dropped them in some champagne glasses, just doing the most.”
The song coming together as fast as it did is impressive enough, but as Parx shared, it was an outlier for an even more impressive reason.
“Sometimes, hit songs can come fast, you know? It just depends on your style as a writer. And I’ve had songs in the past where it’s like, ‘Okay, take 30 minutes to two hours or whatever,’ but it’s also really rare,” she admitted. “And what makes ‘7 rings’ different is that basically it’s the same as the demo. Even if a hit song is written in 30 minutes or 20 or whatever it is, most of the time it still goes through a bunch of series of changes, whether it’s in the production or the top line or anything like that. This? Other than the bridge being added on by Victoria, it didn’t change at all.”
As for that bridge, where Ari the Rapper jumps out, spitting bars, Monét admitted that, initially, it was meant to be quite different. “Honestly, she was gonna have a feature on the bridge,” she revealed. “And so we wanted to do something that that felt more rhythmic because we were singing in the verses pretty melancholy. So when I went in, I just kind of wanted to give a juxtaposition to the other verses and also still be on theme and braggy and exciting and like really inspired by the hip hop-type ad-libs in the background and just more free. And so she heard it, she’s like ‘I’m cutting this. I love this.'”
But before Ari could claim the moment as her own, it had to be written. And to do that, the co-writers had to overcome a literal ocean between them.
“I was literally out of the country and…we were trying to write this thing over the phone. It was hilarious,” Parx told us. “I was in Indonesia and it was kind of crazy, the time zones. I had a show. And she called me and she’s like, ‘We’ve got to put bridge on this thing.'”
Despite the fact that bridges are a risky gamble these days, having fallen a bit out of favor in pop music—”It’s kind of a thing of the past with the way that the structure of songs have kind of evolved,” Parx admitted. “But if you’re gonna do a bridge, it really better be a moment”—the two put in the work and made it happen.
“When I heard it back, because Victoria went and finished and recorded the demo vocals after we got off the phone—she was doing it while we were on the phone, which is another hilarious thing because I’m just like hearing echo and the studio speakers and everything while she’s in the booth,” Parx revealed. But you know, then eventually I got to hear Ariana’s vocals on it and it was incredible. That bridge is a series of group chat messages and FaceTimes.”
And it wasn’t anything anyone ever had any doubt that Ari could pull off once she claimed it for herself. “She always had rhythm, she’s always been cool, she’s always been these things,” Parx gushed about her friend. “And I think the world is just being able to see it. It’s easy for me to say because I’ve known her since we were like 14, 15, but it was really fun for me to be a part of the world seeing it this time around.”
“I think it was able to give us the opportunity to bring more of our friendship and the silly side into music,” Monét added. “And although it wasn’t taken too seriously, it ended up being a really big song for her, which, I think, means the most to us because it’s just our pure personalities coming out in song form.”
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for AG
While the sort of expeditious songwriting is par for the course when it comes to Ari and her collaborators, the roll-out for “7 rings” and the rest of the thank u, next album was markedly different than anything that she’d done before.
“The difference with this was it came out just as fast as we created. Usually if you make a song, there’s a whole roll-out that the label goes through and you have to plan. There’s a single release and videos and all this. So for this, I think it was a month after we made the song, which is unheard of. Usually, like, I count down probably like seven months or something until we hear what we’ve created out in the world,” Monét said. “But the way that she particularly dropped ‘thank u, next,’ I think led to a new era for her as an artist to just be free to drop things. And I think ‘7 rings’ took on that same persona. Just release it, let it go.”
And once it was let go, it truly became a moment. Not only did it give Ari her second-ever No. 1 debut and eventually earn her the Grammy nominations, but it turned the line “gee thanks, just bought it” into a bona fide viral meme. “That was definitely fun, especially that line because it’s so much of our personalities,” Parx said. “And we’ve literally seen people pull off their hair at live shows talking about some ‘gee thanks, just bought it!'”
“It’s so hilarious and goes to show just how many women feel that exact same way. So, it’s just fun to be, first of all, a part of culture but mainly like a part of pushing culture you know? And really saying, ‘This is what we’re doing,'” she continued. “All three of us who come from completely different backgrounds and everything are in this room and we feel the same exact way. And then we released it out to the world and literally found that, hey, there’s millions of other girls and boys who also just bought some extensions that also feel that exact same way. That was really satisfying.”
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for AG
Watching the song blow up gave Monét a similar sense of satisfaction. “It’s hard to put into words how it feels. But I guess the closest way to describe it—and I hope this is okay to say—but it feels like you’re high,” she admitted. “You’re just high on life and you’re like, wow, you really can take your tiny idea in a room, five people in a studio, and then the whole world can hear it. This a wild thing to be able to create and have someone really love the idea so much and have it be—it’s gonna last forever. Like, I’ll be able to later be like to my grandkids, ‘You know this old classic ‘7 rings?’ [Laughs] ‘That was your grandma and her friends.'”
And then Grammy came a-calling.
Not only did the track earn its two nominations, but the album as a whole scored nods in both the Best Pop Vocal Album and Album of the Year categories. “I had looked at the website a couple of times because I was like, ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait.’ At first I was like, ‘OK, yeah, so two categories.’ And I kept scrolling. I was like, ‘Three. Four! What the hell?'” Monét said of that November morning. “Last year, I was a part of the nomination for her, but it’s different to see my name on it, I think. It’s like a different energy. I have ‘a lot of Grammys’ listed on my goals list. Just hoping that I can take some of these off.”
“I literally woke up and my mom, she bought one of my favorite types of champagne which is also happens to be all of our favorite types of champagne—me, Ariana and Victoria—and a big part of this album in general,” Parx said. (Veuve Clicquot, for the record.) “So it was already nostalgic and she literally woke me up early as hell and she had that ready for me…That was the perfect way for me to be up at the crack of dawn.”
While both writers are burgeoning stars in their own right with plenty to look forward to in the near future—Parx, whose track “Fight” with Florida Georgia Line is burning up the charts, kicks off her debut headlining tour on January 31 in her hometown of Dallas, Tx., while Monét will follow up her excellent 2019 single “Ass Like That” with a new track and video in February, followed by a bigger project this spring that she described to us as leaning “a little more toward ’70s…stepping sort of separately from the music that I wrote for other people a little more and trying to navigate my own sound”—they’ve got a big party to attend Sunday night first.
“All we know is we’re going to be together, but whether or not we win, it’s going to be exciting to be considered. It’s exciting to be able to go to this type of event and sit across with your friends and have your name mentioned at all among so many other great artists and be recognized by the Grammy board. So whether or not we win, we’re going to be excited and we’re going to be together and we’re probably gonna have more champagne,” Monét said. “I’m sure that once it comes a little bit closer the nerves will grow, and then when it passes, we’ll be able to have the butterflies drift away and just celebrate together. Have a good time.”
“I can tell you Clicquot will be involved,” Parx added.
We’d expect nothing less.
Watch E!’s Live From the Red Carpet 2020 Grammy Awards coverage Sunday, Jan. 26 starting at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT followed by the Grammys telecast at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS. And for a recap of music’s biggest night immediately following the show, don’t miss the E! After Party special at 11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. PT, only on E!