Jesse Saint John had no idea he could write songs until 2012. On a whim, he sat down and wrote what he described to In The Know as a "nasty little rap song," and realized this was a job he could do every day and a whole career path he could pursue.
Saint John is currently riding the high of being a co-writer on the breakout 2017 Lizzo single "Truth Hurts." The song hit a major milestone at the end of October after it topped the Billboard Hot 100 list for the seventh week in a row, the longest reign ever by a female artist for a rap song.
"That's been a huge, kind of, breakthrough," Saint John told In The Know. "I'm so honored to be involved in any way in that project, and Lizzo is a force of nature and one of my favorite artists in the world."
There has been a lot of recent controversy surrounding "Truth Hurts." According to The L.A. Times, songwriting brothers Justin and Jeremiah Raisen worked with Lizzo and Saint John on a song called "Healthy" in 2017 that used the same catchy tune and hook as "Truth Hurts." Justin Raisen posted a lengthy caption on Instagram about it in mid-October, igniting a public fight between Justin, Jeremiah and Lizzo over credit.
Apart from Lizzo herself, Saint John is the only person from the "Healthy" session that is credited on "Truth Hurts" reports Pitchfork. Lizzo even tweeted a thank you to Saint John in Sept. 2017 for the help.
On Oct. 23, Lizzo filed a lawsuit against the Raisen brothers, seeking out a "judicial declaration" that they had nothing to do with writing the song. The brothers still insist they were at the 2017 session and contributed to the final version of "Truth Hurts."
Not all of Saint John's songwriting experiences have been so tumultuous and complicated. He also collaborates with Britney Spears, Kim Petras, Camila Cabello and the Neighbourhood — to name a few.
"What inspires me creatively is, sort of, filling a void and just kind of making stuff I wish I could hear, because I'm a, you know, a consumer as well. I kind of just try to look around at what I wish was out in the world, and make it."
A big part of Saint John's appeal for singers and other songwriters is his visual mindset too. He acknowledges that writing a song is only half the battle of making a real hit. Once he starts finalizing elements of the songwriting process is when he can visualize what it will really look like. "I can see the branding, I can see the photo shoots, I can see the merch."
According to Saint John, the songwriting and studio recording spaces are designed for free-flowing thought and spitballing ideas. But while the idea of collaborating with some of the world's greatest artists sounds like the ideal job, the rejection can be difficult, for many reasons.
"You constantly are putting yourself up for rejection or you're putting yourself up to be picked apart on something that is really personal to you," Saint John said. "Business is the whole other side that can feel really dark and intimidating. But if you kind of look at it as a fun, little game, it can be really gratifying."
Saint John has been a songwriter for seven years now and still finds ways to feel inspired and create fresh new work for both his clients and his own singles.
Unlike most conventional jobs, the songwriting process can change every day or with every artist.
"Writing a new song is different every single time. Sometimes you come in with a title or a lyric, just completely already done. Sometimes you come in with completely nothing and somebody plays you an amazing guitar riff and you're like, 'Oh, I can hear something over that,'" he said. "It's never stale, you're never uninspired."
To have worked on something like Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" is what most songwriters strive to achieve for years. The music video has 144 million views on YouTube and was featured in the trailer for the Netflix movie "Someone Great."
Even with this one breakout success, Saint John is not done chasing writing more hits. He continues to work with his big clients, but artist development is important to him and is why he enjoys spending time with up-and-coming performers as well.
"I'm really grateful to have a creative mind that can translate to tons of people," he said. "I'm just never going to stop using my heart, my talent and my brain."
Watch the full In The Know: Profiles episode with Jesse Saint John above.