Features May 10, 2018

The top song in Australia and still no Wikipedia page: why Noah Kahan is the unlikely star

Elise Ferrari
Features Editor
The top song in Australia and still no Wikipedia page: why Noah Kahan is the unlikely star

It’s the age-old question in the music business… what’s the magic formula for a chart-topping hit?

Is it a team of amazing songwriters? Is it an award-winning producer? Huge marketing budget? A little luck thrown in for good measure?

Thankfully, the authenticity of the artist continues to trump a perfectly-curated team and release plan when it comes to turning a potential audience into fans. Case in point: Noah Kahan.

Kahan claimed the #1 on the TMN Hot 100 with the Julia Michaels collab version of his track ‘Hurt Somebody’ last week. The song is currently sitting at #16 on the ARIA Singles Chart, after peaking at #15.

This, coming from an artist with just over 3.8 million monthly Spotify listeners and 12 YouTube videos to his name. And, surprisingly, no artist Wikipedia page, despite the fact that the song has its own Wikipedia link – a fact that, jokingly, strikes a chord with Kahan.

“I told my manager when I got into the music industry, I said ‘There’s two things I want.’ I said ‘I want a blue check mark Instagram, and I want a Wikipedia page. That’s all I want in the world.’

“Literally, I just want a Wikipedia page; a little, personalised section, and then I can retire, I’ll die happy. I really do think I’ve earned a Wikipedia page at this point, but I think it’s a little weird to make one for yourself, so I’m just waiting for the day. I’m waiting for the day.”

The 21-year-old is humble when talking about his experience of creating ‘Hurt Somebody’, despite having worked with some impressive names on the track, including co-writing with Scott Harris (Shawn Mendes, The Chainsmokers). Kahan likens the experience of working with Harris as “catching lightning in a bottle”, crediting his fellow American’s ability to “make you feel at home”.

“That day we worked on [‘Hurt Somebody’], we started off the day kind of going into another track and we spent all day fine-tuning it and kind of not feeling like it was in the right spot,” Kahan told TMN.

“We took a breather and then in that 15 minutes of relaxing from working on this other song and stressing ourselves out so much, we literally wrote ‘Hurt Somebody’ in that time; that 15-minute period where our brains were switched out of creation mode into more of a relaxed space.”

Kahan adds that Harris has mastered the art of making “being personable, making you feel comfortable, and just relating to you on a real level.”

“In songwriting, what’s most important if you’re an artist writing with a co-writer trying to write for yourself, it’s being able to feel like you can tell you them how you really feel and speak to experiences that are personable without feeling overexposed or insecure.”

“I think that’s what kind of made it different for me, was that it felt like I could say anything and really tell him how I actually felt about things and whether they were comfortable or uncomfortable, and that’s what makes for real, honest songwriting.”

It’s these qualities that Kahan also saw in fellow songwriter Julia Michaels, and the duet version of the song came about in the most organic way imaginable.

“She actually reached out to me and my team kind of randomly, and just told us that she loved the song and she was really interested in jumping on it and making it a duet. We were honoured and thrilled and she brought it to the next level. It was really cool to have her put her stamp of approval and reach out to us to get on the song.”

The track was then left in the hands of producer Joel Little – a Kiwi who knows a thing or two about #1 tracks on the TMN Hot 100, given that Lorde’s ‘Green Light’ also reached the summit back in the first week of November 2017. Little also had a hand in writing and producing other recent radio hits such as Khalid’s ‘Young Dumb & Broke’ (#8), Kesha’s version of ‘This Is Me’ (#12), Robinson’s ‘Nothing To Regret’ (#22) and Imagine Dragons’ ‘Whatever It Takes’ (#26).

“And he’s got that Kiwi sense of humour, which I really relate to… he made me feel like an equal and a collaborator instead of a little, scared 19-year-old that I was trying to be, impressing a huge pop producer.”

Make no mistake, working with some of the best in the industry does not take away from Kahan’s natural ability as a musician, nor his penchant for telling heartbreaking stories in song form.

Even just speaking to him about his experience of touring the US with George Ezra, Kahan reveals more about the experience than his older peers. Whether that’s because his filter when talking to the media hasn’t been developed yet, or it’s his inclination to connect on an emotional level remains to be seen.

“I underestimated it,” Kahan says when speaking on how physically demanding touring is on an artist.

Jokingly, he adds: “I thought it was like a tour bus, I’m going to be famous, there’s going to be paparazzi. I’ll get in the van and people will like, carry me to the sound check.

“But no, it’s a lot of work. You’ve really got to kind of be physically and emotionally ready for what it brings on – it’s a lot of really long days and long drives and being exhausted and having to be enthusiastic and make 2,500 people think that you’re playing for the first time.”

Kahan has always seen himself as more of a songwriter than a performer, and is open about having to work on the singing side of things.

“I’ve had to really practise and [singing] didn’t come as naturally as songwriting did to me.

Performing is a service that you’re providing for people who are paying for something. You’re wasting people out of their money if you don’t play well.

“That’s kind of a harsh way to put it, but it’s the only way that I can do it that makes me feel like I’m giving my best to everybody every time. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. But if you’re giving your best, smile as much as you can, smile through the pain or whatever it is, then it usually goes pretty well.”

The young artist is continuing to work and develop his skills as a songwriter and a performer ahead of his trip to Australia in June for a run of debut headline shows.

“I’m trying to work on processing and really feeling the things that are going on for me right now. I mean, a #1 song in Australia’s great, but I kind of get swept away and lobby calls and sound checks and I want to feel everything that’s going on and not take anything for granted.”

“These are moments that I’m not going to necessarily feel again, so I’m trying to work on just exploring the moment as much as I can and not letting myself get carried away in the small intricacies of being on tour and being an artist, and just feeling the bigger picture a bit.”

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