Leave it to Lady Gaga to turn hard times into hardware.
Nominated for Top Dance/Electronic Song at the May 23 Billboard Music Awards, "Rain On Me," her Grammy-winning Chromatica collaboration with Ariana Grande, was born from the type of tough stretch that would topple lesser people. "One time I felt like I was crying so much it would never stop," the pop phenom tweeted ahead of the single's May 2020 release. "Instead of fighting it, I thought bring it on, I can do hard things."
So she turned her pain into the world's pleasure. With Chromatica, her sixth disc and sixth No. 1, "she was hoping to make a record that spread positivity and love," BURNS, a co-producer on eight of the tracks, told E! News. "Something that would make people feel good, but she was at the same time trying to work through a lot of things that she'd written down, that she wanted to get out. It was like a release for her."
Among the most cleansing singles was "Rain On Me." An analogy for the tears she was struggling to stop, she explained to Apple Music's Zane Lowe, it was also a metaphor for "the amount of drinking that I was doing to numb myself. I'd rather be dry. I'd rather not be drinking, but I haven't died yet. I'm still alive. Rain on me. Okay, I'm going to keep on drinking. This song has many layers."
Hence its ability to connect, said BURNS. "It's just super personal," he shared, "but also can be a universal message. I think that's why the record is so important. You know, people can apply that lyric to their own lives."
Throw in a synth-disco beat, a dash of funk guitars and you've got the oh-my-god-can't-wait-'til-we-can-all-dance-together-to-this vibe that turned the track into last summer's most globally streamed song by a female artist.
By the time BURNS was pulled onto the team in early 2018 by producer BloodPop, "I think they had kinda gotten to the point in the writing process for what was going to be Chromatica where they'd collected a bunch of songs, but weren't sure yet on the sonic landscape for the whole album," he explained.
Their assortment of tracks included "a version of 'Rain On Me' that they were kind of living with for a while," he said. "We all knew it was a really special song. Like we could all tell that it was going to be one of the sort of stand out records on the album."
The only issue he shared, "in my personal opinion, it didn't fit as much with everything else." To the Scottish producer, songwriter and DJ it felt "maybe a little too clean, more on the EDM kind of side of things."
So he did a pass at it, he said, "falling on this bassline that became the core of the record. And then the whole thing kind of flipped around and turned into what it is now."
The final touch proved to be a killer collab.
Swedish producer and songwriter Rami Yacoub had been brought in to provide an "outside opinion" in the finessing stage, Yacoub shared with E! News. "I'm really good at fixing songs, if that makes sense." With "an ear for arranging" and an appreciation for each song "as a useful piece of art," he explained, "I just kind of give my view of what we could do."
By the time he joined the song's team, "it was already in a pretty much amazing state," he said. There was just one thing that could make it better. "It was Blood's idea that we should do a feature on it," he recalled. "I thought it was a great idea."
And having worked with Grande before, "I knew she loved Gaga," he continued of the newlywed. "So I was like, maybe you might invite her out, make this song beautiful together."
Which they did, naturally.
Recording with Gaga is already quite the treat ("A lot of time we'd go to the studio and not do music. Sometimes we would just all chat and talk about life and stuff," revealed BURNS). But throwing the "7 Rings" chanteuse into the mix "was a match in heaven," said Yacoub. "All of a sudden it clicked right away. It was fun to see them."
With Grande eager to do "an uplifting dance record again," said BURNS, she happily came out to the studio "and I think she was just blown away. She was such a fan of the record from hearing it for the first time that she just instantly wanted to be a part of it."
Hundreds of millions of fans and 11 No. 1 albums between them, both Gaga and Grande belong in the pop superstar category. But it's their differences that make the single, said BURNS. "If they were more of a similar sounding artist, it wouldn't have worked as well," he noted. "But the fact that they both contrast each other so well, they've got different styles of singing and vocal textures, it really elevates the song."
And though the germ of the idea came from Gaga's own experiences, "I also think that Ari kind of related to the song as well," he reasoned. "It was almost like it became both of their song, you know? They both were expressing their own feelings through the lyrics at the same time....They've both been through some stuff over the last years."
Now that we've all been through some stuff over the last 12 months, the track hits on a different level, BURNS noted. "I've been thinking of this song. It's like, God, I've survived the last year. You know, at least I'm alive."
Though the writing process began well before the pandemic, "It was perfect timing," he continued. "People need that. That's why that's what dance music really is. To me, it's something that people need because it's something that can uplift you."
Which is why Yacoub predicts the Grammy winner will be blaring when bars open up across America. "I don't go to clubs anymore," he said. "I'm a father, I'm 46, I've done my share of clubs." And yet now, he continued, "since I can't do anything, I just want to get a table and go, man."
Sing it with us now, "At least I'm aliiiiiiive! Rain on me, rain, rain. Rain on me, rain, rain."
(This story was originally published on Sunday, Mar. 13, 2021 at 5 p.m. PT.)