Benny Blanco is all about chilling. On a recent morning, the music producer, songwriter, and recording artist was puttering in his West Hollywood studio. Bed-headed and affable, with the impish grin of a man used to being liked, Blanco, who is thirty-three, wore a ratty Notorious B.I.G. T-shirt (“My pajamas,” he explained, over Zoom) and a mess of necklaces—one beaded, another with a Star of David pendant. You might think of a recording studio as a dark box, where an on-the-clock producer, hunched at a mixing console, seethes at missed takes. But Blanco’s high-ceilinged space, with its white walls, cheerful canvases by such artists as George Condo, Andy Warhol, and Jonas Wood, and even a bed, seems more of a spot for a good-vibes hang. “My whole shtick is I’ll never work with someone I’m not friends with,” Blanco said, sprawled on a couch. “Like, why would I want to work with you if I don’t know you? Maybe you’re a shitty person! So my thing is you come over to the studio and, first of all, I’m cooking for you, I’m talking to you about your life. I don’t put pressure on anything.”
Blanco, né Benjamin Levin, grew up in the Virginia suburbs. As a teen, he was an aspiring rapper but quickly grew interested in producing and songwriting. “I was so nerdy,” he said. “I’d do this thing where I’d print out the liner notes from an album and cover up the names of the producers, engineers, everything, to see if I could guess who worked on the song just from listening.” In his early years as a producer, he apprenticed under Dr. Luke, with whom he collaborated on tracks like Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and Britney Spears’s “Circus.” Later, he produced songs on his own for Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and Kanye West. In 2018, he decided to put his own name on an album, “Friends Keep Secrets.” The record spawned several hits, among them the heartstring-puller “Eastside,” featuring Halsey and Khalid. (“It became the biggest song. I was, like, Holy shit, O.K., I guess I can do this.”)
Last week, Blanco released “Friends Keep Secrets 2” (why mess with a winning formula?), which includes “Lonely,” a track featuring Bieber. The song, which Blanco co-wrote with the musician Finneas, is a keening ballad that draws on Bieber’s experience as an isolated young megastar. (“ ’Cause I’ve had everything / But no one’s listening / And that’s just fuckin’ lonely.”) “Me and Finneas, he’d come over for sessions, and we’d never work. Ever,” Blanco said. “We’d talk for hours, laugh, sometimes walk to get coffee, and he’d leave. One day I was, like, ‘We gotta write something for Justin.’ And he just sat down at that Wurlitzer, and I had a little keyboard in front of me, and we started riffing and talking and in thirty minutes we had the basis of the track.”
At first, Bieber was unsure about the song. “He was, like, ‘Do people really want to hear this shit from me?’ ” Blanco said. The song has gone platinum.
Poignancy, though, is not Blanco’s dominant mode. “There’s so much serious shit in the world, and I’m not a serious guy. I want to be the guy you come to for dick and fart jokes,” he said. Recently, he’s been reprising his role as a cocky, loquacious music producer on the FXX show “Dave,” whose second season will première in June, and which stars and was co-created by Blanco’s close friend Dave Burd, a.k.a. the rapper Lil Dicky. “I’m more humble in real life, but, otherwise, it’s not that far off,” Blanco said.
How did Blanco know that he was ready for the spotlight? “I worked for all these artists for so many years,” he said. “Say I work at an Italian restaurant, on the line, making Caesar salad, for ten years. And I’m good at it.” He leaned forward, getting into the food metaphor. “I toast the croutons the right way, I’m getting the sauce fucking creamy, I got all the Parmesan. And one day I’m, like, I’ve been watching the guy next to me make pizza for so long. I think I can try and make a good one!” ♦
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