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You may not know Bonnie McKee's name yet, but you definitely know her work. The accomplished singer/songwriter has writing credits on some of the biggest pop songs of the last few years: from Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" to Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me" to Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" - those among the eight #1 singles she can say she had a part in.
In 2011 Rolling Stone named her "Best Secret Weapon," but now that the Seattle-born babe is stepping out on her own with pop single, "American Girl," the secret is out.
Of her upcoming album, Bonnie says, "It's very bright and flashy and colorful. I'm really into visual lyrics. I've been writing it over the past several years, so it's got a good vast scope of emotions where everything from feelings to experiences, heartbreaking and partying."
Bonnie McKee stopped by the iHeartRadio headquarters in NYC recently, where she opened up about everything from falling in love in a 7-11 parking lot (yep, a lyric inspired by true life), to how she and Katy Perry became friends to getting fired from Baskin Robbins for wearing short shorts.
Check out Real Questions with Bonnie McKee below.
You were raised by the television – what were you watching? Now what do you watch?
My earliest memories are of MTV. I feel like I learned so many social cues and life lessons from television and music videos... I love early MTV stuff with Madonna and Prince and Michael Jackson. I loved Full House. I loved Beverly Hills 90210.
Today I'm really into Mad Men. I love Game of Thrones, Dexter - I'm totally addicted. I've been, I've been on a Breaking Bad marathon, which is really a dark place for me. I love Honey Boo Boo; I feel like she is an American girl.
How can one fall in love in a 711 parking lot?
It's a true story actually. It's based on my adolescent experience in suburbia as a teenager. I remember being in a 7-11 parking lot in downtown Bellevue, Washington, and sitting on a skateboard with a boy and loitering and hoping someone would buy us beer. I feel like a lot of things happened in 7-11 parking lots.
Did anyone say no to being in your cameo-ridden music video?
I have some actor friends that want to stay away from reality stuff because the more you see actors outside of acting, the less you believe them on the screen, I guess. So, I had a few people say no, but for the most part everyone was really enthusiastic.
Were any of your big hits we’re all familiar with written about your personal life?
Yeah, I think I always try to pull from personal experiences. "Teenage Dream" was one - I just thought back to my first time falling in love and what it was like to be an adolescent. There's a teenage theme throughout my music.
"Last Friday Night" was literally about Katy and I when we first met and going nuts, wilding out. We met when we were teenagers, when we were like 18, 19. We met at a thrift store actually in LA. We were both broke songwriters selling our clothes that nobody wanted to buy, so we bonded over being rejected at the thrift store. We've been friends ever since.
How old were you when you first kissed a boy?
Sixth grade, and we both had braces. Sparks were flying, literally. That was really dangerous. Not only did we both have braces, but we were both choir geeks.
Who is the weirdest person you have a crush on?
Howard Stern. I've always kind of had a thing for him.
It’s no secret you have lots of celeb friends… who is the most famous person you have in your phone?
Probably Steven Tyler. That was a big moment for me. They called me because he was working on a new album... I figured none of my stuff would make it, but I just really wanted to meet him because I'm such a big fan. He was a childhood crush for me too.
We actually got together and he sang for me and I sang for him... we sang harmony together and he asked me to put my forehead against his, and he was like, "Can you feel that? Do you feel the energy?" I was like yes, yes Steven. I was shaking when I left there. So starstruck.
I'll invite him to every party I have just in case he might show up.
Do you feel like your solo debut is long overdue?
It was always my secret plan to be an artist. I really kind of accidentally fell into songwriting for other people. I started out as an artist when I moved to LA at 16, and I got dropped. Things didn't work out, so I started writing for other people out of necessity because I didn't have hot water, I didn't have a cell phone. I was broke and struggling and people were taking interest. So I had to take the opportunities that the universe were handing me and run with it.
What is the last illegal thing you did? When was it?
We shot a video, and I was hanging out the back of a car and had a cameraman on the hood of the car while we're driving. I think we actually got a pretty big ticket for that one.
Were you part of the popular crowd in high school? Why or why not?
I was somewhere in between because I was kind of a freak. I was a raver and I did a lot of drugs... I was trouble. So, the bad kids liked me, the good kids were kind of afraid of me... I feel like I kind of fit in everywhere. I'm kind of neutral. I'm an aquarius, so I get along with everyone.
Have you ever been fired?
Yes, yes. I've been fired from every job I ever had. I didn't have that many because I got started with music so early, but I worked at Baskin Robbins for like two weeks and I was fired because my shorts were too short. I mean nothing has changed obviously. Luckily they can't fire me from this job.
What’s your biggest regret?
Probably hanging at Warner Brothers as long as I did. I was signed at 16, and i was there for a really long time. I was kind of being held hostage, but I felt like I was afraid to get dropped and I thought that would taint me and that I would be washed up before I even began, but it's kind of like a rite of passage. It's more like a badge of honor to be dropped.
What were you made fun of for as a kid?
They called me bubble butt, which today I'm celebrating.
What’s the most unglamorous part of your day?
I hate warming up when I warm up my voice. I'm always embarrassed that my neighbor is going to hear me because I'm doing like ohhhhh, brrrrrr, and all kinds of embarassing horse sounds. That's probably something I wouldn't want the world to see.
What do you waste time on?
I watch a lot of TV. That's my time to veg out and sometimes it can be addicting. Like this Breaking Bad thing I've been on. I have to be careful with the television. It's like a drug. It really is.
Have you ever broken a heart?
Yes. I'm a heartbreaker. Singer, songwriter, heartbreaker is my Twitter line. That's my one-liner.
Have the critics ever made you cry?
No. I mean it's definitely hurt. It's never been critics, it's been more like the public criticizing. It's probably just a 15 year old in Milwaukee somewhere.
But it hurts to read some of the comments. There are overwhelmingly more positive than negative, but those negative ones are the ones that stick with you. I don't think they ever made me cry, but it definitely haunts me.
What is your favorite song you’ve ever written?
I'm pretty proud of "American Girl." I love "Teenage Dream." That has a special place in my heart.
Is your album finished?
Albums are never done. They're abandoned. That's a David Bowie quote, I can't take credit for that one. But that's how I feel: I'll never really be finished with it. I just have to choose to stop at some point. So, I'm going to keep writing up until the very last minute.
Photos by Shelby Case