By Samantha Highfill
October 20, 2020 at 05:33 PM EDT
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Credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

The Write Stuff is an occasional series about songwriters.

Ali Tamposi knows the advantages of having your mom as your school principal. "My mom was my school principal from pre-K up until eighth grade, so she made sure that we had state-of-the-art arts programs in school," the songwriter tells EW. "We had the best theater directors directing our elementary school plays. She really put emphasis on creativity in all forms of learning."

Growing up in Florida, Tamposi was also surrounded by music at home. "My mom always had Fleetwood Mac records playing. Sting was always on. It was just a very musical household, even though I was really the only one that played or could hold a tune in my family," she says. "It was really where I felt most comfortable, anytime I was doing something creative." That's one reason why she recently launched the Creative Waves Foundation alongside her mom, a non-profit that supports children in the arts. "I was a horrible student, so I am very grateful that this worked out because I can't imagine what else I'd be doing really. I wasn't any good at anything else."

"Worked out" is one way to put it. Tamposi is now a Grammy-nominated songwriter, having written for the likes of Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Cardi B., and others. And it all started when a song she originally wrote for herself landed in Beyoncé's hands. "['Save the Hero'] was the first song I wrote that got everyone excited," she remembers. "Beyoncé heard it and fell in love with it, so that was the beginning and end of my artist career. But it was the beginning of my songwriting career."

Below, Tamposi takes us through some of her biggest hits.

Credit: Nick Tamposi

"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," by Kelly Clarkson

That song was written in Long Beach with David Gamson and Jorgen Elofsson. I had been living in L.A. for about a year and I was going through a breakup, and that song was really cathartic for me. That one took about seven months to really get into Kelly Clarkson's hands. But after we had written the song and the demo was made, I knew this was a big song. It just felt like it had that power. That was like my first real cathartic songwriting experience, where I had to get that out. I was in a lot of pain. I really didn't know what my life was going to look like going through the breakup and being across the country from my friends and family. It was a lonely time for me, for sure. That whole time period when that song was released was one of the most exciting times of my life, because it felt like I could really claim the professional songwriter title.

"Havana," by Camila Cabello

We had been writing with Camila, and it was the first sessions that we had with her for her solo album. Camila talked about wanting to write it because she's Cuban. And so she wanted to reference her heritage. "Havana" came together in the final hour. Frank Dukes had played us a piano loop on the first day and nothing was really clicking. So we had written a few ideas, but nothing that felt like we had a home run. And then on that third day, we pulled at that piano loop and those melodies just sort of flowed out. It felt like too easy, as if we had heard that song before or something. Those songs are rare. It just kind of flowed out of us.

"Youngblood," by 5 Seconds of Summer

That was the second or third time we had written with 5 Seconds of Summer.We all got together and I can't remember who started playing the chords, but we were broken up into different groups and some of us were working on music, some of us were working on melodies. That was a real organic, just acoustic guitar song. We just bounced around melodies for a while. It was a really quick session. I remember driving away really excited about the record. That was a really fun two days writing that song.

"Midnight Sky," by Miley Cyrus

We started working with Miley a few months before the pandemic, and we wrote the record like three weeks before it came out. We had all gotten together through socially distanced writing sessions. It wasn't a seamless session where we're all together in one place. But Miley's such a great songwriter and she has a clear vision of what she wants across the board, conceptually, melodically, sonically, and visually. It makes it really easy when you're working with an artist who has great instincts, and she moves really fast when it comes to writing songs and getting them across the finish line. Within like a day or two she had the whole music video mapped out. Her work ethic is unlike anything I've ever experienced. And while maintaining this ability to be super down-to-earth and present. I grew up on classic rock, and so you could feel the classic rock references in the song.

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