Right now, even if you haven’t heard it yet, Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey’s “The Middle” is barreling toward becoming the next song that will never leave your head. It doesn’t matter if it burrows its way inside your ear canal as the result of you listening to it on purpose or as the byproduct of simply existing in the world—the song, which has sat at the top of Billboard’s pop charts since the week of April 7th, is out to devour the summer of 2018.
This did not happen by accident.
Variety’s Shirley Halperin followed the long journey of “The Middle”’s road to number one, detailing how a glossily produced, tear-soaked ode to relationship troubles, written more than a year ago, was eventually released in its current form. It’s a fascinating look at how the sausage gets made in contemporary music. Halperin reports the origins of the song, describing how its chorus was formed in a 45-minute session at a writing camp back in January 2017 and its demo version completed a few months later. Then, she follows the long, long process of refining its structure and shopping it around to various singers.
The list of those who lent vocals to the song is long and includes a who’s who of modern pop stars, ranging from Demi Lovato (who recorded it as a possible single, but ditched it for last summer’s “Sorry Not Sorry”) to Camila Cabello (who recorded and axed it to leave room for her single “Havana” to shine). Over the following year, “The Middle” was picked up, sung, and had these various versions dropped by many others, including Carly Rae Jepsen, Anne-Marie, Tove Lo, and Bebe Rexha.
Charli XCX, because everyone in modern pop apparently has a history with the song, even told Twitter why she ended up passing on it:
Eventually, producers heard a demo sung by Maren Morris and the rest fell into place in time for a very romantic debut earlier this year: a Target-sponsored performance at the 2018 Grammys. (Don’t knock it, everyone needs a patron.) The rest, you can remind yourself as you go on to hear the song for the 100,000th time this summer, is the happy result of history. Just over three minutes long and deceptively simple in scope, “The Middle” traveled a long, difficult path to become something that annoys the hell out of you.
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