Dr. Luke: The Man Behind Pop's Biggest Hits Back in 1997, Lukasz Gottwald, better known as Dr. Luke, was making a living as the the lead guitarist for the prestigious Saturday Night Live house band. Today, at 36, the music producer is responsible for hits from artists including Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Pink and Kelly Clarkson.
NPR logo

Dr. Luke: The Man Behind Pop's Biggest Hits

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129956645/129985609" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Dr. Luke: The Man Behind Pop's Biggest Hits

Dr. Luke: The Man Behind Pop's Biggest Hits

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129956645/129985609" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


If youve listened to pop radio at all this summer or been in a mall, or at the amusement park or the grocery store, youve heard this song.

(Soundbite of song, "California Girls")

Ms. KATY PERRY (Singer): (Singing) ...California girls we're unforgettable. Daisy Dukes, Bikinis on top. Sun-kissed skin...

WERTHEIMER: Thats just one of the string of hits produced by 36-year-old Lukasz Gottwald, aka Dr. Luke. Dr. Luke is the man behind Britney's return to the ring.

(Soundbite of song, "Circus")

Ms. BRITNEY SPEARS: (Singing) All eyes on me in the center of the ring just like a circus.

WERTHEIMER: The phenomenal rise of Ke$ha.

(Soundbite of song, "Tick Top")

KE$HA (Singer): (Singing) Don't stop, make it pop. DJ, blow my speakers up. Tonight...

WERTHEIMER: And skater punk Avril Lavigne's anthem.

(Soundbite of song, "Girlfriend")

Ms. AVRIL LAVIGNE (Singer): (Singing) Hey. Hey, You. You, I dont like your girlfriend. No way. No way. I think you need a new one...

WERTHEIMER: Over the last five years, Dr. Luke has stormed the pop charts with over a dozen number one hits, making him one of pop's most bankable producers.

I sat down with the doctor to ask him about what he does.

Mr. LUKASZ GOTTWALD (Music Producer): Well, basically I feel like my role is to find great songs with the artists, for the artists, and have them shine in a way that a lot of people will hopefully like.

WERTHEIMER: To showcase the Katy Perry, the Ke$ha?

Mr. GOTTWALD: Yeah. Well, each artist has something special about them. And I try to find whats best in them and find a song that works with it. A lot of times, these artists have their own ideas and it's taking their ideas and sifting through them and finding what I think is going to work, and what we all think is going to work.

(Soundbite of song, "Since You've Been Gone")

Ms. KELLY CLARKSON (Singer): (Singing) Here's the thing. We started out friends. It was cool but it was all pretend. Yeah. Yeah, since you've been gone...

WERTHEIMER: You first big break as a songwriter and a producer was the song that you co-wrote for the former "American Idol" contestant Kelly Clarkson. Im sure many of our listeners will remember this.

(Soundbite of song, "Since You've Been Gone")

Ms. CLARKSON: (Singing) But since you've been gone, I can breathe for the first time. I'm so moving on, yeah. Yeah. Thanks to you, now I get what I want, since you've been gone.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Kelly Clarkson, it's a totally different kind of song from anything that we heard on "American Idol." How were you thinking about Kelly Clarkson and that song?

Mr. GOTTWALD: I wasnt...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOTTWALD: ...when we first wrote it because we didnt write it for her. But I think there might been a little bit of a happy accident there. Something about the song in general has a sort of indy guitar kind of feel that wasnt what you'd expect from her. Whats different about it is I think whats good about it and one of the reasons why it worked, it was a surprise.

WERTHEIMER: But it's a breakup song. It's angry. You know, it's like not the persona of Kelly Clarkson that we thought we knew.

Mr. GOTTWALD: Im sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOTTWALD: I apologize.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Who Knew")

PINK (Singer): (Singing) You took my hand. You showed me how. You promised me youd be around. Uh-huh. Thats right...

WERTHEIMER: The notion of who writes the song used to be, it seems to me, a very big deal. I mean for those of us who think back to Bruce Springsteen, for example, it doesnt seem to be quite so important now.

Mr. GOTTWALD: I think that changes through time because prior to Bruce Springsteen, I don't think Elvis wrote a lot of his songs. I dont think during Motown, a lot of those artists wrote a lot of their songs. So I think that that changes, and also changes depending on what kind of music genre you're talking about.

And you do have artists right now, who write a lot for themselves, too. Like Katy Perry co-wrote every song on her record.

WERTHEIMER: Let's try another track. This is "Party in the USA." It's Mylie Cyrus.

(Soundbite of song, "Party in the USA")

Ms. MYLIE CYRUS (Singer): (Singing) I hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan. Welcome to the land of fame, excess. Whoa, am I gotta fit in? Jumped in the cab, here I am for the first time. Look to my right and I see the Hollywood sign. This is all so crazy, everybody seems so famous...

WERTHEIMER: You work with a lot of young women and this song, like many of yours, is sung from a young woman's perspective. How do you get into the head of a very young woman like that?

Mr. GOTTWALD: Well, this actually written, not for Mylie Cyrus. Originally it was written from an English artist's perspective, and an adult English artist. When I say adult, I mean like 22.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Right, yeah.

Mr. GOTTWALD: And I guess Mylie heard it and everyone liked it. And so we ended up recording it for her and changing a couple of lyrics. She says: Welcome to the land of fame excess. But originally it was: Welcome to the land of fame and sex.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. GOTTWALD: So she couldnt say that so we had to change a couple of lyrics.

(Soundbite of song, "Party in the USA")

Ms. CYRUS: (Singing) So I put my hands up, they're playing my song. The butterflies fly away. I'm nodding my head like yeah. Moving my hips like yeah...

WERTHEIMER: Do you like working, do you prefer working with these young women.

Mr. GOTTWALD: You know, it's interesting, I get asked that a lot. Basically, if you look at the charts there's not a lot of male artists that are out. And for whatever reason, female artists sell a lot more records and get played a lot more on the radio.

(Soundbite of song, "I Kissed a Girl")

Ms. PERRY: (Singing) This was never the way I planned, not my intention...

WERTHEIMER: Do you think radio is important, still?

Mr. GOTTWALD: Yeah, I think when you look at the audience impressions of some of the biggest pop songs, you're talking about, you know, over 140 million people are exposed to a song in a week. It's hard for an artist to even go out on tour and sell seats if they dont have a big radio hit. So radio, in some ways, drives these artists' careers.

(Soundbite of song, "I Kissed a Girl")

Ms. PERRY: (Singing) I kissed a girl and I liked it, the taste of her cherry ChapStick. I kissed a girl and I liked it. I liked...

(Soundbite of song, "I Came To Dance")

Mr. TAIO CRUZ (Singer): (Singing) I came to dance, dance, dance, dance. I hit the floor...

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that artists that you work with have some kind of an expectation when they come to you, that you can make a hit for them?

Mr. GOTTWALD: May be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOTTWALD: Yeah, and I mean I always want to make sure that I do a good job for myself anyway. You know, if I'm not happy with something and I don't feel like its right, I won't really put it out.

WERTHEIMER: Thats a lot of pressure.

Mr. GOTTWALD: Tell me about it.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much for doing this.

Mr. GOTTWALD: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Luke, he produces hits.

(Soundbite of song, "Dynamite")

Mr. CRUZ: I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, saying ayo. Got to let go...

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Linda Wertheimer.


And Im Steve Inskeep.

(Soundbite of song, "Dynamite")

Mr. CRUZ: (Singing) Saying ayo, baby let go cause we going to rock this club. We going to go all night. We going to light this up like it's dynamite...

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.