By: Andrew Shibuya
Working quietly beside some of today’s most famous and talented musicians is producer Jack Antonoff. Though one likely knows the various critically acclaimed albums he has co-produced over the past five years with artists such as Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, and Lorde, he seems to have worked primarily in the shadows of these singer-songwriters.
Known for his sleek and polished pop, his signature 80s-style synths, and ornate instrumentation, Antonoff began his rise to prominence first as a member of the now defunct group fun., and later as one of the producers on Swift’s 1989 and Reputation. And while he is far from unknown by any means, it is only this past spring that Antonoff’s influence has seemed to be inescapable.
In the past six months alone, Antonoff has been credited as co-producer on some of the most celebrated and eagerly anticipated releases of the year, including Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over the Country Club, St. Vincent’s Daddy’s Home, Clairo’s forthcoming Sling, Lorde’s forthcoming LP, as well as on Swift’s last two LP’s, evermore and folklore. Given the prominence of the artists he works with, and the sheer amount of Antonoff’s work that is being released at present, one can only help but wonder if there are any implications to Antonoff’s extensive list of collaborators and his unmistakable influence over much of the contemporary pop scene.
This past week alone saw the release of both Lorde’s and Clairo’s first singles (“Solar Power” and “Blouse”, respectively) from their forthcoming records, with the two singer-songwriters even lending their vocals to each other’s tracks. And while the producer himself once stated that each record he produces has its own “sound world”, many fans have taken to social media to complain about what they deem to be Antonoff’s “copy-pasting” from record to record. Critics have pointed out some of the valid similitudes among some of Antonoff’s most recent works.
For example, many critics point to similarities between the key, tempo, and vocals of the refrain of St. Vincent’s track “… At the Holiday Party” from her latest work “Daddy’s Home” and the chorus of Lorde’s recent single “Solar Power”. Side by side, the sonic resemblance between the two is somewhat uncanny. Fans have even gone as far as to create mashups of the two songs, alongside pleas for Antonoff to take a break from working with so many artists at once.
Another instance of Antonoff’s so-called “copy-pasting” that fans have taken grief with is the use of identical instrumentation from tracks from Del Rey’s two most recent albums, both co-produced by Antonoff. The distinctive jingle bells of 2019’s “How to Disappear” are used almost identically as in the chorus of 2021’s “Wild at Heart”. Many fans were quick to express their dismay given the fact that several tracks from Chemtrails Over the Country Club were recorded during the sessions for Norman Fucking Rockwell! and “Wild at Heart.” For some fans, these tracks seemed to merely be leftovers from the first LP, leaving many lamenting that Antonoff must be too busy to be wholly novel with each work.
This is not to say, however, that Antonoff’s production has by any means become stale, nor that the producer is lacking versatility. Contrarily, his range is objectively remarkable. Take, for instance, his work with indie rock artist Annie Clark, who writes and performs as St. Vincent. From the glam rock and electro-pop sound of her 2017 LP MASSEDUCTION to the psychedelic and 70s-inspired Daddy’s Home alone, Antonoff, co-producing with Clark, proves himself to be adroit across a multitude of instruments and production styles.
And still, many fans of St. Vincent’s remarkable career over the past decade and a half consider Clark’s last two albums, both co-produced alongside Antonoff, to be among her worst. Critics often cite the sleek and polished production that Antonoff favors as the problem. This, of course, begs the question: are these artists responsible for the similarities in their work with their peers’, or could Antonoff be to blame?
Based on what the artists he works with have to say, the former might seem to be the answer. Swift, following the release of her 2020 LP folklore, wrote in a tweet about Antonoff: “Talking to Jack about life is one of my all time favorite hobbies. He’s always curious, always wondering how to keep learning and growing. He’s the best.” Del Rey, Lorde, and Clark have all likewise echoed this sentiment, similarly praising Antonoff’s willingness to listen and move in any direction musically.
So what is it about Antonoff that makes him so compelling to artists and somewhat divisive amongst fans? With every album and single that he produces comes an accompanying Instagram post alongside various platitudes praising the new work and artist. Just below rests humorous, and somewhat exasperated, comments from fans wondering when the producer has time to sleep.
With so many of his collaborators being women, many interviewers and fans have been curious as to why Antonoff tends to gravitate toward female singer-songwriters. In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Antonoff responded to the question regarding the majority of his production being for female artists, stating, “It’s never come up in my head outside of being interviewed.”
Fans, however, are constantly intrigued by Antonoff’s prodigious discography, especially the predominance of women singer-songwriters with whom he collaborates. Some in this online discourse criticize Antonoff’s dominance in pop production, given that in a recent report conducted by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, just 2.6 percent of all producers are women. These critics argue that these famous and talented artists should seek out women producers, as opposed to simply continuing to work with Antonoff.
Still, Antonoff remains one of the most in-demand producers who is sought out by some of the biggest names in music, most notably by prominent and talented female singer-songwriters. Is it because he’s simply the most talented? Or the most well-known? And, how much Antonoff is too much Antonoff? Though the answer to these questions may be unclear, his influence is undeniable–and now, almost inescapable. Behind the scenes of many of the greatest pop releases of 2021, and indeed the latter half of the past decade, was Antonoff working tirelessly.