After more than 30 years as a DJ/producer, David Guetta knows the secret to success within dance music.
"What made me famous is to have songs that could be timeless and crossover into the pop world, but are still being played by all the DJs," the French producer says. "It's always a big challenge to do a dance record that every DJ would play, but at the same time would touch the emotions enough so that people that are not in clubs or in festivals would be touched by it. It's that duality that I have to fight every time."
With 14 No. 1 dance hits and two GRAMMYs to his name now — as well as two more nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs — Guetta flashes a coy smile and says, "I think I've found a few tricks to make it work."
Guetta is one of the inaugural nominees in the new Best Pop Dance Recording Category. He has not one, but two songs in Category: his latest collab with Bebe Rexha, "One In A Million," and his Haddaway-sampling hit with Anne-Marie and Coi Leray, "Baby Don't Hurt Me."
As the only artist with two nominations in the Category, Guetta's latest GRAMMY nods further solidify his legacy as one of dance music's biggest crossover acts. While he's been making a name for himself since getting his start on the Parisian underground, Guetta broke through to the mainstream U.S. market with his serendipitous collab with Kelly Rowland, "When Love Takes Over," in 2009.
Since then, he's made countless hits for himself and others. He's the in-demand producer behind the Black Eyed Peas' 2009 smash "I Gotta Feeling" who could get Nicki Minaj to sing ("Turn Me On") and Sia to step into the spotlight ("Titanium"), all the while helping to build new talent, such as his frequent collaborator (and current co-nominee) Rexha.
His latest single is with another pop princess, Kim Petras, a fast-paced dance floor collab titled "When We Were Young" that samples Supertramp's "The Logical Song." Just after making tour stops in South America, Guetta sat down with GRAMMY.com to share the stories behind some of his biggest hits, from his crossover breakthrough with Kelly Rowland to his latest GRAMMY-nominated collab with Bebe Rexha.
"When Love Takes Over" feat. Kelly Rowland (2009)
Kelly Rowland, I have to give an homage to her because she is the first pop artist that came to me. She was in a club in Cannes where I was playing. All the records I did before that were with this incredible vocalist, Chris Willis. I had some very big dance records, like "Love is Gone" for example. That was really massive in our culture, but I never worked with a big famous pop artist.
So, I'm in Cannes DJing, and I play the instrumental of "When Love Takes Over," and Kelly comes to the DJ booth and asks me, "What is this record?" I said, "It's just a beat I made," and she said, "I really like it. Can I try to write something on it?"
Crazy, right? I have so much respect for her. I'm grateful to her for life because to go to a DJ that you don't even know, hear a beat and spot that it is a hit? That's big!
We did this collab, and the record went to No. 1 in the U.K. and charted in 30 countries or something crazy, and this was the first step for me into a big crossover. Right after that, I had "Sexy B—" with Akon, and that was massive and very influential. One of the most influential records I've made, I think.
"Sexy B—" feat. Akon (2009)
I'm in the U.K. at BBC One radio performing "When Love Takes Over" with Kelly Rowland. Akon is performing after me, and he says "Ah, it's you! You also did 'Love is Gone.' I love those records. Let's do something," so I booked at Metropolis in London that same night. I bring him to the studio, and we did "Sexy B—" that night.
In this industry, it's a lot about "You're only as good as your last hit," so many people basically look at the top 10 say, "Okay, let's work with this guy because it's current." I was never too much like that. I'm just looking for talent, really, and the accidents of life. Because if you look at all my biggest hits, they happen by accident.
Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" (2009)
Dance music is not usually the main leading genre. You have more pop or hip-hop, some moments it was rock, but dance was always more niche. At the same time, it has a huge influence on pop. I've seen an interesting phenomenon, though: Every time there's a major crisis and people are really stressed and suffering, dance music rises.
At the end of the 2008 financial crisis that was so tough on people, I produced "I Gotta Feeling" for Black Eyed Peas, and it was like a revolution at this time. Everyone was like, "What is this?" and then from one day to the other, every radio was playing dance music all day.
Now, we're in the second time. We've just gotten out of COVID, we have the war in Ukraine and Russia. "I Gotta Feeling" was such a happy song, which is not what I do usually, and again, now, "I'm Good (Blue)" is having the same type of moment. I think dance music has the power to help people forget everything, just live in the moment and feel good.
"Memories" feat. Kid Cudi (2010)
"Memories" with Kid Cudi is also funny to see how everything is connected — because in the case of "Memories," I'm shooting the video of "I Got A Feeling" with Black Eyed Peas. One of the cameos of the video is Kid Cudi, and I'm also a cameo in the video. I was like, "Oh wow, you're Kid Cudi? I love your work! We should do something together," and boom. We book the studio the day after, and we have "Memories.
"Titanium" feat. Sia (2011)
Titanium was a similar situation. Sia was a very cool and very respected artist, but she was not a big pop artist. Funnily enough, at the time, she decided to stop being an artist and just be a songwriter.
We were working together as a producer and a songwriter for another artist, but when I heard her voice on that record, I was like, "It's impossible. No one is going to be able to sing like this." I literally begged her to stay on the record, and she was like, "Look, I'll do it, but I don't want to do any interviews. I don't want to do a video. I don't want to do tours. I don't want to do any of it." I'm like, "Okay, no problem. Just give me your voice."
After it was released, she became a huge artist. I remember being in the studio with her after "Titanium," and she would receive messages from Rihanna and Beyoncé fighting for her songs. It was really crazy, really incredible. She became one of the most respected artists on the planet.
"Hey Mama" feat. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha & Afrojack (2015)
I have a long history with Bebe, and we started to work together with "Hey Mama." It's a funny story because I had the sample, and I had Nicki's rap, and I felt the sample was my chorus. It took me two years to understand that the sample needed to be the post, and I needed a real chorus. Imagine spending two years on a record. I was going crazy!*
I knew it was a hit, but it was not totally there. I realized I needed to push the chorus back, make it a post and play some chords.
When you are in the studio, there's studio A, B, C and D — and the door of Studio D was open. I heard this crazy voice, and I come in the door like, "Wow, who's singing?" That was Bebe! She was not an artist yet, but a songwriter. She was writing with a friend of mine and asked, "Can you guys try something on this hook that makes me suffer so much?" In 15 minutes, they wrote the hook. It was insane.
In the middle of the record being released, she asked to feature on the record because she wanted to start an artist career of her own. We changed the credit, then she became a big artist.
"I'm Good (Blue)" with Bebe Rexha (2022)
Funnily enough, we made this song four years before the release. I was living in London at the time, and Bebe texted me, "I'm going to be in London. Do you want to do something?"
We were writing in the studio, and just for the vibe, we tried that idea. Honestly, I don't use many samples — maybe only three records in my career — but I was like, "Imagine bringing back that happy vibe, it would be so much fun, and those chords are so good."
So we did it, and honestly, no one believed in it. Still, as a DJ, I try to only play my own productions, so I made a festival version with that exact hook, and I played it at a festival. A few years later, someone sampled it, used it on TikTok, and it was a huge hit. Bebe texted me like, "Do you know what's happening on TikTok?"
She showed me and she's like, "You got maximum two weeks to finish the record." So I finished the record!
Two days before it was released, I played it at a festival in the U.K., and everyone was singing all the words. I could not believe it. The record was not out! Usually it's a struggle to build a record, sending it to DJs and to have the support of radio and streaming platforms. Now, it was already a hit before it was out. That's crazy!
"Baby Don't Hurt Me" with Anne-Marie and Coi Leray (2023)
I did this as a follow-up to "I'm Good (Blue)," digging in the classic dance music records from the '90s and 2000s. To be completely honest, I come from house music, and at that time, I would not play Euro dance records. I would be like, "Oh, this is so cheesy." But with life experience, you learn to respect the melodies. I look at it in a very different way, because I'm probably less snobbish with age.
I think a lot of producers are obsessed with technicalities and get caught on "Oh, I found this special way of side-chaining reverb and panning it." At the end of the day, if you have a melody, you can go up against the best-sounding record in the world and always win.
Those huge Euro records from that time had massive melodies, and "What is Love?" That record is insane! A lot of my ideas for songs come from my DJ sets, and I was playing a mashup of "What Is Love?" and I could see everyone was screaming as much as when I play "Titanium" or those massive records.
At the same time, Max Lousada, who's the head of Warner Music Group, hooked me up with Ed Sheeran. He also loved "I'm Good." I have this crazy video of him jumping on stage with me when I'm playing it and going absolutely crazy. I was so honored because this guy is such a genius. Ed was like, "Let's have fun," and then we wrote a few songs. I have a few weapons to put out in the year to come, and one of the songs was "Baby Don't Hurt Me." He wrote the verses.
Anne-Marie is my friend, and she is very good friends with Ed Sheeran. We'd been talking about making a record, the three of us, so I called her. She's one of the most fun people I know, and most down to Earth. So easy to work with, so I had two verses from her.
Then one day, another crazy accident! I made a remix for Coi Leray of the song "Players" — I was in L.A., and I felt it was cooler to play it for her in the studio where she was recording her album. So I go to the studio and play the remix, and she goes absolutely crazy. She jumps on the table and starts to dance. It was such a vibe, so positive.
She's like, "David, why don't you stay with us? We have two more days to finish the album." I'm like, "Of course," and there I am making hip-hop beats. We did a few records, one of them being "Make My Day" with a sample of "Pump the Jam" for her album. And we did another one with a sample of James Brown called "Man's World." I really love that record.
So I produce those two records with Coi, and I'm like, "Can we do a swap? Can you do a verse on my record?" And that's how she did "Don't Hurt Me." If I had asked the record company, it probably would never have happened. You need to give to receive.
I didn't go to the studio thinking I'm gonna ask her that. I just did it because I thought she was amazing and I was super happy to help her with the album. I'm sure she's going to be a massive artist, and she jumped on my record.
"One In A Million" with Bebe Rexha (2023)
[Bebe and I] have this special relationship together. I think she's extremely talented. The job I respect the most in our industry is songwriting, and she's a great songwriter. She can sing, but she can write too. That is a different level of looking up to [someone].
"One in a Million" is a little more my traditional style, with a piano arpeggio and a beautiful song. I loved the record from the first second. It has a little bit of a Coldplay vibe that I really love. A lot of people say it feels a little bit like what I did with Kelly Rowland with "When Love Takes Over." It's not the same chords, but it's a feeling, let's say.
I'm hoping for the best [at the GRAMMYs]. It would be amazing if we could win, for me but also for her. I really want her to win, because I think she's so talented. She deserves the win.
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