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We made ChatGPT write a song for us

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

When Pop Culture Happy Hour host Stephen Thompson watched the Oscars in March, he made a particularly barbed comment about a Diane Warren song that was nominated.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APPLAUSE")

SOFIA CARSON: (Singing) Recognize who you are. Sometimes...

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: There is no way this song would have been nominated if it hadn't been written by Diane Warren. She is beloved in Hollywood. She spends most of her time writing songs for movies. The Oscars love her for a reason. But this song is so generic. It could have been written by ChatGPT. If you watch the Oscars, time your snack break for when they perform it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APPLAUSE")

CARSON: (Singing) Give yourself some applause. You deserve it.

RASCOE: That is definitely a hot, hot take, coming in hot.

THOMPSON: I'm a rascal.

RASCOE: (Laughter) But that made us wonder, what would a song written by ChatGPT sound like? We invited Stephen to play around with the AI tool and see what happens. So welcome to the program, Stephen.

THOMPSON: It is a pleasure to be here for such a cruel purpose.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: And you actually asked ChatGPT, which is, like, this AI program that can do all this stuff, to write a song. And what did you get from that?

THOMPSON: Well, I just typed in the words, write a song in the style of Diane Warren, and I got a song that looks a lot like a Diane Warren song, but a little bit more of a ballad. Sample lyric - I'm staring out my window, thinking about the way we used to be. I remember how we laughed and loved. Every single moment was so sweet.

I think Diane Warren would come up with something a little more artful. Once you get into the chorus though - 'cause love don't come easy, and it sure don't last forever. But I'll keep holding on till we find our way together. Now if you put a little mustard on that, you can get yourself into a power ballad pretty easily.

RASCOE: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMPSON: (Singing) Love don't come easy.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: (Singing) And it sure don't last forever. But I'll keep holding - oh, I lost my key completely.

RASCOE: (Singing) Keep holding on...

THOMPSON: (Singing) Till we find our way together...

RASCOE: OK.

THOMPSON: Now, the important thing to note here is I have applied no actual talent to this.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: It is remarkable how passable some of these lyrics are, I think especially when you give it the guideline of write it in the style of a certain artist.

RASCOE: When you look at, like, Jay-Z or a Kendrick Lamar or a Beyonce, there is something that they bring. It's their experience. It's them being on the cusp of what's hot and new and fresh. And they're also able to, like, do new things that I feel like it's hard for AI to replicate.

THOMPSON: So this is what is called the uncanny valley.

RASCOE: It's the uncanny - yes.

THOMPSON: The uncanny valley - the difference between reality and the...

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

THOMPSON: ...Virtual world's ability to recreate reality.

RASCOE: Yes.

THOMPSON: That is what is still missing.

RASCOE: I don't feel like AI can really recreate a song like "H To The Izzo."

THOMPSON: Right.

RASCOE: Right? Because when Jay-Z said crack's in his palm, and he was watching the long arm of the law - right?

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RASCOE: AI has never lived that life.

THOMPSON: Right? Yeah.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: What - all they have to go on is what he has done in the past.

RASCOE: Yeah.

THOMPSON: And you're also touching on the difference between an artist who uses a lot of formulas...

RASCOE: Yes.

THOMPSON: ...And an artist who is constantly trying to say new things...

RASCOE: Trying to say new things. Yes.

THOMPSON: ...In new ways. And you mentioned Beyonce. You look at the songwriting credits on Beyonce's "Renaissance," and there's, like, 100 of them.

RASCOE: Yeah.

THOMPSON: And so you can't necessarily have a computer synthesize...

RASCOE: No.

THOMPSON: ...A hundred different artists together to kind of create that sound.

RASCOE: You did Diane Warren. You also asked them about writing a Beyonce song. What did that sound like?

THOMPSON: Imagine - do you know the song that Beyonce wrote for the movie "King Richard"?

RASCOE: Yes.

THOMPSON: It's called "Be Alive." And it is much more kind of a little bit closer to, I would say, generic uplift.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE ALIVE")

BEYONCE: (Singing) The path was never paved with gold - no.

THOMPSON: When I typed, write a song about defiance in the style of Beyonce, I got - well, I'll go right to the chorus.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMPSON: I'm a rebel, a fighter, a force to be reckoned with. I'm Beyonce, and I don't back down.

RASCOE: Mmm-mmm.

THOMPSON: Mmm-mmm.

RASCOE: Mmm-mmm.

THOMPSON: I'll keep on pushing, keep on climbing higher. I'm unstoppable, and I won't be silenced. First of all, does not rhyme.

RASCOE: Doesn't rhyme (laughter).

THOMPSON: Second of all, Beyonce occasionally refers to herself in the third person.

RASCOE: But not really.

THOMPSON: But not really.

RASCOE: Not really.

THOMPSON: Where ChatGPT is most applicable to this exercise is with artists who work within very, very contained formulas. And I think that's why I often keep going back to that criticism when music feels really generic. I think it's fair to say that this technology is going to be used for a lot of depressing purposes, and it may be replacing some of those songwriters. I think we can agree Beyonce has nothing to worry about. Diane Warren - we'll see.

RASCOE: That's Pop Culture Happy Hour host Stephen Thompson. Thank you so much, Stephen.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Do you think that they could do a Lin-Manuel?

THOMPSON: I mean, we can try.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THOMPSON: He escaped to freedom, but the fight wasn't done. He spoke out against slavery and won hearts one by one.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: That is bad. That is disrespectful. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)