It’s not every day that you get shouted out to 22 million followers on Céline Dion’s Facebook page, but that’s exactly what happened to longtime professional songwriter Liz Rodrigues.
“So wonderful to meet up with the very talented Liz Rodrigues at my show last Saturday. She co-wrote ‘Courage’, ‘Flying on My Own’ and several others for me. Thank you, Liz. – Céline xx…,” read the May 27 post accompanying a photo of the two of them.
Rodrigues has six songs, co-written with various collaborators, on Dion’s new album, Courage — the aforementioned two, plus “Say Yes,” “Nobody’s Watching,” “How Did you Get Here,” and “The Chase.” She landed her first Dion placement, “There Comes A Time,” in 2008, on My Love: The Essential Collection, and has met the Canadian superstar several times “very briefly” at her shows, but hasn’t yet had the courage, if you will, to have a full conversation.
Referencing their Las Vegas meeting shortly before Dion ended her 16-year residency at Caesar’s Palace, Rodrigues – a self-described “obsessed fan” since 1990’s Unison, Dion’s ninth career album, and first sung in English – says, “I promised myself I wouldn’t fall apart. I had all these things to say, and as soon as she said ‘hello’ and she took my hand, and said some beautiful things to me, I was just like [talks gibberish]. I don’t even know what I said. I was kind of speechless,” she laughs.
As a kid, the Toronto-born top-liner tried to hit “every single note” of Dion’s. Her earliest experiences singing live were in the Portuguese community, mainly covering Dion’s songs. She was similarly inspired by the “very emotional, big vocal” style of Portuguese fado singer Amália Rodrigues, and performed her songs too. “I’ve always been really drawn to, and want to write like, that,” Rodrigues says.
But just two years after placing “There Comes A Time” with Dion, Rodrigues scored three hip-hop songs on Eminem’s 2010, Grammy-winning, No. 1 Billboard album, Recovery — “Won’t Back Down,” “25 To Life,” and “Almost Famous,” contributing vocals to the latter two. All were co-written with fellow Canadians Erik Alcock and Chin Injeti, and L.A.’s DJ Khalil, with all of whom she had a band, The New Royales.
“You can write really heartfelt emotional tunes for someone like Céline, and the way she interprets them is incredible.”
While she half- jokes that she’s always up for writing a Dion ballad, she says it isn’t any more difficult or different a process to write for Eminem. “It’s really not,” says Rodrigues, who draws more on emotion for ballad-writing, and on story-based narratives for hip-hop. “I think we’re all more than one kind of person, one style of person,” she says. “We all have different experiences at different times of our lives.”
This approach and versatility has enabled the Universal Music Publishing Group signee to co-write songs for everyone from P!nk to Pitbull, and many more for Eminem over the past decade – most recently, her Alcock-Injeti-Khalil collaboration “Castle,” which she also sang on, for the rapper’s 2017 album Revival.
But songs for Dion are most often flowing through her creative bloodstream. That first one, her big break, “There Comes A Time,” came when she was pursuing her own career as an artist. Canadian icon Dan Hill introduced her to Swedish songwriter Jörgen Elofsson (Westlife, Britney Spears), who already had a co-write on Il Divo and Dion’s “I Believe in You.” Hill himself had co-written and co-produced 1996’s “Seduces Me” on her 32 million-selling album, Falling Into You.
“Even though I was searching for who I was as an artist at the time, I always loved to write,” says Rodrigues. “I’d been out to Stockholm a few times, and when we knew Céline was looking for songs, we were writing for her. You can write really heartfelt emotional tunes for someone like Céline, and the way she interprets them is incredible. That’s why she’s able to reach people the way that she does.”
Anyone familiar with Dion and the extraordinary loss she went through in 2016 – with her manager husband René Angélil, and brother Daniel passing away, only days apart – can hear how the lyrics in several of the six songs Rodrigues co-wrote could apply so personally to the singer.
“Courage” – which Rodrigues co-wrote with another Canadian, Stephan Moccio, and Alcock – begins with these words:
I would be lying if I said “I’m fine” / I think of you at least a hundred times / ‘Cause in the echo of my voice I hear your words / Just like you’re there/ I still come home from a long day /So much to talk about, so much to say / I love to think that we’re still making plans / In conversations that’ll never end/ Courage, don’t you dare fail me now / I need you to keep away the doubts / I’m staring in the face of something new…
“We wrote that 100 percent with Céline in mind,” says Rodrigues. “We sat in Stephan’s piano room with the lights dimmed, and really tried to give her something that she would want to say and connect to. It was a mission to dig really deep. We talked a lot about what somebody would need to hear to empower them.”
The same goes, she says, for “Flying On My Own” (a co-write with Elofsson and Anton “Hybrid” Mårtensson) and “Say Yes” (written with Elofsson years ago), two songs about being okay, single, and bravely getting back out there, the latter about wanting to experience love again but pushing it away. Similarly, “The Chase,” co-written with Torontonians Craig McConnell and Jessica Mitchell, is about letting your guard down.
“It’s really hard to see things from their perspective,” Rodrigues admits. “You can make assumptions, but then relate them to either other stories you know of, or things in your past, or things that you’re going through. Again, it was one of those really relatable concepts.”
“Nobody’s Watching,” on the other hand, another collab with Elofsson, is just an empowering slow groove that could’ve landed on an album by Camila Cabello. “That one was, for me too, left field,” she says. “I had no idea that that song would have been chosen. We were surprised. I’m glad that she got to have some fun with a song.”
Recently, Dion was in Toronto for the first of two shows at Scotiabank Arena. Rodrigues got a chance to hear “Courage” performed live in her hometown and meet Dion — again.
“I did see her for a quick meet-and-greet backstage, right before the show,” says Rodrigues. “We exchanged a quick thank you and hug. I didn’t fall apart this time. She was as graceful as ever.”