Comedy Central’s The Other Two centers on an aspiring actor (Drew Tarver) and his sister Brooke (Heléne Yorke), a former professional dancer, who try to find their place in the world while wrestling with their feelings about their 13-year-old brother Chase’s (Case Walker) sudden rise to internet fame.
When seeking out who would be able to navigate the songwriting world of Chase Dreams, show creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider turned to Golden Globe nominee Brett ‘Leland’ McLaughlin (Boy Erased), the successful lyricist behind hits from the likes Troye Sivan, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande. He was the co-composer and executive producer of the soundtrack for Netflix’s Sierra Burgess is a Loser, and has been behind some of most memorable musical numbers from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
I got to sit down with McLaughlin (who is from Biloxi, Mississippi and uses the stage name Leland) to talk about creating the collaborative songwriting process for The Other Two and why the songs on the show aren’t jokes.
AW: You’re a hitmaker for some high profile artists. How did you come to work on the fictional pop songs for The Other Two?
BM: I had visited the Saturday Night Live set last January when Troye Sivan performed two songs that we’d written and that set is just such a magical place to be. I told my manager at the time, I said, ‘I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I would love to work with work with these people,’ just be in this environment. It wasn’t long after that I started working with UTA and the first meeting that came through was a meeting with Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider about The Other Two. I was so nervous and excited and the meeting went so well and I was already such big fans of them.
Thankfully we connected in the meeting and I felt like I had the skill set and experience to give them what they wanted. It was not long after that I found out that we were going to be working together.
AW: Was it a collaborative venture with Chris and Sarah on the songwriting?
BM: Thankfully, very, very collaborative. That’s what I wanted; I didn’t really want to just go out on my own and do my own thing. I really wanted to work with them and learn from them and they had incredible references and knew exactly what they wanted from the beginning. Coming from a schedule like SNL where you really don’t have much time, we were able to work really closely together and because we had so much more time; we were able to just go back and forth and perfected to where they felt they were super happy with it.
AW: How did you approach the songs differently than you would with a regular pop song for an established artists?
BM: The only difference was I would say I went to the extreme. With writing for established artists you try to find a nice balance, you try to be tasteful. With the songs for Chase I really just cranked it all the way to 100. They wanted an acoustic folky song so I went far into acoustic folk for “My Brother’s Gay” and basically would throw in any stereotypical thing, whether it’s the haze or post melody like ‘ahhs’ or any clap, any guitar sound. We just threw everything in and then figured out how to make it work for the song. But I really didn’t want to make the songs jokes. I wanted them to be perceived as real songs, a song that someone in a narrative would actually put out and let the comedy be in the lack of awareness from the artists and the people around him.
AW: On that note, did you ever see the songs as satire or parody or something else?
BM: I didn’t see them as parody because we wanted the believability, we wanted the viewer to say, okay, I understand the trajectory of this person’s career.
I believe, especially now, that he [Chase] is a real artist. That doesn’t mean you have to like the music. But with my contributions, I wanted to help paint the narrative that he’s a legitimate artist and that these songs are songs that professional songwriters would deliver or that a label would say, ‘we want you sounding like this. So here’s this song and we want you sounding like this artist.’ Chase, as of now, doesn’t really have an established sound. He’s going from sounding like Justin Bieber to sounding like One Republic to sounding like Charli XCX instead of having his own voice. So that was fun to play with.
AW: Somebody asked Diane Warren during press for A Star Is Born if the song that she wrote for Lady Gaga (“Why Did You Do That?”) was written to be intentionally bad and she was like, ‘No, it was written for what her character is supposed to be going through!’
BM: And that’s exactly right. As a songwriter, when you have time to be creative, to work within the parameters of a story, that allows a more concise method of writing because we’re working towards an end goal instead of just starting with a blank slate and just seeing what happens. We knew the objective and knew where the song needed to fit within the story.
So we weren’t trying to write bad songs, just trying to write good songs that lent themselves to being funny.
AW: Case Walker, who plays Chase Dreams is a singer and performer in his own right and has a huge social media following and there’s something very sincere and earnest about his character. What did you draw on to write for this 13-year old kid?
BM: You know, my first hit was a song called “Hide Away” by Daya and that was us writing a song for a 15-year old or a 16-year old girl. So I just went back to that mindset of trying to put myself in her shoes and for Case trying to put myself in his shoes and lyrically it was pretty much there with what Chris and Sarah wanted to say.
I enjoyed working within the limitations of his voice and, and giving him something that he would sound good on. Case as a person is not as cheesy as Chase is as a character so I know that that was all a part of acting, the script and the character and I really enjoyed working with him. I don’t really find myself writing for kids anymore because the artists that I’ve written for over the years have grown up and I’ve continued to work with them, so I’ve been able to evolve, but it’s always fun going back to where you started and writing a song for a 15-year old.
AW: Do you have a favorite song from this first season?
BM: I mean, I love “My Brother’s Gay” and I love all the different versions of it. Um, there’s something horrifying about Cary, played by Drew Tarver, going to the gay club and seeing his music video on the screen, and then hearing the Latin remix on the plane, hearing the gay club remix on the plane. I just had a lot of fun making those different remixes. The other moment I loved was, I’ve always dreamed of having a song performed at the VMAs. I grew up during that time when Britney Spears performed that iconic “Oops, I Did It Again” performance at the Video Music Awards. It was very fun to reimagine “Stink” for Chase with strings and to write string parts and write background vocal parts and to see it reimagined.
AW: Yeah, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t put “My Brother’s Gay” on repeat one day while cleaning the house for two hours.
BM: Oh my God.
AW: It was like all I listened to for the day. It hit in a very comic way, but also in such an emotional way that I was not expecting; to be able to be in an era where a song like this even exists.
BM: Absolutely. It’s that shock value of putting yourself out there; everyone’s journey to coming to terms with their sexuality is so unique. But with the character of Cary, he’s not at a place where he’s comfortable with his sexuality when the song comes out in the show. So it’s just so funny and jarring and very sweet and sincere as well.
AW: The show has been renewed for a second season. What do you think is potentially in store musically for the Dubeks?
BM: You know, I truly have no idea because it’s being written right now. All I know is that I am so happy to have gotten the call to continue working on season two. I’m just excited to write whatever they tell me they need me to write. I hope I get to write more songs for Chase, but also I’m open to writing songs for any of the characters in the show. I think really anything can happen so I’m very excited to see where it goes.
AW: I have to think that there’ll be a theme song for Pat’s show.
BM: I pray to God I get to write that theme song! I mean, Molly Shannon is one of my icons, not just comedically, but as an actress too. So I would love to be able to write the theme song for her show.
AW: I want to wish that into existence for you as well. Who should we be listening to right now? Who should we be completely aware of?
BM: Aww? I would say Troye Sivan; he’s one of my dearest friends and collaborators and we’ve made two albums together that I’m super proud of. Then there’s a new artist, Carlie Hanson who is just doing wonderful things and she just signed to Warner Records. She’s just wonderful and I’m executive producing her project with my good friend Dale Anthony. I listen to everyone from like Edith Piaf to Rufus Wainwright to pop girls out now. I’m also listening to this artist Leon, who I love so much. And I really love the new Vampire Weekend album.
AW: Well, I hope that more people watch the show and really get into it. I think summer is a great time for that.
BM: I hope so. Thank you so, so much for writing about it and talking with me. I really appreciate it.
AW: Of course! And it’s pride month, if you’re not watching The Other Two, what are you even doing?
Brett McLaughlin is eligible for The Other Two in the Outstanding Music and Lyrics and Outstanding Main Title Theme Music categories at the 2019 Emmys.