Hitmakers: Kid Harpoon on Miley Cyrus' Flowers

Hitmakers: Kid Harpoon on Miley Cyrus' Flowers

Miley Cyrus won the International Song Of The Year award for Flowers at the BRITs.

She made history with the million-selling Flowers, as it became the first solo song by a female act to spend its first 10 weeks at No.1. Here, co-producer Kid Harpoon – who spent 10 weeks at the top as part of Harry Styles’ As It Was last year – reveals how a piano ballad became the top-selling single of 2023... 

"I had always wanted to work with Miley because I just love her. Then we met and I was like, ‘Now I want to more than ever, because she’s one of my favourite people in the world.’ 

At first I thought, ‘Well, you’re never gonna beat Wrecking Ball...’ I mean, my son falls asleep to that song, he loves Miley! But now it’s like, ‘Oh... We’ve done Flowers, that’s great.’ It feels like you’re bonded for life over a song that has that kind of success.

Miley is my favourite female singer, her voice just hits you, gives you chills. It’s such an incredible voice to record. She’s very like Florence [Welch], she’s so dynamic in the way she can rip the mic apart and then go super quiet. As we cut the record I was like, ‘Man, you’re in the presence of greatness.’ It just felt like magic. 

We were in my studio in Laurel Canyon and I remember feeling really inspired that we were making something super indie. I was listening to The Motels, Gina X, women that were really strong punk icons. We don’t have a ton of those and Miley is intrinsically that, she has swagger without having to scream. We’d talk a lot about fashion and Miley would say, ‘This sounds good, but I need more sequins on it!’ 

Miley had written Flowers on the piano and it was kind of ballad-y, so it was just figuring out how to present it, adding music to make it great. I don’t know if I agree with the idea that songs have to sound good on acoustic guitar or piano, but the problem is, when you write a song that way, it can be hard to take it away from there. But with Flowers, tilting it towards being an empowering song as opposed to a ballad, we got there.

Miley can rip the mic apart and then go super quiet, you’re in the presence of greatness with her. Cutting the record felt like magic

Kid Harpoon

One night, I jumped on bass and did a cocktail lounge-type thing and Miley sang it into a mic. Although that vibe sounds kind of cheesy, if you do it in the right way, it could be in a Tarantino or David Lynch movie. So I came up with the bassline, then we put some drums in and it started to take on this disco vibe; it has it all in there, even cow bells. There was a moment where we considered taking them out and making it really polished, but we didn’t because they added the cocktail lounge thing. 

We then worked on some strings with Rob Moose and it came together. The mixing was a big part of it, the backing vocals weren’t loud enough. Ron [Perry, CEO and chairman, Columbia] said we should focus on that, so we did and the mix changed everything. Spike Stent mixed it and did an incredible job. 

The way Miley works, which is quite obvious from just watching her, she’s very emotional and in the moment, so her lyrics come quite quickly. Then the battle is presenting something heartfelt
in a way that also represents what she wants to do creatively.

Lyrically, Flowers could feel sad, but to me Miley is one of the most empowering artists and you want to lean into that. We talked about the lyrics in terms of, ‘This isn’t me being weak, oh poor me.’ It’s like, ‘No, I buy my own fucking flowers, I can hold my own hand!’ Miley used to say in the studio, ‘I don’t need you, bitch!’ 

We worked on Flowers the whole time we were making the album, it had to fit into the same world as songs like Rose Colored Lenses, which felt like a real touchstone for the record and is kind of a weird, psychedelic, five-minute jam with a saxophone solo at the end. You’re aware that you’re making something that could
be a commercial part of the record, but it was about not thinking about it in those terms. With someone like Miley who is so free, that’s the most constricting way of thinking about it.

You never quite know if something’s going to be a lead single until it’s done, but once it was we were like, ‘Man, this feels really good!’ I think we did a great job on the production, but there are a lot of other stars that have to line up for a song to go that well, and Miley has spent her career building them. Even doing records that haven’t done as well commercially but have generated her a lot of goodwill in the music community. She could have easily just had people writing hits for her and just been churning them out for years. And she’s taken detours and done wild things and people go, ‘Yeah, good on you, it’s what you should do, go for it.’ 

Flowers was a time for everyone to go, ‘Fuck yeah, Miley!’ I’m so happy for her, she deserves it. The best thing about her is that she’s the same person she would be, doing the same thing, with or without Flowers’ success. I’ve seen her recently and I don’t get the impression that she feels there’s nothing to chase [now]. It has given her confidence to follow her instincts wherever it takes her next. 

Flowers just kept going. It was so surreal, it felt like we were just coming off the As It Was cycle. People break streaming records all the time, so it’s a bit hard to work out what an actual record is now, but the bottom line is that it’s connecting. But this was nuts, there was a Flowers party that I couldn’t go to because I got Covid, which was a bummer, and that was only after it had been No.1 for a week! 

It’s funny, there are so many things that have to line up that go beyond the music itself. It’s like lightning in a bottle.

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