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This "Pitch Perfect 2" Star Has Written Big Hits For Katy Perry And Rihanna

Ester Dean has written songs for the world's biggest pop stars. BuzzFeed News chats with the singer/songwriter/actor about how some of those songs came together.

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Even if you don't think you've heard an Ester Dean song, you probably have.

These days the singer-songwriter is starting to make a name for herself as an actress — she reprises her role as Cynthia-Rose Adams, a member of a capella group The Barden Bellas in Pitch Perfect 2, which opens May 15 — but for years, the 29-year-old has been penning hits for some of the world's biggest music stars. BuzzFeed News chatted with Dean to get the stories behind some of her favorite tracks.

1. "Rude Boy," by Rihanna (2009)

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Rihanna’s hit song from her fourth studio album, Rated R, teased about giving her all to an aggressive man. The track peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and stayed there for five weeks, making it the sixth such hit for the artist.

“This was a dubstep reggae song, you know? I remember asking Ri, I said, ‘What do they call bad boys where you’re from?’ And, she said, ‘We call them rude boys.’ I was like, oh, shit! And she started dancing. That movement. I just wrote to her rhythm and her moves.”

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2. “Super Bass,” by Nicki Minaj (2010)

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Dean co-wrote the electronic-inspired track from Minaj's debut album, Pink Friday, with collaborators Roahn Hylton and Kane Beatz, and it peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard charts.

“She called me down in the middle of the night. It was the first time going into the studio with Nicki. I got in the booth, she got in the booth, and I didn’t really know what was going to happen. With Nicki, I never know what is actually going to make it. It was only going to be on the deluxe album, but then it hit the radio station. That got Nicki to understand how good this song is. The radio response opened her eyes!"

3. “Firework” by Katy Perry (2010)

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This self-empowerment track was the third single from Perry's Teenage Dream album. Dean co-wrote it with Perry and producers StarGate and Sandy Vee. The single has sold nearly 7 million copies in the States alone, making it Perry's highest-selling single.

"'Firework' was something that [Perry] wanted to do anyway. She already had the concept," Dean said. "She knew what she wanted. I was there to just write with her. Sometimes I have to start the songs. I have to come up with melodies, words. That was a true co-write. We got together, we sat there. It was just one of those things — StarGate was there and we just created this song. I remember everybody came in and said, 'This is a massive hit!' And I’m like, Really?! I'm not going to be that person that's going to be like, Oh my God! I never know what's going to really pop off. But everybody was so excited about it."

4. “What’s My Name,” by Rihanna (2010)

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The second single from Rihanna's Loud album dealt with the pop princess singing brazenly about sex. The mid-tempo track featured a rap verse by Drake, and the track was produced by Norwegian duo StarGate.

"I remember being in the studio and the way that I start a song, I always use some kind of sound. I went, 'Oh nana, oh nana,' and they were like, That's it! I was like, What's it?! And they said, 'Oh nana! That's it.' We literally created a song around the 'oh nana'!"

5. “Hot Tottie,” by Usher (feat. Jay Z) (2010)

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This Usher track was a top 10 hit on the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart — and it was a certified club banger. Dean's vocals can be heard on the single, which also featured a rap verse by Jay Z.

"I was in Vegas, and let me tell you something, there were so many people in there! It was just a collaboration with everybody," Dean said of the track, which was produced by Polow da Don, an Atlanta-based go-to producer.

6. “Turn Me On” by David Guetta (feat. Nicki Minaj) (2010)

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Dean jokes that this song she wrote for the French DJ didn't get as much radio play as it should have, but it is Guetta's highest-peaking single in the United States (tied with "Without You," which also topped out at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100).

"I said, 'David, can I do my thing now? Can I write like I write?' With songwriting, you come in and you write for somebody else's stuff, you don’t get to express yourself," she said, adding that he vacated the studio to let her get to it. "He was like, can you handle that this song is going to be a hit?!"

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7. “You Da One” by Rihanna (2011)

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When Dean penned this mid-tempo track, she intended to give it to a different singer. But once her friend Rihanna heard it, she wanted it. The song appeared on her Talk That Talk album, and it peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Hot Dance Club Songs.

"Oh my god. I wrote that song for somebody else and [Rihanna] was like, 'You are giving me this song, honey!' She loved it. And I’m like, whatever Ri wants, I give it to her anyway," Dean said. "Once she wanted it, nobody else mattered. She's very ... she's a moody singer, you know? She sets the tone to everything she do. So if she wants the song, it's because it moves her. It's in her spirit."

8. “(Drop Dead) Beautiful,” by Britney Spears (feat. Sabi) (2011)

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This song from Britney Spears was never released as a single, but critically it's regarded as one of the best things about her Femme Fatale album.

"I love that song, but I did that song for Chris Brown! We wrote it together," Dean revealed. "I think it was too girly [for him]. I did most of the writing, and he came and did some other stuff and tried to see if it felt good for him. You always have to get permission to be able to send it off after [an artist] decides that it's not for them, and he let me know. I was told Britney loved it. And who doesn’t want Britney Spears to sing a song? It's Britney!"

9. “Love and War,” by Rita Ora (feat. J. Cole) (2012)

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The track was featured on Ora's debut album, titled Ora, and that project did quite well for the British singer, hitting No. 1 on the U.K. Albums Chart. Dean is hoping to work with Ora again, and said she would love to give her a big hit in the near future.

"That's the song that ... Rita just cried. I love her. I just love that little thing! She’s just the sweetest. God, she’s so good. Good people. She reminds me of Rihanna. She knows what she wants. There are a lot of artists who don't," Dean said.

10. “Come & Get It,” by Selena Gomez (2013)

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Dean mentions that she was impressed with Gomez, who communicated with the songwriter that she was ready for a more mature sound.

"I wouldn’t have given 'Come & Get It' to Selena, because, at the end of the day, I would have felt wrong for doing it. She and Disney parted ways, you know? Respect Disney," Dean said, adding that she was shocked the singer heard and later requested the provocative track. "It's about sex. It's very spiritual, and I like to have fun with playing on words and thinking about things. I don’t like to blatantly say it. That makes me mad."

11. “Pills N Potions,” by Nicki Minaj (2014)

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The first song released from Minaj's third album, The Pinkprint, felt extremely personal and signaled her fans would be getting a different, more mature sound. The deeply emotional track was about how in spite of mistreatment from a lover, the protagonist was sticking by her lover's side. And the fact that Minaj even heard the song in the first place it is purely by accident, according to Dean.

"'Pills N Potions' wasn’t a song that I meant to send. There was another song in the email that I wanted her to hear, and she called and was like, "Oh my god! You’re a genius!" And I was like, which one do you like? And she said, 'Pills N Potions!' I’m like, huh? Dean laughs and adds, "She’s like, 'I want to sing that song!' I'm like, what about the other one?"

And watch Dean's new music video "Crazy Youngsters" here:

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Kelley Carter is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Carter writes about and reports on films and television shows popular with black audiences.

Contact Kelley L. Carter at kelley.carter@buzzfeed.com.

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