Exclusive interview with music producer RedOne in Dubai

In an exclusive interview, Rob Garratt chats to the superproducer RedOne about working with stars including Lady Gaga, Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez – and how only a game-changer could draw him to the Middle East.

Music Producer, RedOne on a relaxed afternoon in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Powered by automated translation

It’s close to the end of my interview with the renowned and influential music producer RedOne that I finally begin to get an inkling of why he’s in Dubai and why I am talking to him.

It’s not, it turns out, about his reunion with Lady Gaga or his own forthcoming solo album, both of which we will get to – it’s something potentially much ­bigger.

My opening question had been to ask whether his visit was “business or pleasure”? to which he replied: “Both.” As our chat begins to come to an end, I’m still none the wiser about what the “business” aspect might have been.

Is he, perhaps, planning a project in the region? A return to his Arab roots? Another charity project, following his work with Quincy Jones on Bokra? A collaboration similar to his work on the Algerian star Khaled's 2012 crossover smash, C'est la Vie?

“If I’m going to do something here in this region, it has to be game-changing,” he says with a smile. “Not just a song – an idea that will change the business.”

So, does he have such an idea?

“Yes – a megastructure. A mixture of a lot of things – music, entertainment – I’m really interested in doing something ­groundbreaking.”

It sounds intriguing and extremely exciting – but alas, that is as much information as he is prepared to share for now about his mysterious future project.

Earlier, though, he revealed a lot about his past work and his current projects.

There’s a funny moment a few minutes into the interview when the waiter informs RedOne that the drink he has ordered will be half price if we wait three minutes for happy hour to kick in.

“It doesn’t matter, just go,” he says, polite but direct.

I squirm in my seat. I want to grab the waiter and shake him. “This man is responsible for dozens of the biggest songs of the past decade,” I want to yell. “He’s neighbours with Cristiano Ronaldo, counts Lady Gaga as a personal friend and is almost certainly a multimillionaire who doesn’t mind spending a few more dirhams to have his Coke now, when he ordered it.”

But this everyday exchange is a telling example of the great contradiction in RedOne’s life.

While you would struggle to find anyone with access to a radio who hasn’t heard songs he’s written and produced – dozens of smashes for artists including J Lo, Usher, Mariah Carey, Akon, Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull, One Direction, Nicki Minaj, Priyanka Chopra and, of course, Lady Gaga, to name but a few – only a small percentage could name RedOne as the producer. And an even tinier number would recognise him if they met him.

Not that this makes our encounter any less surreal. Knowing all the above, I’m expecting a man who knows his worth, artistically and financially. Not the quietly confident guy sitting opposite me. The guy who is happy to wait around when the host can’t find us a free table in an empty venue. Who dismisses suggestions from his entourage that we make his identity public to speed things up. So here he is, calm and collected, sipping a full-price Diet Coke, on a lounge terrace, talking to me. Why?

Normally, artist interviews such as this are tightly controlled affairs, managed by record labels or management busybodies, set up primarily to promote a new release or live performance.

Typically, a merry dance commences – the artist wants to talk about a new project, while the journalist wants to talk about anything but.

This casual encounter, arranged through a mutual friend, is different. Mysteriously free of any agenda, with no goalposts to confine my questions, there’s only one place to start.

Lady Gaga. In 1991, a 19-year-old RedOne – originally from Morocco and then still known by his real name, Nadir Khayat – moved to Sweden where he worked first as a musician and then as a producer for popular Swedish acts.

In 2007 he moved to the United States and a short time later he met Lady Gaga – then still known as Stefani Germanotta. The pair wrote several songs together that would end up on her debut album, The Fame, a year later, including the game-changing singles Just Dance and Poker Face.

They were followed in 2009 by Bad Romance and Alejandro, from The Fame Monster, and ­RedOne co-wrote three tunes on 2011's Born This Way, including Judas. However the relationship appeared to cool and RedOne worked on just one tune on 2013's poorly received Artpop.

So when, in mid-January, Gaga tweeted a picture of her and Red-One back in the studio, fans rejoiced at the reunion.

“It’s been a big thing for both us,” says RedOne. “We took a little break from each other. She did her thing, I did my thing and it feels like we’re back on track together.

“When I first met Gaga, I always knew she was something incredible; I felt this energy. I remember telling my wife at the time, even if she doesn’t get a deal, I will work with her. I don’t care, she’s too good.

“We started together and all that crazy success came together, so of course it feels great to work together again.”

RedOne has gone on to do plenty on his own. He has clocked dozens of hits for numerous artists, with his patented formula of uplifting, synth-heavy pop. The results have been almost single-handedly credited with reinventing the careers of Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias. The big question is, how does he do it? How does he know when he has written a hit?

“You feel it – it might sound weird, but the songs talk to you,” he says. “I’ve been right many, many times in my life, because the feeling that the songs transmitted to me was incredible – and that’s what the world felt six months later.”

Still, all of these hits have been for other people and, as noted, the waiter doesn't realise ­RedOne can afford a full-price Coke. That could change, as it becomes clear RedOne is working on a solo album, which he hopes to have out by "the end of the year". Tentatively titled RedOne Presents, the superproducer is busy flicking through his contacts book to put together a Guetta-style LP of self-written productions brought to life with guest vocalists. He's already got eight tracks, and plans to call on Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie (the latter is "a really good friend, like a brother", he casually mentions). Gaga is almost certainly on board, as is Iglesias.

“They think it’s exciting because they’re my buddies,” he says. “Of course, I have a lot of friends and they’re all willing to help.”

Between this and his mysterious megastructure plans, I get the feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from ­RedOne in these parts very soon.