Behind The Song: Tamia “Beautiful Surprise”

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Tamia (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Tamia (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Tamia’s GRAMMY nod for “Beautiful Surprise” was no surprise to songwriter Claude Kelly. While Kelly is celebrated for his work with pop stars (Ke$ha, Christina Aguilera, Whitney Houston, Backstreet Boys and others) he was sure there was magic behind the R&B notes Tamia struck on her hit single.

“It was actually the very last song we did for Beautiful Surprise,” Kelly told Radio.com. The GRAMMY-winning songwriter and X Factor vocal coach explained how they enlisted producer Salaam Remy (Fugees, Nas, Amy Whinehouse).

“We’re just kicking ideas around and we wanted to have a romantic song but an underlying message of what she is about,” Kelly said. “Obviously, she is married to [NBA star] Grant Hill and they both have working schedules. And we said… Let’s celebrate the marriage and what it’s like to come off the road and surprise you. Let’s do ‘Beautiful Surprise.'”

Before Kelly could began cranking out the words and melody, he had to get a feel for Tamia, to speak from her perspective. For this, he went dark. 

“The art of creating for someone else or imagining to be somebody, it’s almost like role playing, like acting,” he explained. “I go in there and I turn all the lights out. I have to be in the studio in the dark and I can almost become that person. Songs at this point have similar content. ‘I love you, I miss you, I want you, let’s have a good time.’ But how would Tamia say I love you?”  

Tamia, Kelly and Remy hunkered down in LA’s Chalice studio and came out with Tamia’s biggest Adult R&B hit since “Officially Missing You” charted in 2003. Kelly’s mind-meld did the trick and the words flowed:

“For the first time in my life/ I just might be tongue tied/ For me to wake up with you kissing me/ Saying you’ve been missing me/ What a beautiful surprise”

“Once you get over yourself and your own ego,” Kelly explained, “or [feeling like] I don’t want to sound too girly or too silly, then you can become Tamia in her words.”

As the first project released to her Plus 1 Music Group (distributed by Capitol/EMI), Beautiful Surprise represents a success on several levels for Tamia. While the album and the eponymous single garnered GRAMMY nods, the song marked a marriage between her personal experience and artistic expression.

“In about 45 minutes we had ‘Beautiful Surprise,'” Kelly said. “And the last song we recorded became the single.”

And the GRAMMY nomination followed, another beautiful surprise.

The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards airs February 10th at 8:00 p.m. on CBS. 

-Erik Parker, Radio.com

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