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The Art of Writing a Truly Excellent Fake Pop Song, as Explained by the Girls5eva Songwriters

Busy Philipps as Summer, Sara Bareilles as Dawn, Renée Elise Goldsberry as Wickie and Paula Pell as Gloria in <em>GIRLS5EVA<em/> Credit - Courtesy of Netflix

The dynamic divas of Girls5eva are back for Season 3, which debuted (along with the first two seasons of the show) on its new home at Netflix this week, bringing with it the undeniably catchy songs that have helped to make this gem of a show a true musical delight.

When we catch up with Dawn (Sara Bareilles), Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Summer (Busy Philipps), and Gloria (Paula Pell), the four remaining members of '90s one-hit-wonder girl group Girls5eva (their fifth member, Ashley Park's Ashley, died in an infinity pool accident), the middle-aged performers are continuing their bid for renewed pop music stardom, with a "Returnity" concert tour and a new album.

Read more: Renée Elise Goldsberry on Playing an ‘Unapologetically Ambitious’ Diva on Girls5eva

Though the show is an endearing parody of the music industry, its treatment of female pop stars, and the cult of the girl group, it's also a veritable earworm factory, thanks to the songwriting prowess of showrunner and creator Meredith Scardino and executive producer and composer Jeff Richmond, who, along with Bareilles, are responsible for creating the bulk of the hilarious original songs from the show like "Dream Girlfriends," "New York Lonely Boy," and of course, the ebullient and instantly iconic theme song, "Famous 5eva."

Though the tunes are ostensibly satirical versions of pop songs, there is no questioning that they are true bops in and of themselves—which led us to wonder: what does it take to write not only a believable fake pop song, but one that is truly excellent? To find out, we caught up with Scardino and Richmond ahead of the third season's premiere to talk about the songs this season, their favorite girl groups of all time, and the rumor that a certain buzzy pop star might have written a song for the show.

TIME: How did you draw inspiration for the songs this season?

Scardino: This season, it's fun to hear them do a little bit of a country song. In episode one, they go to Fort Worth. It's because they realized Fort Worth, Texas was the biggest city in America that didn't have a hit song about it. They saw a hole in the marketplace. Sara Bareilles also wrote a stunningly beautiful song that you see in episode six called "The Medium Time." We had kind of talked about the concept—we like all the songs to basically be born out of the story, so they have an added weight when you step out to hear them.

We had an idea of roughly how the song would function and the broad strokes of what it would be about. After we talked about it with Sara, she was like, "Cool, got it." And then sent the most beautiful demo that encapsulates everything that we're trying to do in such a poetic, beautiful way that feels like a song that the character would write. My eyes started watering it was so perfect.

What's the process of writing songs for the show? Are they written at the same time as the script?

Richmond: It's kind of a super basic process that becomes more involved as the season goes forward. TV writing happens really quickly, so when Meredith is writing a script, she'll flag me right away and say, "I'm going to write a song for Wickie, that's going to be doing this." Then she'll lay out the first draft, and it may be very skeletal, just several funny couplets and they don't quite have a hook yet, and we'll bounce ideas back and forth. Then I'll sit with it for 10 or 15 minutes and start to do a really rough, sketchy demo of it. Meredith and I will go back and forth, very quickly. She's a really good lyricist because she's very funny. Then I'll come in and I'll do my first draft of music. And then at some point, we'll have a read-through and we'll listen and make a few more tweaks. Then I'll go into the studio and we'll start hammering out a more concise demo with the team.

Scardino: A lot of times some I have an idea in my phone or something that I put in my notes app or it might be in my head. It should always feel like it's tied into story because we don't want to indulge and step out for too long. As a group, we would come together to get ideas and then I would usually mull on it overnight or be on my laptop alone for a little while to try to assemble something and then bring it back to the room. Another really fun thing is after the fact, once you have the episode done, you've shot it and then you're in the ADR sessions. It's then that I usually like to work on filling out songs for soundtrack, and putting them in the credits.

Every season there's a soundtrack, but not all the songs that appear on the show make the cut for the soundtrack. How do you pick and choose which become full songs?

Richmond: It mostly comes down to the way the whole creative team and writing team feels about it by the end of the day. We start thinking more like songwriters and not comedy writers to see what feels like it has legs to fill up two and a half minutes of music. Lots of times, we'll get to a point where we'll have a 30 second song and realize if we just could write a bridge, we could stick it in here. That's our best bet because, just in musical terms, bridges can be so useful for that. It takes you down a new musical road for a little bit and then you can bring it back around. So we have found that in our toolbox, it helps us fill it out and make it feel more like a completed piece of songwriting.

Scardino: I would love if every song was somewhere that you could play on your phone, but there's so much in every episode, we just don't have the resources and time to make them all into full songs. Even though I would love nothing more than to write the 40-minute version of "Fort Worth" or the version of "Set" that Sara's character Dawn does that uses all 400 definitions of the word. We sort of pick one per episode to be a full version of a track, even though each episode has like eight times that someone is singing something and they're all fun. We do have a new album that's going to be 12 tracks, all from Season 3.

Are there any girl groups that inspire you when you're writing these songs? Or just favorites in general?

Richmond: I love Destiny's Child, one of my faves. I love Spice Girls and Beyoncé and En Vogue.

Scardino: I love Destiny's Child. I loved watching Making the Band back in the day, even though I feel like those shows were pushing those girls pretty hard in a way that maybe wasn't the best. I love Danity Kane.

Do you have a favorite song from the show?

Richmond: Geez, that's a toughie. There's the "I'm Afraid" song that Dawn sings in Season 1 that I love and "New York Lonely Boy" is just a fave because it's a style that I love, it's so early Paul Simon. "BPE" is a whole lot of fun and the theme song I like a lot too.

Scardino: There's two that come to mind. "New York Lonely Boy" is a song inspired by my son, who was three or four when I wrote it (and obviously other writers helped as well). When he was five, he asked for a tuxedo for his birthday. It's just sort of an observation and it's so tied to New York and my own child that and the demo was beautiful. And then the Milk Carton Kids, Sara introduced us to them because she thought they would be perfect and they were. And now my son knows all the lyrics to it, which is really cute.

And then Sara, similarly, with "I'm Afraid (Dawn's Song of Fears)," was just so cathartic and fun to write. I could write lyrics for that endlessly. We all threw jokes into a Google doc and I wrote a bunch of lyrics later. I just love all of Sara's songs that she's written for the show, whether it's "Four Stars" or "Bend not Break." They all ground the show and make you root for the group's success and care about them.

There was an Ariana Grande song that leaked that she said was for a show about a fictional girl group. Is there a future where Ariana Grande is writing music for Girls5eva?

Scardino: First of all, if Ariana Grande did a song for us, we would definitely be using it. In some ways, I want to just not even comment because it's fun to think that it was for us. I saw the internet speculation and I was enjoying it. I've never met her, but I'm a fan of hers. I'd love to know her and work with her. But to my knowledge, it was not for us, I never heard of it. I love the confidence that the internet has thinking, "Oh it's definitely for Girls5eva." I'll take that!

Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com.