- Teenagers have written some of the most striking and relatable songs in music history.
- Olivia Rodrigo’s hit “Drivers Licence” is the latest stunning addition to that category.
- Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Chance the Rapper, Lorde, Halsey, and Khalid also made our list.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If you’re still one of those people who believe teenagers have nothing important to say, or don’t know what they’re talking about, allow these songwriters to prove you wrong.
There are artists who’ve written some of the most striking, emotionally tender, and relatable songs in music history â€” before they even turned 20 years old.
Insider rounded up 18 of the best songs ever written by teenagers. They are listed below in no particular order.
Olivia Rodrigo wrote and released her debut single, “Drivers Licence,” at just 17 years old.
Olivia Rodrigo was just 12 when she landed a lead role on the Disney Channel series “Bizaardvark.” The teenager went on to star as Nini Salazar-Roberts on the Disney Plus series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”
Her first taste of musical success came when she penned “All I Want” for her character, which peaked at No. 90 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Then came “Drivers Licence,” Rodrigo’s official debut single, cowritten by producer Dan Nigro.
“I wrote the verses and the chorus in an hour,” Rodrigo told NME. “I was in my living room, and it was a really emotional, cathartic experience for me. I wrote it, and I remember putting my head down on the keys and crying as it was so emotional, and it really evoked that reaction out of me.”
“I was really terrified, but it turned out to be one of the most empowering experiences I’ve ever had,” she added of the song’s release. “It’s so powerful to see how other people are moved by my vulnerability.”
“Bad Guy” made Billie Eilish the first person born in the 21st century to have a No. 1 hit.
Billie Eilish cowrote her debut album – 2019’s Grammy-nominated “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” – alongside her brother and producer, Finneas O’Connell. They began work on the album when she was 15 years old and recorded the vast majority of it in his childhood bedroom.
“It’s basically making fun of everyone and their personas of themselves. Even mine,” she said during an interview with KIIS FM. “The initial idea for the song is, like, people who have to tell everybody that they are a certain way all the time? They’re not that certain way.”
“In general, I feel like you will never catch a bad b—- telling everyone she’s a bad b—-,” she continued. “If you’re going around all the time saying, like, ‘Yeah, I’m bad, I’m always breaking rules and doing this and doing that.’ You’re not. I know that because I used to say that and I wasn’t.”
Eilish’s breakout hit, “Ocean Eyes,” was written by her teenage brother, Finneas.
Eilish told James Corden that she was 13 when she recorded “Ocean Eyes,” her breakout hit that was written and produced by her brother (who goes by the mononym FINNEAS as a solo recording artist).
Finneas is four and a half years older than Eilish, which would make him, at most, 18 years old when he wrote the platinum hit.
“In a unique and fantastic instance, everything about the verse happened all at once,” he told Ones to Watch. “I sat down at my piano, played and sang the entire first verse at once. The rest of the song took some time to get right but I knew where it was going.”
Finneas originally wrote “Ocean Eyes” for his high school band, but he “knew it was meant for Billie” when he heard her sing it.
“She brought life to it that I couldn’t believe,” he told OTW. “She might be the most convincing singer I’ve ever heard. I’ve never doubted a single word she sings. It’s such a gift. Her voice is like a Stradivarius violin.”
Adele’s debut single, “Hometown Glory,” was the first song she ever wrote. She was 16 years old.
Save for the Bob Dylan cover (“Make You Feel My Love”), Adele is the sole writer or lead cowriter on every song from her debut album, “19,” which was named for her age when she wrote most of them. But her first-ever single, “Hometown Glory,” stands out because of its unique origin story.
“It was actually the first song I ever wrote from start to finish,” Adele said in a 2008 interview with Blues & Soul.
“It was kind of about me and my mum not agreeing on where I should go to university. Because, though at first I’d wanted to go to Liverpool, later I changed my mind and wanted to go to university in London. But, because I love being at home and I’m really dependent on my mum, she still wanted me to go to Liverpool,” she explained. “So in that way it was a kind of protest song about cherishing the memories – whether good or bad – of your hometown.”
Chance the Rapper wrote the first draft of his debut mixtape as a senior in high school. “Brain Cells” is a lyrical standout.
“Brain Cells” was one of Chance the Rapper’s “first ever recordings,” a song that got “remade over and over” until it became the wittiest and most introspective track on his debut mixtape.
The title of that mixtape, “10 Day,” refers to the 10 days of suspension Chance got during his senior year at Jones College Prep for smoking weed, when he wrote and recorded much of the project.
As a high schooler, Chance recorded his music in a studio run by YOUmedia, a space run by the Digital Youth Network and Chicago Public Libraries and available to Chicago high school students. It has computers available to be used by students who don’t have one, and a performance space where Chance honed his skills as a rapper.
“It’s so dope that I was able to be the age that I was when I was coming up,” he told The Fader. “People were just realising how to use YouTube on a DIY level. Twitter, SoundCloud – all that s— was just starting to pop when I was making ’10 Day.’ A lot of people out of Chicago were able to flourish because it was so new.”
Avril Lavigne’s debut album “Let Go,” released when she was 18 years old, opens with the deliciously bitter “Losing Grip.”
Avril Lavigne, just 14 years old when she was discovered, is credited as the lead cowriter for every song on her Grammy-nominated debut album, including iconic bops like “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi.” But 18-year-old Lavigne told Rolling Stone that “Losing Grip” was her favourite track. She wrote the punk-rock anthem about an ex-boyfriend who didn’t value her enough.
“I was this guy’s girlfriend, and he didn’t even treat me like it,” she said. “If he sat there with his arm around me, it was just because I was his chick. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, baby. I love you.'”
“Songwriting is like that for me,” she added, snapping her fingers. “Someone can say, ‘Go write a song,’ and I can do it. I can write a song a day.”
A teenage Amy Winehouse cowrote her award-winning debut single, “Stronger Than Me.”
Amy Winehouse began writing her own songs at age 14. She cowrote every song on her debut album, “Frank,” which was released just after the singer turned 20.
Although “Stronger Than Me,” the album’s lead single, ended up as its lowest-charting song – and the lowest-charting single of Winehouse’s career – it has been hailed for its lyrical maturity. It won the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for best song musically and lyrically in 2004.
It’s widely assumed that Winehouse wrote “Stronger Than Me” about her ex Chris Taylor, but British music executive Darcus Beese, who signed Winehouse to Island Records, said she “would never talk about what her lyrics meant.”
“She would never give it that much importance in a room full of people. Maybe in a room by herself at night while she’s writing lyrics in her head or on a piece of paper. That was about getting her personal life out,” he wrote on the song’s Genius page. “I think it was a cathartic process for her to be able to write about it. It was probably the same thing as writing in her diary. She would never boast about being some tortured artist that has to write lyrics on the page to get the pain out. It was much more straightforward with her.”
“Royals” by Lorde has been called “the greatest striver’s anthem of our modern era.” She wrote it in 30 minutes when she was 15.
“Royals,” Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s breakout single as Lorde, has been universally hailed as one of pop music’s greatest lyrical triumphs. Insider previously ranked it as the eighth best song of the 2010s decade, and Rolling Stone ranked it as the ninth best song of the 21st century.
“Maybe the greatest striver’s anthem of our modern era was written in half an hour by a 15-year-old in Auckland, New Zealand,” Rolling Stone wrote.
Lorde, who is the sole writer or lead cowriter on every song in her catalogue – including on her debut album, “Pure Heroine,” an extraordinary portrait of teenage life in suburbia – has said the song title was inspired by a photograph of George Brett wearing a Kansas City Royals jersey.
“I’m really drawn to beautiful words and perfect turns of phrase,” she explained during a Vevo interview. “I’d been thinking about the concept of the song for a long time, and then I cut this picture out of National Geographic, which was a member of a baseball team [wearing a jersey] that said Royals. He was just signing baseballs, but I was like, ‘That is so cool.’ That word is so beautiful and I was just wondering how I could incorporate it into something.”
Stevie Wonder’s Grammy-nominated single “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” was released when he was 15.
“Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” was Stevie Wonder’s first hit that he cowrote, alongside songwriters Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby. After an extremely strong debut at age 11, the song refreshed his career and eventually earned the teenager his first two Grammy nominations.
In Craig Werner’s book “Higher Ground,” Moy said the song was stitched together with Wonder’s input after he sang a lyrical fragment that became its foundation.
“He started singing and playing ‘everything is all right, uptight.’ That was as much as he had, so I said ‘that’s it, let’s work with that,'” she recalled.
Fiona Apple wrote her biggest hit “Criminal” in 45 minutes when she was 17 years old.
Fiona Apple’s Grammy-winning anthem “Criminal” is her highest-charting single ever, having peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, and remains a cultural touchstone to this day; it recently scored Jennifer Lopez’s prominent striptease scene in the acclaimed film “Hustlers.”
“Listen, I just want to say: I would give my song to Jennifer Lopez to dance to for free, any day, any time,” Apple recently told Vulture.
“Right now the song itself, the lyrics, those don’t really mean anything to me,” she elaborated. “Using this song now, and using it in this movie for a purpose I believe in, is like reclaiming it. I’m not that scared girl in underwear anymore. The song isn’t that to me anymore. It’s my way of paying for things that I want to get done.”
Halsey wrote “Ghost” on a whim when she was 19 years old.
As the legend goes, teenage Halsey “had no interest in being a singer” when she uploaded a song to SoundCloud in 2014.
But “Ghost” – the first song she ever cut, written in the makeshift basement studio of a relative stranger – went viral almost overnight. It resonated with masses of young fans and foretold Halsey’s rise to stardom as a confessional songwriter with a knack for cutting, hyper-specific lyrics.
“I had no idea what I was doing and I was writing like, acoustic songs before this,” she said in a Spotify commentary later that year. “A lot of people give me a lot of weird looks for it because it’s like two minutes and thirty seconds long, it starts with the bridge, doesn’t make any sense, there’s like a rap, white girl part in the beginning in it – but we moved forward with it because we had faith in it, and I’m really glad we did.”
Alex Turner was just 18 when “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor,” one of the Arctic Monkeys’ most-loved songs, made the rounds online.
The Arctic Monkeys’ unofficial collection of demo recordings, “Beneath the Boardwalk,” was distributed for free in 2004. The tracklist, written almost entirely by the band’s teenage frontman Alex Turner, included their eventual breakout single “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor” – which shot to No. 1 in the UK and remains one of their most beloved songs.
Ever-casual about his peerless songwriting skills, Turner told the BBC in 2004: “We live in Sheffield, and just write about the things we see here. What else is there to write about?”
Taylor Swift wrote one of her most iconic songs, “Teardrops on My Guitar,” as a freshman in high school.
Taylor Swift signed to a major label at just 14 years old and rose to fame as a wunderkind with a knack for oddly intimate lyrics. Case in point: The very first word of “Teardrops on My Guitar,” the second single from her self-titled debut album, is a name-drop of the boy she wrote it about.
“It’s about a guy named Drew who I went to school with. I wrote it in ninth grade,” she casually told OK! magazine at the 2008 CMT Awards. “It was a guy I really liked and he had no idea. But I think he knows now.”
Another classic Swift song, “Sparks Fly,” was written when she was 16.
“Sparks Fly” is a standout track on Swift’s 2010 album “Speak Now,” which she penned entirely on her own to stick it to critics who claimed she didn’t really write her own music.
Although “Speak Now” was released in 2010, after Swift had left her teen years, she famously wrote “Sparks Fly” when she was 16 years old – even before the release of her debut single. The song’s euphoric drama (“Drop everything now! Meet me in the pouring rain!”) makes it one of the most Swiftian songs in her catalogue.
“Do You Know (What It Takes)” was Robyn’s first top 10 single in the US. It was released when she was 16.
Before Robyn triumphantly returned as an independent artist in 2010 – armed with a self-written album and the best song of the decade, “Dancing on My Own”– she was famously discovered and signed at 14 years old. She wrote her first song when she was just 11.
Her 1995 studio debut “Robyn Is Here” recalls breakout albums from pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, but the Swedish teenager set herself apart with a cowriting credit on every song.
“Do You Know (What It Takes)” was released with the album and then rereleased as her debut US single in 1997. The song peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was praised for blending themes of loneliness and yearning (“There’s so much I can give / But it’s buried so deep”) with vivid pop arrangements, which has become Robyn’s signature skill.
“That’s the purpose of pop music, to be able to pinpoint those everlasting themes that are always going to be current to people but doing in a way that feels connected to the present time,”Robyn told Dummy magazine in 2010. “And it’s not always that you have a certain purpose of like, ‘I have to change to world with my music,’ but just about getting closer to something that’s really honest, that feels really connected maybe unconsciously that goes on within you.”
Khalid released his breakout single “Location” when he was 18 years old.
Anchored by Khalid’s topical songwriting, “Location’s” millennial jargon and wistful tone quickly made it a generational anthem.
“‘Location’ is a song that came to me out of nowhere,” the teenager told Pigeons & Planes. “From the first time I heard the beat play, the words flew out. Hearing the chords instantly took me the first stage of a relationship. Young love, man. It’s a crazy thing. I first started making music in the winter of 2015 so this is one of my most developed songs so far.”
Kate Bush was just 19 when “Wuthering Heights” made her the first female artist to have a No. 1 hit in the UK with a self-written song.
Kate Bush was 18 when she wrote “Wuthering Heights,” inspired by the Emily Brontë novel of the same name. “Legend has it,” according to Pitchfork, “she wrote ‘Wuthering Heights’ in a matter of hours after viewing a BBC miniseries adaptation that was popular that year.”
Bush was reportedly adamant that it would become her debut single, despite protests from her record label. When she eventually won out, the song rose to No. 1 and cemented her reputation as one of the era’s greatest lyricists.
None of the members of A Tribe Called Quest had yet turned 20 when they recorded the iconic single “Can I Kick It?”
A Tribe Called Quest’s four members – Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and, at that time, Jarobi White – were still teenagers when they recorded “Can I Kick It?” in 1989. It was released the following year and became one of their signature hits, as well as one of the defining hip-hop songs of the ’90s.
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