Meet the Man Who Helps Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber Shine
Producer, songwriter Kuk Harrell criss-crossed the country to fine tune the singers' upcoming albums
Kuk Harrell may not be as famous as the stars whose voices he fine tunes, but they wouldn’t shine nearly as brightly without the songwriter and producer.
Harrell, who worked on Beyoncé‘s Grammy-nominated Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It), has been criss-crossing the country to hone the vocal talents of three of the biggest pop stars: Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber. And whether palling around with the “nice, light, fun” Perry in Las Vegas, vibing with Lopez at her home studio in New York or keeping Bieber from picking up any “bad habits” in Atlanta, Harrell stays focused.
When he first began recording with Bieber, he admits things were a bit challenging. “[Justin] would sing and I would explain what was wrong and he would go ‘I know, I know, I know’ like a cocky kid. But he’s a legitimate talent. History in the making,” Harrell says.
Recording Perry’s album was a different story. “Katy comes in and is like a great kid,” says Harrell. “She’s confident, but she has her guard down. She doesn t come in like she’s going to be on stage, but she’s always fly. If we’re still writing she likes to be by herself for a while.”
Lopez was the most relaxed, probably because recording her album, Love?, took place at her home, and her family was close by.
“[Marc Anthony] comes down and offers suggestions like ‘Babe, I see where you’re going with this. Do this.’ She’s very receptive [to him],” says Harrell.
“When she gets working she is serious and quick because if she’s not singing then she’s with her family. ‘It’s time for me to feed the kids lunch,’ she’ll say. A couple times she had [son] Max on her lap with her in the vocal booth. We were doing up-tempo records and he loved it. His head was bobbing.”
All three of the albums will be as different as the artists themselves.
Perry’s next record will highlight an, “edgier, more aggressive sound,” says Harrell, who also penned the theme song for Avatar. “But it will still be fun. It’s not like we’re going dark or anything.”
Of Bieber’s upcoming album, which they have not started recording yet, Harrell says, “His voice has changed a little bit, but he’ll stay with the great melodies like in ‘One Time.’ ”
The theme of Lopez’s Love? is “a journey of a love relationship,” says Harrell. “Things are up and then they’re down, but in the end you’re still together. At first it was supposed to be a greatest hits and then she just sounded so good.”
Watch the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, live on CBS – and catch up on all the news and style from the show on PEOPLE.com!