It’s close to midnight in a Manhattan recording studio, and a songwriter is listening to a work in progress, one that he hopes millions will soon know by heart. He’d recently improvised the lyrics in the vocal booth, including the chorus: “If you’re the country, I’m your new citizen.” Now, he sings along with the playback in a soft, high voice. If all goes to plan, however, the voice forever linked to “Citizen” will be that of Beyoncé Knowles, the superstar singer in the next room, who’s been gathering songs for a new album.

Known as The-Dream, the 32-year-old lyricist has cause for confidence. He already helped create one of Beyoncé’s biggest hits, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” For much of last year, the track’s stuttering beat was everywhere, made indelible by Beyoncé’s riveting dance video and a bit of lingo The-Dream coined for her chorus: “If you like it then you should have put a ring on it.” This cheeky rallying cry became something more than a pervasive hit: maybe a new standard.


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