The Happy Accident Behind Natasha Bedingfield’s 2008 Earworm Hit ‘Pocketful of Sunshine’ (Exclusive)
By Leena Tailor
“Pocketful of Sunshine” unshakably slid into our minds first when it was released in 2008 and then, two years later, when it became synonymous with Emma Stone’s hit teen film Easy A. Climbing to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July, it became the second hit single from the album of the same name and was seemingly heard everywhere. Now, 10 years after the initial release of the hit single on Jan. 15, 2008, Natasha Bedingfield is sharing how the happy accident came together -- and how her brother, singer-songwriter Daniel Bedingfield, nearly made her change one of the catchiest hooks in pop music.
Natasha Bedingfield and Danielle Brisebois, who had previously worked on the singer’s debut album Unwritten, co-wrote the track with GRAMMY-nominated musician John Shanks, who also served as producer, at Henson Studios in Hollywood. Guitar was provided by Wendy Melvoin of the musical duo Wendy & Lisa, who happened to be working down the hallway and swung by for the recording session.
“Pocketful of Sunshine,” Brisebois admits to ET, “happened by accident,” coming out of a two-day work session on a different song. She felt they could do better and started thinking of possible titles for new tracks.
“My mother was in Betty Ford rehab and I had just finished attending Family Week there,” Brisebois recalls. “The counselors had given me a coin to keep in my pocket that I could use to take myself to a safe place when I was dealing with my mother’s alcoholic behavior. I had that coin in my pocket that day and wanted to use the word ‘sunshine’ for some reason. I started making a title list with different combinations using ‘sunshine,’ and was also playing around with ‘pocket,’ since I had that coin in there, and ‘pocketful of sunshine’ came up.”
With Bedingfield set to go to another recording session, Brisebois thought they had missed their chance to get to a second song. However, “just as she was about to leave, John played the musical hook to what became the song and the verse lyric, ‘I got a pocket, got a pocketful of sunshine, I got a love and I know that it’s all mine,” literally flew out of my mouth,” Brisebois says. “We all looked at each other and knew we were onto something special. Then John and I locked the studio door and told Natasha she was going to be late to her next session! What happened next is songwriting gold … the stuff you dream of.”
The trio completed the track in four hours and knew they had nailed “magic,” but Daniel Bedingfield and even Natasha’s manager put doubt in their head.
“It became a private joke, because when I wrote ‘Pocketful of Sunshine,’ my brother told me, ‘Look, you have to change that because it’s going to get really annoying for people,’” Bedingfield says. “I tried to and itfelt really boring. But it was funny because that’s exactly what Emma’s character says in [Easy A]: ‘Oh, man, it’s such an annoying song!’ Of course, that’s why songs become hits, when they have those earworms and you kind of love and hate them. If you make one, you feel proud of yourself, but you also feel guilty for having invaded someone’s mind to the point where they can’t get you out of their head!”
While her brother was convinced the memorable hook would get on people’s nerves, others were also dubious. Brisebois recalls how the singer’s manager at the time believed the song’s structure was too unconventional and should be reworked into a more traditional sound.
“I totally disagreed, but we decided to try and it was obvious very quickly that what we originally had was special and we would not change it,” Brisebois says. “Luckily, her label agreed with us that the song should not be changed.”
While the song went on to become a summer hit, it experienced an epic new life after being prominently featured in 2010’s Easy A. The film sees Stone’s character, Olive, horrified to receive a musical greeting card playing the song from her grandmother. Initially declaring the track the “worst song ever,” Olive then becomes so hooked that she prances around her whole apartment passionately performing it and even starts quoting its lyrics in everyday conversation.
Director Will Gluck wrote the scenes after discovering a musical ad insert for Verizon Wireless in a magazine.
“My daughters were very young and would keep opening it up and closing it, and it had ‘Pocketful of Sunshine’ playing,” Gluck says. “So, when I did the movie, I wrote that scene into it and wanted that exact song because of what my kids did. Luckily, Natasha Bedingfield allowed us to use it, even though initially Emma’s character makes fun of it -- by the end of the weekend, she loves it and that’s what happened in our house. When we first started opening the magazine I was like, ‘Oh, my God, please stop,’ and by the time the kids played with it for two weeks, we couldn’t get it out of our heads. I remember saying to Emma that we were going to do the song and playing it to her and she was like, ‘Oh, I know this song!’ It was one of those things where we didn’t know if it was going to work until we shot it, and as soon as we started shooting, we knew it would.”
Bedingfield was thrilled, and remains a huge fan of both the movie and Stone. “I would love to meet her!” says the songstress, who released her third solo album, Strip Me, in 2010 and most recently released the single “Let Go” in 2017. “My manager is good friends with Emma, so I hope I get to meet her some time. I heard that she sang my song in her audition for the movie.”
“It was so much fun to see the song become a part of the way a story was told,” adds Brisebois, who was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar for “Lost Stars,” which was performed by Adam Levine in the 2013 film Begin Again. “It’s always cool to hear your song in movies because it gives it other meanings that you didn't think of when writing it.”
For Bedingfield, who sees the song as being about escapism, its lasting impact is evident in her encounters with fans a decade on.
“Ten years goes by so fast, but the weirdest part is when I meet someone who looks like they’re the same age as me telling me they heard my song when they were a kid,” says the 36-year-old new mom, who welcomed a son with husband Matt Robinson on Dec. 31, 2017. “Or they say that it was the first concert they went to. It really trips me out.”
However, despite the happy vibes that the double platinum certified song and much of Bedingfield’s other music radiates, she confesses that writing positive music doesn’t always come naturally. In fact, she gravitates to darker themes.
“I’m known as a positive singer, so I can’t fight that. I spent a few years trying to just write negative songs, and they are easier for me,” the singer says. “I write three times as many negative songs as happy songs! I love the [sad] songs and I’ll cry as I write them. But people don’t like the negative ones and I don’t know what to do about that. Sometimes you write songs for yourself and sometimes you write songs for other people, so the songs that are selfless and for other people are the ones that are positive. If you think of Adele, all her songs are sad, so maybe different artists have different roles and specialties.”
Bedingfield may have some joyful new inspiration, which makes writing upbeat songs easier this year -- her adorable new son! Find out more about the cutie below.