Officially Spotify’s most streamed song of 2023, Miley Cyrus’s Flowers bloomed for pretty much the entire year. Rumoured to be addressed to Liam Hemsworth, Cyrus’s ex-husband, it was released on 13 January and has been a fixture in the upper echelons of worldwide charts pretty much ever since.
The song was written by Cyrus, Gregory "Aldae" Hein, and Michael Pollack, but production was handled by Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, who also collaborated on Harry Styles’ As It Was and its parent album, Harry’s House. Now Harpoon - AKA Tom Hull - has been discussing how he helped to take Flowers from seed to stratospheric success.
“Miley had written Flowers on the piano and it was kind of ballad-y, so it was just figuring out how to present it, adding music to make it great,” he told Music Week. “I don’t know if I agree with the idea that songs have to sound good on acoustic guitar or piano, but the problem is, when you write a song that way, it can be hard to take it away from there. But with Flowers, tilting it towards being an empowering song as opposed to a ballad, we got there.”
Explaining on how that change started to happen, Hull says: “One night, I jumped on bass and did a cocktail lounge-type thing and Miley sang it into a mic. Although that vibe sounds kind of cheesy, if you do it in the right way, it could be in a Tarantino or David Lynch movie. So I came up with the bassline, then we put some drums in and it started to take on this disco vibe; it has it all in there, even cowbells.”
Hull says that, when finalising Flowers’ arrangement, they considered removing said cowbells, but kept them in “because they added the cocktail lounge thing.” He also credits the work done by Spike Stent, who mixed the track: “The mixing was a big part of it, the backing vocals weren’t loud enough,” he recalls. “Ron [Perry, CEO and chairman, Columbia] said we should focus on that, so we did and the mix changed everything.”
Despite its effortless flow, Flowers wasn’t completed quickly. In fact, Hull confirms that they worked on it for the entire time they were making Endless Summer Vacaction, the 2023 album that it comes from, because they wanted to ensure that it worked in the context of the record. “You’re aware that you’re making something that could be a commercial part of the record, but it was about not thinking about it in those terms,” he explains.
Once the song was finished, though, Flowers’ potential became clear: “You never quite know if something’s going to be a lead single until it’s done, but once it was we were like, ‘Man, this feels really good!’” says Hull. “I think we did a great job on the production, but there are a lot of other stars that have to line up for a song to go that well, and Miley has spent her career building them.”
Describing Flowers’ success as like capturing lightning in a bottle - “there are so many things that have to line up that go beyond the music itself” - Hull suggests that its impact felt even stranger for him given that he’d only recently had similar success with Harry Styles.
“Flowers just kept going,” he says. “It was so surreal, it felt like we were just coming off the As It Was cycle. People break streaming records all the time, so it’s a bit hard to work out what an actual record is now, but the bottom line is that it’s connecting.”