Staring at the blank screen before him, Zack Fox opens up Zoom.
His windows aren’t dirty, his room is pretty well-illuminated by the Los Angeles sun, and he isn’t reaching for anything in the distance—except for maybe his TV remote so he can have some 4K nature scenes as his backdrop when he meets Natasha Bedingfield for the first time.
You may be wondering to yourself why Zack—an Internet-beloved comedian who likes to “Winnie-the-Pooh” while recording songs about Christianity and do spoken-word covers of “Slob On My Knob” to end the pandemic—is meeting with his favorite pop star of the ‘00s on a video call in 2021. Well, it’s been about two years now since Zack told his friend Kenny Beats that the only way he’d perform at his Hard Summer Festival set would be if he let Zack sing Bedingfield’s most important contribution to the all-time pop-music songbook, “Unwritten.” Kenny said yes and the rest is history.
Since his very public showing of admiration for Natasha’s music first went viral, and has since done it again several times over, “Unwritten” has found itself charting once more, this time thanks to a TikTok trend that even Natasha couldn’t resist being part of.
In honor of the comeback of “Unwritten,” its many lessons, Zack and Natasha’s shared love of wagons, and the collective power of both comedy and music, we decided to bring a fever dream to life and introduce the two stars with a few questions. They pretty much took it from there.
The conversation between P&P, Natasha—who shared her latest single “Lighthearted” in June—and Zack—fresh off his writing stint on HBO’s “PAUSE with Sam Jay”—follows below, with some editing for clarity and content.
Hi guys. I have a string of questions for you both, but first, please, please introduce yourselves to each other.
Natasha Bedingfield: Hello.
Zack Fox: Hey, Natasha. I’m Zack. Wow, I think this is the first time I’m starstruck in a situation like this.
Bedingfield: No. No way.
Fox: Yeah, for sure. I’m in LA and I’m a big fucking fan. You’re a very key component to my personality in life, so I’m flattered to be able to talk to you.
Bedingfield: Oh my gosh. You’re such a badass. I’ve checked you out. You’re really brave in your comedy and in your writing. You’re so current and I love it. I love what you’re doing. It’s lovely to meet you.
Fox: Yeah, no, I’m literally having a heart attack right now. Just keeping it together.
How are you both doing today?
Bedingfield: I thought maybe, Zack, that you would have no underwear on or something suddenly, as soon as I got on the Zoom.
Fox: Yeah, no. I’m pretty put together. This is what I watch throughout the day. I just watch 4K footage of nature. I’m drinking some carrot juice. Yeah. All of that is a lie.
Bedingfield: I, on the other hand, feel we’re probably the opposite. I’m probably the crazy one.
Fox: I mean, you’re on Zoom on a phone, so you’re the unhinged one here.
Bedingfield: Yeah, I bought a ring light because everyone’s on Zoom now so I bought a light to try and look good like a Kardashian. But it still doesn’t work.
Fox: Nah, it’s working. Zoom on the phone is chaotic behavior.
Zack, what was your introduction to Natasha and her music?
Fox: Damn. Natasha’s music was late-night MTV era, and VH1, when music videos on cable television were still a thing. I don’t know if they still show music videos. I don’t have cable. I think I was in middle school when your music started coming out. It was a whole era of that kind of dope music and the class [of artists] that you were a part of was so specific, too. You could just tell, everybody instantly liked it. I went to a majority Black school in Atlanta and you knew when some shit was cutting through when east Atlanta kids were fucking with it. It was like Natasha Bedingfield and Paramore were the two things that you…
Bedingfield: No way.
Fox: Yeah, it was like you had the pass with those things. And then you had a few outliers like My Chemical Romance. I never saw it as a split or like this is white music. I was just like, “This is fucking dope.” And inspiring and warm, so this deserves to exist.
Bedingfield: Thank you. Paramore is amazing. I really love Paramore too.
Fox: Yeah, you and Hayley need to link up.
Natasha, when was the first time you were introduced to Zack? Was it through this video of him at the festival?
Bedingfield: I think it was. So I was sent this wonderful video. I mean, how many people are in that crowd? It’s a really big crowd of people all jumping and then this amazing person on stage jumping along to my song. I was like, “Wow, that’s so cool.” Was it a remix of my song or is it the… it probably was a remix.
Fox: No, no. It was literally just the song.
Bedingfield: It was a festival?
Fox: Yeah. It was me and I just came out to do a song for my good friend Kenny Beats’ set and I told him beforehand, I was like, “Fuck my song. You should end my part of your set with ‘Unwritten’ by Natasha Bedingfield.” And he was like, “Why?” And I was like, “Do you want me to come or not?” And he was like, “All right, fine, man.” And we did it. I didn’t know it was going to go off like that. I honestly thought the crowd was going to be too young. I thought I was aged out and that’s why I was doing it as a bit.
Bedingfield: You thought they’d think you were funny like, “Ugh, woo,” like throw some tomatoes at you?
Fox: Well yeah, because it’s like there’s always that bit of Terry Crews singing Vanessa Carlton in White Chicks, you know what I mean? I wanted to do a real, “Do you know about this song or not?” And it played, and there were kids in there who were like 17. It was a young crowd. There was a spectrum, of course, but it was a young crowd and I was like, “Wait, you all know about this? This is from when I was just a baby.” So it was dope to see it and it surprised me.
Bedingfield: It’s like people sometimes ask me, “Do you ever get sick of singing that song?” And I really don’t because of that reason, because when people sing along, it’s the best feeling in the world. Some of my friends are indie artists and they don’t want to sing their hits. They only want to sing their new songs. And I’m like, “You’re missing out.” Because when there’s a song that people feel connected to, it’s not even your song anymore, it’s their song. That’s why I write. It’s the best feeling in the world. I just love it. Seeing you get that response, I was surprised too. It was definitely encouraging.
Bedingfield: Zack, I have a question for you. How much of the time that you spend is the music and how much is the comedy? Or are they really just joined together?
Fox: I think it’s joined together. I think when I started wanting to make art or make anything, getting a laugh was so integral to the whole process. I think comedy is always going to be there throughout anything that I try to do just because I’ve always been just a class clown ass motherfucker. So I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I’m like, “This has to be separated, and this has to be over here.” Because once you start compartmentalizing, then there’s going to be a part where you’re lying. I want to bring comedy to all of it.
Bedingfield: I have a theory. Because I have a few comedian friends, one of them Whitney Cummings, and I’ve told her that I think that writing bits is similar to writing songs. And you can tell me if I’m right. It’s a theory because I’m obviously not a comedian, but I think that when you write something, you’re probably trying to find a point of connection that makes people go, “Oh yes, yeah, I know. I know exactly that feeling.” Something that they were thinking that they didn’t know anyone else thought. Which is like songwriting.
Fox: Definitely. I think that the advantage that songwriting has is you have all this time. You have your whole life to come up with the best song ever, you know what I mean? And you could put that song out and perform it a million different times, but once comedy is out there and you’ve done it and you’ve rehearsed your set or figured out how your bits go together, then you got to go back in the lab to start cooking up again. I think that’s the one difference, but I think that they’re extremely similar, especially with the rhythm of the way you want to expose. You’re not going to get everything up at top, but a song has to hook you in the beginning and that is the same as a premise, you know what I mean? I don’t know. I’m not going to wax poetic about this. I sound lame as hell.
Bedingfield: Are there sometimes things that you think are funny that other people don’t?
Fox: Yeah, every day. I live with my girlfriend and I’m sure I say things every day that she’s disgusted by. But I think she appreciates the attempt. What I appreciate in having an audience is that there are a bunch of people who are signed on to say, “We know it’s not always going to hit, but we appreciate the attempt and we know that you’re going to beat it up and figure it out in the long run.” And that’s a cool position to be in, I think.
Natasha, I’m not sure if Zack’s particular clip had any impact on what’s happening on TikTok right now with “Unwritten,” but how does it feel to see that resurgence in a sense today?
Bedingfield: So fun. It’s a lot of fun. I mean, it just means that the song has a life of its own and it’s a classic. How great is it to write a classic? I mean, it doesn’t matter that I didn’t win a Grammy. It’s like the song is speaking for itself and it’s doing its own thing, and I love that. Only problem is I’ve used all the wise sayings in one song.
Fox: Yeah, you really got it all out in that one. “Unwritten” could have been four songs on the album where you’re separating the lessons out, but you were like, “Nah, I’m going to give these motherfuckers the Bible.”
Bedingfield: Give it all away at once.
Fox: It’s such a generous set of lyrics. How do you come up with that much warmth and wisdom for one song? Were you writing it and just, “And I got to tell these motherfuckers about the dirty window and I got to tell you.“ Were you just like a hungry child where you were like, “No, I got to get it all out right now in this one”? Or was it just naturally?
Bedingfield: You know what? The only way I could have written that song was because I co-wrote it. So it wasn’t just all coming from my little brain, it was definitely a collaboration much more like if you were going to watch 30 Rock or SNL, and you know there’s a few writers behind that. “Unwritten” was me, Danielle Brisebois, and Wayne Rodrigues, and we just had a really good flow. And so I think maybe something was happening with our own energy and the chemistry of us together, bringing our combined experiences.
Fox: That’s awesome. So it was just three people in there inspired as fuck.
Bedingfield: Yeah. And we wrote a really bad song just beforehand. We got our bad song out and this song came straight after that.
Fox: Did it start with instrumentation or did it start with you guys writing?
Bedingfield: I think it started with an idea. I actually had “Unwritten” written down on a piece of paper and we had the conversations for a couple days. And Wayne, he’s an OG hip-hop DJ, showed us this beat that he made, which was just a beat and a sample of a woman going, “Ah.” And then we wrote over that.
Fox: So wait, so you wrote on a piece of paper “Unwritten?” And then you were like, “Fuck, that’s it.”
Bedingfield: So I didn’t even know this because I just had a conversation with Danielle, the other co-writer, two days ago and she told me that I wrote the words “Unwritten” down. I didn’t know that. I didn’t remember that.
Is there a certain feeling you get when you make something that has a lasting impact, whether it be a song or a certain punchline? I know we talked about the similarities between comedy and music, but between your shared experience, do you feel like there is a moment of “eureka” for both mediums, in a sense?
Fox: I don’t know if you know when that’s happening or what part of the process you know that’s happening, especially today when there’s so much noise media-wise and internet-wise. There’s so much going on that it’s definitely not a feeling like, “Oh, I thought of something. That’s a hit.” You would truly just have to put it out there and then see what happens.
And of course the feeling is crazy, but even with Natasha, I mean, you watched the song do well and chart well in the mid 2000s and you could have never predicted there would be a Chinese app that’s stealing all of our data that all the kids are on. And that’s what’s going to make it skyrocket again. We have no idea. It’s an amazing feeling but I don’t know if it’s something that I’ve ever expected. And when it does happen, I’m always like, “Well, when’s it going to stop and when could it start again?” It might be for something that I’m not expecting.
Bedingfield: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think that with “Unwritten,” there was a feeling of truthfulness. There was a feeling of scary truth, telling the truth in a way that’s not coated, it’s very bare and very “it is what it is.” That feels a bit scary like, “Oh no, I’m saying something very truthful. Are people going to hate me?”
I even noticed that with TikTok. So I try to get involved in the TikTok stuff, right? So I copied some kids who were doing a dance and they’re showing boxer shorts and they’ve got masks on, and I tried to do the dance. And I practiced it again and again, probably 50 times. Just before I posted it, I felt a fear, actually. I felt like I was breaking some taboo because I think the world that I come from, it’s like you have… I’ve left my label, but you have these executives, and you check all your images with them, and you get approved.
There’s this whole way that a woman is supposed to be. So I felt in myself, “I’m posting this video” and as I posted it, I felt fear. But I know that it was a truthfulness. It was the joy coming from me. There was fun. And then I showed my booty to the world. And the next day, everyone didn’t know I have a big butt. People didn’t know, but I always have.
Fox: No. That was the next thing that came. It was like, “Oh, we remember this song. This shit’s a hit. Look at this new dance.” And then it immediately switched to the wagon.
Bedingfield: To the wagon and all the names for it too. The comments are just genius because it’s like the donkey, the donkadonk, all this different stuff. But I love that and I think that my butt was actually trending on Twitter that day.
Fox: It was. I was on Twitter that day. Because you’ve been in this. Like you’re saying, you’ve been a part of this machine that label execs are literally examining you and making sure everything…
Bedingfield: They’ve tried to hide that. That’s a lot of effort.
Fox: Those motherfuckers stopped you from being full Natasha.
Bedingfield: And fashion designers wouldn’t let me use their clothes. I couldn’t fit them anyway.
Fox: They were holding that back from us and that’s a travesty on their end. Do you feel more free now? Do you feel like you’re at a stage where people will accept you for just who you are and you don’t have to check with anyone or check in with any authority or power? You can just go out there and be.
Bedingfield: I feel that, but I also feel challenged because now they won’t accept anything but the truth. Anything but the butt. They won’t accept anything but the butt. So now you’ve got to really own your truth, and people can smell out the bullshit, and I think particularly the next generation really can see through that stuff. Would you agree with me?
Fox: 100%. If there are five senses, there’s now a sixth sense that kids on the internet have where they can sense if something is contrived or sponsored or disingenuous. And sometimes, people can’t tell at all. So it is a weird terrain to traverse, especially when you’re just getting hit with it, you know what I mean? You were just sitting in the house one day and someone’s like, “Hey, look, you’re on TikTok.” And you’re like, “Well, now what the fuck?”
Do you think anything has the power to connect, the way it’s connected you two, quite like art?
Fox: The wagons for sure. That’s what everybody, at the end of the day, when all of this…
Bedingfield: Everyone can agree on one thing.
Fox: When the internet goes away, when all of civilization is wiped out, when there’s just nothing else left, it’ll all come down to who got ass.
Bedingfield: Like art. Which is art.
Fox: Exactly, exactly. You ever look at old cave art and it’s just a carved out thick woman in a stone? That’s where we started and that’s where I think we’ll end as humans. I don’t know what Natasha thinks. I’m just talking.
Bedingfield: It’s such a good question and I think it’s a leading question because the answer is yes. Art is such an amazing way of connecting. And what is it is it we’re just, like you said, the cave drawings. We’re leaving our legacy, our mark. We’re speaking our truth and it’s more powerful when it is brave, and brave in the cave.
Fox: What she said, brave in the cave.
“If there are five senses, there’s now a sixth sense that kids on the internet have where they can sense if something is contrived or sponsored or disingenuous.” – Zack Fox
Pigeons & Planes is a hotbed for people who are interested in getting into art. Is there any shared advice you might have for a young creative reading this?
Fox: If you’re a young creator and you’re just trying to get out there, realize you have all of the resources at your fingertips now. Things might look shitty or rough, but you should just think about where you come from and how you can go out there make the people where you come from go, “Damn, okay. Maybe I could do that too.” You know what I mean? I think that’s what it really should come down to.
Everybody always says, “Yo, I want to inspire,” and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. But you know what you want to do. You want to be the goat. You want to be good at something. So you got to go out there and take the risk and maybe be shitty at it at first. Take all of those bumps and bruises because that’s what people will look at. More so than your art, they’ll look at this as a decent person and how did they handle taking Ls, how did they handle getting dropped from something or having something get canceled?
That is the real underbelly of that shit, and I think that today, not to insult, but there’s a lot of soft motherfuckers who might not understand that this shit comes with a lot of failure. You could choose to be a doctor, you could choose to be a dentist. You could go out there and choose to be a social worker, a counselor, someone who really gets in the mud and helps out humanity, but you’re choosing to be an artist. So don’t fucking complain. Do your best and always, like Natasha said, be brave in the cave.
Bedingfield: With the pigeons and the planes. I think you’re exactly right. I think you said being willing for it to be shit as well. Starting somewhere. One thing I think is that everything you need is in your hands. More than ever, everything is in your hands. Hey, that could be our next song, Zack.
Fox: There you go. It’s all in your hands.
Bedingfield: But it’s there. Also, don’t look down on the small stuff. Don’t look down on everyone else who’s around you who’s just starting something. Be brave enough to start, to be a beginner, and don’t look down on all the other beginners. It’s almost like a computer game. I get good at something, and then I want to try something new because I actually want to be a beginner and it’s really scary to be not good at something. I was trying to learn the dance. I’m not good. I made them slow it down.
Fox: And it’s like you made the song, you should be completely OK with butchering that dance because you made the fucking song. But you were like, “Nah, I got to be humble. This is a new territory. I got to learn what they doing.”
Bedingfield: Zack, can I ask you, what was the decision in the Jesus video song where you didn’t… Were you wearing nothing? Is that what every journalist asks?
Fox: Just Natasha. No. I think I had something on, but they blurred me.
Bedingfield: But did you feel scared when you put that out? Did you have a feeling, that feeling of like, “Ooh, this is brave?”
Fox: Nah. I was just being me.
Bedingfield: I just do think it is the funniest thing when people are wearing full clothes on the top.
Fox: Oh yeah. What’s it called? Winnie the Poohing. Or Donald Ducking is another alternative. That’s my natural state of being in the house. So I wasn’t uncomfortable.
Bedingfield: So you’ve got a really special woman.
Fox: Yeah. One would say she’s very tolerant of this kind of behavior. Are you seeing someone, Natasha? Are you married?
Bedingfield: I am. I’m married and I have a 3-year-old. And it’s really fun because I get to play with kids’ toys again, so I get to play with Legos and marble runs.
Fox: Do you feel like you’re reliving your childhood? Or not reliving it, but getting to re-experience some of it? Is he musical? Are you going to push that? Do the music thing?
Bedingfield: No. I’m just happy that he’s healthy.
Fox: That’s dope. I don’t have kids, but if my kid tried to be a comedian, I would… “Just get the fuck out of my house. Be a fucking teacher.” That’s what I wanted to do, but I didn’t have no money to go to school and learn how to do that. If my kid was like, “I want to be funny,” I’d be like, “Oh, here you go telling jokes.”
Bedingfield: I mean, it’s just wanting to be funny and being funny… when someone’s funny then you just know they are.
Fox: Like Richard Pryor’s son had no fucking business trying to do comedy. That shit was crazy. That shit was ass. It was pure hot ass. And then he got booed at the Apollo and it was like, well yeah, man, you were supposed to go help them cure cancer or something. Your dad grew up in a brothel. Go help single mothers find housing so we don’t create more situations that create Richard Pryors.
[Here’s where things got super off-topic. We decided to cut it for space. But we promise that it was fantastic.]
Fox: Are there any artists, American artists, that you want to work with right now that you’re like, “I want to make a song with them”? Would you work with Young Dolph?
Bedingfield: There’s this guy called Zack Fox who I think would be really cool to write a amazing top line for. I do write a lot of funny things and I don’t have the outlet to put it out because I don’t think that people would receive it from me. So it would be fun to do it with someone. Because I tried. I wrote one song called, “I want to have your babies,” and I thought it was really funny. And some people really liked it, but a lot more people really hated it.
Fox: Really? How long ago was this?
Bedingfield: This was after “Unwritten” and I had a bunch of hits, and then I had an amazing time going around the world, and I thought I was funnier than I was. We loved it in the studio and it was all about the things that women don’t say out loud, that we just think. Like when we’re on a date, we’re like, “Could this be the dad of my kid?” But I think when I released it, people thought I was serious.
Fox: I think that’s where you might have missed something. If it’s about the things that women don’t want to say out loud, that’s a lot of things. You know what I mean? So the song can start with, “I want to have your babies,” and that is a thing that you’re not supposed to say out loud, but it could end with, “I want to shoot your mama.” You know what I mean? In-law drama like I want to beat this bitch’s ass because she keep…
Bedingfield: You’re right. Because women have way more on their brains.
Guys, I hate to ruin the bit…
Fox: See, we making magic and Brenton fucking it up, man. This is exactly why.
Bedingfield: He’s just like an exec.
Man, that’s following me to the grave. Thank you both so much for being a part of this.
Fox: No, this was fucking awesome.