meta-script10 Emerging Jazz Artists To Watch: Simon Moullier, Mali Obomsawin, Julieta Eugenio, Jeremy Dutton & More | GRAMMY.com
10 Emerging Jazz Artists To Know
(L-R): Chien Chien Lu, Mali Obomsawin, Simon Moullier, Jeremy Dutton, Julieta Eugenio, Jonathan Suazo, Bokani Dyer, Anthony Hervey, Hailey Brinnel, Miki Yamanaka

Photos (L-R): Stephen Pyo, Abby Lank and Jared Lank, Shervin Lainez, Adrien Tillmann, Nicolas Manassi, Gina Principe, Raees Hassan, Gabrielle Hervey, Matt Baker, Rudy Royston

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10 Emerging Jazz Artists To Watch: Simon Moullier, Mali Obomsawin, Julieta Eugenio, Jeremy Dutton & More

Pandemic lockdowns battered jazz like almost no other genre, but these 10 artists forged ahead and played on — more imaginatively and powerfully than ever.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2023 - 05:40 pm

Miki Yamanaka tried to play music in her own home. She found her front door knob covered in peanut butter.

The year was 2020, and the pianist and her drummer husband were deep into lockdown. Despite numerous attempts at transparency and compromise with their Harlem neighbors, she says, they opted for harassment and hate mail — including the threatening application of the lunch spread. For Yamanaka, this felt like death by a thousand cuts.

With no gigs or recording dates to speak of — nor assurance she'd ever work again — it was destabilizing to be unable to hone the craft that made her a living. "My visa was about to end," Yamanaka tells GRAMMY.com. "My bachelor's degree is in earth science in Japan. [I thought I'd] have to go back and restart my career or some s—."

When all hope seemed lost, something magical transpired. Realizing her colleagues, the revered saxophonist Mark Turner and top-flight bassist Orlando le Fleming, were also busy doing nothing, she invited them to take COVID tests and record in her living room. 

Turner and le Fleming accepted, and the three made resplendent music together, as heard on 2021's Stairway to the Stars. "It was such a wake-up call for me that this is absolutely what I love. This is why I am alive," Yamanaka tells GRAMMY.com. "I got to remind myself that I love playing music."

Yamanaka's expressions speak to how this cataclysm defined the current crop of emerging jazz talent. While the pandemic was a universal experience, it can't be overstated how much it throttled this musical community. (There's a reason it still pops up in numberless press releases.)

A livewire, interconnective artform contingent on human beings gathering in close proximity, jazz was practically first on the list to go. By the time it returned, some talented practitioners had abandoned that dream — often for understandable reasons. But due to sheer gumption, a confluence of life circumstances, or both, others felt galvanized to charge through it.

In this reshaped jazz landscape, here are 10 artists who are currently perforating the scene — and the conversation.

Miki Yamanaka

*Miki Yamanaka. Photo: Martina DaSilva*

Miki Yamanaka

During a recent album release show for the trombonist Nick Finzer at Birdland in New York City, Yamanaka's pianistic touch was ear-turning. Comping, or accompanying, behind a soloist isn't arbitrary or automatic; it's an artform all its own; Yamanaka brings this musical truth into stark relief.

"I have such a huge passion for comping. If I don't play, that creates one vibe. If I play a lot, that creates another vibe," she says. "I could play super inside the chord changes, rhythmically, like Horace Silver would do, or I could play a lot of different re-harms like Herbie [Hancock] would do."

But, to transcend one-to-one comparisons: "The music is not supposed to be a muscular technique, per se. It's about the emotions," Yamanaka says. "It's about the colors and textures, but also rooted[ness] to the tradition."

Yamanaka comes from a big-band background: the foundational works of Count Basie, Buddy Rich and Duke Ellington moved her early on. And artists more associated with small groups, from Oscar Peterson to Cedar Walton to Sonny Clark, filled out her early influences.

These days, contemporary giants like the late Geri Allen and Paul Bley pique Yamanaka's interest: "For now, my interest is moving forward in a different direction."

To date, Yamanaka has released four albums as a leader: 2012's Songs Without Lyrics, 2018's Miki, 2020's Human Dust Suite, and Stairway to the Stars. While the lion's share of her work is as an accompanist, the latter proves she's rapidly coming into her own as a leader.

"For my future, I want to step up more — and even travel more — to bring my music, the excitement, and work with other people that I admire," she says. "To make their music even more interesting — that I could partake, and make it special."

Simon Moullier

*Simon Moullier. Photo: Shervin Lainez*

Simon Moullier

Vibraphonist Simon Moullier dazzled at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan last winter, supporting his latest album, Isla. Accompanied by pianist Lex Korten, bassist Alex Claffy and drummer Jongkuk Kim, Moullier's capacity for impressionistic effect beautifully counterweighted his technical acumen.

One might walk away thinking Moullier was born for the vibraphone. Not the case, he says.

"It's never really been much about the instrument itself," Moullier admits to GRAMMY.com. "The vibraphone is just something I chose because I was a percussionist, and it was an immediate way for me to get to the expression I [desired]."

To be clear, "I love the instrument," he adds. "But my love for it is not even close, compared to composing, playing or improvising. I don't really think about the instrument as much as I think about what I'm trying to express on it."

Moullier's concept for this quartet hinges on the timbral marriage between the piano and vibes. "We play a lot of things together in the same register," he explains, "which means both instruments kind of blend together and almost create this third, invisible instrument."

Aesthetically, Isla is something of a rapprochement between his first two albums: 2020's electronic-tinged Spirit Song and 2021's Countdown, a raw, acoustic trio album of standards.

"Even though I love electronics, I think learning how to treat acoustic instruments and combine them is really fun to do," Moullier says. "Sometimes, from limitations comes a lot of possibilities."

While classical impressionism looms large in Moullier's musical DNA, he connects it to modern-jazz giants like Horace Silver and Wayne Shorter. ("There are a lot of similarities between Horace Silver and Ravel, harmonically speaking," he notes.)

And judging by the luminescent Isla, the future is boundless as to how he can straddle these worlds. He has a trio album with bassist Luca Alemanno and Kim in the can — the same trio featured on Countdown. He's checking out West African and Brazilian music. He's eyeing film scoring. 

All in all, whether you're a fan of the vibes or forward-thinking composition writ large, you'd be remiss not to keep tabs on Moullier.

Chien Chien Lu

*Chien Chien Lu. Photo: Stephen Pyo*

Chien Chien Lu

Fellow vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu initially cut her teeth in her native Taiwan's  contemporary classical scene. To put it lightly, it wasn't for her.

"I didn't really like the culture that much," Lu tells GRAMMY.com, adding that she was rankled by the stiff, contrived nature of the performances. "We were all playing written music, and you need to be pretty and smile onstage and that kind of stuff."

This, coupled with its hard-drinking, politically freighted nightlife, compelled her to shift gears professionally.

When Lu heard vibraphone royalty Roy Ayers and Milt Jackson on the radio in Taiwan, she was enamored. "I was like, 'My god, they are also doing percussion, but they do it with so much soul," she recalls.

Lu fled overseas to Philadelphia to study jazz, but initially hit a wall. "I found out that it's almost impossible to start to play jazz with a classical mindset," she admits. "I had to train a new skill muscle."

While spending "eight to 10" hours in a practice room building that muscle, Lu shifted her mindset and struck gold. The skeleton key was to access that casual precision, that personality-forward approach — that soul — that Ayers and Jackson embodied.

"I can just be myself on the stage and do my improvisation," she remembers realizing.

One thing led to another: just as she relocated to New York, esteemed trumpeter Jeremy Pelt took her under his wing as an accompanist on three of his records. Her debut album, The Path, arrived in 2020.

Her working relationship with the exceptional jazz-funk-rock bassist Richie Goods — who appeared on The Path — has reached new heights in recent years: their co-billed album, Connected, arrived at the top of 2023.

Despite being recorded remotely due to pandemic concerns, tunes like "Water," "Embrace the Now" and "Someday We'll All Be Free" are suffused with camaraderie and love.

Being that Lu's of Asian descent and Goods is Black, they came to commiserate about the traumas that plague their communities.

As the pair considered issues as thorny as racial violence, they conceived Connected as something of a tranquil counterweight — complete with shimmering textures and sinuous R&B grooves.

In all her expressions about her artistry and career, Lu's gratitude to have a foothold in the New York scene shines through. "I feel like, with this rise, I'm confident to say what I want to say," she says, and corrects herself immediately: "To say what I need to say."

Jeremy Dutton

*Jeremy Dutton. Photo: Jason Rostkowski*

Jeremy Dutton

Germane to an era where matters of mental health and capitalistic workaholism are front of mind, a theme has popped up in young jazz artists' PR narratives: the grind.

Uprooting from a faraway home country, being laughed out of jam sessions, scuffling for gigs 24/7: artists are talking about it, reassessing it, making music about it. And it's at the essence of drummer extraordinaire Jeremy Dutton's debut album, Anyone is Better Than Here, out June 16.

"It's a call-out to this idea that once we get to a certain place, we'll be happy in life," he tells GRAMMY.com. "If I get these gigs, if I get these opportunities, I'll be fulfilled; I'll be happy… obviously, they can bring you some amount of joy, but I think the ultimate amount of satisfaction and joy comes from accepting yourself and allowing yourself to be who you are."

Indeed, the supple, cerebral Anyone is Better Than Here is permeated with Dutton's personality; he labored over these tunes for years before they finally emerged. Dutton wrote every tune on the album, from "Waves" to "Shifts" to "The Mother."

"I tend to think visually a lot," he says of his process as a composer. "I think cinematically, which I think relates closely to the drums, because the drums can be a very cinematic instrument." (As another exemplar of the drums-composition relationship, Dutton cites Kendrick Scott, who produced Anyone is Better Than Here and is out with his own superlative album on Blue Note, Corridors.)

The album is augmented by new and old compatriots, who happen to be cats of the highest order: vibraphonist Joel Ross, saxophonist Ben Wendel, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and others, who all appear in various configurations.

"The musicians on this record are all people that I've met at different points in my musical journey," Dutton explains. "We're all like-minded in the sense that we're all very committed and serious about the music… through exploring the music, exploring our lives and identities, and honoring the tradition of the musicians that have come before us."

Anyone is Better Than Here represents the culmination of Dutton's legacy as a sideman: he's worked with artists who rightly, and often, occupy the center of their sphere, like trumpeters Marquis Hill and Keyon Harrold, saxophonists Melissa Aldana and Immanuel Wilkins and pianists Vijay Iyer Iyer and Gerald Clayton.

Wherever Dutton goes from here, it'll bear the marks of his finely-attuned musical philosophy. "I think of a melody being memorable being memorable in the sense that, can you remember the shape of it? Is there a clear shape that's running through it?" 

With this auspicious debut, Dutton himself has an arc: one trending skyward.

Mali Obomsawin

*Mali Obomsawin. Photo: Abby Lank and Jared Lank*

Mali Obomsawin

As declared in press stretching all the way up to the Gray Lady, Mali Obomsawin — who hails from the Odanak First Nation — is part of a new wave of Indigenous jazz artists. From trumpeter Delbert Anderson to pianist Renata Yazzie to singer Julia Keefe, these artists are changing the conversation about the confluence between Native American and American musics.

Is that true? Is there a "there" there?

Obomsawin laughs at the question, just prior to her drive from Maine to her rez in Canada.

"I think we're still trying to get there to be a 'there' there," she admits to GRAMMY.com. "The New York Times did that piece on Delbert. But when it comes to meat and potatoes… in addition to doing a land acknowledgment, why don't you hire an Indigenous big band to play there?"

This debate and others like it will rage on; it's probably aflame right now on Indigenous Instagram. But when considering Obomsawin's art — as captured on her critically acclaimed 2022 debut, Sweet Tooth — one thing is clear: Obomsawin is an exceptional and eminently tasteful composer, bassist and bandleader.

While finding a balance between bassist and bandleader can be tricky, Obomsawin is the central pillar, the heartbeat, a steward of her accompanists — as exemplified on Sweet Tooth.

"I think there are moments to shine, but a lot of times, bassists feel like they haven't had their moment because they're doing their job," Obomsawin says. "So, when they're in the writer's seat, they write themselves all the solos that they wish they had been offered in the past."

Billed as "a suite for Indigenous resistance," tunes like "Fractions," "Lineage" and "Blood Quantum," showcase cornetist and flugelhornist Taylor Ho Bynum, saxophonist Noah Campbell, clarinetist and alto saxophonist Allison Burik, guitarist Miriam Elhajli, and drummer Savannah Harris. (Sweet Tooth is an exceptional showing from Elhajli, who picked up the electric guitar for the first time on this record and plays with McLaughlin-esque fire: watch out for her, too.)

Obomsawin is working toward another jazz album, but notes "I think I hit my threshold with being too much in one place, or too much in one framework." Instead, she's just recorded — of all things — a shoegaze album.

"We're thinking of calling it Greatest Hits," she says with a smirk. "I feel like I'm going to make myself a perpetual outsider by getting people to pay attention to me in jazz and then, 'You know what, though? I'm going to put out a shoegaze record." (It's not that much of a stretch; after all, Obomsawin and her group recently opened for Yo La Tengo.)

Perhaps there is a "there" there. It's just that "there" isn't going to define her.

Jonathan Suazo

*Jonathan Suazo. Photo: Gina Principe*

Jonathan Suazo

When it comes to creative inspiration, many artists experience a big-bang event: music bios and docs are so riddled with them, it's almost a cliché. 

But there's nothing trifling or trite about Jonathan Suazo's eureka moment: a single note on saxophonist Kenny Garrett's "May Peace Be Upon Them," from his 2006 album Beyond the Wall.  Seeming to reach the limit of what he can express with his horn, Garrett screams into the mouthpiece. Listen to it at 5:47; try not to get goosepimples.

"That's the life-changing note," the Puerto Rican saxophonist tells GRAMMY.com, still audibly flabbergasted. "I wanted to play that note, or the equivalent of that note, one day."

That note may have sent Suazo on a journey, but it was never a given it'd be successful. When he started at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, he found that his feet weren't touching the bottom.

"I sucked," he says. (He admits he may be exaggerating, but the answer is a jolt anyway.) "I wasn't on par like I thought I was."

Suazo's father was the one who turned him on to Beyond the Wall; on his deathbed, Suazo had promised him he would make something of the saxophone. So he set aside a year — stretching from 2008 to 2009 — that would form an ultimatum: Either you do this, or you don't.

The year of doing nothing but woodshedding paid off: first via a big break by way of gigs with percussionist Paoli Mejias, then tutelage at the Global Jazz Institute in Boston — often by way of masters of this music, like bassist John Patitucci and saxophonist Joe Lovano.

Things ramped up in 2019, when Puerto Rican saxophone titan Miguel Zenón invited Suazo to perform at a concert series. Right then, Suazo found himself making regular trips to New York, immersing himself in its jazz firmament.

Suazo entered a period of "reawakening" and "reevaluating" during the pandemic years: "Things were so rough, that I was contemplating not doing the music thing for a second," he admits.

But Suazo emerged from the mire, first slowly — via a Kennedy Center remote series — and then rapidly. He's gearing up to release his formal debut, RICANO, in August — a celebration of his dual roots in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

"I started doing a deep dive into my roots as an important exercise to find something in the source of your identity that can carry the rest of your career forward," Suazo explains of his time at Global Jazz Institute. "Something that you personally identify with that can be translated into your music."

Each tune on RICANO highlights a specific musical tradition — Dominican salve on "Héroes," Puerto Rican yubá on "Don't Take Kindly," so on and so forth. Taken as a compositional cycle, it acts as both a loving tribute to his origins and lodestar as to his future evolution.

Speaking of that evolution, we've left out one crucial part. 

"In one of those practice sessions, I figured out how to convey emotion like Garrett in my own way," he says. "I figured out how to play that thing." That thing being: Garrett's growl, and how he managed that galactic caterwaul, which seemed to shake the concept of music to its foundations. It may have been the skeleton key to Suazo's destiny.

Anthony Hervey

*Anthony Hervey. Photo: EBAR*

Anthony Hervey

Whenever Anthony Hervey picks up his trumpet, he does so donning a charm reading a simple phrase: "When words fail, music speaks." 

"That's a big part of my concept and sound," he tells GRAMMY.com, connecting the axiom to the title of his upcoming debut album, Words From My Horn, out in June 2023. "It's about the power of sound to reach people in a place beyond words." (None other than Wynton Marsalis has sure offered some words about him: he called him "beautiful trumpet player of the first magnitude.")

In an effort to "transcend the barrier between my soul and my music," he finds clever ways to communicate without words: flipping the rhythms of poems he's written into tunes, and even transmuting sung verses into phrases. ("I'm a singer," he says. "Well, kind of.")

It doesn't hurt that Hervey is steeped in some of the greatest trumpet communicators of the past — Louis Armstrong, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan — and present, like Sean Jones and Ambrose Akinmusire. 

He also finds inspiration in his cohort of young trumpeters, among them Giveton Gelin, Noah Halpern and Summer Camargo. "Each one has a distinct voice," Hervey says says. "I would say I'm another voice in addition to that."

Marsalis played a tremendous role in paving Hervey's path; he spent time with the nine-time GRAMMY winner while studying at Julliard. From there, the associations spiderwebbed; he came to perform with Christian McBride, Ulysses Owens Jr., Jon Batiste, and other leaders in this field.

Now, his time as a sideman has led him to step out with Words From My Horn — his own statement of purpose as a leading trumpeter in the straight-ahead scene. 

"On one hand, you're trying to deal with changes and vocabulary and all that stuff, but once you get past that, what is your sound saying?" Hervey says, outlining his creative philosophy. "Behind all the notes you play, it's your sound, and that's what people hear."

Indeed, as soon as Hervey raises the horn to his lips, a connection is established — from your mind and heart to his.

Bokani Dyer

*Bokani Dyer. Photo: Raees Hassan*

Bokani Dyer

South African pianist, composer and producer Bokani Dyer describes his new album, Radio Sechaba, as "a roundabout journey back into my earliest inspirations in music-making." But that statement belies that these incentives are beamed from all directions — not just his home country.

When discussing his musical history and interests, Dyer's citations reach far and wide: alternative hip-hop, salsa, soul, R&B, house, D'Angelo. While channels to study newer music are scarce in South Africa, that was just as well: "Jazz influenced more heavily these types of music, that I was more interested in," Dyer tells GRAMMY.com. 

If the pantheon of Black music is a sprawling tree, just about every branch seems to offer ripe fruitage for Dyer's pianistic inspiration. (He even prepares his piano to give it an African timbre.) This omnivorousness led him to play in all manner of styles and idioms in college.

"To fast forward today and to this album," Dyer says, "I was looking at collaborators who either shared the same ideas when it was time for me to let them do their thing, or people who are just great musicians."

The glue that coheres this multitude of concepts is the notion of nation-building — hence Radio Sechaba's title. (Sechaba meets "nation" in Setswana.) Part of that came from his recent completion of his master's degree, where he was prompted to contemplate the role that music can play in social justice.

Still, a society can only be healed from the inside out; accordingly, Dyer is firm that Radio Sechaba is, at its core, individual-forward. "A lot of the music is actually about internal reflection and personal challenges," he says. "Trying to liberate oneself to become a stronger member of the community and nation."

Featuring guests from rapper Damani Nkosi to Botswanan folkies Sereetsi and the Natives to pianist and singer Tonela Mnana, Radio Sechaba is packed with so many ideas that it can provide hours of entertainment: turn it like a prism, and you'll find something new every time.

And when the album arrives on May 12, expect Dyer to step onto a similar level as other South African leading lights, like fellow pianist Nduduzo Makhathini.

"We've done a few shows," Dyer says of him and his ensemble, "and hopefully a lot more will come as a result of the album. I'm looking for some high-energy, kind of Afrobeat, socially conscious, beautiful music — an unbridled expression of positivity."

Julieta Eugenio

*Julieta Eugenio. Photo: Anna Yatskevich*

Julieta Eugenio

If you're a fan of tenor saxophonists in that Goldilocks zone — neither too harsh nor too mellow; tuneful, but with a subtle edge — seek out Julieta Eugenio immediately. Indeed, few younger musicians can access that satisfying Ben Webster or Lester Young frequency like her.

"She doesn't need to play extremely aggressively to say what she's trying to say through her instrument," bassist Matt Dwonszyk, who accompanied on her 2022 debut, Jump, told JazzTimes that year. "She writes the melodies [to her compositions] first, then puts chords to [them], which is very interesting. And, of course, the melodies are beautiful."

The Jump tunes are occasionally tinged with influence from her native Argentina. But these days, Eugenio is pulling them from many other parts of the world, and sometimes from sources far afield from jazz.

"I don't listen to much Argentine music," she admits to GRAMMY.com. Instead, she points to the Malian kora master Toumani Diabaté and Nina Simone ("I've been obsessed with her lately") as providing a well of communion.

Eugenio has a slew of new music written for the chordless trio on Jump — herself, Dwonszyk and drummer Jonathan Barber — and is preparing to debut it at the legendary New York club Smalls later in the month. (She's also eyeing a recording date later this year.)

"It hasn't been easy, and it's not easy still," Eugenio admitted to JazzTimes, "but I keep pushing." But with such a mature, self-assured debut out in the world, and its follow-up on the way, that door may soon swing wide open.

Hailey Brinnel

*Hailey Brinnel. Photo: Emilie Krause*

Hailey Brinnel

As a singer and trombonist who interprets the Great American Songbook, Hailey Brinnel has two potential associations to dodge: the novelty factor and the imitator factor. 

Luckily, she has the perceptiveness and facility to avoid both snares — and her inviting, accessible music resists any reduction anyone might want to impose on her.

"People say trombone and cello are the two instruments closest to the human voice, so it's a really natural connection between the two," she says. "I was always drawn to earlier eras in jazz — swing, New Orleans trad jazz, the Great American Songbook."

Speaking of the latter: how did Brinnel find a livable space within that very well-trodden catalog — and learn to interpret it without falling into been-there-done-that territory?

"A lot of that had to do with my repertoire choice," she explains. "When I started out and had my first quintet gigs, I was trying really hard to do what I thought was cool at the time and would appeal [to the largest number of people]."

Early on, Brinnel thought she could accomplish this through feats of technical bravado and derring-do, like playing the intentionally difficult arrangements in knotty time signatures.

But eventually, Brinnel had the realization that most all great jazz traditionalists do — including Samara Joy, who won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist in 2023. Which is: carving out her niche in the jazz space isn't contingent on reinventing the wheel, but being herself.

That's the energy that fed into Brinnel's charming and companionable new album, Beautiful Tomorrow, which dropped in March and cemented her status as a Philadelphia it girl. In equal parts sweet and swinging, classics like "Tea For Two" and "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" swim alongside originals "I Might Be Evil" and "The Sound."

An inspired version of Donald Fagen's solo The Nightfly tune "Walk Between Raindrops" shows she's got big ears and a big record collection: in conversation, her enthusiastic shout-outs to the Beatles and Harry Nilsson show she's a classicist in more ways than one.

"All of the selections in the album are so me, and from different points in my life, and reflect a lot of things about my personal past," she says. "I was picking the songs during the pandemic lockdowns, wanting that feeling of optimism: the acceptance of today might not be wonderful, but there's a promise of a beautiful tomorrow."

Because these 10 artists kept the flame burning, what could have ended the music altogether spurred them to write, sing and play like they never had before.

We Pass The Ball To Other Ages: Inside Blue Note's Creative Resurgence In The 2020s

Delbert Anderson

Delbert Anderson

Photo: Maurice Johnson

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America Has Birthed A Wealth Of Musical Forms. These Indigenous Artists Want To Know Where They Fit Into Them.

Despite being the first, truest Americans, Indigenous peoples have historically been alienated and othered while working in what we understand as American forms — from jazz to country to hip-hop and beyond

GRAMMYs/Nov 13, 2021 - 01:26 am

A festival promoter told Delbert Anderson he didn't present as Indigenous enough. The trumpeter and his group, DDAT, showed up to the State Fair of Texas in what he calls "the Native American section" — filled with dancers in traditional garb, among other signifiers. DDAT, for their part, donned suits. 

"They immediately assumed that we had some type of traditional feather show," Anderson, who is of Diné and Navajo descent, tells GRAMMY.com. "They probably thought we were going to show up in regalia or something."

The promoter asked Anderson whether or not DDAT played traditional music. "No, we don't," he responded. "But there are a lot of melodies that are inspired from that." The promoter didn't comprehend this — so much so that she went up to Anderson mid-set and shoved a turquoise necklace around his neck. 

Anderson was shocked. "I kind of stopped and said, 'Excuse me,'" he recalls. "And she just sort of said, 'You don't look Native enough.'"

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Read More: Meet Delbert Anderson, A Native American Trumpet Master Interweaving Navajo Melodies With Jazz

Ever good-humored, Anderson brushed off the harassment and tossed the necklace around his white bass player's neck. Still, he can't get the incident out of his head. "That's one of the first times anything like that has happened to me," he says. "They expect that kind of back-to-the-roots, traditional type of music from anyone who uses the words 'Native,' 'Indigenous' or 'tribal.'"

He's not alone: Many musicians of Indigenous ancestry in his circle — and outside of it — have felt the micro- and macroaggressions come fast and hard. And othering those who identify and market themselves as Indigenous isn't exclusive to jazz.

Even though Indigenous peoples have been here longer than anyone, they face tension, discomfort and/or unadulterated racism in a slew of genres understood to be American — from country to blues to gospel to hip-hop.

This is despite the fact that all these genres have deep Indigenous roots. Jazz household names Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk had Native American ancestry. Same with blues musicians like Howlin' Wolf, Charley Patton and Martha Redbone. In classic rock, you've got Jimi Hendrix and Robbie Robertson. The list goes on.

Renata Yazzie. Photo: Darklisted Photography​

Despite this, Diné classical pianist Renata Yazzie says moving through her world is a "scabrous" experience. "The greatest difficulty is not only teaching ignorant people, but willfully ignorant people who refuse to recognize how the elitism of classical music has affected historically underrepresented groups," she tells GRAMMY.com.

Why do musicians who identify as Indigenous, like Anderson, Yazzie, Mali Obomsawin, Adrian Wall, JJ Otero, James Pakootas, Julia Keefe, Warren Realrider and Raven Chacon — all of whom spoke to GRAMMY.com for this story — experience such tension, both from within their communities and in the wider world?

The answers are manifold, varying wildly between artists and their tribal affiliations. Here are some of the ways that artists of Indigenous descent have experienced unease in the American music landscape — and how they overcame it.

Howlin' Wolf. Photo: Gilles Petard/Redferns​ via Getty Images

Considering The Course Of History

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have developed an impossibly broad array of musical traditions. And with the arrival — or invasion, depending on who you ask — of European settlers came trade, fighting over boundaries and the introduction of European instruments.

At mission schools, Europeans taught Native Americans to compose on European instruments. This led to students composing Indigenous usic with those tools and methods. Works like 1845's Indian Melodies featured traditional Native tunes composed with European notation.

In the back-half of the 19th century, the primordial stew of Black American music was percolating — the one that would give the world jazz, blues and other idioms. And the pervasive invisibility felt by Indigenous peoples meant they had a point of commiseration with Black musical communities.

"Black and Indigenous people have been in community with each other since the beginning, since Black Africans were forcibly brought here for slavery," jazz bassist Mali Obomsawin, who is affiliated with the Odanak Abenaki First Nation tribe, tells GRAMMY.com. "I think people tend to forget that many of the founding blues and jazz artists were both Black and Native."

This confluence of heritages and traditions has been obscured by what Obomsawin calls a larger obfuscation of Indigenous identity — coupled with anti-Blackness. "If someone like Thelonious Monk, who was Tuscarora, was to be like, 'I'm Native American,' everyone would be like, 'No, you're Black,'" Obomsawin says.

"It was not desirable for Natives to be higher in numbers, whereas it was desirable for Black folks to be higher in numbers because they were considered property," she continues. "That means that slave owners and human traffickers had more property value. Whereas the more people that were Native, the more people the government was accountable to."

Mildred Bailey. Photo: Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

Julia Keefe, a jazz vocalist and enrolled member of the Nez Perce tribe, is acutely aware of the crossroads of Blackness and Indigenousness in early American music.

"There is a historical precedent for Native Americans in jazz," she tells GRAMMY.com, citing Indigenous people who learned European music in boarding and residential schools. "Around the same time that jazz was taking off in the '20s and '30s, there is evidence of Native people forming their own big bands."

One lesser-known early Indigenous jazz musician was Mildred Bailey, a singer of Native descent from the Coeur d'Alene tribe.

"She was the first one to sing in front of a big band," Keefe notes. "You think about all the female vocalists — Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidaySarah Vaughan — who got their start singing in front of big band, and it was because there was such an appetite for that sound by Mildred Bailey singing in front of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra."

Oscar Pettiford. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

But Bailey is just the tip of the iceberg in this regard. Besides Parker and Monk, there's a lengthy list of jazz artists of Indigenous descent — including saxophonist Jim Pepper, bassist Oscar Pettiford and trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry.

And jazz is but one piece of the puzzle: Indigenous artists can be found in all genres. But at times, proudly broadcasting their heritage in these spaces has proved difficult in the face of divisive politics.

Navigating Political Divides

While Anderson can only speak for his local scene near Farmington, New Mexico, he has a clear vantage on what it's like to market oneself as a Native American musician.

"I think as time progressed from the '80s until now, there were a lot of stronger Indigenous voices that came out," he says, citing activist causes like the American Indian Movement. "The moment you try to take any stand for Native American something, people tend to take those words as 'You're a hardcore activist.'"

"I mean, I could go outside right now and say, 'I stand with Standing Rock,'" he adds. "Immediately, people are going to think of me as a negative force here."

And while that scene comprised a healthy variety of perspectives and genres, it attracted judgement from the outside. "I think a lot of the people who were involved didn't really realize what they were creating," Anderson says. "It really looked like they were making some type of coalition — or Indigenous organization — that's going to fight everything that goes in their path."

Delbert Anderson. Photo: Maurice Johnson

This atmosphere weighed heavily on Anderson's career in 2013, when DDAT began to market themselves as "Native American jazz." (James Pakootas, their MC, is Indigenous; bassist Michael McCluhan is white; drummer Nicholas Lucero is Hispanic.)

"We immediately got thrown into this pool of musicians that were stirring up this big group or organization," Anderson says. "The moment we said 'We are Native American jazz,' they immediately assumed we're part of this Native American music scene, and it lost us gigs because they thought we were there to lecture the audience."

Anderson saw his more militant colleagues as refusing to compromise, acting as if rules didn't apply to them. "There's a lot of that showing up in musicians today," he says. "The moment a venue says something that they can't do, like, 'Oh, you can't burn cedar here before the show,' or anything like that, they'll throw a huge, huge fit."

"I hate to say it," Anderson says, "but it kind of ruined it for the rest of us who don't participate in that ceremony."

To avoid these associations, DDAT eventually decided to pivot away from "Native American jazz," describing themselves as a funk/jazz group inspired by Indigenous melodies. "People started to see us as not being activists, or the rowdy ones," Anderson says. As a result, the group immediately started getting offered more gigs.

Julia Keefe. Photo: Don Hamilton

Braving Inner Conflict

This dissonance isn't limited to sociopolitical factions, or a conflict between musicians and promoters — although Anderson could certainly share other horror stories. Even so-called enlightened spaces, like jazz workshops, have left Indigenous musicians second-guessing themselves.

"At gigs or at workshops or what have you, people will come up and be kind of aggressive about it — almost offended," Keefe says. "Like, [Flustered voice] 'What does that mean? What do you mean you are a Native American jazz vocalist?' 'Well, I'm Native American and I sing jazz. That's what I do.'"

"With that confrontation of my identity," she adds, "there's been tension within myself of, 'If I'm going to claim my Native heritage on my business card, should my music be more influenced by my Indigenous heritage?'"

But even if an artist defines what Indigenousness means for themselves, it's bound to create friction with others' preconceptions or stereotypes. "That's something that Natives come up against in any sort of art form," Obomsawin says.

Adrian Wall. Photo: Shondinii Walters​

Adrian Wall, a flutist and guitarist with roots in the Jemez Pueblo tribe, experiences dislocation just by announcing who he is to the world.

"Once you play the Native card, you're kind of stuck being a Native musician when you're actually playing music that's accepted worldwide just as American music," he tells GRAMMY.com. "Once you call yourself a Native, all of a sudden you're playing Native music."

Raven Chacon, a Diné composer who works in the experimental and noise scenes, has had to push against assumptions that his work would be stereotypically Native — or adjacent to new age. 

"There was an assumption it was going to involve flutes or drums or something," he tells GRAMMY.com with a laugh. "Even from people should know better, there have been assumptions."

Raven Chacon. Photo: Jamie Drummond

To fellow experimental musician and sound sculpturist Warren Realrider — who is Pawnee and enrolled with the Crow Nation of Montana and makes music akin to John Zorn, Pauline Oliveros and Merzbow — the solution lies in creating a music industry framework that accurately represents Indigenous creators.

"These systems of music, distribution, performance, whatever — they are built on a world that's not the Indigenous world," he tells GRAMMY.com. "You're always going to have to work against that in some way."

Plus, as a representative of his background in the insular noise space, Realrider's work has become bigger than him — he feels inordinate pressure to not let his tribe down.

"A lot of Indigenous artists don't lose that aspect," he says, considering the arc of his life and career so far. "That's something you carry along with you, and you present yourself that way."

Addressing Language Barriers

Sometimes, the criticism comes from within Indigenous communities themselves. JJ Otero, a Hopi and Diné singer/songwriter inspired by bands like Counting Crows and Pearl Jam, had to deal with the finer points of language — even one he knew backward and forward.

"I didn't use the Navajo language in my music for the longest time," he tells GRAMMY.com from his home on a Navajo reservation. "The white guys in [my first band, Saving Damsels] said, 'You should write a song in Navajo that we can play.'"

JJ Otero. Photo: Unek Francis

Despite being a fluent Navajo speaker, Otero wanted to be careful that he said things exactly right. "I don't want my songs to just be a lazy utterance of words in Navajo," he says. To thread the needle, Otero enlisted his father to vet his lyrics for inexact grammar and syntax.

"I do believe that sometimes our own people can be our toughest critics," Otero says. "We can take that criticism and be mad and upset about it, or we can dive deeper into why those criticisms exist and understand the foundation of why Navajo is sacred."

Facing One's Own Community

As a rapper and motivational speaker who spits bars in DDAT, James Pakootas operates by what he calls "a very deep awareness of protocol."

"A lot of times, Native artists in contemporary music want to meld the two worlds, but it seems like sometimes they're taking away from the culture. It's not done with care," Pakootas tells GRAMMY.com. "It's like sampling a powwow song, putting it on a hip-hop beat and calling it good."

James Pakootas. Photo: Maurice Johnson

To avoid this sort of mishandling, Pakootas works with collaborators to tell his stories as considerately as possible, preferring to bring in a drum group and analyze together how the story could be told.

"A lot of songs I know are ceremony songs," he adds. "There's not going to be any of those that I share because there's a protocol in place to keep that sacred. There's a time and a place for that song to be sung or that melody to be used."

Reaching Harmony From Dissonance

How can music fans right these wrongs and push against the othering of Indigenous artists? Maybe the first step is realizing that Indigenous music is all music.

"Native people are very much seen as mythological creatures, as the villains in Westerns, the mascots that you love to hate, or whatever," Keefe says. "So, I can see why [musical discrimination] would be a thing because so often we are perceived as a figment of someone's imagination."

Warren Realrider. Photo: Shane Brown​

For Obomsawin, this necessary shift begins with education — and by listening to the stories of her elders. In her case, that teacher is Pura Fé, a Tuscarora and Taino vocalist and activist related to Thelonious Monk.

"She is so intimately aware of those dual legacies — the Black and Native lineages of jazz," Obomsawin says. "I just hope that more air time is given to the elders in the jazz and blues community who know those things. I think it could really help to unearth some of those stories as really important parts of American music history — as well as our history in general."

Mali Obomsawin. Photo: Nolan Altvater​

As for Yazzie, she believes significant change won't occur until we give sovereignty to Indigenous artists — so they can decide who their audience is, why they perform their music, what their music sounds like, where they want their music played, and how they want it to be perceived by the rest of the world.

"I always maintain that Native music is Native music because a Native person is outputting it," Yazzie says. "But on the flipside, you don't want to limit people to where all they do is Native music. I think you have to be really careful to not use the Native music label as a way to put people in a specific box. Because Native music is still also blues. It's still jazz. It's still country. It's still hip-hop. It's still classical music. [Indigenous] people are in those genre-specific spaces and they're doing amazing things."

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When considering this subject, Anderson always returns to Don Cherry, who remains one of his idols. "In one of his interviews, he said, 'Hey, it's about meeting other people. It's about having relationships with your friends,'" he says.

"I think everyone just needs to go back to their original state, going back to just being a human and recognizing that we're all humans here," Anderson adds. "Approach each other as human beings with our minds or our thoughts."

Anderson is bringing Cherry's openhearted philosophy to his next endeavor — collaborating with the American Pops Orchestra for a Bureau of Land Management project. This has been a laborious process, with no shortage of fine lines to navigate.

"Bringing this orchestra onto the Indigenous lands is going to be a real struggle because of all the racial division going on in the world," he says. But in the end, Anderson believes all the work is going to be worth it.

"Having these two different identities on that land, I'm hoping the land can really heal the group that's there," he says. "I mean, if the land really heals, we're going to put the land to the test." 

Because it's happened before on this soil: Indigenous people and those of so many other backgrounds have come together to make great American music. Sure, it's been a rocky path to get there — sometimes a troubling and treacherous one. But Anderson and his colleagues aren't afraid to tread it.

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Taylor Swift Songbook Hero
(L-R) Taylor Swift in 2023, 2008 and 2012.

Photos (L-R): Buda Mendes/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management, Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

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Songbook: An Era-By-Era Breakdown Of Taylor Swift's Journey From Country Starlet To Pop Phenomenon

Before the arrival of Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department,' take a deep dive into her discography and see how each album helped her become the genre-shifting superstar she is today.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 08:40 pm

The world now knows Taylor Swift as a global pop superstar, but back in 2006, she was just a doe-eyed country prodigy. Since then, she's released 10 (and soon to be 11) studio albums, re-recorded four as "Taylor's Version," and cultivated one of the most feverish fan bases in music. Oh, and she's also won 14 GRAMMY Awards, including four for Album Of The Year — the most ever won by an artist.

Swift has become one of music's most notable shapeshifters by refusing to limit herself to one genre, moving between country, pop, folk and beyond. A once-in-a-lifetime generational storyteller, one could argue that she is music's modern-day maverick, constantly evolving both her music and the culture around her.

Every album era has seen Swift reinvent herself over and over, which has helped pave the way for artists to explore other musical avenues. In turn, Swift hasn't just become one of the biggest artists of all time — she's changed pop music altogether.

Ahead of Taylor Swift's newest era with The Tortured Poets Department, GRAMMY.com looks back on all of her albums (Taylor's Versions not included) and how each era shaped her remarkable career.

Taylor Swift: Finding Her Place In Music

In a genre dominated by men, the odds were already stacked against Swift when she first broke into country music as a teenage female artist. The thing that differentiated her from other writers — and still does to this day — is her songwriting. She didn't want to be just "another girl singer" and knew writing her own songs would be what set her apart. 

Written throughout her adolescence, Taylor Swift was recorded at the end of 2005 and finalized by the time Swift finished her freshman year of high school. Serving as a snapshot of Swift's life and teenhood, she avoided songwriting stereotypes typically found in country music. Instead, she wanted to capture the years of her life while they still represented what she was going through, writing about what she was observing and experiencing, from love and friendship to feeling like an outsider. 

As a songwriter, Taylor Swift set the tone for what would be expected of her future recordings — all songs were written by her, some solely and others with one or two co-writers. One writer in particular, Liz Rose, applauded Swift's songwriting capabilities, stating that she was more of an "editor" for the songs because Swift already had such a distinct vision. 

The album's lead single, "Tim McGraw," an acoustic country ballad inspired by Swift knowing her relationship was going to end, represents an intricate part of Swift's songwriting process; meticulously picking apart her emotions to better understand them. With its follow-up, "Our Song" — which spent six consecutive weeks on the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart — she became the youngest person to solely write and sing a No. 1 country single; she also became the first female solo artist in country music to write or co-write every song on an album. 

Although Swift's eponymous debut is underappreciated now — even lacking its own set on Swift's Eras TourTaylor Swift's forthcoming rerecording is arguably the most anticipated by fans, who are eager to hear the songs with the singer's current and more refined vocals. Still, for fans who haven't properly explored Taylor Swift, it's easy to tie together Swift's earlier work to her current discography. 

On the track "A Place In This World," a song she wrote when she was just 13, Swift sings about not fitting in and trying to find her path. While her songwriting has developed and matured, feeling like an outsider and carving her own path is a theme she still writes about now, as seen on Midnights' "You're On Your Own, Kid." 

Even as a new country artist, critics claimed that she "mastered" the genre while subsequently ushering it to a new era — one that would soon see Swift dabble in country-pop. 

Fearless: Creating A Different Kind Of Fairytale

If Taylor Swift was the soundtrack to navigating the early stages of teenhood, Fearless is Swift's coming-of-age record. More than its predecessor, Fearless blurs the line between country and pop thanks to crossover hits like "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me," yet still keeps the confessional attributes known in country songwriting. 

Most of Fearless is Swift coming to terms with what she believed love to be. On the album's liner notes, Swift says Fearless is about "living in spite" of the things that scare you, like falling in love again despite being hurt before or walking away and letting go. The 2008 version of Taylor wanted to "believe in love stories and prince charmings and happily ever after," whereas in Swift's Fearless (Taylor's Version) liner notes, she looks back on the album as a diary where she was learning "tiny lessons" every time there was a "new crack in the facade of the fairytale ending she'd been shown in the movies." 

Much of Fearless also sees Swift being reflective and nostalgic about adolescence, like in "Never Grow Up" and "Fifteen." Still wistful and romantic, the album explores Swift's hopes for love, as heard in the album's lead single "Love Story," which was one instance where she was "dramatizing" observations instead of actually experiencing them herself. 

Unlike the slow-burn of Taylor Swift, Fearless went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and stayed there for eight consecutive weeks. It won Swift's first Album Of The Year GRAMMY in 2010, at the time making her the youngest person to win the accolade at age 20. To date, it has sold 7.2 million copies in America alone. It might not be the romantic tale Swift dreamed of growing up, but her sophomore album signalled that bigger things were to come.

Speak Now: Proving Her Songwriting Prowess

Everything that happened after the success of Fearless pushed Swift from country music's best-kept secret to a mainstream star. But this meant that she faced more publicity and criticism, from naysayers who nitpicked her songwriting and vocals to the infamous Kanye West incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

For the first time since becoming an artist, she was forced to reckon with the concept of celebrity and how turning into one — whether she wanted it or not — informed her own writing and perception of herself. No longer was she the girl writing songs like "Fifteen" in her bedroom — now she was working through becoming a highly publicized figure. Speak Now is the answer to those growing pains. 

Along with having more eyes on her, Swift also felt pressured to maintain her persona as a perfect young female role model amid a time when her peers like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato were attempting to rebrand to be more mature and sexier. During her NYU commencement speech in 2022, she reflected on this era of her life as one of intense fear that she could make a mistake and face lasting consequences, so the songs were masked in metaphors rather than directly addressing adult themes in her music. But that also resulted in some of her most poignant lyrics to date.

Read More: For The Record: How Taylor Swift's 'Speak Now' Changed Her Career — And Proved She'll Always Get The Last Word

Writing the entire album herself, Swift used Speak Now to prove her songwriting prowess to those who questioned her capabilities. Much like her previous two albums, Swift included songs that were both inspired by her own life and being a fly on the wall. The album's title track pulled from the saying, "Speak now or forever hold your peace," inspired by a friend's ex-boyfriend getting engaged; meanwhile, "Mean" was everything Swift wanted to say to a critic who was continuously harsh about her vocals.

Retrospective and reflective, Speak Now is an album about the speeches she could've, would've and should've said. From addressing the aforementioned VMA incident in the forgiving "Innocent" to a toxic relationship in "Dear John," Speak Now also hinted that her rose-colored glasses were cracked, but Swift (and her songwriting) was only becoming stronger because of it.

Red: Coming Into Her Own

Highly regarded as Swift's magnum opus, Red sees the singer shed the fairytale dresses and the girl-next-door persona to craft a body of work that has now been deemed as her first "adult" record. On Red, Swift focused on emotions evoked from a hot-and-cold relationship, one that forced her to experience "intense love, intense frustration, jealousy and confusion" — all feelings that she'd describe as "red." 

Unlike most of her previous writing that had been inspired by happy endings and fairytales, Red explores the lingering pain and loss that can embed itself within despite trying your hardest to let go. In her liner notes, she references Pablo Neruda's poem "Tonight I Can Write," stating that "Love is so short, forgetting is so long" is the overarching theme for the album. She plays with time — speeding it up in "Starlight," dabbling in the past in "All Too Well," and reframing it in "State of Grace" — to better understand her experiences. 

After releasing country-pop records, Red toed the line between genres more than ever before. Swift leaned further into the full pop territory by working with esteemed producers Max Martin and Shellback for the dubstep-leaning track "I Knew You Were Trouble," the punchy lead single "We Are Never Getting Back Together," and the bouncy anthem "22." But even when the pop power players weren't involved, her country stylings still leaned more pop across the album, as further evidenced with the racing deep cut "Holy Ground" and the echoing title track. 

The slight change of direction became polarizing for critics and fans alike. Following the more country-influenced Speak Now, some critics and fans found the pop songs on Red were too pop and the lyrics were too repetitive, possibly indicating that she might be selling out. If that wasn't enough, Red became an era where Swift's personal life went from speculation to tabloid fodder, with misogynistic headlines and diluting her work to just "writing about her exes." It's an era that would eventually inspire many tracks on Red's successor, 1989, like "Blank Space" and "Shake It Off."

Commercially, Red debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold 1.2 million copies in its first week, becoming the fastest-selling country album and making Swift the first female artist to have three consecutive albums spend six or more weeks at the top of the chart. The impact of Red extended beyond its own success, too. Often mentioned as a record that inspired a generation of artists from Troye Sivan to Conan Gray, Swift's confessional, soul-bearing authenticity set a new standard for straightforward pop music. 

1989: Reinventing Into A Pop Genius

The night Red lost the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year in 2014, Swift decided that her next album would be a full-on pop record. After years of identifying as a country artist and flirting with pop, Swift departed her roots to reinvent herself, no matter what her then-label or critics had to say. And in true Swiftian fashion, turning into a pop artist didn't just prove her genre-shapeshifting capabilities — it further solidified her as an artist who is at her best when she freely creates to her desires and refuses to adhere to anyone.

1989 was lauded by critics for its infectious synth-pop that was reminiscent of the 1980s, yet still had a contemporary sound. Swift opted to lean more into radio-friendly hits, which resulted in songs like "Style," "Wildest Dreams," "Blank Space," and "Shake It Off," all of which became singles. And where some might trade a hit or two at the expense of their artistic integrity, Swift didn't falter — instead, her lyrics were just as heartfelt and intimate as they were on prior albums.

After exploring pop-leaning sonics she first found with Red, Swift worked with Martin and Shellback again on most of 1989. This reinvention brought new (and very important) collaborators as well. Swift's now-frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff credits her as the first person to take a chance on him as a producer with "I Wish You Would" and "Out Of The Woods"; both tracks exemplified how future Antonoff-produced songs would sound on albums like reputation, Lover and Midnights.

At the time, 1989 became Swift's best-selling album to date. It sold nearly 1.3 million copies within release week in the U.S., debuting atop the Billboard 200 and reigning for 11 non-consecutive weeks. The album also earned Swift several awards — including her second Album Of The Year GRAMMY, which made her the first female artist to ever win the award twice. 

Following the release of 1989, Swift became a cultural juggernaut, and the album has had an omnipresence in music since. Swift didn't just normalize blending genres, but proved that you can create a sound that is uniquely yours by doing so. In turn, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and more pop stars have refused to conform or stick to what they've done prior. 

reputation: Killing The Old Taylor

For years, Swift was on a strict two-year cycle — she'd release an album one year, tour the next, and then release a new album the following year. But following the heightened scrutiny and highly publicized tabloid drama that followed the end of the 1989 era, Swift completely disappeared for a year. She stayed away from public appearances, didn't do any press, and missed the album schedule fans became accustomed to. It wasn't until summer 2017 when she returned from her media (and social media) blackout to unveil the fitting title for her new album: reputation.

Born as a response to the naysayers and name-callers, reputation follows Swift shedding her public image — which includes the pressure to be perfect, the drama, and the criticism — by declaring, "There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation." Leaning on the same tongue-in-cheek songwriting techniques she used while penning "Blank Space," Swift wrote from the mindset of how the public perceived her.

When Swift released the lead single "Look What You Made Me Do," a song she initially wrote as a poem about not trusting specific people, many assumed the album would center on vengeance and drama. Although Swift said that the album has its vindictive moments — even declaring that the "old Taylor" is dead on the bridge of "Look What You Made Me Do" — it's a vulnerable record for her. Swift described reputation as a bait-and-switch; at their core, the songs are about finding love in the darkest moments. 

Swift still remained in the pop lane with reputation, largely leaning on Antonoff and the Martin/Shellback team. The sound almost mirrored the scrutiny Swift faced in the years prior — booming electropop beats, maximalist production and pulsing synthesizers dominate, particularly on "End Game," "I Did Something Bad," and "Ready For It…?" But the "old Taylor" isn't entirely gone on songs like "Call It What You Want," "So It Goes…" and "New Year's Day," where she lets her guard down to write earnest love odes.

Even after Swift spent some time away from the spotlight, the public didn't immediately gravitate toward her return. And even despite matching the 1.2 million first-week sales of her previous releases, some concluded that the album was her first commercial failure when compared to 1989. With time, though, it became clear that the response to reputation became muddled with the public's overall perception of her at the time — some even claimed that Swift was ahead of her time with the album's overall sound.

For her 2023 TIME Person of the Year profile, Swift described reputation as a "goth-punk moment of female rage at being gaslit by an entire social structure." For years, she felt the pressure to be "America's Sweetheart" and to never step out of line. Writing reputation became a lifeline following the events that catalyzed it  — a way to shed the so-called snakeskin and make peace with however the public wanted to view her. 

Lover: Stepping Into The Daylight

After finding love amongst chaos with reputation, Swift was learning to deal with the anxiety and fear of losing her partner — became a major theme of another aptly titled album, Lover. Both sonically and visually, Lover was a complete change from reputation. After touring reputation, Swift found that her fans saw her as "a flesh-and-blood human being," inspiring her to be "brave enough to be vulnerable" because her fans were along with her. Stepping away from the dark and antagonistic themes around reputation encouraged Swift to step into the light and be playful with her work on Lover.

Swift also found a new sense of creativity within this new mindset, one where she aimed to still embed playful themes in her songwriting but with less snark than that of "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do." Leaning into Lover being a "love letter to love," Swift explored every aspect of it. Tracks like "Paper Rings" and "London Boy" exude a whimsical energy, even if they center on more serious themes like marriage and commitment. Other songs, including "Death By A Thousand Cuts" and "Cornelia Street," are Swift at her most vulnerable, reflecting on a love lost and grappling with the extreme worry that comes when you could potentially lose someone. 

Looking at Lover retrospectively, it's an album that almost symbolizes a bookend in her discography. She was playful yet poignant, picking apart her past lyrics and feelings and looking at them with the perspective of someone who was once on top of the world, hit rock bottom, and survived in spite of it. This evolution is mentioned throughout Lover, particularly in a direct callback to 2012's Red, "Daylight," which sees her describe her love as "golden" rather than "burning red." 

Lover also marked the first time Swift divulged into politics and societal issues, like campaigning against Donald Trump, releasing the Pride-infused "You Need To Calm Down," and feeling disillusioned by the political climate with "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince." Swift's documentary Miss Americana explores this change further, discussing how she regrets not being vocal about politics and issues prior, in addition to opening up about her body image issues and mental health struggles.

Lover became Swift's sixth No. 1 album in America, making her the first female artist to achieve the feat. But Lover was more than any accolades could reflect — it was Swift's transitional album in many ways, notably marking the first album that she owned entirely herself following leaving Big Machine Records for Republic Records in 2018.

folklore: Looking Beyond Her Personal Stories

After the pandemic started and Swift cancelled her Lover Fest, she spent the early stages of quarantine reading and watching a myriad of films. Without exactly setting out to create an album, she began dreaming of fictional stories and characters with various narrative arcs, allowing her imagination to run free. The result became folklore, 2020's surprise archetypal quarantine album.

Crafting a world with characters like the folklore love triangle between those in "betty" and "august," as well as Rebekah Harkness from "the last great american dynasty" (who once lived in Swift's Rhode Island mansion), was Swift's way of venturing outside her typical autobiographical style of writing. She'd see visceral images in her mind — from battleships to tree swings to mirrored disco balls — and turned them into stories, sometimes weaving in her own personal narrative throughout, or taking on a narrator role and speaking from the perspective of someone she had never met. 

She worked remotely with two producers — again working with her right-hand man Jack Antonoff, and first-time collaborator Aaron Dessner from The National. Some songs, like "peace," were recorded in just one take, capturing the essence and fragility in the song's story, whereas the lyrics for the sun-drenched "august" were penned on the spot as Swift was in her makeshift home studio in Los Angeles.

Another aspect that separated folklore from her previous work was the obvious decision not to create hits made for radio play, so much so that Dessner claimed that she made an anti-pop record at a time when radio wanted clear "bops." Sonically, it ventured into genres Swift hadn't explored much outside of a few folkier tracks on Lover. Rather than relying on mostly electronic elements, Swift, Antonoff and Dessner weaved in soft pianos, ethereal strings, and plucky guitars.

folklore's impact on the zeitgeist at a time where everyone was stuck at home helped shape people's quarantine experience. Fans rejoiced at having songs to comfort them during difficult times, and artists like Maya Hawke, Gracie Abrams, and Sabrina Carpenter credit folklore for inspiring them to create and be even more emotionally honest in their songwriting. After its release, folklore became the best-selling album of 2020 after selling 1.2 million records. At the 2021 GRAMMYs, folklore took home Album Of The Year, making her the fourth artist in history to win three times in the Category. 

evermore: Embracing Experimentation

It was exciting enough for Swifties to experience one surprise album drop from Swift, an artist who typically has an entire album campaign calculated. So when evermore was released just six months after folklore, fans were in shock. 

Like its (literally) folklorian sister, evermore was a surprise release at the end of 2020, marking the first time Swift didn't have distinct "eras" between albums. She felt like there was something "different" with folklore, stating in a social media post that making it was less like she was "departing" and more like she was "returning" to the next stage of her discography. In turn, the album served as a similar escape for Swift as folklore did.

Bridging together the same wistful and nostalgic themes as heard on its predecessor, evermore sees Swift venture even further into escapism. She explores more stories and characters, some based in fiction like "dorothea," and some real, like "marjorie," written in dedication to Swift's grandmother. 

Evermore follows folklore's inclusion of natural imagery and motifs, like landscapes, skies, ivy, and celestial elements. In contrast to the fairytale motifs and happy endings of Fearless, evermore saw Swift become fixated on "unhappy" endings — stories of failed marriages ("happiness"), lifeless relationships ("tolerate it"), and one-time flings ("'tis the damn season"). 

Sonically, evermore is a slight departure from its sister record; where folklore relies on more alt-leaning and indie-tinged sounds, evermore takes the sonics from all of Swift's past records — from pop to country to indie rock — and features all of them on one album. Country songs like "cowboy like me" and "no body, no crime" reaches back to Swift's earlier work in narrative building, seamlessly crafting a three-party story with ease. "Closure" is a "skittering" track that has the same energy as tracks like Lover's "I Forgot That You Existed," whereas the ballad "champagne problems" is thematically reminiscent of Swift's Speak Now track "Back To December" where she takes responsibility for her lover's heartache. 

Working mostly with Dessner on evermore, Swift was emboldened to continue creating and opted to embrace whatever came naturally to them rather than limiting themselves to a sound. Swift felt a "quiet conclusion" after finishing up evermore, describing that it was more about grappling with endings of all "sizes and shapes," and the record represented a chapter closing. Even so, its poetic lyricism and mystical storytelling cleverly foreshadowed what was to come with subsequent albums, particularly The Tortured Poets Department.

Midnights: Encapsulating Her Artistic Magic

After coming out of the folklorian woods following folklore and evermore, fans and critics alike were intrigued to see what direction Swift would take on her next studio album. On Midnights, Swift leaves behind indie folk sounds and returns to the pop production of 1989 and Lover.

Her most conceptual album to date, Midnights charts 13 sleepless nights and explores five themes, from self-hatred and revenge to "what if" fantasies, falling in love, and falling apart. They are the things that keep her up at night, like the self-critiquing in "Anti-Hero," her rise to fame in "You're on Your Own, Kid," and the anxiety of falling in love again in "Labyrinth." Similarly to Swift's cheeky songwriting style that sees her create caricatures of herself in songs like "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do," she doubles down on claims she's "calculated" on "Mastermind," a song about devising a plan for her and her lover. 

Although the album is a departure from the two pandemic sister albums, the overall creation process didn't differ too much. In addition to working alongside Antonoff (and bringing Dessner in for the bonus-track-filled 3am Edition), Swift's worldbuilding is still the throughline that connects Midnights and Swift's recent albums, whether she's dreaming of a Parisian escape in "Paris" or using war imagery as a metaphor for the struggle of love in "The Great War."

Read More: 5 Takeaways From Taylor Swift's New Album 'Midnights'

Following the success with folklore and evermore, Swift's intrigue was at a then-all-time high upon the release of Midnights. Along with breaking several streaming records — including becoming the first album to exceed 700 million global streams in a week — it was Swift's 11th No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, and was the highest-selling album of 2022 (and, remarkably, the second best-selling of 2023).

To say that Swift's celebrity has become otherworldly since the release of Midnights would be an understatement. Celebrating her genre-defying and varied discography through The Eras Tour has resulted in old songs having a resurgence, new inside jokes and Easter eggs within the fandom, and a plethora of new listeners being exposed to Swift's work. 

As a result, there has arguably never been more excitement for a Taylor Swift album than for The Tortured Poets Department — especially because the announcement came on the heels of her lucky 13th GRAMMY win in February. Midnights helped further solidify Swift's larger-than-life status at the finale of the 2024 GRAMMYs, too, as she became the only artist in history to win Album Of The Year four times. 

The Tortured Poets Department: Check back on April 19!

All Things Taylor Swift

Rico Wade
Rico Wade at The Dungeon II Studios in Atlanta, Georgia in 2002.

Photo: Julia Beverly/Getty Images

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Remembering Producer Rico Wade, Helped Define The Sound Of Southern Hip-Hop

Rico Wade, legendary producer and one-third of Organized Noize, who helped forge the sound of Atlanta hip-hop and propelled artists like OutKast, Ludacris, and TLC to fame, has died at 52.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 08:08 pm

Hip-hop has lost another legend. Rico Wade, an integral part of the bedrock of Southern hip-hop, the godfather of modern Atlanta rap, and one-third of the production crew Organized Noize with Patrick "Sleepy" Brown and Ray Murray, has died. He was 52. 

Wade was a force that helped launch the careers of OutKast, Goodie Mob, Ludacris, and Future, and produced and co-wrote hits for artists including TLC's "Waterfalls," as part of a mid-'90s Southern hip-hop renaissance. The epicenter of this revolution was the Dungeon, his mother's basement in East Point, Georgia. The location built a reputation as a haven for Dungeon Family artists like André "André 3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton among a generation of ATL creatives formulating their own flavor of Southern rap. 

"We're deeply saddened by the passing of Rico Wade, one of Atlanta’s most prolific music producers," said Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. "Rico's influential contributions to the Atlanta music scene beginning in the 1990s helped foster the rise of some of hip-hop’s most prominent artists and played a pivotal role in shaping the genre as we know it today. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and all those whose lives he influenced.” 

Wade was nominated for two GRAMMYs during his lifetime including Record Of The Year for TLC's "Waterfalls," which he produced and co-wrote, and Album Of The Year for OutKast's Stankonia. 

“Rico left an indelible mark on music and culture around the world and for that, the South will always have something to say,” said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens in an issued statement echoing the famous battle cry of André 3000's 1995 Source Awards Best New Artist acceptance speech

It's been more than 30 years since OutKast dropped their first-ever single "Player's Ball" in 1993 and on that track Wade's voice is the first. He sets the tone for the legendary duo's entire career and Southern hip-hop at the same time with the introduction: "Man, the scene was so thick/ Lowriders, '77 Sevilles, El Dogs/ Nothin' but them 'Lacs/ All the players, all the hustlers/ I'm talkin' 'bout a Black man heaven here/ You know what I'm sayin'?"

"Rico Wade brought us to his house studio, where I heard the most interesting music production I'd ever heard from Atlanta," André 3000 told the Recording Academy in a 2019 interview reflecting on his experience working on OutKast's debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. "It was Rico, Ray, and Sleepy's vision to make sure [OutKast would put] Southern lifestyle first. I was just playing my part the best I could."

Outkast's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik would go on to sell 500,000 records and became certified platinum within a year. "When we were working on the OutKast vibe, even though there were two members in the group, we all considered ourselves OutKast at the time — including all of Organized Noize and the Goodie Mob members who appeared on the album," Murray told the Recording Academy in 2019. 

Read more: OutKast Examine Their Southern Experience On 'Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik'

Organized Noize signed a publishing deal with L.A. Reid and Babyface's label LaFace in 1993, setting the foundation for their work on OutKast's seminal "Player's Ball" single. It was a lasting connection that would serve the rest of Wade's career.  

Wade would continue to work with Reid during Reid's tenure as chairman and CEO of Epic Records from 2013 to 2017, building a hub for hip-hop artists at the label including Wade's cousin, Atlanta rapper Future. Future would become the first artist ever on the Billboard charts to debut back-to-back albums at No. 1 with his 2017 release HNDRXX. In March, Future and Metro Boomin jointly released another No.1 album, We Don’t Trust You

Wade nurtured Future's talents through his Dungeon connects. The two didn't meet until Future was well into his teens, but once they did Wade quickly put his cousin's clear drive and talent to use, introducing him to the Dungeon Family and bringing him into the studio to work on in-house production projects including Ludacris' "Blueberry Yum Yum" (Red Light District), which earned Future a songwriting credit in 2004.

“That's how he ended up writing the record for Ludacris, becoming part of a group that could make music, and getting a record deal,” Wade told Complex in 2013. “It showed him that the music industry money is real."

Inspired by his cousin, Future studied the industry through the in-roads made by Wade. “I took everything I learned from him and applied it to my everyday craft from being in the studio,” Future told Complex. "Just knowing how to feel records so I know how to make songs and write for people to keep around and go to the next level.” His devotion to Wade's tutelage and legacy is apparent in the Olde English script tattooed across his arms that matches Wade's own markings — "DUNGEON" appears on the right and "FAMILY" on the left. 

Killer Mike, a constant collaborator who worked with Wade on his latest album Michael which swept the 2024 GRAMMYs rap categories with three wins for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance, announced Wade's passing in an Instagram post on Sunday. "I don't have the words to express my deep and profound sense of loss. I am Praying for your wife and Children. I am praying for the Wade family. I am praying for us all," Killer Mike wrote. "I deeply appreciate your acceptance into The Dungeon Family, mentorship, Friendship and Brotherhood. Idk where I would be without ya'll." 

How 1994 Changed The Game For Hip-Hop

Composite graphic with the logo for GRAMMY Go on the left with four photos in a grid on the right, featuring (clockwise from the top-left) CIRKUT, Victoria Monét, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and Janelle Monáe
Clockwise from the top-left: CIRKUT, Victoria Monét, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and Janelle Monáe

Graphic & Photos Courtesy of GRAMMY GO

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Recording Academy & Coursera Partner To Launch GRAMMY GO Online Learning Initiative

Class is in session. As part of the Recording Academy's ongoing mission to empower music's next generation, GRAMMY Go offers digital content in specializations geared to help music industry professionals grow at every stage of their career.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 05:01 pm

The Recording Academy has partnered with leading online learning platform Coursera on GRAMMY GO, a new online initiative to offer classes tailored for music creators and industry professionals.

This partnership empowers the next generation of the music community with practical, up-to-the moment digital content that provides wisdom for both emerging and established members of the industry. Continuing the Academy’s ongoing mission to serve all music people, courses cover a variety of specializations tailored to creative and professional growth. 

GRAMMY GO on Coursera includes courses taught by Recording Academy members, featuring GRAMMY winners and nominees and offers real-life lessons learners can put to work right away.

Starting today, enrollment is open for GRAMMY GO’s first Coursera specialization, "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals," taught by Joey Harris, international music/marketing executive and CEO of Joey Harris Inc. The course features Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam, 10-time GRAMMY nominee Janelle Monáe and three-time GRAMMY winner and the 2024 GRAMMYs Best New Artist Victoria Monét. This foundational specialization will help participants gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to build a strong brand presence and cultivate a devoted audience within the ever-changing music industry. 

The partnership’s second course, launching later this summer, aims to strengthen the technological and audio skills of a music producer. "Music Production: Crafting An Award-Worthy Song" will be taught by Carolyn Malachi, Howard University professor and GRAMMY nominee, and will include appearances by GRAMMY winner CIRKUT, three-time GRAMMY winner Hit-Boy, artist and celebrity vocal coach Stevie Mackey, five-time GRAMMY nominee and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and 15-time GRAMMY winner Judith Sherman. Pre-enrollment for "Music Production: Crafting An Award-Worthy Song" opens today.

"Whether it be through a GRAMMY Museum program, GRAMMY Camp or GRAMMY U, the GRAMMY organization is committed to helping music creators flourish, and the Recording Academy is proud to introduce our newest learning platform, GRAMMY GO, in partnership with Coursera," said Panos A. Panay, President of the Recording Academy. "A creator’s growth path is ongoing and these courses have been crafted to provide learners with the essential tools to grow in their professional and creative journeys."

"We are honored to welcome GRAMMY GO, our first entertainment partner, to the Coursera community," said Marni Baker Stein, Chief Content Officer at Coursera. "With these self-paced online specializations, aspiring music professionals all over the world have an incredible opportunity to learn directly from iconic artists and industry experts. Together with GRAMMY GO, we can empower tomorrow's pioneers of the music industry to explore their passion today."

GRAMMY GO also serves as the music community’s newest digital hub for career pathways and editorial content that provides industry insights for members of the industry; visit go.grammy.com for more. For information and enrollment, please visit the landing pages for "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals" and "Music Production: Crafting An Award-Worthy Song."

Meet 5 GRAMMY Nominees Who Started At GRAMMY U: From Boygenius Engineer Sarah Tudzin To Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying