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11 Amazing Elvis Covers, From Frank Sinatra To Kacey Musgraves
Elvis Presley during his second appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956.

Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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11 Amazing Elvis Covers, From Frank Sinatra To Kacey Musgraves

Baz Luhrmann's 'Elvis' hits theaters June 24 with a star-studded soundtrack. In honor of the King and his new film, GRAMMY.com shares 11 Elvis covers — because imitation is the highest form of flattery, thank you very much.

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2022 - 06:21 pm

The legend of Elvis Presley still reverberates to this day, thanks to his knack for both boundary-pushing and genre hopping, as well as a unique style — all of which is embodied by his now-legendary discography.

It’s a legacy that’s currently exploding on the big screen thanks to musical-movie mastermind Baz Luhrmann. The simply titled Elvis, which arrived June 24, sees Austin Butler portraying the King of Rock and Roll and some of music's biggest names coming together for a star-studded soundtrack. Among some originals from the likes of Eminem and Doja Cat,  much of the soundtrack consists of a series of Elvis covers from newcomers (Shonka Dukureh) and established stars (Kacey Musgraves).  

But imitating the King is nothing new. From pop acts to blues artists, rockers to opera singers, generations of disparate artists have put their own distinct spins on Elvis classics. 

These are some of the most memorable Elvis covers to date — including a few new additions, thanks to the film's soundtrack.

"Can’t Help Falling in Love"- Kacey Musgraves

One of the newest — and brightest — additions to the canon of classic Elvis covers comes Kacey Musgraves' heart-rending version of Presley’s 1961 standard "Can’t Help Falling in Love." While other artists have interpreted the song in fluffier ways (see: UB40’s reggae version), Musgraves lets the words shine in this acoustic version sung in the vein of her previous hit "Rainbow."

With a melody based on a three hundred year-old French love song ("Plaisir d'amour"), the tender track was originally recorded for Elvis’s film Blue Hawaii and is one of the most romantic songs in the singer’s repertoire — despite having a discography full of them. With lyrics that drip with passion, along with a nod to a previous Elvis hit "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)." Musgraves rendition of "Can’t Help Falling in Love" serves as a poignant moment for the GRAMMY-winning star, a self-proclaimed  longtime Elvis fan

"In the Ghetto"- Dolly Parton

As Elvis grew older, his songs went from the rollicking and simple cuts of the '50s to tracks with deeper meaning, including this heavy story song "In the Ghetto." Chronicling the life of a doomed young man and the effect on his hapless mother, the song is one of Elvis’ more somber cuts and one Dolly Parton makes all her own. While it's musically similar to Presley’s version (right down to the repeating guitar hook), Parton’s voice and vibrato add an even deeper layer of sadness to its lyrics while a drumbeat foreshadows a mournful ending.

For Parton, her "In the Ghetto" cover  was the closest she’d get to Elvis. "I was going to meet him for the first time when he was coming to the studio to sing ‘I Will Always Love You,’ which didn't work out, as you know, because Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, wanted half the publishing," Parton said in an interview earlier this year. "I was gonna meet him and I'm sorry, I didn't get to meet him."

"Don’t Be Cruel"- Cheap Trick

How did an ‘80s pop-rock band manage to pull off a cover of a 50s-era Elvis classic — somehow retaining its flair while also making it their own? A seemingly impossible task, Cheap Trick did just that with their 1988 spin on "Don’t Be Cruel," complete with the era’s signature electronic drum sound and a vocal flair from frontman Robin Zander. 

Written by the R&B and country singer/songwriter Otis Blackwell — who  first broke out at Amauetr Night at the Apollo before writing "All Shook Up," "Return to Sender" and "Don’t Be Cruel" for Elvis, as well as "Great Balls of Fire" for Jerry Lee Lewis — the song marked the first track Elvis’ publishers brought him to record.  The track no doubt inspired Zander, who once said that Elvis was one of the artists who made the biggest impact on his approach to singing and phrasing

"Are You Lonesome Tonight?"- Frank Sinatra

The Chairman of the Board and the King had an interesting relationship, which started with Sinatra’s pure hate of Elvis before they formed a  friendship. One of the most formidable music stars in America in the 1950s, Sinatra knew that when Elvis shook his hips on "The Ed Sullivan Show" that his own brand of music, standards and swing, was suddenly old news.

"[Rock and roll] manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth," Sinatra mused in an interview in the ‘50s. "His kind of music is deplorable. It fosters almost universally negative and destructive directions in young people."

Nevertheless, by 1960, Sinatra realized he better align himself with the King to stay relevant — and later that year, the pair starred in  a blockbuster TV special together. By 1962, the crooner recorded this smooth cover version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", which allowed Sinatra to maintain his signature jazzy sound despite his earlier hatred of Elvis' aesthetic — demonstrating that maybe the pair weren't that different all along.

"I Got a Feelin’ in My Body"- Lenesha Randolph

Later on in Presley’s life, the King became deeply religious and as a result began recording a slew of spiritual and gospel songs from "How Great Thou Art" to "Amazing Grace." In 1973, he combined biblical lyrics with a disco sound in the form of "I Got a Feelin’ in My Body," which GRAMMY nominee Lenesha Randolph, recreated in the form of her cover of the track for the Elvis movie’s soundtrack.

Randolph, who plays Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the film, is supported by a powerful and seemingly massive choir on the track, with the whole affair transporting the listener into a Sunday service like no other.

"Viva Las Vegas"- Bruce Springsteen

The 1992 Nicolas Cage comedy Honeymoon in Vegas appropriately has a soundtrack populated with a bevy of Elvis covers by a disparate list of artists, from Billy Joel to Trisha Yearwood. However, one track that stands above the rest is Bruce Springsteen’s wild spin on "Viva Las Vegas," the otherwise corny Elvis song that the King released in 1964.

Springsteen plays up the song’s liveliness with a frenetic energy that could easily soundtrack a rowdy game of craps. Just like Presley did in his own career, The Boss deftly melds a country flavor to a rockin’ track. Top it off with his distinctive vocals and you have a worthy addition to both artist's stacked legacies.

"Love Me"- The Little Willies

Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller were the iconic songwriting duo behind a bevy of Elvis’s early rockin’ hits including "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock." In addition to the upbeat tracks they were known to concoct, the two also had a tender side. 

Case in point: "Love Me," a sweetly sacrine song that the Norah Jones-fronted group The Little Willies covered for their 2011 self-titled debut album. Their version puts a twangy spin on the ode which, oddly enough, was originally penned as a farce. 

"To be honest, when we first wrote ‘Love Me,’ we were thinking of it as sort of a take off," explained Stoller in a 2020 interview, who cited the satirical country duo Homer & Jethro as an inspiration. "It's got all these masochistic lyrics: 'Treat me like a fool, treat me mean and cruel but love me.' It could have been a joke, but Elvis' performance makes it genuinely touching." Alas, so does Norah’s. 

"Baby, Let’s Play House"- Austin Butler

Actor Austin Butler is accumulating an avalanche of rave reviews thanks to his stunning performance of Presley — and after listening to his covers of the King, including early cut "Let’s Play House," it’s easy to understand why. Butler made it a point to sing every song himself, a brave move that ultimately paid off thanks to his impressive vocal mimicry. Even Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie was taken aback, tweeting "​​Austin Butler channeled and embodied my father’s heart & soul beautifully."

It was a meticulous process, the actor said in a recent interview. "I’d hear him say a certain word and I would clip just that bit out so I knew how he said that word," he recalled. "I created my own archive of how he said every word and every diphthong, and the way that he used musicality in his voice."​

"Love Me Tender"- Andrea Bocelli

It was almost as if this romantic ballad was tailor-made for Bocelli’s velvety voice. Recorded for the Italian tenor’s 2013 aptly-titled album Passione, the singer brings out the song’s stark emotion with an orchestra that deftly compliments each lyric.

"There is no denying that Elvis had a great talent," Bocelli said in an interview earlier this year. "He possessed a pliant voice with extensive range and a soft and enveloping timbre. Plus, he was an extremely charismatic person." The song itself is a unique one in the King’s repertoire with Elvis receiving a rare co-writing credit on the track, which was inspired by the melody for the Civil War-era song "Aura Lee" and written for his 1956 western film The Reno Brothers.

"Hound Dog" - Shonka Dukureh

Just as Presley smoothly moved his hips, he also gilded between genres — and subsequently became a master of rock, country and blues. The latter artform is where the King got his start, including one of his earliest smashes, 1956’s "Hound Dog."

It’s a track that Shonka Dukureh brings to vivid life in both the Elvis movie and on its wide-ranging soundtrack, all in character as the legendary Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. Hearing Dukureh's powerful wails alongside the sparse — but monstrously impactful — guitar and drums, it's hard to not start moving yourself.

"I was very aware and wanting to really be intentional about making sure I was paying respect, respecting her, respecting her legacy, respecting her spirit, respecting everything about what she brought to music,"saidDukureh of Thornton. "And understanding that I'm able to do it because she's done it and laid that foundation."

"Jailhouse Rock"- The Blues Brothers

Let’s face it: the original "Jailhouse Rock" is a pretty kitschy track, from its hokey intro (who goes to a party at the county jail, anyway?) and right on through its cries of "Let’s rock!" But when one of the most successful satirical bands of all time fittingly put their spin on it, magic happened.

Released in the midst of the disco-70s, Dan Akryod and John Belushi formed the Blues Brothers as a Saturday Night Live sketch. It later became a smash move that featured the two (spoiler alert!) hauled off to jail. Antics, and this fun cover, ensue.

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5 Ways Elvis Presley Forever Changed The Music Industry, From Vegas Residencies To Cultural Fusion
Elvis Presley

Photo: John Springer Collection / Getty Images

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5 Ways Elvis Presley Forever Changed The Music Industry, From Vegas Residencies To Cultural Fusion

The music industry would be unrecognizable without Elvis Presley. Along with Colonel Tom Parker, the 20th-century innovator activated divergent spaces, helped architect the modern-day Las Vegas residency and so much more.

GRAMMYs/Apr 11, 2022 - 09:23 pm

Is it possible to undersell someone by calling them "the King"? It might be when you're talking about Elvis Presley.

Despite rising from nothing to become one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century — and posthumously weathering periods of wrongheaded associations, from "fat Elvis" to rumors of racism — Presley didn't emerge simply as a monarch, or an icon baked into culture and taken for granted. These days, it's more edifying to consider him as an innovator.

That's how Panos A. Panay, the co-president of the Recording Academy, views the three-time GRAMMY winner and 14-time nominee. Instead of regarding Presley as a figurehead reigning over rock's development, Panay calls him "a multi-faceted superstar" who, along with his savvy yet misunderstood manager, Colonel Tom Parker, drew the blueprint of the multidimensional pop titan of today.

"I think people forget that this is a kid who grew up dirt-poor in the heart of the old south," Panay, who co-authored the 2021 book Two Beats Ahead, about the intersection of business acumen and musical artistry, tells GRAMMY.com. "He fused all the different things around him — from styles to music — to create something that literally took the world by storm." 

Need a reminder of how seismic Presley's impact was? Turn to the first few pages of almost any rock bio, and you'll find the artist as a young man or woman, hearing "Heartbreak Hotel" or "That's All Right" or "Jailhouse Rock" for the first time. Chances are, they described that moment in the language of natural phenomena: a meteor strike, a tsunami, a thunderclap.

Every star in his wake who repeatedly overhauled their image, staked claims in wildly various media spaces, and fused divergent cultural signifiers owes Presley a debt of gratitude — from the Beatles to Beyoncé, from Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga.

Of course, Presley wasn't the first rock star. He didn't invent the music, and he arguably walked so others (namely the Beatles, who worshipped him) could run. But the fact remains: there's never been another Presley before or since. Here are five ways he irrevocably changed the music-industry landscape.

He Helped Braid Disparate Cultural Threads

Granted, rock 'n' roll was a colorless cultural interchange years before Presley showed up.

For decades prior, musicians both Black and white — from what we might designate "country" and "R&B" and "gospel" and "rock 'n' roll" spheres, but who were really parts of the same primordial soup — perpetually inspired and influenced each other.

But nobody elevated that fusion to the world stage than Presley, and his large-scale disregarding of easy racial and sexual categorization was highly jarring to buttoned-up 1950s America. 

Hip-swiveling shock value aside, what would pop music sound like without his revved-up amalgam of gospel, blues, country, and R&B? What would it look like without his tousled hair, twisted visage and skin-tight black leather?

It's anyone's guess what an Elvis-free world would be like, but it wouldn't include disciples like the Beatles, the Stones, or scores of other greats. In other words, it would be a drag beyond belief.

He Galvanized A Nascent Teenage Market

According to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstram, Presley could scarcely have arrived at a better time.

"A new young generation of Americans was breaking away from the habits of its parents and defining itself by its music," Halberstram wrote in his 1993 book The Fifties. And with the advent of new technology — namely the transistor radio — came a paradigm shift in authority.

"The important figures of authority were no longer mayors and selectmen or parents," the author continued. "They were disc jockeys, who reaffirmed the right to youthful independence and guided teenagers to their new rock heroes."

Who was the ideal leader for this emerging market? In the cinema space, you had Marlon Brando and James Dean as brooding avatars for the post-WWII cultural milieu.

Then, in music, you had Presley, who landed in culture like an ambassador from Andromeda, ready to lead a teenage exodus from suburban monotony to frenzied, life-affirming joy.

He Activated Film & TV Spaces Like Never Before…

When Panay considers how to shepherd the Recording Academy into the future in the 2020s, he looks to what Presley accomplished on small and large screens during his career.

"If you want to know the future of the business, man, look at Elvis Presley," he says. "Look at all the artists that followed the guy. He set the mold for what a prototypical superstar is."

One way Presley did this, Panay says, was by transcending the boundaries of a record or concert and strolling into your TV screen in any number of films — especially during the '60s, when he focused on that component of his work with flicks like G.I. Blues, Blue Hawaii and Girl Happy.

While Presley's films are sometimes contemporaneously criticized as formulaic dreck that stalled his creative evolution, the man did have serious aspirations as an actor — and presence in that space was important to pop's multimedia development.

…And Paved The Way For The Modern Music Video

As Panay says, Presley's participation in film wasn't just proof musicians could be actors. The entire point of a music video — to make an artistic statement while selling a record — is crystallized in Presley's films.

Through that lens, there's a direct thread from Love Me Tender and Jailhouse Rock to the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, Prince's Purple Rain and more.

Still, Presley's onscreen innovation extends beyond cinema: 1973's "Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite" was revolutionary in that it was the first live satellite broadcast to feature a single performer.

When you take it with the unforgettable "Jailhouse Rock" video and "'68 Comeback Special," a case can be made that Presley's DNA is encoded deep within in this modern artform.

Thank Elvis For The Las Vegas Residency, Too

Think the format of the Las Vegas residency is the province of wash-ups? Think again: This month alone, 2022 GRAMMY performers BTS, Silk Sonic and Lady Gaga will delight audiences in Sin City. (The 2022 GRAMMYs were held there, too.)

"People used to make fun of the Las Vegas residency," Panay says. "But name an artist right now who doesn't want a Las Vegas residency."

As Richard Zoglin explained in his 2019 book Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Las Vegas Show, Presley's first Vegas run in 1969 — and more than 600 shows in the city afterward — set the stage for loftier, glitzier affairs.

This was a marked turn from the era's typical, intimate nightclub shows featuring older performers, like Nat "King" Cole or Judy Garland. "It opened the door to big shows," Zoglin told The New York Post. "All the modern residencies in Vegas, from Celine Dion to Lady Gaga — Elvis was the first of those kinds of shows."

So, next time Presley seems hopelessly fossilized in the past, a frozen face on a lunchbox, simply stream his greatest songs — they'll set your head straight. 

"He sang from his heart," Panay says, summarizing Presley's genius. "He was an amazing interpreter of songs in a way that, frankly, few people before and after have ever been."

From there, consider how the pop universe would be unrecognizable without Presley — complete with the performers who never fail to wash away the drudgery of daily life, making it more vibrant, more colorful, more meaningful.

He was the King, indeed. But he was also something more.

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Music's Television Empire

Netflix's "The Get Down" is the latest in a string of musical shows proving the new golden age of television is golden for music too

GRAMMYs/Aug 13, 2016 - 08:24 pm

Television series about musicians and the music industry are almost as old as TV. The first network television season was broadcast in the U.S. seven decades ago and within a few years musicians were a central part of the story. When "I Love Lucy" debuted in 1951 Lucille Ball's husband, Desi Arnaz, played a bandleader, with plenty of music performance segments on the show. In the 1960s the Monkees parlayed a hit show into pop stardom and the '70s found "The Partridge Family" telling everyone to "come on, get happy."

Reality TV hit the scene in the '00s, and the small-screen focus was on a few unscripted series that took fans into homes of their favorite artists, from Ozzy Osbourne to Snoop Dogg.

But television is always evolving. The latest resurgence of music on TV arguably started in 2009 with Fox's "Glee" and has been further punctuated by the more recent success of "Empire" — the network's latest bona fide hit, which debuted in 2015.

Last year also saw the debut of Denis Leary's FX comedy "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll." The introduction of two acclaimed music-centric series was just a warmup for 2016, which has seen some of the biggest names in film bring stories of musicians to the small screen.

The shift coincides with what critics are dubbing the new golden age of television, a period of increased production of critically acclaimed television shows beginning in the mid-2000s. While television used to be dominated by broadcast networks CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox, scripted shows have found success on cable networks such as HBO and Showtime and, more recently, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.

Two Oscar winners, Martin Scorsese and Cameron Crowe, and Oscar nominee Baz Luhrmann, have all come to TV this year. Although short-lived, Scorsese, along with Mick Jagger, brought "Vinyl" to HBO in February while Crowe's "Roadies" premiered on Showtime in June. Luhrmann might be taking on his most ambitious project yet, bringing "The Get Down," his much-anticipated musical drama, to Netflix. Part one of the 12-episode first season premieres Aug. 12. 

Working with everyone from hip-hop artists Nas and Grandmaster Flash to author Nelson George, Luhrmann is recreating New York circa 1977, specifically the South Bronx neighborhood, where residents witnessed the birth of hip-hop and the decline of disco all while salsa and punk infiltrated other areas of the city.   

Luhrmann — the man behind films such as The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet — believes TV, or what we used to think of as TV, is currently the perfect home for shows about music.

"Television no longer describes what we're discussing here," says Luhrmann. "The streaming services are more in the nature of broadcast. It's so great. There needs to be a new word because television used to be the place where you were super constrained — you were constrained by the times and morally, the rules. Now those two things are almost reversed."

"[Today] you have much more creative freedom. When you're dealing with music, a story about music culture, the ability to do it in segments really suits that because it's a way and space to tell the story laterally, but also horizontally. You can explore in a way you simply couldn't within a two-hour sitting."

For Crowe, who won an Oscar for writing 2000's Almost Famous, a film about a young reporter covering the fictional rock band Stillwater, the new wave of TV shows centered around music validates his belief that music is as important as ever.

"I was just hearing all this stuff about music is dead as a meaningful art form. 'It's too available, there's too many formats, nobody's paying for it, nobody values it,' and I'm just thinking, 'Bull, that's just not true,'" said Crowe in a June interview with Forbes. "And that's kind of the thesis of ["Roadies"], music matters more than ever."

The value of music in 2016 — in the age of streaming and YouTube — is a topic of frequent debate, but the current omnipotence of music as well as the massive success of touring and festivals lends credence to Crowe's belief that even if people are not spending as much they still love music as much, if not more, than ever.

Fandom is exactly what inspired Luhrmann's vision for "The Get Down" back in 2006.

"I started this concept with a question 10 years ago, which was, 'How did a totally new idea [hip-hop] get born from a borough in a time where there was little care for that borough or the people [there]?" says Luhrmann. "How did they come up with a brand-new, pure creative idea? I realized when we started to look at 1977, disco was the reigning music form, but there's something going on downtown called punk, you have salsa and the Latin influence and then you have this invention going on by a bunch of kids, which is essentially a kind of folk music in a way."

It was on that journey of discovery when Luhrmann started to realize the story he wanted to tell wouldn't fit within the two-hour confines typically reserved for film, which was exactly what the executives at Netflix wanted to hear.

"I started thinking of it as a movie, and as I did I thought, 'How do you tell all of that? The very nature of it is that it's unwieldy, the very nature of it has to be sprawling.' And sprawling and unwieldy are not words executives who make movies want to hear," he says. "But sprawling and unwieldy are exactly what Netflix wanted to hear because they want to hear something that has an ongoing life and cannot just be linear. The evolution of television caught up with me, and at the right moment the two things met." 

Unlike a movie, in which stories tend to be neatly wrapped, television allows Luhrmann to think of the future. He is optimistic "The Get Down" will be renewed for a second season potentially exploring 1979, when disco was symbolically destroyed in July at famed Comiskey Park in Chicago by Disco Demolition Night, a promotional stunt that saw disco records blown up on the field following a White Sox versus Detroit Tigers game. Two months later, in September, Sugarhill Gang released "Rapper's Delight," the song widely credited with bringing hip-hop to the masses, and one of the first hip-hop songs inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.  

For Luhrmann, as a fan of the music and the era, success is not his motivation. He is content to be the conduit to tell a story he loves.

"I care about [the story and] so many others care about it, I'm kind of the grand conductor. But it's a profound collaboration. That's also what drew me — it's a living history. In the past I've done things that were involved in the past. But this is a living history, the people are actually alive. And so I worked with them to help [tell their] story. And that's really enriching."

(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling StoneLos Angeles TimesMojoChicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia WeeklyThe Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)

With 'Dolls,' Bella Poarch Is Speaking Up: "It's My Story And It's Me Expressing Myself"
Bella Poarch

Photo: Marcelo Cantu

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With 'Dolls,' Bella Poarch Is Speaking Up: "It's My Story And It's Me Expressing Myself"

On her debut EP, Bella Poarch transforms from viral TikTok star to dark-pop queen — and most importantly, she finally gets to speak her truth.

GRAMMYs/Aug 15, 2022 - 08:30 pm

When the world was first introduced to Bella Poarch in 2020, she was a viral TikToker without anyone hearing her voice. Poarch's lip-syncing videos (and undeniable charisma) rapidly garnered a following that exceeds 90 million, making her TikTok's third most-followed star and the top Asian American influencer in the world.

Now, Poarch is ready to take her success beyond TikTok — and let her voice be heard.

The young Filipina star ushers in a new persona as a dark-pop singer with her first EP, Dolls. The six-song project — which features her empowering debut single "Build a B—" — explores a spectrum of raw emotions as Bella continues to reveal her true self to fans.

As Poarch explained to GRAMMY.com, Dolls is a look into the ups and downs of her life. On songs like "Living Hell," she divulges the hardships she endured growing up; on others like the fierce title track, she showcases her creativity while also flexing her strength. It's clear that Poarch has a unique vision that resonates with many, and a goal to create an outlet for young women who may see themselves in her story.

In a candid conversation over Zoom, Poarch got real about her journey to stardom, the inspiration behind her first project, and why she wants to provide much-needed representation for fellow Filipinas.

Before you were a TikTok star, you served in the military, and you've been open about having a difficult childhood. So you've sort of lived a ton of lives, right? Do you think you've reinvented yourself at all? And how has your past impacted the music that you make now?

Growing up in the Philippines and switching to a whole different country taught me a lot. And also pushing myself to join the military taught me a lot. I did live different lives. But I was still the same when it comes to being hopeful and just like, manifesting good things in my life.

It also taught me to be less anxious, because I was very anxious as a kid. I wasn't really talking. My parents were not allowing me to speak whenever I wanted to. Now that I'm able to create music and be vocal about my feelings, I'm glad to be able to share my thoughts and express myself — and to be able to help other people — with my music.

This is your first EP, and a lot of your singles are largely about confidence. Is this a theme that's important to you?

Yes, because I myself struggle with confidence. I am a very shy person sometimes. And I guess it all depends on what I'm wearing and what I look like in a day. Like, you know, if I had my pigtails on, I'm 100 percent more confident than if I had just my hair down.

How did you get into that hairstyle?

Hatsune Miku. She's a Vocaloid. She's anime. I got a lot of inspiration from anime.

That's cool. So is it kind of like an alter ego?

Yeah, pretty much.

"Build A B—" had a pretty huge debut. Did you feel a sort of pressure after that, and how did its success affect you?

I was just really shocked that people were like, loving it. And I was like, "Wow, I'm very proud of myself." Because it was really hard to figure out what first song I wanted to release. And it was very important to me. I was like, "Uh, do I really want [to release a song called] 'Build A B—?'" Like…yes. [Laughs.]

There was a lot of going back and forth. I was just really happy that my fans love it.

What's the story behind "Living Hell" and its music video?

The music video takes a lot of inspiration from my childhood room and how I'm struggling to escape it. And now I'm struggling to escape my childhood trauma.

I've been very open about it with social media and it has helped me a lot. It's hard for me to express my feelings. But it also helped other people that are struggling with expressing themselves.

The room in the music video is yellow — everything's yellow. It's because I grew up in a yellow bedroom with yellow curtains and yellow tiled floors. And I was basically forced into that color. My parents were like, "You're gonna love this color. This is your room color." And I feel like that's them showing me that they had the power.

Over time, growing up in that room, I learned to love it because it's a happy color. Sorry, I'm getting emotional.

There is a lot of symbolism in the music video. I think I will be explaining what it means later on. But when people see it at first, they're probably confused, because they don't really know the inspiration from it — me escaping from my childhood trauma. When you see that music video without that context, you're just like, "Wow, this is art!" But when you really see the full meaning of it, it takes you to a different perspective.

What was your inspiration for making this whole EP? Obviously there's songs that are a little bit emotional, but there are also songs that are more upbeat. How does it all come together?

I think what inspired me the most and to do this is speaking up. Even [in] my journey with TikTok, I wasn't speaking for a whole year — nobody knew what I sounded like. And so they were all just like, "Whoa" when I started talking. They were like, "Wait, she talks?"

Me releasing music and releasing this EP is me coming out and saying, "I have a voice, and the messages of my songs are very important to me because it's my story and it's me expressing myself."

What does it mean to you to be a Filipina American talent right now? I know traditionally there hasn't been a lot of representation, at least in the U.S.

I'm just so proud that I myself can represent the Philippines. And, you know, like, Olivia Rodrigo — I love her.

I'm so happy whenever I hear that someone's Filipino, because I'm like, "Wow, family!" [Laughs.] Because back when I was in the Philippines, living there for 14 years of my life, I didn't really have anybody to look up to in the music side of things — when it comes to things like being a singer and being an artist. There was not a lot of Filipino representation there. Except for Lea Salonga. She sang "Reflection" in the movie Mulan, the very first one. And so she was really the only one that I looked up to.

I know you're invested in uplifting the AAPI community, and you were named to the 2022 Gold House A100 list. Are there any actions that you're taking to support the community? Or is it simply you being yourself and being Filipina that's making a difference?

Yeah, I think just embracing the community — being me, and just doing my best in everything that I do.

Do you have any new goals or anything that you haven't accomplished yet that you're working towards right now?

Performing live.  I haven't performed live yet.

Is there a tour in the works, or is it just something that you want to do eventually?

I think we're thinking about doing a tour.

Anything else coming up?

I'm going back to the Philippines soon.

For fun?

Yeah — it's been 10 years [since I've] seen my country.

Do you have anything fun planned, or are you just gonna go with the flow?

I'm gonna go everywhere!

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Machine Gun Kelly Returns Home: 7 Highlights From His Biggest Cleveland Show Yet
Machine Gun Kelly performs at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium on Aug. 13, 2022.

Photo: Amber Patrick

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Machine Gun Kelly Returns Home: 7 Highlights From His Biggest Cleveland Show Yet

Relive Machine Gun Kelly's epic homecoming that featured blood, sweat and tears — oh, and a $10 million life insurance policy.

GRAMMYs/Aug 15, 2022 - 07:00 pm

The "Mainstream Sellout" was a hometown sellout on Aug. 13 when Machine Gun Kelly (MGK) performed to more than 41,000 fans at a packed FirstEnergy Stadium in his native Cleveland.

Exactly 15 years after a teenage Colson Baker — now better known as MGK — first dreamed of hip-hop stardom, his unlikely journey from regional up-and-comer to emerging superstar was completed on the final show and first stadium date of his summer touring leg.

Machine Gun Kelly's homecoming was special from start to finish, with the Cleveland mayor officially dubbing Aug. 13 "Machine Gun Kelly Day" and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opening an MGK exhibit before he took the stage at FirstEnergy Stadium. But as soon as the show began — with openers Trippie Redd, Avril Lavigne, Willow and 44phantom warming up the raucous audience — it was clear MGK's hometown fans were dying to welcome home one of their own.

What transpired was a game-changing two-and-a-half-hour set (built heavily around his latest albums Tickets to My Downfall and Mainstream Sellout) that literally included blood, sweat and tears.

Below, check out seven highlights from MGK's debut as a stadium headliner — and hometown hero.

He Took Down The Internet

The theme throughout the night was destroying the evil internet, which was physically represented with a massive inflatable "Stranger Things"-like creature — complete with a computer screen head — that emerged in the back of the stage, declaring, "I am the internet. You are what I say you are." 

Often a paparazzi and social media target, MGK made sure to call out his online haters throughout the show. But more importantly, he encouraged  his audience to believe in themselves and not to give power to anonymous trolls. 

Spoiler alert: By the end of the show, MGK (along with a little pyrotechnical help from a pink helicopter) successfully destroyed the internet, freeing both himself and his fans from the chains of social media hell — at least for the night.

He Zip-Lined Against All Odds

After a brief video montage of a young rapping MGK rising up through different Northeast Ohio venues, the MC appeared at the back of the stadium dressed in a Cleveland Browns jersey with "XX" for numbers. 

Remembering his hip-hop roots for fans there at the beginning, MGK delivered a few lines of early tracks "Cleveland," "Alpha Omega" and "Chip Off the Block" — a special trio of songs he hasn't sung at other stops on the tour — before zip-lining the entire distance of the stadium to the stage. He then delivered an adrenaline-fueled performance of his platinum 2015 track "Till I Die."

"I had a dream three days ago," MGK told the audience afterward. "I said, 'Can you bring me into the stadium in a real helicopter?' They said, 'No.' I said, 'Alright, I want to zip-line from the top of the stadium.'

"They said, 'No.' So I called the mayor and said, 'Let's make this happen. I want to give them some Michael Jackson s— and make them remember.'" 

After raising enough money to cover a $10 million life insurance policy, MGK received the green light just before the show. 

"We made it happen," MGK said. "This is a special night for a kid who used to hand out CDs and now got 50,000 people together."

He Proved His Pop-Punk Prowess

Confirming his transformation from rapid-fire rapper to pop-punk purveyor, MGK proved his frenetic bona fides by bringing out songwriting partner and producer Travis Barker

Despite a doctor's orders against performing with a broken thumb, the blink-182 drummer (with wife Kourtney Kardashian in tow) joined MGK for a six-song stretch that featuredTickets To My Downfall tracks "title track," "kiss kiss," "concert for aliens," "all i know" and "bloody valentine" and finished with blink-182's "All the Small Things."

His Emotions Ran High

A trip to the B-stage turned into an emotional moment when MGK talked about wishing his deceased father and aunt could have witnessed his triumphant homecoming. "I wish so much my father and my aunt could be here," he told the crowd. "But I've got you all — the only family I have left."

Featuring a string section from Cleveland's Contemporary Youth Orchestra, the singer delivered raw performances of "Glass House" and "lonely."

Draped in blue light, MGK added, "I'm sorry to be emotional" to the crowd with many fans equally teary during the heartfelt moment. 

He Didn't Want The Party To End

Similar to MGK's late 2021 show at Cleveland's Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — where he refused to leave the stage, forcing the venue to cut the power — the FirstEnergy Stadium show ran more than 30 minutes longer than posted set times.  

Late into the concert, MGK said he was being told in his earpiece that he was getting fined $70,000 every 10 minutes for running late. He then downed a glass of wine. 

"You know what I say about that, we aren't stopping this concert yet," MGK said. "I'm rich, b—."

Just like he's done previously on the current tour, MGK smashed the glass on his head, which caused him to bleed WWE-style from his face. "Should we stop the show or spend the $70,000?" he asked, which prompted chants of "MGK."

With blood now clearly dripping down his face, the singer talked about all of the small club Cleveland venues he played. "I always wanted shows to feel intimate," he added. Mission accomplished.

Machine Gun Kelly Cleveland show photo 2

Photo: Amber Patrick

He Served Up Death-Defying Antics

With the aforementioned life insurance policy in mind, a bloodied and unharnessed MGK climbed 30 feet up the stage rigging — young Eddie Vedder style — to finish "my ex's best friend."  

He then proceeded to jam his legs into the rig and hang upside down, smiling and singing without missing a beat as tomato-shaped confetti reigned down around the stadium. The surreal moment epitomized the entire evening: a fearless artist truly wanting to give his hometown crowd a show they'll never forget. 

He Soaked Up Every Last Moment

Even 30 minutes (and apparently $210,000) overdue, Machine Gun Kelly clearly didn't want to leave the stage. Nearly awkward moments of silence were mixed with sincere ramblings toward the end, as MGK was obviously still processing the enormity of the evening. 

He recalled a phone call with fiancée Megan Fox from earlier in the day, when she told him that he doesn't have to prove anything on stage and that the audience is there to see him.

"We did it," MGK said. "We did sell out a stadium in our hometown. I love you all. I'll see you many times in this lifetime, I'm sure." 

After performing the set finale, the anthemic "twin flame," MGK fell to his knees and cried with his head held low. As the appropriately titled "9 lives" played over the PA, MGK hugged his band members and looked out to the crowd — taking in the last moments of a dream come true.

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