meta-script15 Songs That Directly Address Mental Health, From The Beatles To Ariana Grande To 'Encanto' | GRAMMY.com
15 Songs That Directly Address Mental Health, From The Beatles To Ariana Grande To 'Encanto'
Daniel Johnston

Photo: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

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15 Songs That Directly Address Mental Health, From The Beatles To Ariana Grande To 'Encanto'

If it's a cliché that we're freer to discuss mental-health struggles than ever before, so be it: it's an often lifesaving development. While there has been a recent preponderance of mental health songs, here are selections from across the decades.

GRAMMYs/May 2, 2022 - 09:57 pm

As long as there have been humans, there has been music — as well as mental illness. Thereby, people must have been singing about it since the beginning, right?

Sure. But music's an abstract, poetic artform, so the topic usually isn't approached literally. That's why Hank Williams wrote "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," not "I'm Depressed And Also An Alcoholic." And why the Rolling Stones called it "Paint It, Black," not "Wantonly Projecting My Trauma."

So, what does that mean for mental illness and the history of popular music? That delineations aren't always neat and tidy. That's why GRAMMY.com prepared a list of songs that address psychological maladies, more-or-less directly.

Obviously, it's not exhaustive — how could a list that leaves out all pre-1968 music be? Plus, It's not like these tunes have to reference the DSM-5 — it's that, to make the cut, they should touch on anxiety, depression, addiction, PTSD, and other conditions without too many buffering layers.

With that in mind, here are 15 songs from across the decades that got real about the realities of mental illness, and how to overcome it.

The Beatles, "Yer Blues" (1968)

After years of freewheeling experimentation in the studio, the Fabs finally jammed out in a room together. Eyeball-to-eyeball, they recorded "Yer Blues," John Lennon's 12-bar cry for help from the White Album.

Never before or since — not even on 1970's shockingly confessional Plastic Ono Band — had he been this candid about suicidal depression in a song. And more than half a century later, "Yer Blues" remains bracing, cathartic and strangely giddy.

Read More: Now That I Showed You What I Been Through: 50 Years Of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

Bill Fay, "Be Not So Fearful" (1970)

Skip the string-swelling version from Bill Fay's self-titled debut and seek out the stripped-down demo, found on From The Bottom of An Old Grandfather Clock. What you'll hear is a pocket-sized hymn for when the enemy within has you on the ropes.

"Someone watches you," the English singer/songwriter promises, "you will not leave the rails." A rare thing: a convincing argument against anxiety, and a song of honest-to-goodness utility.

Daniel Johnston, "Peek a Boo" (1982)

Throughout his long, unconventional career until his untimely death in 2019, singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston unflinchingly detailed his hopes, longings and fears in his rough-hewn music — as well as his struggles with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

His songbook is littered with sometimes harrowing songs about the latter, but "Peek a Boo" sums it up: "I'm tired from being kidnapped by a dark wolf that would do me in."

Swans, "God Damn the Sun" (1989)

While mostly known for skull-rattling noise jams and symphony scale indie rock, Swans have at least one unforgettable acoustic ballad. 

The majestic, doomed "God Damn the Sun" isn't just worthy of Leonard Cohen — because of leader Michael Gira's unvarnished language, it arguably surpasses even the Godfather of Goth's sense of despair. 

"I've got one thing to say before I am drunk again," Gira seethes, before condemning life on Earth — all of it. But he made it through, and so can all of us. And when we're in the depths of sorrow articulated in "God Damn the Sun," sometimes pitch-black commiseration feels paradoxically healing.

Bob Dylan, "Not Dark Yet" (1997)

Less theatrical than "God Damn the Sun" yet no less unequivocal about depression, this late-period masterpiece from Time Out of Mind is the soundtrack to self-inventory deep into the night.

"Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb," Uncle Bob sings over a gorgeous soundscape by producer Daniel Lanois, sounding depleted and discouraged. "I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from."

What a monument to a universal facet of the human condition — a fearsome enemy, but not one that has to consume us.

Sia, "Breathe Me" (2004)

Sia's "Breathe Me" feels like a continuation of Nine Inch Nails' (and Johnny Cash's) classic "Hurt" — only left off this list due to its ubiquity — thanks to its opening lines. 

"Help, I have done it again/ I have been here many times before," she sings. "Hurt myself again today/ And, the worst part is there's no one else to blame."

Hung on piano and a hangdog string section, "Breathe Me" is a dispatch about despair and vulnerability that belongs on a shelf with the best of them.

Amy Winehouse, "Wake Up Alone" (2006)

Sadly, the wildly talented Amy Winehouse didn't win her battle against drug and alcohol addiction — alcohol poisoning got her at only 27.

But she left behind a monster body of work — including her breakthrough album Back to Black, which garnered her a whopping five GRAMMYs.

Over a doo-wop rhythm and stabbing chords, "Wake Up Alone" is both a love song and a gripping expression of crepuscular loneliness and discontent. "That silent sense of content that everyone gets," Winehouse sings, "Just disappears soon as the sun sets."

Paramore, "Fake Happy" (2017)

The juxtaposition of crestfallen lyrics with a sparkling melody is the heart of power-pop — and by extension, pop-punk and alternative rock. And Paramore, who's been at the vanguard of both subgenres for almost 20 years, blends these qualities masterfully.

"Fake Happy," an inspired single from After Laughter, captures the feeling of feigning a grin when you're down in the dumps. "If I go out tonight, dress up my fears," asks bandleader Hayley Williams, "you think I'll look alright with these mascara tears?"

Ariana Grande, "breathin" (2018)

Despite dealing with high-profile breakups and PTSD from horror of the Manchester Arena bombing, Ariana Grande examines her internal mechanisms with humility and magnanimity. (Just think of her immortal line: "I'm so f***ing grateful for my ex.")

"breathin," from Sweetener, is no different. "Feel my blood runnin', swear the sky's fallin'/ How do I know if this s***'s fabricated?" she asks. Grande doesn't get self-pitying or pretend to have the answers — instead, she looks to a universal human balm during throttling times.

"Just keep breathin' and breathin' and breathin' and breathin'," she sings in the hook, over and over and over — like she's telling herself to hang in there as much as us.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, "It Gets Easier" (2020)

Since his Drive-By Truckers days, Jason Isbell has written like a surgeon about fundamental topics — his sociopolitical beliefs; his relationship with his wife, Amanda Shires; and his decade-plus of sobriety.

True to the current state of his recovery, "It Gets Easier" isn't about getting on the wagon, but staying on it. It begins with a "drunk dream," a common phenomenon among those sobering up. "I had one glass of wine/ I woke up feeling fine/ That's how I knew it was a dream," he sings.

Taking a cue from his friend and mentor, the late John Prine, Isbell sums up the tune in a crystalline thesis of a hook, over a kicking guitar riff: "It gets easier, but it never gets easy."

G Herbo, "PTSD" (2020)

File this one with Grande's Sweetener, which addresses the Manchester Bombing and her emotions in its wake.

While many of the entries insofar on this list deal with anxiety, depression or substance abuse, rapper G Herbo homes in on a very specific and sometimes misunderstood malady: post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I got a war zone inside of my head / I made it on my own, they said I'd be in jail or dead," he raps in "PTSD," featuring Chance the Rapper, Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD. "I've seen my brothers fall over and over again / Don't stand too close to me, I got PTSD."

"I felt like people may look at my situation and my life like I don't do these things, like I don't have problems, like I don't endure pain or stress," Herbo told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "I just wanted the world to know that we all are the same."

Read More: G Herbo Talks PTSD And The Importance Of Mental Health: "People Need To Treat Mental Health More Seriously"

Francisca Valenzuela, "La Fortaleza" (2020)

"La Fortaleza" — meaning "the fortitude" or "the strength" — is an impactful statement by Chilean singer/songwriter Francisca Valenzuela about finding the resilience to go on.

"Everything that has happened has led me to today," she sings. "I look forward to the horizon/ I bury guilt and leave." But Valenzuela isn't giving up, or stepping into oblivion. She's beginning anew.

"With my pen and my poem/ I will cross the mountain range," she sings, framing artistic expression as a magical weapon for healing and self-transformation. "And if I am in the middle of the storm/ Be the calm that sustains the center of the earth."

Julia Michaels, "Anxiety" (2021)

Some measure of trepidation is necessary for survival, but full-blown anxiety warps that psychological tool — into one that can undermine our day-to-day relationships.

Singer/songwriter Julia Michaels clearly understood this while writing "Anxiety," a cut from Melancholic Mood featuring Selena Gomez. "My friends, they wanna take me to the movies," she sings. "I tell 'em to f*** off/ I'm holding hands with my depression."

"For the first year [of mass success], I was having panic attacks, I was hiding in hallways, I was running away, people couldn't find me," Michaels told Billboard in 2019. Which, she explains, is often hidden in artists behind glitzy promotional machinery.

"You don't see the photoshoots and the interviews and the flying all the time and the being away from everyone and everything you love," she continued. But thanks to "Anxiety," the entire planet saw her clearly.

Jessica Darrow, "Surface Pressure" (from Encanto) (2021)

The hit Disney flick Encanto treated viewers to a nuanced take on Latine family dynamics, and "Surface Pressure" — written by Lin-Manuel Miranda as the character Luisa's solo — captures bluster that obfuscates insecurity.

"I'm the strong one, I'm not nervous/ I'm as tough as the crust of the Earth is," it begins. But then Miranda's tune cracks that facade: "Under the surface/ I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus."

The strength and incisiveness of "Surface Pressure" speaks to what makes certain Disney and Pixar films special — despite being marketed to children, they speak to universal human truths.

Read More: From Encanto To "Euphoria" And Grand Theft Auto V: Behind The Making Of A Great Soundtrack

Jimmie Allen, "Untitled Song" (2022)

Country star Jimmie Allen's trajectory may have led him to a GRAMMY nomination, but it was flecked with difficulties and hardship. Specifically, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a young teen, and the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic didn't help at all.

But Allen hasn't just come to terms with this reality — he's made it public so that he might help others in his boat. On April 19, he posted a performance of an unreleased and untitled song, about "pain [that] pulls me apart like a ripped-up floor" and feeling "always on the edge."

"I wrote this song about how I feel a lot of the time," Allen tweeted. "Mental illness is something I have struggled with my entire life."

Of course, he's far from alone. But as always, music is one of our most precious gifts to bridge those divides and forge those missing connections — and, consequently, let the light in.

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Ariana Grande Shines In ‘Wicked: Part 1’ First Look Movie Teaser
Ariana Grande as Glinda the Good Witch in the First Look for 'Wicked: Part 1.'

Photo: Univeral

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Ariana Grande Shines In ‘Wicked: Part 1’ First Look Movie Teaser

The trailer for the wildly anticipated movie musical starring Ariana Grande as Glinda the Good Witch and Cynthia Erivo as Wicked Witch Elphaba dropped before kickoff during Super Bowl LVIII.

GRAMMYs/Feb 12, 2024 - 01:00 am

Something has changed within me! The first trailer for Wicked: Part 1 premiered during Super Bowl LVIII starring Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo.

The teaser gives fans a peek at the first, fortuitous meeting between Grande’s Glinda and Erivo’s Elphaba on their first day at (dear old) Shiz University. Letting out a frightened shriek, the future Good Witch of the North marvels, “Oh! You’re green!” to which Elphie plays along, staring at her hands in awe before agreeing, “I am!”

Elsewhere in the teaser, Elphaba dons her famous black witch’s hat before revealing, “Something just takes over me, and when it does, bad things happen” as Glinda floats into frame in her iconic bubble, all dolled up in a frilly pink gown with matching crown and scepter.

While Wicked lovers don’t get a sneak peek at two-time GRAMMY winner Grande Grande singing any of Glinda’s songs in the trailer, we do get to hear strains of “Defying Gravity” as the clip introduces Jonathan Bailey as Fiyero, Michelle Yeoh as Madame Morrible and Jeff Goldblum as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with the latter ominously promising, “The best way to bring folks together is to give them a real good enemy.”

The trailer ends with Glinda and Elphaba arriving hand-in-hand at the Emerald City to meet the Wizard, with Grande whispering, “Don’t be afraid” and Erivo replying, “I’m not afraid; it’s the Wizard who should be afraid of me.” Cue the Wicked Witch bursting out of a window and taking flight for the first time as she lets roar the beloved final riff at the end of “Defying Gravity.”

Wicked: Part 1 is scheduled to hit theaters nationwide on Thanksgiving Day 2024 and also stars Ethan Slater, Marissa Bode, Bowen Yang, Keala Settle and Adam James. Watch the trailer above.

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Victoria Monét's Evolution: How The "On My Mama" Singer Transitioned From Hit Songwriter To Best New Artist Nominee
(L-R) Victoria Monét in 2015, 2019, and 2023.

Photos (L-R): Ethan Miller/Getty Images, Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic, Paras Griffin/Getty Images

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Victoria Monét's Evolution: How The "On My Mama" Singer Transitioned From Hit Songwriter To Best New Artist Nominee

After racking up seven nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs for her debut album, 'Jaguar II,' Victoria Monét has proven that her prowess behind the scenes wasn't just for other artists — it was prepping her for the spotlight.

GRAMMYs/Feb 2, 2024 - 06:00 pm

With seven GRAMMY nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs, Victoria Monét has officially entered her pop star era in epic fashion. But the singer/songwriter is far from an overnight sensation — she's been laying the groundwork for her breakthrough success for over a decade.   

With the 2023 release of her debut album, Jaguar II, Monét materialized years of writing blockbuster hits for Ariana Grande, Chloe x Halle, Selena Gomez and more into an acclaimed artist career of her own. Along with her GRAMMY nominations — including Best New Artist — she embarked on her first headlining tour and scored her first No. 1 hit. 

It's the kind of success Monét has been working toward her entire life, and particularly since attending a performing arts program during high school in her hometown of Sacramento. Whether writing for herself or others, Monét has a relatability that resonates with any listener; her introspective lyricism touches on everything from love, heartache and sexuality to empowerment and friendship. Her sleek, instrument-driven R&B stylings feel familiar yet fresh, bringing elements of dancehall, old-school slow jams, upbeat pop, reggae, hip-hop, trap, alternative R&B and country into the genre. 

"She really puts in the work and she is being rewarded now more than ever for it," producer  D'Mile, who has known Monét since the beginning of her career, tells GRAMMY.com. "She grows more and more confident and sure about what she's aiming for as she continues her journey."

D'Mile worked with Monét on her 2020 project, Jaguar, one of six EPs Monét had released before Jaguar II. While she garnered buzz for Jaguar, its sultry and dreamy follow-up took her artistry and acclaim to another level. Along with Jaguar II garnering hundreds of millions of streams, Monét saw legendary artists like Anita Baker and mega producer Jimmy Jam singing her praises, and both Jay-Z and former President Barack Obama included "On My Mama" on their favorite songs of 2023 playlists.

"I'm hoping that people who do find me now are along for the ride for the long run, or stay around until I do a Vegas residency when I'm 70 or something," the Georgia-born singer told Variety in December. "I'm just excited for the journey. I feel like it's definitely uphill right now."

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Back in the late 2000s when Myspace reigned supreme, Monét's long-held dreams of becoming a professional singer were finally realized. After sending a friend request to Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins — the GRAMMY-winning producer behind countless iconic tracks like Monica's "The Boy Is Mine" and Destiny's Child's "Say My Name," and one of Monét's biggest influences — he invited her to audition for a girl group, Purple Reign, he was putting together for Motown Records.

Monét packed her bags and headed to L.A. to join the group, but they were dropped before releasing any music. Stuck in L.A. and needing to make ends meet, the singer turned to songwriting — and little did she know, her backup plan would change everything.  

In just a few years, she had helped pen songs for the likes of Diddy Dirty Money, Nas, T.I., and Coco Jones (the latter of whom is now a fellow Best New Artist nominee). Along the way, she met Ariana Grande during the pop star's stint at Nickelodeon, and the two have been close collaborators since. After working together on two songs for Grande's debut, 2013's Yours Truly, Monét has co-written a majority of the superstar's subsequent albums through 2020's Positions and featured on 2019's "Monopoly."

In fact, Monét's first GRAMMY nominations were for her work with Grande. In 2020, her songwriting on Grande's 2019 LP, Thank U, Next, earned a nod for Album Of The Year as well as Record Of The Year for its braggadocious single "7 Rings." (Monét notched her third nomination as a songwriter the following year, for Best R&B Song for Chloe x Halle's "Do It.")

"Victoria is a brilliant collaborator, musician, writer and just as brilliant of a friend. She is a very pure person and I think that's why we connect the way we do," Grande told Billboard in 2019.  "She is a timeless writer and vocalist and one of the nicest people I know and truly deserves the world. I'm so proud of the work we've done together and so excited to watch her grow as an artist."

Though her success with Grande was abundant, Monét admitted that there came a point where she felt her songwriting overshadowed her artistry. She had released four EPs from 2014 to 2018, all of which showcased a more exploratory sound than Jaguar II, but remained rooted in R&B. In 2020, she decided it was time to honor, as she put it, "what the little girl in me wanted to do": perform.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges for Monét's fifth EP, 2020's Jaguar; first, a five-month delay of the release, and second, the inability to perform it live. Yet, her star was on the rise: Jaguar became Monét's first charting project, landing in the top 20 of the Hip-Hop/R&B charts in both the U.S. and the UK as well as No. 1 on Billboard's Heatseekers Albums chart in August 2020. 

The following February, she welcomed her first child, a daughter, Hazel. After experiencing postpartum depression, she decided to channel her struggles into music — and it resulted in her breakthrough hit.

"On My Mama," the third single from her debut full-length album, Jaguar II, is a brassy throwback to the sultry, head-bopping R&B jams of the late '90s/early '00s, with luscious stacked harmonies and self-affirming lyrics ripe with a mix of sexy innuendos and clever wordplay ("They say, 'Ooh, she smell good'/ That's just 'cause I'm Heaven-sent").

The catchy bop — which samples Chalie Boy's 2009 Dirty South anthem, "I Look Good" — was an instant radio hit and earned the singer her first two No. 1s on Billboard charts (she topped the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay tally for 2 weeks in November 2023 and the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay list in December). The song's feel-good music video, which has racked up over 33 million views on YouTube as of press time, features Chali Boy, Hazel and, of course, her mom.

The swaggy ode to self-empowerment scored two GRAMMY noms, Record Of The Year and Best R&B Song. Along with those and her Best New Artist nod, Jaguar II helped Monét earn seven nominations in total, including Best R&B Album, Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, Best R&B Performance ("How Does It Make You Feel") and Best Traditional R&B Performance ("Hollywood").

After a long and winding road, Monét has proven that her artistry is as impactful as her songwriting. As D'Mile notes, a big reason she's now seeing success is because she's done her homework as much as she's laid her groundwork.

"She studies the greats. Janet, Beyoncé..." D'Mile says. "We went to see the 'Renaissance' film. Mind you, she already saw it at the premiere. But this time, I was next to her and I can literally feel her watching the movie with different eyes than probably everyone else in the room." 

This dedication is on full display in her music videos and in her live performances. She hit the road for her first-ever headlining tour in 2023, dazzling fans with high-energy choreography and elite vocal control reminiscent of Bey herself — and selling out all 22 shows minutes after tickets went on sale.

Amid the final dates of the tour, the 2024 GRAMMY nominations arrived. And not only did Monét receive her first nominations as an artist in her own right, but she earned perhaps her biggest validation to date: a Best New Artist nomination. 

"I had something to prove. It wasn't just handed to me," Monét recently told Variety. "So it's all a part of why I think things are coming to fruition now: It's just time. It's almost like, 'Alright girl — you didn't give up. We're going to give you something.'"

Monét's career trajectory continues to skyrocket as she prepares for Music's Biggest Night. In the weeks leading up to the 66th GRAMMY Awards, Monét has earned nominations from ASCAP and the NAACP Image Awards, and she's set to receive the Rising Star award at the Billboard Women in Music Awards in March. And while she hasn't announced tour plans for 2024, she is on the bill for two massive festivals; Monét is set to make her Coachella debut in April and play Governor's Ball in New York City in June.

And whether or not she scores a golden gramophone on Feb. 4, Monét already feels like a winner. 

"I feel now is the time to stand my ground, and be proud of what I am, and who I am," she told CBS News on Jan. 30, days before the 2024 GRAMMYs. "This is one step closer to a really big dream."

How R&B Took Over The 2024 GRAMMYs: From Best New Artist Nominees To The GRAMMY Stage

Em Cooper's GRAMMY-Nominated Beatles Video Is A "Protest" Against Time
Em Cooper

Photo: John Ford

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Em Cooper's GRAMMY-Nominated Beatles Video Is A "Protest" Against Time

British animator and film director Em Cooper's immersive video for the Beatles' 'Revolver' track "I'm Only Sleeping" is the product of some 1,300 hand-painted frames. Here's how the 2024 GRAMMY nominee for Best Music Video came to be.

GRAMMYs/Feb 1, 2024 - 03:32 pm

The Beatles' discography can be heard as a long conversation between four brothers, and the songs on 1966's Revolver certainly talk to each other.

On "Love You To," George Harrison muses, "Each day just goes so fast/ I turn around, it's passed." On "Got to Get You Into My Life," Paul McCartney tunes in and drops out: "I was alone, I took a ride/ I didn't know what I would find there." And in every line of the somnambulant, gently roiling "I'm Only Sleeping," John Lennon declares war on awakeness itself.

Clearly, a shared energy flowed from each of their pens: an askance look at linear time, and how it pertains to modern society. And while painstakingly painting more than a thousand frames for "I'm Only Sleeping," oil painter and animator Em Cooper picked up exactly what Lennon was transmitting.

"I really love the fact that this is some major call towards rest and sleep and dreaming and allowing your mind to wander," the effervescent Cooper tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom. Productivity, efficiency, investment, return: as Lennon seemed to sing, they're for the birds.

As the lore goes, McCartney in 1966 was a man about town, soaking up Stockhausen and Albert Ayler and the avant-garde, while a suburbia-bound Lennon opted to drop acid and, well, lay in bed.

This is reflected in their contributions to Revolver, which got a 2022 remix and expansion: McCartney's tunes, like "Here, There and Everywhere" are borderline classical, while Lennon sometimes couldn't be bothered to add a third chord. But Lennon being Lennon, he made inertia into a transcendent force.

"It feels as though it's a bit of a protest against the calculus view of time and the idea that our time is for sale, we can just slice up our hours and sell it off by the chunk," Cooper says. "I feel like in John's desire for just letting himself sleep and rest, he's saying to the world, 'Let's allow ourselves our own time, our own lives.'"

But the experience of making the "I'm Only Sleeping" clip — which involved painstakingly painting each frame by hand — was anything but tranquil: at times, Cooper even found it painful. This labor of love paid off, though: it's nominated for Best Music Video at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Cooper details the development of  "I'm Only Sleeping" video, her methodology for mapping the visuals to the music, and, after numberless listens, whether she's sick of this Revolver favorite.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The Beatles' story is filled with unforgettable sights, and with the "I'm Only Sleeping" video, you added to their visual language. Was that a daunting responsibility?

Absolutely. It really was. And, I think maybe if I had really stopped to think about it too much, it would've really tightened me up. In a way, weirdly, I was quite lucky it was on a tight schedule. That took precedence. I was just in the flow, trying to just focus on each task ahead of me and get it done.

Sophie Hilton, who's the Creative Studio Director at Universal Music, commissioned the film with Jonathan Clyde from Apple Corps. They were very good at guiding the project in a very natural way, so that it made a very natural fit into where they needed it to fit, as it were, in that big, big legacy. So, the fact that I'm an oil paint animator and I work with archive footage — it's got that timeless quality a little bit to it anyway, as does the song.

I worked with the Beatles' archivist, Adrian Winter, who helped me find footage; managing to place it within the history of the Beatles was really important. I didn't get too worried until finally when it came out. 

And then, literally, that was the first moment it really hit me about the legacy — of what I suddenly realized I'd just done.

Em Cooper

*Photo courtesy of Em Cooper.*

Like the experience of sleep itself, "I'm Only Sleeping" is flowing, undulating. It looks like you picked up on that, with this impressionistic continuum of visuals.

Yeah, absolutely. I was inspired by the song itself, because the song has just that continuous rocking motion to the melody. It was as though it was a synesthetic reaction to the song. It felt almost like it just drew itself out in my mind — the movement all kind of choreographed itself around those moments where it's like [sings lyric in dramatic swoop]  "Yawning," and then it felt like it goes over the top.

But, I don't know whether everybody else hears that when they hear that lyric, but that's certainly what I heard, and I could just produce that movement to match. All I really felt I had to do was just stay incredibly true to the song and the movement that was already there, and it just flowed.

How did you do this under such a tight schedule? One thousand, three hundred oil paintings?!

Yeah, I'm not going to lie. It was painful. It was a very tight schedule to produce an entirely hand-painted oil paint animation in. I literally painted every frame on a cel; sometimes, I painted and wiped and repainted.

It's hard work, but I just love oil painting. Now that I've had enough projects that it flows out of me, I find I'm reasonably quick. Some parts were easier than others; doing the faces was particularly difficult. Trying to get John Lennon's likeness over and over again was a real challenge, but other parts of it were much easier.

Obviously, lots of people these days are working digitally to do drawings and things, but I just work in actual oil painting. I find that I'm definitely not quicker at doing something digitally than I am just manually.

I suppose I want to promote the real artforms, because actually there isn't anything that much quicker or different about dipping a brush in some red paint and doing a stroke than doing a digital stroke. If you just gain confidence, it's fine.

How did you collaborate with Apple Corps on this, whether they offered artistic direction or just moral support?

Jonathan Clyde really helped direct all of that. I put all my ideas together into a document, and there was lots of consultations with them and honing those ideas and making sure that they fit with everybody's vision and what everybody was thinking.

And then, carrying on honing and honing, so that by the time I got to actually going, Yeah. We're going for it. We're going to start making this, it was all very clear.

I did a pencil-drawn animatic, which was about, I think two frames a second, which is quite a lot for an animatic, so as to really show the flow of imagery, so that there were no questions. I think there were a couple of changes after that, but very, very few.

So, it was quite clear, and everybody agreed on all the imagery and everything. But, I came up with most of it andwould maybe put some suggestions.

And, we came up collectively with this idea of  the backwards guitar sequence going backwards through Beatles' history from that moment, from 1966 backwards as it were, so as to the feeling from Revolver back to the beginning of the Beatles.

And, I was trying to meld that all together with the magnetic tape in the magnetic tape recorders going in and out of that. It was group calls, so I would take one and spark off and think, Oh, yeah. I remember Adrian Winter, the archivist, mentioning how John Lennon often had a notebook with him because he was always just thinking of ideas; he suggested that. And so, I put the notebook next to his pillow and things like that.

Em Cooper

*Photo courtesy of Em Cooper.*

When Giles Martin's remix of Revolver came out, it was striking how modern it sounded. How did this project enhance your appreciation for this song, album and band?

I watched it again just before jumping on this call with you, and I love the song. I was listening to little individual parts of it over and over again, whilst I was working on it, getting really into the detail of tiny bits of each line. And, it holds up, it's so good. I do not get bored of it. I love it.

I just could carry on listening to it over and over, which really, to be honest, says a lot, because when you work very hard on something, you do tend to find yourself a little bit bored by it by the end. But, absolutely not the case with this.

And, actually, after it was all finished, we went to Abbey Road together as a treat to listen to the [remixed and] remastered version of Revolver that was being re-released, and wow! To listen in Abbey Road Studios with the surround sound, it was just mind-blowing.

I already had an incredible respect for the Beatles, and that has only grown.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

David Guetta Reveals The "Accidents Of Life" That Birthed Hits With Bebe Rexha, Nicki Minaj & More
David Guetta performs at the 2023 Sziget Festival in Budapest, Hungary.

Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

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David Guetta Reveals The "Accidents Of Life" That Birthed Hits With Bebe Rexha, Nicki Minaj & More

With two nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs, David Guetta is still proving to be one of dance music's stalwarts. Hear from the hit-making producer about how some of his biggest hits with Sia, Kid Cudi and more came to be.

GRAMMYs/Jan 25, 2024 - 07:24 pm

After more than 30 years as a DJ/producer, David Guetta knows the secret to success within dance music.

"What made me famous is to have songs that could be timeless and crossover into the pop world, but are still being played by all the DJs," the French producer says. "It's always a big challenge to do a dance record that every DJ would play, but at the same time would touch the emotions enough so that people that are not in clubs or in festivals would be touched by it. It's that duality that I have to fight every time."

With 14 No. 1 dance hits and two GRAMMYs to his name now — as well as two more nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs — Guetta flashes a coy smile and says, "I think I've found a few tricks to make it work."

Guetta is one of the inaugural nominees in the new Best Pop Dance Recording Category. He has not one, but two songs in Category: his latest collab with Bebe Rexha, "One In A Million," and his Haddaway-sampling hit with Anne-Marie and Coi Leray, "Baby Don't Hurt Me." 

As the only artist with two nominations in the Category, Guetta's latest GRAMMY nods further solidify his legacy as one of dance music's biggest crossover acts. While he's been making a name for himself since getting his start on the Parisian underground, Guetta broke through to the mainstream U.S. market with his serendipitous collab with Kelly Rowland, "When Love Takes Over," in 2009.

Since then, he's made countless hits for himself and others. He's the in-demand producer behind the Black Eyed Peas' 2009 smash "I Gotta Feeling" who could get Nicki Minaj to sing ("Turn Me On") and Sia to step into the spotlight ("Titanium"), all the while helping to build new talent, such as his frequent collaborator (and current co-nominee) Rexha. 

His latest single is with another pop princess, Kim Petras, a fast-paced dance floor collab titled "When We Were Young" that samples Supertramp's "The Logical Song." Just after making tour stops in South America, Guetta sat down with GRAMMY.com to share the stories behind some of his biggest hits, from his crossover breakthrough with Kelly Rowland to his latest GRAMMY-nominated collab with Bebe Rexha. 

"When Love Takes Over" feat. Kelly Rowland (2009)

Kelly Rowland, I have to give an homage to her because she is the first pop artist that came to me. She was in a club in Cannes where I was playing. All the records I did before that were with this incredible vocalist, Chris Willis. I had some very big dance records, like "Love is Gone" for example. That was really massive in our culture, but I never worked with a big famous pop artist.

So, I'm in Cannes DJing, and I play the instrumental of "When Love Takes Over," and Kelly comes to the DJ booth and asks me, "What is this record?" I said, "It's just a beat I made," and she said, "I really like it. Can I try to write something on it?" 

Crazy, right? I have so much respect for her. I'm grateful to her for life because to go to a DJ that you don't even know, hear a beat and spot that it is a hit? That's big! 

We did this collab, and the record went to No. 1 in the U.K. and charted in 30 countries or something crazy, and this was the first step for me into a big crossover. Right after that, I had "Sexy B—" with Akon, and that was massive and very influential. One of the most influential records I've made, I think. 

"Sexy B—" feat. Akon (2009)

I'm in the U.K. at BBC One radio performing "When Love Takes Over" with Kelly Rowland. Akon is performing after me, and he says "Ah, it's you! You also did 'Love is Gone.' I love those records. Let's do something," so I booked at Metropolis in London that same night. I bring him to the studio, and we did "Sexy B—" that night.

In this industry, it's a lot about "You're only as good as your last hit," so many people basically look at the top 10 say, "Okay, let's work with this guy because it's current." I was never too much like that. I'm just looking for talent, really, and the accidents of life. Because if you look at all my biggest hits, they happen by accident.

Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" (2009)

Dance music is not usually the main leading genre. You have more pop or hip-hop, some moments it was rock, but dance was always more niche. At the same time, it has a huge influence on pop. I've seen an interesting phenomenon, though: Every time there's a major crisis and people are really stressed and suffering, dance music rises.

At the end of the 2008 financial crisis that was so tough on people, I produced "I Gotta Feeling" for Black Eyed Peas, and it was like a revolution at this time. Everyone was like, "What is this?" and then from one day to the other, every radio was playing dance music all day. 

Now, we're in the second time. We've just gotten out of COVID, we have the war in Ukraine and Russia. "I Gotta Feeling" was such a happy song, which is not what I do usually, and again, now, "I'm Good (Blue)" is having the same type of moment. I think dance music has the power to help people forget everything, just live in the moment and feel good. 

"Memories" feat. Kid Cudi (2010)

"Memories" with Kid Cudi is also funny to see how everything is connected — because in the case of "Memories," I'm shooting the video of "I Got A Feeling" with Black Eyed Peas. One of the cameos of the video is Kid Cudi, and I'm also a cameo in the video. I was like, "Oh wow, you're Kid Cudi? I love your work! We should do something together," and boom. We book the studio the day after, and we have "Memories.

"Titanium" feat. Sia (2011)

Titanium was a similar situation. Sia was a very cool and very respected artist, but she was not a big pop artist. Funnily enough, at the time, she decided to stop being an artist and just be a songwriter.

We were working together as a producer and a songwriter for another artist, but when I heard her voice on that record, I was like, "It's impossible. No one is going to be able to sing like this." I literally begged her to stay on the record, and she was like, "Look, I'll do it, but I don't want to do any interviews. I don't want to do a video. I don't want to do tours. I don't want to do any of it." I'm like, "Okay, no problem. Just give me your voice."

After it was released, she became a huge artist. I remember being in the studio with her after "Titanium," and she would receive messages from Rihanna and Beyoncé fighting for her songs. It was really crazy, really incredible. She became one of the most respected artists on the planet. 

"Hey Mama" feat. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha & Afrojack (2015)

I have a long history with Bebe, and we started to work together with "Hey Mama." It's a funny story because I had the sample, and I had Nicki's rap, and I felt the sample was my chorus. It took me two years to understand that the sample needed to be the post, and I needed a real chorus. Imagine spending two years on a record. I was going crazy!*

I knew it was a hit, but it was not totally there. I realized I needed to push the chorus back, make it a post and play some chords.

When you are in the studio, there's studio A, B, C and D — and the door of Studio D was open. I heard this crazy voice, and I come in the door like, "Wow, who's singing?" That was Bebe! She was not an artist yet, but a songwriter. She was writing with a friend of mine and asked, "Can you guys try something on this hook that makes me suffer so much?" In 15 minutes, they wrote the hook. It was insane.

In the middle of the record being released, she asked to feature on the record because she wanted to start an artist career of her own. We changed the credit, then she became a big artist. 

"I'm Good (Blue)" with Bebe Rexha (2022)

Funnily enough, we made this song four years before the release. I was living in London at the time, and Bebe texted me, "I'm going to be in London. Do you want to do something?"

We were writing in the studio, and just for the vibe, we tried that idea. Honestly, I don't use many samples — maybe only three records in my career — but I was like, "Imagine bringing back that happy vibe, it would be so much fun, and those chords are so good." 

So we did it, and honestly, no one believed in it. Still, as a DJ, I try to only play my own productions, so I made a festival version with that exact hook, and I played it at a festival. A few years later, someone sampled it, used it on TikTok, and it was a huge hit. Bebe texted me like, "Do you know what's happening on TikTok?" 

She showed me and she's like, "You got maximum two weeks to finish the record." So I finished the record! 

Two days before it was released, I played it at a festival in the U.K., and everyone was singing all the words. I could not believe it. The record was not out! Usually it's a struggle to build a record, sending it to DJs and to have the support of radio and streaming platforms. Now, it was already a hit before it was out. That's crazy!

"Baby Don't Hurt Me" with Anne-Marie and Coi Leray (2023)

I did this as a follow-up to "I'm Good (Blue)," digging in the classic dance music records from the '90s and 2000s. To be completely honest, I come from house music, and at that time, I would not play Euro dance records. I would be like, "Oh, this is so cheesy." But with life experience, you learn to respect the melodies. I look at it in a very different way, because I'm probably less snobbish with age.

I think a lot of producers are obsessed with technicalities and get caught on "Oh, I found this special way of side-chaining reverb and panning it." At the end of the day, if you have a melody, you can go up against the best-sounding record in the world and always win. 

Those huge Euro records from that time had massive melodies, and "What is Love?" That record is insane! A lot of my ideas for songs come from my DJ sets, and I was playing a mashup of "What Is Love?" and I could see everyone was screaming as much as when I play "Titanium" or those massive records. 

At the same time, Max Lousada, who's the head of Warner Music Group, hooked me up with Ed Sheeran. He also loved "I'm Good." I have this crazy video of him jumping on stage with me when I'm playing it and going absolutely crazy. I was so honored because this guy is such a genius. Ed was like, "Let's have fun," and then we wrote a few songs. I have a few weapons to put out in the year to come, and one of the songs was "Baby Don't Hurt Me." He wrote the verses. 

Anne-Marie is my friend, and she is very good friends with Ed Sheeran. We'd been talking about making a record, the three of us, so I called her. She's one of the most fun people I know, and most down to Earth. So easy to work with, so I had two verses from her. 

Then one day, another crazy accident! I made a remix for Coi Leray of the song "Players" — I was in L.A., and I felt it was cooler to play it for her in the studio where she was recording her album. So I go to the studio and play the remix, and she goes absolutely crazy. She jumps on the table and starts to dance. It was such a vibe, so positive. 

She's like, "David, why don't you stay with us? We have two more days to finish the album." I'm like, "Of course," and there I am making hip-hop beats. We did a few records, one of them being "Make My Day" with a sample of "Pump the Jam" for her album. And we did another one with a sample of James Brown called "Man's World." I really love that record. 

So I produce those two records with Coi, and I'm like, "Can we do a swap? Can you do a verse on my record?" And that's how she did "Don't Hurt Me." If I had asked the record company, it probably would never have happened. You need to give to receive. 

I didn't go to the studio thinking I'm gonna ask her that. I just did it because I thought she was amazing and I was super happy to help her with the album. I'm sure she's going to be a massive artist, and she jumped on my record. 

"One In A Million" with Bebe Rexha (2023)

[Bebe and I] have this special relationship together. I think she's extremely talented. The job I respect the most in our industry is songwriting, and she's a great songwriter. She can sing, but she can write too. That is a different level of looking up to [someone].

"One in a Million" is a little more my traditional style, with a piano arpeggio and a beautiful song. I loved the record from the first second. It has a little bit of a Coldplay vibe that I really love. A lot of people say it feels a little bit like what I did with Kelly Rowland with "When Love Takes Over." It's not the same chords, but it's a feeling, let's say. 

I'm hoping for the best [at the GRAMMYs]. It would be amazing if we could win, for me but also for her. I really want her to win, because I think she's so talented. She deserves the win. 

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