Courtesy Photo: CBS via Getty Images
Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz in 'Clueless' (1995)
How 1995 Became A Blockbuster Year For Movie Soundtracks
From 'Clueless' to 'Dangerous Minds,' soundtracks were big business in 1995, but the year's hits offered no clear formula for success
Mariah Carey, Alanis Morissette, 2Pac and The Smashing Pumpkins all had No. 1 albums in 1995. Despite such hallowed competition, four movie soundtracks also topped the Billboard 200 chart that year. Two were family-friendly Disney behemoths: Pocahontas and The Lion King, the latter still powering from the previous year. The other chart-topping soundtracks, for the Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle Dangerous Minds and the stoner comedy Friday, were no one's idea of kids' entertainment.
Beyond those No. 1 spots, 1995 marked a fascinating midpoint in a soundtrack-heavy decade. According to a New York Times report, a new release CD that year typically cost anywhere between $13-$19. At that price, a soundtrack needed major star power or an undeniable concept.
For movie studios and musicians alike, the format was rich with opportunity. However, there was no certain formula for success. Some soundtracks were guided by a single producer, while others drew on a grab bag of then-current songs. Several featured one clear hit that eclipsed the soundtrack, or occasionally the movie itself. For all their differing approaches, the soundtracks of 1995 epitomized the energy and audacity of the decade, while also establishing tropes for the next 25 years.
The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album (1992) set the bar high for the decade. With a 20-week reign at No. 1, it remains the biggest-selling soundtrack of all time. Whitney Houston performed six songs on the album, including the titanic power ballad, "I Will Always Love You." (At the 1994 GRAMMYs, the track won the GRAMMY for Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, while the soundtrack itself earned the Album Of The Year award.)
While The Bodyguard magnified their commercial potential, movie soundtracks like Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) framed the medium as an artistic showpiece. Throughout the '90s, Tarantino and fellow indie auteurs Paul Thomas Anderson, Richard Linklater and Spike Lee made music a key character in their films. (The latter continues the trend on his latest movie, Da 5 Bloods, alongside six-time GRAMMY-winning composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.) Both instincts, for commercial returns and artistic validation, were well-represented in 1995.
Batman Forever (1995) epitomized the big-budget, mass-appeal mid-'90s soundtrack. Spanning PJ Harvey to Method Man, the 14-track set employed some tried-and-true tactics. First, only five songs on the track list appear in the movie itself, ushering in a rash of "Music From And Inspired By" soundtracks. Second, its featured artists largely contributed songs you couldn't find on other albums: According to Entertainment Weekly in 1995, U2 landed a reported $500,000 advance for "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," an offcut from the band's Zooropa album sessions.
Most significantly, Batman Forever backed a surprise smash in Seal's "Kiss From A Rose." Originally released as a single in 1994, the ballad blew up as the movie's "love theme." In its music video, Seal croons in the light of the Bat-Signal, intercut with not-very-romantic scenes from the film. Outshining U2, "Kiss From A Rose" reached No. 1 in 1995; one year later, the song won for Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 38th GRAMMY Awards.
Both Bad Boys and Dangerous Minds had their "Kiss From A Rose" equivalent in 1995. Diana King's reggae-fusion jam "Shy Guy" proved the breakout star of Bad Boys, transcending an R&B- and hip-hop-heavy soundtrack. Meanwhile, Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," featuring singer L.V., the key track on Dangerous Minds, became the top-selling single of 1995; it won the rapper his first, and only, GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance the next year.
Other soundtracks from 1995 endure as perfect documents of their time and place. Clueless compiled a cast from '90s rock radio to accompany the adventures of Alicia Silverstone's Cher Horowitz and her high school clique: Counting Crows, Smoking Popes, Cracker and The Muffs. Coolio, the everywhere man of 1995, contributed "Rollin' With My Homies."
From the same city, but a world outside Cher's Beverly Hills bubble, came the Ice Cube- and Chris Tucker-starring Friday. Its soundtrack took a whistle-stop tour of West Coast hip-hop and G-funk via Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Tha Alkaholiks and Mack 10. True to the era, the music video for Dr. Dre's "Keep Their Heads Ringin'" is half stoner comedy, half cheesy action movie.
Waiting To Exhale, the 1995 drama directed by Forest Whitaker, boasted a soundtrack with a clear author. Babyface, the R&B superproducer with 11 GRAMMY wins for his work with the likes of Boyz II Men and Toni Braxton, produced the set in full. Following Babyface's co-producer role on The Bodyguard soundtrack three years prior, Waiting To Exhale featured two new songs from the movie's star, Whitney Houston.
Houston's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" and "Why Does It Hurt So Bad" led a track list that also featured Aretha Franklin, TLC, Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige and then-newcomer Brandy. A powerful showcase of Black women across generations, the soundtrack has prevailed as a standalone work, going on to receive multiple nominations, including Album Of The Year, at the 1997 GRAMMYs. In a crowded year for soundtracks, which also included Dinosaur Jr. founder Lou Barlow's work on Larry Clark's contentious Kids, Waiting To Exhale demonstrated the power of a singular vision.
For the most part, the soundtracks of 1995 tried a bit of everything. The previous year, The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack went all-in on covers, including Nine Inch Nails overhauling Joy Division's "Dead Souls." That trend continued into 1995, from Tori Amos covering R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" for Higher Learning to Evan Dando's update of Big Star's "The Ballad Of El Goodo" in Empire Records to Tom Jones gamely taking on Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way"' for The Jerky Boys movie. (Is there a more '90s sentence than that?)
Elsewhere, the Mortal Kombat soundtrack blended metal and industrial rock (Fear Factory, Gravity) with dance music (Utah Saints, Orbital). For every Dead Presidents, which zeroed in on '70s funk and soul, there was a Tank Girl, which threw together Bush, Björk, Veruca Salt and Ice-T to match the movie's manic tone.
Continuing from their '90s winning streak, grown-up soundtracks have proven surprisingly resilient. In an echo of Babyface's role on Waiting To Exhale, Kendrick Lamar oversaw production on 2018's chart-topping, multi-GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: The Album, uniting an A-list cast under his creative direction. On the same front, Beyonce executive-produced and curated The Lion King: The Gift, the soundtrack album for the 2019 remake of the Disney classic, which spotlighted African and Afrobeats artists. In 2016, Taylor Swift and One Direction's Zayn recorded "I Don't Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)," pitching for the movie tie-in bump enjoyed in 1995 by Seal and Coolio. (The millennial stars stopped short of including scenes from the movie in their music video.)
Like Batman Forever back in the day, the DC Universe continues to put stock in soundtracks. Both Suicide Squad (2016) and its follow-up, Birds Of Prey (2020), are packed tight with to-the-minute pop, R&B and hip-hop. Each soundtrack reads like a who's who of the musical zeitgeist. In 1995, Mazzy Star, Brandy and U2 grouped up behind Batman. In 2016, Twenty One Pilots, Skrillex and Rick Ross powered the Suicide Squad. In 2020, everyone from Doja Cat to Halsey to YouTube star Maisie Peters form Team Harley Quinn.
As 1995 taught us time and time again, nothing traps a year in amber quite like a movie soundtrack.
Photo: Clemens Bilan/picture alliance via Getty Images
5 Artists Influenced By Enya: Brandy, Nicki Minaj, Grimes & More
Thirty-five years after Enya's second studio effort, 'Watermark,' ushered in the contemporary New Age scene, take a look at five artists who have professed their love of the four-time GRAMMY winner.
Enya never used to be considered the epitome of cool. Perhaps that was due to her image as a reclusive castle dweller. Maybe it's because she's never played a single live show in her four-decade career. Or it could be that her music has often been snootily dismissed as the aural equivalent of a bath bomb.
But over time, the four-time GRAMMY winner born Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin has received a deserved critical reevaluation. The modern-day consensus is that her ethereal blend of Celtic folk, classical and pioneering use of lush, multi-layered synths — developed in conjunction with long-term creative team Nicky and Roma Ryan — spearheaded a new age for, well, New Age.
She's now talked about in the same circles as Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser and Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard, singers that, unlike Enya, were immediately celebrated for pushing their remarkable voices to new otherworldly places. And she's been sampled, namechecked or championed by artists as eclectic as industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, death metallers Blood Incantation and the many-monikered rapper, Diddy.
In fact, think of any Enya song, and it's no doubt been borrowed by an unlikely suspect. "Boadicea" formed the basis of Fugees' career-best "Ready or Not," and rather sneakily without the hip-hop trio asking first. "Wild Child" was given the hardcore techno treatment by Eurodance duo CJ Crew. And yes, that is her most recognizable hit you can hear in the chorus of hip-hop provocateurs Die Antwoord's "Orinoco Ninja Flow (Wedding DJ's Remix)."
Sample or not, some musicians have been more vocal about their love of Ireland's second-biggest music export (only U2 have sold more records worldwide) than others. As her breakthrough album, Watermark, celebrates its 35th anniversary on Sept 19, here's a look at five.
Brandy certainly doesn't see Enya as a guilty pleasure. The R&B star leapt to the defense of her unlikely musical hero during a 2020 interview with The Guardian when the journalist questioned the Irish icon's musical credibility. "Enya's a joke to you?" she asked incredulously. "That's not even possible. I'm a little bit offended."
The man who'd incurred her wrath should have known that Brandy takes Enya very seriously. You can hear the Irish' songstress' influence throughout her enduring career, from the gorgeous multi-layered harmonies of "Full Moon" to the hypnotic chant that weaves its way through the futuristic Timbaland production of "Afrodisiac."
"She has the voice of an angel," Brandy gushed in the introduction for an Apple playlist personally curated to reflect her life, with Enya's post-9/11 anthem "Only Time" appearing alongside Coldplay's "Yellow," three Whitney Houston cuts, and the best of her own material. "I first discovered Enya when I was 15. I love how she layered and stacked her voice."
Weyes Blood, aka baroque pop singer/songwriter Natalie Mering, was also forced to stick up for Enya when she was asked by The Irish Times whether her love of the New Age veteran was shrouded in irony. Her reply couldn't have made her sincerity any clearer.
"She is a completely uninhibited feminine force," said Mering. "A matriarchal force in music. She had so much success because of that distinctive sound. But because music people are obsessed with rock 'n' roll and drums, she doesn't get the attention she deserves. If you look at her record sales, she is, in my opinion, up there with the Beatles."
A year later, Mering waxed lyrical about the former Clannad singer in a Pitchfork piece about Enya's growing cultural cachet. She revealed that the Watermark and Shepherd Moons albums her parents played constantly back in the 1990s were a huge influence on her own LPs, 2016's Front Row Seat to Earth and 2019's Titanic Rising, particularly on the former's ballad "Generation Why." Mering then made a claim even bolder than her Fab Four comparison: "Enya's a drone artist, she's like the most mainstream noise artist there ever was."
You wouldn't necessarily expect an album featuring a belated riposte to Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" to also be partly influenced by the enigmatic darling of the New Age scene. But apparently, Nicki Minaj's The Pinkprint does nod to Enya on at least a couple of occasions.
Discussing her 2014 LP with V magazine, Minaj said, "One of my biggest [musical influences] is Enya. There are two records early in the album where the airiness and the whimsicalness remind me of Enya, and I sort of crafted it thinking about her and the way her music makes me feel."
And the rapper also tried to convert her son (still only known by his nickname, Papa Bear) to Enya's studio wizardry while he was still in the womb. The rapper explained on Twitter, "While pregnant I could only play him soothing music like Enya/classical, etc. He'd be more relaxed."
Grimes' fondness for the Celtic goddess appears to have developed over time. When asked about her "Enya on steroids" label early on in her career, the Canadian seemed relatively non-committal. "I probably have the 'Best Of Enya' somewhere," she told NME. "I guess it makes a change from all the Cocteau Twins comparisons."
But over the following decade, Grimes showed more appreciation for Enya's talents. In 2013, she told Rolling Stone that her then-upcoming Art Angels album was heavily influenced by the Irishwoman's ethereal sound, particularly closer "Butterfly" in which she layered "so much Enya synth s—."
Five years later, Grimes included the haunting "Boadicea" on Playing Bloodborne, one of five mood-specific playlists she curated for Spotify. And during her 2022 DJ set at the Electric Daisy Carnival, Grimes no doubt confounded all the ravers expecting wall-to-wall EDM when she dropped in the geography lesson that is "Orinoco Flow."
"I also love Enya or Cocteau Twins, where I can't understand a word they're saying and they're pulling a thread that does not exist in the real world but is still so satisfying." Perfume Genius' 2020 interview with The New Yorker proves that the world music icon's influence extends the female sphere.
The singer/songwriter born Michael Alden Hadreas has repeatedly professed his admiration for Enya in recent years. "My wig has belonged to Enya since 1988," he tweeted in 2019. "Was Enya the first to ever pop off," he posted without any context a year later. And then in 2023, the art pop troubadour named "Caribbean Blue" as one of his 40 all-time favorite songs while joining in with the latest Twitter trend.
Hadreas' love of Enya has undoubtedly filtered down to his own sound, too. Hear the "Orinoco Flow"-esque intro of "Just Like Love," for example, or the celestial "Gay Angels." Speaking to Pitchfork in 2022, he explained that the Irishwoman's general aura is the key to her appeal — and what has helped classify her as a different kind of cool.
"There's something about Enya being so mainstream that is really soothing to me," he said. "Everybody knows who Enya is, but there's also this feeling that it's something spiritual and strange."
The star's unique vibe also gave Hadreas a sense of belonging — something Enya likely did for many of his peers as well. "It felt like a deeper thing, this secret, like I know that I am connected to something, and I know the way I am is OK."
Photo: Meron Menghistab
Cautious Clay's 'Karpeh' Is & Isn't Jazz: "Let Me Completely Deconstruct My Conception Of The Music"
On his Blue Note Records debut 'Karpeh,' Cautious Clay treats jazz not as a genre, but as a philosophy — and uses it as a launchpad for a captivating family story.
Because this is a crucial lens through which to view him: he's jazz at his essence and not jazz at all, depending on how he wishes to express himself.
"I'm not really a jazz artist, but I feel like I have such a deep understanding of it as a songwriter and musician," the artist born Joshua Karpeh tells GRAMMY.com. "It's sort of inseparable from my approach to this album, and to this work with Blue Note."
Karpeh is talking about, well, KARPEH — his debut album for the illustrious label, which dropped in August. In three acts — "The Past Explained," "The Honeymoon of Exploration," and "A Bitter & Sweet Solitude," he casts his personal journey against the backdrop of his family saga.
As Cautious Clay explains, the title is a family name; his grandfather was of the Kru peoples in Liberia. "It's a family of immigrants. It's a family of, obviously, Black Americans," he notes. "I just wanted to give an experience that felt concrete and specific enough — to be able to live inside of something that was a part of my journey."
Vocalist Arooj Aftab and bassist Kai Eckhardt — Karpeh's uncle — also enhance the proceedings. The result is another inspired entry from Blue Note's recent resurgence — one lyrically personal and aurally inviting.
Read on for an interview with Cautious Clay about his signing to Blue Note, leveling up his recording approach, and his conception of what jazz is — and isn't.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell me about signing to Blue Note Records, and the overall road to KARPEH.
Don reached out via email probably a year ago, and so we connected over email. And I had sort of been in a situation where I was like, OK, I want to do something different for this next project. We kind of met in the middle and it just made a lot of sense based on just what I wanted to do, and then what they could potentially kind of work with on my end.
So, [I was] just recording the album in six days, and doing a lot of prep work beforehand and getting all these musicians that I really liked to be able to work on it. It was just a really cool process to be able to unpack that with Blue Note.
That's great that you and Mayer go back.
Yeah, man, we have a song. We worked on each other's music a little bit together. The song "Carry Me Away" on his  album [Sob Rock] I actually worked on, and then we did a song together called "Swim Home" that I released back in 2019.
You said you wanted to "do something different." What was the germ of that something?
I felt like it could be interesting to do a more instrumental album, or something that felt a little bit more like a concept album, or more experimental. I wanted to be more experimental in my approach to the music that I love.
I wanted to call it a jazz album, but at the same time I didn't, because I felt like it wasn't; it was more of an experimental album.
But I felt like calling it jazz in my mind kind felt like a free way to express, because I think of jazz much more as a philosophy than necessarily a genre.
So, it was helpful for me in my mind to be able to like, OK, let me completely deconstruct my conception of the music I make and how I can translate that music.
And then it eventually evolved into a story about my family and about American history to a certain extent in the context of my family's journey, and then also just their interpersonal relationships. That sort of made itself clear as I continued to write and I continued to delve deeper into the process.
Not that KARPEH ended up being instrumental. But instrumental records are lodestars for you? I'm sure that blurs with the Blue Note canon.
There's a lot of different stuff. There was that red album that Herbie Hancock released [in 1978, titled Sunlight] that I really liked. "I Thought It Was You" was super inspirational — sonically how they arranged a lot of that record.
Seventies jazz fusion was an overall influence. I felt inspired by the perfect meld of analog synthesizers, and then also obviously organic instruments like horns and guitars of that nature. So I wanted to create something that felt like a contemporary version of what could be a fusion record to a certain extent.
Any specific examples?
Songs like "Glass Face," for example, are pretty fusion-y, but also very just experimental in a way that doesn't feel like jazz, even.
My uncle [Kai Eckhardt] is a pretty big-time bass player, and he played on "Glass Face." I just was like, OK, dude, do your thing, and he just did this sort of chordal bass solo. Then, I did all these harmonies over top of the song.
And then, Arooj Aftab is a really good friend and musical artist; she was able to work off of that as well. So, it was an interesting journey to make a lot of these songs and sort of figure out how they all fit together.
How did you strike that balance between analog and synthesized sounds?
I recorded most of this album at a studio, which is very different for me.
I don't normally do that. I use a lot of found sounds like drums and stuff that I've either made or sampled, but I did all of the drums and bass and upright and electric guitars we'd recorded at a studio called Figure 8 in Brooklyn. That was the backbone for a lot of the music that I created for the album.
Then, I took it back home to my home studio. After we had recorded all of the songs, I essentially had some different analog synths and things that I wanted to add into it either at the studio that I worked at or my own personal studio, which happens to also be eight blocks [away] on the same street away.
I struck a balance just mostly with it in the context of working at a very formal studio and then having an engineer and just getting sounds that I wanted that could be organic and more specific in that way. And also using some of the synths they had.
In terms of the approach, I kind of wanted it to be different. And so part of that was just being at more of a formal studio and having an engineer and overseeing the overall process outside of just being inside of my Ableton session.
Tell me more about the guests on KARPEH.
I knew Immanuel through a couple of mutual friends, and he has a certain sort of bite to his sax playing that I felt was so juxtaposed to my sax playing.
And same with Ambrose. I feel like his trumpet style couldn't be more esoteric and out, in the context of how he approaches melodies. It's almost in some ways like, Whoa, I would never play that way.
They're also soloists, and conceptually for me, the idea of being in isolation or being in bittersweet solitude was conceptually a part of the last part of the album. They as soloists have so much to offer that I feel like I can't do and I don't possess.
So, I wanted to have them a part of this album, to demonstrate that individuality within the context of what it takes to make a song.
Julian is just a beautiful and spirited man, a beautiful guitar player. I've liked his sound for a while. I think it was back in 2015 when I first heard him; he had a couple of videos on YouTube that I thought were just super gorgeous.
I feel like he just has this way of playing that's folky. Also, it's jazz in the context of his virtuosic playing style, but it's also not overbearing. I felt like as a writer and as a musician, it would be a really great connecting point for a few of the more personal songs on the record.
And then my uncle Kai as well, — he's not on Blue Note, but he used to play with John McLaughlin and run bass clinics with Victor Wooten and Marcus Miller back in the early 2000s. Dude is a real heavy hitter, and he happens to be my uncle, so it's just cool to be able to have him on the record.
Cautious Clay. Photo: Meron Menghistab
With KARPEH out, where do you want to go from here — perhaps through a Blue Note lens?
I really love a lot of the people there, and I feel like this could be the first of many. It's also a stepping stone for me as an artist.
I feel really connected to the relationship I have, and our ability to put this out. It's hard to say what exactly the future holds, but I am genuinely excited for this album. I feel excited to be able to put out something so personal and so connected to everything that sort of made me, in a very concrete way.
From what I understand, this is a one-time thing, but it could potentially be two. It depends, obviously. I'm very open-minded about it. I'd love to keep the good relationship open and see where things go.
I really have enjoyed the process and I feel like this next year is going to be something interesting. So, we'll see.
Photo: Courtesy of Asha Imuno
Hip-Hop Re:Defined: Watch Asha Imuno Personalize Kendrick Lamar's "i" With A Sparkling New Chorus
Rap newcomer Asha Imuno offers an upbeat cover of Kendrick Lamar's GRAMMY-winning hit "i," one of the many tracks that inspired the sound for Imuno's upcoming project, 'PINS & NEEDLES.'
Growing up in Compton, California, Kendrick Lamar never thought he would see the day he was happy, confident and, most importantly, hopeful. But his lead single from 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly, "i," proves that reality wasn't so far-fetched — even when confronted with gun violence and police brutality.
In this episode of Hip-Hop Re:Defined, rap newcomer Asha Imuno delivers his rendition of "i," which won Lamar both Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song at the 2015 GRAMMYs. Though the original track's groovy instrumental remains, Imuno adds a personal touch to his cover with a new chorus.
"And I love myself/ The world is a ghetto with big guns and picket signs/ And I love myself/ But they can do what they want, whenever they want, I don't mind," he sings. "And I love myself/ He said I gotta get up, there's more to life than suicide."
Imuno is a longtime fan of Lamar, and according to a press statement, his upcoming album, PINS & NEEDLES, was heavily inspired by Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. On June 14, Imuno released the first single from the debut project, "PUSHING BUTTONS."
Press play on the video above to hear Asha Imuno's uplifting cover of Kendrick Lamar's "i," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Hip-Hop Re:Defined, a limited series celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary.
Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage
7 Unforgettable Sets From Outside Lands 2023: Foo Fighters' Special Guests, Lana Del Rey's Return & A Superhero DJ Shaq
The 15th edition of San Francisco’s foggy summer festival brought the musical heat — and lots of wild surprises.
On Aug. 11-13, Outside Lands returned to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for the 15th time. The city's premiere multi-day music and food festival attracted approximately 75,000 daily attendees, and promoter Another Planet says that about half of the 225,000 ticket holders live outside the Bay Area.
Though it takes place in the peak of summer, San Francisco in August is relatively cold and nicknamed "Fogust," which may have shocked any of the out of towners who showed up in shorts and barely-there tops.
The mild weather conditions meant that the true heat was left up to the performers to generate, and the more than 90 acts happily delivered. Below, we recount seven of the sets that were worth braving the summer cold to witness.
Shaq Takes Day One Championship
Moonlighting as DJ Diesel, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal apologized for starting his incredibly surprising set a few minutes late.
"Sorry I’m late, I was just hanging with Steph Curry and Draymond Green," he said, name checking the Golden State Warriors’ star players. He laced his banter with basketball metaphors and later brought out Warriors guard Gary Payton II to play Queen’s "We Are The Champions" in the team’s honor.
After dropping jaws by firing up aggressively, atonal EDM beats, he invited the crush of fans to come up on stage and "party with Diesel" one at a time. His set veered from Guns N Roses to Imogen Heap and he has to be the first DJ to call for a "ladies only mosh pit" while playing Aqua’s "Barbie World."
When he threw a young blonde boy on his shoulders and they both pumped their fists in unison, it was everything — and that’s how a superhero DJs.
Janelle Monáe Celebrates The Fam
With a towering stack of Jamaican sound system-styled speakers, giant beach balls, a towel-waisted band and swimsuited dancers, Janelle Monáe brought the sexy "Black Sugar Beach" and "Lipstick Lover" vibes of her new album The Age of Pleasure to the Lands End main stage, which she last graced in 2018.
Monáe has since come out as nonbinary and greatly expanded her fanbase; at Outside Lands, she dedicated her performance to "my community, the LGBTQIA+ community," saying, "I love you so much. To be Black, to be queer, to be nonbinary, to evolve and to have family like you is a blessing."
Monáe’s natural charisma has only gotten sharper over time, and her dance moves are more infused with the quick steps of the Godfather of Soul James Brown and Prince. Her almost Rockettes-level line choreography with her dancers has leveled up as well.
This year’s Outside Lands also saw the debut of the LGBTQIA+-centric Dolores’ stage, which was powered all weekend by local party crews such as Hard French, Fake and Gay and Oasis. A highlight was Reparations, an all-Black drag show hosted by the incomparable Nicki Jizz, San Francisco’s serial Drag Queen of the Year (according to local publication 48 Hills) who wore a large penis hat that she claimed was true to her actual size. The most overtly queer-friendly edition of Outside Lands was something beautiful to continue and build on in the future.
Kendrick Lamar Brings The Friday Night Light
Last seen rapping to a small but rapturous crowd on a secondary stage at Outside Lands in 2015, Kendrick Lamar has grown immeasurably as a recording artist and live performer. Lamar commanded the Lands End stage, closing the festival’s first night with quietly assertive control and grace in a performance that felt like a rightful graduation. This veritable elder statesman slot has been previously held by major acts like Radiohead, Neil Young With Crazy Horse and Paul McCartney.
His 2022 album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers featured prominently in the 21-song set, which included leftfield covers of Pusha T’s "Nosetalgia" and The Weeknd’s "Sidewalks." But Lamar knows that people still want to yell their lungs out to earlier cuts like "Swimming Pools (Drank)," "Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe," "m.A.A.d city," "HUMBLE." and "Alright" and he obliged.
Lana Del Rey Swings Back To Twin Peaks
Flower crowns were all the rage when Lana Del Rey made her Outside Lands debut in 2016 at Twin Peaks, the festival’s second largest stage. A new generation has since discovered the singer’s outsize character and vibe, and as the gates opened on Saturday, giddy groups of teenage girls rushed to park themselves at the edge of that very same stage to catch Del Rey’s big return to Golden Gate Park.
This time, Del Rey’s set included a projection that said "God Bless You San Francisco" and a giant swing woven with flowers that flung her into the air while she sang. Her set spanned her classics, like "Video Games" from 2012’s Born To Die, current hits, such as the title track from this year’s album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd., and a loving cover of Tammy Wynette’s 1968 country hit "Stand By Your Man."
Though she’s revered as an almost otherworldly figure and was an angelic vision in white, Del Rey doesn’t act untouchable in 2023 — in fact, she literally came down and touched some of those fans who waited all day for her.
Foo Fighters Come Out Crooning
"We’ve gotta fit 28 years into two f—ing hours!" Dave Grohl explained early in the Foo Fighters' set. It was a towering goal that they tackled with consummate ease, reaching back to hits such as "Times Like These" and "The Pretender" and showing the continuum through to recent songs like "Rescue."
After playing a few choice riffs of "Enter Sandman," it would have been less of a surprise to see a member of two-time Outside Lands headliner (and Bay Area natives) Metallica join them on stage than who actually came out for a cameo. After flying in from Argentina, Michael Bublé initially pretended to be a regular audience member before going onstage to sing his hit "Haven’t Met You Yet."
The Foo-Bublé connection is fun and surprising: New drummer Josh Freese has also played for the Canadian crooner, and "Haven’t Met You Yet" is part of a medley that the Foo Fighters are doing on tour that is comprised of other bands Freese has supported (including Devo’s "Whip It" and Nine Inch Nails’ "March of the Pigs").
Of course, the late drummer Taylor Hawkins will always be a prominent part of the Foo Fighters and their shows, and they played "Aurora" in his memory. As the park’s Polo Field lit up in violet-colored lights, Grohl’s 17-year-old daughter Violet Grohl also joined to sing three songs with her father, which he said was his absolute favorite thing in the world to do.
"I’m sure I’m embarrassing her right now!" he said.
Gabriels Tributes Tina Turner
"We’re California boys, but this is our first time in San Francisco," shared Gabriels singer Jacob Lusk before turning the Sutro stage into the Church of Outside Lands, and instructing everyone to share some neighborly love.
The Los Angeles band has some meteoric fans: Elton John invited Lusk, whose early resume includes being a former "American Idol" contestant who was in a gospel group with the late Nate Dogg, to sing with him on stage at this year’s Glastonbury. Lusk’s incredible vocal range flexes from baritone to falsetto on a dime, and he frequently takes a step back from the microphone while singing, as if not to overwhelm it.
In a particularly touching moment, Gabriels performed Tina Turner’s "Private Dancer" while a montage of footage of Turner filled the screen.
Megan Thee Stallion Triumphs Over Tragedy
Fog flooded the park as a super snatched Megan Thee Stallion took to the stage in a hot Barbie pink outfit and long red hair, but she blazed through the haze with ground-sweeping twerking and saucy tracks like "Body," "Her," "WAP" and "Big Ole Freak." It was her first performance since Tory Lanez was sentenced to 10 years for shooting her, and she was feeling noticeably buoyant.
"F— all my haters!" she said in the middle of the set. "None of the s— you was doing or saying broke me."
She received nothing but love from the crowd, and she was delighted by a big pocket of "boys" that she saw. Meg truly loves her "Hotties," and even stopped in between songs to sign someone’s graduation cap. A recent grad herself, she is proud of her fans who follow suit.
"Real college girl s—!" she exclaimed.