meta-scriptHere Are The Nominees For Best R&B Album At The 2024 GRAMMYs | GRAMMY.com
Here Are The Nominees For Best R&B Album At The 2024 GRAMMYs
{From Left To Right} Summer Walker, Emily King, Victoria Monét, Coco Jones and Babyface

list

Here Are The Nominees For Best R&B Album At The 2024 GRAMMYs

The five nominees for Best R&B Album highlight how women are driving the category. With entries from Coco Jones, Victoria Monét, Summer Walker, Emily King and Babyface — whose album features all female singers — R&B is putting ladies first.

GRAMMYs/Nov 12, 2023 - 05:18 pm

The roster of the Best R&B Album nominees at the 2024 GRAMMYs makes it abundantly clear that women are driving the category for the 66th GRAMMY Awards.

Coco Jones and Victoria Monét took back control over their careers and scored their biggest hits yet, while Summer Walker and Emily King turned their pain into art that resonates. Babyface — who helped define the '90s as one of the most in-demand songwriters — released his first full-length record in seven years, Girls Night Out.

Since 1995, only 12 female artists have won Best R&B Album with Alicia Keys receiving the honor three times. This year, female artists are taking center stage in the category. From Babyface championing some of today's most promising female R&B vocalists, to Monét and Jones finding their unique voices and King and Walker's beautiful solace in heartbreak, it's anyone's game.

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs on Feb. 4, 2024, get to know the five nominees for Best R&B Album. 

Babyface - Girls Night Out

R&B legend and 11-time GRAMMY winner Babyface didn't set out to make a sequel to 1996's beloved Waiting to Exhale's soundtrack — which boasts vocal contributions from Whitney Houston, Brandy, Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, TLC, and Aretha Franklin, to name a few.

Still, his 2022 album Girls Night Out drew plenty of comparisons to the now-iconic OST due to its all-female lineup. The record features some of the leading ladies from R&B's new class, including Ari Lennox, Muni Long, Kehlani, Queen Naija, and fellow nominee Coco Jones (more on her later). His "Keeps on Fallin'" collab with Ella Mai received a nod for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

As the Girls Night Out title suggests, Babyface takes a backseat and lets the women shine. While each lends their own signature style, the result is a cohesive body of work under Babyface's mentorship.

Despite having 125 Top 10 writer/producer credits to his name, the 64-year-old music veteran admitted to studying the current R&B landscape before joining forces with some of the genre's brightest and best. His homework is perhaps most reflected in "Game Over," "Don't Even Think About It," "G Wagon," and the title track.

"I needed to learn how people spoke and how melodies are different," Babyface told GRAMMY.com in early 2023. "I have a much clearer understanding of today's R&B because there is a difference, and it's not necessarily a difference that's any better or any worse. It's just a difference in terms of time, and that's what made the process enjoyable to me."

Coco Jones - What I Didn't Tell You (Deluxe)

Coco Jones is living proof that staying the course pays off. With co-signs from Janet Jackson and Beyoncé, Jones started recording demos at just 9 years old and released music independently for nearly a decade after parting ways with Disney in 2014.

Fast forward to 2023, a jam-packed year of exciting firsts for the former Disney Channel prodigy. The platinum-selling single "ICU" off Jones' debut EP, What I Didn't Tell You, became her first Billboard Hot 100 chart entry and first No. 1 on the Mainstream R&B/Hip Hop Airplay chart. Plus, the 25-year-old embarked on her first headlining tour, which kicked off on Aug. 5. And now, her first GRAMMY nomination.

Released in the second half of 2022, What I Didn't Tell You sees the Bel-Air star returning to music roots in a big way and leaning into her starpower with "Crazy for Me," "Spend It," "Headline," and the SWV-sampling "Double Back" emerging as standouts in addition to breakout hit "ICU."

In typical R&B fashion, What I Didn't Tell You takes listeners through the mixed bag of emotions brought on by love. But longtime fans may notice something's different this time around. For instance, lyrics like "This here is top shelf, I know you're thirsty / Run up a tab so you can get every drop of me" from "No Chaser" are delivered with a level of confidence that's only attained through real-life experiences.

The deluxe version of What I Didn't Tell You features four extra tracks, including her "Simple" duet with Babyface. With the 2024 GRAMMYs inching closer, Jones is clearly manifesting what could end up being her first-ever win. "That photo of Beyoncé, where she's holding several GRAMMYs — I put my face on there," she recently told the Los Angeles Times. "And then I zoomed in on a GRAMMY, and wrote Coco Jones."

Emily King - Special Occasion

"This year's gonna be about me / Never will I have another reason to doubt me," Emily King declares on "This Year," the opening track off her fifth studio album, Special Occasion.

The song itself sees King picking up the pieces of a broken heart, but on a larger scale, it's a sincere manifestation of good things to come.

All 11 tracks on Special Occasion embody the end of King's nearly 15-year relationship with Jeremy Most, who doubled as her longtime musical collaborator. As King told NPR, the record is more than a breakup album; it's a collection of "songs that project out into the future of who I want to be."

Born to jazz singers in New York City, King's talent caught the attention of Clive Davis at just 18 years old, landing a deal with the legendary executive's J Records. In 2008, her debut album, East Side Story, garnered a GRAMMY nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album. Around the same time, King toured with John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Erykah Badu. However, the then-newcomer grew dissatisfied with the music that was supposed to represent her and J Records dropped her soon after. "I had made compromises creatively," King, now 38, told "CBS Mornings."

So, receiving another GRAMMY nod (her fourth in total) in a similar category for music that she's creating on her terms must feel full-circle and validating as an artist.

While cuts like "Bad Memory" and "Easy" evoke regret and sadness, there's also great moments of joy sprinkled across Special Occasion. "Brand-new kicks and my old Jeep / Windows down, catch the summer breeze / Music loud on the stereo / Cuties passing, wave hello," she croons.

In all the complexities and nuances heard throughout the sonic journey that is Special Occasion lies King's most honest work to date.

Victoria Monét - JAGUAR II

Victoria Monét is finally getting the spotlight she deserves. After years spent penning hit songs for artists like Ariana Grande, Chloe x Halle, and BLACKPINK, Monét's debut studio album, JAGUAR II, was met with much acclaim when it arrived on Aug. 25.

Earlier in August, the 34-year-old set social media ablaze when she dropped the Y2K nostalgia-laced visuals for "On My Mama," the third single off JAGUAR II and her highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100 so far.

Ironically, the feel-good anthem was conceived while Monét experienced postpartum depression a couple months after welcoming her first child in 2021. "It came while I was in a place of disbelief in what I was actually saying. So it's almost like I had to speak it into existence," she told Apple Music 1.

For much of the sonic cohesion heard throughout JAGUAR II, Monét entrusted two-time GRAMMY winner D'Mile, who counts Beyoncé and JAY-Z, along with Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak's Silk Sonic as collaborators. In its entirety, Monét’s record makes the perfect soundtrack for family reunions and cookouts. Songs like "Good Bye," "How Does It Make You Feel," and "Hollywood," which features Earth, Wind & Fire and Monét's two-year-old daughter Hazel's first laugh, are such ethereal nods to '70s music that it's easy to mistake the album for a time machine.

Monét's future looks brighter than ever, as evidenced by her sold-out debut headlining tour and celebratory deal with RCA Records.

"I feel really excited to just be able to share these parts of myself with the world, while not trying to put too much pressure on expectations, but of course I do want the accolades," she told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "I have GRAMMY dreams, I have award show performance dreams, I have world tour dreams. But really just being able to make music a career, and doing what I love — it’s a privilege."

Summer Walker - CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE EP

Summer Walker's rise has been both fascinating and inspiring; she's come a long way since teaching herself to play guitar through YouTube tutorials and running her own cleaning business in her early 20s.

Her debut album, 2019's Over It, narrowly missed the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart but birthed her breakthrough hit, "Playing Games," whereas her 2021 sophomore effort, Still Over It, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It also holds the record for the most streamed R&B album by a female artist since Beyoncé's Lemonade.

Fast forward a couple years later, and Walker is celebrating her first solo GRAMMY nomination thanks to her latest EP, CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE — featuring production from Solange, Steve Lacy, Jay Versace, and John Carroll Kirby.

On the diaristic, neo soul-coded project, Walker is as raw, vulnerable, and introspective as ever. "Tired of seein' all these, all these / Spanish and these white bitches / Livin' they soft life with they feet kicked up," she sings in "Hardlife." Elsewhere, the spoken-word piece "Agayu’s Revelation" sees Walker taking accountability and prioritizing inner work over toxic relationships ("Stop workin' with people who are made of glass if you are made of steel").

One of the nine-track EP's highlights belongs to opener "To Summer, From Cole (Audio Hug)." On the track, which brought Walker to tears, J. Cole pens a heartfelt verse uplifting and affirming  the mother of three. "I find it amazing the way that you juggle your kids, the biz, the fame / The bitches that's hatin', they sit around / Waitin' for you to fall off, like the album I'm makin,'" J. Cole raps over a minimalistic beat. "Between the hectic sounds of your precious baby crying / Do you clear your mind? Must be a lot goin' on."

"To Summer, From Cole" particularly stands out considering the singer's openness surrounding her social anxiety disorder and failed relationships, along with the fact that more Black women are  breaking up with the strong Black woman archetype and embracing their "soft era" instead. As Walker noted to Apple Music, "I'm really loving life right now, enjoying this new outlook on life, loving the new me, loving my kids, and not letting life pass me by anymore." The "soft life" suits her well.

The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, returns to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, and will broadcast live on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on-demand on Paramount+ at 8-11:30 p.m. ET/5-8:30 p.m. PT.

The Recording Academy and GRAMMY.com do not endorse any particular artist, submission or nominee over another. The results of the GRAMMY Awards, including winners and nominees, are solely dependent on the Recording Academy’s Voting Membership.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Winners & Nominees List

11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More
(Clockwise) Khanyisa, Boohle, Kamo Mphela, Uncle Waffles, DBN GOGO, Pabi Cooper

Photos: Fundokwakhe Majozi, Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images; Courtesy of the artist; Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for UnitedMasters; Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images; Leon Bennett/WireImage

list

11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More

While Tyla may have brought amapiano to 2024 GRAMMYs stage, a vast network of women are responsible for bringing the South African sound to the world. Get to know 11 of the artists at the forefront of amapiano music.

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2024 - 04:15 pm

After South African singer Tyla won the inaugural golden gramophone for Best African Music Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs award show, many likely wondered why her international breakout single "Water" garnered such global appeal. 

Beyond the R&B sensibilities that made its sound approachable to Western audiences, what really drew crowds to "Water" was the vitality of South African dance and elements of amapiano — a subgenre of house and a child of kwaito, South Africa’s post-Apartheid freedom sound. Punctuated by amapiano’s log drums and insistent shakers, brought to life through the frantic backside movements of bacardi  and Tyla’s aquatic theater, "Water" used genre fusion to carry South African sound across global airwaves.

What’s more, Tyla is part of a vast network of women propelling amapiano to the world. Zimbabwean singer Sha Sha’s breakout in 2019 created a monumental shift in a genre that was largely the terrain of boys and men, and since then the amapiano scene has seen many other women follow in her wake. The likes of Mawhoo, Ami Faku, Bontle Smith, and Nobantu Vilakazi consistently emphasize the genre's soulful heart through dreamlike vocal work, grounding the very hits that have made amapiano the widespread phenomenon that it is today.

Everything from the skillful improvisations of dancing schoolgirls, to lively performances from women DJs and vocalists has allowed amapiano’s essence to be communicated clearly to the world. A vast web of women are pushing the genre both within and beyond South African borders; read on for a list of 11 influential women who are key in elevating amapiano to global heights.

DBN Gogo 

It’s not that controversial: everybody loves Gogo. Born in the city from which she derived her name, Durban, DBN Gogo has steadily become one of amapiano’s most sought-after acts. From her 2021 smash hit "Khuza Gogo" featuring amapiano stars such as the late Mpura, to later hits like "Possible," "Bambelela," and "Bells," Gogo has made a name for herself as a highly-dependable hitmaker and an equally compelling performer. It was her, of course, who created the viral dakiwe dance challenge, inspiring countless dance variations and solidifying her position as amapiano’s queen of cool.

Even while she has offered the genre mass mainstream appeal, DBN Gogo's personal projects reveal her lasting dedication to preserving amapiano’s authenticity. Her 2022 debut album, What’s Real, is a warm, rich body of work, while her newest EP Click Bait is a genre-diverse wonder that transcends the boundaries of ‘piano itself. 

Since her breakout years ago, she has not even remotely backed down, taking over multiple AfroNation stages yearly, performing at Coachella in 2022, and featuring twice on the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. Dropping the Shakes & Les-assisted "Funk 55" in 2023, a track that is still dominating South African nightlife as we speak, Gogo is on an unending mission to take the world by storm.

Nkosazana Daughter

With a spiritual sound and an angelic voice to match, it’s safe to say that Nkosazana Daughter is amapiano’s sweetheart. Breaking out via an Instagram Live with DJ Maphorisa and Mpura during lockdown, the 23-year-old has proved that her ethereal vocals can impart a distinct sense of purity to any song she features on. 

She has since voiced dreamy hit singles like "Dali Nguwe" and "Sofa Silahlane" with frequent collaborator Master KG, and worked with continental artists including Tanzania’s Harmonize and Nigerian Afropop stars Mr. Eazi, Omah Lay, and Young Jonn. Last year, she asserted herself in a big way, releasing her debut album Uthingo Le Nkosazana

"Uthingo," meaning "rainbow" in Zulu, communicated to the world the vast color and love she had to bring to the scene. Nkosazana Daughter called amapiano’s greats to her world, working with the likes of Kabza de Small, Maphorisa, and Sir Trill throughout the project as well as Master KG on the lead single, "Amaphutha." She has already started the year with a bang via her successful hit "Keneilwe," proving her determination to come into 2024 with an unrelenting force.

TXC

Tarynn Reid and Clair Hefke are the dj duo that have proved the importance of intentional performance while pushing ‘piano. The pair are known for mixing amapiano party hits while clad in matching sets; Clair often holds down the fort while Tarynn drives crowds wild with impassioned dance moves. 

The duo has become a symbol of amapiano’s global appeal, ruling the Piano People stage at AfroNation in Miami, closing Boiler Room’s Soulection stage in London, and taking on Qatar’s 2022 Fifa World Cup stage alongside acts like Lil Baby. What’s more, they have consistently shown dedication to growth, expanding their title from DJ duo to production duo, including producing their debut EP.

That release, 2022's A Fierce Piano is a rich collection of tracks featuring assists from some of the genre's smoothest vocalists: Daliwonga and Murumba Pitch. Following up with "Vuka Mawulele" and their latest single "Turn Off the Lights," TXC have shown that their future as creatives in amapiano is limitless. 

Babalwa M

While the amapiano scene is fraught with disagreements surrounding origins, dates, and pioneers, all unanimously agree that Babalwa M is the queen of private school amapiano. Known for its deeply jazzy, soulful approach to amapiano, "private school" is a distinct subgenre that Babalwa’s vocals have refined throughout the years alongside its king, producer Kelvin Momo.

Listening to the transcendental vocals laced through tracks like "Aluta Continua" from her debut album of the same name, it should come as no surprise that Soweto’s own Babalwa M found her voice through the church choir.

Babalwa M's most infamous contributions to the private school archive come in the form of collaborations with the aforementioned Momo. Her near-spiritual vocals on tracks like "Feza," "Sukakude" and, most recently, "Amalobolo" from his newest project, have made even the most surface level consumers invested in the beauty of private school. Coming off of the heels of her most recent track "Maye Maye," Babalwa M is determined to continue sharing the sublimity of private school with the world. 

Uncle Waffles

Nobody quite epitomizes amapiano’s globalization in the way that Uncle Waffles does. 

It all boils down to one fateful day: a DJ booked for a 2021 club night in Soweto was unable to make their set, so Uncle Waffles was called in. She played Young Stunna’s "Adiwele," gyrating with incomparable cool as she responded to the crowd’s impassioned cries. A video of her dancing at this set went viral, generating a dance challenge that can still be seen at club nights today and converting her into an overnight sensation. Suddenly, Swaziland’s own Uncle Waffles was juggling bookings from all over the world. 

Since then, the cosmos has become the limit  — she has shut down Coachella, sold out US and UK headlines shows, and received cosigns from Drake, Kelly Rowland, and Ciara. Waffles' hit single "Tanzania" was even featured in an amapiano-influenced set during multiple stops of Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour. What’s more, she has proved that her talents transcend the stage with three projects in her catalog: Red Dragon, and 2023’s Asylum and Solace. 

With global hit singles "Yahyuppiyah" and "Peacock Revisit" from 2023, and her constant re-definition as a style icon, dancer, and creative director, Uncle Waffles continues to show the world that she cannot be confined to any one creative medium.

Chley

Slick-tongued Chley is widely understood as a secret weapon for any producer looking to cook up an amapiano anthem. Taking on music as recently as 2021, she’d already collaborated with prominent amapiano producers Mellow & Sleazy, Konke, and Musa Keys a year into her music career - voicing hits like "Kancane" and "M’nike." Chley was catapulted to a new level of fame once featured on Uncle Waffles’ "Yahyuppiyah," offering a rapid-fire verse that netizens all over the world fought hard to replicate.

Since then, she has featured on bangers such as "Vuma" with Felo Le Tee and Mellow & Sleazy, "Shu!" with Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz, Gogo’s "Funk 55," and Ggoldie’s "Asambe." With a discography bound to make even the most conservative of listeners get up and dance, Chley is certainly one to watch in the midst of amapiano’s ever-evolving scene.

Kamo Mphela

Kamo Mphela burst onto the scene after one too many videos of her dancing went viral — an expected outcome for a girl who consistently danced and MCed at block parties on the streets of Joburg. Her rise to fame fatefully coincided with amapiano’s nationwide popularization, allowing the multi-talented dancer to latch on to the township sound and never let it go. 

She soon jumped on tracks like "Sandton" alongside Kabza and Maphorisa in 2019 and "Amanikiniki" with Major League DJz in 2021, then released her own tracks "Percy Tau" and "Nkulunkulu" on her debut EP the same year. She’s since released smash hits, featured on the Wakanda Forever soundtrack, and offered a thrilling performance ahead of Davido at London’s O2 arena.

Throughout her career, Kamo Mphela has redefined the role of the dancer in amapiano’s landscape, not confining herself to the sidelines but instead positioning dance as a central component of any amapiano performance worth its salt. This radical ethic has allowed her to become widely regarded as one of amapino’s most notable performers, and she consistently ensures that her music embodies this weighty title. Her 2023 singles "HANNAH MONTANA" and "Dalie" came with expert dances — the latter with a viral dance challenge that has kept the song at a steady position on South African charts. 

Boohle

Hailing from the Vosloorus township of Johannesburg, Buhle Manyathi is all about soul. Kicking off her career as part of a gospel troupe in 2016, she later transitioned to Afro house and amapiano, releasing a multi-genre debut album, Izibongo, in 2020 and EP Sfikile in 2021. It was only a matter of time before she became the vocalist behind some of ‘piano’s biggest hits, voicing "Mama" with Josiah de Disciple (and its gorgeous Afro house remix from De Capo), "Siyathandana" alongside rapper Cassper Nyovest, and the glorious "Ngixolele," produced by Busta 929. 

Several top charting positions and awards later, she came out with arguably her most global single, "Hamba Wena" alongside Deep London. Igniting a global dance challenge created by South African steppers Hope Ramafalo and Hlongi Mash, "Hamba Wena" captivated the globe  and reasserted Boohle’s seemingly endless ability to produce ‘piano anthems.

Lady Du

Music was always in the cards for Lady Du, but it was amapiano in particular that changed the scope of her career. Reared in a family of influential DJs and producers, she kicked off her career as a Hip-Hop DJ before pivoting completely into ‘piano. 

Dropping both "Catalia" and "Woza" in 2021 — both with production from ‘piano pioneer Mr JazziQ — Lady Du suddenly had 2 gigantic hits under her belt, the latter becoming one of the biggest songs in the early days of amapiano’s globalization.

She has since offered roaring vocals on Busta and Mpura’s "Umsebenzi Wethu," hard-hitting rap on 9numba and TOSS’ "uMlando," and Mzansi flare on international features such as "I Did It" with Nigeria’s Niniola. 

Lady Du reaffirmed her centrality in the scene in 2023, dropping her debut album Song is Queen and later, the Megadrumz-produced single "Tjina." The percussion-heavy tune quickly turned global club nights upside down, secured high positions on South Africa’s streaming charts, and emphasized Lady Du’s centrality in amapiano’s sprawling ecosystem.

Pabi Cooper

or Pritori princess Pabi Cooper, winning is easy. Hailing from South Africa’s administrative capital Pretoria, Pabi broke out as a 21-year-old with the party-starting "Isphithiphithi," a hit produced by Busta 929 in 2021.

2022's "Banyana Ke Bafana" was a widely popular hit, propelled by irresistible verses from the Pritori trifecta of Pabi, vocalist Ch’cco, and rapper Focalistic. Her debut EP, Cooperville, introduced audiences to a vast world of her making, with soulful numbers like "MAMA," alongside more street-centric jams like "Waga Bietjie" and "Angeke." 

Today, Cooper has solidified herself as a symbol of youth power, mesmerizing South African crowds through her concert series Cooper FC and snagging a BET nomination in 2023 for Best New International Act. She also carries her hometown on her back wherever she goes; last year saw her release "Jukulyn" alongside Pretoria’s Jelly Babie, a track dedicated to a township of the same name and rooted in the city’s bouncy, infectious sound bacardi. 

Khanyisa

Khanyisa may have started off her career as a social media influencer, but she has seamlessly evolved into an amapiano star. Performing covers and skits to the millions of followers she amassed on TikTok, Khanyisa wielded relatability and humor as her social media superpowers. 

It wasn’t until her irresistible breakout "Bheka Mina Ngedwa" with Lady Du and her official debut "Ungangi Bambi" in 2021, both delivered with the same vitality that offered her acclaim online, that Khanyisa formally secured popularity within the amapiano space.

Since, Khanyisa has featured on popular tracks such as "Vuka Mawulele" with TxC and the  danceable "Zula Zula" with Villosoul. In 2023, she proved her role as an undeniable hitmaker, releasing the log drum heavy "SUKA" and "NGIMOJA" with producer of the year Tyler ICU. With her successful pivot to musical fame, it is clear that Khanyisa’s future as a player in amapiano is incredibly bright. 

10 Alté Artists To Know: Odunsi (The Engine), TeeZee, Lady Donli & More

Freddy Wexler On Helping Billy Joel "Turn The Lights Back On" — At The 2024 GRAMMYs And Beyond
Photo: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

(L-R) Billy Joel, Freddy Wexler

interview

Freddy Wexler On Helping Billy Joel "Turn The Lights Back On" — At The 2024 GRAMMYs And Beyond

"Part of what was so beautiful for me to see on GRAMMY night was the respect and adoration that people of all ages and from all genres have for Billy Joel," Wexler says of Joel's 2024 GRAMMYs performance of their co-written "Turn The Lights Back On."

GRAMMYs/Feb 26, 2024 - 09:11 pm

They say to not meet your heroes. But when Freddy Wexler — a lifelong Billy Joel fan — did just that, it was as if Joel walked straight out of his record collection.

"I think the truth is none of it is that surprising," the 37-year-old songwriter and producer tells GRAMMY.com. "That's the best part. From his music, I would've thought this is a humble, brilliant everyman who probably walks around with a very grounded perspective, and that's exactly who he is."

That groundedness made possible "Turn the Lights Back On" — the hit comeback single they co-wrote, and Wexler co-produced; Joel performed a resplendent version at the 2024 GRAMMYs with Laufey. Joel hadn't released a pop album since 1993's River of Dreams; for him to return to the throne would take an awfully demonstrative song, true to his life.

"I think it's a very raw, honest, real perspective that is true to Billy," Wexler explains. "I think it's the first time we've heard him acknowledge mistakes and regret in quite this way."

Specifically, Joel's return highlights his regret over spending three decades mostly on the bench, largely absent from the pop scene. As Joel wonders aloud in the stirring, arpeggiated chorus, "Is there still time for forgiveness?"

"Forgiveness" is a curious word. Why would the five-time GRAMMY winner and 23-time nominee possibly need to seek forgiveness? Regardless — as the song goes — he's "tryin' to find the magic/ That we lost somehow." The song's message — an attempt to recapture a lost essence — transcends Joel's personal headspace, connecting with a universal longing and nostalgia.

Read on for an interview with Wexler about the impact of "Turn the Lights Back On," why he thinks Joel took such an extended sabbatical, the prospect of more new music, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

**You did a great interview with Rolling Stone ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs. Now, we're on the other side of it; you got to see how it went down on the telecast, and resonated with the audience and world. What was that like?**

It's why I make music — to hopefully make people feel something. This song has really resonated in such a big way. More than looking at its commercial success on the charts or on radio, which has been awesome to see, the comments on Instagram and YouTube have been the most rewarding part of it.

Why do you think it resonated? Beyond the king picking up his crown again?

I don't think the song is trying to be anything it's not. I think it's a very raw, honest, real perspective that is true to Billy. I think it's the first time we've heard him acknowledge mistakes and regret in quite this way. And to hear him do it in a hopeful way where he's asking, "Is it too late for forgiveness?" is just very moving, I think.

Forgiveness? That's interesting. What would any of us need to forgive him?

He has said in other interviews, "Sometimes people say they have no regrets at the end of their life." And he said, "I don't think that's possible. If you've lived a full life, of course you have regrets." He has said that he has many things he wishes he would've done differently. This is an opportunity to express that.

I think what's interesting about the song is it has found meaning in various ways with various people and listeners. Some people imagine Billy is singing to former lovers or friends. Other people imagine Billy is singing to his fans asking, "Did I wait too long to record again?" Other people wonder if Billy is singing to the songwriting Gods and muses. Did I wait too long to write again?

In Israel, where the song was number one — or is number one, I haven't checked today — I think the song's taken on the meaning of just wanting things to be normal, wanting hostages to come home and turn the lights back on. So, you never know where a song is going to resonate, but I think that Billy just found his own meaning with it.

You know the discography front to back. What lines can you draw from "Turn the Lights Back On" to past works?

I think it draws on various pieces of his catalog, right? "She's Always a Woman" has a sort of piano arpeggio in the chorus. To me, it feels like a natural progression. It feels like, on the one hand, it's a new song. On the other, it could have come out right after River of Dreams. To me, it just kind of feels natural.

**Back when you spoke with Rolling Stone, you said you couldn't wait to hear "Turn the Lights Back On" at Madison Square Garden. How'd it sound?**

Amazing. Billy is a consummate live performer. I think he's one of the few artists where everything is better live, and everything is always a little bit different each time it's played live.

It's been really cool to watch Billy and the band continue to change and improve the song and the song's dynamics for the show. He told me tonight that tomorrow night in Tampa, I think they're going to try to play with the key of the song, potentially — try it a half a step higher.

Those are the sort of things I think great artists do, right? It's different from being on a certain type of tour where every single song is the same, the set list is the same, the key is the same, the arrangements are the same.

With Billy, there's a lot of feeling and, "Hey, why don't we try it this way? Let's play it a little faster. Let's play it a little slower. Let's try it in a different key." I just think that's super cool. You have to be a really good musician to just do that on the fly.

What have you learned from him that applies to your music making, writ large?

I've learned so much from him. As Olivia Rodrigo said to us at GRAMMY rehearsals, "He's the blueprint when it comes to songwriting."

He has helped raise the bar for me when it comes to melodies and lyrics, but the thing I keep coming back to is he's reminded me that even the greatest artists and songwriters ever sometimes forget how great they are. I think we need to be careful not to give that inner voice and inner critic too much power.

Can you talk about how the music video came to be?

Well, I had a dream that Billy was singing the opening two lines of the song, but it was a 25-year-old version of Billy. It was arresting.

When I woke up, I sort of had the vision for the video, which was one set, an empty venue of some kind, and four Billy Joels. The Billy Joel that really exists today, but then three Billys from three iconic eras where each Billy would seamlessly pick up the song where the other left off.

The idea behind that was to sort of accentuate the question of the song — did I wait too long to turn the lights back on?

And so, to kind of take us through time and through all these years, I teamed up with an amazing co-director, Warren Fu, who's done everything from Dua Lipa to Daft Punk, and an artificial intelligence company called Deep Voodoo to make that vision possible.

What I'm driven by is the opportunity to create conversations, cultural moments, things that make people feel something. What was cool here is as scary as AI is — and I think it is scary in many ways — we were able to give an example of how you can use it in a positive way to execute a creative artistic vision that previously would've been impossible to execute.

Yeah, so I'm pleased with it and I'm thankful that Billy did a video. He didn't have to do one, but he liked the idea of it. He felt it was different, and I think he was moved by it as well.

What do you think is the next step here?

It's been a really rewarding process. And Billy is open-minded, which is really cool for an artist of that level, who's not a new artist by any stretch. To actually be described as being in a place in his life where he's open-minded, means anything is possible. I could tell you that I would love there to be more music.

I'd love to get your honest appraisal. And I know you're not him. But his last pop album was released 31 years ago. In that long interim, what do you think was going on with him, creatively?

Look, I'm not Billy Joel, but I think there were a number of factors going on with him. Somewhere along the way, I think he stopped having fun with music, which is the reason he got into it, or which is a big part of the reason he got into it. When it stopped being fun, I don't think he really wanted to do it anymore.

Another piece to it is that Billy is a perfectionist, and that perfectionism is evident in the caliber of his songwriting. Having always written 100 percent of his songs, Billy at some point probably found that process to be painstaking, to try to hit that bar where he's probably wondering in his head, What would Beethoven think of this? What would Leonard Bernstein think of this?

I think part of what was different here was that, perhaps, there was something liberating about "Turn the Lights Back On" being a seed that was brought to Billy. In this way, he could be a little disconnected from it, where maybe he didn't have to have the self-imposed pressure that he would if it was an idea that he'd been trying to finish for a while.

Ironically, he still made it. Well, there's no "ironically," but I think that's it. There's something to that.

Billy Joel's Biggest Songs: 15 Tracks That Best Showcase The Piano Man's Storytelling And Pop Hooks

GRAMMY U Reps Experience GRAMMY Week Like Never Before Thanks To The Recording Academy & United Airlines
GRAMMY U Reps and staff walk the red carpet at the 2024 GRAMMYs

Photo: Andrew Sankovich

news

GRAMMY U Reps Experience GRAMMY Week Like Never Before Thanks To The Recording Academy & United Airlines

United Airlines flew the GRAMMY U Representatives out to L.A. for an unforgettable 2024 GRAMMY Week. The trip provided significant professional development in music, and the Reps savored every moment. Take a look at the GRAMMY U Reps’ inspirational week.

GRAMMYs/Feb 22, 2024 - 10:38 pm

Thanks to United Airlines' partnership with the Recording Academy, the students traveled from all over the country to Los Angeles and met in person for the first time. In past years, GRAMMY U Reps have only been able to attend a few select events in addition to the GRAMMY Awards on Sunday. But because of United Airlines, these National and Chapter Reps were able to experience the music industry’s most exhilarating week.

Come with the GRAMMY U Reps as they experience Music’s Biggest Night, behind-the-scenes tours, and events highlighting various initiatives within the music industry during GRAMMY Week 2024. Learn how to apply to GRAMMY U here.

Tuesday: Travel Day

The GRAMMY U group chat was exploding with excited messages as we arrived at the airport early Tuesday morning. Each Rep was about to meet their co-workers — many of whom had only connected virtually — and gain the experience of a lifetime. 

United flew all 14 Reps to Los Angeles with exceptional timing, service, and care — even though we were traveling to work at GRAMMY Week, it felt like we were getting celebrity treatment. Once we touched down in L.A., we ran to the United baggage claim to hug our friends and capture the experience to share with fellow GRAMMY U members.

Philly Rep Tamara Tondreau and Nashville Rep Della Anderson┃GRAMMY U

Philly Rep Tamara Tondreau and Nashville Rep Della Anderson┃GRAMMY U

After grabbing lunch near our hotel in downtown L.A., we made it to the Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter Office in Santa Monica for our first in-person team meeting. Sporting new custom GRAMMY U jackets, T-shirts, and hats, we prepared for our signature GRAMMY Week event, a Masterclass with actress/GRAMMY-nominated R&B artist Halle Bailey

Reps were briefed on plans for the week, then took an office tour where we spotted multiple golden gramophones. Since we work remotely year-round, this was our first time getting to see where all the magic happens.

Wednesday: Behind-The-Scenes & Behind The Music

On Wednesday, we were up bright and early to explore the Crypto.com Arena and learn about the behind-the-scenes preparation it takes to host the GRAMMY Awards each year. 

Jody Kolozsvari, Associate Producer of the GRAMMYs and a GRAMMY U alum, guided us around the arena. He also introduced us to the incredible audio, mixing, communications, and production teams as well as Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr

"Walking intoCrypto.com Arena and seeing the GRAMMY stage being built was a very surreal moment," said Sara Hudson, GRAMMY U's New York Chapter Rep. "Meeting so many of the people behind the show and witnessing the hard work that is put into producing the GRAMMY Awards made my passion for working in live music grow even more."

Later that night, Philadelphia Chapter Rep Tamara Tondreau and Los Angeles Chapter Rep Jade Bacon worked as GRAMMY U press at the A Celebration of Craft event, a collaboration between the Recording Academy Producers and Engineers Wing and Songwriters and Composers Wing. This was the very first time GRAMMY U Reps were invited to this exclusive event; Tamara, a songwriter herself, called this event "unforgettable."

"Since songwriting sparked my interest in the music industry, it was inspiring to be in the room with so many talented creatives," Tamara says. "Networking with professionals who hold multiple roles in the industry encouraged me and reaffirmed my goal of maintaining both business and creative aspects in my career."

Thursday: Fostering Community & Culture

Hosted at GRAMMY House, Thursday morning started with a beautiful luncheon at the inaugural A Celebration of Women in the Mix. This event made space for women in the music industry to gather and support one another, recognizing all of the strides made in a male-dominated field. 

Twelve of the 14 Reps identify as women, and this was a special moment to meet some of the industry leaders that we look up to as role models. Networking with female artists, managers, and producers who are laying the groundwork for our generation was a powerful moment we will never forget.

After delivering the keynote speech, Ty Stiklorius, the founder of management company Friends at Work, spoke with some of the GRAMMY U Reps.

"Having a conversation with such an established female in the music industry was incredibly inspiring," says Memphis Rep. Shannon Conte. "After this moment of mentorship and encouragement, I left the event feeling much more confident in my ability to one day succeed in becoming an artist manager."

Dressing up in our finest suits and gowns, we hit the town to attend the exclusive Black Music Collective’s 2024 Recording Academy Honors event, where legends Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz accepted Global Impact Awards. Sitting in the same room as these superstars was awe-inspiring, and it was an honor to see how the Black community was celebrated during GRAMMY Week.

GRAMMY U Reps Shaneel Young, Jade Bacon, and Chloe Sarmiento hosted interviews for our social media, highlighting the fashion of dozens of high-profile attendees including Adam Blackstone, Jordin Sparks, Flavor Flav, and Erica Campbell as they walked the signature black carpet. The excitement of the press line on the black carpet provided Reps with first-hand experience of what a career in press and publicity could look like. 

GRAMMY U DC Rep Shaneel Young aspires to work in music marketing. "Interviewing some of the most influential people in the industry about my passions: music, fashion, and culture, will be a moment I remember for the rest of my career," she reflects.

Reps at Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors┃GRAMMY U

Reps at Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors┃GRAMMY U

These two spectacular events immersed us in the initiatives the Recording Academy has implemented to celebrate diversity and representation in music, and we are so honored to be a part of the company’s continued mission.

Friday: Work Hard, Play Hard

After months spent planning our signature GRAMMY Week event, the GRAMMY U Masterclass with Halle Bailey, presented by Mastercard, we finally saw the fruits of our labor come to life. This year, we welcomed over 500 attendees in person, with members from every Chapter flying in to experience the event together at GRAMMY House.

GRAMMY U PNW Rep Chloe Sarmiento worked as talent lead and interacted directly with Halle Bailey and her team. "It was incredibly fulfilling to see the event come together on-site in Los Angeles after weeks of working on it from home," Chloe says. "Halle and her team were so great to work with, and I couldn’t have asked for a better speaker for the Masterclass!"

Working with experienced Recording Academy staff onsite further enlightened us about all things event production. From talent handling and partnerships to working radios and managing the stage, we were excited to execute a large-scale event with all of the Reps at GRAMMY House.

After a successful Masterclass, the Reps split up for the evening to conquer even more GRAMMY Week events. Half the group went to the #GRAMMYsNextGen party to spread the word about membership, host a photobooth, and interact with influencers and emerging performers. We met hip-hop duo Flyana Boss, and some of our other celebrity sightings included Laura Marano and Milo Manheim. It was inspiring to see other young professionals who have established themselves in the entertainment industry so early in their careers.

Mastercard surprised us with an entire seated table at the exclusive MusiCares Person Of The Year Gala honoring Jon Bon Jovi. It was an outstanding evening honoring the rock icon and the many ways he has given back to the music community. Following a live auction, Brandy Clark, Lainey Wilson, Jelly Roll, Shania Twain, and others performed some of Bon Jovi’s biggest hits — Bon Jovi even graced the stage with Bruce Springsteen for a special rendition of "Who Says You Can’t Go Home." 

The Reps were incredibly grateful to United and Mastercard for granting us the opportunity to witness these exclusive live performances. To see the music community come together to honor a legend while giving back and furthering the mission of MusiCares is a heartwarming aspect of the music industry we don’t get to witness every day.

Reps with Sabrina Carpenter at the Person of the Year Gala┃GRAMMY U

Reps with Sabrina Carpenter at the Person of the Year Gala┃GRAMMY U

GRAMMY U Chicago Rep Rachel Owen was one of the lucky attendees able to watch the thrilling performances while mingling in the crowd with other musicians like Sabrina Carpenter and David Archuleta.

"To even be in the same room as Shania Twain is an honor, she’s timeless and more exquisite than I could've even imagined," Owen says. "To see her perform live to Jon Bon Jovi is the type of moment you just never take for granted."

Saturday: Divide & Conquer

Saturday was jam-packed with events. Back again at GRAMMY House, a group of Reps attended the Best New Artist Spotlight, where nominees discussed their breakthrough years and what it means to be considered a "new artist." From upstarts Ice Spice and Gracie Abrams to the long musical journey of Victoria Monét, The War and Treaty, and Jelly Roll, these diverse perspectives all stressed that each person has a unique career timeline and reminded us as students to practice perseverance and patience as we navigate this industry. 

Various Reps continued at GRAMMY House, some working as press at the #GRAMMYsNextGen Ambassador Power Brunch and the first-ever Academy Proud event, celebrating LGBTQIA+ voices.

A handful of us worked as GRAMMY U press at the Special Merit Awards ceremony and subsequent celebration. Being a part of these exclusive events and witnessing historic moments like the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards was truly impactful. We interviewed nominees at the celebration, including boygenius engineer Owen Lantz (the supergroup would win their first three GRAMMYs the very next day.)

Hundreds of nominees attended the Special Merit Awards and Celebration, proudly displaying their blue medallions and glowing as they took their official GRAMMY nominee photos; the hopeful and energetic spirit of the event fueled our drive to succeed in this industry even more.

Sunday: And The GRAMMY Goes To…

Sunday morning was the day everyone had all been waiting for: the 66th GRAMMY Awards! After getting our glam on, the GRAMMY U Reps got to walk the red carpet for the first time ever. We took tons of photos and videos to commemorate this special moment and share our experience with friends and family.

While most of the Reps were posing on the carpet, Pierson, Jasmine, Rachel, and Chloe had the honor of being trophy presenters during the GRAMMY Premiere Ceremony. This was the first time GRAMMY U Reps from across the country were given the honor of being up close and personal during artists' career-defining moments.

Reps on the GRAMMYs Red Carpet┃Andrew Sankovich

Reps on the GRAMMYs Red Carpet┃Andrew Sankovich 

Moving into Crypto.com Arena to be seated for the telecast portion of the evening, the GRAMMY U Reps were ecstatic to watch the ceremony in person. As legends like Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Tracy Chapman, and Stevie Wonder blazed on stage, all the Reps were singing and dancing along, thrilled to be a part of Music’s Biggest Night. Phenomenal performances from nominees SZA, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, and Luke Combs were equally captivating. 

Witnessing the live telecast after experiencing so much behind-the-scenes production exemplified how rewarding the music industry can be, and how prestigious winning a GRAMMY truly is. The quiet suspense before a winner was announced and the roars that followed created a rollercoaster of emotions that took our breath away.

Immediately afterward, we were off to enjoy the official GRAMMYs After-Party  — and not even the constant showers could not rain on our parade. The Reps hit the dancefloor as soon as NE-YO took the stage, and hearing "Time of Our Lives" felt especially relatable. 

As we headed back home on our United flights, we reflected on an exhilarating GRAMMY Week. Not only were we able to be part of exclusive events, but we also interacted with artists, learned from experts, and grew exponentially. Experiencing these moments with the other Reps brought our team closer, while meeting members and peers showed the expansive community GRAMMY U is cultivating. 

Because of United, we witnessed all the Recording Academy does for the music industry. After GRAMMY Week, we feel more inspired and empowered than ever to lead the next generation of the music industry.

With additional reporting from Pierson Livingston.

2024 GRAMMYs: See The Full Winners & Nominees List

South African Singer Tyla Won The Inaugural Best African Music Performance Category At The 2024 GRAMMYs. What Does It Mean For African Music On The Global Stage?
Tyla with her golden gramophone

Photo: Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

feature

South African Singer Tyla Won The Inaugural Best African Music Performance Category At The 2024 GRAMMYs. What Does It Mean For African Music On The Global Stage?

While Afrobeats and amapiano are certainly crossing over in America, Tyla’s win reflects how Western influence is often necessary for African music to transcend the continent. Is "Water" what African music needs to blossom?

GRAMMYs/Feb 12, 2024 - 10:43 pm

As the first recipient of the inaugural Best African Music Performance GRAMMY Award, South African songstress Tyla has officially etched her name into history. At the 2024 GRAMMYs, the 22-year-old's amapiano-infused Afro pop hit "Water" beat out several long-established names in African music.

While Tyla's success on Music's Biggest Night stresses the Recording Academy's continued efforts to showcase diverse African music, her victory is more of a one-armed hug rather than a full, legs-off-the-ground embrace of African music. 

This is chiefly because "Water" was successful and marketable for its use of Western pop influences. While Afrobeats and amapiano are certainly crossing over in America, bestowing a golden gramophone upon an artist whose work reflects familiar sounds is a curious step forward for African music. Still, Tyla's win may foster a greater embrace of the African sound, and the virality and pervasiveness of "Water" propelled the Johannesburg-born singer/songwriter to unheard of heights. 

"Water" hit No. 1 on the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs and Hip-Hop/R&B charts, and became the first African song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 since 1968. The track peaked at No. 7, making Tyla the highest-charting African female solo musician in Billboard history. The "Water" dance challenge on TikTok further pushed the track into the global sphere, and the song has been featured in over 1.5 million videos.

The widespread appeal of "Water" is a culmination of elements, notably a fusion of Western pop with subtler amapiano influences. The song melds sleek American R&B and pop compositions with the log drums and piano trails synonymous with the South African amapiano genre. 

Read more: 10 African GRAMMY Winners Through The Years: From Miriam Makeba To Angélique Kidjo & Burna Boy

Indeed, most musical genres (regardless of continent of origin) draw inspiration from and contribute back to each other. The resulting music transcends regional boundaries and appeals globally — and Tyla's "Water" is proof of this resonance. Yet it also reflects how a major Western influence is often necessary for African music to transcend the continent. 

The Recording Academy's new Category was designed to highlight "strong elements of African cultural significance," said Shawn Thwaites, Recording Academy Awards Project Manager and author of the Category. In describing eligibility for the Best African Music Performance Category, Thwaites noted that songs must feature "a stylistic intention, song structure, lyrical content and/or musical representation found in Africa and the African diaspora." 

Still, when it comes to recognizing lesser known genres — from South Africa's gqom to Tanzania’s singeli and Ghana’s asakaa — the global audience still has a long way to go.

"We need to go deeper and in more detail within different genres of music. We know there are multiple different types of music — hundreds of genres, in fact — coming from Africa and from all 54 countries on the continent," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. told GRAMMY.com after his three trips to the vibrant continent. "I'd love to see us be able to honor even more music from Africa and other areas of the world."

Thwaites hopes that celebrating the diversity of African music will also lead to greater cultural exchange. Eventually, this could lead to "more collaborations between artists of different genres and more artist relations between labels and executives in America," he said. 

But for this progression to happen correctly, there has to be a cultural education about the music within the continent and it's something Ghazi Shami, CEO/Founder of Empire Records, Distribution and Publishing — who consulted with the Recording Academy on the new Category — is looking forward to watching develop. 

"I think we'll see expanded categories in African music in the years to come, but this is a great start toward recognizing the merits and impact of African music," he told GRAMMY.com prior to the ceremony. 

Tyla's GRAMMY win is an exceptional achievement — particularly so for a young African woman. Popular African music has often been skewed towards male artists. At the 2023 GRAMMYs, Tems became the only female solo artist currently living in Nigeria to win a GRAMMY. (Sade, who was born in Nigeria, has won four GRAMMYs but lives in the U.K.)

A similar trend is observed in South Africa, where Miriam Makeba was both Africa's first GRAMMY winner and the country's solo female vocalist to win prior to Tyla. 

Tyla's win is a beacon to other young female performers in Africa — including fellow Category nominee Ayra Starr and singer/songwriter and producer Bloody Civilian — proving that female artists can and will be recognized, regardless of their country of origin. It also demonstrates how the distance between African artists and international prestige has been shortened, thus furthering the likelihood of artistic innovation.

Her win is also notable in a Category stacked with Nigerian artists. Of the five nominated works, "Water" is the only one not created by an artist of Nigerian descent or currently living in Nigeria. (Though South African producer Musa Keys is featured on Davido's nominated "UNAVAILABLE.") Although South Africa has a lengthy history at the GRAMMY Awards, Tyla is proof the world is listening to what her country has to offer. 

While her fellow nominees — Starr, Burna Boy, Davido, ASAKE & Olamide  — and artists such as Wizkid have also shouldered the responsibility for the globalization of popular African music, there is still a long road ahead. 

Tyla’s win holds significant promise for African music as pop music. While "Water" certainly has noticeable South African elements, its Western appeal may partially lay in its use of familiar sounds. For Africa to truly win, the world has to embrace African music for what it is, and not for what it's trying to be. 

Big First Wins At The 2024 GRAMMYs: Karol G, Lainey Wilson, Victoria Monét & More