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Aespa Talk Debut Mini-Album 'Savage' And Fusing Artificial Intelligence With K-Pop

aespa

Photo: Global Mgmt

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Aespa Talk Debut Mini-Album 'Savage' And Fusing Artificial Intelligence With K-Pop

K-pop group aespa set records with their artificial intelligence-indebted first singles. Following their newly released debut mini-album, 'Savage,' the band chats about diversifying their sound and working with their own digital avatars.

GRAMMYs/Oct 8, 2021 - 03:54 am

How many times have you wished for a companion, a friend who knew you inside out? Someone who knows your strengths and shortcomings, your failures and successes? If you feel like playing a game, they're ready to be Player 2. If you want to write a song, they're here to help you pull melodies out of thin air. If you want to show off on social media, they have all the right poses. What if instead of a friend, this other half was more literal—an extension of your inner self?

But this isn't the introduction to an Elon Musk-ian vision of the future. This is the alluring world of K-pop group aespa, where people exist side by side with their æs, or AI-based avatars fashioned out of the data they put on the internet. While the æs' physical traits might differ from their human counterpart, the bedrock of the avatar's personality is built from data drawn from the pictures we like, the things we post, and the hashtags we follow.

That technological advance alone would make aespa's upcoming debut a fascinating listen, but the mythology in which aespa's members interact and collaborate with their AI-driven æs adds an unprecedented layer of surreality. Though only the four flesh-and-bone members are typically seen on-screen, aespa is billed as an eight-member group. While Karina, Giselle, Winter, and Ningning capture the real world through songs and music videos, their æs (æ-Karina, æ-Giselle, æ-Winter, and æ-Ningning) hold the fort in the FLAT, the virtual world in aespa's lore.

The digital æs connect with the human members of the group, learn from them, and constantly evolve. Shortly after the act's debut, fans were introduced to this dynamic through a series of videos showing each member interacting with their æ in a process known as REKALL. The human half of aespa modeled the ins and outs of social cues and interactions for their digital other halves, directly giving them tips on how to appear more natural.

As might be expected from a group under the banner of K-pop mainstay SM Entertainment, a complex mythology powers aespa. In fact, the group stands on the first rung of what is known as the SM Culture Universe (SMCU), a dystopian tale spanning the entire SM Entertainment roster, wherein the members' connections with their æs are severed due to an entity known as the 'Black Mamba' that aims for control over both the digital and real worlds.

aespa's explosive debut single, also named "Black Mamba," traces the origins of the story, with genre-bending follow-up "Next Level" extending the narrative. With a tally of 21.4 million views within just 24 hours of its release, "Black Mamba" earned the highest number of views ever for a K-pop group's debut. "Next Level," meanwhile, reached number 97 on the Billboard Global 200 chart, making aespa only the third K-pop girl group in history to reach that chart more than once.

Less than a year since their debut, the group's debut mini-album, Savage, faces the unprecedented pressure of carrying an entire cultural universe. Just as in their larger-than-life, theatrical SMCU introduction, however, the members of aespa are more than up for the challenge.

"We worked really hard on [Savage] because we're showcasing a new genre of songs that we haven't tried before," Ningning says.

"We always released singles and they were all vocally–for me–kind of low or rap," Giselle adds. "This time we have an album where there's [more] actual singing involved. Vocally, I tried to make sure that I brought something [new] to the songs."

Following the release of Savage, aespa spoke to GRAMMY.com about their music, their lore, and how they wish to grow in the future.

This is your debut mini-album. What is Savage about?

Karina: Savage contains the story of the SMCU, continuing from "Next Level." We have six tracks which all showcase different genres of music and contain different colors of aespa.

Giselle: The title track has our main storyline–the continuation of "Black Mamba" and "Next Level." Our other songs also carry a bit of our story, but [they're] leaning towards us–more of the "real world" us. It's [not about] our AI members, not about the story, but more about us as real people. "Lucid Dream," for example, is actually a love song. We wanted to show both senses between the real world and the virtual world.

I'm glad you brought up "Lucid Dream," because it features Hayley Kiyoko. What was it like working with her?

Giselle: We actually didn't get to meet her and do an actual collaboration, but the song was made by her. Seeing that she wrote it for us, we were so surprised. We're so glad that we were able to sing it.

Let's talk a little bit about the æ-members. Who are they to you, and what purpose do they have in terms of your larger storyline?

Karina: The æs are AI characters based on the members' real, individual data. They live in a world called FLAT, and just like how we live and continue our daily lives in the real world, the æs also continue their own lives in the FLAT. They live separate lives, and connect with us via [a process called] SYNK.

Ningning: Even [though we have] the SMCU storyline, which tells a story about how we go on a journey together, [it's] not only that. On stage as well, we interact with the æ-characters–that's something that we've started with Savage. That's something new that we've tried.

You've said before that the æs bring a new dimension to your music. How so?

Karina: Our music tells the story of our journeys and our experiences with æs. In terms of the concept of the album and the songs as well, they contribute a lot. It helps develop our own "aespa" genre. The æs have a big role in that.

It's very hard sometimes to describe aespa's sound. You never limit yourself to one genre. How do you approach this diversity?

Giselle: When we were approached with the songs and the demos, we actually were very fond of it. We liked the songs, but [at the same time] we did have a lot of effort that we had to put in to make sure they actually sounded good and that we actually matched well with them.

For example, Winter has a very soft voice, but in order to sing "Black Mamba," [which is a] little more powerful, she worked to show her vocals in a different style. We really enjoy trying something new. "Savage" was also new to us.

How did you mentally prepare for this album? What were some things musically that you wanted to work on in the run up?

Giselle: We all gave each other a lot of honest feedback and kept updating each other while practicing. We were like, "We want this song to have this kind of vibe," or, "If this is your part, we think this would be good."

Karina: The title track has a bit of a heavier mood. So, in terms of musicality, I really tried to understand the song and the sound. [I tried to] really focus on the details and little things like facial expressions and gestures. That was how I tried to convey the music right.

Ningning: Before recording, it's very important to deliver the message and the mood of the song. I really get into the character. For example, if I'm recording a song, I'll think of various scenes in my head, like a movie. "What character am I portraying? What's happening? How am I feeling?" Little things like that. After I do that and prepare myself, then I go on [and] record the music.

Winter: I think that styling is also important in terms of figuring out the musical colors of the song. With "Savage," I thought about what would be the best way to visually represent the song, whether that's fashion or accessories or dance moves–how to visually bring that out and have that in harmony with the track. That was something that I really paid attention to for this particular album.

5 Rising Korean Artists To Know Now: STAYC, ENHYPEN, ITZY, TOMORROW X TOGETHER & ATEEZ

TXT, Seventeen, Loona & More: Here Are All The K-Pop Tours And Events You Can Catch This Summer
TXT perform at the release showcase of 'miniside 2: Thursday's Child' in Seoul, South Korea, in May 2022.

Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images

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TXT, Seventeen, Loona & More: Here Are All The K-Pop Tours And Events You Can Catch This Summer

Whether you want to take a trip to Kwangya with aespa, visit the Loonaverse or just put your Head in the Clouds, plan out your summer with these K-pop events and tours in mind.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2022 - 02:52 pm

After two years of K-pop concert drought, it seems like 2022 is the year the genre returns to the stage. K-pop acts like BTS, TWICE, ATEEZ, Monsta X, ONEUS and more have already showered the United States with residencies and tours in the first half, setting the stage — literally — of what else is to come from other labels for the rest of the year.

Now that we're halfway through the year, Korean music and entertainment has continued to successfully confirm its global status by the amount of events already happening in North America. In the United States alone, more than a dozen events are scheduled throughout the summer starting in June. From showcases, to meet-and-greet concerts, conventions, festivals and full-on arena tours, K-pop isn't holding back and only building anticipation for both artists and fans alike. 

To ring in the summer, GRAMMY.com gathered all of the concerts and events happening in North America between mid-June and August so you can plan when to catch some of your favorite K-pop artists.

June

DKB: 2022 DKB MEET & LIVE U.S. TOUR, June 10-19

K-pop concert production company Studio PAV is bringing Brave Entertainment's nine-piece ensemble DKB to the U.S. for the first time with a six-date tour. Opening night kicks off at the Brooklyn Monarch in New York on June 10 followed by five stops that will eventually end at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, on June 19. 

DKB — short for "Dark Brown Eyes" — debuted in February 2020 with members E-Chan, D1, Teo, Lune, Heechan, Junseo, Yuku, and Harry Jun.

AB6IX: "AB_NEW AREA" Fanmeeting Tour, June 20 - July 1

The six-stop Fanmeeting Tour will consist of games and a concert — similar to Korean variety shows, but in real time, featuring members Woong, Donghyun, Woojin, and Daehwi. Starting off on June 20 at New York's Webster Hall, the tour then heads west to conclude at El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on July 1.

Read More: 5 K-Pop Songwriters & Producers Who Defined 2021: SUMIN, Teddy Park, ADORA, RM & SUGA

KTOWN Night Market: Los Angeles, June 17 & 18

Ringing in its sixth year in the heart of Los Angeles' very own Koreatown, KTOWN Night Market offers pieces of the Korean diaspora through the forms of food, culture, fashion and, of course, music. Partnering with K-Pop Play Fest, K-pop star and 2NE1 member MINZY headlines the first night as Korean-American rapper Ted Park closes out on Sunday. You can also find the talents of Hyejin, FYKE and dance crews like LALARY and Team B.U.K. throughout the weekend.

Golden Child: Meet & Live Tour in USA, June 24 - July 11

Ten-member ensemble Golden Child brings their bass-heavy EDM sound and complex choreography to the States for a 10-city meet and greet and live concert tour will let fans get to know Daeyeol, Y, Jangjun, Tag, Seungmin, Jaehyun, Jibeom, Donghyun, Joochan, and Bomin through fan engagement opportunities on top of the fanmeeting concert.The Meet & Live kicks off in San Jose, Calif., on June 24 and concludes in Philadelphia, Penn., on July 11.

BROOKLYN: "I'M GONNA LOVE YOU" TOUR, June 25 - July 16

After sharing the stages with boy bands like A.C.E. and soloist Amber Liu, one of K-pop's modern rock stars, BROOKLYN, is set to make a second round of shows in the U.S. Opening night kicks off at Independence Park in Houston, Tex. on June 25, followed by stops in Orlando, Miami and San Diego.

aespa: aespa Showcase SYNK in LA, June 26 & 27

Following their U.S. performance debut at Coachella in April, Karina, Giselle, Winter and Ningning will hold their first showcase at the YouTube Theater in Inglewood, Calif., on June 26 and 27. (Initially scheduled for just June 26, a second day of the showcase was added after the first sold out in minutes.) SM Entertainment's youngest girl group is ready to show off their futuristic pop concepts through their music and a Q&A portion for fans. 

Dreamcatcher: "Apocalypse: Save Us" World Tour, June 28 - July 17

Marking their second tour in the US since late 2019, Dreamcatcher — JiU, SuA, Siyeon, Handong, Yoohyeon, Dami and Gahyeon — return to North America with their Apocalypse: Save Us World Tour. 

Fresh off their European festival debut at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Dreamcatcher is ready to bring in the rock-heavy sounds to the stages in New York, Louisville, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The first night of the tour kicks off on June 28 at the Palladium Theater in the heart of New York's Times Square, and ends at The Wiltern in downtown Los Angeles.

Stray Kids: 2nd World Tour "MANIAC," June 28 - July 14

Just months after debuting at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 with their new EP, Ordinary, Stray Kids will return to the States for their third tour, titled after their recent hit single "Maniac."

Originally kicking off in Seoul back in April, Stray Kids made their way stateside after a two-night show in Tokyo in early June. The 12-stop sold out arena tour kicks off at Newark's Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, and concludes in Anaheim, California on July 20. Following the U.S. leg, the group heads back to Tokyo, Japan for another two-night show in the Japanese capital.

Read More: 5 Rising Korean Artists To Know Now: STAYC, ENHYPEN, ITZY, TOMORROW X TOGETHER & ATEEZ

July

TXT: "ACT: LOVE SICK" World Tour, July 7-24

Leading K-pop's fourth generation, TXT (short for Tomorrow x Together) graces U.S. cities for the whole month of July with their eight-stop ACT: Lovesick Tour. The last time the monster group made its way stateside was in 2019 for their showcase tour. 

Now with three studio albums and five EPs under their belt, TXT — Soobin, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Taehyun, and Huening Kai — will likely perform hits like "Blue Hour," "Good Boy Gone Bad," and the viral hit "Anti-romantic." ACT: Lovesick starts in Chicago on July 7 and ends in Los Angeles on July 24.

Brave Girls: Brave Girls 1st US Tour, July 9-23

After their 2014 hit "ROLLIN'" resurfaced on the charts and went viral last year — on top of a successful run on reality competition show Queendom 2 — Brave Girls are set to go on their first-ever U.S. tour, starting July 9 in Philadelphia followed by eight more stops across the states.

Summerstage: Korea Gayoje, July 10

Sponsored by CitiBank in association with the Korean Cultural Center New York, Central Park will bring the K-pop party with KOREA GAYOJE on July 10. Celebrating Korean culture through food and entertainment, the day ends with a concert led by Brave Girls, Golden Child and AleXa. 

(G)I-DLE: "JUST ME ()I-DLE" World Tour, July 22 - Aug. 14

Originally set to have a tour in 2020, Cube Entertainment's leading girl group (G)I-DLE are reigniting their tour plans with their Just Me tour. Barging in the year with a wild and edgy image, their recent hit "TOMBOY" and "My Bag" have already set the tone on how much the group has transformed and matured since their last visit to the U.S. In 2019. Breezing through eight cities, — including a venue upgrade in New York — the quintet will also make stops in Mexico and Chile.

Otakon: K-Pop Night, July 29-31

Debuting their K-pop Concert Night with AleXa, Pixy and Rolling Quartz, those who are fans of Asian pop culture are able to get a listen of what the variety of sounds K-pop has to offer. NBC's 'American Song Contest' champion AleXa will bring in the futuristic pop with songs like "Wonderland," "Revolution" and "Xtra." Rising pop stars PIXY will showcase their whimsical performances, and rock band Rolling Quartz will provide some edge.

Lollapalooza: July 29-31

For the first time in Lollapalooza history, this year's festival will feature K-pop artists on its stages. Following the U.S. leg of their tour, TXT will make their music festival debut on Saturday, July 30, at the Solana x Perry's stage at 7:45 pm CT. Fellow HYBE artist and global icon j-hope of BTS closes out the Bud Light Seltzer stage at 9 p.m. CT on July 31.

Read More: BTS Announces Hiatus To Focus On RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimi, V, And Jungkook's Solo Projects, Days After The Release Of 'Proof'

August

LOONA: 2022 LOONA "LOONATHEWORLD" 1st World Tour, Aug. 1-19

Perhaps one of the most-anticipated girl-group concerts of the year, LOONA is set to share a part of their Loonaverse with their fans (better known as Orbit). Since their last appearance at KCON LA in 2019, Hyunjin, Haseul, Yeojin, ViVi, Heejin, Kim Lip, Jinsoul, Choerry, Yves, Go Won, and Olivia Hye will touch down in eight new cities for the first time: San Francisco, Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Louisville, Reading, Washington DC and New York. 

Unfortunately, due to schedule conflict, member Chuu will not be able to participate in the group's US leg of tour.

SEVENTEEN: "BE THE SUN" World Tour, Aug. 10 - Sept. 6

Considered to be the "HOT"-test concert of this K-pop summer, thirteen-member ensemble SEVENTEEN is about to set the stages ablaze in a 12-stop tour across North American with The Behind the Sun Tour. Carats in the U.S. will be able to catch S.Coups, Jeonghan, Joshua, Jun, Hoshi, Wonwoo, Woozi, DK, Mingyu, The8, Seungkwan, Vernon, and Dino in the flesh as they perform hits like "Left & Right", "Darl+ing," "Rock With You" and many more.

Head In The Clouds: Pasadena, CA, Aug. 19-21

After 88rising made headlines with an abundant set of Asian talent at this year's Coachella, the music company's own Head in the Clouds festival will return to the Rose Bowl grounds in Pasadena, Calif. Advocating and showcasing Asian talent, it's a no-brainer for Korean musical acts to make this year's festival roster. This year, artists like Chung Ha and Jay Park make their HITC debut while we see the returns of eaJ, R&B songstress BIBI, rap legends Tiger JK and Yoon Mirae.

KCON: Los Angeles, CA, Aug. 19-21

Celebrating its 10th year, the "All Things Hallyu" convention is set to take place on Aug. 19 through Aug. 21 at the Los Angeles Convention Center and Crypto.com Arena. Arguably the mecca of every K-pop and K-drama lover, KCON has provided a variety of ways for fans to see their favorites in person.

From fan signings, high touches and other forms of engagement — as well as a two-night concert in the evenings — KCON has become a must for all walks of life. Though the official lineup hasn't been announced, eager attendees are anticipating a superstar roster as the event commemorates its decade-long run.

MCND: MCND American Tour 2022, Aug. 22-31

Debuting in 2020 under TOP Entertainment with their single "Ice Age," Castle J, Bic, Minjae, Huijun, and Win — better known as MCND — will hold their first tour in North America. Starting off in Mexico City on August 22, the K-pop five-piece will hold four shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago. The group will then conclude their North American tour with a stop in Toronto on August 31.

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Global Spin: Singer-Songwriter And Producer Ferraz Offers A Minimalist, Soulful Performance Of "Espérame"
Ferraz

Photo: Maria Gabriela Stempel

video

Global Spin: Singer-Songwriter And Producer Ferraz Offers A Minimalist, Soulful Performance Of "Espérame"

The singer-songwriter, DJ and producer pulls from a variety of different styles to create his own signature blend of Latin R&B — and in this performance of "Espérame," he leans into his soul influences.

GRAMMYs/Sep 27, 2022 - 04:58 pm

Venezuelan singer-songwriter, producer and DJ Ferraz draws from various elements and sonic styles to create his signature blend of R&B. And in "Espérame," one of the tracks from his 2021 album Fino, he leans into gentle, lilting soul.

In this episode of Global Spin, Ferraz delivers a laid-back live performance of his song. Flanked by his gear and set against a plain white backdrop, the singer accompanies himself on electric guitar.

This minimalist, self-contained performance proves that Ferraz can create a sound-world all his own. Ferraz incorporates elements of Latin folk-rock and bossa nova into his performance, with classic R&B rhythms kicking in in the chorus.

Funk, house and hip-hop further influence Ferraz's music-making process, coming together to form a style of R&B both versatile and pliant.

As one of the singer's more reflective and laidback tracks, "Espérame" exemplifies his easygoing, luminous vocal delivery — a signature element of even his bouncier tracks, like 2022's "Seratonina."

Ferraz debuted in 2019 with his Rumbo album, and continued to grow his sound and style with the release of Fino two years later. Most recently, he put out Remixes FINO, a collection of reimagined versions of the songs from his Fino project.

Press play on the video above enjoy Ferraz's soulful "Espérame" performance, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Global Spin.

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11 Essential Brazilian Albums: From Bossa Nova To MPB
Gal Costa performs at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1980.

Photo: Donald Stampfli/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images

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11 Essential Brazilian Albums: From Bossa Nova To MPB

The South American giant has always boasted a voracious appetite for assimilating foreign influences into its own, vibrant cultural stew. From samba and bossa nova, to Música Popular Brasileira, here are 11 essential Brazilian albums for your playlist.

GRAMMYs/Sep 27, 2022 - 02:14 pm

You would need at least 500 albums to delineate a comprehensive aural snapshot of Brazil — one of the most passionate nations in the world when it comes to creating and consuming music.

From the foundational samba and its cosmopolitan cousin, the bossa nova, to the fertile movement of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), the funky axé and the rich fields of Brazilian rock, metal, hip-hop and electronica, the South American giant has always boasted a voracious appetite for assimilating foreign influences into its own, vibrant cultural stew.

Leaving aside the more obvious choices — we assume you’ve already heard "The Girl from Ipanema" once or twice — this list focuses on 11 legendary LPs that distill the essence of Brazilian music. 

Sylvia Telles - The Music of Mr. Jobim (1966)

When we think bossa nova, the name of Elis Regina comes instantly to mind, especially because of the classic Elis & Tom LP that she recorded in 1974 with genre architect Antonio Carlos Jobim. Before Elis, however, there was another singer who summed up the frothy lightness and poetry that make people fall crazy in love with the bossa.

Born in 1934, Sylvia Telles had an unforgettably jazzy and mercurial voice. This, her last album, was recorded in 1965 expressly for the American market and includes definitive renditions of standards like Dorival Caymmi’s "... Das Rosas" and Jobim’s exhilarating "Samba de Uma Nota Só." Telles has been unjustly forgotten by everyone but bossa collectors because she died, together with her boyfriend, in a car accident in 1966. She was 32. 

Roberto Carlos - Roberto Carlos (1969)

A misunderstood genius, Roberto Carlos is widely known as the Brazilian equivalent of Julio Iglesias. Before he went pop, he was part of the jangly jovem guarda movement in the late ‘60s, as South America fell in love with the Beatles and the Stones.

This transitional album finds his songwriting partnership with Erasmo Carlos (no relation) in full bloom. From the feel-good sunlight of "Do Outro Lado da Cidade" and the defiant funk of "Nao Vou Ficar," to the torrid balladry of "Sua Estupidez" (made famous by Gal Costa in an epic live version), this 1969 masterpiece pulsates with an indelible sense of nostalgia. Some of these songs were included in the film Roberto Carlos e o Diamante Cor-de-rosa, a colorful riff on the Beatles’ Help. 

Wilson Simonal - Simonal (1970)

A teen idol throughout the ‘60s, Wilson Simonal has been altogether ostracized from Brazilian cultural history due to his alleged political decisions during the ‘70s — a time of darkness and turmoil in South America.

This is somewhat unfair, as the man died more than 20 years ago at age 62. He left behind a prodigious discography that places his soulful vocals at the service of ballads and boleros, brassy funk and samba-rock. The brio of opening cut "Sem Essa" is worth the price of admission.  

Vinicius de Moraes with Maria Creuza and Toquinho - En La Fusa (1970)

There is something endearing about Argentina’s ongoing love affair with Brazilian music. When the royalty of bossa nova — lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, guitarist Toquinho and singer Maria Creuza — descended on Buenos Aires for a season of shows at the bohemian La Fusa club, it was quickly decided that the show should be recorded for posterity.

The resulting album was taped live in a studio, then augmented with audience noise from the actual venue. Few albums have captured the disarming beauty of this music so effortlessly. The unavoidable standards (yes, even "Ipanema") are enriched with light-as-a-feather gems like Jorge Ben’s "Que Maravilha" and Caetano Veloso’s "Irene." 

Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges - Clube Da Esquina (1972)

Hailing from the state of Minas Gerais, Milton Nascimento doesn’t really make records.

They’re more like a religious ritual, a celebration of sadness and joy, the flesh and the spirit. This transformational double LP was made by Nascimento and a collective of like-minded musicians, including the brilliant — if slightly esoteric — Lô Borges. There’s samba art-rock, psychedelia, Beatlesque melodies and a smoldering cascade of longing that permeates every single moment and refuses to let go. Its sequel, released in 1978, is just as good. 

Chico Buarque - Meus Caros Amigos (1976)

Look up the word warmth in the dictionary and you will probably find a picture of this album, dripping analog goodness and a million smiles.

The young Buarque’s 1966 hit "A Banda" was a defining moment in the emergence of the MPB sound. By the time he released this 1976 session, he was an established master of the Brazilian groove. Every track here is a classic: the fairy tale sweetness of "Você Vai Me Seguir"; the carnivalesque swirl of "Passaredo"; the homeric sorrow of "Mulheres De Atenas." Milton Nascimento guests on the samba-with-strings movie theme "O Que Será." 

Gal Costa - Gal Tropical (1979)

The bluesy voice of MPB diva Gal Costa is one of the most gorgeous sounds ever to come out of Brazil. Even though she appeared during the tropicália boom of the late ‘60s, the ‘70s was her best decade, with classic LPs such as Índia (1973), Cantar (1974) and this lavish session of tropi-pop that sold a million copies.

An eclectic song selector, Gal can focus her attention on a carnival march from the 1930’s ("Balance"), then melt hearts with a sparse ballad penned by Caetano Veloso ("Força Estranha.") Betraying subtle hints of post-disco decadence, her sultry reading of the Antonio Carlos Jobim/Dolores Duran oldie "Estrada do Sol" is haunting. 

Karnak - Karnak (1994)

Brazil was missing an album matching the ambitious scope of a Sgt. Pepper’s, and it arrived with the debut of Karnak, the cosmopolitan, genre-bending orchestra of musical globetrotter André Abujamra.

So many years later, this criminally underrated masterpiece sounds as fresh and inventive as it did in 1994. It combines field recordings of citizens from all over the world with fragments of reggae, funky Afro-pop, Arabic scales, tribal drums and operatic chanting in fictitious tongues. Delirious and exhilarating, it serves up the delights of a thousand records all wrapped up into one. 

Tribalistas - Tribalistas (2002)

Decade after decade, Brazilian music has always survived the decay of time by knowing when to renew itself. The life-affirming debut by MPB supergroup Tribalistas was one such sleight of hand, as was their self-titled collection of translucent songs for idealists of all ages  .

Singer/songwriter Marisa Monte had already proven herself as MPB’s bright new hope through her solo work. But there’s power in numbers, and the addition of percussion genius Carlinhos Brown and the gravelly-voiced Arnaldo Antunes resulted in one dazzling song after another — and over three million albums sold. 

Los Hermanos - Ventura (2003)

There are no grandiloquent gestures in the third album by this Rio de Janeiro indie-rock quartet. The songs are tuneful, emotionally direct and oddly bittersweet. Enriched by a brass section, arena favorites such as the punchy "Último Romance" and the jagged "O Vencedor" show how seamlessly the influence of Anglo rock can find fertile terrain layered into Brazil’s melting pot. Many critics have singled out Ventura as one of the best albums in Brazilian history, and it’s easy to see why.

Céu - Tropix (2016)

Originally from São Paulo, Céu appeared on the scene at the same time as a large wave of neo-bossa singers — but the sound of her 2005 self-titled album went against the grain. Jagged and unpredictable, her MPB futurism draws from dub and Afrobeat, post-disco and indietronica.

Céu’s songwriting was remarkably sharp from the beginning, but she found a state of grace on Tropix, her fourth LP. The digital beats throb and quiver on elegantly sculpted tracks like "Perfume Do Invisível" and "Varanda Suspensa," while the quiet fire in her voice ignites a delicious kind of tension — as eye opening as the Brazilian classics of the ‘70s.

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Ari Lennox’s 'Age/Sex/Location' Explores Online Dating, Never Settling & Old School Romance
Ari Lennox

Photo: Gizelle Hernandez

interview

Ari Lennox’s 'Age/Sex/Location' Explores Online Dating, Never Settling & Old School Romance

A torrid take on hyper-passionate soul, 'Age/Sex/Location' sees Ari Lennox exploring her real-life hiccups with intimacy and growing empowerment.

GRAMMYs/Sep 27, 2022 - 01:32 pm

During a cool evening at the tail-end of a New York summer, Ari Lennox and I are eating dinner at the Sixty Hotel on the Lower East Side. She is coming off a whirlwind of a week, partaking in the slew of New York Fashion Week festivities and the release of her sophomore album Age/Sex/Location, which dropped Sept. 9.

Amidst her busy schedule, Lennox has love on the brain.

"I'm not searching for love anymore," Lennox says, leaning in close. The singer, a self-described old soul, continues that she's fed up with the modern dating world. "But, I'm back on online dating so I feel like I am lying because I know I want love."

Over 12 tracks, the Dreamville artist explores her real-life hiccups with intimacy, longing for old-school romance, and the toil of dealing with men who aren’t good for her. While she finds empowerment in being single — no matter how lonely it may feel at times — the end goal of Lennox's self-discovery quest on ASL is to secure a lover.

ASL — an online acronym those who grew up flirting on AIM and Yahoo chatrooms might find familiar —  coalesces Lennox's soulful intonations with more contemporary production and featured collaborators such as Lucky Daye, J. Cole, Jermaine Dupri and Missy Elliott. A follow-up to Shea Butter Baby, Lennox's widely-cherished diaristic 2019 debut, ASL was released alongside a surprise, R&B-forward EP called Away Message.

ASL is three years in the making and the result of significant collaboration. "There were definitely a lot of intentional sessions with the family," Lennox says, name-checking Theo Croker, Elite, Summer Walker and Chlöe.

This family affair resulted in a torrid album of hyper-passionate soul that pays sentimental reverence to the genre’s inception. The first single, the J. Cole-produced "POF," has Lennox harmonically damned, singing about swiping through a sea of options and major disappointments in an Erykah Badu-influenced R&B cadence.

The sensual  "Hoodie" — released along with a series of visuals that includes Lennox toying with TDE rapper Isaiah Rashad, floating on top of an encased water tank with a man trapped inside — underscores Lennox’s romanticization of a man she has never spent time with. 

She continues to air out her situationships in "Waste My Time," applies more "Pressure" and shows she's privy to the emotional games in "Mean Mug." Her exhaustion with romance shows in "Boy Bye" with Lucky Daye, before Lennox officially cuts it off on the funky "Blocking You." 

The LP concludes with "Queen Space" featuring Summer Walker, a falsetto ode to self-worth and independence that meditates on the sacredness of their bodies, energy, and time.

Back at dinner, Lennox sardonically laments that she "just went on a terrible date the other day in New York. He was 20 minutes late and invited me to the studio before the date happened." 

GRAMMY.com dug deep with the vocalist to talk about this transitional phase she is experiencing with her sexuality, new music, and the power she has rediscovered in artistic solitude. 

What artistic and personal evolutions have you experienced in the past three years that led to the culmination of this hyper-soulful project?

Well, allowing collaboration to happen. I'll say working with all of these writers — Jai’Len Josey, Crystal, Nettie, Dijon styles, and J. Cole, there was a lot of collaborative effort in this project. The difference between Shea Butter Baby and ASL was me letting go of control, really, because I wrote all of my debut album.

The intro track, "POF" has this beautiful narrative about even though there is sorrow in not finding the right one, there are always more people and experiences out there. Why did you choose to start with this neo-soul track?

To me, "POF" just sets the tone. Even, sonically and musically, it is just so soulful. I'm talking my s—. People have to know, at least with this project, that I am exhausted and tired of guys trying me. The song is just so sassy and so grown and so just authentic, you know?

What about the discreet titles of your Away Message EP and Age/Sex/Location album lend themselves to who you are at your age now?

They basically represent a time when I'm seeing dating as way clearer with wisdom. More than I've ever had before and there's just less naivete. There is a lot more self-awareness of my f—k-ups and then, the why of why I'm drawn to darkness sometimes. In this music, there are a lot more times of me standing my ground and not ignoring my opinions and my worth and sense of self.

What sort of enlightenment have you achieved through the music-making process behind Age/Sex/Location?

I learned more about how to notice red flags and how to not be so quick to ignore them. I am now more likely to give people the benefit of the doubt and see them through. Now I trust my intuition way more and trust God, or whoever you believe in, to see red flags as signs. That is some precious energy that is trying to help you not get hurt.

ASL is an online acronym used for identification in virtual spaces, specifically dating sites. Was exploring the early dating world when you were growing up difficult?

Yahoo! Chatrooms is literally the beginning of my love life because it was so hard to approach guys in real life. There were guys that were into me. This guy named Ricky Davidson had the biggest crush on him and he knew I had a crush on him. Nothing ended up ever happening because I wouldn't say anything. I was really socially awkward, like really bad until ninth grade. 

I started being more open and comfortable with communicating with guys, and now it's nonstop with writing and being open about dating. The title, Age/Sex/Location comes from online dating and it hasn't been the easiest, you know what I'm saying? In general, you have to be careful that you're not entertaining someone that may try to kill you.

How has your search for love in these recent months been?

My dating life is still just a heinous mess, but we are hopeful. I find myself love bombing, I guess because I do tend to love someone fast and ghost [them]. 

This book called Attached I have been reading is really fire; it helps me realize the different attachment styles in life. It is a science and these studies helped me feel validated that I'm an anxious person and if I'm drawn to an avoidant person, how are we supposed to not clash?I'm excited to see what a secure relationship feels like.

You have embraced your sexuality so much in this project, you talk of toiling with lovers in "Stop By" and really go there in "Leak It" featuring Chlöe. Have you felt more liberated and evolved embodying your sexuality?

Sexuality has always felt very natural and easy for me to express myself in a way. Now, I'm just being more direct about what I want. The importance of feeling safe with someone and thinking damn, what we've made was so beautiful. I don't mind if the world sees it. God forbid somebody hacks the iCloud. Well, it was a beautiful time we shared.

What values of self-love did you preach to yourself while producing Age/Sex/Location?

Communicating my concerns. Many times, I've been so docile and quiet for so long that I could keep a person around in this kind of co-dependent nature. I can't be afraid to lose any more people because the reality is, that they're not meant to be. I was being honest about how I felt and expressing it to them in a gentle way. It is nice to experience men and see their different reactions. 

Some people refuse to say sorry and be accountable. Then, there are other people who are overly sorry. What I will say about the guy I went on a date with, he didn't mind apologizing. He was very sweet about the fact that he was late. But I'm not even used to someone being accountable and it was nice to experience it that was sexy. 

I love how the closing song on the album, "Queen Space," highlights how you view your own prowess and independence. How would you define a queen space?

Wow. A queen space to me is self-love and accountability. It is the protection of my own peace and, by any means, not neglecting myself to please someone else. It really is honoring my morals, my values, my mind, my body, and talking my s—t when I need to. Setting those standards and setting those boundaries very clearly because moving in life with intention is how I get through romance, relationships, and friendships.

How was collaborating with such soulful musicians on Age/Sex/Location?

It was a dream to have Lucky be so supportive and come into the studio. Same with Summer — for her to take all the time out of her day to give me an incredible verse and to take "Queen Space" somewhere that I would have never thought just gives me chills every time. I love feeling like the record is not complete until you have that certain artist hop on it. Chlöe just came into my life and was the literal completion of "Leak It."

Your vocals are really pushed on this album and, sonically, you elevated into another dimension of Ari Lennox. 

Certain songs will bring certain things out of you, certain melodies out of you. I kind of just wanted to push myself like, what would a Chaka Khan do? Or, what would Adina Howard do?

If you could build out a Destiny’s Child-style girl group, who would you scout to share the stage?

Can I just join Chlöe and Halle? Or, even VanJess? There are so many phenomenal people in the game right now. Victoria Monet, Tanerélle, Muni Long, Kehlani, and more. So many legends out here doing their own thing. 

If you could sit down and share champagne with any soul artist who passed away or is alive today, who would you love to sit down with and share some studio time with?

There is only one person hands down and that is Marvin Gaye because he was so fine. I would just love to drink wine with him in another life.  I know this is inappropriate, but flirt with him and see if that would be nice or works. Or, Minnie Riperton, I would love to listen to her about how she feels about music, music theory, and life. I would just love for her to train me vocally.

What was the main song on A/S/L that gave you the premonition that this was going to be a timeless project?

It is a tie between "Hoodie" and "Mean Mug." Those records were the glue of this sophomore album for me because "Hoodie" was so natural and I was so excited about it. They are about these intense crushes I had on men that I'd never even hung out with before; I was literally talking about romanticizing romance. It is me just loving the idea of love.

Do you have thoughts about the claim that the genre of R&B will eventually disappear?

I say that those people are delusional. I'm just going to be really direct because we can't invalidate all of the phenomenal R&B artists that are contributing greatly to this genre. You know, Brent Faiyaz? There are so many legendary people and it's not like Brandy ever stopped. It's not like Monica ever stops. Jazmine Sullivan and Ella Mai are killing it. 

What are you surrounding yourself with? Who are your friends? Are they only listening to trap or only listening to soft rock? Find the friends that do love R&B, let them guide you, and explore with them. Some people want to be stuck only in certain eras and you should all be inspired by all of them; both past, present, and future.

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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Ozuna Leverages His Status As A Reggaeton Superstar To Open Doors For Other Latin Artists
Ozuna

Photo: Mindy Small/FilmMagic

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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Ozuna Leverages His Status As A Reggaeton Superstar To Open Doors For Other Latin Artists

A global superstar and two-time Latin GRAMMY winner, Ozuna’s historic rise to superstardom is helping to bring Spanish language music and Latin culture to the center of the U.S. musical mainstream.

GRAMMYs/Sep 26, 2022 - 08:49 pm

Before artists like Bad Bunny and J Balvin rose into the spotlight, Puerto Rican singer and rapper Ozuna — born Juan Ozuna Rosado Delano — was making mainstream waves with his signature brand of Reggaeton and trap music.

Coming of age in the mid-2010s as part of a rejuvenated interest in Reggaeton, Ozuna topped the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart with his 2017 debut, Odisea — a project that also cracked the Top 30 on the US Billboard 200.

Its track listing featured contributions from J Balvin, Annuel AA, Zion & Lennox and more, and collaboration would quickly emerge as a hallmark of Ozuna's artistry, and a major part of furthering both his own career and the new wave of Latin-based music in general.

Many of Ozuna's biggest hits have been group efforts, such as "Taki Taki," a late 2018 release that featured the singer alongside Cardi B, DJ Snake and Selena Gomez. That song enjoyed success both on the charts and in the streaming world, rapidly reaching 20 million YouTube view and becoming the most-streamed song on Spotify.

Another all-star collab, "China," also hit the top of the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart the following year, and helped earn Ozuna four Guinness World Record titles, naming him as the artist with the most YouTube videos notching over a billion views, as well as honoring his status as the most-nominated and most-awarded artist at the Billboard Latin Music Awards in 2019.

Speaking to ET Online in 2019, Ozuna pointed to his mainstream collaborations as the reason for his breakthrough into global superstardom.

"After ['Taki Taki'], North Americans went wild, and starting paying attention to Latinos more," he explained. "Before, it was all surface-level. It was like, 'Let's see what these Latinos have going on,' cautiously. Now all the North Americans want to record with Latinos."

Ozuna's global success has never been solely about himself: He sees his career as a chance to advance other artists who share his background to the forefront. "Elevating Latinos is my responsibility," he states, and he works hard to promote younger artists careers in the same way he got his own breakthrough: through collaboration.

"There's so much new young talent," he explains. "Lunay, Rauw Alejandro and Lyanno are some of the artists who I gave a break to the same way Farruko and Arcangel gave me my big break on 'Si No Te Quiere.'"

Press play on the video above to take a look back at Ozuna's career, and keep checking GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Black Sounds Beautiful.

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