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A Look At The Nominees For Album Of The Year At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Album Of The Year span the landscape of pop, R&B, rap, reggaeton, and more. Here are the nominees — by ABBA, Harry Styles, Beyoncé, Adele, Bad Bunny, Mary J. Blige, Brandi Carlile, Coldplay, Kendrick Lamar, and Lizzo.

GRAMMYs/Nov 15, 2022 - 05:58 pm

For what seems like ages, people have been portending the album's extinction as a viable format. To which we ask: when, exactly?

The GRAMMY for Album Of The Year is a precious honor among many — partly because it celebrates excellence in that timeless format. Ever since at least 1955, when Frank Sinatra released one of the earliest concept albums, the long-player has been a vehicle for transformative — and often world-changing — artistic expressions and achievements.

A big component of that is how songs talk to each other, which is what you lose when considering songs as single releases. And this ineffable commingling of ideas, emotions and narratives is apparent throughout the nominations for Album Of The Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

What happens when you meditate on the confluence between Adele's "Easy On Me" and "I Drink Wine"? Or Kendrick Lamar's "We Cry Together" and "Mother I Sober"? Or Coldplay's "Let Somebody Go" and "Coloratura"? And those are just a few examples — live with these albums for a while, and numberless other spiritual links appear.

To absorb how songs can live together — and fight, and make up, and everything else — is one of the true joys of music. And in a transparent, peer-to-peer process, the Recording Academy's voting members decided that these 10 nominees wove together albums that became far more than the sum of their inspired parts.

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

ABBA — Voyage

Talk about a satisfying return for a band that seemed to never go away — even though ABBA did for a whopping 40 years. And what a comeback, by way of their new album, Voyage — which shared a title with their innovative, virtual concert residency.

The LP reminded the world of why legions of fans fell in love with "Dancing Queen," "Mamma Mia" and the like. While they were unabashedly pop, the palindromic quartet of Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Agnetha Fältskog were forward-thinking enough to bend Pete Townshend and John Lennon's ears.

Reunion albums after so much time away can raise suspicions, but Voyage put them all to bed. Like fellow pop tinkerers Electric Light Orchestra, the new material (like "Keep an Eye on Dan," "No Doubt About It" and "Don't Shut Me Down") could have been beamed from 1975.

This GRAMMY nomination for Album Of The Year follows their 2022 GRAMMY nomination for Record Of The Year — by way of "I Still Have Faith In You," the lead track from the album.

ABBA have stated that this is their last hurrah; if so, what a magical finale. Because Voyage hits just like the… well, hits.

Adele - 30

A new Adele album, with titles like "Cry Your Heart Out," "Oh My God" and "I Drink Wine" — casual onlookers might envision a soundtrack to an extended ugly-crying session. Well, it can be that if you want it to be.

But Adele is no one-dimensional artist — far from it. And her stunning latest, 30, is a cornucopia of wildly variable moods, production styles and flavors of ear candy.

This is partly due to the inspired production of Greg Kurstin, Max Martin, Shellback, Ludwig Göransson, and other leading lights — and mostly due to Adele hurtling forward as a prime communicator and expresser.

Adele has long been a sturdy presence at the GRAMMYs, earning 15 golden gramophones and 18 nominations up to this point. The 2023 GRAMMY nominations mark another chapter in her musical life.

And it goes beyond 30's GRAMMY nomination for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. The majestic lead single "Easy On Me" was nominated for golden gramophones for Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Music Video. (Additionally, Adele: One Night Only is in the running for a GRAMMY for Best Music Film.)

Is 30 a work of bracing catharsis, in a very on-brand sense? Of course — this is Adele we're talking about. But the album maintains a pep in its step, and plenty of surprises in every song.

Here's just one, from before it even came out: "Is that really a feature from Erroll Garner, a jazz pianist who died in 1977?" Only you, Adele.

Bad Bunny — Un Verano Sin Ti

Un Verano Sin Ti may have been one of the hottest pop albums of the year — of any regional genre or national origin. It's the kind of work that bridges international markets, that sells out Yankee Stadium two nights in a row, that debuts at the top of the Billboard 200. (It was the second Spanish-language album to ever do that, to boot.)

And from a GRAMMYs standpoint, the Puerto Rican rapper and singer born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio has the wind in his sails. Not only has he previously won two golden gramophones and been nominated for six; at the 2023 GRAMMYs, Un Verano Sin Ti is up for a GRAMMY for Best Música Urbana Album, and "Moscow Mule" is up for another for Best Pop Solo Performance.

All that being said, Bad Bunny's latest bears a quality rare in offerings from artists of his caliber — it magically maintains a handmade, personal quality that sticks out among the pack.

Loosened-up, tropical-inflected tunes like "Me Porto Bonito," "Yo No Soy Celoso" and "Aguacero" don't chew the scenery to impress you; they seem as natural as breathing, which belies the level of craft involved in each song's construction, and the subtle emotional incisiveness of his messaging.

All of it adds up to a long-player that feels relaxed yet focused feels vaporous without being ephemeral. Un Verano Sin Ti is a summer dream — and an unforgettable one.

Beyoncé - Renaissance

The sociocultural shifts of the past few years have led to a reassessment of music history through the lens of identity. And one big win was the realization that disco, in fact, did not suck — thank you very much.

Not only was the lion's share of the music great, but the discotheque provided a haven for free expression among any number of marginalized groups, in regard to skin color, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The engine of RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé's first album in six and a half years, is the eternal power of the dancefloor — both in sound and spirit. Of course, this has been a throughline of her past work, for which she's picked up an astounding 28 GRAMMYs. But never before has it been contained and consolidated on one album like this.

This aesthetic doesn't render RENAISSANCE a mere throwback, but a future-forward addition to the dance/pop lineage. "Cozy" and "Thique" speak to radical self-acceptance; cornerstone track "Plastic Off the Sofa" is cinematic and immersive; despite the title, closer "SUMMER RENAISSANCE" is an on-ramp to revel in these sounds in fall, winter, and spring.

On the 2023 GRAMMYs nominations list, Beyoncé can be found all over the place: on top of this Album Of The Year GRAMMY nomination, RENAISSANCE is up for a GRAMMY for Best Dance/Electronic Album.

And on a track-by-track level, she's represented in the Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best Dance/Electronic Recording, Best R&B Performance, Best Traditional R&B Performance, Best R&B Song, and Best Remixed Recording categories. "BE ALIVE," Beyoncé's tune for the film King Richard, is nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Song Written For Visual Media.

Beyoncé has made clear that RENAISSANCE is the first in a three-part installment: it's anyone's guess as to where this boundary-breaker will venture next. But until then, this dance party is forever.

Read More: How Many GRAMMYs Has Beyoncé Won? 10 Questions About The Renaissance Singer Answered

Mary J. Blige — Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe)

The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul returned in 2022 in multiple surprising ways. In February, she released Good Morning Gorgeous, a work of emotional depth with a surprising bite to it. (Would another R&B act of her generation drop a track like "On Top," with the cutting-edge MC Fivio Foreign?)

Thirty years after the release of her debut album, What's The 411, the previously nine-time GRAMMY winner hasn't lost one iota of her clarity of creative vision or cachet as an R&B innovator.

This is reflected not only in the bold, brassy sound throughout Good Morning Gorgeous, but the presence of other high-profile guests, like DJ Khaled on "Amazing," Anderson .Paak on "Here With Me," Dave East on "Rent Money," and Usher on "Need Love."

Two days after the album's release, Mary J. Blige stormed the Super Bowl with Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg, in a celebration of hip-hop as an ever-swelling force four decades in.

That performance made abundantly clear that this world would be unrecognizable without the soul edge Blige has brought and continues to bring.

At the 2023 GRAMMYs, she's not only nominated for golden gramophones for Album Of The Year, but Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance ("Here With Me"), Best Traditional R&B Performance, and Best R&B Song ("Good Morning Gorgeous").

Clearly, the Queen's reign continues unabated.

Brandi Carlile — In These Silent Days

Brandi Carlile is a known quantity far outside of the singer/songwriter these days. She's swelling in the public sphere as a media personality, and friend and booster to a recovering (and returning!) Joni Mitchell.

And that's for a very good reason: few can weave words and melodies like her, and deliver them with such gravitas.

This was clear at the 2022 GRAMMYs, when two cuts from In These Silent Days — "Right on Time" and "A Beautiful Noise" — earned her four GRAMMY nominations, in the Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance categories. (She was also nominated for a GRAMMY for Best American Roots Performance, for her featured appearance on Brandy Clark's "Same Devil.")

But, again, it's how all the songs talk to each other — and Recording Academy members were ravished by all 10. Taken as a whole, In These Silent Days imparts a dizzying amount of literary detail, with the immediacy of a blast of Laurel Canyon air.

"You and Me on the Rock," featuring indie-poppers Lucius, brings the heartache and jubilation of Mitchell's Blue into the 21st century; the strummy abandon expertly disguises the next-level craft beneath the hood.

Elsewhere, the Fleetwood Mac-like "Broken Horses" swings like a pendulum — this is a heavyweight artist we're reckoning with. And it's bracing to hear Carlile almost completely unadorned on impassioned closer "Throwing Good After Bad," lifted by the subtlest strains of a string section.

At the 2023 GRAMMYs, Carlile is also represented in the Best Americana Album category; Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song, for "Broken Horses"; and Best Americana Performance, for "You and Me on the Rock."

On the cover of In These Silent Days, Carlile looks to be casually fixing her collar, as if the contents of the album amounted to a throat-clearing. The album might be partly a letter to the past, but heaven knows what's in her immediate future.

Coldplay — Music Of The Spheres

Coldplay won over the world for writing cleareyed, intimate songs about romantic insecurity and longing; now, they write about everything. Literally everything, transcending the concerns of terra firma and bounding through the celestials.

Everything about Music of the Spheres is a wild swing, which befits a band seemingly destined to carry the torch of the outsized U2.

Frontman Chris Martin said he was inspired by the enormity of the Star Wars universe and the title-track opener — stylized as a Saturn emoji — feels like the Flash Gordon-style opening crawl, an awe-inspiring sci-fi universe whirring to life. And the first single, "Higher Power," reaches for nothing less than the gates of Heaven.

That the Englishmen are able to engage in such space-scraping without sacrificing their core identity is somewhat miraculous. "Humankind" is a Kubrickian update on the anthemic mold they've always adhered to — going all the way back to A Rush of Blood to the Head, which turned 20 in 2022. And "Let Somebody Go," featuring Selena Gomez, feels as pared-down as their intimate, beloved debut, Parachutes.

For a song on the scale of "My Universe," not only guest would do: Martin and company had to tap the arguably biggest pop group on the planet, BTS. The song cycle ends with the 10-minute "Coloratura," which shows how Coldplay manage to stay creatively unpredictable even as their cachet grows heavenward.

On top of Music of the Spheres' GRAMMY nominations for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album, "My Universe" is represented in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category. But whether or not Coldplay ultimately take home their golden gramophones, they've made an album that belongs to the planets and stars.

Kendrick Lamar — Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

In the years since his gritty, explosive DAMN., Kendrick Lamar went off the grid and into a period of profound self-examination.

"I spend most of my days with fleeting thoughts. Writing. Listening," Lamar wrote in an August 2021 blog post. "Love, loss, and grief have disturbed my comfort zone, but the glimmers of God speak through my music and family. While the world around me evolves, I reflect on what matters the most."

When the Pulitzer Prize winner and (at the time) 14-time GRAMMY winner finally dropped a new song, "The Heart Pt. 5," it was clear that introspection had resulted in work of a renewed and downright frightening intensity.

"I come from a generation of pain, where murder is minor/ Rebellious and Margielas'll chip you for designer," the MC, who now nicknames himself "Oklama," rapped in the attendant video. "Belt buckles and clout, overzealous if prone to violence/ Make the wrong turn, be it will or the wheel alignment."

As the stark, one-shot video progressed, Lamar's face morphed into deepfake impersonations of O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, and Nipsey Hussle — as the latter, who was murdered in 2019, he rapped about gazing at his family and friends from heaven.

A track like that wouldn't have fit the concept of Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, and accordingly, wasn't on the album. Because Mr. Morale is foremost an album about fatherhood, fidelity, and destroying old attitudes by fire. "Kendrick made you think about it, but he is not your savior," he reminds us at the outset of "Savior," demolishing his self-mythology.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout an exhilarating and exhausting 78 minutes, Lamar ruthlessly interrogates his ingrained attitudes about fatherhood ("Father Time"), relationships with women ("We Cry Together"), and transgender relatives ("Auntie Diaries").

At the 2023 GRAMMYs, "The Heart Pt. 5" was nominated for GRAMMYs for Song Of The Year, Best Rap Performance, Best Melodic Rap Performance, and Best Rap Song.

And the courageous and unflinching Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers picked up GRAMMY nominations for Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album. Its resonance extends past the lyrical subject matter, or the gonzo arrangements where every musical decision seems wildly unorthodox.

Because if you zoom out, it's unlike anything Lamar — or any other rapper, for that matter — has ever made.

Lizzo — Special

In the past few years, Lizzo has enjoyed an expeditious ascent from flute-toting, self-loving charmer to a downright media titan. In her Amazon Prime reality show "Watch Out for the Big Grrrls," plus-sized models compete to become her backup dancer; her eye-popping VMAs dress reflected how her idiosyncratic visual aesthetic is rapidly gaining steam.

And her 2022 was typified by her latest album, Special, which consolidates her musical gifts and ever-evolving messaging in a cohesive blend of funk, disco, hip-hop, and pop. The single "About Damn Time" is practically destined to loom large in her legend; it joins "Good as Hell," "Truth Hurts," and the rest as calling-cards for her meme-friendly, feel-good outlook.

But the singles weren't exactly the point this time around: the matured and restrained Special is a window into Lizzo's particular universe, where the headline is "You matter, just the way you are."

Lizzo has previously picked up three GRAMMYs and three GRAMMY nominations; at the 2023 GRAMMYs, "About Damn Time" is nominated for GRAMMYs for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance. Additionally, by way of a Purple Disco Machine remix, said track is represented in the Best Remixed Recording category.

And because of the way that song interacts with vulnerable album tracks like "Naked" and "If You Love Me," Recording Academy membership decreed that Special is in the running for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album.

Because when you strip away the memes, the hashtags, and the media appearances, Lizzo makes albums — superb ones. And when it comes to honors like this, it's, well, about damn time.

Harry Styles — Harry’s House

With his self-titled debut and follow-up, Fine Line, Harry Styles had already catapulted himself far past the purview of One Direction.

But his third album, Harry's House, ups the ante in a new way; it presents a totally liveable, self contained domicile. Within the LP, can take a load off on the couch, pontificate in the kitchen, or brood on the edge of the bed.

How can an album take on such qualities? That's partly because every song, "Music for a Sushi Restaurant" to "Late Night Talking" to "Love of My Life," is imbued with that charm only Styles possesses — the one that lays waste to Madison Square Garden and gave him a Hollywood star turn in Don't Worry Darling.

And the sheer concision and earworm hook of his titanic single "As It Was" raises even more questions than it does answers. Here's one: which perfect pop songs hasn't he written yet?

At the 2023 GRAMMYs, "As It Was" has been nominated for GRAMMYs for Song Of The Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Music Video; Harry's House is nominated for GRAMMYs for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. If Styles wins in any of these categories, he will add to his previous GRAMMY win, for Best Pop Solo Performance for Fine Line's "Watermelon Sugar."

Clearly, fans worldwide set up camp at Harry's House, and have no plans to vacate anytime soon. Because amid all the other reasons, it's just too much fun to kick back in there.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

 The 2023 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 65th GRAMMY Awards, returns to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, 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 eligibility period for the 65th GRAMMY Awards is Friday, Oct. 1, 2021 – Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. All eligible awards entries must be released within this timeframe.

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.

Leon Michels, center, poses with Black Thought, Kirby and members of El Michels Affair backstage at "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon."
Leon Michels, center, poses with Black Thought, Kirby and members of El Michels Affair backstage at "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon."

Photo: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC via Getty Images

interview

Behind Leon Michels' Hits: From Working With The Carters & Aloe Blacc, To Creating Clairo's New Album

Multi-instrumentalist turned GRAMMY-nominated producer Leon Michels has had a hand in a wide range of pop and hip-hop music. Read on for the stories behind his smash hits with Norah Jones, Black Thought, Kalis Uchis, Aloe Blacc, and others.

GRAMMYs/May 27, 2024 - 03:17 pm

A child of New York’s ultra-niche soul revival scene of the early 2000s, multi-instrumentalis turned producer Leon Michels has had an extensive reach into global pop music. As both producer and session man, Michels has worked with the Carters, Norah Jones, Black Thought, the Black Keys, Kalis Uchis, and Aloe Blacc — to name a few.

He has held to a specific creative vision for more than two decades, first through his heavily sampled El Michels Affair projects and a healthy schedule of releases through Truth & Soul records and later, Big Crown, the label he co-founded with DJ Danny Akalepse in 2016. He runs a studio in upstate New York called the Diamond Mine North, where he does most of his work since relocating from New York City in 2017. He has two GRAMMY nominations to his name, for Mary J. Blige’s Good Morning Gorgeous and Lizzo’s Special.

Trained originally on piano, he took up drums and eventually saxophone through the guidance of his high school music teacher, Miss Leonard. "[She] is actually the person I owe it all to. She started this jazz band when I was in fifth grade, and there's no drummer, so she asked me if I would learn drums," he tells GRAMMY.com. "I did that, and she would give me Duke Ellington cassettes, Sydney Bichet, Johnny Hodges. She would just feed me music."

Daptone Records co-founder Gabe Roth recruited and mentored Michels while he was still in high school, and the teenager soon became a regular touring member of what would become the Dap-Kings, backing singer Sharon Jones during an early run of success in the mid-2000s. " I joined Sharon Jones when it was the Soul Providers. We went on tour in Europe with them. Somehow my parents let me do it. I don't even understand. Gabe came over and sweet-talked them."

Michels left the group in 2006 after seven intense years, wanting to spend more time recording than enduring the grind of touring. His chosen timing caused him to miss out by mere "months" on the group’s recording sessions for Amy Winehouse’s four-time GRAMMY winner Back To Black. Despite what appeared to be a major missed opportunity, he turned his focus to his group El Michels Affair after initial encouragement from the 2005 album Sounding Out The City, released on Truth & Soul, the label he had co-founded. 

Finding his inspiration in the intersections of soul and hip-hop, as a fully committed instrumentalist producer, he was able to develop an analog soundscape that quickly caught the ears of artists including Raekwon and other Wu-Tang Clan alumni, with whom he toured in 2008. This led to the follow-up album Enter The 37th Chamber in 2009. Samples from El Michels Affair, including those by Ghostface Killah, Jay-Z, Just Blaze, J. Cole, and Travis Scott quickly proliferated and opened doors. Via the Lee Fields album My World, Michels' work caught the attention of Dan Auerbach, with whom he and his longtime collaborator and bassist Nick Movshon toured from 2010 to 2012.

Producing the Aloe Blacc song "I Need A Dollar" in 2010 further enhanced his credentials and provided the financial stability to allow him to be true to his creative spirit, which he has done successfully over the last decade.

Leon Michels spoke to GRAMMY.com about some key career recordings, including his latest release with singer Clairo.

Clairo – "Sexy to Someone" (Charm, 2024)

I met Clairo almost three years ago. I made a record with her that took three years to complete, which is actually one of the longest stretches I've ever spent on a record.

She’s made two records before this. Her first record, Immunity, came out when she was 19. It's a pop record, and it was very successful. But she's a total music nerd like me. She’s constantly scouring the Internet for music. The way people, especially young people, ingest music these days is just insane. She's got great taste.

Her first record was super successful. She made her second record, Sling, with Jack Antonoff, and it was an ambitious folk record, and a huge departure from her first record. I think it caught her audience off guard, but it was kind of a perfect move because now she can make whatever she wants. 

When she came to me, I was excited but slightly confused. What do I do? Because in those situations, you think, well, I need to facilitate a successful pop record, but she just wanted all the weird s—.

It’s this cool mix of pop elements, but some of the music sounds like a Madlib sample. All of it is steeped in pretty cool references and older music, but her perspective is a 25-year-old’s, and she’s an incredible songwriter. It's a really cool mix.

Norah Jones - "Running"  (Visions, 2024)

Norah used to hit up me and Dave Guy, trumpet player in the Menahan Street Band and the Roots, if she needed horns.

As we were coming out of the pandemic, she hit me up and wanted to make some music. We made a few songs and then after that, she asked me to produce her Christmas record, which was super fun because I've never listened to Christmas music. I started to enjoy it, which was weird because I had thought I hated Christmas music. I mean, once you start to dig for Christmas records, pretty much all of your favorite artists have them. I was listening to Christmas music from March to October the entire year. 

After that, we made Visions, which is all original stuff. Norah's just so talented. Her musicianship is actually some of the most impressive I've ever seen or worked with. She's so good that when I play with her, I get intimidated and I forget basic harmony and music theory!

Read more: 5 Inspirations Behind Norah Jones' New Album 'Visions': Nightly Dreams, Collabs, Harmony Stacks & More

We cut that record,  mostly just the two of us. There's a couple of songs where we got a band, but most of it was in my upstate studio. She would just come over from nine to three. She would come after she dropped her kids at school and then have to leave to pick them up. It was super fun to make, essentially just jamming all day.

[Overall] it’s not a huge departure for Norah, but sonically it is a departure, and it's got this very loose, "un-precious" quality. That's maybe a little different from her other stuff.

"Running" was her choice as a single. When it comes to singles — the songs that have actually been most successful — I've wanted to take those off the record. I have no idea what's going to be the hit or not.

Black Thought - "Glorious Game" (Glorious Game, 2023)

That was a total pandemic record — at the start of the pandemic when everyone was completely locked in, we had no idea what was going on.

Black Thought texted me out of the blue, and I think he was just trying to stay busy. So he just said, "Can you send me songs?" I sent him maybe two songs and then he sent back finished verses three or four hours later. Most of that record was just me sending him s— and him sending it back, and then going like that. We had probably 20 songs. 

The time I did spend in the studio with him was, he's a total savant. He sits there while you're playing a song, and it kind of looks like he's on Instagram or f—ing around, you know what I mean? Does this guy even like this song? And then 45 minutes later, he’ll be like "Aight, ready." And he goes in there and, and he'll rap four pages of lyrics in one take. It's insane. He remembers everything;  we'll do a song and then three years later, he'll have to redo it, but he'll know the lyrics from memory.

There's a couple of things that I figured out on that record. One: The thing I love about sampled hip-hop production the most is it's almost always pitch-shifted, which makes a giant difference in the sound. And if the piano has decay or vocals have vibrato, when you pitch it up, it becomes something that is so uniquely hip-hop. The second thing was, with hip hop, one of the best parts about sampling is the choices a producer has to make when they are limited to chopping a two-track mix.  If you have multi-tracks, there are too many options. 

I think that record resonated with people who are hip-hop aficionados who really love the art of emceeing. 

Aloe Blacc - "I Need A Dollar" (Good Things, 2010)

We had just recorded the Lee Fields record, My World. Eothen Alapatt, who used to be a label manager at Now Again, was a friend of mine. [Jeff Silverman and I] started Truth & Soul, but we had no infrastructure. We thought My World would have a bigger reach if Stones Throw took care of the press and distribution. And so Eothen said "Yeah, we can do that, but instead of paying us, just make a record with this artist we have, Aloe Blacc."

I had no idea who he was. And so that was the business deal. We didn't get paid for the record initially. The payment was that they were going to promote Lee Fields record for us. So [Aloe] came to New York, and I did it with my partner at the time, Jeff Silverman, also Nick Movshon, who played on the entire record.

He wanted to do this Bill Withers thing. "I Need A Dollar" was probably my least favorite song on the record. I think I have this aversion to anything that's slightly cheesy, but I've gotten better at it. But at the end of the day, it's just a good song. It got picked up as the theme song to an HBO pilot called "How To Make It In America." And then, it just blew up in Europe. It was No. 1 everywhere. But it never hit in America.

It kind of set me off on a weird path for a minute, because I got a taste of success. And made some poor career decisions. I tried to a do lot of songwriting sessions with strangers.  It was maybe four years until I decided to just make El Michels Records.  

The Carters - "SUMMER" (EVERYTHING IS LOVE, 2018)

At the time, I was making these sample packs and sending them out to producers. One of them was this slow jam, and so the producers called me up and said "We used one of your samples. It's for a giant artist. We can't tell you who it is. You have to approve it now. And you can't hear it, but it's going to change your life." That’s what they kept saying to me. Then they said "It's coming out in two weeks."

So I figured they used one of my samples and chopped it up and did their thing to it.  And so when the record came out, it was Beyoncé and Jay-Z. It was the first track on that record they did together, the Carters. And it was mostly just my original sample with some new bass and string section. So basically it was just Beyoncé and Jay-Z over an El Michael's Affair track. The track was called "Summer," and my original never came out. 

So just hearing Beyoncé, hearing these giant pop voices that I associate with absolute hits, over my song, that was pretty cool.

Liam Bailey - "Dance With Me" (Zero Grace, 2023)

Me and him just have a very crazy chemistry when it comes to music, because it all happens super fast and with very little thought. Sometimes I'll listen to Liam's stuff, and I actually don't know how we did it. That is actually the goal. That’s why Lee "Scratch Perry" is the greatest producer of all time, because he could access that instant input, instant output type of creativity. It just passes through him and then it's on the record. Making music with Liam is like that; I'll make some instrumental, or I'll have an idea and then he'll freestyle lyrics one or two times.

To me, it sounds gibberish, but then he'll go through it and change one or two words and all of a sudden has this crazy narrative, and it's about his childhood [for example]. When I’ve worked with him, he has this same process where it's just kind of "hand to God" s—, just let it happen. I was trying to make something the way Jamaicans did, [like] that brand of Jamaican soul from the mid-'60s. 

Brainstory - "Peach Optimo" (Sounds Good, 2024)

I met those guys through Eduardo Arenas, who's the bass player from Chicano Batman, and he had recorded a couple of demos from them. And they had one song in particular that really caught my attention, which made it onto their first record called "Dead End."

They’re three jazz kids. Their dad was a gospel singer and loved soul and Stevie Wonder. So they grew up on all that stuff as well. Producing a band like Brainstory is super easy, because they rehearse all the time. Most of their songs are written; all I have to do is maybe shuffle around sections or just essentially cut stuff out. Because a lot of times when bands write music and rehearse every day, they just love to play, so sections are endless. 

I'll…have a sound in mind for the record, some reference for me and the engineering hands to kind of work from. And in the case of Sounds Good, the reference for the whole sound of the record was that this is Gene Harris song called "Los Alamitos Latin Funk Love." This is kind of the vibe of the entire record. We just cut that record over the course of a year, but it was two sessions that were maybe six days each. 

Kevin is the main vocalist and he's amazing. He can do that sweet soul background stuff perfectly. And when he does [his own] background vocals, it's this thing that not a lot of people can do where he changes his personality. So he becomes three different people. Then the background sounds like an actual group. 

Behind Mark Ronson's Hits: How 'Boogie Nights,' Five-Hour Jams & Advice From Paul McCartney Inspired His Biggest Singles & Collabs

Jennifer Lopez and Zendaya pose for a photo together at the 2024 Met Gala
Jennifer Lopez and Zendaya attend The 2024 Met Gala

Photo: Kevin Mazur/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

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2024 Met Gala Red Carpet: Music Icons & Celebrities Charm In The "Garden of Time" Including Bad Bunny, Zendaya, Doja Cat & More

From groundbreaking florals to silhouettes in black and piles of tulle, discover all of the spell-binding looks worn by music icons on the Met Gala red carpet in celebration of "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion."

GRAMMYs/May 6, 2024 - 10:52 pm

This year's Met Gala invited guests to step into the enchanting "Garden of Time" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where fashion meets fantasy. Celebrating the Met's exhibit "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion," the first Monday in May saw stars transform the red carpet into a vibrant display of sartorial storytelling. The theme showcased a collection too delicate to wear but alive with the stories of fashion's past.

From co-chairs Zendaya and Bad Bunny to Tyla and Jennifer Lopez, see how music icons and film stars embodied this year's theme with spectacular flair. The gala not only highlighted the sensory and emotional richness of fashion but also set the stage for a night of memorable styles — groundbreaking florals, tiered tulle and all. 

Explore the full spectrum of this year's enchanting looks from fashion's grandest night in the showcase below.

Bad Bunny

Bad Bunny at the 2024 Met Gala

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez at the 2024 Met Gala

Photo: Kevin Mazur/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Zendaya

Zendaya at the 2024 Met Gala

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Tyla

Tyla at the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Donald Glover

Donald Glover at the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Stray Kids

K-pop group Stray Kids at the 2024 Met Gala

Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste at the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah at the 2024 Met Gala

John Shearer/WireImage/Getty Images

Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Christian Cowan and Sam Smith

Christian Cowan and Sam Smith at the 2024 Met Gala

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Jack Harlow

Jack Harlow at the 2024 Met Gala

Marleen Moise/Getty Images

Teyana Taylor

Teyana Taylor at the 2024 Met Gala

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande at the 2024 Met Gala

Kevin Mazur/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Rosalía

Rosalia attends the 2024 Met Gala

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Laufey

Laufey at the 2024 Met Gala

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Shakira

Shakira at the 2024 Met Gala

John Shearer/WireImage

Doja Cat

Doja Cat attends the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

FKA Twigs, Stella McCartney, Ed Sheeran & Cara Delevingne

FKA Twigs and Ed Sheeran on the 2024 Met Gala red carpet

John Shearer/WireImage

Lana Del Ray

Lana Del Ray at the 2024 Met Gala

Kevin Mazur/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Karol G

Karol G at the 2024 Met Gala

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X at the 2024 Met Gala

John Shearer/WireImage

Charli XCX

Charli XCX at the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Cardi B

Cardi B at the 2024 Met Gala

Gotham/Getty Images

Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa at the 2024 Met Gala

Gotham/Getty Images

Lizzo

Lizzo at the 2024 Met Gala

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Eryka Badu

Eryka Badu at the 2024 Met Gala
Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.
Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

feature

Beyond Country: All The Genres Beyoncé Explores On 'Cowboy Carter'

On 'COWBOY CARTER,' Beyoncé is free. Her eighth studio album is an unbridled exploration of musical genres — from country to opera and R&B — that celebrates the fluidity of music and her Texas roots.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 08:50 pm

"Genres are a funny little concept, aren't they? In theory, they have a simple definition that's easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined."

With those words, spoken on "SPAGHETTII" by Linda Martell — the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music and the first to play the Grand Ole Opry solo — Beyoncé provides a proxy response to her original call on Instagram 10 days before COWBOY CARTER was released: "This ain’t a Country album. This is a “Beyoncé” album." 

She delivered on that promise with intent. Through a mix of homage and innovation, Beyoncé's latest is a 27-track testament to her boundless musicality and draws  from a rich aural palette. In addition to its country leanings, COWBOY CARTER includes everything from the soulful depths of gospel to the intricate layers of opera. 

Beyoncé's stance is clear: she's not here to fit into a box. From the heartfelt tribute in "BLACKBIIRD" to the genre-blurring tracks like "YA YA," Beyoncé uses her platform to elevate the conversation around genre, culture, and history. She doesn't claim country music; she illuminates its roots and wings, celebrating the Black artists who've shaped its essence.

The collective album proves no genre was created or remains in isolation. It's a concept stoked in the words of the opening track, "AMERIICAN REQUIEM" when Beyonce reflects, "Nothing really ends / For things to stay the same they have to change again." For country, and all popular genres of music to exist they have to evolve. No sound ever stays the same.

COWBOY CARTER's narrative arc, from "AMERICAN REQUIEM" to "AMEN," is a journey through American music's heart and soul, paying tribute to its origins while charting a path forward. This album isn't just an exploration of musical heritage; it's an act of freedom and a declaration of the multifaceted influence of Black culture on American pop culture.

Here's a closer look at some of some of the musical genres touched on in act ii, the second release of an anticipated trilogy by Beyoncé, the most GRAMMY-winning artist of all-time: 

Country 

Before COWBOY CARTER was even released, Beyoncé sparked critical discussion over the role of herself and all Black artists in country music. Yet COWBOY CARTER doesn't stake a claim on country music. Rather, it spotlights the genre through collaborations with legends and modern icons, while championing the message that country music, like all popular American music and culture, has always been built on the labor and love of Black lives. 

It's a reckoning acknowledged not only by Beyoncé's personal connection to country music growing up in Texas, but the role Black artists have played in country music rooted in gospel, blues, and folk music. 

Enter The World Of Beyoncé

Country legends, Dolly Parton ("DOLLY P", "JOLENE," and "TYRANT"), Willie Nelson ("SMOKE HOUR" and "SMOKE HOUR II"), and Martell ("SPAGHETTII and "THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW") serve mainly as spoken-word collaborators, becoming MCs for Queen Bey. Some of the most prolific country music legends receiving her in a space where she has been made to feel unwelcome in music (most notably with the racism surrounding her 2016 CMA performance of "Daddy Lessons" with the Dixie Chicks) provides a prolific release of industry levies. Martell, a woman who trod the dark country road before Bey, finally getting her much-deserved dues appears as an almost pre-ordained and poetic act of justice. 

"BLACKBIIRD," a version of the Beatles' civil rights era song of encouragement and hope for the struggle of Black women is led softly by Beyoncé, backed by a quartet of Black female contemporary country songbirds: Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts. 

Beyoncé holds space for others, using the power of her star to shine a light on those around her. These inclusions rebuke nay-sayers who quipped pre-release that she was stealing attention from other Black country artists. It also flies in the faces that shunned and discriminated against her, serving as an example of how to do better. The reality that Beyoncé wasn't stealing a spotlight, but building a stage for fellow artists, is a case study in how success for one begets success for others. 

Read more: 8 Country Crossover Artists You Should Know: Ray Charles, The Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper & More

Gospel, Blues, & Folk (American Roots)

As is Beyoncé's way, she mounts a case for country music with evidence to back up her testimony. She meanders a course through a sequence of styles that serve as the genre's foundation: gospel, blues, and folk music.

"AMERIICAN REQUIEM" and "AMEN" bookend the album with gospel-inspired lyrics and choir vocals. The opener sets up a reflective sermon buoyed by  the sounds of a reverberating church organ, while the closer, with its introspective lyrics, pleads for mercy and redemption. The main verse on "AMEN", "This house was built with blood and bone/ The statues they made were beautiful/ But they were lies of stone," is complemented by a blend of piano, and choral harmonies. 

Hymnal references are interlaced throughout the album, particularly in songs like "II HANDS II HEAVEN" and in the lyrical nuances on "JUST FOR FUN." In the later track, Beyoncé's voice soars with gratitude in a powerful delivery of the lines, "Time heals everything / I don't need anything / Hallelujah, I pray to her." 

The gospel-inspired, blues-based "16 CARRIAGES" reflects the rich history of country songs borrowing from the blues while simultaneously calling back to songs sung by field laborers in the colonial American South. "Sixteen dollars, workin' all day/ Ain't got time to waste, I got art to make" serves as the exhausted plea of an artist working tirelessly long hours in dedication to a better life. 

Rhiannon Giddens, a celebrated musician-scholar, two-time GRAMMY winner, and Pulitzer Prize recipient, infuses "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" with her profound understanding of American folk, country, and blues. She plays the viola and banjo, the latter tracing its origins to Sub-Saharan West Africa and the lutes of ancient Egypt. Through her skilled plucking and bending of the strings, Giddens bridges the rich musical heritage of Africa and the South with the soul of country, blues, and folk music.

Pop, Funk, Soul & Rock 'n' Roll 

All in, Beyoncé is a pop star who is wrestling with labels placed on her 27-year career in COWBOY CARTER. Fittingly, she brings in two other pop artists known for swimming in the brackish water between country and pop, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. Her intentional inclusion of two artists who have blurred genres without much cross-examination begs the question, Why should Beyoncé's sound be segregated to a different realm? 

On "YA YA" Linda Martell returns as the listener's sonic sentinel, introducing the track like a lesson plan: "This particular tune stretches across a range of genres. And that’s what makes it a unique listening experience." The tune sinks into the strummed chords of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" before leaping into a fiery dance track that features reimagined lyrics from the Beach Boys, with soulful vocal flourishes and breaks that show the throughline connection between '60s era rock, funk, and pop music.

Robert Randolph lends his hands on "16 CARRIAGES" with a funk-infused grapple on his pedal-steel guitar. It's a style he honed through his early years touring and recording with his family band and later in his career as an in-demand collaborator working with names including the Allman Brothers, and Norah Jones

The lesson is solidified as the album transitions into an interlude on "OH LOUISIANA," featuring a sped-up sample of a classic track by Chuck Berry. This moment emphasizes the pop superstar's nod to civil rights era music history, spotlighting a controversial artist celebrated for his pioneering contributions to rock 'n' roll. (It's a part of music history Beyoncé knows well, after starring as Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, a veiled biopic of the legendary Chicago label Chess Records.)

Classical & Opera

Opera was missing from many listeners' Beyoncé Bingo card, but didn't surprise those that know her background. Beyoncé was trained for over a decade starting at an early age by her voice teacher David Lee Brewer, a retired opera singer who once lived with the Knowles family. 

COWBOY CARTER gives sing-along fans a 101 opera class with "DAUGHTER." In Italian, Beyoncé sings passages from the 1783 Italian opera "Caro Mio Ben," composed by Giuseppe Tommaso Giovanni Giordani. The aria is a classic piece of vocal training that fittingly shows off her full range — taking us back to the earliest days of her vocal teachings.

Hip-Hop & R&B

Midway through the album on "SPAGHETTII" Beyoncé announces, "I ain't no regular singer, now come get everythin' you came for," landing right where expectations have confined her: in the throes of a romping beat, experimenting with sounds that blend hip-hop with R&B and soul. The track notably highlights the talent of Nigerian American singer/rapper Shaboozey, who also shows up to the rodeo on "SWEET HONEY BUCKIN'" brandishing his unique mix of hip-hop, folk-pop, and country music. 

Beyoncé worked with longtime collaborator Raphael Saadiq on this album, a career legend in the R&B industry, who lends his mark to several tracks on which he wrote, produced, and played multiple instruments. Beyoncé also utilizes the Louisiana songwriter Willie Jones on "JUST FOR FUN," an artist who draws on a contemporary blend of country, Southern rap, and R&B in the hymnal ballad. 

The violin-heavy "TYRANT" and "SPAGHETTII" both underscore hip-hop's long love affair with the classical string instrument (See: Common's "Be," and Wu Tang Clan's "Reunited" as the tip of that particular iceberg) with a blend of soulful R&B lyrics paired with beat-based instrumentalization. 

In a world quick to draw lines and label sounds, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER stands as a vibrant mosaic of musical influence and innovation. Ultimately, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER isn't seeking anyone's acceptance. As a Texan once told she didn't belong, her critical response claps back at this exclusion.  It's also a reminder that in the hands of a true artist, music is limitless.

Run The World: Why Beyoncé Is One Of The Most Influential Women In Music History

Beyonce
Beyoncé attends the 2024 GRAMMYs on Feb. 4, 2024.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Beyoncé's New Album 'Cowboy Carter' Is Here: Check Out The Featured Artists, Cover Songs, And Tracklist

Beyoncé's highly anticipated 'COWBOY CARTER' opens up a Pandora's box of American lore, and the deep connections between Blackness and country music. Here's the rundown of the album's featured artists, cover songs and tracklisting.

GRAMMYs/Mar 29, 2024 - 06:00 pm

Beyoncé's act ii is upon us — say hello to COWBOY CARTER.

On March 29, the 32-time GRAMMY winner unleashed the follow-up to her acclaimed 2022 album, RENAISSANCE. While COWBOY CARTER hints "Bey goes country," the LP is more of a psychedelic opus, with glimmers of country twang and style.

Across a sprawling 27-song tracklist of inspired originals flecked with covers and interpolations, Queen Bey takes us on a rodeo ride through so many musical universes, paying homage to the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Linda Martell, and more.

Clearly, there's a treasure trove here — more than enough to keep the Beyhive abuzz throughout 2024. GRAMMY.com is here to help you pore over every twangy lick, mega-guest star and lyrical implication. 

As you dive into Beyoncé's astonishing new album, read on for some of the fundamentals of COWBOY CARTER.

Enter The World Of Beyoncé

The Tracklisting

Two days prior to COWBOY CARTER's release, Bey released the tracklist — fittingly, in the form of a rodeo poster. And much to the delight of the Beyhive, it's nearly double the length of its 16-track predecessor, RENAISSANCE.

Check out the rodeo poster, as well as the complete track listing, below.

  1. AMERIICAN REQUIEM

  2. BLACKBIIRD

  3. 16 CARRIAGES

  4. PROTECTOR

  5. MY ROSE

  6. SMOKE HOUR WILLIE NELSON

  7. TEXAS HOLD 'EM

  8. BODYGUARD

  9. DOLLY P

  10. JOLENE

  11. DAUGHTER

  12. SPAGHETTII

  13. ALLIGATOR TEARS

  14. SMOKE HOUR II

  15. JUST FOR FUN

  16. II MOST WANTED

  17. LEVII'S JEANS

  18. FLAMENCO

  19. THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW

  20. YA YA

  21. OH LOUISIANA

  22. DESERT EAGLE

  23. RIIVERDANCE

  24. II HANDS II HEAVEN

  25. TYRANT

  26. SWEET HONEY BUCKIIN'

  27. AMEN

The Cover Songs

Among two dozen dazzling Beyoncé originals, COWBOY CARTER features covers of the Beatles' "Blackbird," Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and Chuck Berry's "Oh Louisiana."

"BLACKBIIRD" (retitled from "Blackbird," with an act ii flavor) is a Paul McCartney song, credited to Lennon-McCartney and featured on 1968's The Beatles, commonly known as The White Album. The song's civil rights inspiration makes it more than a worthy selection: the use of McCartney's original guitar and foot-tapping track makes it especially ear-grabbing.

"JOLENE" is a Dolly Parton classic, similarly given symphonic heft by Bey; Parton offers a radio-like intro on the COWBOY CARTER rendition.

In Parton's pre-"JOLENE" intro, "DOLLY P," she connects "Jolene" to Bey's immortal line "Becky with the good hair" from the Lemonade track "Sorry": "You know that hussy with the good hair you sing about? Reminded me of someone I knew back when, except she has flamin' locks of auburn hair. Bless her heart. Just a hair of a different color, but it hurts just the same."

"OH LOUISIANA" is a Chuck Berry deep cut from 1971's undersung San Francisco Dues; a flicker of Berry's "Maybellene" appears in "SMOKE HOUR WILLIE NELSON," which also features interpolations of Roy Hamilton's "Don't Let Go" and Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Down By The River Side."

Similarly, "YA YA" contains glimmers of Tommaso Giordani's "Caro Mio Ben," Lee Hazelwood's "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," and the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations."

The Guests

Beyoncé has always displayed razor-sharp intent with her collaborators, and COWBOY CARTER is no exception.

The featured guests highlight a slew of rising Black stars in the country scene. "BLACKBIIRD" spotlights four budding female artists, Brittney Spencer, Renya Roberts, Tanner Addell and Tiera Kennedy; Willie Jones shows off his chops on "JUST FOR FUN"; and country-rap fusionist Shaboozey stars on two tracks, "SPAGHETTII" and "SWEET HONEY BUCKIIN.'"

She also welcomes two country-loving pop stars, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone, who make appearances on "II MOST WANTED" and "LEVII'S JEANS," respectively. And along with Parton, Beyoncé honors two more country greats with two aptly titled homages: fellow Texan Willie Nelson appears on "SMOKE HOUR WILLIE NELSON" and "SMOKE HOUR II," and trailblazer Linda Martell "The Linda Martell Show"

Perhaps Beyoncé's cutest collaborator is her six-year-old daughter, Rumi Carter, who makes her adorable debut on "PROTECTOR."

With that, venture forth into COWBOY CARTER — another quintessentially Bey statement of purpose and prowess.

8 Country Crossover Artists You Should Know: Ray Charles, The Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper & More