meta-scriptAlec Benjamin On Working With Alessia Cara, Meeting His Idol John Mayer & Chasing Dreams | GRAMMY.com
Alec Benjamin

Alec Benjamin

Photo: Recording Academy

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Alec Benjamin On Working With Alessia Cara, Meeting His Idol John Mayer & Chasing Dreams

"People can't enjoy your art if you don't show it to them," Benjamin, who played more than 150 parking lot shows in 2016, told the Recording Academy in an exclusive interview

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2019 - 03:22 am

Phoenix-born, L.A.-based pop singer/songwriter Alec Benjamin calls himself the "narrator," going so far as to name his 2018 debut mixtape Narrated For You.

Over the last year, he's been actively growing his fan base and living his dreams. He's gone from playing more than 150 shows in parking lots outside of other pop artists' concerts in L.A. in 2016 to bringing out his idol, John Mayer, as a surprise guest during his headline show at the El Rey Theater this past May.

We caught up with the rising star to learn more about how he manifested Mayer into his life and how relocating from Arizona to California has shifted his musical career. We also found out what it was like working with recent collaborator (and GRAMMY winner) Alessia Cara, with whom he collaborated.

So you just performed at Bottle Rock in Napa. How was it?

It was awesome. It's the first time in a long I've performed at a festival and the first festival I've done in the U.S. When I first started making music I had the opportunity to do a couple of festivals abroad. But those are actually tented, so it felt like I was inside. This is the first festival I've played that was open air. I had a great time. I've never been to Napa before, it was beautiful.

I learned a lot from that experience because there's so many new things happening. The crowd was great and overall it was fun, but I was really nervous. It's just going to take some getting used to. I have a few more festivals that I'm going to be playing this summer. I'm happy that that was the first one that I did because the crowd was really welcoming and super friendly and also forgiving because I was really, really nervous.

Do you have any lessons from that experience going into Lollapalooza, and other summer festivals, that you're excited to showcase?

Yeah. I think I have a couple of changes that I want to make to the set. I'm excited about Lollapalooza. I'm excited about all of the festivals. And I'm excited about Lollapalooza because of the history that it has and there's so many people playing there. There's going to be a lot of artists that I'm going to get to see that I have never seen before, so that will be great. I'm just trying to go into with an open mind.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">HOUSTON IS ABOUTA BE CRAZY <br><br>last time I was here I played for 200 people <a href="https://t.co/c48vnssdZh">pic.twitter.com/c48vnssdZh</a></p>&mdash; Alec Benjamin (@AlecBenjamin) <a href="https://twitter.com/AlecBenjamin/status/1113605399029145602?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 4, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

That's awesome, it is totally huge. Speaking of touring and live shows, you also wrapped part of your headline tour recently. What was your favorite city that surprised you on the tour?

There's one city that I hadn't spent a lot of time in before I started touring. Not even just for the show, the show was great, but I really like Seattle as a place. I thought it was beautiful and we got there on a really sunny day and we got to go down by the water and really try the food and hang out. People were really friendly.

And then I had a great time in Detroit. I thought Detroit was really, really cool. The crowd there was crazy. But I think overall every city was pretty awesome. I think that was probably the most surprising thing is that how great the crowds were everywhere that we went. Sometimes you don't get to spend as much time in the city exploring as you like. So that was a bit of a bummer, but ultimately I think all the shows were great. That was probably the most surprising thing. Not that I'm surprised the shows were good, but I didn't expect it, you don't expect every crowd to be so amazing and they were.

What do you think was one of the biggest challenges that you maybe didn't expect while touring?

Maybe the biggest challenge is getting adjusted to life on a tour bus. I was in a tour bus accident three years ago. That was a really short tour. This is the longest period I've lived on a tour bus, for almost seven weeks. I didn't realize how much that affected me. That was the first real near-death experience that I had. So getting back on a tour bus and have dreams about it and stuff, that was the hardest part. Just getting adjusted to living life on the road. That was difficult.

You often refer to yourself as a "narrator," and your album is called Narrated For You. Can you speak to how this idea guides the stories behind your music?

I wanted to define myself in that way just because, well, it made it easier in my music videos because then I didn't have to act in them. I could just tell the story. I'm really not great in front of the camera. I also think that sometimes it's nice to take words that you don't necessarily hear in the context of music and repurpose them. I mean, I'm a singer/songwriter, essentially, but that was the thought process behind it.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/PKonqhZ5PsA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

You released a new version of "Let Me Down Slowly," bringing on GRAMMY winner Alessia Cara, resulting in a great pop duet. How did that collaboration come about?

That came about because one of her fans sent me a message and was like, "She's doing promo right now and she was talking about your song!" So I tweeted her. I'm a huge fan of hers. I was like, "Yo, I love your music. We should work together." And she was down, like, "Oh, that would be great." Which was really exciting for me and I was surprised. We couldn't organize a time to write a new song together because we were both on tour. I was like, "Would you wanna do a verse on this song?" So she sent me a voice note of her verse. I was like, "That is amazing."

She has the best voice I've ever heard, ever. On a voice note with no editing. It's crazy. She sent it to me and I was like we should just put this on the song. It's super easy to work with her. She's just a good person.

That's so cool. Have you guys met in person yet?

Yeah. The first time we met was when we made the music video together. It was her and her friend that she travels with, and then I bought them both dinner. I was like, "This is the least I can do." The crazy thing is that we went to Downtown L.A. to get food. And we walked past the GRAMMY Museum, where they have all the people that have won GRAMMYs and one of them is for Best New Artist, which she had won [at the 60th GRAMMY Awards]. We took a picture next to her thing on the sidewalk, which was really cool.

Are there any other artists that you have your eye on working with?

I like it when it's a surprise who you collaborate with. When I thought about it after the collaboration had taken place [with Cara] I was like, oh, that makes sense. But I haven't really been thinking about it that much. I just want to improve my own music and then if the right collaboration comes along that would be great.

You've talked about how John Mayer is one of your biggest inspirations. Do you have any other musical inspirations who made you want to pursue music?

I really love Eminem. I love his storytelling. I'm a big fan of Paul Simon. I love Leonard Cohen. I like Citizen Cope a lot. I listen to a lot of different types of music, I also really like System of a Down. I listen to a lot of rock music and stuff. [Pauses.] Oh, I love Coldplay too.

Can you tell us a little bit about the backstory behind your song "Death of a Hero" and getting to perform it with John Mayer?

Yeah. It was really cool. I was just sitting in my van at that time, we were on tour. One of my friends was like, "Yo, wake up, man. You gotta check Instagram. John Mayer is posting about your music." It came out of nowhere. It was crazy. I had sent him a message in 2017 or 2016 just being like, "I love you. You don't understand. Thank you for everything." And then he saw it and responded to it. That was so cool. So he invited me over to his house to do "Current Mood," the show that he does on his Instagram. We just kept in touch since then and hung out. He came out at my show at the El Rey and performed with me; it was awesome.

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You grew up in Phoenix and live in L.A. now. What was the moment that made you want to move out here? And what was the biggest shift you felt once you then were in L.A.?

I moved from Phoenix to L.A. because there's such a great creative community out here in California for songwriting, and there's a lot of labels and studios and things. When I decided to move my parents were like, "Well, if you want to go to California you have to go to college." So I went to school for a year and then I dropped out because I got a record deal. I was signed for two years and then I got dropped. So I moved back home, but luckily my parents had actually moved to California. Not because of me, it just worked out that way. My parents moved to California for work. So I moved back home and I started playing parking lot shows on the street in front of other artist's concerts to get fans. The last six months of 2016 I played 170 different shows. So I printed out tens of thousands of cards at Staples and handed them out anywhere I went.

It took a long time before I really felt a shift, like oh, this is the right decision. I think sometimes I often even now that I've been on tour and I'm not playing in parking lots anymore. Even though I still would. I'd do whatever I had to do. But even now sometimes I have doubts. I'm like, was this the right choice? But I think when I got to meet John Mayer, the person I looked up to and who he's the guy who inspired me to make music. So when he was like, "You done good," I was like okay, cool. That's dope. Because I was like, "I want to be you." And then he said, when I was doing his "Current Mood" Instagram show, "You're kind of like a version of me." I was like, "Dope." That's what I'm trying for. That moment I was like, okay cool. This was not a terrible decision.

I feel like that's part of being a human, no matter what we do.

Especially in this industry. It can be very fickle. You never know. I don't necessarily always feel like I'm on firm footing. This could all go away tomorrow. But that's the same with anything, you never know what's going to happen in life.

"People can't enjoy your art if you don't show it to them."

What's the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone at the start of their career?

One thing that I can say that was very hard for me to do, which I wish I would have understood sooner, is when you're writing songs and it kind of feels weird to show off your music. You don't want to be like, "Oh, check me out." You don't want to be that person, but at the same time, people can't enjoy your art if you don't show it to them. They're not just going to find it magically. It took me four years to get that. Even if it feels uncomfortable at first, show people your music. Post it, even if it's not perfect. Because it's never going to be perfect. Even the music I put out now, even my favorite songs that I put out I'm like, "They're not ready. Wait." I'm happy that I have people behind me being like "No, it's time."

Even if it takes you finding someone in your life to motivate you to just get your music out, just get it out there because even after it's out and it's solidified even if people like it or whatever, you're still going to be like, "Oh, but I could have... if I was only." It's never going to be perfect so you just have to go and show people and sing for people. If people at a party hand you a guitar, sing. You never know who's going to hear your stuff. Even if it's hard. Just do it.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">last night was a dream come true <br><br>heroes do exist <br><br>thanks for playing with me in LA last night <a href="https://twitter.com/JohnMayer?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JohnMayer</a> <br><br>i love you <a href="https://t.co/RnKY5th6Fk">pic.twitter.com/RnKY5th6Fk</a></p>&mdash; Alec Benjamin (@AlecBenjamin) <a href="https://twitter.com/AlecBenjamin/status/1126940293108944896?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 10, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

GRiZ Talks Pride, Snoop Dogg Collab, Detroit's Music Scene, Giving Back & More

The Spice Girls - Melanie B, Melanie C, Geri Halliwell, Victoria Adams And Emma Bunton, The Spice Girls - Melanie B, Melanie C, Geri Halliwell, Victoria Adams And Emma Bunton
Spice Girls

Photo: Brian Rasic

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On This Day In Music: Spice Girls Release "Wannabe," Their Iconic Debut Single

In 1996, the Spice Girls' spirited anthem not only dominated the charts and airwaves, but also put girl groups on the map. If you want to uncover the magic behind their meteoric rise, "you gotta listen carefully…"

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2024 - 08:44 pm

Who could have guessed that a track recorded in under an hour would become an iconic celebratory anthem of female empowerment and friendship? It seems like the Spice Girls did.

The music industry was ripe for a bouncy pop hit in 1996, and "Wannabe" entered the arena with undeniable power. With an infectious blend of dance-pop and hip-hop, as well as catchy lyrics promoting female empowerment, "Wannabe" carried on the spirit of the early '90s riot grrrl movement while delivering a radio-friendly bop.

The Spice Girls' debut single proved that the girl group wouldn't be wannabe stars for long. The song spent four weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, and was certified platinum multiple times in the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, and several other countries.

Producer Richard Stannard told BBC that the now-canonical British quintet battled Virgin Records to release "Wannabe" as their debut single (executives pushed for "Love Thing"). While both songs would appear on Spice, the Spice Girls' 1996 debut album, the group's instinct and confidence paid off. Twenty-eight years later, "Wannabe" remains an iconic pop song and one of the Spice Girls' most enduring tracks.

While the Spice Girls may have seemed like an overnight success in America, its members had been working their way through the British music scene for years. In March 1994, hundreds of aspiring stars crammed into Dancework Studios in London after an advertisement was posted in The Stage magazine looking for the next girl band.

The groups were randomly split up, taught a dance routine, and then had to perform the song for talent managers and father-son duo, Bob and Chris Herbert. One month later, with 10 girls left, the initial final four — Melanie "Scary Spice" Brown, Melanie "Sporty Spice" Chisholm, Victoria "Posh Spice" Adams, and Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell — were all chosen to form the final group with a then-17-year-old Michelle Stephenson. The group moved into a home together, where they received additional dance training and vocal coaching. However, Michelle was soon replaced by Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton, completing the lineup of Spice Girls that as we know them today.

"Of course I regret I'm not a multi-millionaire like them. But at the time I left the group I knew I was doing the right thing and I still think it was the right thing," Stephenson told The Mirror in 2001. "It wasn't my kind of music and they were not living the lifestyle I wanted." 

Read More: The Evolution Of The Girl Group: How TLC, BLACKPINK, The Shirelles & More Have Elevated Female Expression

The group's charisma and corresponding archetypal personalities were put on display in the music video for "Wannabe." The iconic, single-take music video shot in London’s Midland Grand Hotel (now St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel), became as legendary as the track itself. In 2015, Billboard included the video for "Wannabe" in a list of 10 iconic girl group videos, solidifying the video's lasting impression.

Directed by Johan Camitz, the video was the perfect visual introduction to the group: Ginger Spice unapologetically dances through the hotel in a sparkly Union Jack leotard alongside Scary Spice, whose bold persona is conveyed through carefree dances that included whipping her hair around. The group's distinct, playful personalities remained a key selling point used throughout their career.

"Wannabe" producers Matt Rowe and Stannard first saw the Spice Girls at a showcase, and the duo instantly knew that they had the next group of superstars. Soon after, Rowe and Stannard worked with the group to produce "Wannabe," and the chemistry was undeniable.

In her 2002 book, Catch a Fire: The Autobiography, Brown recalls that the producer duo understood the group's vision and automatically knew how to blend "the spirit of five loud girls into great pop music."

"Wannabe" was an inescapable radio hit in the '90s — for all the right reasons. From the punchy beat and distinctive vocal inflections, to the shouts of "if you wanna be my lover," the song remains as a persistent earworm.

Even science backs that claim up. According to a 2014 study conducted by the University of Amsterdam and Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, researchers found that study participants were able to identify and name "Wannabe" in an average of 2.29 seconds, making it the quickest recognized song in the study. This was ahead of Lou Bega’s "Mambo No 5" and Survivor’s "Eye of The Tiger," and underscores "Wannabe’s" celebrated and timeless status.

While the song itself is a lively, carefree summer anthem perfect for blasting in the car with the windows down, its lyrics resonate with a powerful message of female empowerment and friendship, standing tall above conventional romantic themes.

Read more: 'Spiceworld' At 25: How The Spice Girls' Feminine Enthusiasm & Camp Became A Beacon For Queer Youth 

"Girl Power embodies much more than a gender," Gerri Horner, formerly Halliwell, told BBC in 2017. "It's about everybody. Everybody deserves the same treatment, whatever race you are, gender you are, age you are. Everybody deserves a voice." 

With such a strong debut as "Wannabe," it's clear why the Spice Girls weren't just a one-hit wonder. The British girl group went on to deliver dozens of other pop hits like "Say You'll Be There" and "2 Become 1," which defined the late '90s and early '00s. Released months after "Wannabe," Spice would spend 15 weeks at No. 1 on the Official Charts U.K. Album Chart and also topped the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. The album sold more than 23 million copies worldwide. 

Even after 28 years, the meaning of "zig-a-zig-ah" remains a mystery, but it's a small price to pay for the beloved dance-pop song we cherish today.

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Scene Queen press photo
Scene Queen

Photo: Danin Jacquay

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Meet Scene Queen, The "Chaotic Mess" Cleaning Up The Alternative Scene

"I'm cool taking sticks and stones thrown my way if it means that 10 years down the line there's gonna be another girl that tries to do what I do and gets zero flak for it," Scene Queen says of her take-no-prisoners album, 'Hot Singles In Your Area.'

GRAMMYs/Jul 3, 2024 - 02:14 pm

"F*** the scene, I’m the queen!" Scene Queen announces early on her debut album, Hot Singles in Your Area. Delivered in a snarky sing-song, the exclamation serves as something of a mission statement for everything the singer has set out to accomplish with her winking metal-pop persona.  

On Hot Singles (out June 28 via Hopeless Records), the artist calls out the bad behavior that’s run rampant in the alternative music scene for decades. From the insidious grooming of teen fans ("Headline spot goes to the abuser/ Half my idols are f—ing losers," she sings on blistering lead single "18+"), to the blatant discrimination experienced by female artists in the genre (opener "BDSM"), and date rape drugs and sexual assault ("Whips and Chains") — Scene Queen takes unflinching aim.

Born Hannah Collins, Scene Queen isn’t out to destroy the genre she grew up loving as a Warped Tour-obsessed teenager in suburban Ohio. Instead, she’s using her perspective as a queer female artist and knack for razor-sharp songwriting to make the scene safer, more accountable and, ultimately, more inclusive. 

Featuring high-octane collaborations with the likes of The Ready Set ("POV"), WARGASM ("Girls Gone Wild") and 6arelyhuman ("Stuck"), Hot Singles in Your Area is also an unabashed pleasure ride that introduces listeners to Scene Queen’s unique brand of sexual freedom, self-love, queer pride and self-deprecating humor.

"My fans know that I'm playing into the joke of it a lot," Collins says from her home in L.A. "But a lot of people still don't understand it."

Ahead of her album release, Scene Queen opened up exclusively to GRAMMY.com about finding her voice in the metal space, the pop icons who inspired her persona (from Britney Spears to Paris Hilton, Dolly Parton, and Jessica Simpson), standing up to misogynists, homophobes and haters, and more.

How does it feel to be on the verge of finally releasing your debut album?

Really exciting! But also terrifying in a way. With [2022 EPs] Bimbocore Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, I feel like I told the story of, "Who is Scene Queen? What is this project?" Like, she's very loud and out there and opinionated, and in your face and whatever.  

But this record touches on everything in my life that happened for me to become this version of myself — why I needed to become Scene Queen. I made a whole record about being independent and reclaiming my power and sticking up for myself and sticking up for people in the scene…In a weird way, I'm making jokes this entire album, but it’s a vulnerable album in the sense that I'm revealing a lot via the lens of humor.

How did the Scene Queen persona come about?

I grew up in the alternative space. Like, I went to a million Warped Tours and all of that stuff. I was at shows in Cleveland, like, every weekend during high school. I've been listening to bands like Hawthorne Heights and stuff since I was 8 or 9 years old. So when I was 18, I moved out to L.A. from Ohio, and that was around the time that all of these bands started dropping members left and right because they were finally getting called out for, like, predatory behavior or what have you — just being, generally, not great people.  

Coming into adulthood, you start looking at things through a different lens, like, Oh, that was a weird interaction or Oh, I feel weird that they let me do that at 16 years old. It really felt like, as a woman, the scene wasn't a safe space for me anymore. Then suddenly, during COVID, the only thing I wanted to listen to was, like, super alternative music. 

TikTok introduced me to a lot of bands like The Home Team, that were combining pop-punk with, like, R&B — I always loved that experimental stuff. And I was listening to a ton of BABYMETAL and WARGASM, experimental metal-pop stuff. But I told myself the only way I would come back into the alternative space was if I did it on the terms of what I wished I’d had in the scene growing up.

So now I operate my entire persona as this elevated version of myself because I feel like people need that. Scene Queen is like a superpower for me in a way — she helps in my day-to-day life as Hannah, too.

What makes the Y2K era such a key element of the Scene Queen aesthetic?

Growing up in that time, super hyper-feminine women were often vilified, especially in rock music. If you were super girly at a show, people would assume that you were there to sleep with the band. Like, you weren't as worthy of being there as a man. When I was in high school, I actively chose to dress in mostly all black because I just didn't think I would be taken seriously.

So I wanted to pull that whole era into it and just be like, I'm actively going against everything I grew up with and what the scene told me was acceptable. And now I'm gonna be the antithesis of what any of the people that were misogynistic — or also just underestimated me — would want from me. And now I make the choice every day to irritate those people. [Grins.] 

Growing up, were there female artists you looked up to in the scene?

I just came off of a tour with PVRIS, and [Lynn Gunn] was one of the first queer people I ever knew of within the scene. Which is so crazy to think of back then, that I only had one example of that. She was just, like, openly queer and didn't feel the need to... I don't know, she didn't come out to anyone, she just always existed that way and people didn't criticize her for it. It was the first time that I saw that and was like, Oh, maybe I would be able to do that someday."

But behind the scenes, she was on the receiving end of so much misogyny, because men didn't think they could get something out of her, 'cause they knew that she was a lesbian and whatever. She was enduring 10 years of misogyny and homophobia so that someone like me could come around 10 years later and be this voice in the scene.

So it's cool that I'm getting recognition, but the only reason that I'm able to do this now is because so many women just took extreme hate and terrible things behind the scenes before me. And I still get massive flak for it now. The end goal of all of this, and I think if you ask any woman, they'll tell you the same thing: I'm cool taking sticks and stones thrown my way if it means that 10 years down the line there's gonna be another girl that tries to do what I do and gets zero flak for it. Someday I hope we get there. 

What other female artists helped inspire your Scene Queen persona?  

So there's two different versions of this answer. On the pop side, I'm so obsessed with 2000s pop princesses and also just pop icons in the sense of, like, that bimbo aesthetic. I allude a lot to Britney Spears in my music. Also Paris Hilton. Dolly Parton. Jessica Simpson. Women that, like, knew how they were perceived by the media and played into it, but were so the other way. 

Like if you've ever seen the Paris Hilton documentary [2020’s This Is Paris], she talks about how she put on this voice and everything, because people were just gonna assume that she was dumb anyway. So she completely capitalized on that and was like, "That's fine, I'll take your money and make my career successful. If you're already gonna assume negatively about me, then that's my superpower." Those people really inspired me, and that's very much the aesthetic drive behind my project. 

In the alternative space, there are bands that I grew up with that I was also super into like We Are the In Crowd, VersaEmerge, In This Moment. So there's a lot of women that have helped create the Scene Queen project without knowing.

How much of the album is autobiographical?

It tells the whole tale of coming [to L.A.] and getting my foot in the door, the music industry experience of it all. No one talks about having this second coming of age in your twenties and thirties where you're actually figuring out who you are. I was one of those people that didn't come out, or didn't even fully process that I was queer, until I was in my twenties.

I was just so scared about it 'cause I grew up in a small conservative town. And then I came here and was just like, I need to work in music so bad that I don't even want to think about dating! [Eventually,] I realized I spent all this time trying to be independent and confident. And now I'm going into the dating world. 

Some days you feel like an absolute sex god and the next morning you wake up, and you're on a first date and you have word vomit, and you don't know how to interact with people. So you get a song like "Oral Fixation" where it's just about having absolutely no game when you're dating for the first time. The record really tells the whole story of becoming all of this chaotic mess that is Scene Queen, which is both making fun of itself and hypersexual, and this, and this, and this. 

Read more: 15 LGBTQIA+ Artists Performing At 2024 Summer Festivals 

You play around so much on the album by mixing really serious topics with a sense of humor. How do you balance that in your songwriting? 

I always come into a session with the baseline idea of subject matter and title. This album was a lot easier because it's a concept album in a sense, and I thought of all these [explicit] categories that I could've used… Take "Oral Fixation," for example. That was the first song I wrote for Hot Singles other than the title track. I realized I could write it about word vomit and, like, choking on something, instead. Or, like, the last song of the record is called "Climax" because it's the high point of the record, but it’s actually a really wholesome song.

And then "BDSM" means "Beat Down Slut Metal," but also "Big Dumb Stupid Men." I decided to make that the opening track because I was getting all of these comments that were like, "Scene Queen's a man hater!" for criticizing anything men do in any capacity. This was after my song "Pink Push-Up Bra," which is so specifically about sexual assault that I was like, "OK, of I can't even criticize people that sexually assault women as being bad, then sure, I’ll put it as the first track." 

What was your motivation behind the hypersexualization in some of the songs? 

I think people don't understand that you can be fully confident with yourself and your sexuality and think you're a good person, and worthy of love and worthy of sexual pleasure, while also not taking yourself too seriously. You can still make fun of yourself but also know your self-worth.

As much as I make these self-deprecating jokes, at the end of the day I refuse to be treated poorly. And I think that comes across in all the songs about sexual pleasure and sexuality. You learn at a young age — especially if you've been closeted for a long time — [the feeling of] I robbed myself of so much joy for so long. I deserve to get off for something. [Laughs.] I deserve a little bit of joy in my life. So I tried to write that. 

"M.I.L.F" is obviously a raunchy, very sexual song. But that song came from spending a summer in Nashville, and I was always just like, "Tennessee: conservative." But there's this huge population of people who have stayed or moved to Tennessee; who grew up listening to country music but then shied away from it because their beliefs no longer resonated with the [genre's] subject matter. So I wanted to have a song for those people who are like, "Yeah, I still wanna go chug a beer and jump off a boat on a lake, but also, I am pro-gay marriage and whatever."

I wrote a song that I knew the people who were country elitists, that would never like me anyway, would be horrified by. And the way I did that was via very explicit lyrics and the most sexual content ever. But it ends up being one of the rowdiest songs in my live set, because so many people truly do want to just put a hat on and do a line dance. They just don't want to be judged when they do it, you know?

So it ended up being this weird statement that I didn't necessarily fully think it would be, but it's one of my favorite parts of my set now. Having that little hoedown for the hoes every week is really fun for me.

I actually just attended this charity event at Stonewall for this organization called Inclusion Tennessee, where I learned that Nashville is the largest city in the country without its own LGBTQ center. Queer people in those types of communities are still fighting constantly for resources and inclusion and acceptance.

It is so wild, too, 'cause there's this discussion around Chappell Roan making that statement at Gov Ball about not performing at the White House, and then going to play in Charlotte, where North Carolina obviously has conservative views as a whole. There are so many pockets of queer communities that are actively seeking out someone that will advocate for them and give them a voice, and I think it is so cool. It's such a privilege to get to be one of those people now. 

This summer, you’ll be co-headlining idobi Radio’s Summer School Tour. What are you looking forward to about that?

That tour, in and of itself, is so cool and exciting for me. Because one, it has the rotating co-headliners, which emphasizes the importance of music discovery. You have to show up at the beginning of the day to see who you want to see. Anyone that grew up with Warped Tour obviously is going to be stoked to have something like that.

But also, there are so many queer people and women and people of color on that tour. The lineup is so diverse and I feel like if that tour had existed in the 2010s and 2000s and ‘90s even, that never would've happened. So the fact that the initial launch looks that way makes me so hopeful for the future of it. 

OK, last two questions: What’s the most memorable Warped Tour set you ever saw? And what are your top 3 "Bimbo" pop songs? 

Most memorable Warped Tour set: I'd probably say the first time I ever crowd-surfed. I think I was, like, 13, it was to the band Sleeping with Sirens, and that was just the pinnacle of, like, "I love alternative music!"

Then as far as the "Bimbo" pop songs, hmm...I have to say "I’m a Slave 4 U" just because that Britney Spears music video is so iconic — the dancing, all of it. We gotta do a Paris Hilton song. It was hard to be in a mall food court in the late 2000s and not be humming "Stars Are Blind." Yeah, soundtrack to my youth, for sure. And then "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton even though that’s country, not pop. Like, how do you not want to trot out there to [sings], "Hopped out of bed and I stumbled to the kitchen..."? It just gets the bimbo vibes going.

Listen To GRAMMY.com's 2024 Pride Month Playlist Of Rising LGBTQIA+ Artists 

LISA from BLACKPINK

Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images

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New Music Friday: Listen To New Songs From LISA From Blackpink, Lil Nas X, Kelsea Ballerini, MC Lyte & More

Hot summer days require even hotter tunes. Here are some fresh-out-the-oven songs and albums by Hiatus Kaiyote, Lucky Daye, Headie One, Kaitlin Butts, and more.

GRAMMYs/Jun 28, 2024 - 05:09 pm

We’ve been feeling the heat for a minute now, but summer is finally, officially, upon us.

What do you have on deck to soundtrack it? Perhaps you’re checking out Camila Cabello’s fourth offering, C,XOXO. Or Jxdn’s expectations-bucking new album, When the Music Stops. And there are so many other worthy candidates for your playlist — from Lupe Fiasco’s Samurai to Omar Apollo’s God Said No.

No matter where your stylistic compass points, this Friday release day has got something for you. As you gather your sunscreen and shades, let’s breeze through a cross-section of what’s out there.

LISA — "Rockstar"

K-pop loves its solo releases, showcasing how the various members of a group can shine individually while combining with ecstatic chemistry. Enter LISA, one-fourth of Korean titans BLACKPINK, who's already turned heads with her 2021 debut album, Lalisa.

"Rockstar" is another swing outside her main gig, featuring serrated chiptune production and LISA's commanding rap flow. The gritty, urban, futuristic video is a visual treat, and the chorus's boast of "Lisa, can you teach me Japanese?" is a multilingual flex — as well as a maddeningly unshakeable earworm.

Kelsea Ballerini & Noah Kahan — "Cowboys Cry Too"

The "Peter Pan" heavyweight and four-time GRAMMY nominee Kelsea Ballerini has called 2024 "a new chapter of music." Her collaboration with folk/pop singer/songwriter Noah Kahan, "Cowboys Cry Too,"  is the tip of the spear.

More than a month after the pair performed together at the 2024 Academy of Country Music Awards, their first recorded team-up is an aching, yearning ballad about breaking down a gruff exterior and revealing true emotions.

"Cowboys cry too/ They may not let 'em fall down in their hometown thinkin' they still got s*** to prove," Ballerini sings in the chorus. "That well runs deep/ But when he's showin' his skin, lettin' mе in, that's when he's toughest to mе."

Lil Nas X — "Here We Go!" (from the Netflix film 'Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F')

"So excited to release the best song of all time this friday!," Lil Nas X proclaimed on Instagram. (And on a Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, no less!)

"Here We Go!" comes at an inflection point for the "J Christ" singer: "sorry I've been so scared with my art lately," he added in the same post. "I'm coming around to myself again. I will make you guys very proud."

This pro forma banger certainly inspires pride: tenacious lines like "I'm livin' and livin' I wanna die/ They tryna get even/ I'm beatin' the odds" will get under your skin. As for Beverly Hill Cop: Axel F, the Eddie Murphy joint will whiz to your screen July 3 via Netflix.

Lucky Daye — 'Algorithm'

Lucky Daye picked up a win for Best Progressive Album at the 2022 GRAMMYs, for Table for Two. After a slew of nominations for work with Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige, he's investigating the Algorithm.

The single "HERicane" was just a teaser, with songs like "Blame," featuring Teddy Swims; "Paralyzed," featuring RAYE;" and "Diamonds in Teal" expanding on and honing his soul-funk-R&B vision.

"Don't know pickin' sides/ 'Cause I'm rollin' in desire," he dreamily sings in the gently roiling "Diamonds in Teal." "I don't know which lie's true/ Or maybe I do, or maybe I'm you." It's a suitable mission statement wrapped in a stealthily seductive package.

Hiatus Kaiyote — 'Love Heart Cheat Code'

A jazzy, soulful, psychedelic band of Aussies, Hiatus Kaiyote has been wowing audiences for more than a decade. Whether through sampling or features, they've crossed paths with Drake, Anderson .Paak, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

Love Heart Cheat Code builds brilliantly on their last three albums: their 2012 debut Tawk Tomahawk, 2015's Choose Your Weapon, and 2021's Mood Valiant. Tracks like "Telescope," "Everything's Beautiful," and "Make Friends" are burbling brooks of atmosphere, groove and vibe.

Boulevards — 'Carolina Funk: Barn Burner on Tobacco Road'

Any fans of deep, pungent funk grooves should investigate Boulevards immediately. The project of mastermind Jamil Rashad, their new album Carolina Funk: Barn Burner on Tobacco Road tips its hat to yesterday's funk with a contemporary twist, bringing a refreshing spin on the well-trod template of syncopated basslines and stabbing horns.

Across highlights like "Do It Like a Maniac Part 1&2" and "Run & Move," Boulevards shows — once again — that few can nail this gritty sound quite like Rashad and crew.

Headie One — 'The Last One'

British drill-inflected MC Headie One first made a splash overseas with his 2023 debut album, Strength to Strength. Less than a year later, he's returning with The Last One.

Back in 2022, he hinted at the existence of his sophomore album in his non-album track "50s" — "The fans calling for 'Martin's Sofa'/ It might be the first single from my second," he rapped. 

Helmed by that single, The Last One features Potter Payper, Stormzy, Fridayy, Skrillex, and more. The album is a leap forward in terms of production, scale and exploration.

Katlin Butts — 'Roadrunner!'

Any theater kid worth their salt knows at least a few bars from the musical "Oklahoma!"; country sensation Kaitlyn Butts has just unfolded it into an entire album.

"It's a love story but there's also a murder and a little bit of an acid-trippy feel to it at times; it's set in the same place where I come from," she said in a statement, noting she saw "Oklahoma!" with her parents every summer during childhood. "Once I got the idea for this album," she continued, "I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it before, and it turned into something that completely encompasses who I am and what I love." 

A laugh riot as well as a colorful, openhearted statement, Roadrunner! does the old Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut good.

Read more: 5 Female Artists Creating The Future Of Country Music: Jaime Wyatt, Miko Marks & More

Amaarae — 'roses are red, tears are blue — Fountain Baby Extended Play'

Futurist Afropopper Amaarae made a gigantic splash with her second album, 2023's Fountain Baby — even Pitchfork gave it their coveted Best New Music designation.

That lush, enveloping album just got an expansion pack: roses are red, tears are blue — A Fountain Baby Extended Play is a continuation of its predecessor with six new songs. The oceanic "wanted," featuring Naomi Sharon, is a highlight, as is a remix of "Disguise" with 6LACK.

"Ooh, I'll be wanted/ I've been wanted," a pitch-shifted Sharon sings near the end, as if turning over the phrase. "Wanted" is one way to describe Amaraae's position in the music landscape.

Learn more: Meet The Latest Wave Of Rising Afrobeats Stars: AMAARAE, BNXN, Oladapo & More

MC Lyte — "King King" (feat. Queen Latifah)

The 50th anniversary of hip-hop may have come and gone, but hip-hop is forever. Today, legendary hip-hop pioneers MC Lyte and Queen Latifah continue to bear the flame of the genre as an elevating force with "King King," a conscious, uplifting offering.

"This is dedicated to all the kings and all the soon to be kings/ We're counting on you/ We love  you/ This is for you, you and you and you," MC Lyte begins, while Latifah holds it down on the chorus with "This your crown hold it/ Even if it all falls down show it/ You know the world is watching now I know you get tired from keepin' it all together/ We need you."

During Women's History Month in March, MC Lyte released "Woman," the first single from her upcoming album, featuring hip-hop icons Salt (of Salt 'N Pepa), Big Daddy Kane, and R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn. MC Lyte's first new album in nearly a decade drops this summer; keep your eyes and ears peeled.

Learn more: 9 Teen Girls Who Built Hip-Hop: Roxanne Shante, J.J. Fadd, Angie Martinez & More

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Camila Cabello attends the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.
Camila Cabello attends the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party

Photo: Karwai Tang/WireImage

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Camila Cabello's Sonic Evolution To 'C, XOXO': How She Went From Pop Princess To Club Star

With her fourth album, 'C, XOXO,' Camila Cabello introduces a new sound inspired by the sweaty dance floors of the Miami club scene. Here's a breakdown of the musical shape-shifting that's led the star to her hyperpop venture.

GRAMMYs/Jun 28, 2024 - 01:18 pm

When Camila Cabello unleashed the singles "I LUV IT" and "HE KNOWS" from her highly anticipated fourth album C, XOXO this past spring, it was obvious that the pop superstar had completely flipped her previous sound on its head. Decidedly hyper-pop, the album is tailor-made for the club, with Cabello saying it's all sonically dedicated to the late-night culture of her home city of Miami. 

While her new sonic direction might be a bit jarring for those who were fans of her previous bubblegum flavors or Latin-inspired tracks, it's not entirely surprising that she's trying something new with this album. Since her 2016 departure from the girl group Fifth Harmony, the singer has been known to take musical chances when it comes to her career. Now, she adds frenetic club tracks to the list. 

From the innocence of her breakthrough to a more grown-up sound and every detour in between, this is how Camila Cabello's artistic voice has evolved through the years. 

Reality Show Breakout: Classic Covers

It may seem hard to believe now, but there was a time when Cabello was just another singing talent vying for her big break when she attended a cattle call audition for "The X Factor."  Cabello's interest in performing actually came as a shock to her parents. "She was so shy, so shy," her mother Sinuhe told the New York Times in 2018. "We didn't even think music was a possibility for her."

Oddly enough, her successful audition with Aretha Franklin's soul classic "Chain of Fools" never even aired (the show reportedly couldn't get the rights to the song). Nevertheless, you know the rest: she was grouped together with Ally Brooke, Normani, Dinah Jane, and Lauren Jauregui, and Fifth Harmony was born. The group quickly became known for powerhouse vocals on covers ranging from Elie Goulding's "Anything Could Happen,"  to Cabello belting out solo while performing The Beatles classic "Let It Be" during their stint on the show; the quintet ultimately placed third. 

Girl Group Launching Pad: Party-Friendly Anthems

As part of Fifth Harmony, Cabello's initial sound was decidedly pop-dance songs, perfect for a high school prom — a fitting style for the then teenage star. Songs like their dynamic debut single "Miss Movin' On", the playfully sexy "Work From Home," and horn-tinged "Worth It" cemented them as bona fide pop breakouts. But eventually, Cabello realized that her and her group mates were drifting apart.  

"I started distancing myself from the group vision," she admitted to the Call Me Daddy podcast earlier this year. "It felt like you know they were still really passionate and into that and so, I was just like, 'I'm not happy here anymore, it doesn't feel aligned.'"


With that, Cabello shocked fans when she departed the group in December 2016. "Fifth Harmony wasn't the maximum expression of me individually," she told Seventeen a couple months after her surprise departure, alluding to her shift to more personal songs. "My fans are really going to know me from the music I'm writing. My goal is to be brave and open up my soul."

Solo Stardom: Personal Pop Confections

By the time Cabello's self-titled debut studio album was released in 2018, it was apparent that leaving the group that made her a star would pay off. Her initial forays into solo stardom came in the form of collaborations, first in 2015 with eventual on-and-off flame Shawn Mendes on "I Know What You Did Last Summer," and then with Machine Gun Kelly for 2016's Pop Airplay-topping (and Fastball sampling) "Bad Things." But her 2017 collab hinted that she was destined to be a superstar: "Havana."

Featuring Young Thug, the salsa-inspired song earned Cabello her first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. It also marked a difference from her former bubblegum sound, and proved the Cuba-born star could successfully bridge the gap between mainstream success and her own story. Meanwhile, the single "Never Be The Same" (for which she recruited Frank Dukes, known for his work with Lorde and Post Malone) proved she could embody a more adult pop sound. 

"I feel like the best way to come up with something new and different is just to be the you-est you possible," Cabello told the New York Times when the album was released. "If you pull from all the different little parts of yourself, nobody can replicate that."  

Cabello also embodied these hallmarks for her sophomore album, Romance, which featured a heartfelt ode to her dad, "First Man," and several songs inspired by her, well, romance with Mendes. That included "Señorita," which actually featured Mendes; the song quickly became Spotify's biggest streaming song of the summer of 2019. And with a sultry Latin flair, "Señorita" offered another nod to her roots — and the sounds that would soon be the focus of her music. 

Sonic Trip Down South: Latin Roots

With the success of songs like "Havana" and "Señorita" in mind, Cabello made her junior album a full-on salute to her Cuban heritage in the form of Familia. Each track is decidedly Spanglish, from lead single "Bam Bam," an inspired collaboration with Ed Sheeran (who featured her on his own Latin-inspired track, "South of the Border," in 2019), to "Hasta los Dientes,"which featured the Argneitian star María Becerra.  

"This [album] has been finding my way back," she explained to GRAMMY.com at the time. "A big part of that is my roots, and my heritage. I want to spend the most time in Latin America and in Mexico because it just makes me feel like myself."  

According to the star, the album bolstered her confidence; in turn, it helped her fully feel free to express herself. "There's no walls of any of that other, like, ego stuff up. So that's why [Familia] was the most fun experience, and what I think is my best work so far." 

Read More: How Camila Cabello Found Herself With 'Familia,' An Album That Ties Together Her Latin Roots And "An Unfiltered Me"

Latest Chapter: Hyperpop Diversion

With the first single from her fourth project, "I LUV IT" (featuring Playboy Carti), it was obvious Cabello was about to embark on yet another complete reconstruction of her sound. The song served as a tantalizing hint that the singer's next album, C, XOXO, ventured in a hyperpop direction. In reality, it's a concept album based on long, late, wild, and sometimes melancholy nights in Miami. Second single, "HE KNOWS" with Lil Nas X, marked further proof. 

"We wanted to see how we could take these cadences that have a certain swagger and contrast it with beautiful music and pretty chords and lush guitar," Cabello told PAPER Magazine of her latest process earlier this year. But while not every song exhibits that oft-discussed Charli XCX-influenced hyperpop sound, her aforementioned lead singles arguably do."We were mixing and matching to find something new and inspiring. If it's a sweet melody, let's make the music scary. If she has a rap flow, let's make the music acoustic."  

The album's tracks also develop with an ominous aura. "Pretty When You Cry," for example, sounds like it's sung while sitting on a sidewalk outside the club one late night with mascara streaking; in the distance the listener hears the warped, low echoes of an inspired sample of Pitbull's "Hotel Room Service." As a result, the music is the starkest contrast yet from her bubblegum past — further proof that Cabello's penchant for genre-swapping has turned into a singular aspect of her superstar career. 

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