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

Alec Benjamin

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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.

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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>

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Normani in 2023
Normani attends Elle's Women In Hollywood event in 2023.

Photo: MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images

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Breaking Down Normani's Journey To 'Dopamine': How Her Debut Album Showcases Resilience & Star Power

The wait for Normani's first album, 'Dopamine,' is officially over. Upon the album's arrival, reflect on all of the major moments that have happened in the six years since she made her solo debut.

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2024 - 09:39 pm

All eyes are on Normani as her long-awaited debut album, Dopamine, arrives to eager fans and critics alike on June 14. It arrives more than six years after Normani made her solo debut post-Fifth Harmony — and though she has released a number of singles since, even her most loyal listeners were bewildered by the delay of her debut project. But the 28-year-old has been strategic in building something timeless.

"I took the time to learn and develop my sound. I wanted to be different and create a body of work that's unique but still fresh and exciting," Normani tells GRAMMY.com. "There were many days of trial and error trying to perfect something that embodies who I am and the type of artist I wanted to be. I always knew that I had to trust myself even when others doubted me and questioned my hunger."

On the highly anticipated Dopamine, Normani's womanhood and artistic breadth effortlessly glides across its 13 tracks. She makes no apologies for her sexier image and music after years of "feeling safe with being seen, but not too seen," as she told Teen Vogue in 2020. That newfound confidence translates into a musical paradise that's a far cry from her Fifth Harmony days. Up until now, the world has only received Normani's talent in snippets here and there; Dopamine finally gives us the full dose.

As you dig into Dopamine, take a look at a complete breakdown of every major moment that's led to Normani's long-awaited debut project.

2018: She Re-Introduced Herself As An R&B Star

A mere month prior to Fifth Harmony's hiatus announcement, a then 21-year-old Normani teamed up with Khalid for her first-ever single as a solo act, "Love Lies." Penned for the Love, Simon soundtrack, the sultry R&B number foreshadowed Normani's imminent success outside of Fifth Harmony; not only did it crack the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it hit No. 1 on both Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 and Radio Songs charts.

At the tail end of 2018, Normani delivered another R&B jam, the hazy, slow-burning duet with 6lack, "Waves," which found success on multiple R&B charts. Though somewhat forgotten compared to "Motivation" and "Wild Side" (more on those later), "Waves" shows off Normani's vocal range as she laments over an on-again, off-again relationship.

2019: She Celebrated A Global Smash & Massive Opening Act Slot

Normani struck gold again in 2019 when she teamed up with Sam Smith for "Dancing With a Stranger," which became the most-played radio song in the world that year, according to Forbes. Sonically speaking, the disco-tinged oasis marked new territory for Normani — and it paid off in a big way as it boasts over a billion Spotify streams and remains her biggest single to date.

The singer's star continued shining bright into that summer, when she served as the opener for the North American leg of Ariana Grande's Sweetener Tour. The arena trek marked her first opportunity to show off her performing skills, and further prove her prowess as a solo act.

On the heels of the international success of "Dancing With a Stranger" and touring with Grande, Normani released her first fully solo single, "Motivation." The bubbly track presented a poppier side and offered a fun moment with its Y2K-inspired video, even igniting a viral dance challenge. But it seemingly wasn't indicative of the direction she was headed; at the time, Normani admitted to The Cut that she "didn't feel like it represented" her as an artist.

Still, "Motivation" served as a pivotal moment for Normani. It became a top 20 hit on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 chart, and she delivered a showstopping performance of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards — which even earned the title of 2019's best performance from Harper's Bazaar.

2020 & 2021: She Teamed Up With Two Of Rap's Biggest Female Stars

The next couple of years saw Normani continue linking up with several of her peers. She first joined forces with Megan Thee Stallion for the anthemic "Diamonds" — which brilliantly samples Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" — off the Birds of Prey soundtrack. Soon after, she teamed up with Megan again — this time, for a jaw-dropping cameo in the video for the chart-topping smash "WAP" with Cardi B.

"WAP" drew criticism for its sexually explicit lyrics (and equally racy video), but the message aligned perfectly with Normani's mission to champion and represent Black women in and outside of the music industry. 

"The 'WAP' video I was really, really excited to be a part of, just because I feel like we're in a time in music where women — and Black women — are really on top, which is something I feel like we haven't seen in a very, very long time," she told Teen Vogue. "Where I come from, we were all about female empowerment. The fact that I could be a part of such a special moment embracing our sexuality, in which I definitely think there's a double standard, [was exciting] to be a part of it."

In 2021, Normani took her turn with Cardi B on another fiery track, "Wild Side," which saw her return to her R&B foundation while also continuing her artistic evolution. From sampling Aaliyah's "One in a Million" to executing the intricate choreography seen in the Tanu Muino-directed video, the '90s-inspired slow jam — which closes out Dopamine — whet fans' appetite and established Normani as a force to be reckoned with in R&B and beyond.

2022: She Traversed Several Different Musical Worlds

Keeping fans on their toes, Normani veered away slightly from her signature R&B sound by incorporating synth-pop into the one-off single "Fair." The mid-tempo track put the spotlight on her vulnerability; the lyrics deal with watching a past lover move on as if you never existed.

"This one is really unique and different for me. Probably not what everyone is expecting," she said in an Instagram story ahead of the release.

A few months later, Normani dove deeper into the dance genre by lending her light and airy vocals to Calvin Harris' "New to You," a collaboration that also featured Tinashe and Offset. But she never strayed too far from her R&B stylings, as she also teamed up with childhood friend Josh Levi for a remix of his song "Don't They" that summer.

2023: She Ushered In A New Era

Though 2023 didn't see any new music from Normani, she made some business moves that indicated she was ready for a reset. That May, Normani parted ways with S10 Entertainment and Brandon Silverstein after signing a new management deal with Brandon Creed and Lydia Asrat — signifying a new chapter and much-needed change in direction. 

"The transition signified a new beginning, filled with hopes of  moving forward and getting things done that were important to me," Normani tells GRAMMY.com. "I was faced with many obstacles over the years, some that you would not believe. But through it all, my faith in God kept me aligned with what I felt was right for me."

A couple months later, Normani launched a partnership with Bose that saw her give a first preview of the assertive Dopamine track "Candy Paint." She also offered some insight to the album delays, which partially stemmed from her parents' health struggles.

"It was hard feeling misunderstood because of the lack of knowledge people had for my circumstances in real-time. I don't even know if I had the energy to explain — my emotional, spiritual and mental endurance was really tested," she explained to Dazed. "When my parents got sick, I didn't have the mental capacity to even try to be creative, but I pushed myself anyway. If it weren't for them, I probably wouldn't have, but I know it's what got them through such a tough time — they needed to see me persevere and push through and continue to move forward."

As she shared with Bose, crafting Dopamine ended up being a creative outlet for Normani and offered a sign of hope for her and her parents during their respective treatments.

"(When my mom was going through chemo) the thing that really kept her going was getting on FaceTime and being like, 'How are the sessions going?' She's always so eager to hear the new records we've been working on," she said. "And then a year later, when my dad ended up being diagnosed, he would say mid treatment, 'I'm ready for you to take over the world.'"

2024: She Completed A Hard-Fought Journey

By the beginning of 2024, even Normani couldn't help but acknowledge how long fans had been waiting for her debut LP. She facetiously launched a website called wheresthedamnalbum.com — but it actually served as the official kickoff to the album campaign.

Two months after she shared the album's title and stunning cover art on the site, Normani delivered the guitar-driven lead single "1:59" arrived, as well as a release date for Dopamine.

Despite a series of false starts and personal challenges, Dopamine is proof that Normani is as resilient as they come — and this project was well worth the wait. Opening tracks "Big Boy" and "Still" flex her swag, whereas Janet Jackson-coded tunes like "All Yours" and "Lights On" (co-written with Victoria Monét) ooze sensual vibes. While the album mostly caters to her R&B foundation, she touches on her dance music dabblings with the house-leaning"Take My Time." 

Dopamine even offered a full-circle moment for Normani, who has cited Brandy as one of her biggest musical inspirations. The R&B trailblazer lends background vocals to "Insomnia," which also features hypnotic production from Stargate

As Normani embraces her close-up, she's keenly aware that the stakes are high, but it's a moment she's been ready for all along.

"I hope [fans] see the passion and the hard work that I have put into creating something so special," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I love my fans and how they have been patiently waiting and supporting me over the years. I hope the wait was worth it for them and they are proud of what we have accomplished together."

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Lana Del Rey performing in 2024
Lana Del Rey performs at the 2024 Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona.

Photo: Xavi Torrent/Redferns

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Levels Of Lana: 12 Songs To Explore Lana Del Rey's Career For Every Kind Of Fan

As Lana Del Rey's third album, 'Ultraviolence,' turns 10, build — or expand — your knowledge of the melancholy pop queen's catalog.

GRAMMYs/Jun 13, 2024 - 03:12 pm

When it comes to exploring Lana Del Rey's discography, it can be hard to know where to start. The pop songstress has a sprawling catalog, consisting of nine albums, four EPs, and a handful of other standalone singles.

You could begin with Born To Die, her highly influential major label debut, or its moody follow-up, Ultraviolence, her first to top the Billboard charts and ultimately establish her staying power as an artist. Perhaps you choose to start with her Album Of The Year GRAMMY nominees Norman F—ing Rockwell! or Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.

Or maybe you're an incredibly diehard fan with encyclopedic knowledge who wants to start where it all began, on Rey's first album Lana Del Ray (note the spelling difference), which never saw official physical release and contained just a rough draft of the cultural force Del Rey would become.

Following Del Rey's career is rewarding, but requires some commitment to listen to, and understand, everything she's put out. It can be intimidating to approach an artist with such a robust, varied catalog. You can go with more mainstream pop offerings like her collaborations with Taylor Swift and The Weeknd, or dive into something more inspired by the orchestra like early track "National Anthem." This is true for fans with any amount of exposure to Del Rey, from those just discovering her music to those looking to become an expert.

As Ultraviolence turns 10, GRAMMY.com presents the levels of Lana, a series of jumping off points to explore all the music Del Rey has to offer. Dig into three songs across four different levels of fandom — Beginner, Intermediate, Expert, and Diehard — to further your Lana knowledge. These songs give a peek into various aspects of Del Rey's body of work, and serve as encouragement to continue exploring.

Beginner

"Summertime Sadness," Born to Die (2012)

The Beginner Level of Lana is for those who have heard of Del Rey, but have never sat down with her music before. This makes "Summertime Sadness," her biggest song to date, the perfect place to start.

It's reductive to simply label Del Rey's oeuvre "sad girl music," but for the uninitiated, it's a simple descriptor to start with. "Summertime Sadness" combines the pop production, elements of classical music, and existential despair that is present throughout Del Rey's career. And Cedric Gervais' remix has turned "Summertime Sadness" into a club banger to help her appeal to those who gravitate more to the dance floor.

"Young and Beautiful," The Great Gatsby: Music from Baz Luhrmann's Film (2013)

It speaks to Del Rey's cultural reach and musical vision that a non-album single is one of her most iconic songs. Written for the 2013 The Great Gatsby movie adaptation, "Young and Beautiful" also serves as a helpful thematic introduction to Del Rey.

Throughout her writing, Del Rey examines youth, Americana, and the American Dream, and how each of these uniquely American ideals are full of decay and liable to corruption and disappointment. On "Young and Beautiful," she asks if her lover will still care when she's no longer either of those things, and the somber tone indicates the likely answer. This song will introduce fans to Del Rey's penchant for using orchestral backing for her music, and illustrate how intertwined with popular culture she really is. 

"Mariners Apartment Complex," Norman F—ing Rockwell! (2019)

The past two songs have introduced Del Rey's "sad girl" persona, but over the years, she has evolved far past being so easily defined. "Mariners Apartment Complex" is the perfect next step for beginners, opening up the popular perception to her to reveal more of her complexity.

Lyrically, it finds Del Rey pushing back on sorrow being her only emotion. Musically, it's a great introduction to more of the ethereal, synth-filled sound that has come out of her partnership with superproducer Jack Antonoff. And in terms of placing her within the culture, "Mariners Apartment Complex" is the first single from her sixth album Norman F—ing Rockwell!, which earned Del Rey her first Album Of The Year nomination in 2019.

Intermediate

"Brooklyn Baby," Ultraviolence (2014)

At the Intermediate level, it's time to start getting into more of the nuances that Del Rey brings to her writing — and, in turn, how much she's influenced her peers, and how respected she is amongst them.

"Brooklyn Baby" is some of her sharpest writing, equal parts playful needling and affectionate tribute to the snooty New York art scene. One of the most indelible tracks off of Ultraviolence, the song epitomizes the entire record's move towards more rock instrumentation, with a guitar-based sound. It references legendary rock artist Lou Reed, who was slated to appear on the track before his death in late 2013, showing just how highly she's thought of by other artists.

"Love," Lust for Life (2017)

For as much as Del Rey recognizes how fallible many of our culture's ideals are, she's always been a romantic. "Love," the first single from 2017's Lust for Life, is a prime example of this.

The whole album is a big play on her love of classic Hollywood imagery, including the video for "Love," and the song is a dreamy throwback to '50s love songs. If "Mariners Apartment Complex" chides anyone thinking Del Rey can only be sad, "Love" is a full rebuke, as it's one of her most straightforwardly optimistic tracks. Commercially, "Love" was Del Rey's highest-charting feat since Ultraviolence (landing at No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100), further establishing that she had longevity. 

"Chemtrails over the Country Club," Chemtrails over the Country Club (2021)

2020 and the pandemic did a number on everyone, radically altering lives and shaking faith in many of the institutions of everyday life. That unmooring is felt on Del Rey's seventh album, Chemtrails over the Country Club, and particularly on its title track.

Del Rey is as sharp as ever in exploring the pulse of American society on the dreamy, disaffected number. "You're in the wind, I'm in the water/ Nobody's son, nobody's daughter" is a breathtaking piece of writing that became a TikTok favorite, illustrating Del Rey's continuing ability to relate to the youth. 

Expert

"F—ed My Way Up To the Top," Ultraviolence (2014)

As we enter the realm of the Expert Lana Del Rey fan, we're firmly out of album singles territory. From here, it's all deep cuts and non-album tracks.

Del Rey has been no stranger to controversy — some warranted, some not. An early knock against her was that the mid-20th century aesthetic and perceived submissiveness in her music was anti-women or anti-feminist, a surface-level reading that in the years since has been largely dispelled. 

The singer has worked to combat it herself on tracks like Ultraviolence's "F—ed My Way Up To the Top," which takes that perceived notion to its extreme. At the same time, it's another in a long line of tracks in which Del Rey has embraced her own sexuality and sensuality as something to be celebrated and claimed, not something to be ashamed of. 

"Art Deco," Honeymoon (2015)

2015's Honeymoon isn't necessarily underappreciated, as it received positive reviews upon release debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, but "Art Deco" isn't likely to appear on many playlists. It should, though, as the track illustrates how much of musical chameleon Del Rey really is, with a sultry, hip-hop inspired rolling beat. 

It treads some familiar territory thematically with trying to find acceptance in night life, but Del Rey is really comfortable here. She shows more of her knowledge of art history by relating the subject of the song to the defining characteristics of the titular art movement, revealing just how much thought she puts into her aesthetic.

"Fingertips," Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd (2023)

Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd is arguably Del Rey's most intimate album, exploring details of her family and their history that fans have only previously seen brief glimpses of. At the same time, it is partially an examination of her own legacy and work, only natural for someone with as much output as Del Rey, let alone her frequent references to death and finality.

Both of these things combine in "Fingertips," a standout track from the album. A nearly six-minute long ballad, it's musically airy while emotionally devastating — and, for a true Del Rey fan, encapsulates so much of her legacy in just one song.

Diehard

"Yayo," Paradise (2012)

For fans in the Diehard level, everything before is old news. This is for fans who want to fully live the Lana life, who have all her albums on vinyl and have carefully built their image and fashion around her.

Speaking of her image, this section starts with "Yayo," an extremely early deep cut. This track originally appeared on Lana Del Ray before being reworked and rereleased on the Paradise EP in 2012. The song leans heavier than most into the '50s imagery and floats along at a dreamy, lilting pace. While not as refined as her later work, "Yayo" is an indicator Del Rey had a solid idea of who she wanted to be as soon as she started.

"Season of the Witch," Non-album Single (2019)

Del Rey has done several covers throughout her career, and quite successfully. Norman F—ing Rockwell! features her cover of Sublime's "Doin' Time," which is one of the highlight tracks from the record. Less known is Del Rey's spooky cover of '60s classic "Season of the Witch." 

Written for the 2019 horror film Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the song fits Del Rey's style perfectly. The Americana/flower crown aesthetic of her younger years always leaned witch-adjacent, and Del Rey takes her soft vocals into playfully sinister territory. It's a fun cover, and shows just how many gems Del Rey has in her discography for those fans willing to dig. 

"Say Yes to Heaven," Non-album Single (2023)

"Say Yes to Heaven" was never supposed to be heard. A late cut from Ultraviolence, the track remained buried for years before being leaked in 2016. It lurked on the internet, only known to superfans, before gaining steam with the rise of TikTok and finally seeing an official release in 2023.

The deep cut is peak Del Rey ballad material, a tender love song imploring her partner to accept happiness. It's another rebuke of the idea that she can't be happy, and it gives insight into some of her earlier writing.

As a resurfaced older track, "Say Yes to Heaven" may not necessarily indicate the direction Lana Del Rey is set to go on her forthcoming album, Lasso (especially considering Del Rey has teased she's "going country" for her next release). But it's a beautiful reminder of the affecting narratives and arresting vocals that have made her beloved to so many, no matter the level of fandom.

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Sabrina Carpenter
Sabrina Carpenter performing in 2024

Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage via Getty Images

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Sabrina Carpenter Releases New Single "Please Please Please": Everything We Know About Her New Album 'Short N' Sweet'

Sabrina Carpenter and her boyfriend are Bonnie and Clyde-style outlaws in the new video for "Please Please Please." Here's what we know about the album it belongs to, 'Short N' Sweet' — out Aug. 23.

GRAMMYs/Jun 7, 2024 - 05:27 pm

When Sabrina Carpenter announced her new album, Short n' Sweet, earlier this week, she also dangled a special treat in front of fans. "I also have a surprise coming for you on thursday night," she announced in an Instagram post, "so keep an eye out!!"

The surprise was a video for her new single, "Please Please Please," starring her boyfriend, Barry Keoghan. Directed by Bardia Zeinali, the clip is a high-octane rendering of Carpenter and Keoghan as a pair of bona fide outlaws, whose relationship rides a rollercoaster of criminality and incarceration.

The slinky track follows her viral hit "Espresso" from last spring — itself the lead single from Short n' Sweet. As the YouTube comments pour forth, flecked with adjectives like "obsessed" and "iconic," here's everything GRAMMY.com could dredge up about the forthcoming LP.

Short N' Sweet Will Be Released Aug. 23

Carpenter's been mum on many of the details of Short n' Sweet, but she did allow that the Jack Antonoff and Julian Bunetta-produced, 36-minute album willl be released Aug. 23.

"This project is quite special to me and i hope it'll be something special to you too," she wrote on said Instagram post; it's practically destined to soundtrack the dog days of summer as they fade to fall.

The Album Will Hop Between Genres

Speaking to Maya Hawke — who herself just released her third album, Chaos Angel in Interview Magazine, Carpenter discussed the contents of her next offering.

"I feel a lot freer and more excited about what I'm making now because I've realized that genre isn't necessarily the most important thing. It's about honesty and authenticity and whatever you gravitate towards," she stated. "There were a lot of genres in my last album, and I like to think I'll continue that throughout writing music."

Read more: Sabrina Carpenter's Big Year: The Pop Songstress Gushes On The Eras Tour, Her Christmas EP & More

The Title Is A Reference To Her Height

Speaking to Cosmopolitan about her opening slot on Taylor Swift's Eras Tour, Carpenter called performing those sets "a tall order."

"This is not even to sound like a pick-me, like when girls are like, 'I'm so small, I can't reach the top shelf' — I'm literally five feet tall," she said mirthfully. "So sometimes when I'm on that stage, it feels so huge that I just have to be larger than life in some capacity."

She's worked her height (or lack thereof) into the promotional machine behind
Short n' Sweet: billboards the country over say things like, "When I say I hate short people, Sabrina Carpenter is NEVER included."

We Have The Album Cover

On the cover of Short n' Sweet, the sunkissed singer looks over her shoulder with a kiss mark on her shoulder, against a striking azure sky, her blonde hair hanging down.

The Eras Tour Harkened A New One

As mentioned, Carpenter got the opening gig of a lifetime — warming up the Eras Tour across America, Australia and Asia. Speaking with Cosmo, she revealed the tour wasn't an end to itself, but a launching pad to new adventures.

Read more: Behind The Scenes Of The Eras Tour: Taylor Swift's Opening Acts Unveil The Magic Of The Sensational Concert

"I'm starting to feel like I've outgrown the songs I'm singing [on The Eras Tour]," she explained, "which is always an exciting feeling because I think that means the next chapter is right around the corner." Behold: that chapter is now.

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Charli XCX Press Photo 2024
Charli XCX

Photo: Harley Weir

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Charli XCX's Road To 'Brat': How Her New Album Celebrates Unabashed Confidence & Eccentricity

As Charli XCX releases her sixth studio album, revisit the creative decisions and ventures that led to 'Brat' — and how it all helped her become one of pop's most innovative stars.

GRAMMYs/Jun 6, 2024 - 05:32 pm

Charli XCX is a product of the internet. A teen during MySpace's peak years, Charli — born Charlotte Aitchison — landed her first gigs thanks to the platform. Her first amateur album, 14, caught the attention of a promoter organizing illegal raves in London, and soon enough, she was performing at those parties as Charli XCX — fittingly, a former online username.

Even though 14 never had an official release (and Charli has declared her distaste for it, calling the project "terrible MySpace music"), her earliest beginnings became the throughline to her current work. MySpace was a breeding ground for creativity and Charli used it to explore niche — and unheard-of — genres. To date, she's touched on every iteration of pop, including electro-pop and dance-pop, even being heralded as the figurehead for hyperpop. As a result, she's not your stereotypical pop star.

Just over a decade after the release of her debut album, 2013's True Romance, Charli XCX is bringing everything she's done from her MySpace beginnings to present day with her sixth studio album, Brat. Leaning on the time spent performing at raves and clubs as a young teen, she embodies the same childlike and larger-than-life approach she had when she was first starting.

Charli XCX was signed to Asylum Records in 2010 but felt lost, according to an interview with The Guardian. The process of figuring out her artistry earned her a trip to meet with producers in Los Angeles, where she met American producer Ariel Rechtshaid. After they wrote her eventual single "Stay Away," everything started falling into place. "I was freaking out: I had found a piece of myself in this crazy world where people are trying to drag you apart and make you into something," she recalled. "That's when things started to come together."

Before she even released her debut album, Charli XCX first found global success as a songwriter. After penning the club-ready song "I Love It," she opted to give it away to Swedish synth-pop duo Icona Pop because it didn't suit the sound Charli was leaning into. But she did feature on the 2012 track, which became a global smash and landed at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 — solidifying Charli as an artist to watch.

Almost a year later, Charli XCX released her major label debut with True Romance, her first studio album, in 2013. Although it didn't land on any major charts or spawn any hits, what the album did have was a clear, catchy direction. When reflecting on the album to NME, she stated that she was "just a MySpace kid" inspired by things that seemed out of reach for her, like the plots in teen movies and party photos from club scenes. True Romance was also integral to Charli discovering herself "as a person"; she's said that the album helped her better understand her voice, confidence, style, and stage presence.

Although True Romance didn't immediately make Charli XCX into a household name, it did usher in new opportunities for her as an artist. One of those opportunities was working with then-up-and-coming rapper Iggy Azalea on the track "Fancy," which marked a breakthrough moment for both rising stars. Along with spending seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and scoring Charli XCX her first two GRAMMY nominations (Record Of The Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance), she has insisted that "Fancy" helped open the doors for her to write for bigger artists.

Following the taste of the mainstream after "I Love It" and "Fancy," Charli XCX seemingly veered towards a poppier and brighter sound — and soon found herself on the charts as a solo act. Charli XCX's first top 10 solo hit, "Boom Clap," was first featured in the 2014 film The Fault in Our Stars and eventually became the lead single to Charli XCX's sophomore record, Sucker. Working with the likes of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, Benny Blanco, and more, Sucker showcased XCX's whip-smart songwriting and tongue-in-cheek aphorism, changing out gritty synths for glittery guitars and sky-soaring drums. 

But the new sound didn't necessarily indicate a new direction. She has admitted that she was chasing chart points with Sucker rather than writing songs that she enjoyed, and pieces of the album "feel fake" to her as a result. Still, Sucker helped validate what Charli already knew about herself, even if she got a little lost along the way. As she told The Guardian in 2018, rebelling on the outskirts of mainstream music is where she's meant to be, creating her "own language" and her "own world."

Shrugging off feeling rather stifled post-Sucker, Charli XCX began working with Scottish producer Sophie in March 2015. In October of that year, the singer released the track "Vroom Vroom" and unveiled an EP of the same name a few months after, both of which signaled that Charli was embracing a more experimental electronic sound and marking a change in sonic direction for her.

"I've worked with Sophie on the new EP and what we create together speaks for itself," Charli said about Vroom Vroom. "The album goes to other places and I can't wait for people to hear it. I feel the most creative I have in a long time and I couldn't be more excited for the next chapter." 

Although the EP didn't go over as sweetly as Sucker and True Romance did with critics and fans, Vroom Vroom is now heralded as a pioneering work in the hyperpop genre. When speaking with Vulture about the highs and lows of her career, she credits Sophie's production for the EP title track being a "f—ing masterpiece," noting that the song, in particular, was complex and niche, teetering between underground and mainstream. As she declared, it's why the song has "only retroactively found praise by those who now have a taste for that genre of pop."

Read More: Get Glitchy With These 7 Artists Essential To Hyperpop

In 2017, XCX's work in hyperpop continued with two Top 40 tracks, "After the Afterparty" and "Boys," the latter of which became an instantly viral track thanks to its sultry cameos from a slew of male celebrities. Both were meant to be part of Charli's third studio album, but after the album leaked, she opted to release two more electronic experimental mixtapes — 2017's Number 1 Angel and Pop 2 — rather than labelling them albums. Much like the way Charli approached her earlier recordings, the two mixtapes were her return to experimentation, and, by not calling them albums, she could freely create and avoid charting pressure from her label

From the fall of 2018 to the fall of 2019, XCX released a slew of singles with other artists — "1999" with Troye Sivan, "Blame It on Your Love" featuring Lizzo, "Gone" with Christine and the Queens, and a few others all leading up to the release of her third album, Charli. Equal parts explorative and expansive, Charli saw XCX explore every emotion in abundance. Although she didn't move too far away sonically, at the time Charli was the "most personal album" she had ever made. She told The Standard that it "encapsulated all sides" of who she is, because she'd rather create the music she wants to create instead of sacrificing her art for a thinly veiled attempt to become a bigger artist.

Five years separated Sucker and Charli, but the star only took eight months to release her next album, 2020's How I'm Feeling Now. A six-week DIY experiment throughout the early months of the COVID-19 lockdown, How I'm Feeling Now became Charli's pandemic album. Produced alongside longtime producer AG Cook, she crafted an album that touched on the universal experiences everyone was going through ("I'm so bored – what?/ Wake up late and eat some cereal") and bristled with longing to return to a sweaty and sticky dance floor. 

While Sucker was Charli trying to appease the public at the expense of her art, her snarky fifth studio album, 2022's Crash, leaned into that mindset tenfold. Playing a dramatized "soulless" caricature of herself, Charli wrote and promoted the conceptual album satirically, stating that it's her "major label sell-out" album by heavily leaning into the concept of selling one's soul to get what you want. And it worked: the album debuted at No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, her first time ever hitting No. 1 in the UK, in addition to debuting at No. 7 on the Billboard 200, which was her first top 10 and her highest-charting album to date in the United States. 

Looking back, XCX felt that Crash, much like Sucker, didn't resonate deeply with her. "There were songs on Crash that I would never listen to," she asserted to The Face earlier this year. Longing to change things up, yet again, brings Charli to Brat

For an artist who is truly a sonic shapeshifter, it makes sense that she'd eventually return to her club roots on Brat. "Von Dutch," the album's lead single, serves as a throwback to her teens with its punchy synth-driven electropop melody reminiscent of her earlier tracks. The album's second single "360," an electro-pop ear-worm, features Charli's signature on-the-nose songwriting, singing, "I went my own way and I made it, I'm your favourite reference baby." It's apt, then, that the music video brings together the internet's "It Girls" — Julia Fox, Gabbriette, Emma Chamberlain, and many others — to try and find the next viral sensation, all while poking fun at the ridiculousness of the influencer world.

"I just want to be able to make the music that I want to make without having to sacrifice any of my artistic decisions," Charli told The Standard during the release of Charli. "I don't ever want to become something that I'm not because I've done that before. I didn't even know myself properly as a person let alone as an artist. I think I've figured out who I am now."

Five years later, and the release of Brat is, in a way, her coming full circle. Pairing her origin story — illegal raves, club nights and the internet world — with a decade of working on her own music and collaborating with big-name artists has been the catalyst to Brat. But it's also her official declaration that she's staying true to her artistry, for herself but also for her fans.

As she told British GQ ahead of Brat's release, she still grapples with the temptation of tapping into a more commercial sound. "Sometimes I tempt myself with going there, but I think the problem is my fan base knows that that's not who I am, so they kind of smell a rat, and they're like, 'This is inauthentic.' But then I think that sometimes puts me in this position where the masses are like, 'What the f— is this?'

"But I would in no way be as happy, creatively satisfied or, honestly, as good as some of the people who are operating on a hugely commercial level," she adds, "because maybe I'm just not built for it."

And maybe she's not. But her unashamed and unfiltered confidence is exactly what's made her such a beloved star, as well as what brings Brat together — and it's likely what we'll continue to see from Charli XCX from now on.

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