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Run The World: How Ángela Aguilar's Unique Spin On Ranchera Music Helped Her Become One Of The Youngest GRAMMY Nominees Ever
Born into a family of Mexican entertainment royalty, Ángela Aguilar embraced her love of ranchera music from a very young age — and it earned her recognition at the GRAMMY Awards and Latin GRAMMY Awards before she'd even graduated high school.
At just 19 years old, Ángela Aguilar has established herself as one of the dominant new forces of Mexican ranchera music. The young star is bringing the musical style she grew up singing to a global audience and performing on some of the world's biggest stages.
Aguilar is part of one of Mexico's most prominent entertainment families, known as La Dinastía Aguilar, or The Aguilar Dynasty. Her grandfather was the late Antonio Aguilar (a GRAMMY-nominated mariachi singer and Mexican Cinema Golden Era actor), while her grandmother is singer and actor Flor Silvestre. Meanwhile, Aguilar's father is GRAMMY-winning mariachi singer/songwriter Pepe Aguilar — she was even born during one of his tour stops in Los Angeles in 2003.
Even with her famous relatives, Ángela has shaped her own career with her dynamic voice and contemporary takes on an age-old genre. In this episode of Run the World — and as part of GRAMMY.com's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month — dive into the accomplishments Aguilar has achieved over the course of her virtuosic career to date.
Aguilar's career in ranchera music began at just 3 years old, when she stepped on stage in front of a crowd of 80,000 during her grandfather's final tour. By age 9, she had released her first album, a collaborative project with her brother Leonardo called Nueva Tradición. From there, she quickly began ramping up her musical career, and was frequently the youngest artist in the spaces in which she moved and performed.
In 2016, at age 13, she was the youngest person to participate in the BBC 100 Women festival in Mexico City. Backed by an all-male mariachi band, Aguilar spoke to the predominance of male performers in her format, and expressed the need to create more space for women in ranchera music.
"It's an industry of men and I hope that will change," she said at the event. "Nobody has discriminated against me as a woman, but I know that it does happen and I want it to change."
Since then, Aguilar has released two more full-length albums, continuing to grow her reach and critical acclaim. Her 2018 project, Primero Soy Mexicana, received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Regional Mexican Music Albumin 2019, when she was just 15 years old — putting her amongst some of the youngest nominees of all time.
Aguilar has also earned three Latin GRAMMY nominations, including a nod for Best Ranchero/Mariachi Album for her 2021 release, Mexicana Enamorada, this year.
No matter where she goes from here, Aguilar has stressed that she will never stray from her Mexican roots and the genre she loves most. "That's where I came from, it's in my veins, that's why I sing the songs that I do," she told GRAMMY.com in 2019. "I'm honoring my ancestors and the traditions that my grandfather and my grandmother have led me to follow. So before anything, before being American, I'm Mexican, and I'm proud of it."
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Run The World: How Lady Gaga Changed The Music Industry With Dance-Pop & Unapologetic Feminism
In celebration of Women's History Month, get a glimpse of Lady Gaga's influential career as a luminary of dance-pop and her outspoken advocacy for women's rights.
Born Stefani Germanotta, Lady Gaga is one of the best-selling female artists in history. Rightfully so, Gaga's years of training — from taking piano lessons at 4 years old to briefly studying at New York University's prestigious Collaborative Arts Project 21 musical theater program — prepared her to become one of the most technical pop singers of all time. With the addition of her innovative creativity to her musical skill set, Gaga forged the perfect formula to become one of the biggest stars of her generation.
Lady Gaga created music under the pen name — a reference to Queen's hit "Radio Ga Ga" — years before she finally caught the eyes of Interscope executive Vincent Herbert, who she now credits for discovering her. Eventually, Lady Gaga was introduced to award-winning songwriter and producer RedOne to make her breakthrough album, 2008's The Fame, under Interscope imprint label Cherrytree Records.
Speaking to The Independent in 2009, she recalled her struggles to get radio airplay after releasing The Fame. "They would say, 'This is too racy, too dance-oriented, too underground. It's not marketable,'" she said. "And I would say, 'My name is Lady Gaga. I've been on the music scene for years, and I'm telling you, this is what's next.'"
And right she was: the year following The Fame's premiere, Lady Gaga received her first GRAMMY nomination for "Just Dance" at the 2009 GRAMMY Awards. Over a decade later, she's won 13 GRAMMYs and counts 36 GRAMMY nominations in total.
By 2016, Lady Gaga had four No. 1 albums under her belt, from Born This Way to Joanne. In 2018, she signed on to be the lead actress in Bradley Cooper's remake of A Star Is Born, also doubling as the songwriter and producer for the soundtrack. The release was an immediate success, debuting at the top of the Billboard 200 Albums chart and making Lady Gaga the first woman with five No. 1 albums in the 2010s. In 2019, Lady Gaga became the first person in history to win a GRAMMY, Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe in a single year.
As a part of GRAMMY.com's ongoing commemoration of Women's History Month, we're looking back at Lady Gaga's influential career as one of the music industry's pop legends in this episode of Run The World. Extending Lady Gaga's impressively successful career as an entertainer is her philanthropy and advocacy work as a proud, outspoken feminist.
During her 2018 ELLE Women in Hollywood event, Lady Gaga gave an inspiring speech to bring awareness to sexual assault. "For me, this is what it means to be a woman in Hollywood. It means I have a platform. I have a chance to make a change. I pray we listen, believe, and pay closer attention to those around us in need. Be a helping hand. Be a force for change," Lady Gaga concluded after courageously sharing her story as a survivor.
"I would like to dedicate this song to every woman in America. To every woman who now has to worry about her body if she gets pregnant. I pray that this country will speak up and we will not stop until its right!" - Lady Gaga talking about abortion rights at The #ChromaticaBallDC pic.twitter.com/YjwlC0rg7C— Ryan | Lady Gaga 🏳️🌈 (@ryanleejohnson) August 9, 2022
She has also used her platform on stage to advocate for women. During her Chromatica Ball tour in 2022, she dedicated "The Edge of Glory" to women after the government overturned Roe v. Wade two months prior: "To every woman who now has to worry about her body if she gets pregnant, I pray this country will speak up, and we will not stop until it's right!"
Lady Gaga isn't just a musician or actress. She is a pioneer in change, a spokesperson for those whose voices might not get heard. She wants to see women, especially in entertainment, win while being able to claim their authentic femininity, as she told Glamour in 2017.
"I hope to see women thriving and happy, loving what they're doing, and being in control and powerful of what they create," she explained. "As much as we all love the fashion and the makeup and glamour, this isn't a beauty pageant. It's about the heart and the drive and the work."
Press play on the video above to revisit some of Lady Gaga's historic achievements throughout her groundbreaking career, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Run The World.
Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage
Run The World: How Rosalía Became An International Superstar And Production Powerhouse
To commemorate Women's History Month, take a look at Rosalía's colossal career, from her 'Los Ángeles' folk debut to her GRAMMY-winning experimental, flamenco-pop album, 'Motomami.'
Rosalía is the pop star the music industry has craved for so long — an unapologetic, risk-taking visionary who transforms each album release into a deliberate era, slowly immersing her audience deeper into her creative universe. She has become a vanguard for music's next generation of female leaders, paving the way through her commitment to building equality as she once promised in her 2019 Billboard Women in Music speech: "I will never stop till I find and I see the same number of women in the studio."
But before the global sensation came to be, there was Rosalia Tobella, the hopeful musicology student from the suburbs of Barcelona with a passion for flamenco and dream of becoming one of music's biggest disruptors. Her nights spent singing and dancing at flamenco venues eventually landed her in the hands of hitmaker Raül Refree, who manifested her big-city ambitions into reality, co-producing and arranging her critically-acclaimed debut studio album, Los Ángeles.
The flamenco-inspired folk album set the precedent for Rosalía's prosperous musical career after snagging the Spanish singer her very first Latin GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist and producing a slew of live appearances that led to her catching the attention of her label, Columbia Records. Today, Rosalía's flamenco roots continue to paint her discography on award-winning albums El Mal Querer and Motomami.
As a part of GRAMMY.com's ongoing celebration of Women's History Month, we're looking back at Rosalía's monumental career, from Los Àngeles to Motomami, in this installment of Run The World. It's not just Rosalía's artistic genius that makes her story so remarkable, but also her trailblazing achievements and strides to make space for like-minded women.
What distinguishes Rosalía in a saturated market is her consistency. Without coming across as repetitive, Rosalía seamlessly innovates new ways to transform flamenco as she fuses its essence into different genres on each release. This level of brilliance garnered Rosalía praise from Billboard for "changing the sound of today's mainstream music" at the 14th Women in Music event, acknowledging the artist with a Rising Star Award.
Over the past six years, Rosalía has amassed nearly 60 awards in total, most notably her 11 Latin GRAMMY wins. Three years after winning the Latin GRAMMY for Album Of The Year for El Mal Querer in 2019, she took home the award again in 2022 for Motomami — becoming the first woman in Latin GRAMMY history to win the category twice.
In 2020, Rosalía marked her GRAMMY stage debut with a medley performance of "Juro Que'' and her breakthrough single, "Malamente." Earlier that night, she celebrated another groundbreaking achievement as the first all-Spanish-language artist to be recognized in the Best New Artist category, as well as her first GRAMMY win for Best Latin, Rock or Urban Alternative album for El Mal Querer. (She won the category for the second time at this year's GRAMMY Awards for Motomami.)
"It's such an honor to receive this award, but at the same time, what I'm most excited about is that I'll be able to perform a flamenco-inspired performance for all of you," Rosalía said during her 2020 GRAMMY acceptance speech, noting her position as one of the leading voices in sharing flamenco culture with American media. "Thank you for embracing [this] project with so much love."
Above all the accolades remains Rosalía's women-first attitude, taking into account the legacy of women who built the foundation for her empire. "I want to thank women like Lauryn Hill, WondaGurl, Björk, Kate Bush, Ali Tamposi, Nija — all the women in the industry who taught me that it can be done," exclaimed Rosalía during her acceptance speech for Best Urban Fusion/Performance at the 2018 Latin GRAMMYs.
And now, she's leaving her own impact on our future leaders.
In a full-circle moment, Rosalía was honored as the inaugural Producer Of The Year at the 2023 Billboard Women in Music ceremony, presented to her by one of her aforementioned heroes, WondaGurl. "To me, it feels special because this is not usual. I make my own music, I produce my own songs, and I write my own songs. I want to dedicate this award to all the women who are going to be producers," she beamed.
Press play on the video above to revisit the defining moments in Rosalía's revolutionary stardom, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Run The World.
Listen To GRAMMY.com's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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