Photo: Alex Kurunis
Arlo Parks Talks Debut Album 'Collapsed In Sunbeams,' Winning Over Billie Eilish & Phoebe Bridgers
The British singer/songwriter plumbed profound emotions with a simple toolkit on her debut album, 'Collapsed In Sunbeams.' Now, some of her favorite musicians are along for the ride
"I'd lick the grief right off your lips."
Fans rejoiced at the tantalizing thought of new music from Billie Eilish after she captioned a passport-style Polaroid to her Instagram in January with those emotionally charged words. But the lyrics actually come from a hotly tipped singer/songwriter from the U.K. Eilish was referencing Arlo Parks' "Black Dog," a candid look at the realities of trying to help a friend living with depression. A year apart in age, Eilish and Parks represent a new generation of songwriters intent on tackling Gen Z's problems head-on.
It's not just Eilish who's singing the praises of Parks—the vanguard of the creative arts is rooting for the young singer. "Cola," from her 2019 debut EP Super Sad Generation, appeared in Michaela Coel's critically acclaimed HBO series, "I May Destroy You." Phoebe Bridgers and Florence Welch have shown love, too. Although the influencer generation has shifted the capacity to create stars from institutions to individuals, Parks has taken home a host of industry awards, too, landing a spot on the BBC Music Sound Of 2020 long list, which launched the careers of Michael Kiwanuka, Haim and Sam Smith, and NME's Essential New Artists For 2020 list.
Parks has had a meteoric year, but she's remained undeterred by the pressure; she spent 2020 and early 2021 mostly confined to her childhood bedroom. She's gained and maintained a fan base via a social media presence as sincere and personal as her songs, emphasizing self-love and openness. Her lyrics tackle big subjects—unrequited love, addiction, mental health struggles, sexuality—and her vocals are tender, unflashy and inviting.
Themes like these are the bedrock of her debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams, a series of vignettes describing friends and their problems tied together by a calm, wistful energy. (The album's title is lifted from British author Zadie Smith's 2005 novel, On Beauty.) Nodding to her influences, like Radiohead and Portishead, Collapsed In Sunbeams easily flits between lo-fi pop, R&B and the indie sounds of her youth. Yet the real beauty is in Parks' smart observations on life, which she tackles directly yet compassionately.
GRAMMY.com chatted with Arlo Parks about Collapsed In Sunbeams, her literature collection and how her heartfelt lyrics entered Eilish's imagination.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What are you reading at the moment? I learned a new Japanese word recently—tsundoku, or the art of leaving a book unread after buying it. Are you like that?
I'm definitely like that! My favorite thing to do is wander around quaint little book shops in SoHo, like Skoob Books, and buying 10 books at once. I've got Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland, This Young Monster by Charlie Fox and The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst on my desk, to name a few. There's something so comforting about books as a little physical world to explore, but making the time to read them is a different story.
Aside from your musical influences, which artistic figures inspire you?
I'm obsessed with sensory, muscular writers like Virginia Woolf, Zadie Smith, and Raymond Carver. Some special books to me are Just Kids by Patti Smith, Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles and Blueberries by Ellena Savage. I'm also interested in [photographers] that capture youth culture and act like super-observant documentarians, like Wolfgang Tillmans, William Eggleston, and Nan Goldin.
In terms of films, I love Xavier Dolan—especially Mommy—[as well as] Wes Anderson's catalog, Vertigo by Hitchcock and quiet, sensitive films like In The Mood For Love by Wong Kar-Wai or Driveways by Andrew Ahn.
Can you remember which came first, writing stories or listening to music?
Listening to music came first. I remember sitting on the carpet in the living room and listening to everything from Françoise Hardy to My Funny Valentine by Chet Baker to Zombie by Fela Kuti. Music permeated the house, and the car rides to Sainsbury's. It's in all my conscious memory.
You're a prolific journal writer. Is that where your ideas for songs germinate?
Definitely. This album was inspired by poring over old journals and picking out fragments of conversation, dissecting explosions of emotion and important stories [magnified] by adolescence. Journaling also allows me to have those quiet moments of introspection and makes me a more honest, focused, and experimental writer. Everything I write feeds into my songs.
How did you go about recording Collapsed In Sunbeams?
It was recorded between my bedroom, a few Airbnbs, and two studios. I wrote the demos for "Portra 400" and "Bluish" in my bedroom and recorded the Bluish vocals at 3 a.m. at home. Most of the songs were written and recorded in Airbnbs in East London—Dalston and Hoxton.
It was a very organic and instinctive process. We approached this album on a song-by-song basis to make sure everything felt fresh, and the sonic palette was broad.
Your songs' emotional maturity is surprising given your age. Have you always been that emotionally in touch?
I've always been somebody who felt a lot all the time. That sensitivity and empathy is a big part of who I am, and I've always had a sense of self-awareness when it comes to my inner landscape. I learned a lot about emotion and communication just from being around very open people—from helping friends and understanding myself.
You've spoken elsewhere about being blessed with a supportive family, who helped with that emotional intelligence. What do they make of your new stardom? And what has it been like living with them while your career has skyrocketed?
They always say how proud they are of me, but there have been adjustments to be made. Being on TV or being recognized in the park, or being in the paper has taken some getting used to. It has felt so grounding to be surrounded by the people who know me and love me best during the chaos of this year, so I'm grateful for that. It's refreshing to watch some Hitchcock films with my mom or just chat with my brother between interviews. It centers me.
"Black Dog" is particularly devastating, but elsewhere on the album, there's a more uplifting message. How can we maintain hope during this bleak period?
I think this album is an exercise in balance. Being a human being involves spikes of elation and dejection, and I wanted to explore both sides. Honestly, I would say try and make space for your own joy every day, whether it's going for a quick walk, getting a posh coffee, having a solo dance party or a bath with candles. Doing little things for yourself consistently and being aware that what is meant for you will not pass you by.
How do you feel about flaunting your influences? I can hear bits of Radiohead and Portishead.
It's super important to me. I'm a music lover before a music maker, and I love the idea of picking little elements of records I enjoy. Maybe a kick drum from [A Tribe Called Quest's] The Low End Theory, some guitar reverb from a Beach House song, a melodic approach from [Elliott Smith's] Either/Or, creating a unique collage.
I like paying homage to and basking in the songs that made me fall in love with music and allow me to fall more deeply in love every day.
Speaking of influences, Billie Eilish says she's a fan. So is Michaela Coel and Phoebe Bridgers. How do you cope knowing the cool kids are watching?
It's surreal to know that such powerful, unique human beings are a fan of my work. It's validating in a specific way because these are people I look up to.
You're very in touch with your fan base, particularly through your candid social media presence. What's been the most impactful fan reaction to your work?
I feel connected to my fans, there's a familial quality to [my] community, and I find that lovely. Someone said that "Eugene" helped them come out to their older sister and feel a sense of comfort in themselves and their sexuality. I also remember someone saying the only way their baby boy would sleep was listening to "Cola", which I thought was very wholesome.
Your natural lyricism and interest in words of all kinds lend themselves to rap. Can we expect that on future albums, or will you keep it centered around spoken-word for now?
Maybe so. Who knows? I'm a big fan of hip-hop. Artists like Navy Blue, MF Doom, and Earl Sweatshirt are so playful with language. The sky's the limit, and that's so exciting to me.
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Photo: Alexandra Waespi
Arlo Parks On How Patience, Film & Falling In Love Molded 'My Soft Machine'
Arlo Parks has never shied away from vulnerability. Upon the release of her new album 'My Soft Machine,' the GRAMMY-nominated artist shared what’s fueled her creativity since her 2021 critically acclaimed debut.
A line from Joanna Hogg’s 2019 drama The Souvenir has threaded itself through Arlo Parks’ consciousness: "We don't want to just see life played out as is. We want to see life as it is experienced, within this soft machine."
The phrase was so resonant that it inspired the title of Parks' second studio album: My Soft Machine. "That’s exactly what this record is to me — the world through my eyes, through the prism of my brain, how what I feel passes through my skin and body," she told GRAMMY.com.
Though she’s intent on practicing patience, the British alternative artist has never been one to fall into passivity. A poet at heart, Parks beads delicate details like strings of jewels — first on her pair of promising 2019 EPs, and then with her acclaimed debut, 2021's Collapsed in Sunbeams. The lustrous album shone like treasure, earning GRAMMY nominations for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album in 2022.
Praised for its candor and discussions of mental health, Collapsed in Sunbeams proved that Parks knows how to put memories to music in a way that catches the light. My Soft Machine continues this reflective pattern: it’s a kaleidoscope into Parks’ soul, laced with serendipity, solace, and color. The album title evokes an unusual polarity of both gentleness and automation, yet the record is anything but mechanical. Out May 26, My Soft Machine tingles with earnesty and warmth to the point of ache, bearing its honesty like a handwritten letter to a loved one.
Considering the album’s often weighty subject matter, it might come as a surprise that Parks describes its loose creative process as filled with more "silliness" than ever before. But the easy-fitting, experimental side of the record mirrors Parks’ approach to life and music: she has a gift for finding optimism in darkness.
Parks got introspective, sharing with GRAMMY.com how travel and self-care positively manifest in her life — and how My Soft Machine filled her with a sense of purpose.
What headspace were you in when you were working on My Soft Machine? How did your approach compare with making Collapsed in Sunbeams?
I was in an emotionally heightened headspace. I had a lot I needed to put down, untangle and understand about myself. I needed to really examine what I was carrying with me through the world.
The approach was a lot more collaborative and loose than Collapsed in Sunbeams. There was a lot of jamming, of bringing in singular players like David Longstreth, of changing my mind and sculpting songs over months. There was a lot more silliness and an experimental quality to the whole My Soft Machine making process.
What did you learn about yourself while working on My Soft Machine?
I learnt that writing and music are truly at the core of who I am — when I have a day off I’m driving and listening to NTS (Radio) or I’m sitting down and brainstorming a script or a novel — what I do is truly who I am. I think I also learnt that I’m quite an intuitive, impatient creator. It really served me to have patience and wait for the songs to reveal themselves.
You use mentions of color so beautifully and precisely throughout your music. What colors or aesthetics do you associate with My Soft Machine versus Collapsed in Sunbeams? If you had to make a moodboard for My Soft Machine, what would it look like?
It would have a lot of moody purples, inky night sky blues, the green of ferns, the fuchsia of bougainvillea in spring in Silverlake. There would be the dancing scene from "Happy Together" by Wong Kar Wai, the image "Broadway (Joy)" from 2001 by Justine Kurland, the skate bowl in Paranoid Park, my lover’s eyes in dusk light, the smell of trodden down roses, and the sting of road rash when you fall off a bike as a kid.
I was struck by My Soft Machine’s experimental, outgoing production, especially in "Devotion." What inspired this album’s sounds? What sort of textures do you look for in tracks?
The palette was quite simply "songs and sounds that I’ve always loved" — everything from "Last Splash" by the Breeders to the Dijon record to "Come On You Slags" by Aphex Twin to BLACK METAL by Dean Blunt to "I Bet on Losing Dogs" by Mitski. I think I’m drawn to crunchy textures, textures that make me shiver or put my hand over my heart because I’m reeling, textures that serve the story.
Performance artist Marina Abramović said great art is disturbing, and in a past interview, you equated this disturbance with change. How has working on My Soft Machine helped you view your life or the world in a different way?
I think it filled me with a sense of purpose; I felt so driven and rooted and settled in my own identity. It made me believe in serendipity, in the fact that imagination really is magic and that the ability to put difficult, nebulous words into something concrete is the biggest blessing I will ever receive.
What was it like working with Phoebe Bridgers for "Pegasus"? What do you look for in collaborators?
Phoebe is such a generous soul. She creates for the love of it, she’s so intelligent and funny and kind. I think I just look for kind people who understand me and why I do what I do.
What’s your ideal environment for creative work? How does travel impact your creativity, and what places are your favorite to revisit?
I love to work in a home — dogs running around, tape machines and obscure percussion instruments, tea, and someone’s sweater left on the couch. It has to feel lived in and warm.
Travel definitely opens me up; returning to somewhere like Tokyo or New York or New Zealand just makes me excited about the world and creative possibility. I just love to talk to people and understand their rituals and their musical subcultures. Traveling makes me more empathetic.
How do you feel you’ve changed since releasing Collapsed in Sunbeams? What have you learned that you wish your younger self had known?
I’ve become more assertive and more trusting in the ebb and flow of my ability to make cool things. I’ve learnt to really treasure time spent in water, with friends, having little dinner parties and watching silly shows. I wish my younger self would have known that dreams do come true but that to whom much is given, much will be expected.
You’ve been very open about how touring has impacted your mental health. How have you learned to prioritize self care? After your Instagram announcement, what was it like seeing other musicians reach out and share words of support?
I’ve learned to prioritize self care by really listening to myself, understanding where I feel most calm and carving out more time to do it. Setting aside time to camp or to go to the Korean Spa or brush burs out of my dogs fur or hang out with my girlfriend.
I felt so held when other people reached out saying "hey I feel the same" — I didn’t know what to expect and I got nothing but kindness.
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Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage
Five Hip-Hop Songs That Sample Steely Dan, In Celebration Of New Book 'Quantum Criminals'
A new book, 'Quantum Criminals,' maps how Steely Dan's cynical, visionary universe resonates in unexpected ways today. Their intrigue extends to the world of hip-hop sampling.
Among serious music fans, it's a common rite of passage to realize there's a lot more to Steely Dan than meets the eye. And a lot of that is biting, sardonic wit.
If you think Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's three-time GRAMMY-winning partnership is just the stuff of smoothed-over yacht rock, you could have a change of heart: Dan bangers from "Deacon Blues" to "Don't Take Me Alive" to "Hey Nineteen" are full of pitch-black character studies, acidic turns of phrase, and one-liners that may singe your eyebrows.
Sure, this component of the group is key to their conceptual essence. But in your dance with the Dan, take the next step: If you took away all the sarcasm, all the seediness, all the salt, Steely Dan would still be one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Because their musical sophistication was second to none.
For decades, connotations of soft-rock yuppiedom have calcified around Steely Dan; The Onion once summed it up with an article headlined "Donald Fagen Defends Steely Dan To Friends." But not only do they barely resemble yacht rock on any level; their compositions and playing were of a stunning level of sophistication. It's no accident that unquestionable musical godheads Wayne Shorter, Bernard Purdie and the Brecker brothers played with them.
Steely Dan is a tangled web indeed, and a new book illuminates every nook and cranny of their legend. Journalist Alex Pappademas and visual artist Joan LeMay's Quantum Criminals, arrived in May and pulls apart the Steely Dan myth like Russian nesting dolls.
"We're all looking out at the world with a Donald and Walter-ish kind of dismay. So they make a lot more sense now," Pappademas recently told Rolling Stone. What seemed cold and remote and jerky about them back in the day — now, that's just the way people talk. They're also also writing apocalyptically about their time, and our time now seems so unavoidably apocalyptic.
In the same interview, Pappademas cited the final album of their original run, 1980's Gaucho. "Gaucho is the ultimate one because it's the slickest," he said, mentioning an ultra-complex drum machine they built to remove any vestige of humanity. "Eventually, the solution is, 'We're going to invent sampling so that we can reduce the amount of human error.'"
Of course, Steely Dan didn't literally invent sampling. But the comment at least tacitly bridges two worlds few know are bridged: Steely Dan and hip-hop. As Pappademas put it in the book — albeit in the context of a contentious royalties agreement — “Even if nothing about Steely Dan was hip-hop, everything about them was hip-hop… they were about that cash.”
According to WhoSampled, the Dan have been sampled 152 times; in a number of cases, those samples were in rap songs. Pappademas acknowledges this component of the Dan's legacy in the chapter "Peter/Tariq/Daniel" in Quantum Criminals.
In tandem with Quantum Criminals, let the following list of Dan-sampling rap songs elucidate this misunderstood band for neophytes: they were not only gritty lyrically, but conducive to musical grit.
De La Soul - "Eye Know" (1989)
Smack in the middle of De La Soul's debut album, 1989's 3 Feet High and Rising, is "Eye Know," which samples the Mad Lads' "Make This Young Lady Mine," Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay," and Lee Dorsey's "Get Out of My Life, Woman."
Underpinning it all is the clavinet from key Steely Dan hit "Peg," a single from their 1977 masterpiece, Aja.
"Hip-hop love this is and don't mind when I quiz your involvements before the sun," Pos raps over the burbling chords. "But clear your court 'cause this is a one-man sport." Between verses, a sampled Fagen bleats, "I know I'll love you better!"
Ice Cube - "Don't Trust 'Em" (1992)
Get past the… er, interesting cover art, and 1976's The Royal Scam is a jewel in Steely Dan's crown — a revisitation of their rock roots as they hurtled into ironic smoothness.
"Green Earrings," about a remorseless jewel thief, is a highlight, and Ice Cube incorporated a sped-up sample of its keyboard part in "Don't Trust 'Em," from his 1992 album The Predator.
The crystalline-toned hook is woven into brutal storytelling, as the former N.W.A. MC details how a sexual encounter can get you hogtied in a trunk: "You can't trust a big butt and a smile," Cube sagely warns.
Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz - "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)" (1997)
Aja's opener, "Black Cow," remains of one Steely Dan's all-time funkiest cuts, and it provides the engine for East Coast rap duo Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz's debut single, "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)".
As Pappademas lays out in Quantum Criminals, Fagen and Becker would only clear the sample if they received 100 percent of the royalties. "People are under the impression that we put the record out and got sued," Gunz said, according to the book. "We didn't get sued. We got stuck up." "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)" turned out to be Tarique and Gunz's one and only hit song, from their one and only album.
MF DOOM - "Gas Drawls" (1999)
Other MCs clearly got the memo on "Black Cow": it shows up early on the late MF DOOM's "Gas Drawls," from his 1999 debut album Operation: Doomsday, and pops up repeatedly throughout the song.
"You were very high!" Fagen crows just before Dumile punches in, in media res: "By the way, I re-up on bad dreams, bag up screams in 50s/ Be up on mad schemes that heat shop like jiffy."
Kanye West - "Champion" (2007)
Like Ye's cartoon-bear mascot on the cover of 2007's Graduation, "Champion," a cut from that album, blasts into the air — buoyed by a vocal sample from Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne."
"Did you realize/ That you were a champion in their eyes?" Fagen croons as the song's chorus, giving "Champion" its thrust as well as its title. At first, Fagen and Becker were reluctant to clear the sample; they relented after West sent Fagen a heartfelt, handwritten letter.
Today, the verse resonates in the rapper now called Ye's legacy — not only for this particular song, but because it seems to sum up his rise and fall. Clearly, Pappademas was right: Steely Dan has nothing to do with hip-hop. Steely Dan is hip-hop.
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Photo: Gerald Martineau/The The Washington Post via Getty Images
7 Artists Inspired By Their Mothers: Billie Eilish, Jacob Collier & More
In celebration of Mothers' Day, take a look at how moms have made a lasting and loving impact on artists including Tupac, Christina Aguilera and Dave Grohl.
Before Taylor Swift and Beyoncé became household names, their biggest champions were their mothers. Today, these global superstars honor their beginnings by being their own mother's biggest fans.
These musicians honor their moms through everything from social media posts to actually sharing the stage. In recent years, Lizzo has been vocal about the importance of her mom's support (and supportive of her mom and sister parking a food truck outside of stadium concerts); John Legend praises his mom for always encouraging him to sing in school and church. Swift wrote a song in tribute to her mother’s cancer journey, while Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow have shared important lessons learned from thier moms. Beyoncé tells the world, "I got this s— from Tina."
For Mothers Day, GRAMMY.com honors seven more musicians who celebrate their remarkable moms.
Jacob Collier truly grew up in a house of music. The singer/songwriter was raised to love multiple instruments by his mother Suzie Collier, herself an internationally sought-after violinist and conductor who teaches at the Royal College of Music.
Naturally, Collier's music career began in the family home and recording YouTube videos in a room decked with instruments. For more than 10 years, the Colliers have shared themselves playing lively jazz standards and Christmas songs from this foundational space.
"Really, I was brought up with music as a second language," Collier reflected in an interview with The Irish Times. My mother was extremely encouraging of the sensitivities of my brain. It was this sense of curiosity but never pressure."
Several years and five GRAMMY Awards later, Collier delights his audiences with surprise duets with "Mamma Collier," where they speak this language (and rock fantastic matching jackets) of their own.
Christina Aguilera was taken by her mother, Shelly Loraine Kearns, for singing auditions at the age of 7 and it eventually landed her placement in the iconic "Mickey Mouse Club." Yet childhood was far from perfect for Aguilera. Much of her music written in adulthood is a testament to Kearns' strength and their shared experience of domestic abuse at the hands of her father.
"I watched my mom have to be submissive, watch her Ps and Qs or she's gonna get beat up," Aguilera recalled to Paper Magazine. In considering what kind of woman she wanted to become, she adds, "You can either be, unfortunately, so damaged by it that you take a turn for the worse, or you can feel empowered by it and make choices to never go down that route."
Aguilera powerfully honors her mom's survivorship in several songs, such as "Oh, Mother" and this vulnerable performance of "I'm OK," which offers the chorus: "Bruises fade father, but the pain remains the same… Strength is my mother for all the love she gave / Every morning that I wake I look back to yesterday / And I'm OK."
In Tupac's resonant single "Dear Mama," the rapper praises his mother Afeni Shakur as a "Black queen." He ends the track with, "You are appreciated."
Afeni's story is as fascinating and complex as her son's. While pregnant with Shakur, Afeni faced a 350 year jail sentence on charges related to her affiliation with the Black Panther Party. She acted as her own attorney in court and served 11 months of the sentence, giving birth as a free woman. While she went on to battle addiction, she and Tupac reunited and she encouraged Shakur in using his creativity in the fight for justice.
This spring, the story continues through a five-part special with the same title on FX Network. 17 year old Shakur accounts in the trailer, "My mother taught me to analyze society and not be quiet."
Shakur's music and legacy center themes of freedom, inspired by his mother. This includes anthems like, "Keep Ya Head Up" and "Changes."
"My mother taught me to analyze society and not be quiet," he late rapper says in the trailer for an FX docuseries about their relationship. "I think my mother knew that freedom wouldn’t come in her lifetime, just like I know that it won’t come in mine."
Billie Eilish has one of the most recognizable families in music, including her and FINNEAS' mother, Maggie Baird. Baird has appeared in multiple of her daughter's Vanity Fair interviews, documentary, and frequently travels on tour with her daughter. They share a mission in vegan activism and have received environmental awards for their efforts.
Most importantly, Eilish credits her mother for saving her life when she was feeling suicidal. Baird checked in regularly with her daughter giving her permission to take a break from the world stage at any point.
In a most recent birthday post, Eilish affectionately wrote of her mother, "You make the world go round. I told you yesterday that when I think about how much I love you, I want to sob and throw up."
In recent years, WILLOW played homage to her mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, for Mother's Day. After a loving video tribute, she planned a surprise performance of a favorite song from Pinkett Smith's former metal band, Wicked Wisdom, alongside its original members. In which, WILLOW mirrors Pinkett Smith’s confidence and vocal range.
Throughout her childhood, WILLOW watched her mother perform with wonder. She elaborates, "I was my mom's biggest fan. Every night, I wanted to ride on the security guard's shoulders and watch her perform. She was a rock star, and I was living for Wicked Wisdom," WILLOW said. "I felt like it was only right for me to pay homage to a time in her life because she showed me what womaning up really is about."
This legacy comes through in WILLOW's most recent explorations in the worlds of alt and pop-punk.
Beyond a shared love of music, WILLOW, Pinkett Smith, and Jada's mother deepen their bond with their show Red Table Talk on Facebook Watch. In which, they share multi-generational, candid conversations on provocative topics ranging from race relations to forgiveness.
Camila Cabello and her mother, Sinuhe Estrabao, traveled far to get where she is today as an international pop-star. The two had a month-long journey when migrating from Cuba to the US when Cabello was six years old. Cabello shares in Popsugar, "I think the most important thing I've learned from my mom has been: You're human if you have fear, but you can't ever let it determine how hard you go at a situation. If anything, it should make you go harder — go for it all the way."
Though introverted, Cabello channeled this courage into making the decision to audition for "The X Factor" as a teenager.
When Cabello received Billboard's Breakthrough Artist Award, she began her acceptance speech by acknowledging her No. 1: "The only reason I am standing here on this stage, in this auditorium, on this soil in this country is because of one woman - and that's my mom."
Dave Grohl has an immense passion for a mother's role in a musician's life, and even hosts and executive produced the documentary series, "From Cradle to Stage." The series features interviews with rock stars and their moms; his own mother, Virgina Hanlon Grohl, wrote a book in 2017 with the same title.
In a NBC interview, Grohl said, "The relationship between a mother and their child — the mother and the artist — is maybe the most important relationship of any musician's life... It's the foundation of their understanding of love, and love is every artist's greatest muse. You know, every lyric you write is rooted in that."
Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV Entertainment
10 Artists Who Are Outspoken About Mental Health: Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes & More
From Ed Sheeran to Janet Jackson, take a look at some of the major music stars who have shared their struggles with mental health — and helped fans feel supported and seen in the process.
Sharing mental health issues with close family or specialized medical professionals can be challenging enough. Add in the pressures of fame and being in the public eye, and any struggles are exponentially more difficult to cope with.
In recent years, though, mental health has become a much more widely discussed topic in celebrity culture. Several artists have used their music and their platform to open up about their own struggles with depression, anxiety and the like, from Bruce Springsteen to Selena Gomez.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, GRAMMY.com highlights the inspirational impact of music superstars who speak out about what they're going through, and how they manage their challenges. These 10 performers are making change through their courage and candor.
Ed Sheeran takes fans behind the curtain of his personal life and struggles with mental health in Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All. The four-episode docuseries, which is now streaming on Disney+, details the pain of losing his best friend Jamal Edwards and his wife Cherry Seaborn receiving a cancer diagnosis while she was pregnant with their daughter Jupiter.
"What I think is really great about the documentary is the themes that it explores, everyone goes through," Sheeran said at the New York City premiere on May 2, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "Everyone goes through grief. Everyone goes through ups and downs of their mental health."
Sheeran dives deeper into his struggles — and is more vulnerable than ever before — on his latest album Subtract, which arrived on May 5. "Running from the light/ Engulfed in darkness/ Sharing my eyes/ Wondering why I'm stuck on the borderline," he sings on album cut "Borderline," which touches on battling suicide thoughts.
Like Sheeran, Scottish singer Lewis Capaldi also gave fans an incredibly upfront look at his mental health challenges in a documentary, How I'm Feeling Now. The new Netflix release details his experience with anxiety and Tourette's syndrome, taking viewers to physical therapy with Capaldi and discussing how his medication both helps and hurts the quality of his life.
Capaldi's second album, Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent (due May 19) will further explore his anxieties and vulnerability. While he has admitted it wasn't easy to be so raw in his music and on screen, Capaldi wants to make a difference in other people's lives. "If people notice things that are concurrent with what's going on in their life, then it's all been worth it," he told Variety.
While Billie Eilish's music has been raw and real from the start, her music has become increasingly more vulnerable throughout the years. Whether in her music or in interviews, the star has opened up about dealing with body dysmorphia, depression and thoughts of self-harm — hoping to inspire fans to speak up when they are hurting, and to know that it gets better.
"It doesn't make you weak to ask for help," she asserts in a 2019 video for Ad Council's Seize The Awkward campaign, which features stars discussing mental health.
"Kids use my songs as a hug," she told Rolling Stone earlier that year. "Songs about being depressed or suicidal or completely just against-yourself — some adults think that's bad, but I feel that seeing that someone else feels just as horrible as you do is a comfort. It's a good feeling."
As one of the most-followed stars on social media, Selena Gomez has often used her formidable presence to discuss her mental health and connect with others. In 2022, the singer launched a startup called Wondermind, which is focused on "mental fitness" and helping users maintain strong mental health.
Just a few months later, Gomez further chronicled her own mental health journey in an Apple TV+ documentary, Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me, which shows extremes she's suffered with her depression and bipolar disorder. She has said she was initially hesitant to share the film, but ultimately reflected on how many others could be helped if she did.
"Because I have the platform I have, it's kind of like I'm sacrificing myself a little bit for a greater purpose," she explained in a 2022 cover story with Rolling Stone. "I don't want that to sound dramatic, but I almost wasn't going to put this out. God's honest truth, a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure I could do it."
In 2019, Shawn Mendes first publicly addressed his struggles with anxiety in the dynamic — and GRAMMY-nominated — hit "In My Blood." Three years later, the singer postponed his 2022 tour in order to focus on his mental health, opening up an important conversation to his legion of fans.
"The process was very difficult," he said in a February interview with Wall Street Journal. "A lot of doing therapy, a lot of trying to understand how I was feeling and what was making me feel that way. And then doing the work to help myself and heal. And also leaning on people in my life to help a little bit.
"It's been a lot of work, but I think the last year and a half has been the most eye-opening and growing and beautiful and just healing process of my life," he continued. "And it just really made me see how culture is really starting to get to a place where mental health is really becoming a priority."
Even an artist as successful and celebrated as Bruce Springsteen has faced depression. In his 2016 autobiography Born to Run, the 20-time GRAMMY winner cites a difficult relationship with his father and a history of mental illness in the family, sharing that he has sought treatment throughout his life.
"I was crushed between 60 and 62, good for a year, and out again from 63 to 64," he wrote in the book. In that time, he released his 2012 album, Wrecking Ball, which featured a raw track called "This Depression." "Baby, I've been down, but never this down I've been lost, but never this lost," he sings on the opening verse.
As his wife, Patti Scialfa, told Vanity Fair in 2016, "He approached the book the way he would approach writing a song…A lot of his work comes from him trying to overcome that part of himself."
The physical and emotional abuse suffered by the famous Jackson family is well-documented in books, documentaries and TV dramatizations. But it's only been in recent years that Janet Jackson has talked about her own depression, which she has referred to as "intense." Her son Aissa has helped her heal from mental health challenges that have followed her all of her life.
"In my 40s, like millions of women in the world, I still heard voices inside my head berating me, voices questioning my value," she wrote in a 2020 ESSENCE cover story. "Happiness was elusive. A reunion with old friends might make me happy. A call from a colleague might make me happy. But because sometimes I saw my failed relationships as my fault, I easily fell into despair."
After seeing global success with her debut single, "Ex's & Oh's," Elle King experienced the woes of sudden fame as well as a crumbling marriage. Her second album, 2018's Shake the Spirit, documented her struggles with self-doubt, medicinal drinking and PTSD.
"There's two ways out," she told PEOPLE in 2018, describing her marriage as "destructive," physically abusive and leading her to addiction. "You can take the bad way out or you can get help. I got help because I knew that I have felt good in my life and I knew I could get there again."
Certain public situations can trigger crippling anxiety attacks for Brendon Urie, who has been open about mental health concerns throughout his career. He can perform in front of thousands of fans, but he's revealed that being in the grocery store or stuck in an elevator for too long with other people are among some of his most uncomfortable scenarios in his life.
"You would never tell on the surface, but inside it's so painful I can't even describe," the former Panic! At The Disco frontman — who disbanded the group earlier this year to focus on his family — said in a 2016 interview with Kerrang.
Rapper Big Sean and his mother released a series of educational videos during Mental Health Awareness Month in 2021 — two years after the Detroit-born star started talking about his own long-held depression and anxiety publicly.
"I was just keeping it real because I was tired of not keeping it real," he said in an interview with ESSENCE in 2021. "I was tired of pretending I was a machine and everything was cool and being politically correct or whatever. I just was like, I'm a just say how I feel."
Like many of his peers, he hopes that his honesty will help others. "Whatever they can apply to their life and better themselves and maybe it just even starts a whole journey in a different direction as far as upgrading and taking care of themselves and bossing up themselves," he added. "Whatever they're trying to do, I hope it helps them get to that place."
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