meta-script10 Artists Who Have Stood Up For Women In Music: Taylor Swift, Lizzo & More | GRAMMY.com
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Lizzo

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10 Artists Who Have Stood Up For Women In Music: Taylor Swift, Lizzo & More

Through voice, advocacy and creative endeavors, the music industry has become a safer, happier place for women to thrive — but there is still much work to be done. Read how artists such as Lizzo, Taylor Swift and Alicia Keys have stood up for women.

GRAMMYs/Mar 14, 2022 - 07:21 pm

It would be painful to even imagine the music industry without the contributions of women, many of whom have long been subjected to systemic sexism, double-standards, subtle dismissing, and blatant injustices throughout their careers in music. This inequality has been brought to the spotlight in recent years, as movements such as Me Too and Times Up empowered women to tell their stories and make profound changes to protect others.

The following artists stood up for themselves and, in doing so, have set an example and blazed the trail for others to do the same. In taking a stance against misogyny and inequity, both female and male artists are working to shape the music industry into a more inclusive, safe place for all artists to create and thrive.

Taylor Swift fought sexism on multiple fronts

Taylor Swift has enjoyed successes that few in the music industry can touch. She was the first woman to win the GRAMMY for Album of the Year three times, and has been nominated in the category once again for evermore at the 64th GRAMMY Awards. Nevertheless, she has often been the target of sexism in her extraordinary career.

While Swift started in the music industry as a teenager, she noticed the sexism as she grew older and more successful. She was mercilessly critiqued for writing about her feelings and relationships, while male musicians who do the same thing were rarely challenged. In her early 20s, Swift said she was "slut shamed" for having a few relationships; others romantically linked  Swift to people whom she’d only sat next to at a party. What most upset her was realizing that they were reducing her songwriting to being a trick, rather than a skill and a craft.

Swift has fought back through words, actions and art, and received praise for her efforts from feminist icon Dolly Parton. She has also written open letters for other artists who are experiencing injustice — including publicly demanding that Apple Music pay the artists during the trial period of the platform. Apple Music ultimately did as she asked. Swift has also stood up for individual women in music, and they have done the same ultimately strengthening their collective power.

Taylor Swift’s voice is strong within her music, too. "The Man", a song on her album Lover, looks at how much differently the music industry and society would have treated her if she was a man. In Miss Americana, the acclaimed 2020 documentary on Taylor Swift, she discusses the double-standards for women in music, pointing out how female artists must reinvent and reimagine their image.

Lizzo combated erasure by being unabashedly herself

Lizzo has tirelessly stood up for Black women in music. In an interview with "Good Morning America" in August 2021, she explained that, although Black women have long been innovators in the music industry, they suffer from marginalization and erasure the most. Lizzo added that she might have been erased if not for social media and the internet.

Lizzo is also quick to defend other musical artists and stand up for what’s right. She corrected the paparazzi for using the wrong pronouns when referencing Demi Lovato. In turn, Demi responded by calling Lizzo a queen and sincerely thanking her.

Blazing a trail for herself and other artists can’t be easy, but Lizzo is determined to set an example of confidence, authenticity and beauty. In addition to facing racism and sexism, Lizzo has also faced criticism for her body type, yet she responds to all that with confidence and self-love. She told People, "What I'm doing is stepping into my confidence and my power to create my own beauty standard. And one day that will just be the standard."

Brandi Carlile created space for women in country music

Speaking up for women in music is an important part of life for Brandi Carlile. As she told Billboard, "I wake up every day political. I can’t not be political."

Along with fellow artists Amanda Shires and Maren Morris, Carlile started the Highwomen to mentor and support fellow female musicians, according to Rolling Stone. She also co-founded the Looking Out Foundation, which funds lesser-known causes and organizations to amplify the impact of music by empowering those without a voice."

Carlile has also taken to social media for activism. When Country Music Television announced that it would promote equal play, offering "complete parity between male and female artists" on its channels, she tweeted a challenge for country radio to do the same.

Madonna broke the mold and challenged expectations of older women

It’s often said that Madonna was ahead of her time, but she changed the times to fit her message and voice (the New York Times tallied 60 times Madonna changed culture). When her career first skyrocketed in the 1980s, Madonna redefined what it meant to be a powerful woman in music in many ways, and has since continued to challenge sexism in the music industry and beyond.

Madonna has repeatedly called out the rampant ageism against women in music, which has impacted how she has been perceived and treated. However, the woman who broke barriers and created boundary-pushing music believes the most controversial thing she has done is stick around when the music industry would otherwise consider her too old.

Madonna hopes to help empower other women to embrace and celebrate their bodies, talents and selves at all ages and stages of their lives. That’s part of why she doesn’t hesitate to call out anyone who mocks her or others for not adhering to the music industry's expectations of women as they age.

Alicia Keys' nonprofit encourages women in music

Alicia Keys has long been a musical force to be reckoned with and she co-founded the organization She Is The Music to help empower other women in music. The nonprofit has thrived since 2018, and it operates as a "unifying organization for women from across the industry, creating strength and impact on a global scale. On a practical level, it helps increase the number of women working in the music industry and also strives to help future generations of women develop their careers.

Keys has written and performed many empowering songs, including "Girl on Fire." She referenced that song when announcing the launch of She Is The Music, stating, "We are more on fire than we’ve ever been."

Janet Jackson stood in her power and inspired others

With her GRAMMY-nominated album Control and hit song of the same name, Janet Jackson inspired millions of women beginning in the late '80s. "Control" celebrates the joy and fulfillment of a woman standing in her power, while taking control of her own life. Jackson advocated for women in other songs, too, such as the 1993 hit "New Agenda" which frankly dealt with sexism and racism.

Jackson has paved the way for many other female artists to reach greater heights in the music industry, often using her spotlight to inspire and empower others. When she won the Global Icon Award at the MTV European Music Awards, Jackson explained that she feels moved to speak for women whose voices have been stifled, and she confessed that her voice used to be stifled as well. 

When she won the Worldwide Inspiration Award at the Mnet Asian Music Awards in 2018, shememorably said, "I dream of the end of bigotry and discrimination in any form. I dream of a world in which we join hands across all borders and unite as one. Finally, I dream of a planet where hatred turns to compassion, tolerance turns to understanding, and a healing and lasting peace prevails."

Pink embodied feminism in her art and called for change

Pink started her career with a distinct voice and feminist attitude, and she has held fast to it throughout her growth as an artist. If anything, her feminist convictions and expressions have gotten stronger.

Pink has stood up for many other important causes, including animal rights, and she didn’t even back down to royalty. When Prince William invited her to perform for his 21st birthday, she rejected the gesture because he was a hunter. She even publicly called him out for killing animals for fun. 

Pink has stood up for women in music on many occasions. In one of her early hits, she bemoaned that people in the music industry tried to pressure her to look as pretty as Britney Spears. More recently, Pink has said that she feels bad that she didn’t reach out more to Spears back then. Standing in solidarity with other women, she has also served as a UNICEF ambassador and often speaks up for what she feels is right.

Harry Styles strives for a world where feminism is the norm

Harry Styles is a feminist who chalks it up to simply being the right thing to do (and doesn’t want a lot of credit for it). Styles also grew up heavily influenced by his mom and his sister. Since the female influence in his life was so profound, Styles felt it was only natural to be a feminist; he considers the ideals of feminism to be pretty straightforward.

"Most of the stuff that hurts me about what's going on at the moment is not politics, it's fundamentals. Equal rights. For everyone, all races, sexes, everything," Styles told Rolling Stone. He tries to make things better in big and small ways — from the music he chooses to perform, to the words he uses on social media and in interviews. He has used social media to support things like the #HeForShe campaign, an initiative from UN Women to empower women.

Ariana Grande called out sexism and defied stereotypes

Ariana Grande chose to stand up for women in music and call out the massive sexism in the industry when she was named as Billboard’s Woman of the Year. She noted how female artists try so much harder, and spoke about how women are expected to fit into narrow stereotypes.

That wasn’t the first time Grande stood up for herself and other female performers. She's also encouraged others to do the same. 

"I think the most important thing is to have each other’s backs. When you see something or hear something that’s upsetting, or someone says something that’s upsetting, even if it’s not to you, just say something and be there and support each other," Grande told Coveteur. "Misogyny is ever-present, and we have to be there to support one another. That’s really it. It’s about the sisterhood. There’s no competing in that. We have to lift each other up, not try and claw each other down."

Lady Gaga opposed ageism — in her twenties

The intersection of sexism and ageism is no joke, and women in music feel it early on. In fact, Lady Gaga was speaking out about it in her twenties. She declared, "I want to show women they don’t need to try to keep up with the 19-year-olds and the 21-year-olds in order to have a hit. Women in music, they feel like they need to f-cking sell everything to be a star. It’s so sad. I want to explode as I go into my thirties."

Happily, Lady Gaga did just that, and her success has only grown. Meanwhile, she has continued to lift other artists up. She praised Britney Spears for forever changing the course for women in music; in turn, Spears called Lady Gaga her "inspiration."

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Ryan Tedder Press Photo 2024
Ryan Tedder

Photo: Jeremy Cowart

interview

Behind Ryan Tedder's Hits: Stories From The Studio With OneRepublic, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift & More

As OneRepublic releases their latest album, the group's frontman and pop maverick gives an inside look into some of the biggest songs he's written — from how Beyoncé operates to Tom Cruise's prediction for their 'Top Gun' smash.

GRAMMYs/Jul 15, 2024 - 03:46 pm

Three months after OneRepublic began promoting their sixth album, Artificial Paradise, in February 2022, the band unexpectedly had their biggest release in nearly a decade. The pop-rock band's carefree jam, "I Ain't Worried," soundtracked Top Gun: Maverick's most memeable scene and quickly became a global smash — ultimately delaying album plans in favor of promoting their latest hit.

Two years later, "I Ain't Worried" is one of 16 tracks on Artificial Paradise, which arrived July 12. It's a seamless blend of songs that will resonate with longtime and newer fans alike. From the layered production of "Hurt," to the feel-good vibes of "Serotonin," to the evocative lyrics of "Last Holiday," Artificial Paradise shows that OneRepublic's sound is as dialed-in as it is ever-evolving.

The album also marks the end of an era for OneRepublic, as it's the last in their contract with Interscope Records. But for the group's singer, Ryan Tedder, that means the future is even more exciting than it's been in their entire 15-year career.

"I've never been more motivated to write the best material of my life than this very moment," he asserts. "I'm taking it as a challenge. We've had a lot of fun, and a lot of uplifting records for the last seven or eight years, but I also want to tap back into some deeper material with the band."

As he's been prepping Artificial Paradise with his OneRepublic cohorts, Tedder has also been as busy as he's ever been working with other artists. His career as a songwriter/producer took off almost simultaneously with OneRepublic's 2007 breakthrough, "Apologize" (his first major behind-the-board hit was Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love"); to this day he's one of the go-to guys for pop's biggest names, from BLACKPINK to Tate McRae.

Tedder sat down with GRAMMY.com to share some of his most prominent memories of OneRepublic's biggest songs, as well as some of the hits he's written with Beyoncé, Adele, Taylor Swift and more.

OneRepublic — "Apologize," 'Dreaming Out Loud' (2007)

I was producing and writing other songs for different artists on Epic and Atlantic — I was just cutting my teeth as a songwriter in L.A. This is like 2004. I was at my lowest mentally and financially. I was completely broke. Creditors chasing me, literally dodging the taxman and getting my car repoed, everything.

I had that song in my back pocket for four years. A buddy of mine just reminded me last month, a songwriter from Nashville — Ashley Gorley, actually. We had a session last month, me, him and Amy Allen, and he brought it up. He was like, "Is it true, the story about 'Apologize'? You were completely broke living in L.A. and Epic Records offered you like 100 grand or something just for the right to record the song on one of their artists?"

And that is true. It was, like, 20 [grand], then 50, then 100. And I was salivating. I was, like, I need this money so bad. And I give so many songs to other people, but with that song, I drew a line in the sand and said, "No one will sing this song but me. I will die with this song." 

It was my story, and I just didn't want anyone else to sing it. It was really that simple. It was a song about my past relationships, it was deeply personal. And it was also the song that — I spent two years trying to figure out what my sound was gonna be. I was a solo artist… and I wasn't landing on anything compelling. Then I landed on "Apologize" and a couple of other songs, and I was like, These songs make me think of a band, not solo artist material. So it was the song that led me to the sound of OneRepublic, and it also led me to the idea that I should start a band and not be a solo artist.

We do it every night. I'll never not do it. I've never gotten sick of it once. Every night that we do it, whether I'm in Houston or Hong Kong, I look out at the crowd and look at the band, and I'm like, Wow. This is the song that got us here.

Beyoncé — "Halo," 'I Am…Sacha Fierce' (2008)

We were halfway through promoting Dreaming Out Loud, our first album. I played basketball every day on tour, and I snapped my Achilles. The tour got canceled. The doctor told me not to even write. And I had this one sliver of an afternoon where my wife had to run an errand. And because I'm sadistic and crazy, I texted [songwriter] Evan Bogart, "I got a three-hour window, race over here. Beyoncé called me and asked me to write her a song. I want to do it with you." He had just come off his huge Rihanna No. 1, and we had an Ashley Tisdale single together.

When you write enough songs, not every day do the clouds part and God looks down on you and goes, "Here." But that's what happened on that day. I turn on the keyboard, the first sound that I play is the opening sound of the song. Sounds like angels singing. And we wrote the song pretty quick, as I recall. 

I didn't get a response [from Beyoncé after sending "Halo" over], which I've now learned is very, very typical of her. I did Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé "II MOST WANTED" [from COWBOY CARTER] — I didn't know that was coming out 'til five days before it came out. And when I did "XO" [from 2013's Beyoncé], I found out that "XO" was coming out 12 hours before it came out. That's how she operates.

OneRepublic — "Good Life," 'Waking Up' (2009)

["Good Life"] was kind of a Hail Mary. We already knew that "All the Right Moves" would be the first single [from Waking Up]. We knew that "Secrets" was the second single. And in the 11th hour, our engineer at the time — who I ended up signing as a songwriter, Noel Zancanella — had this drum loop that he had made, and he played it for Brent [Kutzle] in our band. Brent said, "You gotta hear this drum loop that Noel made. It's incredible."

He played it for me the next morning, and I was like, "Yo throw some chords to this. I'm writing to this today." They threw some chords down, and the first thing out of my mouth was, [sings] "Oh, this has gotta be the good life." 

It's the perfect example of, oftentimes, the chord I've tried to strike with this band with some of our bigger records, [which] is happy sad. Where you feel nostalgic and kind of melancholic, but at the same time, euphoric. That's what those chords and that melody did for me.

I was like, "Hey guys, would it be weird if I made the hook a whistle?" And everyone was like, "No! Do not whistle!" They're like, "Name the last hit song that had a whistle." And the only one I could think of was, like, Scorpion from like, 1988. [Laughs.] So I thought, To hell with it, man, it's been long enough, who cares? Let's try it. And the whistle kind of made the record. It became such a signature thing.

Adele — "Rumour Has It," '21' (2011)

"Rumour Has It" was the first song I did in probably a four year period, with any artist, that wasn't a ballad. All any artist ever wanted me to write with them or for them, was ballads, because of "Halo," and "Apologize" and "Bleeding Love."

I begged [Adele] to do a [song with] tempo, because we did "Turning Tables," another ballad. She was in a feisty mood [that day], so I was like, "Okay, we're doing a tempo today!"

Rick Rubin was originally producing the whole album. I was determined to produce Adele, not just write — because I wanted a shot to show her that I could, and to show myself. I stayed later after she left, and I remember thinking, What can I do in this record in this song that could be so difficult to reproduce that it might land me the gig?

So I intentionally muted the click track, changed the tempo, and [created that] whole piano bridge. I was making it up as I went. When she got in that morning. I said, "I have a crazy idea for a bridge. It's a movie." She listens and she says, "This is really different, I like this! How do we write to this?" 

I mean, it was very difficult. [But] we finished the song. She recorded the entire song that day. She recorded the whole song in one take. I've never seen anyone do that in my life — before or since.

Then I didn't hear from her for six months. Because I handed over the files, and Rick Rubin's doing it, so I don't need to check on it. I randomly check on the status of the song — and at this point, if you're a songwriter or producer, you're assuming that they're not keeping the songs. Her manager emails my manager, "Hey, good news — she's keeping both songs they did, and she wants Ryan to finish 'Rumour Has It' production and mix it." 

When I finally asked her, months later — probably at the GRAMMYs — I said, "Why didn't [Rick] do it?" She said, "Oh he did. It's that damn bridge! Nobody could figure out what the hell you were doing…It was so problematic that we just gave up on it."

OneRepublic — "Counting Stars," 'Native' (2013)

I was in a Beyoncé camp in the Hamptons writing for the self-titled album. [There were] a bunch of people in the house — me, Greg Kurstin, Sia — it was a fun group of people. I had four days there, and every morning I'd get up an hour and a half before I had to leave, make a coffee, and start prepping for the day. On the third day, I got up, I'm in the basement of this house at like 7 in the morning, and I'm coming up with ideas. I stumble across that chord progression, the guitar and the melody. It was instant shivers up my spine. 

"Lately I've been losing sleep, dreaming about the things that we could be" is the only line that I had. [My] first thought was, I should play this for Beyoncé, and then I'm listening to it and going, This is not Beyoncé, not even remotely. It'd be a waste. So I tabled it, and I texted the guys in my band, "Hey, I think I have a potentially really big record. I'm going to finish it when I get back to Denver."

I got back the next week, started recording it, did four or five versions of the chorus, bouncing all the versions off my wife, and then eventually landed it. And when I played it for the band, they were like, "This is our favorite song."

Taylor Swift — "Welcome to New York," '1989' (2014)

It was my second session with Taylor. The first one was [1989's] "I Know Places," and she sent me a voice memo. I was looking for a house in Venice [California], because we were spending so much time in L.A. So that whole memory is attached to me migrating back to Los Angeles. 

But I knew what she was talking about, because I lived in New York, and I remember the feeling — endless possibilities, all the different people and races and sexes and loves. That was her New York chapter. She was so excited to be there. If you never lived there, and especially if you get there and you've got a little money in the pocket, it is so exhilarating.

It was me just kind of witnessing her brilliant, fast-paced, lyrical wizardry. [Co-producer] Max [Martin] and I had a conversation nine months later at the GRAMMYs, when we had literally just won for 1989. He kind of laughed, he pointed to all the other producers on the album, and he's like, "If she had, like, three more hours in the day, she would just figure out what we do and she would do it. And she wouldn't need any of us." 

And I still think that's true. Some people are just forces of nature in and among themselves, and she's one of them. She just blew me away. She's the most talented top liner I've ever been in a room with, bar none. If you're talking lyric and melody, I've never been in a room with anyone faster, more adept, knows more what they want to say, focused, efficient, and just talented.

Jonas Brothers — "Sucker," 'Happiness Begins' (2019)

I had gone through a pretty dry spell mentally, emotionally. I had just burned it at both ends and tapped out, call it end of 2016. So, really, all of 2017 for me was a blur and a wash. I did a bunch of sessions in the first three months of the year, and then I just couldn't get a song out. I kept having, song after song, artists telling me it's the first single, [then] the song was not even on the album. I had never experienced that in my career.

I went six to nine months without finishing a song, which for me is unheard of. Andrew Watt kind of roped me back into working with him. We did "Easier" for 5 Seconds of Summer, and we did some Sam Smith and some Miley Cyrus, and right in that same window, I did this song "Sucker." Two [or] three months later, Wendy Goldstein from Republic [Records] heard the record, I had sent it to her. She'd said, very quietly, "We're relaunching the Jonas Brothers. They want you to be involved in a major way. Do you have anything?" 

She calls me, she goes, "Ryan, do not play this for anybody else. This is their comeback single. It's a No. 1 record. Watch what we're gonna do." And she delivered.

OneRepublic — "I Ain't Worried," 'Top Gun: Maverick' Soundtrack (2022)

My memory is, being in lockdown in COVID, and just being like, Who knows when this is going to end, working out of my Airstream at my house. I had done a lot of songs for movies over the years, and [for] that particular [song] Randy Spendlove, who runs [music at] Paramount, called me.

I end up Zooming with Tom Cruise [and Top Gun: Maverick director] Jerry Bruckheimer — everybody's in lockdown during post-production. The overarching memory was, Holy cow, I'm doing the scene, I'm doing the song for Top Gun. I can't believe this is happening. But the only way I knew how to approach it, rather than to, like, overreact and s— the bed, was, It's just another day.

I do prescription songs for movies, TV, film all the time. I love a brief. It's so antithetical to most writers. I'm either uncontrollably lazy or the most productive person you've ever met. And the dividing line between the two is, if I'm chasing some directive, some motivation, some endpoint, then I can be wildly productive.

I just thought, I'm going to do the absolute best thing I can do for this scene and serve the film. OneRepublic being the performing artist was not on the menu in my mind. I just told them, "I think you need a cool indie band sounding, like, breakbeat." I used adjectives to describe what I heard when I saw the scene, and Tom got really ramped and excited. 

You could argue [it's the biggest song] since the band started. The thing about it is, it's kind of become one of those every summer [hits]. And when it blew up, that's what Tom said. He said, "Mark my words, dude. You're gonna have a hit with this every summer for, like, the next 20 years or more." 

And that's what happened. The moment Memorial Day happened, "I Ain't Worried" got defrosted and marched itself back into the top 100.

Tate McRae — "Greedy," 'THINK LATER' (2023)

We had "10:35" [with Tiësto] the previous year that had been, like, a No. 1 in the UK and across Europe and Australia. So we were coming off the back of that, and the one thing she was clear about was, "That is not the direction of what I want to do."

If my memory serves me correct, "greedy" was the next to last session we had. Everything we had done up to that point was kind of dark, midtempo, emotional. So "greedy" was the weirdo outlier. I kept pushing her to do a dance record. I was like, "Tate, there's a lot of people that have great voices, and there's a lot of people who can write, but none of those people are professional dancers like you are. Your secret weapon is the thing you're not using. In this game and this career, you've got to use every asset that you have and exploit it."

There was a lot of cajoling. On that day, we did it, and I thought it was badass, and loved it. And she was like, "Ugh, what do we just do? What is this?"

So then it was just, like, months, months and months of me constantly bringing that song back up, and playing it for her, and annoying the s— out of her. And she came around on it. 

She has very specific taste. So much of the music with Tate, it really is her steering. I'll do what I think is like a finished version of a song, and then she will push everyone for weeks, if not months, to extract every ounce of everything out of them, to push the song harder, further, edgier — 19 versions of a song, until finally she goes, "Okay, this is the one." She's a perfectionist.

OneRepublic — "Last Holiday," 'Artificial Paradise' (2024)

I love [our latest single] "Hurt," but my favorite song on the album is called "Last Holiday." I probably started the beginning of that lyric, I'm not joking, seven, eight years ago. But I didn't finish it 'til this past year.

The verses are little maxims and words of advice that I've been given throughout the years. It's almost cynical in a way, the song. When I wrote the chorus, I was definitely in kind of a down place. So the opening line is, "So I don't believe in the stars anymore/ They never gave me what I wished for." And it's, obviously, a very not-so-slight reference to "Counting Stars." But it's also hopeful — "We've got some problems, okay, but this isn't our last holiday." 

It's very simple sentiments. Press pause. Take some moments. Find God before it all ends. All these things with this big, soaring chorus. Musically and emotionally and sonically, that song — and "Hurt," for sure — but "Last Holiday" is extremely us-sounding. 

The biggest enemy that we've had over the course of 18 years, I'll be the first to volunteer, is, this ever-evolving, undulating sound. No one's gonna accuse me of making these super complex concept albums, because that's just not how my brain's wired. I grew up listening to the radio. I didn't grow up hanging out in the Bowery in CBGBs listening to Nick Cave. So for us, the downside to that, and for me doing all these songs for all these other people, is the constant push and pull of "What is their sound? What genre is it?" 

I couldn't put a pin in exactly what the sound is, but what I would say is, if you look at the last 18 years, a song like "Last Holiday" really encompasses, sonically, what this band is about. It's very moving, and emotional, and dynamic. It takes me to a place — that's the best way for me to put it. And hopefully the listener finds the same.

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Cigarettes After Sex press photo
Cigarettes After Sex

Photo: Ebru Yildiz

interview

X's Mark The Spot: How Cigarettes After Sex Turn Difficult Memories Into Dreamy Nostalgia

"We’re all in the same boat," Greg Gonzalez says of the band’s new album, ‘X’s.' The frontman speaks with GRAMMY.com about how channeling Madonna and Marvin Gaye helped him turn his memories of a relationship into sublime dream pop.

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2024 - 01:23 pm

When Greg Gonzalez sat down to start writing the next Cigarettes After Sex album, the dream pop frontman relied equally on memories of heartbreak and the ballads of the Material Girl. "‘90s Madonna was a big influence on this record," he tells GRAMMY.com with a soft smile. 

Though the end result won’t be mistaken for anything off of Ray of Light, that timeless, almost mystic cloud of emotionally resonant pop carries a distinct familiarity on Cigarettes After Sex's new album, X’s.

Cigarettes After Sex has championed that sweet and sour dreaminess since their 2017 debut. Two years after that self-titled record earned rave reviews and was certified gold, the El Paso, Texas-based outfit reached even deeper for Cry. And while those records cataloged Gonzalez's heartbreaks and intimacies in sensual detail, Gonzalez knew he could reach deeper on the band’s third LP: "These songs are just exactly as memory happened." 

Arriving July 12, X’s fuses Cigarettes After Sex's dream pop strengths with ‘90s pop warmth and ‘70s dance floor glow. Always one to bring listeners into the moment, Gonzalez imbues the record with a lyrical specificity that gives the taste of pink lemonade and the tension of a deteriorating relationship equal weight. On X’s, the listener can feel the immediate joy and lingering pain in equal measure.

"This is specific to me and what I'm going through, but then I go out and talk to people on tour, and they’re like, 'Oh, yeah, I went through the exact same thing,'" Gonzalez says.

Leading up to the release of X’s, Gonzalez spoke with GRAMMY.com about the appeal of ‘90s Madonna, finding a way to dance through tears, and his potential future in film scoring.

Tell me about the production process for this record. You've always been able to build nostalgic landscapes, but this record feels smoother than before. Were there any new touchpoints you were working with?

That was the thing: trying to make the grooves tighter. It was coming from more of a ‘70s Marvin Gaye kind of place, trying to make it groove like a ‘70s dance floor.

Which is an especially interesting place to be writing from when dealing with that line between love and lust.

Yeah. The stuff we've done before was really based on the late ‘50s, early ‘60s slow dance music. But it was always supposed to be dance music; I always wanted Cigarettes to be music you could dance to, even if it was a slow dance. 

When I think of pop music and I think of songs that really feel powerful, they usually make you want to groove in some way. I love a lot of music that doesn't do that: ambient music or classical or some jazz. But there's so much power to music that makes you want to move. And I found throughout the years that I could just never get enough of the music that makes you want to dance. So I thought, Okay, the music that I make should be really emotional. It should feel like music you could actually cry to, but in the end it should make you want to also move in that way.

It’s the physical necessity of the music, some forward motion to match the emotional journey. I’d imagine that is related in some sense to the fact that you’re writing in a somewhat autobiographical way. Is that a way of not getting stuck in the stories, in the feelings?

I'm writing it for myself. Of course, I can't help but picture the audience in some way. But it's never like I'm writing it for them.

There is an audience that I can visualize that would like the music. [Laughs]. There have been times where we’re recording and I close my eyes to visualize an arena or a stadium to picture the music in that setting. It’s a nice feeling. And that's just based on the music that I love that I thought had similarities. 

Is there any particular music that you love that fills that feeling?

There's so much music that I was obsessed with, but with Cigarettes I narrowed it down. Since I was a kid, I did every kind of style I could do. I was in power pop bands, new wave, electro, metal, really experimental bands. 

But when I finally sat down and said, "Let me make an identity for Cigarettes and make it special," I had to think about what my favorite music was and what music affected me the deepest. And it was stuff like "Blue Light" by Mazzy Star or "Harvest Moon" by Neil Young or "I Love How You Love Me" by the Paris Sisters. And I kind of put all that together and that became the sound of Cigarettes. And now I do that every time I make a record: I'll make a playlist of what I want it to feel like. I mentioned Marvin Gaye. I feel like ‘90s Madonna was a big influence on this record.

Madonna in the ‘90s? No one could touch that era. I don't know when the last time you listened to that music was, but… 

No, I grew up with Madonna and I used to watch the "Like A Prayer" video on repeat. It blew me away. But then I came back and I got into the ‘90s stuff, like "Take A Bow" and that record Something To Remember. It's all of the slower tunes. And that was a big influence, especially songs like "Rain."

You clearly have a diverse musical appetite, but you’ve also highlighted people with such identifiable voices — something that I think is true for Cigarettes as well. Your vocals are so front and center in the identity of the project.

That's great. The singer pretty much makes the song for me, whatever I’m listening to. The entire spirit comes down to the vocals. I'll hear a song like "Take A Bow" and be like, This feels so special. What if I made something that felt like this? If I told someone this [record] was based on Marvin Gaye and ‘90s Madonna, I don’t know if they would think it really sounded like that. It's more just trying to capture the spirit of what those records feel like.

That's what's cool about it too: You can remember those songs that were filling the air back in the ‘90s and what those feelings were, what you were up to, and draw a line between that and whatever's happening now that I wrote about. 

You don’t seem like the type of person to avoid negative feelings when you come up against them in that process either. The songs feel like you just embrace it, even if it's really painful.

I've always felt that's the best way for me to go through things, to face it head on. It's supposed to be painful. You have all these really great moments with somebody and all these great memories, and then when it ends, honestly, that's the way it goes, right? That's the trade off. 

Yeah, but not everybody goes through a breakup and then makes an album about it. Isn’t that like returning to the scene of the crime? How does it feel to deal with it in that way?

That's funny. The thing was, I was writing a lot of this stuff while I was still in a relationship. It took so long to finish it. 

Finish the album or finish the relationship? [Laughs.]

Actually both. But yeah, the record is mostly about that one relationship, but there are little diversions with some of the songs. A lot of the key images and songs are based on that romance and little memories that I took from it.

I like that I have all those moments kind of set in stone. It’s hard to listen to this record too because I'll just really see these moments, all these memories, and it can be a bit much to flash back to all that stuff and see it so vividly. But I love that I have it. Those memories meant so much and I’m glad that they're collected and displayed in this way.

And you were able to collect them when it was happening as opposed to having some time between, which could warp those memories. Writing and recording when you’re as raw as possible makes sense, so what you capture is really honest.

That's why I like to write these songs that are as honest as possible or as autobiographical as possible, with a lot of details. If I'm writing a song and someone heard it, they would know it was about them just based on all the imagery that's in that song. It's like a little letter to them. It could be like a secret little letter to someone. 

That makes me think of "Holding You, Holding Me," which is so lovely and feels as immediate as anything you’ve done. 

It was the pandemic, and then the other girlfriend I had at that time, we were living in downtown L.A. and just wanted to get out of the house and stay somewhere nicer for a while. And we went to this AirBnb that was in Beverly Hills with this beautiful backyard. The song was meant to be kind of Fleetwood Mac-ish, like "Gypsy" or "Sara", that nice ‘70s country pop feel.

Over the years I’ve noticed you frequently use taste as a sensory link in your songs, which really creates an evocative moment — I’m thinking about references to candy bars and lemonade on this album. What is it about that sense that sticks out to you?

If I'm going back to memory, then that's just what really happened. We went to the store to go buy wine and candy because that was the vibe that night. "Let’s watch movies and get red wine and some candy bars." And it was just a big memory that we walked outside and it started raining. I think too, what's nice about using objects is that it gives you so much mood in a song. You can tell what the feeling is of that moment when you put those things together.

And it can have an almost universal understanding. People will understand what it means to have a "candy bar night."

That's the craziest thing. It's almost like you're trained to write universally, meaning generically. Like, "Oh, this is a song that everyone can like and the lyrics can be really simple." But I’ve found that the songs that are really detailed and were more personal stories, a song like "K." from Cigarettes After Sex, those are the songs that everyone really loves, the ones that take up being really specific.

I suppose that's pop's way of being a doorway. When you're talking about your personal experiences, somebody is going to enter into it and feel like you're singing about theirs. 

You realize that we're all in the same boat. This is specific to me and what I'm going through, but then I go out and talk to people on tour, and they’re like, "Oh, yeah, I went through the exact same thing." I feel very lucky that most people I talk to that love [our] music are always saying that. It’s so special.

It makes me trust my instincts. That's the hard thing when you're writing. You're wondering, Is this too much to disclose? Is this too much information? [Laughs.] That instinct is really important to know, to trust it. That's the tough one. That's what's also therapeutic about it too. You want to share things that feel really personal because then you can process them. You can really start to unpack what those moments meant and what they can mean going forward. It gives me more confidence when I hear that kind of stuff from people.

What then is it like when you sing it for a crowd? You’re performing, but you can’t fully separate the emotion that inspired that song. 

That's tough because, ideally, if I did my job well enough writing the song, then it should be hard to sing live — especially if I really see those moments when I'm singing it. It could bring me to tears, honestly, because it should feel that intense. And it's even worse if I look in the crowd and someone's crying. I can't even look at them. And that happens very often. If I started crying, my voice will stop.

That brings a real cinematic feeling to your music too, which makes me think you’d be good at scoring a film. Is that something you’d tackle?

I'm definitely obsessed with film and have been since I was a kid. The idea that I keep saying — and I almost feel like I'm going to jinx it because I keep saying it too much — is that I really want to direct and write something. And I've written some ideas down for screenplays and things. It seems like it's hard to transition from musician to filmmaker and really make it stick. But that would be something I want to do in the next 10 years. I'm giving myself 10 years. [Laughs.]

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Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform  at the 77th annual Tony Awards in New York City, Sunday, June 16.
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform "Empire State Of Mind" at the 77th annual Tony Awards on June 16.

Photo: Mary Kouw

news

2024 Tony Awards Recap: Musical Theater Wins And Exciting Performances

From the big wins for "Merrily We Roll Along" to "The Outsiders" taking home Best Musical and "Suffs" unexpected win, musicals made a splash at the 2024 Tonys.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 05:36 pm

Broadway had a jam-packed slate of musicals this year, with everything from originals to adaptations and highly anticipated revivals. It would only follow, then, that it would be a busy race toward the 77th Tony Awards

Fifteen musicals were eligible for nomination this year, up from nine in 2023. Fittingly, the June 16 telecast from Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater in New York City had some dramatic surprises — especially in the music-related categories. 

One race that was anyone’s game was Best Musical. While many thought Alicia Keys' "Hell’s Kitchen" would take the big win, the award went to "The Outsiders." Featuring music by folk duo Jamestown Revival, the book/film adaptation won a handful of awards, including Direction Of A Musical for Dayna Taymor. It was a landmark year, in which four of the five nominees for direction were women.  

Broadway is perhaps trying to capitalize on pop music fans more due to post-pandemic struggles and the reputation of Broadway being for the elderly elite. The uptick in pop stars gracing the Great White Way led the New York Times’ Michael Paulson to declare that Broadway was entering its pop era; fittingly half of the eligible new musicals had scores composed by people who primarily work as recording artists. 

Broadway is rife with recording artist-helmed scores and jukebox musicals, including Alicia Keys, David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, the Who, and Jamestown Revival. Recording artist-driven musicals were also among some of the notable snubs at the Tonys. Shows that failed to secure Best Musical or Original Score nominations included Ingrid Michaelson for "The Notebook," Barry Manilow for "Harmony," Huey Lewis for "The Heart of Rock and Roll," and Britney Spears for "Once Upon a One More Time."

The music categories did offer up some big name winners. Best Original Score was set to be an interesting category this year because a play, "Stereophonic," with music by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler was in the running. However, the suffragette musical "Suffs" written and starring Shaina Taub took home the award. She also scored Best Book of a Musical, which was predicted by several experts. "Stereophonic" did win five awards total including Best Play and Sound Design Of A Play. 

Orchestrator and musical director Jonathan Tunick expectedly won Best Orchestrations for "Merrily We Roll Along." While the orchestrations aren’t terribly different from the original production, the Sondheim show flopped when it first opened in 1981. Yet the "Merrily" revival has found huge success due to the strength of the music and its three famous leads — perhaps the biggest name on the show's Playbill,  Daniel Radcliffe, won  Best Performance By A Featured Actor In A Musical.

Radcliffe was joined in the winners’ circle by costar "Merrily" Jonathan Groff, who took home Best Performance By An Actor in a Leading Role In A Musical. Costar Lindsay Mendez lost out on Best Actress in a Featured Role of a Musical to "Hell’s Kitchen’s" Kecia Lewis, whose performance in the Alicia Keys bio-musical was very well reviewed. Considered a front runner for Best Musical, "Hell’s Kitchen" only ended up taking home two awards: Lewis’ actress award and Best Performance by a Leading Actress In A Musical, which went to Maleah Joi Moon, who was the frontrunner in predictions.  

Beyond wins and upsets, performances were the highlight of the Tonys. "The Outsiders" has been garnering praise for its rumble scene, a segment of which made up the show’s Tonys performance, complete with rain. Meanwhile, "Merrily" featured its three stars with a sweet rendition of "Old Friends." Other notable performances showcased the "wow-factors" from many of the nominated shows, including a number from the passionate dance-focused show, "Illinoise," and circus tricks in the number from "Water for Elephants." Jay-Z and Alicia Keys brought the audience to their feet with their performance of "Empire State Of Mind" from "Hell’s Kitchen." Meanwhile, "Suffs" leaned into the history lessons of the show.  

Non-nominee performances that stood out include a Fosse-fueled tribute to Chita Rivera, which also included a dance from "West Side Story" performed by host Ariana DeBose (who won an Oscar for the 2021 re-make for the role of Anita, which Chita Rivera originated on Broadway). Nicole Scherzinger, who will appear in "Sunset Boulevard" next season, sang the "In Memoriam." Speaking of West End, the London-transfer production of "Cabaret" included an immersive rendition of "Willkommen," led by Eddie Redmayne, who got dragged on social media and in the press for the clown-like performance many found "terrifying." 

Next year we will be getting even more pop-artist driven musicals, including Elton John leading the charge with two musicals in the works, "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Tammy Faye." Other notable upcoming shows will have music by John Legend, Elvis Costello, Nas, Neko Case, and Mitski. Plus, a production of "Romeo and Juliet" will feature music by frequent Taylor Swift collaborator (as well as 2024 Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical) Jack Antonoff

50 Years In, "The Wiz" Remains An Inspiration: How A New Recording Repaves The Yellow Brick Road 

 

Moby performing on stage
Moby

Photo: Mike Formanski

interview

"Let Yourself Be Idiosyncratic": Moby Talks New Album 'Always Centered At Night' & 25 Years Of 'Play'

"We're not writing for a pop audience, we don't need to dumb it down," Moby says of creating his new record. In an interview, the multiple-GRAMMY nominee reflects on his latest album and how it contrasts with his legendary release from 1999.

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2024 - 01:29 pm

Moby’s past and present are converging in a serendipitous way. The multiple-GRAMMY nominee is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his seminal work, Play, the best-selling electronic dance music album of all time, and the release of his latest album, always centered at night. 

Where Play was a solitary creation experience for Moby, always centered at night is wholly collaborative. Recognizable names on the album are Lady Blackbird on the blues-drenched "dark days" and serpentwithfeet on the emotive "on air." But always centered at night’s features are mainly lesser-known artists, such as the late Benjamin Zephaniah on the liquid jungle sounds of "where is your pride?" and Choklate on the slow grooves of "sweet moon." 

Moby’s music proves to have staying power: His early ‘90s dance hits "Go" and "Next is the E" still rip up dancefloors; the songs on Play are met with instant emotional reactions from millennials who heard them growing up. Moby is even experiencing a resurgence of sorts with Gen Z. In 2023, Australian drum ‘n’ bass DJ/producer Luude and UK vocalist Issey Cross reimagined Moby’s classic "Porcelain" into "Oh My." Earlier this year, Moby released "You and Me" with Italian DJ/producer Anfisa Letyago. 

Music is just one of Moby’s many creative ventures. He wrote and directed Punk Rock Vegan Movie as well as writing and starring in his homemade documentary, Moby Doc. The two films are produced by his production company, Little Walnut, which also makes music videos, shorts and the podcast "Moby Pod." Moby and co-host Lindsay Hicks have an eclectic array of guests, from actor Joe Manganiello to Ed Begley, Jr., Steve-O and Hunter Biden. The podcast interviews have led to "some of the most meaningful interpersonal experiences," Moby tells GRAMMY.com. 

A upcoming episode of "Moby Pod" dedicated to Play was taped live over two evenings at Los Angeles’ Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The episode focuses on Moby recounting his singular experiences around the unexpected success of that album — particularly considering the abject failure of his previous album, Animal Rights. The narrative was broken up by acoustic performances of songs from Play, as well as material from Always Centered at Night (which arrives June 14) with special guest Lady Blackbird. Prior to the taping, Moby spoke to GRAMMY.com about both albums. 

'Always centered at night' started as a label imprint then became the title of your latest album. How did that happen? 

I realized pretty quickly that I just wanted to make music and not necessarily worry about being a label boss. Why make more busy work for myself?

The first few songs were this pandemic process of going to SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube and asking people for recommendations to find voices that I wasn’t familiar with, and then figuring out how to get in touch with them. The vast majority of the time, they would take the music I sent them and write something phenomenal.

That's the most interesting part of working with singers you've never met: You don't know what you're going to get. My only guidance was: Let yourself be creative, let yourself be idiosyncratic, let the lyrics be poetic. We're not writing for a pop audience, we don't need to dumb it down. Although, apparently Lady Blackbird is one of Taylor Swift's favorite singers 

Guiding the collaborators away from pop music is an unusual directive, although perhaps not for you? 

What is both sad and interesting is pop has come to dominate the musical landscape to such an extent that it seems a lot of musicians don't know they're allowed to do anything else. Some younger people have grown up with nothing but pop music. Danaé Wellington, who sings "Wild Flame," her first pass of lyrics were pop. I went back to her and said, "Please be yourself, be poetic." And she said, "Well, that’s interesting because I’m the poet laureate of Manchester." So getting her to disregard pop lyrics and write something much more personal and idiosyncratic was actually easy and really special. 

You certainly weren’t going in the pop direction when making 'Play,' but it ended up being an extremely popular album. Did you have a feeling it was going to blow up the way it did?

I have a funny story. I had a date in January 1999 in New York. We went out drinking and I had just gotten back the mastered version of Play. We're back at my apartment, and before our date became "grown up," we listened to the record from start to finish. She actually liked it. And I thought, Huh, that's interesting. I didn't think anyone was going to like this record. 

You didn’t feel anything different during the making of 'Play?'

I knew to the core of my being that Play was going to be a complete, abject failure. There was no doubt in my mind whatsoever. It was going to be my last record and it was going to fail. That was the time of people going into studios and spending half a million dollars. It was Backstreet Boys and Limp Bizkit and NSYNC; big major label records that were flawlessly produced. Play was made literally in my bedroom. 

I slept under the stairs like Harry Potter in my loft on Mott Street. I had one bedroom and that's where I made the record on the cheapest of cheap equipment held up literally on milk crates. Two of the songs were recorded to cassette, that's how cheap the record was. It was this weird record made by a has-been, a footnote from the early rave days. There was no world where I thought it was going to be even slightly successful. Daniel Miller from Mute said — and I remember this very clearly — "I think this record might sell over 50,000 copies." And I said, "That’s kind of you to say but let's admit that this is going to be a failure. Thank you for releasing my last record."  

Was your approach in making 'Play' different from other albums? 

The record I had made before Play, Animal Rights, was this weird, noisy metal punk industrial record that almost everybody hated. I remember this moment so vividly: I was playing Glastonbury in 1998 and it was one of those miserable Glastonbury years. When it's good, it's paradise; it's really special. But the first time I played, it was disgusting, truly. A foot and a half of mud everywhere, incessant rain and cold. I was telling my manager that I wanted to make another punk rock metal record. And he said the most gentle thing, "I know you enjoy making punk rock and metal. People really enjoy when you make electronic music." 

The way he said it, he wasn't saying, "You would help your career by making electronic music." He simply said, "People enjoy it." If I had been my manager, I would have said, "You're a f—ing idiot. Everyone hated that record. What sort of mental illness and masochism is compelling you to do it again?" Like Freud said, the definition of mental illness is doing the same thing and expecting different results. But his response was very emotional and gentle and sweet, and that got through to me. I had this moment where I realized, I can make music that potentially people will enjoy that will make them happy. Why not pursue that? 

That was what made me not spend my time in ‘98 making an album inspired by Sepultura and Pantera and instead make something more melodic and electronic. 

After years of swearing off touring, what’s making you hit stages this summer? 

I love playing live music. If you asked me to come over and play Neil Young songs in your backyard, I would say yes happily, in a second. But going on tour, the hotels and airports and everything, I really dislike it.  

My manager tricked me. He found strategically the only way to get me to go on tour was to give the money to animal rights charities. My philanthropic Achilles heel. The only thing that would get me to go on tour. It's a brief tour of Europe, pretty big venues, which is interesting for an old guy, but when the tour ends, I will have less money than when the tour begins. 

Your DJ sets are great fun. Would you consider doing DJ dates locally? 

Every now and then I’ll do something. But there’s two problems. As I've become very old and very sober, I go to sleep at 9 p.m. This young guy I was helping who was newly sober, he's a DJ. He was doing a DJ set in L.A. and he said, "You should come down. There's this cool underground scene." I said, "Great! What time are you playing?" And he said "I’m going on at 1 a.m." By that point I've been asleep for almost five hours.

I got invited to a dinner party recently that started at 8 p.m. and I was like, "What are you on? Cocaine in Ibiza? You're having dinner at 8 p.m.  What craziness is that? That’s when you're putting on your soft clothes and watching a '30 Rock' rerun before bed. That's not going out time." And the other thing is, unfortunately, like a lot of middle aged or elderly musicians, I have a little bit of tinnitus so I have to be very cautious around loud music.

Are you going to write a third memoir at any point? 

Only when I figure out something to write. It's definitely not going to be anecdotes about sobriety because my anecdotes are: woke up at 5 a.m., had a smoothie, read The New York Times, lamented the fact that people are voting for Trump, went for a hike, worked on music, played with Bagel the dog, worked on music some more went to sleep, good night. It would be so repetitive and boring. 

It has to be something about lived experience and wisdom. But I don't know if I've necessarily gotten to the point where I have good enough lived experience and wisdom to share with anyone. Maybe if I get to that point, I'll probably be wrong, but nonetheless, that would warrant maybe writing another book.

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