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Backstreet Boys' 'DNA' Gives The Group Their Third No. 1 Album
Once a boy band, the Backstreet Boys helped begin the millennium and now, all grown up, their latest album reaches No. 1
On the Feb. 9 Billboard 200, for the week ending Feb. 1, the Backstreet Boys' Jan. 25 album release DNA reached No. 1 for the group's third time, assisted by their vibrant lead single "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." The song is nominated at the 61st GRAMMY Awards for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, the quintet's 8th GRAMMY nomination.
Billboard crunches the numbers on the Backstreet Boys' chart success, raising comparisons to Paul McCartney and Sade as long-established artists riding a fresh appetite for what they do best. With sales in its debut week of 234,000 units, DNA posted the best one-week sales of any album so far in 2019.
The Backstreet Boys' third album Millennium, released in 1999, established their success, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and drawing nominations at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards for Album Of The Year And Best Pop Album. Wrapping around the millennium itself, 2000's Black & Blue reached No. 1 as well, powered by its GRAMMY-nominated hit "Shape of My Heart."
The group is currently completing its Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywod's Zappos Theater. Their world tour kicks off this May in Portugal, coming back to North America in July. Tickets are available at the group's website and a bundle deal for tickets-plus-DNA helped propel the Backstreet Boys' latest album's spectacular sales. Rolling Stone noted this success was also helped by the many talented collaborators contributing to the album, including Ross Copperman, Kuk Harrell, Brett James, Shawn Mendes, the Stereotypes, and Ryan Tedder.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/LP5/Getty Images for TAS
7 Ways Taylor Swift's '1989' Primed Her For World Domination
With the arrival of '1989 (Taylor's Version),' take a look at seven ways the original album prepared the country-turned-pop star for a global takeover.
When Taylor Swift released "Shake It Off" — the lead single from her fifth studio album, 1989 — in August 2014, she couldn't have known just how apt the lyrics "I never miss a beat/ I'm lightning on my feet" would be to her career nine years later.
Since then, Swift has never missed a chance to shake up the industry, whether she's redefining artist and fan relationships or fighting for her masters. And Oct. 27 marks a special day in the Swift world, as it's not only the day her groundbreaking, genre-defying, and two-time GRAMMY-award-winning album arrived in 2014 — it also marks the day Swift takes it back with the release of 1989 (Taylor's Version).
At the time of the original's release, its name was inspired by the singer's birth year to mark a symbolic shift as she transitioned from a country singer to a pop star. She was tired of speculation around her love life, finding creative inspiration in other things, like a move from Nashville to New York and her friend's romances.
1989 sold over 1.2 million copies in its first week, making Swift the first artist ever to have three albums sell over one million copies in their first week. The album also helped Swift make history at the 2016 GRAMMYs, as its Album Of The Year win made Swift the first female solo artist to win the accolade twice. (She's since furthered her record with a third AOTY win for folklore in 2021.)
In the original liner notes, Swift touched on 1989 being an album about "coming into your own, and as a result... coming alive." In a way, she was prophesying everything she'd do in the subsequent nine years — from surprise albums to a larger-than-life tour to everything in between — by consistently reimagining and redefining what it means to be a pop artist today.
Now, the 1989 rerecording represents a different type of rebirth — one that, through the rerecording process, has given Swift a new perspective that has allowed her to come into her own all over again. "I was born in 1989, reinvented for the first time in 2014," Swift wrote in a note to fans on Instagram upon the (Taylor's Version) release, "and a part of me was reclaimed in 2023 with the re-release of this album I love so dearly."
As you blast 1989 (Taylor's Version), dig into seven ways the original recording helped pave the way for Swift to become a global superstar.
It Proved Swift A Successful Genre Shapeshifter
After Swift's Red saw pushback from the country community for blurring the lines between country and pop, 1989 would see the singer take a hairpin turn and go full-on pop. The catalyst for a full-length pop album was Red's loss for Album Of The Year at the 2014 GRAMMYs — something that Swift admitted caused her to cry "a little bit" and then decide it was time to make the leap.
Like Shania Twain before her, Swift's move from country to pop caused controversy both within the music industry and in her own team. Her record label at the time were skeptical of the change — even prompting to suggest she still record some country songs — and required a "dozen sit-downs" to better understand why she wanted to leave country music behind.
Realizing that if she "chased two rabbits" by pursuing both country and pop she would end up losing them both, Swift opted to fully embrace the new chapter of her life that came with moving to New York, cutting her hair, and shaking off the media by leaning into where her music was taking her.
With racing production and synthesized saxophones, 1989's lead single, "Shake It Off," was a reintroduction to Swift's artistry — and hinted at the true mainstream pop star she'd soon become.
She Took A Stand Against Naysayers
As part of the campaign for 1989, Swift spoke about the critiques she's received as a female singer/songwriter that her male counterparts don't often face. In particular, she touched on artists like Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars, who also write songs about their love lives, but don't get similar pushback. Due to the autobiographical nature of her songwriting, love is a constant theme in Swift's work. But on 1989 she looked at it differently — and did so by taking aim at the media.
Where Red's "Mean" was written for the critics who never have anything nice to say, the tongue-in-cheek "Blank Space" is pointed directly at all those who suggest she's a maneater. Almost like a B-side to "Shake It Off" — which reminds that "the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate" — "Blank Space" serves as a satirical version of herself that gives a slight nod to how warped the media's perception is of her, singing "Got a long list of ex-lovers/ They'll tell you I'm insane/ 'Cause you know I love the players/ And you love the game."
She Enlisted Powerful Pop Producers
After working with Max Martin and Shellback on two of Red's biggest hits, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble," Swift recruited them again to bring their expertise and pop flair for her new era. (Martin co-wrote and co-produced seven of the 13 tracks, while Shellback worked on six of those seven; both were involved on two of the three deluxe tracks.) As a songwriter, Swift liked just how much writing with a pop mindset helped push her out of her own comfort zone, something she explored with Martin on Red.
Swift further expanded her list of pop-superproducer collaborators by teaming with Ryan Tedder on two tracks, "I Know Places" and "Welcome To New York." While it's the only time the two have worked together, it checked another dream collab off of Swift's bucket list.
1989 was also the first album Swift worked on with Jack Antonoff, who has since become one of her biggest collaborators. Though he only co-wrote/co-produced three songs ("Out of the Woods," "I Wish You Would" and deluxe track "You Are In Love"), Antonoff's work soon proved majorly successful for Swift and several other pop stars, including Lorde and Lana Del Rey. Antonoff even credits Swift as the "first person who recognized" his talent as a producer.
It Expanded On Her Narrative-Driven Storytelling
As Swift was growing up and becoming reflective, her music was mirroring that maturity. This led her to explore themes and moments in her life that would weave their way through the album and become part of a larger story. The secret messages she placed throughout 1989 detail how different songs work together as a larger picture.
After the release of "Shake It Off" and the announcement that 1989 would be a pop-centric album, some fans and critics were fearful that Swift's storytelling would weaken when placed in a typical pop format. Instead, the ethos of 1989 is entirely shaped by Swift's love of autobiographical writing. After becoming irritated by the media's obsession with her love life and calling her promiscuous, she pulled from larger creative artistic inspiration.
On the synth-heavy "Welcome To New York," the album's opening track, she sings about finding freedom after moving to the place that once intimidated her, whereas "New Romantics" is a call-to-arms that references the very synth-pop cultural movement in music in the '80s — something that inspired 1989 as a whole (more on that soon).
Songs like "You Are In Love," which was inspired by Jack Antonoff's relationship with then-girlfriend Lena Dunham, exhibits her ability to write about her friends' relationships. Even if she found inspiration in her own romantic life, she looked at it from a changed perspective — like on "Out of the Woods" which sound mirrored the anxiety she felt due to a fragile relationship. By using pop music as her own personal playground, she took what she learned as a songwriter in country music and created a place where pop music could be both catchy and emotional.
It Incorporated '80s Synth-Pop Production
At the time of release, 1989 was lauded as the most cohesive out of all of Swift's albums, due in part to the fact that she, Shellback, and Martin used 1980s synth-pop as inspiration. Citing the '80s decade being a defining era for experimentation in pop music, Swift saw how it mimicked her own journey as a redefined pop artist.
Despite 1989's exploration of heartbreak and pain, Swift and her producers juxtaposed the heavier themes with sounds that are similar to the larger-than-life tracks of the '80s, yet still resonated with listeners. It's a pairing and influence that Swift has incorporated throughout the albums that followed, like on "Paper Rings" from Lover, "Getaway Car" from reputation, and "Long Story Short" from evermore.
It Marks The Beginning Of Swift's More Mature Songwriting
Since most of Swift's songs were, at that point, mostly autobiographical and focused on her own love life, many cynics claimed that Swift should reflect and figure out why all of her relationships end in heartbreak. On 1989, she looks back on the experiences that shaped her — like losing a friend as heard on "Bad Blood" or predicting just how badly a relationship will haunt you on "Wildest Dreams."
"Clean," the final song on 1989, demonstrates Swift's prowess at using bigger concepts to both touch on her own personal experiences and still make it universally relatable. On the final track of the standard edition, she explores a broken relationship by using vices as a metaphor for being addicted to someone. It's a track that, since its release, has become a fan-favorite because of its relatable topics, like grief and healing.
Although songs across 1989 are tied together by love and heartbreak, Swift approaches the themes in a more introspective and independent way. Where earlier tracks like Taylor Swift's "Should've Said No" and Speak Now's "Better Than Revenge" are bathed in anger, on 1989 Swift views love with more experience, understanding that not everything is black and white — as heard on "Style" ("He says, 'What you heard is true, but I/ Can't stop thinkin' 'bout you and I'/ I said, 'I've been there too a few times'") and "This Love" ("When you're young, you just run/ But you come back to what you need.")
She Took Artist-To-Fan Engagement To A New Level
What has always set Swift apart from other artists is her level of fan engagement, whether on social media or in person. With 1989, she doubled down on her relationship with fans, introducing the Secret Sessions.
In the lead-up to release week, Swift hand-selected 89 fans from across the US and invited them into her home. Swift personally entertained the crowd by playing them music from the album ahead of its release date and gave them bigger insight into the album-making process. She continued the Secret Sessions with 2017's reputation and 2019's Lover.
As she continues on the Eras Tour and releases 1989 (Taylor's Version), Swift also continues to redefine what it means to be a pop artist. Her era of pop stardom officially began with the release of 1989, and with its re-recorded counterpart, we get to relive that era all over again.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Caity Krone
How Ilsey Transformed From Hit Songwriter To Artist On 'From The Valley': "I Have The Freedom To Say What I Want"
After writing hits for superstars like Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé, Los Angeles-born singer/songwriter Ilsey is embracing change on her soul-stirring debut album, 'From The Valley.'
Ilsey is cruising down the path to self-discovery. For the past decade, the Los Angeles-born songwriter had a major presence behind the scenes, penning hits for the likes of Beyoncé and Shawn Mendes. Now, she's the one on the mic, ready to share her journey.
From The Valley details the emotional weight of a crumbling relationship and finding the courage to build yourself back up. Lead single "No California" pays homage to the breezy Laurel Canyon rockers Ilsey grew up listening to, the folk-inspired "On Wrong Side" with Justin Vernon has poetic layers of interpretation, and the somber "Overcome" mourns a failed love.
"The [album] title was very specific with the double meaning. It's this emotional valley, but then I'm also from the actual valley in LA. This album is almost a road trip of self-discovery, where you have to leave where you are to figure out who you are. And then you end up exactly where it's supposed to be — you end up home," Ilsey explains. "That's been my process of moving through heartache and figuring out who I am as a person. You have to have these valleys in your life. Without them, there's no way to appreciate the peaks."
Born Ilsey Juber, the singer grew up in a musical family in Los Angeles, where her father Laurence Juber (who also plays on this album) was the lead guitarist for Paul McCartney and Wings. "My dad was playing guitar in the room when my mom was giving birth to me," Ilsey recalls with a chuckle.
The singer's parents introduced her to the Beatles, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Motown. She began playing the drums at age 11 — she credits that to her Hanson obsession — and began writing songs on her acoustic guitar at 15. Around 2012, Ilsey "tripped and fell" into songwriting professionally after signing a Sony publishing deal with her then-band. When the band broke up, she went to the publisher for advice on next steps.
"They set up a couple of sessions for me with some producers. I went in there thinking it was going to be for me. Then all of a sudden, I got this call: 'Rihanna has one of your songs on hold,'" Ilsey recalls. "I'm a big believer that when something is working, you can't really ignore that. It seemed really obvious that that was the path to take at that moment."
While Rihanna didn't end up using the song, it was the gateway for Ilsey to kickstart her songwriting journey; some of her most notable credits include Miley Cyrus' "Midnight Sky," Panic! at the Disco's "High Hopes," Camila Cabello's "She Loves Control," Christina Aguilera's "Accelerate," and Beyoncé's "All Night." Even as From The Valley came together, Ilsey continued working with stars, including Lil Nas X, Kacey Musgraves, The 1975 and 6lack — but her debut album is her biggest dream come true yet.
Ahead of her album release, Ilsey spoke to GRAMMY.com about creating From The Valley, taking a chance on her artistry and the stories behind some of her biggest co-written hits.
When did the first thought of making your own album spark?
I met BJ Burton, who is the producer of the album. He was introduced to me through Mark Ronson, who I loved and have collaborated with for a long time. He had worked on a Miley [Cyrus] song that Miley and I had written, and had done some production on it. It turned out that he was moving to LA the next week. So he said, "We should get together and try some stuff."
I had been waiting to find the right collaborators and the people who could realize the sound that was inside of me. That was BJ. So we wrote a couple more songs, and then eventually I let him in on the fact that we were making [an album]. That was really the moment where it was like, "Oh, this is the thing that I've been looking for."
What was your process of shaping your own musical identity like?
All the songs were written for the album, with the exception of one [her cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold"]. But it was really a matter of wanting to intentionally do something that is me, and for myself. Whereas, when I'm writing songs with other people, I'm there to serve the artist. I'm there to help them realize what it is that they're trying to say.
With this, I had this very clear intention of writing the songs for myself. I'm gonna have the freedom to say what I want to say. It was pretty easy to separate the two, because I knew that I wanted this album to really express who I was.
What was that feeling like, emotionally?
I think there's a certain amount of hiding that you're able to do as a songwriter for other people. The vulnerability of stepping out in front and being the person who's actually singing the songs was definitely scary for me because I think we all have struggled with identity. That's one of the reasons I'm so grateful this is happening now and not when I was younger — I had to build that confidence over time to really feel like I deserve to be in front, and that people would actually want to hear my voice. So there was a lot of vulnerability in it, but also a lot of excitement because I've dreamt of doing this my whole life.
I'm glad you mentioned that because as we get older, we learn more about ourselves. I think if you released it when you were in your mid or early 20s, maybe you would still have some questions as to who you are and what you want to express musically. But now that you've had all this experience with songwriting, you have more of a fully realized vision of what you wanted to do.
Absolutely. The growth I have had as a songwriter and working with all these amazing people I learned so much from has really helped me to be a more fully realized version of a songwriter. Having all this experience is like training. I'm writing the songs I really want to write and I'm able to sing them in the way I want to sing them because I know my voice better now. It's all the things that lead you to become the most authentic version of yourself.
That's the beauty of music. I read that you also went to Minnesota and Wisconsin to record the album. Did you record the bulk of it there?
It was half and half because it was during the pandemic. So we had to find these windows where the world was a little more open. It actually ended up being really cool that we could put it down for a second, and then come back to it and have a whole different perspective on it. But we did a bunch in LA, and then more during the pandemic.
Did that change of scenery inspire some of the music as well?
Yeah, just working with Justin Vernon [of Bon Iver] and being at his place out in Wisconsin, which is gorgeous. It's almost farmland and gives you perspective on where you're from, too.
So much of this album is about California. When you leave California, you have a different view of it. So that helped as well. But also musically, it's why I like coming to Nashville, London and all these places. You have a different energy, you're in touch with the place that you're in, and it leads you to other places that you wouldn't normally go to.
I would love to know your experience working with Justin and BJ because I think it's important for artists to challenge each other. You all could push each other's limits in a positive way.
With BJ, we definitely challenge each other. He'll push back sometimes even when it makes me uncomfortable, in the sense that I'm pretty sure I know exactly what I want. But he's like, "Well, what if we did it like this?"
You're right, it's so important to have those people who are going to get you moving forward because you'd have to be uncomfortable in order to make anything great. BJ tends to be a lot more like that.
And when Justin and I write together, there's something really magical that happens that I've never really experienced on this level where we almost tap into the same creative energy or channel. We're able to freestyle and make it super open and easy and then we'll sort of interpret what the other person is doing through our own mind. There's something very special about working with him. I think probably a lot of people will say that. Also, our voices together felt so natural and comfortable. That helped too because when you're able to sing the idea, you really hear it for what it is.
Let's get into some of the music. When I was listening to "On Wrong Side" with Justin Vernon, it took me to another realm. There's so many layers of interpretation.
It's so funny because as time goes on, I find those other layers too. So it sort of morphs and becomes a different thing for me. It was the first song we ever did together and it was the thing that established our creative relationship. We wrote it within 20 minutes of meeting each other and the song only took about 20 minutes to write.
At first, it felt like when you're on the wrong side of a heartbreak, you're able to look at the situation and then you see the other person is being on the wrong side. It's that process of trying to figure out if there is anyone to blame in this or not. But as time went on, I started looking at it as it's also about being on the wrong side of history and being the person who's wrong in a situation. So it became a lot of different things for me, but that's the beauty of music too. Even with my own songs, the meaning can change over time. It's really up to interpretation.
My favorite is "Yellow Roses." This song is so poetic, just discussing that yearning for love that doesn't necessarily want you and hiding from the truth of what's actually going on.
This was a really central one for me on the album because it got to the heart of what the heartbreak was for me. Every rose has a different meaning and yellow is the color of friendship. When I discovered that I was like, "This is the perfect metaphor."
When you fall in love with somebody that's not able to give you the thing that you're looking for, or you fall in love with the idea of somebody, there's so much heartache in that. Then you also have to face the fact that you're going to the wrong place for it. That one was the most painful to write because it really showed me why I was heartbroken and showed me where that came from. I think everybody experiences that feeling at some point.
"No California" reminds me of '70s-era Stevie Nicks. You're riding in your car with your hair blowing in the wind, wanting to ultimately run away from whatever issues are at home. Again, it's going back to that theme of self-discovery.
I think you hit the nail on the head. When you're going through something, everything around you reminds you of that person or that thing. So you want to run away. But that really comes back to the central theme of the album: wherever you go, there you are. Because you change the location or because you change the circumstances, you're still going to have to go through the thing that you're going through.
"Heart of Gold" is the sole cover on the album. How did you initially discover the song?
That's a really good question. I can't remember the first time I heard it, because I've loved it for so long. But probably in high school at some point.
It became this sort of touchstone that I kept coming back to when I was making this album. I went out to Wisconsin one time and I threw the idea out there to do a cover of it. I expected people to be like, "Yeah, I don't know about that." But everyone wanted to do it. So it came together really easily and naturally.
I really wanted to do a different take on the song. Because I think it's important if you do a cover to make it your own. I think it turned out pretty cool.
Now let's go through your songwriting journey. How did "Nothing Breaks Like A Heart" with Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson come about?
It was amazing. That was the song that started our relationships. It was the first time we ever wrote together. Me and Mark and [session musician] Tommy Brenneck were all jamming one day, and we got this seed of an idea. We were like, "I think we have something special here." Then Mark sent it over to Miley. She said, "I'll be there tomorrow."
So we all met up at Shangri La. Miley and I dove into it and finished the idea. Then she recorded it right there. That one came out pretty easily.
She and I have talked about at certain points the fact that it almost felt like a foreshadowing for her. There's a line about a house burning down and then her house burned down that year. It was crazy how it all ended up manifesting in certain ways. But that really started Miley and I's relationship and it was awesome.
I think the power of a good, strong writer is versatility. You started with "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" and then worked together on Miley's Plastic Hearts album. Those have two totally different sounds.
I tip my hat to her ability to move through genres and transform herself into whatever it is that she's trying to say at that moment. She definitely has very clear ideas of what she wants to do and who she is. That's one of the things I admire most about her. It's been really special to work with an artist that wants to experiment so much and has so many different sides of themselves.
Speaking of artistic expression, you co-wrote Beyoncé's "All Night" from Lemonade.
That really came out of years of collaborating with Diplo and getting to do different things with him. He had started this idea with some other writers like Theron Thomas from R. City and a few other people on there. She loved the idea but then wanted to lyrically point it in a slightly different direction.
There's some songs where you do a little bit and there's some songs where you do a lot. I was really fortunate to be brought in to help on it, because I look at that album and my mind is always blown by how incredible it is and her artistry. She has such a clear idea of what she wants to say. It was really cool to interpret somebody's feelings like that.
Shawn Mendes' "Mercy" is such a passionate song. What was it like working with him?
Shawn's an amazing writer. Even back then — I think he was 16 or 17 at the time. At that point, he was so clear about who he was as an artist. We all played guitar on it, we all sang on it.
One of the coolest experiences of that song for me, was when we started recording the vocals. He started singing, and there was a moment where he said, "Can we take the key down?" Because he felt like it was a little bit too high for him. But there was so much pain in his voice in the best way. And I was like, "Absolutely not, we can't do that."
That was really one of those special moments where you're pushing yourself a little bit. I think he's talked about how that helped push himself to sing in an uncomfortable place. A lot of people want to stay where it's safe. That one was a risk for him.
It's a risk that paid off. Are there other songwriting highlights that you wanted to mention?
I feel so fortunate to have gotten to work with all the artists that I've worked with. I think all of them are so special. I made this album with Lykke Li and that was my favorite.
2018's So Sad, So Sexy, right?
Yeah. Working with her was so incredible because I've been a fan for so long. So I walked into it and I was like, "I don't know if I can do this because I don't want to change it or make it anything else." She was so generous creatively and let me into her world. So that was really special and was a turning point for me in my career.
That album is underrated to me. She's an otherworldly artist.
I felt so lucky to get to work with her. It was cool to be able to work on Mark's album [2019 Late Night Feelings] when she sang and wrote [the title track] with us because that put the two worlds together. Working with him was and is incredible.
That was also a really important moment for me as a songwriter, to get to work with somebody I looked up to for so long, come into their world and see how they operate. It's really cool to get to make music with your mentors.
Photo: Erick Frost
How Switchfoot Reimagined 'The Beautiful Letdown': Ryan Tedder, Owl City, Ingrid Andress & More Detail Their Covers For The Deluxe Edition
As Switchfoot's seminal album 'The Beautiful Letdown' turned 20, the rock band recruited some of the acts they inspired to record a new version. Hear from seven of those artists on how their cover came to life, and what Switchfoot means to them.
Seven years into their career, Switchfoot were only beginning their legacy.
On Feb. 25, 2003, the rock group released their fourth album, The Beautiful Letdown. The project marked their first on a mainstream record label, Columbia Records, an "interesting" move in frontman Jon Foreman's eyes because the album was "so spiritually driven." A Christian band at heart, Switchfoot had released their first three albums through Universal Music Group's Christian imprints Re:Think and Sparrow Records — and it was time for mainstream audiences to hear their message.
Though the album wasn't an instant success — it debuted at No. 85 on the all-genre Billboard 200 albums chart — The Beautiful Letdown has undoubtedly become Switchfoot's staple record and spawned hit singles "Meant to Live" and "Dare You To Move" (the latter of which got a second life after initial placement on their third LP, 2000's Learning to Breathe). That a Christian rock band broke through while the likes of 50 Cent and a newly solo Beyoncé dominated was inspiring to many up-and-coming acts.
Twenty years later, some of those artists have left their own stamp on The Beautiful Letdown. Out Sept. 15, The Beautiful Letdown (Our Version) [Deluxe Edition] is a 25-track reimagining of Switchfoot's breakthrough album featuring re-recordings by the band themselves, as well as covers from hitmakers Jonas Brothers, Twenty One Pilots, Jon Bellion and more.
"We weren't so sure about it. I mean, it's a strange thing to do, revisit songs that you crafted when you were so much younger," Foreman says of the concept, which was first pitched to the band by some close friends. "But the idea was intriguing — what these heroes and friends of ours would turn these songs into if they were given complete control."
As Foreman recalls, the group initially planned on having the reimagined tracks be an EP. But before they knew it, every track on the album — including a B-side, "Monday Comes Around" — was spoken for.
Calling the project "a true honor," Foreman also notes that hearing artists his band inspired put their own spin on The Beautiful Letdown has brought new life to the songs. Like Bellion's version of "Meant To Live," which Foreman listened to while watching the sunrise in Perth, Australia: "I had tears in my eyes hearing this song that I've played a thousand times as if I was hearing it for the first time."
Below, eight of the artists who were part of The Beautiful Letdown reimagining — Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, Noah Gundersen, Adam Young of Owl City, Sloan Struble of Dayglow, Ingrid Andress, Ryan O'Neal of Sleeping At Last, Matt Thiessen of Relient K, and Caleb Chapman of Colony House — detail how their cover came together, and the impact that Switchfoot has made on their own careers.
Why did you choose to cover the song you did, and why is it important to you?
Ryan Tedder, OneRepublic: ["Dare You To Move"] came out right when I was trying to figure out if I wanted to be a solo artist or start a band. There hadn't been a lot of alternative-sounding bands that were having success in the mainstream, but still felt cool to me and authentic and had actual messages to their music. Also, they were raised in the church like I was. I didn't want to be a CCM [contemporary Christian music] artist because it felt too limiting, and Switchfoot was a group that I knew came from the same background, but was having success in the mainstream with just great music.
That song came out at exactly the time I needed to hear it. Even the message behind "Dare You to Move." I was so nervous about moving to L.A. for the first time. That song came out and I literally picked up and moved. That song has a lot of meaning to me.
Noah Gundersen: "Dare You To Move" was already taken! "This Is Your Life" has one of those timeless radio rock choruses that feels both familiar and brand new every time you hear it. I also think the sentiment of being responsible for your own happiness really resonates with me.
Adam Young, Owl City: I really relate to the fact that the physical things on planet Earth that we as humans desire are ephemeral. Fame, wealth, beauty, success… those can make you happy for a time, but none will ultimately satisfy you because they don't last forever. I think the point of "Gone" is that the only thing that does last forever is your soul, so ensuring that you store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust can't get at them, is an enduring piece of wisdom. It's a truth that inspires me.
Sloan Struble, Dayglow: When I was about 5 years old, my older brother showed me Switchfoot. I'd listen to his (probably illegally burned) copy of The Beautiful Letdown every day on his portable CD player. I remember thinking this record just embodied "cool."
"Adding to the Noise" was always a favorite to me because of its stick-it-to-the-man undertone. What 5-year-old doesn't love poking fun at consumerism and big tech?
Ingrid Andress: The guys actually picked “On Fire” for me to sing — it worked out great, because that's one of my favorite songs on the album. It's such an emotionally vulnerable song, and I've always been drawn toward that kind of music. I remember singing along to it in my room when I was growing up, so it was a really amazing full-circle moment for me when Jon asked me to sing it!
Ryan O'Neal, Sleeping At Last: When Jon called to invite me to sing on "Monday Comes Around," I think I blurted out a "yes" before he finished asking. I am a forever Switchfoot fan. "Monday Comes Around" is a great song with a gorgeous melody and I was beyond honored to be welcomed into the reimagining of it!
Matt Thiessen, Relient K: Switchfoot requested that we cover "Ammunition" specifically. However, [Relient K's lead guitarist Matt] Hoopes and I were talking about it in the car the other day, and we said we would have picked it over any other number from TBL. I always loved the energy of the song. It has a tinge of pop-punk flavor that especially appealed to me at the time the album was released.
Caleb Chapman, Colony House: Well, I got a phone call from Jon asking if we'd be up for recording "Redemption" specifically, so the song chose us, I suppose. We just couldn't believe we were going to get to be part of such an iconic project celebrating an album that impacted our whole band so profoundly.
Any fun memories from reimagining the song and/or recording it?
Tedder: I recorded on a tour bus, so my most fun memory was that we had to turn the air conditioning off. It was in the summer and we were in Texas or something. We had to kill the generator so there wouldn't be the sound of an engine running in the background. I probably lost three pounds from sweating while I was recording the song because it was unbearably hot. We were trying to keep the laptop from overheating and all my gear from shutting down. It was kind of a feat to pull that off [Laughs].
Gundersen: It was a lot of fun digging through the original stems for this tune. Hearing Jon's solo'd vocals, along with some of the cool and weird little ear candy that got buried in the original mix. Imagining what the process was for each one of those little parts, knowing that they are all significant in their own way.
Young: I recorded a lot of random objects around my house and cut them up into tiny microscopic samples and used them as layers in the drum sounds on the track. Silverware, door handles, ice chunks, an antique Victrola. I cut down most of the sounds I recorded and only left the attack in each sample. This left me with a palette of extremely short click sounds that made great layers for snare drums, kick drums, clap sounds, etc. I had a lot of fun with this during the recording process.
Struble: Tim [Foreman, Switchfoot's bass guitarist] and I met through a mutual friend, and we got to hang out for the first time in San Diego while I was passing through on tour. That was the first time I ever went surfing, and it was with a childhood hero of mine. If that wasn't already an epic day enough, he asked me after if I'd want to cover a song for the record. It was such a personal full-circle, mind-blowing moment.
Andress: I just remember thinking the whole time Sam Ellis and I were making it, "Don’t f— it up. Don’t f— it up." The song was already perfect. I'm glad we found a way to still keep the integrity of the song while adding my own spin on it. Once I got past the nervous part, I had so much fun diving in!
O'Neal: It was an instant joy to get to sing. Jon and Tim recorded the track and I couldn't help but smile during my entire vocal recording session.
Thiessen: Oh yes. First of all, the assignment was a catalyst for Relient K getting together for the first time in over a year. What a gift. We were able to rehearse and record in conjunction with Dark Horse Academy in Franklin, Tennessee. Basically, there were students helping, observing, and hanging throughout pre-production and the recording. We had a blast working in that environment. We also used the opportunity to record an additional cover of Switchfoot's song, "Home," from their Legend Of Chin LP.
Chapman: Funny enough, we were in the studio working on some music to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our first album, When I Was Younger, when I got the call from Jon. It was perfect timing because we were already in the headspace of looking back fondly on the music that has brought us to where we are today.
What does Switchfoot and their music mean to you?
Tedder: I think aspirational is the term. They were a great, cool band with huge, cool songs right when I needed an example of just that to justify my own pursuit. Obviously I'm a fan of U2 and the Beatles and a lot of bands from decades before me, but Switchfoot was early 2000s — right when I was like, What do I do with my life? Can you be successful in a band in 2003 and what would it sound like? I needed a band like that at that exact moment in time.
Gundersen: Growing up in a conservative religious home, Switchfoot was one of those bands who's message and identity was just vaguely Christian enough so as not to scare my highly sensitive parents, while still being far enough outside of the bland vanilla Christian music industry to actually be interesting. And the hooks are undeniable. There's also a kind of innocent hopefulness of the early 2000s that The Beautiful Letdown in particular seems to embody.
Young: I have fond memories of Switchfoot's music all the way back 20 years ago. I was in high school at the time The Beautiful Letdown came out, and I remember I'd just gotten my first car. Having my own car meant my world got exponentially bigger, and I rejoiced at the new freedom made available to me. I listened to Switchfoot's music a lot in that car, and when I think back to that season of my life, which was very pivotal, I always think of Switchfoot.
Struble: There was a time in my life when Switchfoot was one of three bands, probably, that I knew existed on the planet. Their music is just so core to my childhood and my upbringing. It lives deep in my brain. I've been a fan always, but it won't ever not feel nostalgic to me no matter what new music they make — it's like watching grunge-Mister Rogers or something for me. It will always remind me of learning to skateboard in my driveway and just being a little prepubescent punk.
Andress: I grew up in a conservative family that only allowed me to listen to Christian music. I would get so bored with all of it, so when Switchfoot came on the map, it truly changed my world sonically. A Christian band that plays cool rock music? I mean, come on. That was pretty different at the time, so it gave me inspiration to think outside the box when it comes to genres.
O'Neal: Back in 2000, Sleeping At Last had the privilege of being the opener at a Switchfoot show at a small venue in Illinois. Already a fan of their work, it was a huge opportunity to get to open up for a band I so admired. They were instantly lovely to me and my band and in some miracle of kindness, [Switchfoot's drummer] Chad Butler videotaped our set and shared it with his friends at record labels.
I was — and still am — entirely blown away by such kindness to share some local band's music with others. A few years later, Switchfoot was sweet enough to extend an invitation to open up for them on their Beautiful Letdown US Tour. It was a first-ever Sleeping At Last tour and was such a pivotal and wonderful experience.
Forever grateful to the Switchfoot family for their friendship over the years, and the incredibly generous encouragement they've given from the start of Sleeping At Last. To have the encouragement of your heroes is such a rare and special gift.
Thiessen: We met the guys in a gymnasium in Toledo back in '97. I can still remember the warmth in their eyes as they approached us and shook our hands for the first time. I've never known a band that are as kind, loving, and nourishing to everyone they touch. They've impacted RK and my life more than I'll ever know.
Getting to play shows, festivals, and entire tours with them, while watching them intensely impact the world, has to be one of the most gratifying blessings of God that I've ever witnessed. I am so honored to be their friend and a big fan.
Chapman: I could write a book with this kind of prompt. Since my brother and I were kids, we have dreamed of being in a band together. When Switchfoot's first album came out, my dad brought it home, put it in the CD player, and explained that there were two brothers in the band and that they made rock 'n' roll music!
About a year later, we ran into Jon, Tim and Chad at a mall in Nashville and got to meet them and tell them that they were our favorite band. Fast forward to The Beautiful Letdown... I had a pre-release copy of the album and remember being in the locker room before PE class one day asking all my friends if they knew who Switchfoot was. Most of my friends had not heard of them yet. To anyone who said no, I simply responded with, "You will know who they are soon."
Each one of us in the band has unique and powerful memories attached to this album and to this band. We are honored to now call Switchfoot friends and mentors. They have led a life and career full of artistic and personal integrity that has laid the groundwork that so many of us have tried to emulate. Their kindness is their legacy, and their intentionality is like a superpower. Their music is a reflection of their heart: bold, uncompromising, disarming, and powerful. You know what they say, right? "Never meet your heroes" — unless it's Switchfoot.
What is your favorite Switchfoot song and why?
Tedder: "Dark Horses" because it's an underdog anthem and I've felt like an underdog my whole life.
Gundersen: "Dare You To Move." As a kid who struggled with depression and anxiety, this song was a sort of self-talk anthem for me. I think it instilled something in me and my own music, something about the duality of hope and struggle and one's own choice in how to engage with life. This feels like the essence of Switchfoot: hope, pain, and potential.
Young: I'd have to say "Chem 6A." It was the first Switchfoot song I heard back in 1997, and I remember learning it on guitar. Memories like that are priceless to me.
Struble: I freaking love "Gone." I was hooked after the first time I heard that for years. And the fact that Owl City is covering it! That is so satisfying to me. Owl City and Relient K were both bands that I admired alongside Switchfoot, so to be on this record with them is just beyond special to me. I don't think I'll ever acknowledge it as reality! Maybe it's not, who knows!
Andress: It's hard to pick, but "This Is Your Life" is probably my favorite Switchfoot song. It gave me a sense of agency over my life when I was growing up and how important it is to be present in the moment. It was pretty high-concept for me at 10 years old, but it inspired me to go after things in life because it's the only chance we have to do it.
O'Neal: There are so many that I adore, but "Only Hope" is one of my favorite songs of all time. A rare song where every single element feels in its right place. The production somehow feels intimate and expansive at the same time, and the lyrics express a deeply personal and yet completely universal story. This song perfectly captures what Switchfoot does best.
Thiessen: "The Shadow Proves The Sunshine" is definitely one of 'em. "Company Car" always makes me really happy. I'm not a big "favorite" picker, but Switchfoot as a whole is definitely one.
Chapman: It's an impossible question. Too many songs over too many years. Switchfoot is not just another band to us. It goes deeper than what is our favorite song. In our eyes, their career is an arch that doesn't exist without every piece playing its part. Every song serves a purpose, and without it, the arch collapses. That's what makes them different. That's what makes them Switchfoot.