Photo: Greg Swales
Becky G's 'Esquemas' Is A Celebration Of Biculturalism And The Woman She Is Today: "I'm Actually Living Life For The First Time"
The Mexican-American pop star brings her bicultural roots to life on her second album, 'Esquemas.' Becky G breaks down why the project — which features fellow stars Karol G and Natti Natasha — is both a representation of her growth and female empowerment.
Becky G has been pushing boundaries since the start of her career. Born and raised in a Los Angeles suburb to Mexican-American parents, the singer has strived to reflect both sides of her bicultural roots — championing women as a leading Latina voice in pop, while also giving pop music a more global sound.
Getting her start in the pop world with the 2014 hook-filled hit "Shower," Becky G found her footing in reggaeton music with her Latin breakthrough, 2017's "Mayores" with Bad Bunny. She struck again with the Natti Natasha-featuring global smash "Sin Pijama" in 2018, and officially made her mark with her debut album, Mala Santa, in 2019. Now, Becky G is continuing to bring together both worlds — and break boundaries — on Esquemas.
The title is a nod to doing away with the restrictive schemas that are placed on women and letting them live life, which is exactly what Becky G basks in across the diverse 14 tracks. In the flirty "Bailé Con Mi Ex," she translates disco-pop flair into Spanish; in the empowering "Dolores," she tackles a more soulful sound. She remains of purveyor of female collaborations with singer/songwriter Elena Rose featuring in the doo-wop-infused "Flashback," and delivers another girl power anthem with fellow Latina star Karol G on "Mamiii," which blends reggaeton with influences of regional Mexican music.
Already a decade into her career and only 25 years old, Becky G is embracing what makes her unique in an industry that's always trying to box in an artist. She chatted with GRAMMY.com about the Esquemas she's breaking, remaining true to herself, and the power of women collaborations.
Why did you decide to name your album Esquemas?
To me, romper esquemas is to break the mold, to step outside of the boxes that society puts on us as young women, as Latinas. It's something I've been trying to do since the very beginning of my career.
If you look at Mala Santa and me embracing the duality that exists in all women — the strong energy that can be considered masculine, the feminine energy, embracing your vulnerability as well as your sexuality, and your fierceness and your power — I feel like Esquemas was the perfect word that embodied what that meant to me.
How different was it to make Esquemas versus your first album, Mala Santa?
It was really different. I think I'm different. I have always been someone who thrives off of learning, who loves the concept of growth. But when you're actually experiencing growth, it's quite painful sometimes — and uncomfortable — and it can surface a lot of things. And for me, I think it only made me better as an artist. It made me more in-tune with myself.
I think this is a good representation of who I am today. This is 10 years later [from when I was first signed]. I'm 25 now, and It feels [like] I'm actually living life for the first time. I think you can hear that in the music.
You have two of the top women in reggaeton on the album, Karol G and Natti Natasha. What was the experience like to work with them?
It was really important for me to have "Ram Pam Pam" on the album. This is only my second album, and there's no one else I'd rather share that with than someone like Natti, who is literally like my sister. Natti could call me in a state of emergency today and I would literally fly to go be there with her, because I love her that much. She knows that, and I know it's the same the other way around. That means a lot to me to have that song on there, because that's who I started this with, and I get to continue doing that with her.
I have Karol, on the other hand, with "Mamiii" — that is sonically very different. Finally the Gs are together! We're giving the people what they wanted, and what I wanted, for a very long time.
I've mentioned many times that I've invited Karol to multiple songs throughout the years. I've always wanted to do something with her because I admire her so much and everything that she's created. It was beautiful — when I was least looking for it is kind of when it happened. That was the serendipity of it all.
It was going to just be me on the song by myself, [but] she heard the song by chance in the studio and she loved it. I had no idea that she even heard it — so when she reached out and she told me she thought this was the song, I was like, "The man upstairs is definitely listening, because it's finally happening."
The song's killing it, and I'm so thankful for that. I'm also very proud that it's with her. Very commonly, still today, the industry — not just in Latin music, but even in the general market — you see two Latinas, beautiful, successful with the same last initial. It's like, "Well, we only have space for one of them." No, actually, we should all have our space, because we all represent different flags. We all have different stories on how we got to become the person that everyone sees in front of them today. We get to unite and show just how powerful we can be together. I've always believed that together, we're stronger. We're so much more when we come together.
I also heard it on Top 40 radio the other day! Like what? That's crazy! It's amazing. It's so beautiful. Everyone is going to know the word tóxico now. [Laughs.] People learned "Sin Pijama." They learned "Mayores." And now they're going to know the word tóxico. They're going to say "Salud, mami!" even if they don't speak Spanish.
"Sin Pijama" and "Mamiii" are female empowerment anthems. They've also become anthems for the LGBTQ+ community. How do you feel about sharing that connection with the LGBTQ+ community?
It means everything to me. When I talk about breaking molds, when I talk about living your true authentic life, the LGBTQ+ community is no exception to that. I think if there's any community that's really struggled to find acceptance, to be heard, it's that community. So I identify [with] that community as an ally 100 percent. There's so many people close to me that are part of that community — so to be of service to them, to be a platform for them, to be a safe space in my music, it's very important to me.
Elena Rose is another very incredible songwriter, artist — my sister as well. She’s like literal family to me, who has been such a pivotal character behind the scenes, and in my evolution as an artist. Spanish is not my first language — I grew up speaking Spanglish, speaking English in school, and listening to English and Spanish music. Identifying melodies when creating [songs] was much easier for me than it was to find the words in Spanish [for] what I wanted to talk about. [Elena] was the one who would really challenge me on those things and teach me how to do that. And now she writes the greatest hits for everybody — not just other female artists, but even the boys. I f<em></em>* with that so much. I think it's so cool.
I'm so honored that I have someone like Elena in my corner. She's such an intuitive creative, but also a really good person. I don't think a lot of people get to recognize that because they know that she writes the hits for everybody. But if you're in the room with her, it's undeniable that she's a rock star. She's got everything that it takes and more to do the damn thing. I was like, "I want you on my album! You better be on my album!" When we made "Flashback," it was just so perfect.
Throughout the album, you're mixing American and Latin genres. How did you feel to be creating music in that way?
It was so intentional. To me, this is a genre-less album. There's not one sound to it. It's because that's me — I am a genre-less artist. I think we've seen that in features that I've done, in collaborations with English-speaking artists and Spanish-speaking artists.
I represent two flags. I grew up in L.A. That's a very diverse community that introduced me to so many different sounds, where on one street you can be hearing rancheras and on the next street, it's Tupac. It was everything, and I identify with all of that. It inspires the artist that I am today. Even "Flashback" is a doo-wop trap record. I've never heard that in Spanish.
Same with "Bailé Con Mi Ex." Same with "Mamiii." Putting the grito in the beginning was really important for me. It was like when I grew up and my mom listened to Jenni Rivera, or when my uncles listened to Vicente Fernández, and [there was a] song that was like a dagger to your heart — you would do the grito and it would make you feel better. That's what this song is. Although sonically it sounds different, it gives you the same feeling.
There's little trickles in every song that takes me to a place and time. Like even "Buen Día," the first song on the album, it's a different vocal for me. I think it's because there was a confidence in what I was saying. It's like, literally, "It's never too late to have a good day." It sounds like when I was a little girl in the summer walking through the streets of Inglewood. All of those songs, sonically, come from such an authentic place in my creativity.
The song "Dolores" has such a beautiful message about self-love. What was the inspiration for that song and who was dedicated to?
I dedicate "Dolores" to my younger self. When writing this album — especially the first round of songs, which "Dolores" was a part of — I was in a really dark place in my life and not a lot of people knew it. I think it's because the child entertainer in me is so good at putting on a smile and [believes] that the show must go on.
Fortunately quarantine allowed me the time and space to work on myself. I went to be a part of a really private and beautiful therapy experience. I spent a couple of days in this program and I got to do a lot of work with my inner child. I even got to name her, which was so emotional for me. I named my inner child Mija. It's a term of endearment that we used so much, and heard so much, when I was younger. I would sing "Dolores" to [Mija], and I would sing that to my grandmother — who the concept was about in the beginning. Her name is Guadalupe, but when she gets really emotional and she cries, my uncles are like, "Bring out the violin. Dolores is here."
How beautiful it is that we can feel things. That we can have empathy — even though sometimes I feel like my empathy frequency is a little too high for my liking, and I don't want to cry about everything all the time. [Laughs.] I am thankful that I can still feel at the level I can after everything that I've been through, because there's a lot of people that go through life without feeling anything at all.
I'd rather feel everything than nothing at all. So, I'm giving "Dolores" to my younger self, to my grandmother, to my own mother, to my sister, to any person who sometimes maybe overthinks things in life. Even giving meaning to their own feelings and validating their own feelings and saying, "I know you're different, and that's okay. I love you anyways."
What can we expect from you next?
I already have more new music. Still in the world of Esquemas, of course. I'm so excited to bring Esquemas to life in a live show for fans. Definitely touring this year, and hopefully next year as well. One of my biggest goals is to headline my own tour, or co-headline with someone who I really love and admire — to get out there and experience it in person with the people that support me.
Photo: Amy Lee
New Music Friday: Listen To New Songs From Andre 3000, Drake, Ozuna & More
From long-awaited debut albums to surprising singles, listen to these six new releases from Nov. 17.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, this New Music Friday offers us a feast of new sounds from some of the music industry’s biggest artists.
Country star Maren Morris teamed up with Teddy Swims for a passionate duet version of his song "Some Things I'll Never Know," while Steve Aoki & ERNEST paired up for an energetic dance/country crossver, "Us," from Aoki’s HiROQUEST 2: Double Helix.
American band Bleachers unleash their wild side with "Alma Matter," from their upcoming self-titled album dropping March 8, 2024. Meanwhile, alternative rock band Bad Suns released their catchy, six-track EP Infinite Joy. Across the pond, long-time British rockers Madness released their 13th album, Theatre Of the Absurd Presents C’Est La Vie.
With sultry sounds from R&B songstress Ari Lennox to mellow, indie rhythms from Dermot Kennedy to upbeat, radiant vibes from the duo Surfaces, this Friday brings a kaleidoscope of sounds from across every genre.
Along with the slew of releases mentioned above, press play on releases from the likes of André 3000, Drake, Ozuna, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, Danny Brown, and Bibi and Becky G — and be sure to add some new sounds to your rotation.
André 3000 - New Blue Sun
If you’ve seen Andre 3000’s impromptu flute performances in the past few years, then the GRAMMY winner's new sound won’t come as a shock. On his eight-track debut solo album New Blue Sun, the Outkast member experiments with wind instruments and percussion, creating serene and melodic compositions.
Across eight elaborately titled tracks — "I swear, I Really Wanted To Make A "Rap" Album But This Is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time" and "That Night In Hawaii When I Turned Into A Panther And Started Making These Low Registered Purring Tones That I Couldn’t Control… Shyt Was Wild," — Andre details his artistic journey and the possibility of returning to rap music. Because, as Andre has told numerous outlets, New Blue Sun is not a rap album.
In the future, fans might see 3000 return to the rap universe but in the meantime, let’s enjoy the ambience of the blue sun.
Drake - For All The Dogs Scary Hours Edition
It’s not Scorpio season without a release from the scorpion king himself, Drake. In the latest installment of his Scary Hours series, Drake brought in a heavy-hitter lineup of producers including Lil Yatchy and Alchemist.
With songs surrounding themes of betrayal and broken trust (an the less-than-subtle chant "F— My Ex" more than 10 times in one song), For All The Dogs Scary Hours Edition shows how deep the Certified Lover Boy is in his feelings.
Drake brings out his Swiftie side in the track, "Red Button," shouting out Taylor Swift with lyrics "Taylor Swift the only n—- that I ever rated/ Only one could make me drop the album just a little later/ Rest of y’all, I treat you like you never made it." Seems that the big-ups and grudges heard on October's For All The Dogs translate to Scary Hours, too.
Ozuna - Cosmo
After receiving a nod for Best Reggaeton Performance and performing with David Guetta at the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs, Puerto Rican Singer Ozuna dropped his sixth album, Cosmo. Filled with soon-to-be dance floor staples, Cosmo highlights Ozuna's versatility.
Songs like "El Pin" and "La Chulita" are full of infectious dance and Afrobeats influences, yet stay true to his reggaeton roots. The 15-track record also includes collaborations with Jhayco, Chenco Corleone, Anuel and David Guetta.
"When you think of a colorful image, you think of youth. When people listen to this album, I want them to take it seriously," Ozuna said in an interview with the Fader. "People want to hear what’s real, what’s clear-cut, in black and white.”
The goal, he continued, is to allow "people to know who the real Ozuna is."
2 Chainz, Lil Wayne - Welcome 2 Collegrove
Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz have joined forces once again to release their second joint album, Welcome 2 Collegrove. The album’s title is a melding of 2 Chainz's hometown of College Park, Georgia, with Lil Wayne’s Hollygrove, Louisiana.
Welcome 2 Collegrove includes features from a cross-section of hip-hop and R&B greats, including Usher, 21 Savage, Rick Ross, Benny The Butcher and Fabolous. Tracks like "Presha" and "Long Story Short" bring back the duo’s classic rap sound from their 2016 project COLLEGROVE, and show their ability to create hip-hop anthems. The special guest artists add even more depth to their songs.
Danny Brown - Quaranta
After a four year break, Detroit rapper Danny Brown is back with his seventh album, Quaranta. A departure from his earlier, more club-centric music, the 11-track album offers a new perspective in Brown’s life.
Quaranta is a turning point in Brown's musical journey, where he reflects on themes of regret, self-destructive behavior, and growth. While songs like "Ain’t My Concern" and "Celibate" still include his signature flair of fast, high-pitched verses, this album takes on a more mature and introspective route.
Bibi feat. Becky G - "Amigos"
On "Amigos," South Korean singer Bibi teamed up with Latin star Becky G for a multicultural but ever-relatable track that focuses on being hung up on past lovers despite having someone new in their life. "I know we had a good time and that you always want more / But if my boyfriend calls, we’re just friends, nothing more," they sing in Spanish.
"Amigos" is rife with hip-hop influences — a genre Bibi loves.
"Expressing oneself through lyrics is so real and genuine," BIBI told AllKPop. "As I’m someone who wasn’t necessarily gifted with natural musical talent — I didn’t even know the difference between boom bap or trap beats until way later. I think the other factors of music organically followed as I grew as an artist."
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: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].