meta-scriptBilly Joel's Biggest Songs: 15 Tracks That Best Showcase The Piano Man's Storytelling And Pop Hooks | GRAMMY.com
Billy Joel performing in 2022
Billy Joel performs in Australia in December 2022.

Photo: Chris Putnam/Future Publishing via Getty Images

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Billy Joel's Biggest Songs: 15 Tracks That Best Showcase The Piano Man's Storytelling And Pop Hooks

30 years on from Billy Joel's last mainstream pop album, 'River of Dreams,' GRAMMY.com digs into the best and biggest tunes from the ultimate Piano Man.

GRAMMYs/Aug 14, 2023 - 01:48 pm

From 1973 to 1997, Billy Joel racked  up nearly three dozen self-penned Billboard hits, tackling everything from adult contemporary pop and classic rock to smooth jazz and Broadway-ready showtunes. And although he's largely avoided the studio since, the legendary singer/songwriter has still very much been a fixture of the music scene thanks to his tireless work on the road. 

This past March, for example, he launched a series of co-headlining dates across North America with another '70s icon, Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks. Then there's the residency at Madison Square Garden he's staged every month (bar the pandemic-hit period, of course) since 2014, while his In Concert tour has been ongoing for a similarly impressive amount of time, too.

However, with the former now officially coming to an end ("My team tells me that we could continue to sell tickets, but 10 years, 150 shows — all right already," he remarked in a June 2023 press release) and a March 2024 show at Arlington's AT&T Stadium looking like the final date of the latter, the proud New Yorker now appears to be gearing up to give those famous piano-playing fingers a well-earned rest.

As he plays his final run of shows (at least for now), Joel also celebrates the 30th anniversary of his final mainstream album, 1993's River of Dreams. (His thirteenth and final album, 2001's Fantasies and Delusions, was a surprising detour into classical music, perhaps inspired by his musical hero Paul McCartney's orchestral works.)

In honor of his latest milestones, GRAMMY.com delves into the biggest and most impactful tracks from one of pop's all-time great storytellers.

"She's Got A Way," Cold Spring Harbor (1971)

With its heartfelt melodies, textured piano arrangement and unabashedly romantic lyrics, the opening track from Joel's 1971 debut Cold Spring Harbor effectively set the template for the classic Billy Joel ballad. The man himself went on to dismiss "She's Got A Way" (and the rest of the LP) for a mastering error which made him resemble a chipmunk. But he eventually began to appreciate its simple charms: a performance of the track for seminal 1981 live album Songs in the Attic even resulted in a belated but deserved entry on the Billboard Hot 100.

Joel had added strings to the track during his iconic 1977 show at Carnegie Hall, but it's the stripped-back original — a dedication to his manager, and first of four wives, Elizabeth Weber — that pulls at the heartstrings the hardest.

"Captain Jack," Piano Man (1973) 

"The song is sort of brutal, but sometimes it is good to be brutal and offend people," Joel once remarked about the song that ultimately launched his major label career. "It keeps them on their toes."

Listeners of Philadelphia station WMMR certainly seemed to appreciate such provocation. Following its debut at a competition winners' show, DJs were flooded with requests for its caustic tale of a suburban teen who develops a heroin addiction purely out of boredom.

Inspired by a real-life drug deal witnessed from Joel's Long Island apartment, "Captain Jack" subsequently attracted the attention of Columbia Records boss Clive Davis, too. The seven-minute epic — which boasts one of Joel's most rousing choruses and stinging lines ("Well, you're 21 and your mother still makes your bed") — later showed up on 1973's Piano Man, and in 2000 offended Rudy Giuliani after being accidentally played to celebrate rival Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate campaign announcement.

"Piano Man," Piano Man (1973)

Although far from his biggest commercial hit — it peaked at a modest No.25 on the Hot 100 in the spring of 1974 — the title track from Joel's second album has undoubtedly become his defining.

Showcasing his remarkably concise ability to tell a story, "Piano Man" paints a vivid picture of the Los Angeles lounge he performed at while Columbia's lawyers were negotiating his freedom from first label Family Productions. Joel insists its parade of unfulfilled dreamers — Paul the real estate novelist, John the bartender/aspiring movie star — really were part of The Executive Room's Saturday night crowd; the waitress practising politics is definitely another reference to his then-other half Elizabeth.

But whether a genuine portrait of barroom demographics or work of pure fiction, this meeting point between folksy troubadour Harry Chapin and the theme to Cheers is always worthy of raising a glass to.

"New York State of Mind," Turnstiles (1976)

Following a three-year spell in the bright lights of Los Angeles, Joel gave the impression he needed to make amends with his beloved hometown. Not only did the six-time GRAMMY winner return to Long Island (a place he still owns a property at to this day, but he also dedicated much of his fourth album, Turnstiles, to the joys of New York.

Other than the ability to buy its newspapers fresh off the press, this slice of sophisticated jazz-pop doesn't pinpoint exactly why he feels such an affinity to the place. But genuinely conceived while "taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River Line," "A New York State Of Mind" still evokes a palpable sense of pride, placing it alongside Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" and Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" in the holy trinity of Big Apple classics.

"Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," The Stranger (1977)

Clocking in at nearly 8 minutes, Joel's longest studio cut is also his most audacious: a mini operetta that segues from traditional piano ballad, to jaunty Dixieland jazz, to good old-fashioned rock and roll and back again.

Inspired by the second half of The Beatles' Abbey Road, the lyrical themes of "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" are similarly multi-dimensional. Joel starts out reminiscing with an old school friend at said Italian restaurant (reportedly Fontana di Trevi, a regular haunt during his Carnegie Hall residency), but the small talk and nostalgia later gives way to the poignant story of Brenda and Eddie, two high school sweethearts whose seemingly idyllic romance came unstuck by the pressures of adult life ("They started to fight when the money got tight/ And they just didn't count on the tears").

Although never released as a single, the standout from fifth LP The Stranger has become a firm favorite among both fans and Joel himself — only "Piano Man" has been played more frequently live on stage

"Just the Way You Are," The Stranger (1977)

Joel very nearly dropped "Just the Way You Are" from The Stranger tracklist, believing it may be just one sentimental spousal tribute too far. But thanks to some wise interference from studio neighbors Phoebe Snow and Linda Ronstadt, the wedding favorite made the cut and the rest is history.

Indeed, the Phil Ramone-produced track became Joel's first top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, picked up Record and Song Of The Year at the 1979 GRAMMYs, and propelled its parent album to worldwide sales of more than 10 million. Joel once again gave the smooth soft rock standard the heave-ho in the wake of his 1982 divorce to Weber — but after returning to his setlists at the turn of the century, it's remained a much-loved ever-present.

"She's Always a Woman," The Stranger (1977)

"She's Always a Woman" initially sounds like your typical Joel love song, but lines such as "She is frequently kind and she's suddenly cruel" prove it's no rose-tinted deification. You can certainly hear its echoes in the earlier work of Ed Sheeran, a man who, at times, seemed determined to point out his lover's flaws in order to chivalrously claim he can look beyond them.

Thankfully, the fourth Top 40 single from sales juggernaut The Stranger isn't as graceless. Joel isn't referencing any physical attributes, but simply the complex mix of personality traits most of us possess. It's the most emotionally raw of the many tributes he penned for Weber, and perhaps the most obvious foreshadowing of the split that was to come.

"My Life," 52nd Street (1978) 

"I don't care what you say anymore, this is my life/Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone." "My Life" may have been adopted as the theme tune to pre-fame Tom Hanks sitcom Bosom Buddies, but amid its jaunty piano melodies and peppy harmonies (courtesy of Chicago's Donnie Dacus and Peter Cetera), Joel instead appears to be taking his cues from All in the Family's grumpy old man Archie Bunker. Audiences still embraced this more irascible side of the singer/songwriter's personality, however, with the lead single from sixth LP 52nd Street equaling his then-highest Hot 100 peak of No. 3.

"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," Glass Houses (1980)

Fans once again lapped up Joel in defensive mode on "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," the first of his three U.S. No. 1s. Taken from his seventh studio effort, Glass Houses, the rockabilly throwback was a direct response to those detractors who dismissed his adult contemporary sound as old hat.

Released in the same year Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," Lipps Inc.'s "Funkytown" and Blondie's "Call Me"also hit the top spot, the song's industry satire argued that the newly popular hot funk, cool punk, new wave and latest dance crazes were simply retreading what had gone before. You could argue it was a needless display of petulance, but you also can't deny it's one of his biggest earworms.

"Goodnight Saigon," The Nylon Curtain (1982)

Bookended by the Apocalypse Now-esque sound of chirping crickets and whirring helicopters, "Goodnight Saigon" finds Joel stepping into the military boots of a 19-year-old called up to fight in the Vietnam War. The Piano Man had been a conscientious objector himself, but on this occasion decided against politicizing the conflict ("And who was wrong? And who was right? It didn't matter in the thick of the fight").

Instead, drawing upon the tales of friends who did see battle, he offers an intimate portrait of the soldier experience, from the distractions of Playboy magazine and Bob Hope to the hardships of losing a comrade. The standout from his most serious-minded LP The Nylon Curtain, this is Joel at his most affecting.

"Tell Her About It," An Innocent Man (1983)

Joel loosened things up a little for his ninth LP, An Innocent Man, paying homage to the soul and doo-wop sounds he grew up with on this toe-tapping throwback. Buoyed by an equally playful promo in which the pianist lives out his The Ed Sullivan Show fantasy — pulling out some unexpected dance moves in the process — "Tell Her About It" became his second U.S. No. 1 in the summer of 1983.

Joel went on to disown his slightly wordy wingman anthem ("It's not automatically a certain guarantee/ To insure yourself/ You've got to provide communication constantly"), acknowledging it sounded more like bubblegum pop crooner Tony Orlando than the Motown tribute he intended. In fact, he hasn't played it live for 36 years!

"Uptown Girl," An Innocent Man (1983)

Joel's affectionate nod to the falsetto pop of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has endured a little better: proving its cross-generational appeal, he invited Olivia Rodrigo to perform the track with him at Madison Square Garden in August 2022.  (The pop superstar referenced "Uptown Girl" in her own monster hit "déjà vu.")

As with much of Joel's oeuvre, the tale of a working-class guy trying his luck with a woman way out of his league has autobiographical roots. It was inspired by the time Joel found himself in the company of Whitney Houston, Christie Brinkley and Elle Macpherson. And while he was dating the latter at the time, it was her fellow supermodel that ended up gracing the memorable "Uptown Girl" promo, and indeed, becoming the second Mrs. Joel.

"A Matter of Trust," The Bridge (1986)

Often his own biggest critic, Joel has been largely dismissive of tenth LP The Bridge, claiming it was hampered by both impatient record execs and the distraction of becoming a first-time father. You can briefly see baby daughter Alexa and then-wife Brinkley in the video for one of its saving graces.

Second single "A Matter of Trust" is a rare but convincing foray into Bruce Springsteen-esque arena rock in which the Piano Man becomes the Electric Guitar Man. It was also a highlight of Konsert, the following year's live album recorded during his historic tour of the Soviet Union.

"We Didn't Start the Fire," Storm Front (1989)

The hostile reaction to Fall Out Boy's recent update proves how hard it can be to namecheck 40 years of newsworthy events in just 4 minutes of anthemic pop-rock. From post-war president Harry Truman to the cola wars of the 1980s, the original "We Didn't Start the Fire" manages to throw in 118 references — and in mostly chronological order, too, without barely pausing for breath.

Inspired by a "my generation had it worse than you" conversation with a friend of Sean Lennon, Joel's rapid-fire alternative history lesson became his third and final No. 1, and picked up Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance nominations at the 1990 GRAMMYs. The lead single from 11th LP Storm Front didn't gain the seal of approval from its creator, however, with Joel comparing it to the sound of a dentist's drill.

"The River of Dreams," River of Dreams (1993)

Joel earned two more Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year nominations for River of Dreams' title track at the 1994 GRAMMYs. But despite an additional nod for Album of the Year, he still went home empty handed. (He also made headlines for pausing his live performance of the song in protest of producers' curtailing Frank Sinatra's Lifetime Achievement Award speech.)

In contrast to all the awards drama and soul-searching lyrics, "The River of Dreams" is one of Joel's most jovial hits, an uplifting blend of doo-wop and gospel vocals arranged by regular band member Crystal Taliefero. The last time the once-prolific hitmaker would grace the U.S. Top 20, it's a fine commercial swansong.

ReImagined At Home: Sammy Rae Scats Through A Bouncy Rendition Of Billy Joel's "The River Of Dreams"

Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Selena Gomez
(L-R) Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Selena Gomez during the 2008 Teen Choice Awards.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/TCA 2008/WireImage/Getty Images

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Disney's Golden Age Of Pop: Revisit 2000s Jams From Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez & More

As Disney Music Group celebrates its defining era of superstars and franchises, relive the magic of the 2000s with a playlist of hits from Hilary Duff, Jesse McCartney and more.

GRAMMYs/Apr 23, 2024 - 06:41 pm

"...and you're watching Disney Channel!" For anyone who grew up in the 2000s, those five words likely trigger some pretty vivid imagery: a glowing neon wand, an outline of Mickey Mouse's ears, and every Disney star from Hilary Duff to the Jonas Brothers

Nearly 20 years later, many of those child stars remain instantly recognizable — and often mononymous — to the millions of fans who grew up with them: Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. Nick, Kevin and Joe

Each of those names has equally memorable music attached to it — tunes that often wrap any given millennial in a blanket of nostalgia for a time that was, for better or for worse, "So Yesterday." And all of those hits, and the careers that go with them, have the same starting point in Hollywood Records, Disney Music Group's pop-oriented record label.

This time in Disney's history — the core of which can be traced from roughly 2003 to 2010 — was impactful on multiple fronts. With its music-oriented programming and multi-platform marketing strategies, the network launched a procession of teen idols whose music would come to define the soundtrack to millennials' lives, simultaneously breaking records with its Disney Channel Original Movies, TV shows and soundtracks.

Now, two decades later, Disney Music Group launched the Disney 2000s campaign, honoring the pivotal, star-making era that gave fans a generation of unforgettable pop music. The campaign will last through August and lead directly into D23 2024: The Ultimate Fan Event with special vinyl releases of landmark LPs and nostalgic social media activations occurring all summer long. April's campaign activation was Disney 2000s Weekend at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, which featured special screenings of 2008's Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert and 2009's Hannah Montana: The Movie and Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience.

But before Miley and the JoBros, Hollywood Records' formula for creating relatable (and bankable) teen pop stars began with just one name: Hilary Duff. At the time, the bubbly blonde girl next door was essentially the face of the network thanks to her starring role in "Lizzie McGuire," and she'd just made the leap to the big screen in the summer of 2003 with The Lizzie McGuire Movie. In her years with Disney, Duff had dabbled in recording songs for Radio Disney, and even released a Christmas album under Buena Vista Records. However, her first album with Hollywood Records had the potential to catapult her from charming tween ingénue to bonafide teen pop star — and that's exactly what it did.

Released on August 26, 2003, Duff's Metamorphosis sold more than 200,000 copies in its first week and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The following week, the bubblegum studio set performed the rare feat of rising from No. 2 to No. 1, making the then-16-year-old Duff the first solo artist under 18 to earn a No. 1 album since Britney Spears.

The album's immediate success was no fluke: Within a matter of months, Metamorphosis had sold 2.6 million copies. Music videos for its radio-friendly singles "So Yesterday" and "Come Clean" received constant airplay between programming on the Disney Channel. (The latter was eventually licensed as the theme song for MTV's pioneering teen reality series "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County," giving it an additional boost as a cultural touchstone of the early '00s.) A 33-date North American tour soon followed, and Hollywood Records officially had a sensation on their hands. 

Naturally, the label went to work replicating Duff's recipe for success, and even looked outside the pool of Disney Channel stars to develop new talent. Another early signee was Jesse McCartney. With a soulful croon and blonde mop, the former Dream Street member notched the label another big win with his 2004 breakout hit "Beautiful Soul."

"When 'Beautiful Soul' became the label's first No. 1 hit at radio, I think that's when they really knew they had something," McCartney tells GRAMMY.com. "Miley [Cyrus] and the Jonas Brothers were signed shortly after that success and the rest is history.

"The thing that Disney really excelled at was using the synergy of the channel with promoting songs at pop," he continues. "I did appearances on 'Hannah Montana' and 'The Suite Life of Zack & Cody' and my music videos were pushed to Disney Channel. The marketing was incredibly brilliant and I don't think there has been anything as connected with an entire generation like that since then."

By 2006, Disney had nearly perfected its synergistic formula, continually launching wildly popular tentpole franchises like High School Musical and The Cheetah Girls, and then giving stars like Vanessa Hudgens and Corbin Bleu recording contracts of their own. (Curiously, the pair's HSM co-star Ashley Tisdale was never signed to Hollywood Records, instead releasing her first two solo albums with Warner.) 

Aly Michalka showed off her vocal chops as sunny girl next door Keely Teslow on "Phil of the Future," and fans could find her off-screen as one half of sibling duo Aly & AJ. In between their 2005 debut album Into the Rush and its electro-pop-charged follow-up, 2007's Insomniatic, Aly and her equally talented younger sister, AJ, also headlined their own Disney Channel Original Movie, Cow Belles. (Duff also helped trailblaze this strategy with her own early DCOM, the ever-charming Cadet Kelly, in 2002, while she was simultaneously starring in "Lizzie McGuire.")

Even after years of proven success, the next class of stars became Disney's biggest and brightest, with Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers all joining the network — and record label — around the same time. "Hannah Montana" found Cyrus playing a spunky middle schooler by day and world-famous pop star by night, and the network leveraged the sitcom's conceit to give the Tennessee native (and daughter of '90s country heartthrob Billy Ray Cyrus) the best of both worlds. 

After establishing Hannah as a persona, the series' sophomore soundtrack introduced Miley as a pop star in her own right thanks to a clever double album that was one-half Hannah's music and one-half Miley's. It's literally there in the title: Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus.

From there, Cyrus' stardom took off like a rocket as she scored back-to-back No.1 albums and a parade of Top 10 hits like "See You Again," "7 Things," "The Climb," "Can't Be Tamed," and the ever-so-timeless anthem "Party in the U.S.A."

At the same time, Gomez had top billing on her own Disney Channel series, the magical (but less musical) "Wizards of Waverly Place." That hardly stopped her from launching her own music career, though, first by fronting Selena Gomez & the Scene from 2008 to 2012, then eventually going solo with the release of 2013's Stars Dance after the "Wizards" finale aired.

For her part, Lovato — Gomez's childhood bestie and "Barney & Friends" costar — got her big break playing Mitchie Torres in Camp Rock alongside the Jonas Brothers as fictional boy band Connect 3, led by Joe Jonas as the swaggering and floppy-haired Shane Gray. Much like Duff had five years prior in the wake of The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Lovato released her debut solo album, 2008's Don't Forget, just three months after her DCOM broke records for the Disney Channel. 

Building off their chemistry from the movie musical, nearly the entirety of Don't Forget was co-written with the Jonas Brothers, who released two of their own albums on Hollywood Records — 2007's Jonas Brothers and 2008's A Little Bit Longer — before getting their own short-lived, goofily meta Disney series, "Jonas," which wrapped weeks after the inevitable Camp Rock sequel arrived in September 2010.

As the 2000s gave way to the 2010s, the Disney machine began slowing down as its cavalcade of stars graduated to more grown-up acting roles, music and careers. But from Duff's Metamorphosis through Lovato's 2017 LP, Tell Me You Love Me, Hollywood Records caught lightning in a bottle again and again and again, giving millennials an entire generation of talent that has carried them through adulthood and into the 2020s.

To commemorate the Disney 2000s campaign, GRAMMY.com crafted a playlist to look back on Disney's golden age of pop with favorite tracks from Hilary Duff, Vanessa Hudgens, the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and more. Listen and reminisce below.

A composite image collage featuring images of Taylor Swift in (L-R) 2023, 2008 and 2012.
(L-R) Taylor Swift in 2023, 2008 and 2012.

Photos (L-R): Buda Mendes/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management, Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

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Songbook: An Era-By-Era Breakdown Of Taylor Swift's Journey From Country Starlet To Pop Phenomenon

Upon the arrival of Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department,' take a deep dive into her discography and see how each album helped her become the genre-shifting superstar she is today.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 09:32 pm

Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 19 to reflect the release of The Tortured Poets Department.

The world now knows Taylor Swift as a global pop superstar, but back in 2006, she was just a doe-eyed country prodigy. Since then, she's released 11 studio albums, re-recorded four as "Taylor's Version," and cultivated one of the most feverish fan bases in music. Oh, and she's also won 14 GRAMMY Awards, including four for Album Of The Year — the most ever won by an artist.

Swift has become one of music's most notable shapeshifters by refusing to limit herself to one genre, moving between country, pop, folk and beyond. A once-in-a-lifetime generational storyteller, one could argue that she is music's modern-day maverick, constantly evolving both her music and the culture around her.

Every album era has seen Swift reinvent herself over and over, which has helped pave the way for artists to explore other musical avenues. In turn, Swift hasn't just become one of the biggest artists of all time — she's changed pop music altogether.

To celebrate Taylor Swift's newest era with The Tortured Poets Department, GRAMMY.com looks back on all of her albums (Taylor's Versions not included) and how each era shaped her remarkable career.

Taylor Swift: Finding Her Place In Music

In a genre dominated by men, the odds were already stacked against Swift when she first broke into country music as a teenage female artist. The thing that differentiated her from other writers — and still does to this day — is her songwriting. She didn't want to be just "another girl singer" and knew writing her own songs would be what set her apart. 

Written throughout her adolescence, Taylor Swift was recorded at the end of 2005 and finalized by the time Swift finished her freshman year of high school. Serving as a snapshot of Swift's life and teenhood, she avoided songwriting stereotypes typically found in country music. Instead, she wanted to capture the years of her life while they still represented what she was going through, writing about what she was observing and experiencing, from love and friendship to feeling like an outsider. 

As a songwriter, Taylor Swift set the tone for what would be expected of her future recordings — all songs were written by her, some solely and others with one or two co-writers. One writer in particular, Liz Rose, applauded Swift's songwriting capabilities, stating that she was more of an "editor" for the songs because Swift already had such a distinct vision. 

The album's lead single, "Tim McGraw," an acoustic country ballad inspired by Swift knowing her relationship was going to end, represents an intricate part of Swift's songwriting process; meticulously picking apart her emotions to better understand them. With its follow-up, "Our Song" — which spent six consecutive weeks on the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart — she became the youngest person to solely write and sing a No. 1 country single; she also became the first female solo artist in country music to write or co-write every song on an album. 

Although Swift's eponymous debut is underappreciated now — even lacking its own set on Swift's Eras TourTaylor Swift's forthcoming rerecording is arguably the most anticipated by fans, who are eager to hear the songs with the singer's current and more refined vocals. Still, for fans who haven't properly explored Taylor Swift, it's easy to tie together Swift's earlier work to her current discography. 

On the track "A Place In This World," a song she wrote when she was just 13, Swift sings about not fitting in and trying to find her path. While her songwriting has developed and matured, feeling like an outsider and carving her own path is a theme she still writes about now, as seen on Midnights' "You're On Your Own, Kid." 

Even as a new country artist, critics claimed that she "mastered" the genre while subsequently ushering it to a new era — one that would soon see Swift dabble in country-pop. 

Fearless: Creating A Different Kind Of Fairytale

If Taylor Swift was the soundtrack to navigating the early stages of teenhood, Fearless is Swift's coming-of-age record. More than its predecessor, Fearless blurs the line between country and pop thanks to crossover hits like "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me," yet still keeps the confessional attributes known in country songwriting. 

Most of Fearless is Swift coming to terms with what she believed love to be. On the album's liner notes, Swift says Fearless is about "living in spite" of the things that scare you, like falling in love again despite being hurt before or walking away and letting go. The 2008 version of Taylor wanted to "believe in love stories and prince charmings and happily ever after," whereas in Swift's Fearless (Taylor's Version) liner notes, she looks back on the album as a diary where she was learning "tiny lessons" every time there was a "new crack in the facade of the fairytale ending she'd been shown in the movies." 

Much of Fearless also sees Swift being reflective and nostalgic about adolescence, like in "Never Grow Up" and "Fifteen." Still wistful and romantic, the album explores Swift's hopes for love, as heard in the album's lead single "Love Story," which was one instance where she was "dramatizing" observations instead of actually experiencing them herself. 

Unlike the slow-burn of Taylor Swift, Fearless went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and stayed there for eight consecutive weeks. It won Swift's first Album Of The Year GRAMMY in 2010, at the time making her the youngest person to win the accolade at age 20. To date, it has sold 7.2 million copies in America alone. It might not be the romantic tale Swift dreamed of growing up, but her sophomore album signalled that bigger things were to come.

Speak Now: Proving Her Songwriting Prowess

Everything that happened after the success of Fearless pushed Swift from country music's best-kept secret to a mainstream star. But this meant that she faced more publicity and criticism, from naysayers who nitpicked her songwriting and vocals to the infamous Kanye West incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

For the first time since becoming an artist, she was forced to reckon with the concept of celebrity and how turning into one — whether she wanted it or not — informed her own writing and perception of herself. No longer was she the girl writing songs like "Fifteen" in her bedroom — now she was working through becoming a highly publicized figure. Speak Now is the answer to those growing pains. 

Along with having more eyes on her, Swift also felt pressured to maintain her persona as a perfect young female role model amid a time when her peers like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato were attempting to rebrand to be more mature and sexier. During her NYU commencement speech in 2022, she reflected on this era of her life as one of intense fear that she could make a mistake and face lasting consequences, so the songs were masked in metaphors rather than directly addressing adult themes in her music. But that also resulted in some of her most poignant lyrics to date.

Read More: For The Record: How Taylor Swift's 'Speak Now' Changed Her Career — And Proved She'll Always Get The Last Word

Writing the entire album herself, Swift used Speak Now to prove her songwriting prowess to those who questioned her capabilities. Much like her previous two albums, Swift included songs that were both inspired by her own life and being a fly on the wall. The album's title track pulled from the saying, "Speak now or forever hold your peace," inspired by a friend's ex-boyfriend getting engaged; meanwhile, "Mean" was everything Swift wanted to say to a critic who was continuously harsh about her vocals.

Retrospective and reflective, Speak Now is an album about the speeches she could've, would've and should've said. From addressing the aforementioned VMA incident in the forgiving "Innocent" to a toxic relationship in "Dear John," Speak Now also hinted that her rose-colored glasses were cracked, but Swift (and her songwriting) was only becoming stronger because of it.

Red: Coming Into Her Own

Highly regarded as Swift's magnum opus, Red sees the singer shed the fairytale dresses and the girl-next-door persona to craft a body of work that has now been deemed as her first "adult" record. On Red, Swift focused on emotions evoked from a hot-and-cold relationship, one that forced her to experience "intense love, intense frustration, jealousy and confusion" — all feelings that she'd describe as "red." 

Unlike most of her previous writing that had been inspired by happy endings and fairytales, Red explores the lingering pain and loss that can embed itself within despite trying your hardest to let go. In her liner notes, she references Pablo Neruda's poem "Tonight I Can Write," stating that "Love is so short, forgetting is so long" is the overarching theme for the album. She plays with time — speeding it up in "Starlight," dabbling in the past in "All Too Well," and reframing it in "State of Grace" — to better understand her experiences. 

After releasing country-pop records, Red toed the line between genres more than ever before. Swift leaned further into the full pop territory by working with esteemed producers Max Martin and Shellback for the dubstep-leaning track "I Knew You Were Trouble," the punchy lead single "We Are Never Getting Back Together," and the bouncy anthem "22." But even when the pop power players weren't involved, her country stylings still leaned more pop across the album, as further evidenced with the racing deep cut "Holy Ground" and the echoing title track. 

The slight change of direction became polarizing for critics and fans alike. Following the more country-influenced Speak Now, some critics and fans found the pop songs on Red were too pop and the lyrics were too repetitive, possibly indicating that she might be selling out. If that wasn't enough, Red became an era where Swift's personal life went from speculation to tabloid fodder, with misogynistic headlines and diluting her work to just "writing about her exes." It's an era that would eventually inspire many tracks on Red's successor, 1989, like "Blank Space" and "Shake It Off."

Commercially, Red debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold 1.2 million copies in its first week, becoming the fastest-selling country album and making Swift the first female artist to have three consecutive albums spend six or more weeks at the top of the chart. The impact of Red extended beyond its own success, too. Often mentioned as a record that inspired a generation of artists from Troye Sivan to Conan Gray, Swift's confessional, soul-bearing authenticity set a new standard for straightforward pop music. 

1989: Reinventing Into A Pop Genius

The night Red lost the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year in 2014, Swift decided that her next album would be a full-on pop record. After years of identifying as a country artist and flirting with pop, Swift departed her roots to reinvent herself, no matter what her then-label or critics had to say. And in true Swiftian fashion, turning into a pop artist didn't just prove her genre-shapeshifting capabilities — it further solidified her as an artist who is at her best when she freely creates to her desires and refuses to adhere to anyone.

1989 was lauded by critics for its infectious synth-pop that was reminiscent of the 1980s, yet still had a contemporary sound. Swift opted to lean more into radio-friendly hits, which resulted in songs like "Style," "Wildest Dreams," "Blank Space," and "Shake It Off," all of which became singles. And where some might trade a hit or two at the expense of their artistic integrity, Swift didn't falter — instead, her lyrics were just as heartfelt and intimate as they were on prior albums.

After exploring pop-leaning sonics she first found with Red, Swift worked with Martin and Shellback again on most of 1989. This reinvention brought new (and very important) collaborators as well. Swift's now-frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff credits her as the first person to take a chance on him as a producer with "I Wish You Would" and "Out Of The Woods"; both tracks exemplified how future Antonoff-produced songs would sound on albums like reputation, Lover and Midnights.

At the time, 1989 became Swift's best-selling album to date. It sold nearly 1.3 million copies within release week in the U.S., debuting atop the Billboard 200 and reigning for 11 non-consecutive weeks. The album also earned Swift several awards — including her second Album Of The Year GRAMMY, which made her the first female artist to ever win the award twice. 

Following the release of 1989, Swift became a cultural juggernaut, and the album has had an omnipresence in music since. Swift didn't just normalize blending genres, but proved that you can create a sound that is uniquely yours by doing so. In turn, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and more pop stars have refused to conform or stick to what they've done prior. 

reputation: Killing The Old Taylor

For years, Swift was on a strict two-year cycle — she'd release an album one year, tour the next, and then release a new album the following year. But following the heightened scrutiny and highly publicized tabloid drama that followed the end of the 1989 era, Swift completely disappeared for a year. She stayed away from public appearances, didn't do any press, and missed the album schedule fans became accustomed to. It wasn't until summer 2017 when she returned from her media (and social media) blackout to unveil the fitting title for her new album: reputation.

Born as a response to the naysayers and name-callers, reputation follows Swift shedding her public image — which includes the pressure to be perfect, the drama, and the criticism — by declaring, "There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation." Leaning on the same tongue-in-cheek songwriting techniques she used while penning "Blank Space," Swift wrote from the mindset of how the public perceived her.

When Swift released the lead single "Look What You Made Me Do," a song she initially wrote as a poem about not trusting specific people, many assumed the album would center on vengeance and drama. Although Swift said that the album has its vindictive moments — even declaring that the "old Taylor" is dead on the bridge of "Look What You Made Me Do" — it's a vulnerable record for her. Swift described reputation as a bait-and-switch; at their core, the songs are about finding love in the darkest moments. 

Swift still remained in the pop lane with reputation, largely leaning on Antonoff and the Martin/Shellback team. The sound almost mirrored the scrutiny Swift faced in the years prior — booming electropop beats, maximalist production and pulsing synthesizers dominate, particularly on "End Game," "I Did Something Bad," and "Ready For It…?" But the "old Taylor" isn't entirely gone on songs like "Call It What You Want," "So It Goes…" and "New Year's Day," where she lets her guard down to write earnest love odes.

Even after Swift spent some time away from the spotlight, the public didn't immediately gravitate toward her return. And even despite matching the 1.2 million first-week sales of her previous releases, some concluded that the album was her first commercial failure when compared to 1989. With time, though, it became clear that the response to reputation became muddled with the public's overall perception of her at the time — some even claimed that Swift was ahead of her time with the album's overall sound.

For her 2023 TIME Person of the Year profile, Swift described reputation as a "goth-punk moment of female rage at being gaslit by an entire social structure." For years, she felt the pressure to be "America's Sweetheart" and to never step out of line. Writing reputation became a lifeline following the events that catalyzed it  — a way to shed the so-called snakeskin and make peace with however the public wanted to view her. 

Lover: Stepping Into The Daylight

After finding love amongst chaos with reputation, Swift was learning to deal with the anxiety and fear of losing her partner — became a major theme of another aptly titled album, Lover. Both sonically and visually, Lover was a complete change from reputation. After touring reputation, Swift found that her fans saw her as "a flesh-and-blood human being," inspiring her to be "brave enough to be vulnerable" because her fans were along with her. Stepping away from the dark and antagonistic themes around reputation encouraged Swift to step into the light and be playful with her work on Lover.

Swift also found a new sense of creativity within this new mindset, one where she aimed to still embed playful themes in her songwriting but with less snark than that of "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do." Leaning into Lover being a "love letter to love," Swift explored every aspect of it. Tracks like "Paper Rings" and "London Boy" exude a whimsical energy, even if they center on more serious themes like marriage and commitment. Other songs, including "Death By A Thousand Cuts" and "Cornelia Street," are Swift at her most vulnerable, reflecting on a love lost and grappling with the extreme worry that comes when you could potentially lose someone. 

Looking at Lover retrospectively, it's an album that almost symbolizes a bookend in her discography. She was playful yet poignant, picking apart her past lyrics and feelings and looking at them with the perspective of someone who was once on top of the world, hit rock bottom, and survived in spite of it. This evolution is mentioned throughout Lover, particularly in a direct callback to 2012's Red, "Daylight," which sees her describe her love as "golden" rather than "burning red." 

Lover also marked the first time Swift divulged into politics and societal issues, like campaigning against Donald Trump, releasing the Pride-infused "You Need To Calm Down," and feeling disillusioned by the political climate with "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince." Swift's documentary Miss Americana explores this change further, discussing how she regrets not being vocal about politics and issues prior, in addition to opening up about her body image issues and mental health struggles.

Lover became Swift's sixth No. 1 album in America, making her the first female artist to achieve the feat. But Lover was more than any accolades could reflect — it was Swift's transitional album in many ways, notably marking the first album that she owned entirely herself following leaving Big Machine Records for Republic Records in 2018.

folklore: Looking Beyond Her Personal Stories

After the pandemic started and Swift cancelled her Lover Fest, she spent the early stages of quarantine reading and watching a myriad of films. Without exactly setting out to create an album, she began dreaming of fictional stories and characters with various narrative arcs, allowing her imagination to run free. The result became folklore, 2020's surprise archetypal quarantine album.

Crafting a world with characters like the folklore love triangle between those in "betty" and "august," as well as Rebekah Harkness from "the last great american dynasty" (who once lived in Swift's Rhode Island mansion), was Swift's way of venturing outside her typical autobiographical style of writing. She'd see visceral images in her mind — from battleships to tree swings to mirrored disco balls — and turned them into stories, sometimes weaving in her own personal narrative throughout, or taking on a narrator role and speaking from the perspective of someone she had never met. 

She worked remotely with two producers — again working with her right-hand man Jack Antonoff, and first-time collaborator Aaron Dessner from The National. Some songs, like "peace," were recorded in just one take, capturing the essence and fragility in the song's story, whereas the lyrics for the sun-drenched "august" were penned on the spot as Swift was in her makeshift home studio in Los Angeles.

Another aspect that separated folklore from her previous work was the obvious decision not to create hits made for radio play, so much so that Dessner claimed that she made an anti-pop record at a time when radio wanted clear "bops." Sonically, it ventured into genres Swift hadn't explored much outside of a few folkier tracks on Lover. Rather than relying on mostly electronic elements, Swift, Antonoff and Dessner weaved in soft pianos, ethereal strings, and plucky guitars.

folklore's impact on the zeitgeist at a time where everyone was stuck at home helped shape people's quarantine experience. Fans rejoiced at having songs to comfort them during difficult times, and artists like Maya Hawke, Gracie Abrams, and Sabrina Carpenter credit folklore for inspiring them to create and be even more emotionally honest in their songwriting. After its release, folklore became the best-selling album of 2020 after selling 1.2 million records. At the 2021 GRAMMYs, folklore took home Album Of The Year, making her the fourth artist in history to win three times in the Category. 

evermore: Embracing Experimentation

It was exciting enough for Swifties to experience one surprise album drop from Swift, an artist who typically has an entire album campaign calculated. So when evermore was released just six months after folklore, fans were in shock. 

Like its (literally) folklorian sister, evermore was a surprise release at the end of 2020, marking the first time Swift didn't have distinct "eras" between albums. She felt like there was something "different" with folklore, stating in a social media post that making it was less like she was "departing" and more like she was "returning" to the next stage of her discography. In turn, the album served as a similar escape for Swift as folklore did.

Bridging together the same wistful and nostalgic themes as heard on its predecessor, evermore sees Swift venture even further into escapism. She explores more stories and characters, some based in fiction like "dorothea," and some real, like "marjorie," written in dedication to Swift's grandmother. 

Evermore follows folklore's inclusion of natural imagery and motifs, like landscapes, skies, ivy, and celestial elements. In contrast to the fairytale motifs and happy endings of Fearless, evermore saw Swift become fixated on "unhappy" endings — stories of failed marriages ("happiness"), lifeless relationships ("tolerate it"), and one-time flings ("'tis the damn season"). 

Sonically, evermore is a slight departure from its sister record; where folklore relies on more alt-leaning and indie-tinged sounds, evermore takes the sonics from all of Swift's past records — from pop to country to indie rock — and features all of them on one album. Country songs like "cowboy like me" and "no body, no crime" reaches back to Swift's earlier work in narrative building, seamlessly crafting a three-party story with ease. "Closure" is a "skittering" track that has the same energy as tracks like Lover's "I Forgot That You Existed," whereas the ballad "champagne problems" is thematically reminiscent of Swift's Speak Now track "Back To December" where she takes responsibility for her lover's heartache. 

Working mostly with Dessner on evermore, Swift was emboldened to continue creating and opted to embrace whatever came naturally to them rather than limiting themselves to a sound. Swift felt a "quiet conclusion" after finishing up evermore, describing that it was more about grappling with endings of all "sizes and shapes," and the record represented a chapter closing. Even so, its poetic lyricism and mystical storytelling cleverly foreshadowed what was to come with subsequent albums, particularly The Tortured Poets Department.

Midnights: Encapsulating Her Artistic Magic

After coming out of the folklorian woods following folklore and evermore, fans and critics alike were intrigued to see what direction Swift would take on her next studio album. On Midnights, Swift leaves behind indie folk sounds and returns to the pop production of 1989 and Lover.

Her most conceptual album to date, Midnights charts 13 sleepless nights and explores five themes, from self-hatred and revenge to "what if" fantasies, falling in love, and falling apart. They are the things that keep her up at night, like the self-critiquing in "Anti-Hero," her rise to fame in "You're on Your Own, Kid," and the anxiety of falling in love again in "Labyrinth." Similarly to Swift's cheeky songwriting style that sees her create caricatures of herself in songs like "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do," she doubles down on claims she's "calculated" on "Mastermind," a song about devising a plan for her and her lover. 

Although the album is a departure from the two pandemic sister albums, the overall creation process didn't differ too much. In addition to working alongside Antonoff (and bringing Dessner in for the bonus-track-filled 3am Edition), Swift's worldbuilding is still the throughline that connects Midnights and Swift's recent albums, whether she's dreaming of a Parisian escape in "Paris" or using war imagery as a metaphor for the struggle of love in "The Great War."

Read More: 5 Takeaways From Taylor Swift's New Album 'Midnights'

Following the success with folklore and evermore, Swift's intrigue was at a then-all-time high upon the release of Midnights. Along with breaking several streaming records — including becoming the first album to exceed 700 million global streams in a week — it was Swift's 11th No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, and was the highest-selling album of 2022 (and, remarkably, the second best-selling of 2023).

To say that Swift's celebrity has become otherworldly since the release of Midnights would be an understatement. Celebrating her genre-defying and varied discography through The Eras Tour has resulted in old songs having a resurgence, new inside jokes and Easter eggs within the fandom, and a plethora of new listeners being exposed to Swift's work. 

As a result, there has arguably never been more excitement for a Taylor Swift album than for The Tortured Poets Department — especially because the announcement came on the heels of her lucky 13th GRAMMY win in February. Midnights helped further solidify Swift's larger-than-life status at the finale of the 2024 GRAMMYs, too, as she became the only artist in history to win Album Of The Year four times. 

The Tortured Poets Department: A Grief-Stricken Poetic Odyssey

It’s been a while since Swift has penned a full-fledged breakup album. On The Tortured Poets Department, she navigates the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — after her long-term relationship ended. Taking a page from the release of folklore and evermore, she dropped a double album and announced The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology at 2 a.m. on release day. Throughout a total of 31 tracks, the prolific songwriter shelved the glittery pop radio-friendly tunes in favor of more subdued, synthy and heart-wrenching songs. 

On Instagram, Swift described the album as a collection of poetic songs that reflect the "events, opinions and sentiments from a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time," Swift pulled out the fountain and quill pens to craft songs about the "tortured poets" in her life — sometimes musing about lovers, sometimes taking aim at villains, and sometimes pointing the finger at herself. 

TTPD is also her most confessional album thus far. It pokes fun at so-called fans who overstep with her personal life ("But Daddy I Love Him"), says goodbye to a city that gave her a home ("So Long London"), and muses on how her own celebrity has stunted her growth ("Who's Afraid Of Little Old Me?"). To help explain this chapter of her life, Swift brings together a myriad of collaborators — from Stevie Nicks as fellow poetess, to duets with Florence Welch and Post Malone — and leans on real and fictional characters, like Clara Bow, Peter Pan ("Peter"), and Patti Smith.

In the same post, Swift declared that once she’s confessed all of her saddest stories, she’s able to find freedom. Yet The Tortured Poets Department (and its accompanying 15-track anthology) spends much time reflecting: she toys with her own lore, self-referencing past songs from albums like 1989 and poems from her reputation era. 

Fourteen years ago, Swift declared that she would never change, but she’ll never stay the same either. The Tortured Poets Department proves that in the throughline of Taylor Swift's many artistic eras is a commitment to exploration and a love of autobiographical lyricism.

All Things Taylor Swift

Billy Joel
Billy Joel performing at Madison Square Garden in 2023

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

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How To Rewatch "The 100th: Billy Joel At Madison Square Garden – The Greatest Arena Run Of All Time"

"The 100th: Billy Joel At Madison Square Garden – The Greatest Arena Run Of All Time" aired Sunday, April 14 (9-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on CBS, and be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

GRAMMYs/Apr 14, 2024 - 02:16 pm

Legendary singer/songwriter Billy Joel, a five-time GRAMMY winner with 23 nominations, has always remained in the Recording Academy's spotlight, even during his lengthy hiatus from pop/rock music.

At the 2024 GRAMMYs, Joel marked his grand comeback with his new single, "Turn the Lights Back On" — and it was like he never turned them off at all.

Now, the era of Billy Joel rolls on. Tonight, April 14, viewers can witness his record-breaking 100th consecutive performance at Madison Square Garden, a streak that started when his franchise run began on March 28. Joel holds the amazing distinction of selling out Madison Square Garden more than any other artist.

This is Joel's first-ever concert to air on a broadcast network — so don't miss the Piano Man at work, whether you watch on the night of, or stream it after the broadcast.

Here's how and when to watch "The 100th: Billy Joel At Madison Square Garden – The Greatest Arena Run Of All Time."

When Did The Special Initially Air?

The special aired Sunday, April 14 from 9-11:00 PM, ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and is available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. (A “network programming timing error” had cut off the last song.)

When Will The Special Air Again?

Now, you’ll have a chance to watch it again, on Friday, April 19 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network. It will be rebroadcast in its entirety.

Where Else Will The Special Air?

Sling TV offers CBS in select regions. Paramount+ with Showtime is free for the first month and $11.99 per month after the trial period ends. Plus, you can access that platform via Prime Video.

Keep checking GRAMMY.com for more info on all things Billy Joel!

Freddy Wexler On Helping Billy Joel "Turn The Lights Back On" — At The 2024 GRAMMYs And Beyond

Backstreet Boys at the 1999 GRAMMYs
Backstreet Boys at the 1999 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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25 Years Of Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way": 10 Covers By Ed Sheeran, Lil Uzi Vert & More

To commemorate the anniversary of Backstreet Boys' biggest hit, take a look at 10 clever ways it's been covered and sampled — from Ed Sheeran's karaoke bit to a Weird Al special.

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 03:38 pm

When the Backstreet Boys released "I Want It That Way" on April 12, 1999, they likely had no idea how beloved their smash hit would still be a quarter-century later.

Written by the Swedish powerhouse team of Andreas Carlsson and Max Martin, "I Want It That Way" is undoubtedly BSB's signature hit, particularly thanks to its memorable undulating melody and its long-debated cryptic meaning. But perhaps the most surprising part of the song's legacy is how it has resonated across genres — from a TikTok cover by Korn to a hip-hop sampling by Lil Uzi Vert.

As the Backstreet Boys celebrate the 25th anniversary of "I Want It That Way," take a look at how the song has been diversely covered, lovingly lampooned and karaoke jammed by an array of voices in the business.

Weird Al Yankovic (2003)

When the king of parody songs selects one to skewer, you know it's an iconic song. Weird Al Yankovic paid tribute to the largeness of the Backstreet Boys classic when he used "I Want It That Way" as the basis of a song called "eBay" in 2003.

Yankovic's chorus replaces the original's with, "A used pink bathrobe/ A rare mint snow globe/ A Smurf TV tray/ I bought on eBay." The Backstreet Boys send up appears on Yankovic's album Poodle Hat, which won Best Comedy Album at the 2004 GRAMMYs.

One Direction (2013)

Three years One Direction formed on "The X Factor," the five lads — Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson — included a cover of "I Want It That Way" on their 2013 concert set lists, the young boy band paying homage to the ones that came before them. Though their English accents poked through at times, their version was loyal to the original, and got their crowds singing along.

"Glee" (2013)

Poking fun at the presumed rivalry between *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, a medley of the former's "Bye Bye Bye" and "I Want It That Way" was featured in Season 4, Episode 16 of "Glee." In the episode — aptly titled "Feud" — choir director Mr. Schuester (Matthew Morrison) and glee club heartthrob Finn (Cory Monteith) face off in an epic boy band battle, which ultimately proved the groups' respective music was more cohesive than divisive.

Brittany Howard and Jim James (2016)

The lead singers of Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket covering a boy band classic. It doesn't sound real, but Brittany Howard and Jim James did just that in 2016 when they recorded "I Want It That Way" for an animated short cartoon called "A Love Story."

Released by the fast food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, the clip was part of a creative campaign to showcase the company's focus on natural ingredients. Howard and James highlight the poignancy and versatility of the song by adding lush string arrangements and dramatic beats.

Backstreet Boys x Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (2018)

The 2018 live performance of "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots for "The Tonight Show" is arguably the sweetest rendition of the song — and not just because they're using a mini xylophone, baby tambourine and other toy classroom instruments. It's even more endearing than the previous collaborations between Fallon and Backstreet Boys: a barbershop singing version of Sisqo's "Thong Song" and a "Bawkstreet Boys" version of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," with everyone dressed like fluffy birds.

The 1975 (2020)

British rockers The 1975 performed a fairly faithful cover of "I Want It That Way," hitting all the high notes at several of their 2023 world concert tour stops. But it's not the first time frontman Matty Healy has hinted at the Backstreet Boys' influence on his band: he told Pitchfork in 2020 that "College Dropout-era Kanye West meets Backstreet Boys" was part of their veritable moodboard at the time when working on their own song called "Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)."

Lil Uzi Vert (2020)

In 2020, Lil Uzi Vert released a rap song called "That Way" that includes a refrain of "I want it that way" sung to the tune of the Backstreet original, but with an AutoTune twist. From there, the lyrics become quite a bit naughtier than anything the BSB guys have uttered in any song.

"I don't know how [the idea of] Backstreet Boys got involved in this song, I really don't," the song's producer Supah Mario told Splice at the time. "I think it was all Uzi. But it was a game changer."

The interpolation was so good, in fact, that Nick Carter even invited Lil Uzi Vert to collaborate: "Now you're gonna have to be featured on our next album bud," he tweeted upon the song's release.

Korn (2022)

Fans of Korn know that the nu metal band has a sense of humor, but few could've expected that Jonathan Davis and crew would post a TikTok of themselves singing "I Want It That Way" in 2022.

"I never wanna hear you say… 'Worst Is On Its Way,'" reads the caption on the post, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Korn's 2022 song of the same name.

Backstreet Boys responded on the app via a hilarious Duet video with Nick Carter. In the video, Carter — who sports fabulous metal eye makeup and a long silver wig — doesn't actually say or sing anything, he just drops his jaw in amazement.

Backstreet Boys x Downy (2022)

Downy hired the Backstreet Boys to poke fun at "I Want It That Way" with the now-viral "Tell Me Why" commercial in 2022. All five members — Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson — appear as a Backstreet Boys poster on the wall that comes to life, using the "tell me why" hook of their hit to engage a woman doing laundry in a conversation about washing her clothes.

As Saatchi group account director Jen Brotman told Muse at the time, the nostalgic ad also spawned some memories for the folks working on the ad campaign.

"The moment [BSB] stood in front of the camera, they rehearsed 'I Want It That Way' just to get the notes right, and we felt like we were getting serenaded on set," Brotman recalled. "We couldn't believe how emotional we all got — there may or may not have been tears in some eyes. The song has always been a karaoke favorite of the team, so we knew which 'tell me whys' we wanted them to hit, and we still can't get it out of our heads."

Ed Sheeran (2023)

When he fancies singing a bit of karaoke, Ed Sheeran loves leaning on "I Want It That Way," as the star showed at his favorite Nashville bar in July 2023. A patron caught him on camera and his happiness level is undeniable when belting out this enduring pop classic.

As Sheeran told CBS News a few months later, he grew up on the pop hits of everyone from Backstreet Boys to Britney Spears. But what he said about "I Want It That Way" specifically may be the best way to describe its long-lasting impact: "You can't be in a bar, a couple of beers in, and 'I Want It That Way' comes on and not be like, 'This is a good song.' You can't."

24 Songs Turning 20: Listen To 2004's Bangers, From "Yeah!" To "Since U Been Gone"