meta-scriptBrazilian Pop Star Pabllo Vittar Talks New Album '111' And Life As Music's Premier Drag Queen | GRAMMY.com
Pabllo Vittar

Pabllo Vittar

Photo: Ernna Cost

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Brazilian Pop Star Pabllo Vittar Talks New Album '111' And Life As Music's Premier Drag Queen

With the release of the biggest album of her career, Vittar discusses how she proudly represents her native Brazil and her queer identity in Latin music, plus chats Coachella and beyond

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2020 - 11:56 pm

On the cover of her new album 111, Brazilian pop star Pabllo Vittar is a goddess of multiplicity. The Pabllo in the center fiercely stares down the camera, suspended midair while posing in a leather-boot-legged leap. Much like Vittar's multifaceted drag persona, the surrounding Pabllos show her many sides: A playful Pabllo blows a pink bubblegum bubble, a sexy Pabllo strikes a sensual pose on her knees. In one shot, she's putting her country on the map and serving fierce runway-ready looks along the way.

Phabullo Rodrigues da Silva, who goes by her drag name Pabllo Vittar, reached music superstardom in a short period of time. After first dressing in drag for her 18th birthday in 2011, inspired by watching episodes of "RuPaul's Drag Race," she scored a viral hit in 2015 with her debut single "Open Bar," a Portuguese version of Major Lazer's and DJ Snake's "Lean On." Shortly after, she went from local celebrity to global phenomenon in 2017 when Diplo invited her to collaborate on Major Lazer's "Sua Cara," alongside fellow Brazilian pop star, Anitta.

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One year later, in 2018, Vittar made history as the first drag queen to receive a Latin GRAMMY nomination when "Sua Cara" was nominated for Best Urban Fusion/Performance. "I thought to myself as a child watching TV and seeing my favorite artists being nominated for a GRAMMY and winning," she tells the Recording Academy. "Maybe it wasn't my time, but next time I hope to be a winner of the night." 

Vittar's pop culture references are diverse, and they've been important in solidifying her as a force in the industry. She's leveraged her global crossover appeal as a go-to artist for collaborations. British pop futurist Charli XCX tapped Vittar for her 2017 mixtape, Pop 2. The following year, Vittar featured on tracks with Argentine pop princess Lali Espósito, electronic duo Sofi Tukker and Australian rapper Iggy Azalea.

"I love to meet other artists and share my work with them," Vittar says. "I love to do collaborations. I love to work with different types of music and mix everything up to end up with something new."

With all eyes on Vittar, she's now basking in the spotlight with her third album, 111, released last month (March 24). The trilingual album—she sings in Portuguese, Spanish and English—sees Vittar taking on electropop, inspired by the global Pride parades at which she performs, on "Flash Pose" with Charli XCX and tackling a fully Spanish club banger alongside Mexican icon Thalía on the sensual "Tímida." Centerstage on 111 are the sounds of her native Brazil, which are often overlooked in the grand scheme of Latin pop. On "Amor De Que," Vittar gives her motherland's storied forró genre a pop edge. Elsewhere, she embraces the emerging rasteirinha music scene, which filters Brazilian baile funk through an EDM lense, on "Rajadão" and "Parabéns," the latter featuring local group Psirico. 

Fewer than 10 years after donning her first drag look, Vittar now outnumbers, in Instagram followers, one of her main inspirations and the most famous drag queen on the planet: RuPaul. "I would love to meet RuPaul because, for me, she's a big inspiration for my job and my drag," Vittar says. "I feel grateful to be living in the same moment as her." Following in the high-heeled footsteps of her idol, Vittar today lives a fabulous existence that's resistance to homophobia and those not taking the art of drag seriously. 

Vittar spoke with the Recording Academy about her incredible career in the fast lane, her new birthday-inspired album and her now-rescheduled performance at Coachella 2020.

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What are some of the inspirations behind your music?

Everything inspires me: my friends, my family and my fans. I love to work with rhythms from Brazil because I'm a Brazilian and I love my country.

Speaking of Brazil, how do you feel about representing your country in the Latin music scene?

I feel so hugely honored to speak about my community. I feel honored to be one of the Brazilian voices in the Latino community with my music. I'm singing in Portuguese. In the Latin scene, I hope to sing more in Spanish and be more involved in that type of music.

Another big pop star from Brazil is Anitta. How was it to work with her on Major Lazer's "Sua Cara"?

She's a star. She's a pop star. She's a queen. I love her and her contributions to Brazilian music and to pop music. I need to do another collaboration with her. We've talked about it. I think by next year we'll have another collaboration.

Thanks to your involvement in "Sua Cara," you made history in 2018 as the first drag queen to be nominated for a Latin GRAMMY. How did that make you feel when you found out the news?

In that moment, I freaked out because it's a dream come true. I feel so blessed. I want to inspire all the girls, all the drag queens and other people in the queer community to believe in your dreams and never forget them because you can do anything.

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This month, you were scheduled to perform at Coachella. The event was postponed to October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Are you still planning to perform at Coachella this year?

For sure! Last year, I was a special guest for Major Lazer's set. I said to the world, "Next year, I'm coming here with my own show and my tour." And b**ch, boom! I'm here! For sure, I'm going. I'm super excited to do it.

Anitta is also one of the confirmed artists at Coachella this year. Will you two perform together during your set?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Right now I don't know the scheduling of the performances. I wish to do something with her at Coachella.

Read: Breaking Down The Coachella 2020 Lineup: Rage Against The Machine, Frank Ocean, Calvin Harris & More Announced

In your music videos, you serve spectacular and sexy looks. Do you see a link between music and fashion?

Yes, I do see a link, because you need to send a message. I send a message with my music. When I put on all my colors and my outfits, I'm also sending a message with that. I feel so grateful because I love fashion and I love music and I get to put them together.

Pabllo Vittar | Photo: Ernna Cost

What would you say is the message of your new album, 111?

The concept of this album is my birthday. I was born on November 1 [11/1]. I'm a Scorpio. Yasss, hunty! This album is like a birthday playlist. I played all these songs on my birthday. I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that when my fans listen to this album that they feel confident, sexy [and] happy and dance a lot to it at home.

One of the big collaborations on 111 is "Tímida" with Mexican pop icon Thalía. Can you tell me about how she got involved with the song and what it was like to work with her?

Thalía is a queen. Her image is amazing. Last year, I sent her a demo of "Tímida," and she loved the song, put her vocals on it and sent it back to me. I told her, "I can't believe that you did this for me and I thank you so much." This album wouldn't be the same without her. The first time I met her, she told me, "Finally, two Latina queens working together." I was like, "Oh my God!"

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Who are some artists you would want to collaborate with next?

I really want to collaborate with ROSALÍA. I love her so much. She's an amazing artist. I would also like to collaborate with Bad Bunny, Maluma and Karol G, for sure. I love so many Latin music artists.

Speaking of Bad Bunny, what did you think when you saw him dressed in drag in his recent music video for "Yo Perreo Sola"?

The video was so sexy. I was feeling it. I love Bad Bunny because he always embraces the queer community. He also does everything with a lot of respect, and we embrace that. He looked stunning! The legs, the nails, the makeup. Everything! The boobs! I love to do my boobs, too. Baby, let's shake our boobs together sometime. It's my dream to work with him. I love him and his new album [YHLQMDLG].

READ: Bad Bunny's 'YHLQMDLG' Breaks Records, Is The Highest-Charting Spanish Language Album Ever

What's one of your favorite moments in your career so far?

My favorite moment, for sure, was last year at the MTV Europe Music Awards [EMAs]. I was the first Brazilian to perform at the EMAs and the first drag queen to win an award there. Yasss!

People are saying music doesn't have to be in English anymore to be successful. What do you think about that?

When you do music with your heart, with positive energy, no matter the language, everyone embraces [it], dances to it and feels your energy. I can speak in English or sing in Italian, but if I don't put love into what I do, then that doesn't matter.

You use your platform as a performer to represent the LGBTQ+ community, especially in Brazil with President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been described as anti-LGBTQ+. How important is it for you to use your platform as an activist?

It's very important for me to give some voice to the community in this country. I'm not alone. I have some friends who are embracing the rainbow flag and the community. I feel so happy because I'm here, I'm Brazilian, and we are staying in this fight together. We are not letting anyone cancel that. We are putting our heads together and fighting.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

I will work more with my album in a deluxe version. I have some collaborations that I'm recording. I'm so excited to share them with my fans. I will start my new tour. I'm so excited to hug my fans and put on my wig again and dance on the stage. Oh my god! I'm freaking out.

Bad Bunny, Rosalia, Juanes & More: 5 Unforgettable Moments From The 2019 Latin GRAMMYs

Billie Eilish in Brooklyn, New York in May 2024
Billie Eilish at the 'HIT ME HARD AND SOFT' release party in Brooklyn, New York on May 15, 2024.

Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for ABA

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Billie Eilish Fully Embraces Herself On 'Hit Me Hard And Soft': 5 Takeaways From The New Album

On her third album, Billie Eilish returns to "the girl that I was" — and as a result, 'HIT ME HARD AND SOFT' celebrates all of the weird, sexual, beautiful, vulnerable parts of her artistry.

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 07:50 pm

Billie Eilish has never been one to shy away from her feelings. In fact, she doubles down on them.

Since her debut EP, 2017's Don't Smile At Me, the pop star has held listeners' hands as she guides them through the darkest pages of her diary. The EP found a teenage Eilish navigating heartbreak while her blockbuster debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? — which swept the General Field Categories (Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist) at the 2020 GRAMMYs — was a chilling and raw look into her depression-fueled nightmares. And 2021's Happier Than Ever had her confronting misogyny and the weight of fame.

She could have easily succumbed to the pop star pressures for her third studio album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, out today (May 17). Instead, she reverts to her sonic safe space: creating intimate melodies with her brother and day-one collaborator, FINNEAS. Only this time, the lyrics are more mature and the production is more ambitious.

"This whole process has felt like I'm coming back to the girl that I was. I've been grieving her," Eilish told Rolling Stone about how HIT ME HARD AND SOFT revisited elements of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? "I've been looking for her in everything, and it's almost like she got drowned by the world and the media. I don't remember when she went away."

Here are five takeaways from Billie Eilish's new album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, where Old Billie is resuscitated and comforted by New Billie. 

Heartbreaking Ballads Are Her Sweet Spot

Tenderness remains at Eilish's core, and it's beautifully highlighted on HIT ME HARD AND SOFT. Despite her love for eccentric electro-pop beats, ballads have always been the singer's strong suit. After she first displayed that in her debut single, 2015's "ocean eyes," Eilish won two GRAMMYs and an Oscar for her delicate Barbie soundtrack standout, "What Was I Made For?" — and the magic of her melancholic balladry returned on the new album.

HIT ME's album opener, "SKINNY," mimics the self-reflection of Happier Than Ever's "Getting Older" opener, where she painfully sings about Hollywood's body image standards. "People say I look happy just because I got skinny/ But the old me is still me and maybe the real me/ And I think she's pretty," she muses. 

"WILDFLOWER" cuts in the album's center like a knife to the chest. Eilish's comparisons to a lover's ex-girlfriend are devastating over a bare piano melody — the simplest production on the LP: "You say no one knows you so well/ But every time you touch me, I just wonder how she felt."

HIT ME Isn't Afraid To Get A Little Weird

What makes Eilish so intriguing is her effortless balance between misery and mischief. On lead single "LUNCH," the singer/songwriter taps into the playful attitude of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? smash "bad guy."

Over an upbeat and kooky production, she lets her carnal fantasies about devouring a woman run wild. The fantasies continue on "THE DINER," with Eilish stepping into the stalker mindset that may be inspired by her own life (she was granted a five-year restraining order against an alleged stalker last year). "I came in through the kitchen lookin' for something to eat/ I left a calling card so they would know that it was me," she winks on the chorus.

She Lays The "Whisper Singing" Criticism To Rest

Eilish's subdued voice has been chided as much as it's been lauded. She first gave naysayers the middle finger on Happier Than Ever's title track, nearly screaming in the song's latter half. On her latest album, she showcases her range even further, from bold belts to delicate falsettos.

The gauzy synths and vocal yearning of "BIRDS OF A FEATHER" is the perfect summer anthem, soundtracking the feeling of kissing your lover as the salty Los Angeles breeze runs through your hair. On the second half of "THE GREATEST," she unleashes a wail-filled fury. 

"HIT ME HARD AND SOFT was really the first time that I was aware of the things that I could do, the ways I could play with my voice, and actually did that," she recently told NPR Music. "That's one thing I feel very proud of with this album — my bravery, vocally."

Her Vulnerability Hasn't Waned

Eilish is quite the paradox, as her superpower is her emotional fragility. Her music has doubled as confessionals since the beginning of her career, and that relatable vulnerability threads HIT ME together. Despite its lighthearted nature, "LUNCH" marks the first time the singer has discussed her sexuality in a song.

"That song was actually part of what helped me become who I am, to be real," Eilish told  Rolling Stone of "LUNCH." "I wrote some of it before even doing anything with a girl, and then wrote the rest after. I've been in love with girls for my whole life, but I just didn't understand — until, last year, I realized I wanted my face in a vagina. I was never planning on talking about my sexuality ever, in a million years. It's really frustrating to me that it came up."

Then there's "SKINNY," which is a raw insight into how much social media's discussions of her body and fame affected her. "When I step off the stage, I'm a bird in a cage/ I'm a dog in a dog pound," she sings. "BLUE," the album's closer, finds Eilish accepting her state of post-breakup sorrow: "I'd like to mean it when I say I'm over you, but that's still not true."

FINNEAS Has Unlocked A New Production Level

FINNEAS — Eilish's brother, producer and confidant — has grown as much as his younger sister since they first began creating music together. He continues to challenge himself both lyrically and sonically to excitedly push Eilish to her creative limits. He explores a myriad of sounds on the album, with many playing like a two-for-one genre special. Named after Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away heroine, the glittery melody and thumping bassline on "CHIHIRO" transport you into an anime video game. 

The first half of "L'AMOUR DE MA VIE" is deceptively simple with its plucking acoustic guitar strings, but soon finds itself under the glare of a disco ball with Eilish's vocals funneled through a vocoder. "BITTERSUITE" is arguably the best reflection of Finneas' experimentation: it starts out with Daft Punk-esque synths before dragging itself across a grim, bass-heavy floor. Then, it crawls into cheeky elevator music territory before ending with an alien-like taunt.

HIT ME HARD AND SOFT is begging to be played live, as seen with fans' raucous reactions after the singer's listening parties at Brooklyn's Barclays Center and Los Angeles' Kia Forum. Fortunately for fans in North America, Australia and Europe, it won't be long before she brings the album to life — HIT ME HARD AND SOFT: THE TOUR  kicks off on Sept. 29 in Québec, Canada.

All Things Billie Eilish

New Kids On The Block Press Photo 2024
New Kids On The Block

Photo: Austin Hargrave

interview

New Kids On The Block's Joey McIntyre Shares His Favorite Career Moments With The Iconic Boy Band

From conquering the Apollo in the '80s to writing songs on NKOTB's celebratory new album 'Still Kids,' the group's Joey McIntyre reflects on a stellar 40-year career in pop music.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 09:33 pm

Before Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC ruled the pop roost in the '90s, New Kids On The Block were busy building the boy band template that everyone later followed for international chart success and incredibly ardent fan followings. And it's a legacy they're continuing to celebrate nearly four decades later.

On May 17, NKOTB dropped Still Kids, the group's first new album in 11 years and eighth overall. Standouts such as "Magic," "Runaway," and the album's lead single "Kids" are every bit as light, joyful and catchy as early hits like "Step By Step" and "Hangin' Tough." But they sound more mature than they did as teenagers; their harmonies are stronger and sweeter, while the beats and production sounds more sophisticated and contemporary. Fellow '80s/'90s stars DJ Jazzy Jeff and Taylor Dayne also guest star on the album to help them lean into the nostalgia while still staying current. (Jazzy Jeff will also join them on the Magic Summer Tour, which will make stops around North America from June 14 through Aug. 25 and further continue the throwbacks with Paula Abdul as the third tourmate.)

Of course, it's not a total surprise that New Kids would want their new work to celebrate the old. The group — brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood — has sold over 80 million albums, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even an annual New Kids On The Block Day in Boston (for 35 years running!). Their fans, affectionately known as Blockheads, still come out in large numbers to see them perform; according to NKOTB's new label, BMG, they've sold over four million concert tickets since reuniting in 2007 after a 14-year hiatus.

But for McIntyre, the true career highlights aren't the major accolades — it's the moments that really saw NKOTB's talent, and love for one another, shine. In celebration of the release of Still Kids, McIntyre shared five of his most cherished memories from the group's meteoric pop career.

Hollywood Talent Nights At Lee School Before They Were Famous

Lee School is a public school in Dorchester — actually, very close to Jamaica Plain. We all grew up in different towns in Boston. The rest of the guys were from Dorchester and I was from Jamaica Plain, that was like our clubhouse. 

Through the grace of God, there was a lot going on for the people that wanted it. And these community people that just did it out of the goodness of their hearts and would set up a space for kids to come and number one, stay out of trouble, and number two, give it a shot and have a place to dance and sing and dream. 

We would have these Hollywood Talent Nights that [group creator] Maurice [Starr] would put on, and then there were other talent nights. I don't know how often they were, but even if there were three or four a year, maybe even less, it was something to work towards. And we would rehearse, if we weren't rehearsing at Jordan and John's [Knight's] house, in their basement, we would rehearse at the Lee School. 

In the basement of the Lee School, in the backstage, you would walk down the stairs and we'd perform in these little rooms. It was like dressing rooms. They had mirrors; it wasn't big mirrors, but they had mirrors for the waist up and that was a big deal. So we would perform there, and rehearse there, and it was exciting. We had a place to take chances and be inspired and have a ton of fun as well.

It started with the Lee School and then radio shows [on] WILD, the AM station, the only station that would think about playing us at the time — and it was like, How are we going to surprise them this time? There was a ferocity about it. 

Donnie [Wahlberg] is a born leader. Jordan would tell stories about how Donnie would get on the school bus and he'd run the show. He'd tell jokes, he'd rap, he'd make everyone feel good — it's just in his bones. I think we all had the fire, but there was definitely a ride or die vibe about every show we did. 

He worked at a sneaker store, so we'd save up and pool our money together for new outfits, and one time we came on with basketball warmups, those Patrick Ewing basketball warmups. We came on in sweatsuits. First of all, I was freakin' five feet tall, so I was swimming in everything that we had, but we'd come on and for our number we'd sing whatever, and at the perfect moment we'd rip off the sweatsuits and have red glitter suits on. We'd just try to win the crowd over every time.

I think we still have that spirit. We never want to rest on our laurels, we want to surprise people, otherwise it's just not worth it. We've been lucky enough to do what we love to do.

Performing At The Apollo Theater In 1988

We've been able to celebrate that a lot over the years. It really is, in so many ways, the pinnacle for the history of R&B and black music and soulful music, but also rock and roll. The world knew that if you could make it there and survive the Apollo, then you had what it takes to at least give it a shot in the music business.

And we were in that world. In Boston, we played for all-Black audiences. We loved R&B music. That's what we grew up on, so we weren't really necessarily fish out of water because, although we were very excited, and of course had lots of nerves, we'd been hustling as a bunch of young kids for a few years.

We got a chance to perform at the Apollo by literally pounding the pavement. And it was one of those days where Maurice was taking us around, and we were going to people's offices with a boombox, playing music and singing and dancing. And these people, even if they didn't like us, they were impressed. They couldn't argue with the guts that we had and the passion. 

The guy who ran the Apollo — I'm blanking on his last name, his first name was Al — he would host those nights, and we saw him on the street. Maurice was like, "Hey, Al! We want to come up!" So we came up and performed three songs in his office — it wasn't a very big office, either — and he said, "We'll have you down."

We weren't in the competition, we were a special guest, because I think it was on a Wednesday and they had a live night, and then they had a TV show [Showtime at the Apollo]. So we did the live night first, and then we did the TV show and they just went crazy for us. I was a little too young to be in tears, but the rest of the guys, we went up to the dressing room and everybody was in tears. 

We would hang out at the Apollo. The basement in the Apollo, man, you'd have Heavy D and Chuck D and Kool Moe Dee — you know, all the Ds! I just finished one of RuPaul's books… I met RuPaul in the stairwell of the Apollo Theater. He was going up and I was going down and we looked up at each other: "Hey, how you doin'?"

This was a long time ago but, you know, it was just a special place. Back then you had to connect in person. Now we have social media. It's wonderful, you can connect. You can DM people and suddenly connect with your heroes or collaborators and it's great, but back then, you had to be in the place. And that's what the Apollo represented for us. So we were just like kids in a candy store.

Getting Their First Tour Bus

There's nothing like jumping on your first tour bus. Our first manager, Mary Alford, had a two-door Mustang, I would have to sit on somebody's lap in the front seat, and then three dudes would be stuck in the back, and she'd be driving. The big splurge was getting a bigger four-door car to drive down to New York for those trips. We'd still be mashed up. 

You know, just to know you are literally going on the road for the first time. I'm 15, the other guys are, like, 18, 19, and there's really nothing cooler. But we were very emotional for a lot of reasons. For having a chance to do our thing and saying goodbye to our family, our hometown, knowing this is part of making it. So it was pretty cool. 

Working With New Edition

Before I was even in the New Kids, the New Edition album with "Cool It Now" was my [favorite] album. The fact that they were from Boston was amazing, a massive bonus, and we were all, just, goo goo ga ga any time we could meet them or think we could meet them. 

So over the years we would touch base, and then we got to sing together on our album The Block in 2008. But then a couple years ago we did a big mashup performance on the AMAs and I cried like a baby, like, three times. I cried on the phone with Donnie just thinking about it as we started rehearsals. Then I cried afterwards. 

A couple days later was Thanksgiving. We went around the table and talked about what we were grateful for, and the tears just came to my eyes. I couldn't think of anything better to be more thankful for than to work with your heroes. They've just been so gracious, so gracious, over the years. And from where they came and how they really set the standard for us. They really did. 

You don't realize it until the more you live and the more you are in this business. To have people walk the walk and talk the talk, and then be kind and supportive at the same time, it's very cool. Just to be friends with those guys is a dream.

Making Still Kids

You want to give the people what they're looking for and also surprise them at the same time, and I think this album has a good combination. I feel great about the fact that I ended up co-writing half of the album. I've just been writing more, so that was important to me. And I've been lucky enough to write for the group over the years, but this felt a little different. I think it takes guts to stretch and grow with the group, within the dynamics of the group. It's not easy but we've always said, "Let's go, let's give it a shot."

So this was a good combo, this album. It's new, we're definitely harking back to the good old days, but it definitely reflects that we're not 18 anymore. But I think they're that spirit. 

As we get older, we're always reaching back. We want to have that fire and that curiosity we had as kids. We don't want to let the cynicism of life pull us down and at the same time, all that fuels the writing and the expression. So it's exciting to feel good about an album that has the right balance. 

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Grupo Frontera Press Photo 2024
Grupo Frontera

Photo: Eric Rojas

interview

Grupo Frontera On 'Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada' & Fully Expressing Themselves: "This Album Was Made From The Heart"

With their second album, regional Mexican music stars Grupo Frontera aim to honor their roots while showing their wide-spanning musical interests. Hear from some of the group on the creation of the album and why it's so special to them.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 08:12 pm

In just two years, Grupo Frontera have gone from playing weddings in their native Texas to joining Bad Bunny on stage at Coachella and performing on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." No matter how rapid their rise to fame has become, the Texas sextet has held the same ethos: celebrating their Mexican heritage while embracing the American culture they were born into.

Embracing that balance has helped them transcend cultural barriers with their modern take on regional Mexican music, which incorporates a wide range of musical styles. That holds true on Grupo Frontera's second album, Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada, out now. 

With bright accordion lines and a high-energy blend of urbano party anthems, cumbia-inspired ballads, and forays into pop, the album is a masterful display of the group's mixed cultural background. It retains the same Latin cowboy spirit of their first LP, 2023's El Comienzo — which had roots in the norteño genre, a traditional style originated in Northern Mexico — while tapping into the music they grew up listening to in the States, like hip-hop, corridos tumbados, and country music. 

While El Comienzo introduced Grupo Frontera as loyal traditionalists, Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada aims at speaking to younger generations. It's a fitting approach for the group, whose ages range from early twenties to early thirties across its six members — Alberto "Beto" Acosta, Juan Javier Cantú, Carlos Guerrero, Julian Peña Jr., Adelaido "Payo" Solis III, and Carlos Zamora — that also speaks to their evolution amid their whirlwind success. It's proof that they aren't afraid to create music that is completely true to them — and that's exactly what makes Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada special.

Below, Cantu, Guerrero, Peña, and Solis speak with GRAMMY.com about their cultural roots in South Texas and the making of Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada.

The last two years were a very prolific time for Grupo Frontera. What was it like to create Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada after everything that's happened to the group?

Adelaido "Payo" Solis: Last year we were working a lot, playing four or five concerts a week, and that didn't give us time to structure El Comienzo as well as we wanted to. Now we made time to record all these different types of songs. It was amazing to have time to work on the album cover and all the songs the way we wanted to, and have everything set in a certain way to represent the new album to its highest potential.

Between 2023 and this year, were you able to take any time off to work on this new record, or was it done in between touring?

Juan Javier Cantú: There were times when we were touring El Comienzo that we would record before the people got inside the theater. We would record onstage. We'd be like "Wait, don't let the people in — 20 more minutes, we have to finish this session!" That happened with our new songs "Quédate Bebé" and "Nunca La Olvidé."

Solis: It's a little bit of both because those were recorded live, but then two months ago, we locked ourselves in the house for a good four or five days, and out of that came, like, 15 more songs.

You mentioned that, for this new record, you had more time to work on the order of the songs. What's the general feeling behind this track list? Starting with "F—ing Amor."

Solis: The general feel of this album is literally the album's name, Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada [which loosely translates to "pretending everything is OK"]. Since we had more time to think about it, we tied many things to that name, to that phrase.

Everyone, at some point, has pretended everything is OK when in reality, it's not. You can see it in the album cover — the truck is on fire, but our character, who represents Grupo Frontera, is sitting in the car as if nothing is wrong. So the idea — and I know everyone experienced this — is that when you get in your truck, you can play our record and you can drop the act. You can stop pretending everything is alright. You can get in your feelings.

So the way it's structured, starting with "F—king Amor," is that you don't want to know anything about love, then in the middle, you have "Ya Pedo Quién Sabe," which says "maybe I miss you," and then by the end, "Quédate Bebe" [which translates to "Stay Baby"]. So it is a ride, an experience, which starts with you being hurt, or left behind by someone, and you being sad about it, then slowly wondering how is she doing, then saying "I miss you," and finally "stay with me."

Cantú: More than anything, we are playing with genres. In this record, you have our traditional cumbias, country music, and then songs like "Desquite." So that was also the goal, for people to know more about our music and the music we like.

Solis: Each member of Grupo Frontera listens and plays different styles, so starting from that, we each had a big say in the genres we wanted to play and styles we wanted to record on this album. 

More than anything, we were thinking of new generations. The Latinos of newer generations that don't speak Spanish, or don't get to come back often to Mexico or the countries where their parents are from. They don't want to hear just cumbia, so in our album, we want to make all these styles for them to find, in our songs, the genres that they like.

You mentioned that each of you has different styles and genres you brought to the new record. How did you work in the studio to generate these new sounds?

Solis: Grupo Frontera doesn't really use a lot of computer sounds, most of the music we play is through our instruments. We used to work on our songs starting from guitar and voice only, but now because we had more time to work on things, we each took a song and would listen to it for days. Then we'd meet again as a group and work on it in the studio: everyone's opinion counts, and no one's opinion takes precedence over the other. That's how, slowly, each new song took shape.

When you talked about the moment in which you get in your car or truck, and finally get to stop pretending everything is alright — does that car culture come from your upbringing in Texas?

Julián Peña: That culture is definitely from where we are from, from the Valley [the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which spans the border of Texas and Mexico], where there are a lot of troquitas tumbadas [lowered or customized pickup trucks]. You'd hear la Raza zooming by, blasting our songs, with the bass booming, from their trucks. So it's kind of like a relief, your safe space.

Like the album's title says, "pretending everything is fine"... you're pretending to be fine and then once you get in your car and you pass yourself the aux, you turn that up and you start bawling, or feeling whatever you're feeling. Then the album's over, gotta get back to work, clock back in, and go back to pretending everything's fine. It's like an escape that we know many people have, it has happened to all of us; you go on a drive to decompress, turn the music up, let it all out, and feel better. That's what we wanted to capture with that image.

What songs did you each play when you needed that kind of moment?

Cantú: When I broke up with a girlfriend, around 2012, my go-to was Drake.

Peña: Mine was "Then," by Brad Paisley. I was just sad and going through a country phase. [Laughs.]

Solis: I would listen a lot to a song by Eslabón Armado called "Atrapado."

Cantú: When I feel a little trapped by this street lifestyle I go, "I Should've Been A Cowboy"! [All laugh.]

I read some of you grew up raising cattle, or come from families of farmers and ranchers. What aspects of that lifestyle do you miss, in contrast with being in a city like LA, and actively involved in the music industry?

Solis: Juan had his ranch around General Bravo [a municipality in Mexico], and I was born in the States, but I would go every weekend to Mexico, to my parent's ranch, where they had cattle. I know Juan can relate to this — when you are at the ranch and play a song, and can sing out loud without anyone around listening or judging you, that's a really nice feeling. When you are on stage, in the industry, you're not singing only to yourself, but to make the audience's day better. So no matter what you're going through, when you're on stage, your job is to make people happy.

Cantú: Going to a place — like a ranch, an open space — to disconnect, it's like a reset. I feel a lot of people have not experienced that, they don't know the power that has.

Through your lyrics, you adapted old love songs and romance to modern times. Some songs even mention emojis, DMs and texting. Do you have any favorite emojis?

Solis: Oh man, I love the black heart emoji because it can mean many things. A dead heart, or that you're not feeling anything. It can mean your heart is broken and needs mending to go back to being red. I think it's super cool.

Carlos Guerrero: I like the thinking face emoji.

Cantú: Sometimes he uses it out of context and we don't know if he's thinking, or he's mad. [Laughs.] For me, the one I use the most is the "thanks" [praying hands emoji].

Peña: I like the heart hands emoji. Like "Hey what's up," and throw a heart hands emoji.

Going back to your music, what's your favorite part of making songs?

Solis: I'm not sure if we all have the same answer, but for me, my favorite part about being able to sing, record and write these songs is to sing them with all the feeling in the world. And that is amazing, to be able to let that out.

Cantú: The simple fact of creating something and getting to test it out, seeing people sing it, it's like, Wow, we made that.

Peña: Yeah, that you do something and then put that out there right and you're like, I wonder if this feeling is gonna get translated the way we want it to. And then, like Juan said, when people go to concerts, and sing it back to us, or we see people post stories of them singing it and going through it. It's like, we made that! We got that point across, and it feels good for all of us.

How do you navigate being an American band with a cross-cultural upbringing?

Cantú: It's really cool. We were lucky to go to Puerto Rico, Colombia and Argentina, to collaborate with artists like Arcángel, Maluma, Shakira, and Nicki Nicole. That helped us understand their culture and meditate on what it means to be Latino, not just Mexican. Latino identity entails so many cultures in one, and even Mexican identity is vast. Latinos are from everywhere.

How was it to collaborate with all these other artists, and open your group to collaborate with them in Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada?

Solis: Basically, we are like a group of brothers. We sometimes spend 24/7 together. We see each other every day, and we spend all our time together on the tour bus and at home, even when we don't need to see each other. So when we collaborate with other artists, like Morat, Maluma, or Nicky Nicole, they sense that vibe — we carry that with us. I feel that carries through, to the point where we can all have that vibe together.

When we are collaborating with other artists, it feels as if it was a friendship that has been around for a while. Like, have you ever felt or had that friendship where you can go like a month without seeing each other and when you see each other is like you had seen each other? That's basically how it is when we collab with other artists.

I know it's hard to pick a favorite song from the new album—

Solis: It's not that hard! My favorite is "F—ing Amor."

Why?

Solis: Because before Grupo Frontera started, that was more the style that I listened to. I got into the music of Natanael Cano, Iván Cornejo, and others. I grew up listening to old cumbia songs that my parents played for me, but in high school, I started listening to new stuff and new genres, so I think that's why my musical style is more versatile. So "F—ing Amor" is more Sierreño, has more bass, and the congas and percussion; the vibe of that song reminds me of how, in high school, I would drive my truck listening to Natanael Cano. 

Peña: Mine is "Echándote De Menos." Ever since we recorded it, it has that rhythm in the middle where we all drop, on that note… I like all of them, but that one, in particular. 

Cantú: I have to go with two. When I first listened to them, "Los Dos," our collaboration with Morat, and "Por Qué Será" with Maluma. That song, when they first showed it to me, I felt chills down my back.

Guerrero: Mine is "Los Dos," with Morat, because we liked Morat before being with Frontera.

Cantú: To make a song with them is an achievement for us because our big song ["No Se Va"] was a cover of theirs. So making a song together is pretty cool — not many people get to do that.

Solis: We had people tell us that we were stealing their song! We get that Morat is some people's favorite group but we were like, bro, it is our favorite too, that's why we did that song!

What is your dream for this new record?

Solis: We were talking about this yesterday in the van. We don't want to expect anything out of it — success, or big numbers — because this album was made from the heart. We are just so happy and proud to be releasing it into the world.

Guerrero: I just hope that people like it, because, as Payo says, we explored a lot of different genres, so we hope people dig that. We put our best into it.

Cantú: I want what Payo and Carlos said, but also, to go to Japan to play our songs.

Peña: I want what the three of them want, but for people to really connect and identify with the songs. Even if they connect with one or three, what I want for the album is that — to connect with people.

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"Bridgerton" Season 3
"Bridgerton" Season 3

Photo: Netflix

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"Bridgerton" Composer Kris Bowers & Vitamin String Quartet Continue To Make Classical Music Pop For Season 3

The Netflix show returns for its third season on May 16. Composer Kris Bowers, alongside the Vitamin String Quartet and other artists, masterfully reimagines modern pop with a classical twist, including a Taylor Swift hit.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 02:31 pm

No one is arguing that “Bridgerton” is realistic or even particularly historically accurate — in fact, leaning into anachronisms is the point. Entering its third season, which premieres on May 16, the pulpy Netflix show based on a series of romance novels by Julia Quinn — often classified as “bodice rippers” — mixes modern life ideas with Regency-era social rules.

From Lady Whistledown's tantalizing gossip columns to the complex romances of the Bridgerton siblings, the series grips viewers with its blend of historical drama and contemporary flair. One key note in that chord is classical music. Instead of using current tracks like some historical-contemporary-hybrids (most famously “A Knight’s Tale" in 2001), “Bridgerton” has mastered the art of the classical cover. 

Paired with original compositions by Kris Bowers, an Oscar winner and GRAMMY nominee — including one for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media for "Bridgerton" — the tone of the show is that of a heightened, classic world. Bowers, along with music supervisor Justin Kamps collaborates with the Vitamin String Quartet and other artists to create a full circle sonic landscape. They make the classical music in “Bridgerton” pop by re-recording, rearranging, and reimagining contemporary pop songs as classic pieces. 

Over three seasons, as well as with the spin off, “Queen Charlotte,” the team has included a mix of the newest songs as well as nostalgic favorites. This season features GAYLE’s “abcdefu,” which was released in 2022 as well as a cover of Pitbull, Ne-Yo, and Afrojack’s “Give Me Everything,” which was released in 2011, which can appease the full gamut of millennial and Gen Z viewers.  

Regency traditions 

The Regency period in which the show is based, spanned from 1811 to 1820, and was known as an era of elegance and refinement in British history.  In the first chunk of the 1800s, pop music included pieces by Beethoven, Liszt, Haydn, and Mendlesson (famous for the “Wedding March”). Waltzes were all the rage, and this “new” music was considered much more emotional and passionate than previous offerings. The romance of being swept away in a dance increased the thrill, and string quartets were highly popular. 

As seen throughout the series (and much like today), society placed a significant emphasis on social gatherings and music played a central role in these events. Balls, soirées, and intimate musical evenings were common, the perfect backdrop for orchestrating romance. 

In “Bridgerton," the show's modern portrayal of the Regency period occasionally features or references music from the time period, such as Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” which was written a century before the events in the show but was and is still a popular piece of classical music. The show frequently uses arrangements of classical songs in a slightly modern way, but most often, it underscores scenes with either classically arranged covers of pop songs or original music by Bowers. 

Contemporary music covers

Choosing between a cover or original music is a nuanced decision for the music team. The music team considers “whether or not, there's something that can, lyrically, even though we don't hear lyrics, speak to a moment really well,” said Bowers. Absent a cover by an outside band, Bowers arranges pop hits to suit the tone of the scene. He said, “when you're saying something with a song, you're making commentary on what's happening.” 

When they do outsource tracks, more often than not, these covers come from Los Angeles-based Vitamin String Quartet. VSQ is the new Mendlesson in that they have been the predominant wedding-march artist for nearly a decade, known for producing string renditions of highly eclectic mix of artists including Cardi B, Lana Del Rey, Björk, and Sigur Rós

They contributed four covers in season one, including Billie Elish's “bad guy” and Ariana Grande's “Thank U, Next,” about which Leo Flynn, VSQ Brand Manager at CMH Label Group said, “Talk about a great track changing the temperature of a room.” In season two, VSQ’s cover of Robyn's “Dancing on My Own” played under a dance scene. 

When we spoke to James Curtiss, Director of A&R at CMH, the song placements for season three were still a mystery. Curtiss shared, “When we finished that Taylor [Swift] record, we sent it right over to the people at ‘Bridgerton.’” 

[Spoiler alert:] Since then, we have learned Swift's “Snow on the Beach” will be featured in season three. This isn't the first time Swift's music has been featured in the show: Duomo’s cover of “Wildest Dreams” played under the honeymoon scenes in season one. 

Composer Bowers added his favorite cover of the season is in episode eight, the finale, but what title that is will be a surprise. The surprise of an “unexpected cover” as Bowers calls it is that when you “hear a song that you know, and have this strong indelible connection with it that is represented in this style that you typically don't feel like is for you. People get excited by having this music that they really love be elevated to this other level.” He said the familiarity makes “you feel connected to this time period, these characters, and these people in a different way.” 

Flynn said, “There’s something about the past that’s inherently romantic,” and the use of VSQ songs “unites something from the past with what’s going on now.” Because classical music “feels very idealized and formal,” he said, “there’s all this history and mystique built into it.” 

Flynn also mentioned that “Bridgerton” fuses past and present on a “major storytelling scale” between the historically-inspired stories themselves, the “visual feast” of the show, and the music. Curtiss added that the “romantic nature of the string quartet” juxtaposed with pop songs helps viewers tie the feeling of going to a bar or club to the experience of hearing “the popular bangers of the day,” as he called Beethoven et al., at a ball in the Regency era. 

Original compositions

When the music needs to set a specific tone without taking the audience out of the action to try and name that tune, “Bridgerton” often uses original compositions by Bowers. Bowers said, “Looking at pop music for those things like rhythm and tempo and all that stuff also helps in moments where we want to have the score feel a little bit more modern and not as traditional.” He continued, “I’ll put something in the violas and the celli that have this kind of guitar and bass feeling to them even though we’re looking at it orchestrationally from a classical perspective.” He explained that “borrowing the rhythms or the way that parts interlock from pop music” makes it feel like a modern classical sound. 

Each character and couple has their own theme. Bowers explained that it was enjoyable to create themes that could fit both heartbreaking and celebratory moments. “The melodies are still the same even if the harmonic tone is changed,” he said.

Instrumental Pop In Visual Media

The “Bridgerton” style of using instrumentalized versions of pop songs is not unique. Famously, “Promising Young Woman” used a haunting version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” adapted by Anthony Willis, and “Westworld’s” Ramin Djawadi used adaptations of Radiohead among others. “Wednesday” featured a stirring string version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black.” The popularity of Vitamin String Quartet and other classical cover bands has not waned and, if anything, is becoming more of a mainstream staple.

As season three approaches, the unveiling of the time-spanning, romantic soundtrack is highly anticipated. Four episodes air May 16 and the second half of the season airs June 13, with original compositions by Kris Bowers and additional music by various artists, including Vitamin String Quartet, who will be taking over Pandora’s Classical Goes Pop in anticipation of their fall, “Bridgerton”-music-filled tour. 

Overall, to find the tone of the whole series, Bowers said, “Season three actually has a lot more lightness to it. (Showrunners) Shonda (Rhimes) and Jess (Brownell) really want to have a lot of fun this season so there's a little bit more of a playful, youthful quality to the music.” Whatever tunes make it into the season, they are sure to be a feast for the ears. 

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