Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for MRC
Why Is BTS So Popular? 9 Questions About The K-Pop Phenoms Answered
With BTS' first anthology album, 'Proof,' on the horizon, GRAMMY.com breaks down what has made the K-pop group such a global force. Find out who the South Korean septet has collaborated with, what inspires their music and more.
Since their debut in 2013, BTS has become the epitome of pop music phenomenon. They've been nominated for two GRAMMYs, they've charted four number 1 albums faster than any group since the Beatles, and have broken 25 Guinness World Records. And the South Korean group did it all while singing mostly in their native language, creating strides for other Asian music acts.
The septet — consisting of members J-Hope, Jimin, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Suga, and V — hasn't released an album since 2020's Be, so naturally, fans are excited for BTS' upcoming anthology album, Proof, on June 10. The three-part project will include both old and new tracks, and will surely showcase the magic that is BTS.
In preparation for the release, let's brush up on the record-breakers' captivating career as they return to their roots in a fresh way. Whether you're part of the ARMY or simply wondering what makes BTS so special, GRAMMY.com answers some of the most burning questions about the K-pop phenoms.
Has BTS Always Been A K-Pop Group?
BTS debuted on June 12, 2013 with a single album called 2 Cool for Skool. The project had a rebellious nature, taking on topics of misunderstanding and prejudice. Musically, it leaned more hip-hop — but that's not too surprising, as members Suga and RM have a background in the underground rap scene in Korea. Still to this day, BTS' hip-hop influences allow them to stand out with authenticity.
While they identify as a K-pop group, they've changed up their style throughout the years, and have always had a strong rap throughline. The strength of their rapping skills has allowed them to be one of the few non-Western artists to land on Billboard's Top Rap Album's chart. (The 2020 re-release of 2014's Skool Luv Affair debuted on the chart that November).
Their rap inspirations continue on Proof: One of the upcoming singles, "Born Singer," is adapted from J. Cole's "Born Sinner" from his 2013 album of the same name. BTS unofficially released and performed the track back in 2013.
Why Is BTS So Popular?
Their music — which spans several languages, including Korean, English and Japanese — attracts a global audience, even causing a huge spark in tourism in their home country. In 2020, the HRI reported that at least 796,000 people visited South Korea for BTS.
This is only a glimpse of how expansive and diverse their ARMY is. Their fan base — which stands for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth — has also proven to be incredibly loyal, particularly on social media. Each member has over 34 million Instagram followers on their personal accounts, and the group's 64 million followers make them the most-followed group on the app. On Twitter (where the group has 46 million followers), each of their posts garners around 2 million likes.
There are many appeals to BTS. Good music that transcends genre is only icing on the cake. They're also extremely talented performers, have uplifting messages in their music, speak up on important issues, and have built an organic bond with their fans. It also doesn't hurt that their friendship with each other is palpable. Because of the community and comfort many people find in the group, it makes fans that much more passionate in supporting them.
Was "Dynamite" BTS' First English Song?
"Dynamite" — which took the world by storm in 2020 — was BTS' first all-English single of their own, but one of their 2018 collaborations with Steve Aoki, "Waste it on Me," marked their first entirely English song. (Only Jungkook, RM, and Jimin sing on the track, though.) The chill EDM single followed earlier Aoki/BTS team-ups like 2017's "Mic Drop" and 2018's "The Truth Untold."
Who Has BTS Collaborated With?
Along with Aoki, BTS have hopped on tracks with a notable amount of their superstar peers. Calling back to their rap influences, the septet has collabed with several rappers, including Nicki Minaj, Desiigner, Wale, and Megan Thee Stallion. Snoop Dogg also claims he has something in the works with the group.
2019 was a busy collaboration year for BTS, as they recruited Halsey for the colorful single "Boy With Luv" and Lauv for a remix of "Make It Right" (Jimin and Jungkook featured on a Lauv song called "Who" in 2020). That summer, BTS released a soundtrack album called BTS World: Original Soundtrack (from the mobile game of the same name), which featured Charli XCX, Zara Larsson and the late Juice WRLD. In 2021, BTS joined forces with Coldplay for the anthemic single "My Universe."
What Inspires BTS' Music?
BTS don't just make music, they make art. Though it's easy to enjoy their infectious melodies and punchy beats, there's also a deeper layer that can be explored. Much of their music is inspired by literature and psychology.
Their 2016 studio album Wings was inspired by Hermann Hesse's Demian, with references to its theme apparent in the video for "Blood, Sweat, and Tears." "Persona," from their EP Map of the Soul: Persona took inspiration from "Jung's Map of the Soul," the music video for "Spring Day" referenced Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" with a sign that read "Omelas," and "Butterfly" reflects through RM's direct lines on the plot of Takashi Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore." There's many more hidden gems throughout their work worth exploring.
Who Is The 8th Member Of BTS?
Although BTS has always been publicly known as a seven-piece group, they were almost known as eight. Kim Ji-Hun trained with BTS and hoped to join the final lineup — initially scouted for his breakdancing skills — but was cut by management before the group debuted.
In an interview with Vice, Ji-Hun details life training as an idol and his relationship as a "second parent" to the other members. Ji-Hun now works at a government job in veterans health while also making YouTube videos under the name Bitoon.
Does BTS Have Any GRAMMYs?
BTS have been nominated for two GRAMMYs, both for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Their first nom came in 2021 for "Dynamite," then "Butter" earned their second nod in 2022. While they aren't the only GRAMMY-nominated Korean musicians, they are the only K-pop act to receive nominations.
Who Writes BTS' Songs?
All members of the group have had a hand in songwriting since the group's debut, most frequently RM, Suga, and J-Hope. (RM has recent writing credits on both "Black Swan" and "Butter.")
The group has also outsourced to fellow pop stars including Ed Sheeran, who is credited on "Permission to Dance" and "Make It Right," and Troye Sivan, who co-wrote "Louder Than Bombs" a cut from Map of the Soul: 7. DJ Swivel, who is best known as Beyoncé's personal recording engineer, has co-written several of BTS' songs from 2018 to 2020. South Korean producers/songwriters Pdogg, Supreme Boi and Hitman Bang are also listed as songwriters across different projects over the years.
Which Issues Does BTS Fight For?
BTS have long been supportive of mental health awareness and self-love, evident in the themes of their music — most notably, the Love Yourself album trilogy. Starting in 2017, they also joined UNICEF for the Love Myself campaign against violence and spoke at the United Nations in 2018 to promote Generation Unlimited, a campaign for educating young people and vocational training. They were joined at the UN with former South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2021 where they were appointed as presidential envoy for future generations and culture.
In 2020, they also made a statement in support of BLM coupled with a donation of $1 million. This sparked fans to match their donation within a day.
Next up, BTS is heading to the White House as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month comes to a close on May 31. The group will meet with President Joe Biden to discuss diversity, Asian inclusion, representation, and anti-Asian hate.
The BTS guys have addressed the discrimination they've experienced in the past, issuing a statement condemning anti-Asian hate in early 2021 amid a spike in Asian hate crimes. "We stand against racial discrimination," they wrote. "We condemn violence. You, I and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together."
Japanese Breakfast, Blackpink, Enhypen, Stray Kids, Mxmtoon & More | Listen To GRAMMY.com's AAPI Month 2022 Playlist
Photo: Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
Everything We Know About Jimin's Debut EP 'Face'
While other BTS members already have established solo careers, 'Face' is Jimin’s first full solo effort — one that ARMY eagerly awaited. His debut EP drops March 24.
As members of BTS gradually enlist in South Korea’s mandatory military service, this new chapter sees the septet focused on individual activities tailored to their best talents.
After J-Hope’s studio album Jack in the Box, Jung Kook’s collaboration with Charlie Puth on "Left and Right" and the 2022 FIFA World Cup song "Dreamers," Jin’s single "Astronaut," and RM’s debut album Indigo, the next in line to release new music is Jimin. The skilled dancer, new global ambassador for Dior, and owner of an instantly recognizable falsetto just announced his first solo EP, Face, to be out on March 24.
Jimin was the sole singer on three BTS songs: 2016’s "Lie," 2017’s "Serendipity" and 2020’s "Filter." In 2018, he co-wrote and released "Promise" — his first credited solo work — followed by "Christmas Love" in 2020. In 2022, Jimin collaborated with singer Ha Sung-woon on "With You," a soundtrack to TvN’s drama Our Blues, and in January of this year, he featured on and co-composed the single "Vibe" for Big Bang member Taeyang, which reached No. 76 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
While other BTS members already have established solo careers, Face is Jimin’s first full solo effort — one that ARMY eagerly awaited. It’s finally time to discover what colors Jimin will bring forward and what surprises he will deliver on this brand-new path. While you wait, take a look at everything we know about Face so far:
Jimin Co-Wrote Five Of Its Six Tracks
The singer has been steadily developing as both a lyricist and composer, so expectations were high for more credits under his name. Luckily, Face will give us five songs where he participated in the creative process, including the title track "Like Crazy" and its English version.
Bandmate RM also collaborated on the title track and on the opener "Face-off." The album also enlisted a slew of frequent BTS producers such as Pdogg, EVAN and GHSTLOOP.
Jimin Will Face Himself
BigHit Music announced on global fandom life platform Weverse that "Face is all about Jimin facing himself head-on as he gets ready for his next step as a solo artist." Through a press release, they also promised that Jimin "will present his own musicality with distinct timbre and impeccable dance performance."
The Pre-Release Track "Set Me Free Pt.2" Alludes To Agust D’s "Set Me Free"
Not only will fans be blessed with an official title track, but Jimin will also drop the pre-release single "Set Me Free Pt.2" on March 17. The "Pt.2" in the title has fans speculating that it will be a continuation of the 2020 track "Set Me Free" by bandmate Suga (released under his Agust D alias).
The Concept And Cover Relate To The Resonance Phenomenon
The physical album will come in two versions: Invisible Face and Undefinable Face (plus a special Weverse Albums edition). The cover image preview suggests a shiny, reflective material like a mirror, so that your own face is reflected on the cover. The title, written in bold sans serif, is covered by water ripples. On the bottom of the cover, the sentences "circle of resonance," "reflection of vulnerable minds and unexposed wounds" and "an echo, tremor, and small movement to reach out" invite the listener to dive deeper into the concept.
Resonance is ubiquitous in nature, and occurs when an object's own tone or frequency is intensified by a supplementary vibration. When using the resonance phenomenon to express himself, Jimin hints at how everything that he has gone through led him to today, and how each of his actions ripples towards infinity.
"Promise" And "Christmas Love" Will Be Available On Streaming Platforms
Although they are not an official part of Face, fans will finally be able to listen to Jimin’s first official solo songs, "Promise" and "Christmas Love," on all streaming platforms.
The release will happen on March 6 — a little treat to make the month-long wait for Face less painful.
Face Is Available For Pre-Order
While there is still some time until the release of Face, you can pre-order the album on Weverse Shop now.
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Photos (L-R): Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Harry Styles, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, LUFRÉ, Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
The Official 2023 GRAMMYs Playlist Is Here: Listen To 115 Songs By Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Kendrick Lamar & More
Get to know this year's nominees with the official 2023 GRAMMYs playlist, presented in partnership with Amazon Music, which features 115 GRAMMY-nominated songs across pop, rap, country, and beyond from today's stars.
With the 2023 GRAMMYs less than a month away, excitement is bubbling over in the music community.
Whether you're rooting for innovative newcomers like Wet Leg and Omar Apollo or beloved legends like Beyoncé and ABBA, there is an abundance of spectacular talent to be celebrated this year. And the 2023 GRAMMY nominees are not only leading music, but they’re creatively transforming genres, from rap to alternative to reggae — and beyond.
To let the music speak for itself, stream the official 2023 GRAMMYs playlist, presented in partnership with Amazon Music, which features 115 GRAMMY-nominated songs across pop, rap, country, and beyond from today's stars, including BTS, Harry Styles, Kendrick Lamar, Lizzo, and many, many more.
Get to know this year's nominees by listening to their biggest hits and GRAMMY-nominated works on this immersive Amazon Music playlist — and tune in to CBS and Paramount+ on Sunday, Feb. 5 to experience Music's Biggest Night live.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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