meta-scriptBTS Release Epic Music Video For "On," Drop New Album 'Map Of The Soul: 7' | GRAMMY.com
Lil Nas X and BTS perform at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards in 2020

Lil Nas X and BTS perform at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards in 2020

Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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BTS Release Epic Music Video For "On," Drop New Album 'Map Of The Soul: 7'

The track is the lead single off the fourth studio album from the South Korean pop superstars

GRAMMYs/Feb 21, 2020 - 11:20 pm

It's a big day for BTS and the global ARMY. Today (Feb. 21), the South Korean boyband and pop superstars dropped their brand-new album, Map Of The Soul: 7. And as an added bonus, they've just released an epic music video for the lead single, "On."

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Dubbed the Kinetic Manifesto Film: Come Prima, the visual for "On" is less of a music video and more of a short film. The clip shows all seven BTS members delivering powerful choreography in an empty bridge channel, as the group is surrounded by a cast of dozens of dancers and a post-apocalyptic marching band. In the middle of the song's breakdown, BTS bust into a dramatic dance performance that'll leave you jaw-dropped. 

"On" will receive an official music video next week (Feb. 28). The new album also features an alternate version of "On," featuring nine-time GRAMMY nominee Sia.

Map Of The Soul: 7, the group's fourth studio album, is the latest development in a busy year for BTS. At the 62nd GRAMMY Awards last month, they joined Lil Nas X in a star-studded performance of "Old Town Road" that also featured Billy Ray Cyrus, Diplo and Mason Ramsey

Map Of The Soul: 7 marks BTS' first full-length project since their 2018 album, Love Yourself: Tear, which topped the Billboard 200 chart and solidified the group as the first Korean act to accomplish that record-setting feat. It's also the second installment in BTS' ongoing Map Of The Soul series, which launched with the chart-topping Map Of The Soul: Persona EP last April.

Why is K-pop's popularity exploding in the United States?

Avril Lavigne Press Photo 2024
Avril Lavigne

Photo: Tyler Kenny

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15 Avril Lavigne Songs That Prove She's The "Motherf—in' Princess" Of Pop-Punk

As Avril Lavigne celebrates a major career milestone with the release of her new 'Greatest Hits' compilation, rock out to 15 of the pop-punk icon's signature songs, from "Complicated" to "Bite Me."

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2024 - 02:17 pm

"Hey, hey, you, you!" There's simply no debate: when it comes to the world of pop-punk, Avril Lavigne has always been the people's princess. Bursting onto the scene with her 2002 debut Let Go, the then-teen singer/songwriter was dubbed an overnight sensation with hits like "Complicated," "Sk8er Boi" and "I'm With You."She soon became one of the primary artists driving the pop-punk explosion of the 2000s — and remains one of the genre's primary legends more than 20 years later.

Lavigne's appeal went far beyond the mass of skaters and suburban kids who devoured her early music. Within months of Let Go's release, she had earned five GRAMMY nominations (tying fellow newcomer Norah Jones for the most nods of 2003) and a year later, she racked up three more. 

As pop-punk's first wave began to crest, the singer broadened her sights beyond the genre she'd helped pioneer, exploring everything from power pop to confessional alt-rock to Christian rock, as well as collaborations with artists as varied as Marilyn Manson and Nicki Minaj. And when pop-punk's second wave hit at the start of the 2020s, Lavigne made a triumphant return to the genre with 2022's Love Sux and the 20th anniversary reissue of Let Go

Now, she's set to release her first-ever Greatest Hits compilation on June 21, spanning more than two decades, seven albums and nearly two dozen hits on the Billboard Hot 100. To commemorate the album (and its coinciding Greatest Hits Tour), dive into 15 tracks that assert Lavigne's undeniable title as the "motherf—in princess" of pop-punk — from hits like "Sk8er Boi" to deep cuts like "Freak Out."

"Complicated," 'Let Go' (2002)

What better way to begin than with the song that started it all? Released as her debut single in the spring of 2002, "Complicated" declared a then-17-year-old Avril Lavigne as a major talent to watch.

Eventually, the pop-rock ode to teenaged authenticity became one of the biggest songs of the year, and led to her debut full-length, Let Go, becoming the third highest-selling LP of 2002 in the U.S. (It's since been certified 3x platinum by the RIAA and sold more than 16 million copies around the world.)

It's hard to overstate just how influential Lavigne's breakout year was, starting with "Complicated." The track peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100, helping the newcomer earn nominations for Best New Artist, Song Of The Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album (for Let Go) at the 2003 GRAMMY Awards. Its runaway success also helped launch pop-punk's explosion into the mainstream, and the proliferation of artists and female-fronted bands that followed — from Paramore, Ashlee Simpson and Kelly Clarkson to Gen Z hitmakers like Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish and Meet Me @ The Altar — are indebted to Lavigne's trailblazing success with the song.

Read More: Why 2002 Was The Year That Made Pop-Punk: Simple Plan, Good Charlotte & More On How "Messing Around And Being Ourselves" Became Mainstream

"Sk8er Boi," 'Let Go' (2002)

"He was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious?" From those 15 words, Lavigne spun a pop-punk fairy tale for the ages.

If "Complicated" was an introduction to her talent, "Sk8er Boi" was the new star's real coronation as the reigning princess of the genre. Everything about Let Go's second single is nothing short of iconic, from the star-crossed love story between a skater destined for punk rock greatness and the ballet dancer who wasn't brave enough to love him, to the lip ring and striped tie Lavigne sported in the music video (the latter of which you can still purchase to this day from her official store). 

"Sk8er Boi" dispelled any notion that the teenage upstart would be a flash in the pan relegated to one-hit wonder status. In fact, the song notched Lavigne a second consecutive Top 10 hit on the Hot 100, and landed her a fifth GRAMMY nomination at the 2003 ceremony, for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. But the cherry on top of it all? The eleventh hour twist in the track's bridge that the ballet dancer's loss was Avril's gain.

"My Happy Ending," 'Under My Skin' (2004)

After all the commercial success and critical acclaim showered on her in the wake of Let Go, Lavigne chose to forgo taking the easy road with another pop-infused mainstream win. Instead, she plunged into the darkness for 2004's Under My Skin, exploring post-grunge, nu metal and even hard rock influences on the punk-infused LP. The biggest hit from the album was second single "My Happy Ending," which became Lavigne's fourth No. 1 at Top 40 radio and spent four weeks in the Top 10 of the Hot 100, peaking even higher on the latter than "Sk8er Boi" had two years prior.

The downcast breakup anthem was the first time Lavigne put her broken heart on display ("All this time you were pretending/ So much for my happy ending," she lamented as the piano-driven verses swirled into a guitar-heavy chorus), and the result was an electric kiss-off delivered with equal parts anger, shock and a tinge of bitter sarcasm. 

The singer may not have gotten her happily ever after, but turning the doomed relationship into a scathing goodbye certainly earned her the last laugh: the song helped propel Under My Skin to becoming one of the top-selling albums of the year worldwide.

Read More: Loving Olivia Rodrigo's "Vampire"? Check Out 15 Songs By Alanis Morissette, Miley Cyrus & More That Reclaim The Breakup Narrative

"Girlfriend," 'The Best Damn Thing' (2007)

It wasn't all doom, gloom and angry tears on Under My Skin, however. Lavigne proved she was equally adept at bouncing back from a particularly disappointing Sk8er Boi with a devilish grin and a chip on her shoulder on the bouncing "He Wasn't."

While the brash ditty wasn't officially released as a single in the U.S. — instead being pushed to radio in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and her native Canada — it quickly became a fan favorite from the album. Nearly 20 years on, the song and its rowdy music video (come for Avril wearing fairy wings and a bright pink tutu, stay for her shattering a camera with the butt of her guitar) rather perfectly encapsulate the singer's place as one of the rare female voices at the forefront of the second-wave post-grunge movement. 

"Freak Out," 'Under My Skin' (2004)

Giving authority figures the middle finger has long been a hallmark of Lavigne's brand, and nowhere is that more clear than on Under My Skin deep cut "Freak Out." "Try to tell me what I shouldn't do/ You should know by now I won't listen to you," she scowls before ratcheting up the lyrical drama on the booming chorus. 

The track's second verse serves as a veritable manifesto for an entire generation of emo kids, as Lavigne offers the following advice to her fans: "You don't always have to do everything right/ Stand up for yourself and put up a fight/ Walk around with your hands up in the air/ Like you don't care." When in doubt? "Just freak out, let it go."

In retrospect, Under My Skin is often rightfully credited as one of the defining albums of pop-punk's 2000s heyday. And it's clear Lavigne is proud of the album's impact on both her career and the genre she helped pioneer, considering four of its singles — including "Don't Tell Me" and "Nobody's Home" — are included in the 20 tracks featured on her upcoming Greatest Hits compilation.

"Girlfriend," 'The Best Damn Thing' (2007)

Lavigne turned the power pop up to 11 for her third album, 2007's The Best Damn Thing, and traded the myopic grunge of her previous era for a blast of sugar-coated, self-confident sass. Lead single "Girlfriend" let the singer unleash her inner pop-punk princess like never before, as she played a mean girl with a flirtatious streak who somehow made stealing another girl's man seem lovable.

The unabashed bop was the first time Lavigne proudly declared herself "the motherf—in' princess," and the song's relentless sing-song hook was so addictive that it became the star's first single to top the Hot 100. Lavigne broke several records with "Girlfriend," which became one of the best-selling songs of 2007 and the most-viewed YouTube video of 2008 — as well as the first to ever reach 100 million views on the platform. 

Still can't get enough of "Girlfriend"? Hardcore fans know that the official remix with Lil Mama might even outdo the fizzy perfection of the original. 

"The Best Damn Thing," 'The Best Damn Thing' (2007)

For the title track off The Best Damn Thing, Lavigne doubled down on the bright and bubbly persona she'd donned on "Girlfriend." In fact, the song's opening rallying cry of "Let me hear you say hey, hey, hey!" and a call-and-response bridge are so downright peppy that it seems almost hard to believe they came from the same artist who thrashed her way through Under My Skin.

Released as The Best Damn Thing's fourth and final single, the song of the same name is more melodic than its chart-topping predecessor, with Lavigne unapologetically laying out the type of treatment she expects from a man in cheerleader fashion ("Gimme an A! Always give me what I want!/ Gimme a V! Be very, very good to me!"). After all, a pop-punk princess deserves a Cinderella story of her own. 

"What the Hell," 'Goodbye Lullaby' (2011)

Riding high off the commercial success of The Best Damn Thing, Lavigne kicked off the rollout for her fourth studio album, 2011's Goodbye Lullaby, with "What the Hell," a playfully bratty banger that found her toying with a love interest and vowing, "All my life I've been good/ But now I'm thinking, 'What the hell!'"

Produced and co-written by pop impresarios Max Martin and Shellback, "What the Hell" melded Lavigne's snarky songwriting sensibilities and penchant for bucking authority with a catchy, singalong refrain. But the lead single actually proved to be something of an outlier on the pop-punk princess' fourth go-around, as the rest of the album utilized a stripped-back sonic palette to lay her heartbreak bare in the wake of divorcing Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley.

"Bad Reputation," 'Goodbye Lullaby' (2011)

Goodbye Lullaby may have been Lavigne's first foray into a more acoustic sound — complete with introspective lyrics and surprisingly sincere song titles like "I Love You" and "Everybody Hurts" — but she couldn't resist adding a little snarl to the album's softer, more sensitive proceedings. So for the deluxe edition of the album, she featured her take on Joan Jett's classic 1980 single "Bad Reputation" as a bonus track. 

Lavigne had originally recorded "Bad Reputation" for the soundtrack to the Japanese anime feature film One Piece Film: Z (it even reached the top 10 on Japan's Hot 100!). But she apparently liked the cover so much that it ended up on the track list of not one, but two of her albums, as the song was also included on 2013's Avril Lavigne.

"Here's to Never Growing Up," 'Avril Lavigne' (2013)

Even as she approached her thirties, Lavigne wasn't about to give up her spot as pop-rock's resident wild child. Case in point: "Here's to Never Growing Up," the lead single off her fifth album, 2013's Avril Lavigne. Over a peppy stomp-clap rhythm, the singer shouts out an undying love of Radiohead, dancing on bar tops and making late-night memories with your best friends as the boombox blares all your favorite songs.

There's a thread of bittersweet nostalgia running through the midtempo jam — one that's sure to pierce the heart of any millennial listening as Lavinge sings, "Say, won't you say 'forever'?/ Stay, if you stay forever/ Hey, we can stay forever young." It's not that the singer's refusing to acknowledge the cruel act of getting older on the track, she's just rebelling against the notion that adulthood should be a dreary slog of, you know, taxes and laundry and all of those lame adult responsibilities. 

"Rock N Roll," 'Avril Lavigne' (2013)

Lavigne once again put her middle finger to the sky and re-upped her rock star credentials on the appropriately titled "Rock N Roll," the second single off her self-titled album. The spirited singalong finds the singer reveling in her eternally bad attitude as she wails, "I don't care if I'm a misfit/ I like better than the hipster bulls–/ I am the motherf—in' princess/ You still love it."

Though "Rock N Roll" didn't make quite as much of an impact on the charts as some of the other hits on this list, it remains one of the most underrated bangers in her entire discography. Plus, the song gifted fans with the campy, comic book-inspired music video starring Lavinge, Danica McKellar, a drunk-driving Doberman and one very unlucky lobster as they race across a dystopian wasteland to save rock and roll from the clutches of an evil bear-shark. (Billy Zane shows up on a rocket-powered Segway at some point, too — just go with it.)

"Head Above Water," 'Head Above Water' (2019)

Proving that pop-punk doesn't always have to come with an in-your-face, "f— you!" attitude, Lavigne released "Head Above Water" — the lead single and title track to her 2019 album — five years into an often confusing, devastating and all-consuming battle with Lyme disease.

"One night I thought I was dying, and I had accepted that I was going to die," she revealed at the time of the song's unveiling. "My mom laid with me in bed and held me. I felt like I was drowning. Under my breath, I prayed, 'God, please help to keep my head above the water.' In that moment, the songwriting of this album began."

Lavigne taps into a truly admirable well of resilience and hope on the spiritual ballad as she sings, "Yeah, my life is what I'm fighting for/ Can't part the sea, can't reach the shore/ And my voice becomes the driving force/ I won't let this pull me overboard." Unlike anything that's come from the singer's catalog either before or since, "Head Above Water" remains a powerful testament to the beloved pop-punk princess' inner strength.

"Bite Me," 'Love Sux' (2022)

As the 2010s gave way to a new decade, pop-punk made a surprise resurgence in popularity while Lavigne was making major moves of her own; she left BMG after just one album to sign with Travis Barker's DTA Records in 2021 (about which she fittingly declared, "Let's f— s— up!"). Partnering with the blink-182 drummer sparked some serious magic in the studio, as her seventh studio album, 2022's Love Sux was a wildly entertaining return to her pop-punk roots after the emotional catharsis of Head Over Water.

On lead single "Bite Me," Lavigne effortlessly dusted off her crown and reclaimed her throne with an octave-jumping vocal performance. Along with proving she still has the chops, the singer simply sounds like she's having a hell of a lot of fun as she snaps back at an ex-flame who made the mistake of crossing her. Pop-punk's reigning princess? Try queen.

Read More: How 'Love Sux' Led Avril Lavigne To True Love, Her First Fangirl Moment And An Album Process That Was 'Just Stupid Fun'

"All I Wanted" feat. Mark Hoppus, 'Love Sux' (2022)

Lavigne collaborated with plenty of special guests on Love Sux, from blackbear (on love-drunk single "Love It When You Hate Me") to eventual tourmate Machine Gun Kelly (on delicious battle of the sexes "Bois Lie"), but no other duet on the album holds a candle to "All I Wanted" featuring blink-182's Mark Hoppus

The supercharged deep cut features the two trailblazers rocking out in a whirling dervish of escapist bliss, playing a sort of pop-punk Bonnie and Clyde as they bust out of the town they're stuck in. And in doing so, they proved they're more than happy to show the new kids at the rock show just how it's done.

"Breakaway," 'Let Go (20th Anniversary Edition)' (2022)

And finally, a proper celebration of Lavigne's status as pop-punk royalty wouldn't be complete without including the biggest song she ever gave to another artist. As the story goes, the singer/songwriter originally penned "Breakaway" for her debut album, but the hope-filled anthem didn't quite fit with the vibe of Let Go tracks like "Complicated," "Sk8er Boi," "Losing Grip," and "I'm With You." So instead, she gave it to a fresh-faced newcomer by the name of Kelly Clarkson, who had just come off of winning a little reality TV experiment called "American Idol." 

After being featured on the soundtrack to The Princess Diaries 2, "Breakaway" became the centerpiece and title track of Clarkson's 2004 sophomore album, which helped turn her into a bonafide superstar — and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Lavigne started performing the song live for the first time on her 2019 Head Above Water Tour, which naturally left fans clamoring for a studio version. Blessedly, the pop-punk icon gave them exactly what they wanted by revisiting "Breakaway" in the recording studio for the 20th anniversary edition of Let Go in 2022. She even reinstated her original lyrics in the opening stanza ("Grew up in a small town/ And when the snow would fall down/ I'd just stare out my window") for a personal touch that connected back to her roots in Greater Napanee, Ontario. 

Clarkson may have made the song famous, but the beating heart of "Breakaway" will always be Lavigne's story — one of a small-town girl who bet on herself, only to become a trailblazing artist whose legacy is forever cemented in the pop-punk history books. 

The State Of Pop-Punk: A Roundtable Unpacks The Genre's Past, Present And Future

RIIZE press photo
RIIZE

Photo: SM Entertainment

interview

K-Pop Group RIIZE Detail Every Track On New Compilation 'RIIZING – The 1st Mini Album'

In an interview, the rising K-pop boy group discuss the creative process behind each track on their brand new EP — including the album's new song, "Boom Boom Bass."

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 01:37 pm

While RIIZE might be a more recent addition to the K-pop scene, you wouldn’t be able to tell. 

RIIZE took the industry by storm last September with their debut single "Get A Guitar." The catchy, retro-synth pop song sold over a million copies in the first week of its release.  

From their debut in 2023, RIIZE was determined to carve out a space for themselves in the expansive K-pop landscape by performing "emo pop" — emotional ballads that still manage to be danceable, evoking the sounds of older gen groups like Got 7 and Super Junior — while also experimenting with other genres. The brightly alluring "Love 119" and disco whirlwind "Talk Saxy" allowed RIIZE to continue their ascent, and netted the group Favorite New Artist and Rookie Of The Year honors at multiple Korean award ceremonies last year.  

On June 17, they'll release RIIZING - The 1st Mini Album. The compilation record features all of the rookie group's releases plus an additional song "Boom Boom Bass," and demonstrates their versatility and willingness to experiment with genres. With their output compiled, it's easy to see that RIIZE's youthful energy and distinct personalities truly shine. 

Learn more: 11 Rookie K-Pop Acts To Know In 2024: NCT Wish, RIIZE, Kiss Of Life & More

"We wanted to reflect on how far we’ve come from our debut days and growing as artists," Anton tells GRAMMY.com over a video call from L.A. "[The album is] a culmination of our journey and experiences as young adults who are pursuing their dreams."

It’s clear that RIIZE are enjoying the ride they're on together. They laugh at each other's jokes and finish each other's sentences, demonstrating that there's deep friendship behind their already tight harmonious connection. The group is in the midst of an international fan-con tour that runs through the summer — an experience that will, likely, deepen their already close bond. 

In an interview, RIIZE’s Sungchan, Anton, Wonbin, Sohee, Eunseok and Shotaro offer a track-by-track breakdown of RIIZING - The 1st Mini Album, including the creative process behind each song, how they keep themselves motivated, and their musical dreams for the future. 

"Siren" is your pre-debut song and was one of your most anticipated releases. Can you share a bit about the creation process and how it felt to release this song to the world? 

Shotaro: We have a lot of fond memories when we think of "Siren" as it reminds us of our trainee days. We recorded the song while we were still rookies and shot the video in L.A. I remember being in the studio and encouraging each other to give our best deep voices to make our voices shine. 

Eunseok: I think a large part of why people like "Siren" so much is the rhythmic drum beats and soft piano riffs that creates this high rush vibe. The chorus is my favorite, and was the most fun to sing as it’s very addictive to sing along to.

Your most recent song, "Impossible" is a house track about being determined and never  giving up. Were you nervous at all venturing into a new genre? 

Anton: Growth and youth is a huge part of our music, and that’s something we sought to achieve with "Impossible." House music is a genre that is not usually seen in K-pop, but this is something we wanted to experiment with. So we learned firsthand from long-time house music creatives and input their suggestions into the recording. It was a new experience that allowed us to deep dive into a genre we wouldn’t normally be familiar with.

Sohee: The recording was a little difficult at first, because the vocal keys were a bit higher than our usual pitch. But I feel like we successfully encapsulated the genre very well.

Your new song — the special addition to the EP — is called "Boom Boom Bass." It's a disco-influenced track about playing bass guitar; does anyone in RIIZE have experience playing that instrument?  

Wonbin: We do have experience playing the bass guitar. Getting to recreate those moments in the studio was awesome, and you can hear the excitement in our voices. The song also showcases a totally different side of us that fans haven’t seen before: it’s disco but funk and still pop.

"Love 119" is one of your most successful songs. Can you take me back to the day you recorded it? 

Sungchan: "Love 119" captures the feeling of falling in love for the first time in a dreamy and melancholic manner. We decided to recreate that in the studio and put a lot of our emotions into it by channeling good energy. 

Wonbin: The song samples a beloved Korean song, "Emergency Room," released by the band called IZI in 2005. The song captures the distinct charm of emotional pop, offering a different appeal compared to "Get A Guitar," "Memories," and "Talk Saxy."

Shotaro: We aimed to create choreography that many people could follow. While brainstorming in the practice room with Wonbin, he and I came up with dance moves like the "1-1-9" gesture, that you see in the video. The song has a really bright vibe, making it fun for us to perform. 

Can you detail the creative process behind "Talk Saxy"?  

Sohee: We started creating "Talk Saxy" right after performing at KCON L.A. in July last year and we learned the choreography almost immediately.

We wanted to embody a more confident and breezy sound but still within our niche genre of emotional pop. It took a few weeks of practice to get the perfect take and I think the song helped expand our musical sound by a large mile.

Read more: 9 Thrilling Moments From KCON 2023 L.A.: Stray Kids, RIIZE, Taemin & More 

One of your more recent singles, "9 Days," focuses on your journey as a band. Did you find yourselves feeling nostalgic in the studio?   

Sungchan: "9 days" has a more natural feel because while we were making the song, we had to reference back to our trainee days in practice. The lyrics are a very detailed description of our trainee days and who we were before debuting.  

Anton: I would say we had a fun time in the studio because it felt like we were finally telling our story ourselves and being able to share that with our fans is the best.  

"Honestly" reminisces about past love. What, or who, were you thinking about while recording it? 

Wonbin: I think we really aimed to capture the theme of putting yourself first and saying a final goodbye to someone you thought the world of. That resonates throughout the song, especially in the lyrics. It’s an emo pop ballad at its core.

"One Kiss" was RIIZE's first foray into emo pop and sets you apart from other groups as you highlight your vulnerability. How did you go about finding that sound?  

Anton: I see "One Kiss" as a song made with our fans in mind, we had a hands on approach with making the video as we wanted it to come from our hearts. 

Sohee: I would not say we have found our sound yet as we are still growing and experimenting. We hope to create more good songs like "One Kiss" in the future.

You’re in the midst of a fan-con tour, what has been your favorite city to tour so far?

Shotaro: We love every city equally, we started off in Korea and felt right at home. In Japan, we had so much eye contact with the crowd as they were very hands on. Previously, in Mexico, the crowd's energy was infectious and awesome.

What are your plans for the second half of this year?

Sungchan: We plan on finishing off our fan-con tour by the end of August. Our fans can expect to see us at end of the year award shows with bigger and better performances from last year.

11 Rookie K-Pop Acts To Know In 2024: NCT Wish, RIIZE, Kiss Of Life & More 

 

Sam Smith performing in 2014
Sam Smith performs at Q102's Jingle Ball in Philadelphia in 2014.

Photo: Taylor Hill/WireImage

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How Sam Smith's 'In The Lonely Hour' Became An LGBTQIA+ Trailblazer

As Sam Smith’s massive debut album turns 10, revisit some of the ways it broke ground for the LGBTQIA+ community — from supporting same-sex marriage to making GRAMMY history.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 04:11 pm

Before launching their own solo career, Sam Smith had already teased their pop prowess by guesting on two bonafide dance classics, Disclosure's deep house anthem "Latch" in 2012 and Naughty Boy's two-step garage throwback "La La La" in 2013. And upon debuting their own work in 2014 with In The Lonely Hour, Smith instantly cemented themselves as the master of the heartbreak ballad — and one of pop's new pioneers.

Self-described as the "diary from a lonely 21-year-old," the record was inspired by the love Smith felt toward an unnamed man which, it seems fair to say, wasn't exactly reciprocated. "I don't have that many sad things going on in my life and it was the only thing that was really affecting me last year," they explained to Digital Spy ahead of In The Lonely Hour's release. "So, it's my way of defining what is love, and how unrequited love is just as painful, just as powerful, as what we call 'normal' love." And audiences both in their homeland and across the pond immediately latched on to its overarching theme.

Largely produced by hitmaking extraordinaire Jimmy Napes (Clean Bandit, Mary J. Blige), In The Lonely Hour reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 2 on the Billboard 200, spawned five hit singles, and, in an era when the album format was commercially struggling, sold a remarkable 8.5 million copies across the globe. And alongside the chart success, the sold-out tours, and the four GRAMMY wins on the same night, the blockbuster LP also became a force for good, and a force for change, within the LGBTQIA+ community.

A decade on from its stateside release (June 17), we take a look at why In The Lonely Hour was such a landmark album for the music industry as a whole, but especially for a new queer generation.

It Made GRAMMY History

Smith famously put their foot in their mouth while picking up Best Original Song at the 2016 Academy Awards for Bond theme "Writing's On the Wall," wrongly declaring — much to Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's disdain — that they were the first ever openly gay Oscar winner. However, the Brit can lay claim to being an LGBTQIA+ trailblazer at the GRAMMYs.

The year before his acceptance speech faux pas, Smith became the first member of the LGBTQIA+ community to win Best New Artist. The singer also won Best Pop Vocal Album for In the Lonely Hour, while "Stay With Me" was crowned both Record and Song Of The Year. (Eight years later, Smith then made history again as the first ever non-binary GRAMMY winner when their Kim Petras collaboration "Unholy" scooped Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2023.)

It Used Gender Neutral Pronouns

The use of pronouns has played a big part in Smith's career. And though they officially announced their they/them change in 2019, the singer refused to commit to a particular gender on their debut album. While In The Lonely Hour was based on their infatuation with an uninterested man, the Brit purposely left things ambiguous, as they explained to Fader at the time of its release.

"[It's] important to me that my music reaches everybody. I've made [it] so that it could be about anything and everybody — whether it's a guy, a female or a goat — and everybody can relate to that." This inclusive approach has also been adapted by several other artists, including singer/songwriter Bruno Major, whonoted how Smith's material "can be listened to by anybody of any sexuality and gender and still apply."

It Advocated For Same-Sex Marriage

While Smith kept all pronouns neutral on record, they were far more specific when it came to In The Lonely Hour's visuals. In the tearjerking video for "Lay Me Down," a flashback shows the Brit getting hitched to their boyfriend in the same church where the latter is later laid to rest. Although gay marriage had been made legal in the UK a year prior to the video's 2015 release, it was still illegal for same-sex couples to wed within the Church of England.

In a Facebook message posted to coincide with its premiere, Smith said, "This video shows my dreams that one day gay men and women and transgendered men and women all over the world, like all our straight families and friends, will be able to get married under any roof, in any city, in any town, in any village, in any country." Smith later performed the album's biggest hit, "Stay With Me," in front of President Joe Biden at the 2022 signing of the Respect for Marriage Act.

It Ventured Into Cishet Territory

Before Smith came along, the modern heartbreak ballad — the kind of emotionally devastating anthem that can reduce an entire stadium crowd to a blubbering wreck — had typically been the domain of heterosexual/cis-identifying artists such as Adele and Ed Sheeran.

However, thanks to radio-friendly chart hits such as "Lay Me Down," "Stay With Me," and "I'm Not The Only One," In The Lonely Hour proved mainstream audiences, no matter their sexual orientation or gender, could be equally moved by candid tales of queer love. Smith's lyrical themes may have been specific to their own situation, but they could just as easily be interpreted on a universal level. Soon after, LGBTQIA+ singers such as "Britain's Got Talent" graduate Calum Scott and Eurovision Song Contest winner Duncan Laurence were mining a similar tragi-romantic path to hugely commercial effect.

It Channeled A Feminine Energy

The tactile way Smith addressed their unrequited love — not to mention, how much it was embraced by the mainstream — meant that In The Lonely Hour wasn't considered an explicitly LGBTQIA+ album at the time. Yet, the singer insists they were deliberately trying to challenge notions of gender, sexuality and masculinity.

Speaking to Out five years after the album's release, Smith revealed it was, in fact, partly influenced by one of the all-time gay icons. "I'm in a suit and in that suit, I was channeling Judy Garland. I look back on those videos of me when I was 20, and I see a feminine energy." They further explained they were surprised when the record wasn't initially interpreted as intended. But thanks to Smith's non-binary journey, the album's inherent queerness has unarguably now become more apparent.

It Opened The Door For Several LGBTQIA+ Artists

Smith confirmed they were gay in the same week In The Lonely Hour hit the shelves, acknowledging the record was "about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn't love me back." And the matter-of-fact way they spoke about their sexuality inspired several other artists to follow suit.

In 2017, Troye Sivan cited Smith as a role model for coming out without making any grand gestures. Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander has also applauded his fellow Brit for refusing to hide their true identity. Even some of Smith's collaborators, including Petras and Cat Burns, have touted the singer's self-assurance.

Indeed, while artists in less enlightened times often felt compelled to keep their sexuality under wraps, Smith has been able to express their true self from the outset. As a result, a generation of artists have seen that queerness needn't be a barrier to commercial success — and that celebrating it can change culture in a powerful way.

Listen To GRAMMY.com's 2024 Pride Month Playlist Of Rising LGBTQIA+ Artists

PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices

Normani in 2023
Normani attends Elle's Women In Hollywood event in 2023.

Photo: MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images

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Breaking Down Normani's Journey To 'Dopamine': How Her Debut Album Showcases Resilience & Star Power

The wait for Normani's first album, 'Dopamine,' is officially over. Upon the album's arrival, reflect on all of the major moments that have happened in the six years since she made her solo debut.

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2024 - 09:39 pm

All eyes are on Normani as her long-awaited debut album, Dopamine, arrives to eager fans and critics alike on June 14. It arrives more than six years after Normani made her solo debut post-Fifth Harmony — and though she has released a number of singles since, even her most loyal listeners were bewildered by the delay of her debut project. But the 28-year-old has been strategic in building something timeless.

"I took the time to learn and develop my sound. I wanted to be different and create a body of work that's unique but still fresh and exciting," Normani tells GRAMMY.com. "There were many days of trial and error trying to perfect something that embodies who I am and the type of artist I wanted to be. I always knew that I had to trust myself even when others doubted me and questioned my hunger."

On the highly anticipated Dopamine, Normani's womanhood and artistic breadth effortlessly glides across its 13 tracks. She makes no apologies for her sexier image and music after years of "feeling safe with being seen, but not too seen," as she told Teen Vogue in 2020. That newfound confidence translates into a musical paradise that's a far cry from her Fifth Harmony days. Up until now, the world has only received Normani's talent in snippets here and there; Dopamine finally gives us the full dose.

As you dig into Dopamine, take a look at a complete breakdown of every major moment that's led to Normani's long-awaited debut project.

2018: She Re-Introduced Herself As An R&B Star

A mere month prior to Fifth Harmony's hiatus announcement, a then 21-year-old Normani teamed up with Khalid for her first-ever single as a solo act, "Love Lies." Penned for the Love, Simon soundtrack, the sultry R&B number foreshadowed Normani's imminent success outside of Fifth Harmony; not only did it crack the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it hit No. 1 on both Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 and Radio Songs charts.

At the tail end of 2018, Normani delivered another R&B jam, the hazy, slow-burning duet with 6lack, "Waves," which found success on multiple R&B charts. Though somewhat forgotten compared to "Motivation" and "Wild Side" (more on those later), "Waves" shows off Normani's vocal range as she laments over an on-again, off-again relationship.

2019: She Celebrated A Global Smash & Massive Opening Act Slot

Normani struck gold again in 2019 when she teamed up with Sam Smith for "Dancing With a Stranger," which became the most-played radio song in the world that year, according to Forbes. Sonically speaking, the disco-tinged oasis marked new territory for Normani — and it paid off in a big way as it boasts over a billion Spotify streams and remains her biggest single to date.

The singer's star continued shining bright into that summer, when she served as the opener for the North American leg of Ariana Grande's Sweetener Tour. The arena trek marked her first opportunity to show off her performing skills, and further prove her prowess as a solo act.

On the heels of the international success of "Dancing With a Stranger" and touring with Grande, Normani released her first fully solo single, "Motivation." The bubbly track presented a poppier side and offered a fun moment with its Y2K-inspired video, even igniting a viral dance challenge. But it seemingly wasn't indicative of the direction she was headed; at the time, Normani admitted to The Cut that she "didn't feel like it represented" her as an artist.

Still, "Motivation" served as a pivotal moment for Normani. It became a top 20 hit on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 chart, and she delivered a showstopping performance of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards — which even earned the title of 2019's best performance from Harper's Bazaar.

2020 & 2021: She Teamed Up With Two Of Rap's Biggest Female Stars

The next couple of years saw Normani continue linking up with several of her peers. She first joined forces with Megan Thee Stallion for the anthemic "Diamonds" — which brilliantly samples Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" — off the Birds of Prey soundtrack. Soon after, she teamed up with Megan again — this time, for a jaw-dropping cameo in the video for the chart-topping smash "WAP" with Cardi B.

"WAP" drew criticism for its sexually explicit lyrics (and equally racy video), but the message aligned perfectly with Normani's mission to champion and represent Black women in and outside of the music industry. 

"The 'WAP' video I was really, really excited to be a part of, just because I feel like we're in a time in music where women — and Black women — are really on top, which is something I feel like we haven't seen in a very, very long time," she told Teen Vogue. "Where I come from, we were all about female empowerment. The fact that I could be a part of such a special moment embracing our sexuality, in which I definitely think there's a double standard, [was exciting] to be a part of it."

In 2021, Normani took her turn with Cardi B on another fiery track, "Wild Side," which saw her return to her R&B foundation while also continuing her artistic evolution. From sampling Aaliyah's "One in a Million" to executing the intricate choreography seen in the Tanu Muino-directed video, the '90s-inspired slow jam — which closes out Dopamine — whet fans' appetite and established Normani as a force to be reckoned with in R&B and beyond.

2022: She Traversed Several Different Musical Worlds

Keeping fans on their toes, Normani veered away slightly from her signature R&B sound by incorporating synth-pop into the one-off single "Fair." The mid-tempo track put the spotlight on her vulnerability; the lyrics deal with watching a past lover move on as if you never existed.

"This one is really unique and different for me. Probably not what everyone is expecting," she said in an Instagram story ahead of the release.

A few months later, Normani dove deeper into the dance genre by lending her light and airy vocals to Calvin Harris' "New to You," a collaboration that also featured Tinashe and Offset. But she never strayed too far from her R&B stylings, as she also teamed up with childhood friend Josh Levi for a remix of his song "Don't They" that summer.

2023: She Ushered In A New Era

Though 2023 didn't see any new music from Normani, she made some business moves that indicated she was ready for a reset. That May, Normani parted ways with S10 Entertainment and Brandon Silverstein after signing a new management deal with Brandon Creed and Lydia Asrat — signifying a new chapter and much-needed change in direction. 

"The transition signified a new beginning, filled with hopes of  moving forward and getting things done that were important to me," Normani tells GRAMMY.com. "I was faced with many obstacles over the years, some that you would not believe. But through it all, my faith in God kept me aligned with what I felt was right for me."

A couple months later, Normani launched a partnership with Bose that saw her give a first preview of the assertive Dopamine track "Candy Paint." She also offered some insight to the album delays, which partially stemmed from her parents' health struggles.

"It was hard feeling misunderstood because of the lack of knowledge people had for my circumstances in real-time. I don't even know if I had the energy to explain — my emotional, spiritual and mental endurance was really tested," she explained to Dazed. "When my parents got sick, I didn't have the mental capacity to even try to be creative, but I pushed myself anyway. If it weren't for them, I probably wouldn't have, but I know it's what got them through such a tough time — they needed to see me persevere and push through and continue to move forward."

As she shared with Bose, crafting Dopamine ended up being a creative outlet for Normani and offered a sign of hope for her and her parents during their respective treatments.

"(When my mom was going through chemo) the thing that really kept her going was getting on FaceTime and being like, 'How are the sessions going?' She's always so eager to hear the new records we've been working on," she said. "And then a year later, when my dad ended up being diagnosed, he would say mid treatment, 'I'm ready for you to take over the world.'"

2024: She Completed A Hard-Fought Journey

By the beginning of 2024, even Normani couldn't help but acknowledge how long fans had been waiting for her debut LP. She facetiously launched a website called wheresthedamnalbum.com — but it actually served as the official kickoff to the album campaign.

Two months after she shared the album's title and stunning cover art on the site, Normani delivered the guitar-driven lead single "1:59" arrived, as well as a release date for Dopamine.

Despite a series of false starts and personal challenges, Dopamine is proof that Normani is as resilient as they come — and this project was well worth the wait. Opening tracks "Big Boy" and "Still" flex her swag, whereas Janet Jackson-coded tunes like "All Yours" and "Lights On" (co-written with Victoria Monét) ooze sensual vibes. While the album mostly caters to her R&B foundation, she touches on her dance music dabblings with the house-leaning"Take My Time." 

Dopamine even offered a full-circle moment for Normani, who has cited Brandy as one of her biggest musical inspirations. The R&B trailblazer lends background vocals to "Insomnia," which also features hypnotic production from Stargate

As Normani embraces her close-up, she's keenly aware that the stakes are high, but it's a moment she's been ready for all along.

"I hope [fans] see the passion and the hard work that I have put into creating something so special," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I love my fans and how they have been patiently waiting and supporting me over the years. I hope the wait was worth it for them and they are proud of what we have accomplished together."

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