meta-scriptBTS Talk New Album 'Map Of The Soul: 7': "The Genre Is BTS" | GRAMMY.com
BTS

BTS

Courtesy: Big Hit Entertainment

news

BTS Talk New Album 'Map Of The Soul: 7': "The Genre Is BTS"

The international pop stars discuss the creative process behind their latest release and shine a light on the growing creative community in South Korea

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2020 - 01:27 am

International pop stars BTS are used to shattering world records. They've done it time and time again.

In 2018, the septet became the first Korean group to receive gold status from the Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA), for the Steve Aoki remix of their 2017 track, "Mic Drop," featuring rapper Desiigner. The song, now certified platinum, became the act's first hit in the U.S., setting off an ongoing streak of Stateside hits and world records for the South Korean boyband. That same year, they became the first Korean act to top the Billboard 200 chart with Love Yourself: Tear

BTS are now back to dominate the charts once again with Map Of The Soul: 7. Released just yesterday (Feb. 21), the new album is already the best-selling album of the year worldwide. Another day, another world record in the life of BTS.

Map Of The Soul: 7, BTS' fourth studio full-length to date, is the next installment in the band's ongoing Map Of The Soul series. It picks up from the 2019 chart-topping Map Of The Soul: Persona EP. In addition to featuring songs from the latter, Map Of The Soul: 7 expands on some of the themes and topics from the overall series, including the concepts of persona, shadow and ego. 

"[Map Of The Soul: 7 is a] continuation from the album before, called Persona," BTS member RM tells the Recording Academy. "And this time, we put the other two themes, shadow and ego, and we put it together into [this] album, called 7. The difference is [the] persona, which is like the social mask before the good things that we have, [like] the spotlight. This time [on 7] we talked about the real shades and shadows that we had inside, and also the big manifesto that we admitted: all the shadows as our destinies and we're gonna carry on." 

Sonically, Map Of The Soul: 7 touches on many genres and sounds. Album opener "Intro: Persona" sees RM rapping over a guitar-laced, bossy hip-hop beat, while "Interlude: Shadow," a solo track from BTS member Suga, is an atmospheric pop ballad that converts into an industrial rap monster. 

For the group, Map Of The Soul: 7 breaks free from genre confines once and for all.

"I think it's less and less meaningful to divide music into genres now," Suga says. 

"The genre is BTS. That's the genre we want to make and the music that we want. New genre," the group's Jungkook, V and J-Hope add. 

On the day of the album's release, the Recording Academy caught up with BTS—all seven members!—at the Park Hyatt New York in Midtown Manhattan to discuss the creative process behind and deeper meanings within Map Of The Soul: 7, the group's all-star collaborator wishlist and the growing creative footprint of their South Korean homeland.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. An interpreter translated all answers from BTS, except for RM.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='https://www.youtube.com/embed//LmApDbvNCXg' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

Can you talk about the creative process behind Map Of The Soul: 7? How does it differ from the rest of your albums?

Suga: It took us a little longer, and this is our first full album in quite a while. But making an album isn't just making the music. We have the songs, there's the choreography and a lot of other elements that come with it, so it took some time. But once we got started, it really started rolling along and it was really fun. 

The album features individual tracks that highlight traits from each of the seven BTS members. How does the album reflect each individual member? And how does it reflect BTS as a whole? 

Jungkook: I think individually, it really contained what we wanted to put into the music and the ideas that we have, and this is what we put in.

RM: As a group, it's like a big statement or like a manifesto that we finally admitted our shadows and egos at the same time as part of our destiny. So it's like, you're going to carry on and you can bring the pain and we'll carry on.

Map Of The Soul: 7 reflects on the seven years since BTS debuted in 2013. What has been the biggest life and career lessons you've learned so far?

Jin: Thanks to these guys, I think I learned more about music. I didn't really know a lot about music when I started out, but now I've learned how to write music or make melodies. That's what I really got out of the past seven years, thanks to these guys. 

Jungkook: I think I really learned how precious music is, how important it is to me. Recording the music for this album, working on the music—through this whole process, [it was] really fun and meaningful because, again, I kind of learned and figured out how precious music is and how important it is to me.

The new album features collaborations with Halsey and Sia. Who are some other artists you want to collaborate with?

All (shouting out loud): Ariana [Grande], Travis [Scott], Taylor [Swift], Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, Post Malone, "Big" Nas, Lil Nas X!

RM: Call our label, please.

Your music as BTS has touched on many genres, from rap to pop. Are there any other genres or sounds you're interested in exploring in the future?

Suga: I think it's less and less meaningful to divide music into genres now. 

Jungkook, V, J-Hope: The genre is BTS. That's the genre we want to make and the music that we want. New genre.

Map Of The Soul: 7 is a continuation of Map Of The Soul: Persona. How are the two projects related? And how are they different?

RM: Like you said, [Map Of The Soul: 7 is a] continuation from the album before, called Persona. And this time, we put the other two themes, shadow and ego, and we put it together into [this] album, called 7. The difference is [the] persona, which is like the social mask before the good things that we have, [like] the spotlight. This time [on 7] we talked about the real shades and shadows that we had inside, and also the big manifesto that we admitted: all the shadows as our destinies and we're gonna carry on. We put all the three things [together] and made a series.

Watch: Lil Nas X, BTS & Billy Ray Cyrus Enter The "Old Town Road" Multiverse At The 2020 GRAMMYs

The K-pop genre has exploded across the world over the past few years. Where does K-pop go from here? What would you like to see happen for your community?

Suga: As you said, the stature of K-pop has really grown all over the world. But rather than be recognized as the rise of a genre or the rise of K-pop as a genre, I would like more talented Korean artists to be better known around the world, because I think there are a lot of talented Korean artists, and it's really amazing to have this small country and so many talented people coming out of it. That's what I'd like to see.

Speaking of talented Korean artists, how did you feel when Parasite won so many awards at the Oscars this year?

RM: We felt like we won the GRAMMYs. Parasite is a great movie; I also watched it in the cinema. And like Suga said, we just know that there are a lot of talented people in Korea, also including outside K-pop or K-movie or anywhere else. Parasite's honor is our honor, too. We're happy.

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

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. 

The sextet of Sungchan, Anton, Wonbin, Sohee, Eunseok and Shotaro 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, they 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

list

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

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

Photo: MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images

list

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."

8 Ways Aaliyah Empowered A Generation Of Female R&B Stars

TWICE's Nayeon On Embracing Authenticity For 'NA'
Nayeon

Courtesy of JYP Entertainment

interview

The ABCDs Of Nayeon: How The TWICE Member Embraced Her Authenticity On ‘NA’

With her second solo release, K-pop idol Im Nayeon is unapologetically confident and boldly experimental. Out June 14, 'NA' contains English and Korean language tracks alongside collaborations with prominent Korean artists.

GRAMMYs/Jun 13, 2024 - 05:20 pm

K-pop idol Im Nayeon is a pioneer with many firsts attached to her name: She was the first to become a member of TWICE, the first from the group to go solo, and was the first-ever K-pop soloist to enter the Billboard Top 10. Now, Nayeon is the first member of TWICE to release a second solo album. 

Nearly two years after her solo debut, Nayeon arrives with a new mini-album, NA —  the title a play on her name and the Korean word for "me." The seven-track record highlights the singer’s unapologetic nature, exploring themes of self-confidence, romance, and tenacity. Nayeon has certainly had to be tenacious in her road to the new EP.

"I don’t know if you can tell, but I really can’t believe that this moment is [finally] happening," Nayeon tells GRAMMY.com. "I really wanted to showcase myself as a confident woman this time around."

NA contains a mix of English and Korean language tracks alongside collaborations with prominent Korean artists. Throughout, the singer tackles pop, R&B, dance and electro-pop with ease. Lead single "ABCD" takes inspiration from 2000s era pop divas, adding hints of hip-hop as Nayeon teaches the A-Zs of love with witty lyrics and a magnetizing rhythm. While Nayeon has previously sung about love with flirtatious undertones, "ABCD" shows the singer's straightforward intentions. 

It seems becoming a superstar was fated for the Seoul native. When she was young, Nayeon caught the attention of agents at JYP Entertainment from a modeling contest — however, given her age, her mother refused to let her sign with an entertainment agency. At 14, Nayeon defied her mom's decision and snuck out of her home to attend JYPE’s 2010 open casting, where she passed the audition and ranked in second place. With her strong ambition to pursue an idol career, Nayeon decided to join JYPE as a trainee that same year.

After three years of training, she was slated to debut as a member of a girl group 6MIX. However, the debut was scrapped afterJYPE was unable to find replacements for members that exited the project. In 2015, Nayeon was chosen from a pool of trainees to enter JYPE’s survival program "Sixteen," and became the first member chosen for nine-piece girl group TWICE. Nayeon is the group's face, as well as its eldest member, lead vocalist, and dancer. 

Nayeon has since become one of the most recognizable members of TWICE, best known for her impressive vocal range and warm essence. Her public image became the epitome of an animated K-pop idol, always exhibiting her youthful personality and sunny disposition to everyone she encounters. Over the course of nine years together in TWICE and hundreds of releases later, Nayeon has proved herself to be the spine of the global girl group. 

Read more: TWICE Reflect On Milestone Moments & Latest 'With YOU-th' EP

Nayeon introduced herself to the world as a soloist in June 2022 with her debut album IM NAYEON, a high-spirited and feel-good summer EP that showcased her perky identity. The album hit No.1 on Billboard's Top Album Sales chart — the highest-selling album in the week of its release — and debuted No .7 on the Billboard 200. Lead single "POP!" has since turned into a fan-favorite, and remains a singalong anthem at TWICE’s concerts two years later. 

While IM NAYEON built off her easy going nature, NA will leave fans enamored by Nayeon’s artistic awakening and newly matured chapter in her solo career. The album’s trailer and concept photos unveiled Nayeon’s assured, hip and hot appeal — a side she has yet to show as a soloist. 

GRAMMY.com caught up with Nayeon via Zoom to learn more about the creation of NA, and how the past two years have impacted her as a soloist and individual. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Is there anything that feels different in terms of releasing NA nearly two years after your solo debut album?

Because my first solo album was the first solo work ever done by a member of TWICE, the pressure was pretty high. There was fear in me, as well, to try something completely new. But since [NA] is my second album as a soloist, I did [my best] to enjoy the ride more this time around. 

I can't say that I'm completely comfortable right now being a solo artist. But compared to [IM NAYEON], I'm much more at ease about it. 

Is there anything new you wanted to showcase this time around in NA?

The performance for the title song "ABCD" is quite different from what I have typically been showing [as TWICE]. So [in that essence], this is what’s new and challenging for [NA].

The performance itself is very powerful, and I wanted to express a bold and cool side of me. Of course, I have shown that side of me [before] during TWICE concerts or performances, but with "ABCD," I want it to be different from [IM NAYEON] specifically, which was just a totally different vibe [in comparison]. 

Does it feel easier to showcase this bolder side of yourself now that you've been a soloist for a few years?

Since I have been working as one of the members of TWICE for so long, I think it feels more meaningful if I show a different side of me through my solo work. So [while] it's new and fun, I can't say that it's easier.

I think it'll be fun for our fans. They receive it really well when we show off a different side of [ourselves]. [Our fans] encourage us a lot so I think it's a great change of pace.

You collaborated with a variety of artists on NA, including American singer/songwriter Sam Kim and K-pop artists Lee Chan-hyuk (AKMU) and Julie (KISS OF LIFE). How was that experience for you?

When I work as [TWICE], there are so many of us that it's really hard to collaborate with other artists. We don't really get that opportunity that often. But when it comes to solo work, it's a really fun and rewarding experience to work with many different artists. 

I haven't really gotten the chance to meet and talk with the artists featured on my album, but it was me who initiated the collaboration process. I specifically asked Lee Chanhyuk, Julie, and Sam Kim to collaborate with me. [That] was a really new experience for me and it just felt great.

I’ve been a huge fan of Lee Chanhyuk for a very long time, so that’s why I specifically asked for him to [help produce] in ["HalliGalli"]. For the song "Magic," we were looking for a female rapper and I had my eye on Julie from KISS OF LIFE. After seeing her perform, I loved [her]! So I very strongly suggested my opinion to have her feature with me on this track. 

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

It seems like you’re revealing more of yourself with NA. Would you say that this new album is an extension to IM NAYEON?

Oh, of course! The concept and overall theme is much different from [IM NAYEON]. But since both [albums] focus on me as an artist, I think you can say that some parts are an extension while other parts reveal a different side of me.

Were there any expectations or challenges you faced during the album-making process?

Although "POP!" also featured intense choreography, "ABCD" demands a different kind of expression — prompting me to focus more on the performance aspect. 

Additionally, as this is a solo album, I must exert more energy compared to performing with a group. I have to command the entire stage alone for one song. Consequently, I am somewhat concerned that people may perceive me as exhausted, though I will do my best to prevent that! 

Since the release of IM NAYEON, how have you evolved as a person and an artist?

Many people saw that [IM NAYEON] really suited me and my public image. In [NA], I’m revealing a more confident and new side of me. The performance and concept challenged me to evolve [as an artist] in that aspect. 

I have grown a lot as an individual. I released my first solo debut album, and in TWICE, we just completed a huge scale world tour. Next year marks the 10th anniversary for [TWICE] as well. These past few years have been a period of self reflection with the opportunity for [more] growth. 

I have really come to realize why I chose this profession. That realization became a drive as an artist to keep moving forward and improve [upon] myself. 

Read more: Inside SoFi Stadium At TWICE’s Record-Breaking L.A. Show

Over the course of your career, are there important lessons or insights you’ve learned?

I think one of the biggest insights I’ve noticed in the past few years is how valuable the members of TWICE are [to me]. There are things that I cannot do alone but am able to do because TWICE are right beside me. I realized that my fears go away when I’m with the TWICE members. I have come to appreciate them even more over the last few years. I realized even more now how important their existence is to me while working as a solo artist. 

It seems as if TWICE are your encouragement and driving force.

Yes, they really are! 

TWICE's Jihyo Takes Steps Into Her 'Zone' On Debut EP