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Calvin Arsenia On His Dancehall-Inspired 'Honeydew' EP & Covering Britney Spears | Up Close & Personal
The "Headlights" singer/harpist stopped by the Recording Academy to talk about his debut album 'Cantaloupe,' its clubbier reimagining with 'Honeydew,' his love of Frank Ocean and Bjork and more
Kansas City native Calvin Arsenia's ethereal, emotional music dances across genres without being tied down in any one place. With his 2018 debut album Cantaloupe and its dancefloor-ready reimaging with the Honeydew EP, the multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter is a shimmering force to be reckoned with.
The Recording Academy caught up with the "Headlights" singer to learn more about the inspiration behind the two albums and what it was like bringing new life to Britney Spears' GRAMMY-winning classic "Toxic." We also find out who his biggest creative influences are, from late designer Alexander McQueen to GRAMMY winner Frank Ocean.
You can watch part of the conversation above and read the full interview below. You can also visit on our YouTube page to watch a longer version of the video, as well as for other recent episodes of our Up Close & Personal series.
This summer, you released your Honeydew EP, which is really fun and more of an experimental, electronic-led sound. How did making this project feel for you?
Honeydew was a follow-up to Cantaloupe, and we took some of the songs from Cantaloupe and decided to do them in a dancehall kind of remix. We were inspired because we—myself and my two producers—got booked to do a show for New Year's Eve, and the music from Cantaloupe tends to be kind of introverted and really introspective, and I want it to be able to reimagine those same songs in a dancehall kind of scenario. So we added a lot of percussion and kind of dismantled things and put them back together, but everything that's on there is a new recording. It's not just a remix, but it's brand new imaginings of those songs.
I love that dance music gets to get people moving. And the rooms that I play in are so varied. I play in bars and I play in concert halls and I play in really big performing arts centers or I play in dance clubs, and the music needs to shift based on what the room is. I didn't have a good solid set of music for dancing to, for festivals or for celebrations like New Year's yet, and Honeydew was birthed out of that need.
That's so cool. So the New Year's party is coming, or it happened?
It happened. We wrote and recorded and did all this stuff for New Year's last year, and then we had another festival in mid-summer. So we retooled and then recorded everything.
Can you give us a little bit of the backstory on Cantaloupe's title track?
So "Cantaloupe," I wrote really intentionally, the whole album and in particular that song. I like using humor as a mechanism to understand the world and as a way to not be afraid of things that are sometimes scary. And in particular, I grew up in a very conservative place in the Bible belt of America, in Kansas City, and I was always really afraid of my homosexual tendencies and really afraid to be ostracized by my community. I always thought that I would never be able to have an open or free love or relationship.
So "Cantaloupe" is not that we can't elope because it's wrong or because it's illegal. In fact, it's very legal and it's very not wrong, but we can't elope because we want to invite everyone to come and see this party that we're having. We want to be able to invite them into our lives, and if we have a reason to have a party, then we should just have the party. So that's what that song is about. It was written out of a desire for that, rather than something that I was actually dealing with.
The wordplay in it is so fun.
And the fruit itself is so light and airy, bright and refreshing, I wanted the music and the imagery to be full of those bright colors, that's warm and soft. I know that I like to wear black but, but I wanted the imagery and the feeling of it, the context, the world around this record to be very effervescent and sparkly. [Laughs.]
What did it feel like when you released the album?
It's really interesting to watch an album grow outside of you or to see it go off to school for the first day or to see it experience its own life outside of you. The process of recording Cantaloupe was really fun. There was myself and two of my friends, J. Ashley Miller and Simon Huntley, and we spent a lot of time in the studio and we spent a lot of time experimenting and playing with things. Some of the inspirations that we had for the record were how do we make an album that is completely non-repeating and it's something that we've heard. One of the inspirations was Frank Ocean's Channel Orange, where every time the chorus comes around it's a little bit different, so even if it is something that is a repeated part, it's presented in a new way.
So I really wanted that to be one of the main themes of the album. I wanted it to span EDM and folk music and everything in between. I wanted it to have a very theatrical piece in the midst of it, which is "Palaces." I wanted it to sound like my shows feel when I'm performing live, which is lots of dancers and musicians and people coming in from all over the room and, and lights and I wanted to make sure that the album represented that kind of immersive feeling. Because of that, we also introduced the ideas of ASMR into the recording process as well. So we tried to have in each track something that was just textural and really close and soft. So depending on how you listen to it or how loud the volume is or if it's on vinyl or in MP3 format, you're going to experience different layers in the recording as well.
Also on the album, you cover Britney Spears' "Toxic," which takes on a spooky vibe with the harp. Why did you choose to cover "Toxic?"
I decided to start playing "Toxic" because I wanted to do a song on the harp that was very sexy. And the harp is normally associated with angels and death, or birth or babies and very sweet and gentle, docile lullabies. I wanted to find something to perform that would just take it out of there. Britney Spears' "Toxic" is a great song. I mean the original, it can never be replaced or redone, but it was also really fun to introduce it to this instrument and kind of have it find a new, visceral life there.
I think by slowing it down and putting it in six-eight time, it really allowed it to breathe a little more and for the words to kind of illuminate some more, and then also to really climax into this very, almost terrified place. You feel like you're going to die when you're so overcome with adoration or lust or whatever for that other party.
In the context of writing the record and placing the song in the midst of it, I just wanted that just kind of manic feeling to exist somewhere in the record. I've associated that feeling of being overwhelmed or overcome with love or with needing to obey, with how I interact with the muses and just the creative process. Sometimes I can talk myself out of being irrational, but when it comes to creativity and to the songwriting process and to the music making process, I am such a slave to that.
What songs have been your favorite to play live?
I think one of my favorite songs to play live is "Tip Toe." Although it's always terrifying to play it, because it's such petty admission to feel like I'm not welcomed in certain spaces because of a past relationship, when in reality nobody else is really thinking that, or I'm projecting a lot of insecurity on other people. At the same time, it's an honest feeling, and I feel that when we are honest and vulnerable is when we create the best bridges between people and communities.
One thing I try to think about a lot is how do we build bridges of empathy between people that look like they're very different, but actually we experience a lot of the same emotional things? And if we can understand how we experience that emotionally, then all the culture, what your money looks like, what your language is, all of those things kind of disappear.
How we move through life emotionally is really universal. I'm always terrified to talk about "Tip Toe" and, but I've played it in nine different countries, and the reception is always the same because people have felt like their past follows them and that it affects how they interact with the world around them. And they feel insecure and they feel like they don't belong or that they're not welcome. But if we can talk about it, we can manage it. So I've seen a lot of people break out of that with me.
As you mentioned, you grew up in Kansas City, and live there now. How do you feel that it influences and inspires your art?
Kansas City's a really magical place. There are lots of artists and a very prolific arts scene there, and a lot of funding that's put into it. Imagine the lowest place in the valley, and all of the weirdos trickle down into Kansas City from the Midwest, so we have a little safe haven there. Also, it doesn't hurt that we can afford to live and work there and you know, we're not working three or four jobs to keep our little studio apartment and not be making art. For that, I love it there and I want to continue to keep my bed there and keep traveling out of there.
But also collaboration and having the ability to work with multiple people and to not feel like you can only be exclusive to one band or project. The ability to explore is really exciting. There are a lot of people that are a part of lots of different projects, and every time I perform in Kansas City, I always use a different conglomerate of musicians because for me it's fun to see what the different energy is going to feel like or how different artists are going to bring a new flavor to these songs, and as the songs meld genre.
I just like the chameleon nature of music and that every time it's a brand new experience and that if people have seen me once or twice or 300 times, everything's always different. For them, I feel like I owe them a new experience because it's the new day and it's a new room or a new space or a new me, even. So Kansas City has allowed for me to be able to explore in that way where I feel that other cities wouldn't have let me do that.
What's your biggest hope that someone gets from either going to your show or listening to your music?
I really hope that people who listen to my music or come to the shows, I hope they feel permission to explore every emotion that happens in their heart and mind. That it is not shameful to feel jealousy. It's not shameful to feel angry. It's not shameful to feel insecure. That all of these are natural parts of the human experience, and that if we don't talk about them, then we can't manage them. But having them out in the open and celebrating the prism that is existence allows us to be, I think, ultimately more healthy individuals. So that's what I want people to take from my music.
Who are your biggest style and musical influences?
It feels cliché, but I really love [Alexander] McQueen's work. He's been a huge inspiration. I have not worn anything closely, remotely or at all stuff that he produced, but I saw the McQueen exhibit when it was at the Met in New York and I just wept the whole way through. I'd never had fashion cause me to cry before, but there was just so much emotion in that work.
As far as music, I have had my same top four musicians for the past 10 years. I love Björk. I love Sufjan Stevens. I love Joanna Newsom, and the Dirty Projectors, a great band from Brooklyn. I'm also really into Lana Del Rey's new record [Norman F*ing Rockwell!] because it sounds awesome. Frank Ocean, another big, big love. Moses Sumney, Serpentwithfeet. Amos Lee was a huge influence growing up when I was doing a lot more acoustic guitar things. I'm not afraid of folk and country, that's kinda where I started. There's a lot of influences. Mariah Carey. Love her.
8 Music Books To Read This Fall/Winter: Britney Spears' Memoir, Paul McCartney's Lyrics & More
As 2023 nears its end and the holidays approach, add these books to your reading list. Memoirs from Dolly Parton and Sly Stone, as well as histories of titans such as Ella Fitzgerald are sure to add music to the latter half of the year.
If you’re a music fan looking to restock your library with some new reads, you’re in luck. With the second half of the year comes a dearth of new music books recounting the life and times of some of the most celebrated artists in the history of the artform are hitting shelves.
From Britney Spears' much talked-about memoir that tackles the tabloid tumult of her life and Barbra Streisand’s highly anticipated autobiography (which clocks in at nearly 1,000 pages), to tomes that recount the lives of Tupac Shakur and Dolly Parton, it’s time to get reading. Read on for some of the best music-related new and upcoming books to add to your collection.
By Britney Spears
One of the most highly anticipated books of the year, Spears' memoir has been a blockbuster in the weeks since its release. When it was announced that the singer was writing a book, fans and observers braced themselves for what she would reveal when it comes to her tumultuous life and career. The result is a no-holds-barred look at how an innocent girl from Louisiana became swept up in the tsunami of fame, as well as the resulting wake.
The Woman in Me details Spears' halcyon younger years as part of the "New Mickey Mouse Club," her explosive career, the blossoming and collapse of her relationship with Justin Timberlake, and the punishing conservatorship concocted by her father. Spears doesn’t hold back, but also shouts out the figures who provided solace and kindness: Madonna, Elton John, Mariah Carey, and former Jive Records president Clive Calder. The Woman In Me proves to be an unflinching, eye-opening look at the swirling tornado of music, fame, love and family, for better or for worse.
By Barbra Streisand
Since her early '60s breakout to her current status as a bona fide living legend, Barbra Streisand has lived a lot of life. Streisand's 992-page tome breaks down her humble beginnings growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and her subsequent stratospheric life during which she received a whopping 46 GRAMMY nominations and released many timeless songs. Along the way, she also became the first female in the history of moviemaking to write, produce, direct and star in a major motion picture (Yentl).
It’s all a long time coming, considering Jackie Onassis first approached Streisand to chronicle her triumphant life in 1984 (at the time, the former first lady was editor of Doubleday and Streisand was a mere 20 years into her iconic career). "Frankly, I thought at 42 I was too young, with much more work still to come," Striesand recently told Vanity Fair. It’s an understatement considering all that’s happened since.
By Paul McCartney
One of the most celebrated artists of all time, McCartney's genius songwriting is on full, glimmering display in THE LYRICS. Newly released in a one volume paperback edition, the book puts the Beatles' way with words front and center while offering popcorn-worthy backstory.
Originally published to acclaim in 2021, the updated version includes additional material and insight from Macca himself on the creation of some of the most indelible hits in music history, including the 1965 Beatles hit "Daytripper."
"The riff became one of our most well-known and you still often hear it played when you walk into guitar shops," wrote McCartney of the track. "It’s one of those songs that revolves around the riff. Some songs are hung onto a chord progression. Others, like this, are driven by the riff."
By Dolly Parton
"It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!" So says luminary Dolly Parton, in a self-deprecating and witty and also patently untrue famous turn of phrase. While Parton’s life story has been recounted numerous times on the page and on screen, Behind the Seams zeros in on not just her trials and tribulations, but her unmistakable style.
Packed with nearly 500 photographs, the book traces Parton’s looks from the sacks she used to dress in as a child in poverty to the flamboyant visuals associated with her stardom. "I’ve been at this so long, I’ve worn some of the most bizarre things," Parton recently told the Guardian. "My hairdos have always been so out there. At the time you think you look good, then you look back on it, like, what was I thinking?"
By Sly Stone
The 80-year-old reclusive frontman of Sly and the Family Stone has certainly lived a lot of life. From his early days as part of the gospel vocal group the Stewart Four, Stone and his family band later became fixtures of the charts from the late '60s into the mid-'70s; a journey traced in the new book Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), named after their 1969 song of the same name.
Known for funky, soulful and earworm signature hits including "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People," the band won over the hearts of America, influencing legions of fans (including Herbie Hanckock and Miles Davis) and gaining a few enemies (the Black Panther Party). The book chronicles those ups and downs (including drug abuse), tracking Stone up to the modern era, which includes receiving the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Special Merit Award in 2017.
By Judith Tick
Ella Fitzgerald is one of America’s most iconic voices and the full breadth of her story will be told in the first major biography since her death in 1996. Known as the First Lady of Song, the 13-time GRAMMY winner is known for her swingin’ standards, sultry ballads, scat and everything in between.
Out Nov. 21, the vocalist’s historic career is recounted by musicologist Judith Tick, who reflects on her legend using new research, fresh interviews and rare recordings. The result is a portrait of an undeniable talent and the obstacles she was up against, from her early days at the Apollo Theater to her passionate zeal for recording and performing up until her later years.
"Ella was two people," her longtime drummer Gregg Field told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "She was very humble, very shy and generous. But when she walked on stage she was hardcore and didn’t know how to sing unless it was coming from her heart."
By Jeff Tweedy
Aside from his extensive discography with Wilco and beyond, Jeff Tweedy is the author of three books: his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), a meditation on creativity called How to Write One Song, and his latest, World Within a Song. The latter expertly examines a variety of songs by a disparate spate of artists, from Rosalía to Billie Eilish with Tweedy’s singular take on what makes each song stand out along with what he dubs "Rememories," short blurbs that recount moments from his own life and times.
Much like his songwriting prowess, it’s a book where Tweedy’s way with words shine with shimmering eloquence. "My experience of my own emotions is that they all interact," Tweedy told GRAMMY.com last year. "They aren't individual, isolated things that you experience one at a time, and I think that's a really beautiful thing about being alive."
By Staci Robinson
One of the giants of hip-hop finally gets his due with an official recounting of his life and times. Here his legend is told by the authoritative Staci Robinson, an expert on the star who previously wrote Tupac Remembered: Bearing Witness to a Life and Legacy and served as executive producer of the FX documentary series "Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur."
Here, Robinson reflects on Tupac’s legacy from a modern perspective, and tracks the history of race in America alongside the rapper’s life and times, from the turbulent '60s to the Rodney King riots. Along the way are the stories behind the songs including "Brenda’s Got a Baby."
"In between shots (of filming the movie Juice) I wrote it," Shakur is quoted saying in Robinson’s book. "I was crying too. That’s how I knew everybody else would cry, ’cause I was crying.’"
Photos: Image from TiVO; Dave Benett/Getty Images for Alexander McQueen; Prince Williams/WireImage; SAMIR HUSSEIN/WIREIMAGE; Arturo Holmes/Getty Images; Image from TiVO; Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
Here Are The Song Of The Year Nominees At The 2024 GRAMMYs
The eight nominees for Song Of The Year at the 2024 GRAMMYs are hits from some of music’s biggest names: Lana Del Rey, Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Jon Batiste, Taylor Swift, SZA and Dua Lipa.
The Song Of The Year GRAMMY Award honors the best releases in the music business, and the eight nominees for the golden gramophone at the 2024 GRAMMYs come from a variety of established singer/songwriters. From dance anthems to pop bops, ballads and R&B smashes, the nominees for Song Of The Year showcase the breadth of emotions of the past year.
Before tuning into the 2024 GRAMMYs on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, learn more about this year's Song Of The Year nominees below.
"A&W" - Lana Del Rey
Songwriters: Jack Antonoff, Lana Del Rey & Sam Dew
The second single from her ninth studio album, Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, "A&W" is a refreshing addition to Lana Del Rey’s expansive discography.
Another shattered portrait of the American Dream, the seven-minute epic, oscillates from madness to exhaustion, as Del Rey described feeling burned out by being objectified and perceived as an "American whore." What begins as a psychedelic folk ballad erupts into a defiant trap number interpolated with a doo-wop standard by the four-minute mark of the chaotic number.
"I’m a princess, I’m divisive/Ask me why I’m like this/Maybe I just kinda like this," Del Rey anxiously warbles. Later, she expresses her resignation surrounding rape culture: "If I told you that I was raped/ Do you really think that anybody would think/ I didn't ask for it? I didn't ask for it/ I won't testify, I already f—ed up my story."
"Anti-Hero" - Taylor Swift
Songwriters: Jack Antonoff & Taylor Swift
"Anti-Hero" showcased a new side of Taylor Swift — a rare moment where the 33-year-old pop star confronted her flaws in the public eye.
"I really don’t think I’ve delved this far into my insecurities in this detail before," Swift said of the track in an Instagram video. "Not to sound too dark, but, like, I just struggle with the idea of not feeling like a person."
The self-loathing synth-pop anthem — with its cheeky chorus — catapulted "Anti Hero" into virality. With its ubiquitous meaning, the song topped charts and became a staple of pop radio. Now, it’s enjoying the highest praise as a contender for Song Of The Year.
"Butterfly" - Jon Batiste
Songwriters: Jon Batiste & Dan Wilson
Beyond its sound, what makes Jon Batiste’s "Butterfly" so stunning is the story behind it. The touching jazz-soul fusion track is an iteration of the lullabies Batiste penned while his wife Suleika Jaouad was hospitalized during her cancer treatment.
"It’s just such a personal narrative song in relation to my life and what my family has gone through and my wife and all of the things she’s been able to overcome," the 36-year-old GRAMMY winner told PEOPLE.
"Butterfly" is featured on Batiste's latest album, World Music Radio. Like much of his discography, "Butterfly" is inherently uplifting but there’s an underlying yearning for freedom. "Butterfly in the air/ Where you can fly anywhere/ A sight beyond compare," Batiste croons over stripped-down keys.
"Dance The Night" (From Barbie The Album) - Dua Lipa
Songwriters: Caroline Ailin, Dua Lipa, Mark Ronson & Andrew Wyatt
With the release of her pop-funk epic Future Nostalgia during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dua Lipa proved she could master the art of escapism. On "Dance The Night," a thrilling dance-pop number from the star-studded Barbie soundtrack, she channels that same inspiration with a side of glitter and glam.
"Greta said that the whole film was inspired by disco. There’s a lot of very glittery and pop moments in it," the 28-year-old singer said of how the track fits into the movie in an interview with Dazed.
Over a sleek synth, the pop star reflects the unwavering joy Barbie outwardly emanates while she’s crumbling inside: "Even when the tears are flowin' like diamonds on my face/I'll still keep the party goin', not one hair out of place (yes, I can)."
"Flowers" - Miley Cyrus
Songwriters: Miley Cyrus, Gregory Aldae Hein & Michael Pollack
Miley Cyrus has perfected the art of reinventing herself. With the post-breakup number "Flowers," she reclaimed her independence and took a hard turn from gritty rock back into pop music. "I can take myself dancing, yeah/ I can hold my own hand/ Yeah, I can love me better than you can," she belts over a disco-pop beat.
While the 30-year-old musician wouldn’t share if "Flowers" was indeed about her ex-husband Liam Hemsworth, the song became an empowering earworm from a more refined version of the longtime musician.
"The song is a little fake it till you make it," she said of "Flowers" in an interview with British Vogue. "Which I’m a big fan of." It turns out she made it with a nomination for Song Of The Year at the 2024 GRAMMY Awards.
"Kill Bill" - SZA
Songwriters: Rob Bisel, Carter Lang & Solána Rowe
On the psychedelic R&B groove of "Kill Bill," which references the legendary Quentin Tarantino film, SZA dreams up her own unfiltered revenge fantasy. "I might kill my ex / Not the best idea / His new girlfriend's next / How'd I get here?" she ponders over an airy melody.
The song stands out on the R&B singer’s latest album, SOS, for not only its cheeky wordplay but for how visceral she portrayed the devastation of a breakup.
Despite its popularity, the 34-year-old singer initially thought one of the other songs on her 23-track album would have topped the charts. "It's always a song that I don't give a f— about that's just super easy, not the s— that I put so much heart and energy into. 'Kill Bill' was super easy — one take, one night," the singer told Billboard of "Kill Bill’s" success.
"Vampire" - Olivia Rodrigo
Songwriters: Daniel Nigro & Olivia Rodrigo
Like her explosive debut "Drivers License," Olivia Rodrigo opted for a swelling power ballad for the lead single of her sophomore album Guts. On "Vampire," the singer/songwriter recalls a parasitic relationship with a swelling power ballad that erupts into a booming guitar breakdown. "Bloodsucker, famef—er/ Bleedin' me dry, like a goddamn vampire," she sings with a bitter lilt.
While many speculated the song was about a toxic relationship, Rodrigo claimed it’s more nuanced than that. "It’s more about my regret and kind of beating myself up for doing something that I knew wasn’t gonna turn out great and kind of just taking ownership of that and dealing with those feelings," she told Sirius XM Hits 1.
Regardless, the 20-year-old artist turned something bitter into something sweet by landing a Song Of The Year nomination.
"What Was I Made For?" [From The Motion Picture "Barbie"] - Billie Eilish
Songwriters: Billie Eilish O'Connell & Finneas O'Connell
Not only was the Barbie movie a massive hit, its soundtrack was, too, thanks to a slew of chart-topping artists including Dua Lipa, HAIM and Sam Smith. So it’s no surprise that Billie Eilish made that list as well, and delivered a gutting ballad that soundtracked one of the most heartbreaking moments of the film.
The wistful single, which arrives at the devastating realization that you’re not real and are instead meant to be consumed, aptly embodies the narrative arc of the box office smash. "Looked so alive, turns out I'm not real/ Just something you paid for/ What was I made for," the 21-year-old musician sings with a heartbreaking lilt.
While writing the sobering number, Eilish tried to embody the essence of the life-sized doll herself. "I was purely inspired by this movie and this character and the way I thought she would feel, and wrote about that," she told Zane Lowe of Apple Music.
The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, returns to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, and will broadcast live on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on-demand on Paramount+ at 8-11:30 p.m. ET/5-8:30 p.m. PT.
The Recording Academy and GRAMMY.com do not endorse any particular artist, submission or nominee over another. The results of the GRAMMY Awards, including winners and nominees, are solely dependent on the Recording Academy’s Voting Membership.
Photos (clockwise, from top left): Dave Benett/Getty Images for Alexander McQueen; Image from TiVO; Mason Rose; Image from TiVO; Arturo Holmes/Getty Images; Image from TiVO; Prince Williams/WireImage; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
Here Are The Album Of The Year Nominees At The 2024 GRAMMYs
The 2024 GRAMMY nominees for Album Of The Year have arrived: Jon Batiste, boygenius, Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey, Janelle Monáe, Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift, and SZA.
In a world dominated by singles and streaming, it's even more important for albums to be cherished and preserved. The Recording Academy celebrates albums as essential, beloved formats of artistic expression, especially in the coveted Album Of The Year Category.
From gutsy pop to psychedelic soul, the eight nominees for Album Of The Year at the 2024 GRAMMYs — which are notably dominated by women, people of color, and the queer community — are a reflection of the joyous diversity within the music community.
Below, take a deeper dive into who's in the running for Album Of The Year on Music's Biggest Night.
Jon Batiste — World Music Radio
On the opening track of World Music Radio, Jon Batiste importantly reminds listeners that music is not just a passive recreation, but an experience. Or, at least the interstellar radio host Billy Bob does.
Narrated by Billy Bob, Batiste's 21-song concept album is made to sound like it's an actual radio station; amid intermittent static and between-song messaging, the station welcomes a slew of high-profile musical guests, ranging from Lana Del Rey to NewJeans to Lil Wayne. Including everything from smooth DJ interludes to crystal-clear saxophone solos to sparkling piano riffs, World Music Radio has something for everyone within its one-hour runtime.
With five GRAMMYs under his belt — including one for Album Of The Year — Batiste understands the significance of pushing boundaries in music. Consequently, World Music Radio questions genre as much as it questions how we can make the world a more inclusive place.
According to an Instagram post, Batiste's album aims to "'re-examine and redefine terms like world music as they exist in the culture."' The "'re"' prefix is what music is all about: reliving memories, reinventing what's been done before, and redefining things we previously thought we understood. Riding the airwaves all the way to an Album Of The Year nomination, Batiste's latest visionary work reminds us to reconsider what we think we know — and then, dial in.
boygenius — the record
On the vinyl version of the record, a locked groove leaves listeners perpetually listening to a single word: "'waiting."' The lyric goes eternally unfinished.
But good things come to those who wait, and for boygenius, a year like 2023 has never made this more discernible. Less than a year after the group debuted at Coachella and embarked on not one but two tours, they're now in the running for the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year.
Skyrocketing to headliner fame this year, the indie rock supergroup composed of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus released their debut album back in spring. Preceded only by a singular, successful EP from five years prior, the record proves itself to be very much worth the wait: chock-full of dreams of arson, $20 bills, and calls to kill the bourgeois, it froths with charisma and jocular amity.
This marks boygenius' first collective GRAMMY nomination, as well as the first nominations for Baker and Dacus. Bridgers' Punisher made her a 4-time GRAMMY nominee at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards. But it's not the group's only nod at the 2024 show — boygenius earned six nominations in total, including Record Of The Year.
What makes the record so momentous is its testament to the trio's vibrant, long-standing friendship — specifically, a companionship rooted in queerness, as well as in opposition to the idea that women in the industry should be pitted against each other. the record intensely and unmistakably feels the gravity of their organic bond, and in this way, it stands for so much more than 12 songs.
Miley Cyrus — Endless Summer Vacation
It's time to give Miley Cyrus her flowers. The GRAMMY-nominated artist already struck gold earlier this year, with her liberating lead single "'Flowers"' breaking records left and right. The track blossoms with the sweet nectar of independence, and this embrace of freedom is the heart of Endless Summer Vacation.
Her album's title denotes a perpetual stretch into eternity, but if there's one thing Cyrus is known for, it's change. Whether it's radically altering her style or switching up her aesthetic, the longtime pop queen knows that creative adaptability is one of her many strengths.
Endless Summer Vacation spotlights this versatility, from Cyrus warmly soaking up "'Violet Chemistry"' to reflecting on when she "'Used To Be Young."' Her signature gravelly drawl suits the album's disco-infused, beachy production — a major shift from the unyielding, punk rock of predecessor Plastic Hearts (2020), or the power pop-trap spotlighted on her 2019 EP, SHE IS COMING.
Notably, this marks Cyrus' first Album Of The Year nomination for her own work (she received a nod for her feature on Lil Nas X's 2021 LP Montero). The honor praises not just Endless Summer Vacation as a salient career highlight, but also applauds the singer's resilience after years of musical shapeshifting — Cyrus was due for a well-deserved vacation.
Lana Del Rey — Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
On her ninth studio album, Lana Del Rey honors kintsugi, or the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery pieces with gold. Now, with an Album Of The Year nomination, she could be taking home GRAMMY gold.
Del Rey's last nomination in this Big Four category was for Norman Fucking Rockwell! at the 2020 GRAMMYs. While NFR! freewheeled along the West Coast, paving a soft rock landscape inspired by '70s Americana, Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd leans away from Del Rey's habitual worldbuilding. Instead, the singer let spirituality guide her music-making process, dabbling in everything from gospel to trap.
Even though Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is Del Rey's most natural album yet, the work still feels otherworldly. Throwing caution to the wind, she delves into the multifaceted nature of her identity, candidly examining personal matters relating to religion, mortality and family.
In the same way a pottery artist might delicately approach kintsugi, Del Rey approaches making music with a keen eye and open heart. She searches for ways to sculpt beauty from flaws and fractures — after all, that's how the light gets in.
Janelle Monáe — The Age Of Pleasure
The rush of a crush, the sigh from a single touch — euphoria comes in many beautiful forms, and on her latest album, Janelle Monáe wants you to experience all of them.
The Age Of Pleasure ushers in Monáe's vision of rapture, dreamily blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. The 10-time GRAMMY-nominated artist has long defied labels, whether it be regarding genre or their personal identity, and their latest album celebrates love in all its color and fluidity.
It's all smooth sailing in The Age Of Pleasure. Soulfully, the multihyphenate singer swims through romantic R&B, plunges into funky rap, and bathes in soft pop radiance — but above all, Monáe floats. She's untroubled and unbothered, and that's more than enough to warrant raising a glass.
Monáe's nomination for Album Of The Year acknowledges not just the thrill of living a life carefree, but also celebrates the divinity of all-encompassing love. The album is more than hips and lips galore: beyond giving into passion, it's about cherishing community and, most importantly, choosing joy for yourself.
Olivia Rodrigo — GUTS
Though she's the youngest nominee on the list, Olivia Rodrigo knows she has nothing to prove.
Already a 3-time GRAMMY winner before her 20th birthday, the "'drivers license"' singer/songwriter unsurprisingly resisted the sophomore slump. On her plucky second album GUTS, she leans a little more into punkish pent-up rage than the crying-on-the-bathroom-floor heartache of her 2021 debut, SOUR — and impressively, her determination earned her a second consecutive GRAMMY nomination for Album Of The Year.
Whether her self-reflection appears in the form of piano-led balladry or pop-rock headbangers, Rodrigo tackles wilted relationships, growing pains and everything in between with her characteristically refreshing charm. From the gritty, Joan Didion-inspired "'all american b—"' to the leave-him-to-rot breakup anthem "'vampire,"' GUTS knows how to make a statement without forgetting to have a bit of fun.
Rodrigo, who won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist at the 2022 ceremony, understands the resonant power of her pen, and the singer's swift ascent to fame mirrors her swelling talent. It's already been almost two years since the smash success of "'drivers license,"' but Rodrigo isn't taking her foot off the gas.
Taylor Swift — Midnights
Best believe Taylor Swift is still bejeweled.
Of the megastar's extensive discography, Midnights might just be its crowning jewel thus far. Swift's tenth studio album dives deeper into pop experimentalism, steering away from the indie folk journeys that folklore and evermore so calmly encompassed; Midnights silhouettes the life of a beloved, high-profile "'Anti-Hero"' and assertively offers some of Swift's most ambitious work yet.
It's this fearless ambition that makes Swift no stranger to the GRAMMYs. On top of nearly 50 nominations total, the 12-time GRAMMY winner is the first and only woman solo artist to win Album Of The Year three times for her solo recordings. As Swifties know, she loves to break her own records — and if Midnights takes home GRAMMY gold, Swift would become the artist with the most Album Of The Year wins of all time.
This Midnights nomination marks a climax for Swift's career, and even though the singer has collected countless milestones, this year might be her most colossal yet. As she continues to bring all of her musical eras to life, Swift isn't just reliving her musical past — she's writing her future.
SZA — SOS
SZA knows how to build anticipation. Keeping her fans in suspense for five years, the prolific GRAMMY winner released her 2022 sophomore album SOS to wide critical acclaim — and while its title suggests a sense of helplessness, SOS puts forth plenty of strength.
SZA understands the vast power of vulnerability, and she wields this power expertly, whether it be forcefully or delicately. During the album's wade through loneliness and insecurity, the singer occasionally employs features from friends like Don Toliver, Phoebe Bridgers, and Travis Scott, but above all, SZA's self-discovery remains in the spotlight.
The R&B star scored her first GRAMMY just two years ago, sharing the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with Doja Cat for their lovable collaboration "'Kiss Me More"' at the 2022 GRAMMYs. While the pop-rap collaboration bubbles with lost-in-the-moment delight, SOS looks at life with a wider lens; in her single "'Shirt,"' SZA admits that she's "'in the dark right now/ feeling lost but I like it,"' and it's these glimmers of self-assurance that show her a light at the end of the tunnel.
This Album Of The Year nomination nods to the singer's personal growth since her 2017 debut Ctrl. Although SZA sings about a fear of letting other people define her, SOS rejects other people's terms and soars as a bold reclamation: by defying others, she rediscovers herself.
The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, returns to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, and will broadcast live on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on-demand on Paramount+ at 8-11:30 p.m. ET/5-8:30 p.m. PT.
The Recording Academy and GRAMMY.com do not endorse any particular artist, submission or nominee over another. The results of the GRAMMY Awards, including winners and nominees, are solely dependent on the Recording Academy's Voting Membership.
Photo: Tung Walsh
Inside Christian Karlsson's Musical Genius: How Punk Rock, Britney Spears & Doing "Crazy S—" Built The Swedish Producer's Legacy
As he prepares Galantis' latest release, "Dreamteam," superproducer Christian Karlsson details the most monumental parts of his career thus far — from penning major pop hits to headlining EDM's biggest stages.
Christian Karlsson, the Swedish DJ and songwriter who spent the last 30-odd years becoming one of the most influential and untamed voices in modern music.
Since his early days as a skateboarder-turned-rapper and punk rocker-turned-beatmaker, Karlsson has quietly stacked up top-tier credits and international awards, launching project after successful project. Yet, he's never explicitly made himself the center of attention.
You may have heard of him as Bloodshy, one-half of the storied pop production duo Bloodshy & Avant, under which moniker he's worked with major artists from Christina Milian to Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and more. Or perhaps you recognize him from the eclectic dance act Galantis. But you've never quite heard his full professional story — until now.
On Galantis' latest string of singles — the newest of which, “Dreamteam” featuring Neon Trees, will arrive on Oct. 27 — Karlsson opens up about his personal struggles with ADHD and gets back in touch with his rebellious music roots. After jumping from project to project, he's ready to connect the dots of his musical past into one sonic story.
Below, Karlsson details the biggest milestones of his remarkable journey so far, from starting in punk rock to the latest chapter of Galantis.
Finding His Voice
It was punk rock and skateboarding that got me into music; the subculture of being political and against everything.
That expression is the most important part for me, and it will always be. I have a professional side, of course, but the seed that started it all was being in the punk rock and skateboard scene, and that will never go away. Every time I need inspiration, I take inspiration from subculture, hip-hop or anything inspiring to me. I think I'm too old today to understand what's going on with new subcultures, but I really hope that it's growing and that it's always there for young people. I think that's very important.
I started writing songs with a really bad acoustic guitar, learning three chords to write punk rock. My biggest wish in life was to get an electric, and once I did, I started a punk rock band when I was 14.
I loved melodies from the start. I did like a lot of other punk rock too, but I was drawn to really cool, melodic punk rock. That's where it started. It's a good genre to start with, because it's easy.
Beat-Making A Name For Himself
[I became interested in making beats] when hip-hop came into skateboarding through House of Pain and Cypress Hill. I collected vinyl. I had Public Enemy and EPMD. I was already a fan of hip-hop, but when punk rock and hip-hop met, that was really interesting to me.
All of a sudden, I really want a drum machine. That was my first step into production, learning an MPC 60 and starting to program. I was one of the first signed rappers in Sweden when I was 15. I did two albums and opened up for the Fugees in all of Europe. Jay-Z asked me to do a remix for "Hard Knock Life."
In that way, I started as an artist. Producing for others was never anything that I planned. It wasn't that I wanted to be on stage. I just wanted to create music, and I didn't realize there were other people behind artists producing the songs. It's not like the punk rock bands I was listening to had a producer. That [understanding] came from hip-hop.
When I was 22, Quincy Jones invited me over to the U.S. the first time. I hardly spoke English. I worked with him on a lot of projects, actually. That's when I introduced that I actually know melodies, that I'm not only a beatmaker. I had a lot of great ideas for melody, and the melodies started to become a very important tool for me, as well as making something really fresh and somewhat left-field.
Finding The Formula
Bloodshy was my rap name. I had a group called Gold Mine where I was a producer, rapper and founder. Pontus [Winnberg] was the keyboard player in the live band. That's when we got to know each other, and then we split paths. I moved to Stockholm, and he was in Gothenburg.
Later on, when I made that remix for Jay-Z and a bunch of other things, I invited Pontus to come and try making music with me. I was like "I went away a little bit from the hip-hop stuff. I'm trying to make beats for other people." Christina Milian was one of the first ones that was big for me, and Pontus came when I was doing that. That's the first time we worked together on something.
Milian wasn't really signed or anything. It was more of an artist development thing Def Jam was doing. Instantly, I wanted to work with her. I believed in her, and we did a lot of songs together. That was the first really big project I took on as a serious production role.
Breaking The Charts…
After Christina Milian, I was working with a lot of artists and just writing so many ideas every day. I now understand that I was never the perfect producer because I never hit the mark of anything an artist was aiming for. I always hit a completely different place. I just need to go where I want to go, and if someone wants to tag along, that's amazing, but I'm not really the producer to say, "Can you do something like this?" I'm like, "No, I'm gonna do something else."
I actually wrote "Toxic" for Kylie Minogue. I think the A&R was on vacation or something, because they never got back to me. Then, I was working with another artist, Samantha Mumba, in L.A. The A&R for Britney was working across the hall and really wanted to meet me. I played him "Toxic." I didn't even play the whole thing. He came back like, "I want you to work with Britney, and I really liked the song you played," and it turned around really quickly.
I had a very tough choice to make, because Janet Jackson flew me over to London, and she wanted to work with me at the time, too. I had to choose. That was a very tough decision for me, because I was a huge fan of Janet. But I felt like, with Britney, I had someone that could follow where I wanted to go and do some crazy stuff. Maybe I'm completely wrong, but Janet was really strong. She knew what she wanted to do and was telling you. I was super into it, but I felt like, if I'm going to do my crazy s—, maybe Britney's project was better fit for me.
From then on, me and Pontus were with Britney all the time, from being with her on the tour bus to different studios in different cities. She trusted us, which was great. We felt like we had freedom, and we had a great relationship with whoever she was working with at the time. I really liked working on [Spears' 2007 album] Blackout. We wrote so many great songs, and we really took the freedom and just went with it.
…And Breaking The Mold
Miike Snow started as me and Pontus being really fed up with Top 40 music. Everyone was just asking us to make another "Toxic" or whatever it was, and we decided not to work on other artists anymore. We didn't answer any emails or calls or anything like, Let's just do our own thing.
We met Andrew Wyatt in a studio in New York. We really clicked with him and instantly started working on music together. Our plan was to release it on MySpace, and that was it, just follow the freedom. "Hey, if the song is eight minutes, it's f—ing eight minutes!"
I'm really proud of the decision, and Miike Snow just grew. Probably the first 100 shows were tiny venues, like 100 people, and we're the opening act, traveling in a van, carrying all the gear and building our stage stuff. People are like, "You're a big producer, why are you doing this?" I was like, "I f—ing love doing this!"
Miike Snow organically grew and started getting a lot of love and support from other musicians and creators. That was what we wanted. It was actually exactly the right love because someone was giving us love for the crazy s— that we liked to make. Then we started to play bigger festivals and tour like crazy.
Me and Pontus had been looking at the dance scene for a long time. You can hear that in our productions. There's a lot of electronic music and dance music in it, and we had it in Miike Snow. Then we started to DJ the parties after Miike Snow shows.
I started to love DJing, and we got really tight with Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello — before they were Swedish House Mafia. They were huge fans of Miike Snow and the song "Sylvia," and we took a peek into their world. I was with them in Ibiza like, Oh my god, this is crazy. That sparked something in me that kept on going until, eventually, the Miike Snow DJ sets I was playing became so disconnected from Miike Snow that I had to start a new thing. Indie dance could only take me that far into the night, right? I needed to be a little bit more clubby. And I just needed a vehicle for that.
Nurturing New Talent
I [met Sky Ferreira] when she was 13. She DMed me on MySpace, and I was blown away. This was the cockiest 13-year-old girl I'd ever spoken to. She keeps on saying she's the best at everything. I showed Pontus like, "There's something about this girl. She's so confident, and everything she's saying, I'm buying."
She was cool in the club space. Sky is gonna hate me saying this, but I was like Maybe she's a new Uffie. Uffie was, like, blowing up at the time, and I worked with Uffie later in my career because I was a huge fan. Anyway, I'm like "maybe she's like Uffie" because she was in the headspace of dance music and indie, that Ed Banger [Records] world that Uffie was in. Then Sky sent me [a clip of] her singing. I'm like, "You gotta be kidding."
I dove right in and started to create a sound working with her, inviting people that I thought would be good for the project.
I took a break from touring with Miike Snow after 600 shows or something. I felt like I was a little bit cornered, like how I felt when I started Miike Snow to get away from Top 40. I felt pinned down in this touring thing, and I needed quicker output.
Linus [Eklöw] was a good friend of mine, who remixed "Animal" by Miike Snow and my first Sky Ferreira song, "One." We started to talk, and I said "I'm going to start my own thing. We should work together," and that's how Galantis started.
I knew I had something when DJs started coming out with pop songs. It wasn't just techno DJs like Richie Hawtin anymore. That's when I felt like, This is what I do. I write songs and DJ. These guys were great, but I've been doing this way longer, so if you want a songwriter that can DJ, I'm like, "Alright, let me show you how." I just wanted to throw all my s— out the door as quickly as possible, because I knew if the world was ready, then this would be amazing.
Galantis was so important to me. I struggle with ADHD, and that's why I call the first album Pharmacy because I needed to go back into the studio and make so much music. I just wanted to feel good again about creating, because I wasn't creating as much on tour. This is my medication, and then I also wanted something that was an "upper," something that was happy and leaned the way I wanted to feel.
I said to myself and Linus, "I only want happy, cool-feeling dance music, but I don't want to be cheesy." There is a line. When you think about Motown, it's all cool, but it's also happy vibes. Why can't we try to get that into dance music? Cool, but happy, warm and inspiring without being cheesy. That's what I was going for, anyway.
I think "Peanut Butter Jelly" is the most like that. Now, people are gonna read this and be like, "Well, that's cheesy," and I'm gonna say, "No, it's not!"
I'm chasing freedom all the time in my music. Miike Snow is so much freedom, but I'm writing the songs with Pontus and Andrew, so it's not the complete freedom I get in Galantis. Now, I can pick any vocal and work with anyone, and dance music was the way I wanted to express myself because I was so into DJing.
I wrote [Galantis'] "Bang Bang" because I've never told anyone really about my ADHD, and I just wanted it out there. Recently, I've come into different communities, and hearing about ADHD from other people has helped me a lot. That's what I want to do with the song, give something back and tell my story.
"Koala" definitely hits very close to home in terms of just doing my own thing wherever it goes and not being scared of going there. This is something that doesn't sound like anything else I know. It's a weird one, but I love it.
I wrote it with a very good friend of mine, Andrew Bullimore aka Beatbullyz's, who I wrote "No Money" with. His son is singing "No Money." He was 10 at the time. And I was back with Bully and writing, and he had an idea where his now two sons could sing a song to his newborn daughter. The mom is from Australia, and his sons call her Koala. So Bully's two sons are singing to their little sister about Koala.
He sent me a little snippet singing it with his boys. I had, like, five studio sessions going, and I threw everything away, just skipped everything and worked on this. That's how much I felt like, I just want to go where this is taking me. That's what inspires me every day, coming back to freedom. I just did it because I felt like I wanted to do that, and now I'm really happy that we're putting it out.
The third recent single is "Dream Team." That's a very collaborative record with some people that I'm working with more and more. The idea was sent to me, and I was drawn to that little bit of something punk rock. I heard so many different pieces of music in one song that I felt very inspired to work on it.
If "Koala" was like, Zoom, here it is; this is the other type — when you're drawn to it, you like it, and then you have to keep on working on it. At times, I wanted to give up so badly, but there's something in me that won't ever give up on that challenge; some type of pressure I put on myself. This is a collaborative record with other people, and we're sending it back and forth. Snippets were changing, but it was a cool journey, and sometimes that's what it takes to make a record. I'm not scared to put it down and take it back up again. I'll never give up.
It's like "Peanut Butter Jelly." I wrote that thing 10 years before it came out. I pitched that to so many artists, and no one liked it. Everyone hated it, and every time someone disliked it, the more I used to be like, I'm gonna put it out one day, and I did — and it's a pretty big record for Galantis, actually.
It gets easier with experience, to have more output but less of a stressful life. You know how to do stuff. In the beginning, I was living in the studio basically, but today, I get more music out than ever, and I don't have to live in the studio anymore. I do create music 24/7 anyway. It's just in my head, you know?