Photo by Cara Robbins
Caroline Rose Talks New Album 'Superstar' & Our "Sadistic" Wish To See Celebrities Fall From Grace
The indie-pop performer talks to the Recording Academy about her sophomore album's dramatic vision, what she finds so fascinating about the failed celebrity experience and how she unintentionally relates to the character she imagined
Caroline Rose loves the color red. It’s been the primary color on all three of her album covers and she’s wearing some shade of it in practically every photo of herself on the internet. She clearly puts a lot of effort into maintaining such a coordinated aesthetic, so it’s reasonable for one to assume that red has some sort of significance to her either creatively or personally. One would be wrong.
"It's too late to change it now is the best answer I’ve got for you," she says with a laugh. Evidently, Rose just found herself owning a lot of red clothing and then doubled down when people began to notice. She admits that the truth behind it isn’t that interesting, so up until this big reveal, she’s had fun making up lies about what the color red "actually" meant to her.
"We did a Spanish interview and I bet the translators were like, 'I think we got this part wrong,'" she says. "Because I was like, 'I wear red in honor of my mother's period that she missed having me.' And they were probably just like, 'What?'"
The good-humored New York musician is often weird like that, and her unique flavor of indie-pop is similarly offbeat. After debuting in 2014 with a rootsy Americana sound, Rose made a near-unrecognizable pivot to fizzy pop with her 2018 record LONER. But when she presented the album to her then-label, they weren't just puzzled by the stark change in direction but by LONER’s unclassifiable sound.
"I think it was hard for my label to understand where to place me," Rose says. "I don't quite fit in with the singer-songwriters—who I really admire and whose music I really love. I don’t really fit into big pop, and I don’t really fit into indie rock."
Her label didn’t get it but Rose was ecstatic about the album so she took it elsewhere and ended up reformatting her entire team. All of that added another year to the process, so by the time it was finally released she had no idea if there was an actual audience for her breed of quirky pop that was spiritually informed by rock music.
"And when it came out it was like everybody got what I was trying to do and it was such a relief,” she says. "I didn’t have to explain it. I didn’t have to explain that some of the songs are meant to be over-the-top, they’re meant to be satirical."
It’s hard to overlook the obvious hilarity of the album’s brilliant cover art, which features a dead-eyed Rose decked out in workout gear with an entire pack of cigarettes stuffed into her mouth. And fortunately, other people got it, too, and Rose suddenly found herself in the throes of a completely unexpected career. While touring full-time for two years straight she landed on a handful of festival bills that featured pop star headliners. She watched these celebrity figures command a crowd of thousands who were screaming back their every word, and Rose began to daydream about what it would be like for her to be in that position.
That’s where the seeds of Superstar, her excellent follow-up to LONER (out on March 6 via New West Records), were sewn. However, rather than write a record about a fictional person trekking off to Hollywood and actually succeeding, Rose wrote a cinematic storyline about someone with grandiose ambitions failing miserably. She stresses that the character isn't based on her own experiences, but that she does share some of their attributes. Most of her inspiration came from actual celebrities, particularly one of our culture’s favorite genres: the celebrity breakdown.
"I feel like it’s the highest form of entertainment to kind of watch someone fall from the sky. This Icarus mentality of 'we all want to support you flying but we’re all gonna watch and not catch you when you fall.' I think it’s just an interesting trait in humans because we all do it."
Rose spoke to the Recording Academy about her dramatic vision for the record, what she finds so fascinating about the failed celebrity experience and how she finds herself unintentionally relating to the character she imagined. Our conversation has been condensed for clarity.
Tell me why you wanted to take the Superstar narrative in the direction that you did.
It’s not that interesting [when] a person just moves to Hollywood and becomes a big star. It’s almost a ridiculous notion, right? I feel like every other person wants to move to L.A. or N.Y. to make it, that’s why we all move to these cities. And try and make a name for ourselves. But it so rarely happens and that interests me way more, when it doesn’t happen.
But you still have to maintain this confidence, right? Like, you have to be confident or else you’ll never get the gig. And so I was kind of fascinated by this idea and I looked at myself and I was like what are my qualities that are really not very great that I could add to this character to make them a little more relatable? I wanted to create this narrative, this storyline you could follow where each song is almost an audio-visual representation of this person and where they’re at in their life. And I kind of imagined this genderless character so people could imagine whoever they want.
It feels to me like a really human idea of what a celebrity is. Not this untouchable, impenetrable figure but someone with the same flaws as anyone else and the face they put on.
Oh yeah, that’s fully what interests me. I talk about Kanye [West] because he’s such a good example of someone who has the most confidence but does not have his sh*t together. He has mental breakdowns consistently and it’s so interesting. It’s both interesting in the way he is, but also in the way we react to people like that. Like, we let it happen. Not only do we let it happen, I think we really sadistically like it. We want to see people explode into superstardom and then watch them fall from grace.
And then I think we develop this coarseness where we’re like, "Well you’re a celebrity, you're impenetrable. You’ll figure it out, you’ll get your sh*t together." But if you look at the course of history, it doesn’t really bode well for a lot of superstars. Look at Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, all these icons. And I think that’s what I wanted to get at: how does this happen?
Do you think you yourself having an audience—not a celebrity audience, but an invested fanbase—contributed to you thinking about superstars in this way? Because you had a little bit of a taste of it yourself?
I don’t think that it had anything to do with the success of LONER, because we had some modest success with it but it doesn’t reach that kind of level that really hits the nerve of this storyline. But I can say that I was curious about whether I could do it or not, whether I could make something on my own. Because I’ve worked with co-producers and I’ve always ended projects being like, “Why didn’t I do that myself?" And it’s not a knock on the people I’ve worked with at all, it’s more of an "I think I can do this" mentality. And this was the first time where I was like, "Why don’t I just do it myself?"
I was really fascinated with this idea that my dad always told me about. Both of my parents are artists and my dad would teach this class where he’d give his students five objects. It’d be like some duct tape, some toothpicks, some string and they’d have to make a sculpture. And I love that idea where you have just a pallette and you have you make something. It kind of unlocks a lot of creativity for me when I have a set of rules. So that was the approach, to see if I can make something sound big and interesting.
Would you say that that’s an analog to the idea of someone going to Hollywood and using Hollywood as their palette and it’s up to them to make something of themselves there?
Oh totally, I think all of this is happening in real-time. How the album is doing and the way that I see myself, I think I’ll just always feel like an underdog. I think even if I was sitting in some penthouse I’d be like, "There’s been a mistake here, mercury is in retrograde I’m not supposed to be here. I don’t belong." I don’t think the character is me but I can relate to the character so much because I put so much of myself into it.
It’s funny to me because the character is all about false bravado and trying to keep their sh*t together, thinking that they’ve got it all together. That is happening in real-time for me. It’s so funny, good things will happen and I’ll enjoy it and then the next moment I’ll just be reflecting on all the things I wished I had done differently. And it sucks the joy out of everything and it’s something that I’m desperately trying to work on.
I like how the third song is just this over-the-top infatuation song where the character is just begging to have their feelings affirmed. And then the next track is this minute-long interlude with one line: "Feelings Are A Thing of the Past." I feel like that’s the equivalent of a hard transition in a film, where you don’t actually see what happens but it’s implied by what you see in the next scene. Was that kind of what you were going for there?
Exactly. I wanted to get across that this person is really trying to button up their feelings and just not feel vulnerable. I kind of imagined the first half of the album being the more upbeat side where this person thinks that they’re the best, they kind of have this glossy veneer. And then I wanted to put one little piece in there that reassures people that—I wanted to peel back the veneer a bit so that you can see that this person really isn’t what they’re trying to be. The glossy sheen is peeling.
But I think everybody has been in a place at some point or another where you just don’t want to feel anything. You want to go out and have a one-night stand and not have feelings and no fall in love with someone and just be cool. Or go into a room of execs and just be cool or meet your superhero and not ask for an autograph. I think there’s so many instances you can think of where you just wish you could turn off your emotions, your excitement.
GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw
On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.
In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.
Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year
Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration
Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the
The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at
"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community."
Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list.
At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in
After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.
In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.
Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized.
For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: The Recording Academy
Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.
By Alexa Zaske
This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.
The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.
Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."
Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.
Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed.
Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.
My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.
For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.
(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)
Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam
Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs
Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards
As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.
Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.
"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."