meta-scriptChappell Roan's Big Year: The 'Midwest Princess' Examines How She Became A Pop "Feminomenon" | GRAMMY.com
Chappell Roan at Coachella 2024 Weekend 1
Chappell Roan performs during Weekend 1 of Coachella 2024.

Photo: Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

interview

Chappell Roan's Big Year: The 'Midwest Princess' Examines How She Became A Pop "Feminomenon"

Just after Chappell Roan made her festival debut at Coachella, hear from the pop starlet about some of the defining moments of her career thus far — and how it all helped earn her a spot at one of music's biggest fests.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 07:49 pm

Before this year, Chappell Roan had never even been to Coachella. Now, not only can she say she's attended — she's performed in the desert, too. 

Roan played an evening set on the Gobi Stage on April 12, and is set to return for Weekend 2. Fans clad in everything from cowboy boots, Sandy Liang-inspired bows and, perhaps most importantly, jorts, gathered to celebrate their shared love of Roan's radiance, karmic kink and gay cowgirl doctrine.  

Throughout her performance, bubbles breezed through the air as Roan belted out her infectious (and aptly titled) track "Femininomenon," which speaks to lover girls forced to live in an online-dating hellscape. "Ladies, you know what I mean?/ And you know what you need and so does he/ But does it happen? No!" Following collective screams of pure joy, the already enlivened crowd roused to match Roan beat-for-beat, shouting back in perfect unison, "Well, what we really need is a femininomenon!" 

In an era of bedroom pop and sad-girl music, Roan has been hailed by both critics and fans for bringing fun back to pop music. Along with her staunch sense of self, Roan's penchant for explicit lyrics that are equally parts introspective and horny makes her dance-pop anthems all the more infectious. 

Roan's ambitiously experimental debut album, 2023's The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, cemented her status as one of the most exciting pop stars on the rise. While she only recently landed her first single on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Good Luck, Babe!," her rapidly growing fan base — and an opening slot on Olivia Rodrigo's sold-out GUTS World Tour — indicate that she's on her way to superstardom.

Perhaps part of Roan's magic is that it was all on her own terms. After parting ways with her first label, Atlantic Records, she built a loyal following as an independent artist before signing with Island Records last year. Even as a major label artist, she's determined to only do things her way; her indefatigable commitment to her craft — as well as writing her own rules when it comes to fashion and makeup — is precisely why her fans are so enraptured by both her music and persona. 

Her fearlessness was on full display during her first Coachella set, where the words emblazoned on her bodysuit read "Eat Me." She talks the talk, and walks the walk (in fabulous, knee-high boots, of course), matching her unabashed aesthetic with equally bold career moves; for one, the openers for her headlining tour are local drag queens.

With eyeliner winged to the heavens, near-perfect vocal stability and fiery curls ablaze, Roan's shimmering Coachella Weekend 1 performance proved that her stage presence is equally dynamic. And if she had any doubters, she had one thing to say to them: "B—, I know you're watching!" 

In between rehearsals for her Coachella debut, Roan took a look back on her journey to one of music's most coveted stages. Below, hear from Roan about five of the most impactful milestones in her career — so far. 

Releasing Her Debut Album, The Rise And Fall Of A Midwest Princess

I ended up signing [with Island Records in 2023] because this project honestly got too big to be independent anymore. I just wasn't willing to give up anything, any creative control or for any amount of money. 

Being an independent artist was really special because I proved to myself that I could do all these hard things that I had never done. I built it with an entire friend group and many, many years of work. So it wasn't just me, but it proved a lot to me.

It proved I can make it through hard circumstances — with no money. You truly can. You do not need a label to do a lot of what an artist's career requires. You don't need a label to put on your own show, or make a music video, or even write a song, or find creative people. You don't need that s—t. I mean, a label is just money, you know? You don't need a lot of money to do this. To make it grow is, I think, where it takes a lot of money. That's what was difficult.

Music allows me to express anything, even things that I've never experienced before. It allows me to express queerness, even if it was only daydreams at that point. It allows me to express parts of me that I'm not even ready to accept yet.

I don't give a f— if you don't  f— with the music. You don't have to come to the concert. That's the whole point of it. You don't have to like it. I think throughout the year, I'm like, "What can I get away with?" Because right now it's pretty tame for what it is like to be a gay artist. But I just want to push it to see how far can I go — with the most controversial outfits or things to rile people up. I'm not really afraid to do that.

Having a song [like "Casual] with the lyric, "Knee deep in the passenger seat/ And you're eating me out," and it's being considered to go to radio. That's kind of a big thing to get away with. 

It's not even that big of a thing. What's that song? Is it Flo Rida? That's like, "Can you blow my whistle, baby/ whistle baby." Okay, that's obviously about like a f—ing blowjob. [Laughs.] No one cares about that. To me, I'm like, Let's talk about eating out on the radio. I actually think it has to be bleeped, but still, if I can get away with it, that's cool.

Feeling Financial Freedom & Stability

Not making money at all just sucked. But I learned how to do my own makeup and bedazzle and sew a little bit. I think that the scrappiness came from [the idea that] it's scrappy if it's fun. 

I think that's what kept me going — because if this wasn't fun, I would not even be here. But it was scrappy and fun, and it was with my friends. It didn't feel dire. I was also just working at a coffee shop, and I was a nanny, and I was working at a donut shop. I was doing part time jobs all on the side too. So it was all just rough [in the beginning].

I have freedom because now [singing] is my full-time job. It provides for me now. As the project grows, I can do bigger shows and be like, I want outfit changes now, and I want more lights, and I want confetti. I can afford confetti now! 

It's about expanding the universe in a thoughtful way. And not just like throwing a s— ton of money at things to make things look expensive or wear all this designer s— for no reason. 

I just try to look at how we are starting to gain momentum financially and see how can I intentionally use that to, one, pay the team in a way where they're not bare bones anymore, and two, [ask ourselves] how can we honor this project and this album and the queer community? Can we pay drag queens more? Can we bring drag on the road? Now, financially, doors have opened where we can walk through them with love and intention. Just recklessly, throwing money at s— to see if it works. 

Opening Olivia Rodrigo's Arena Tour

Olivia [Rodrigo] just asked. It was official, we went through our management. But I was like, Oh my God

Preparing a 40-minute set is a different vibe than headlining, obviously. You are going out to an audience that is not there for you and doesn't necessarily care if you're there or not.

This is, like, my fourth or fifth artist I've opened for. But for an arena tour, I just needed to gather my nerves. I think that's the difference between any other show. Like, F—, there's 20,000 people out there right now. I've never performed in front of that many people. I don't know what this emotion is, and I just have to tame it right now.

Standing Up For Herself Creatively, Even When There's Pushback

I stand up for myself, I would say, every day. Sometimes, you get this opportunity, a huge opportunity with a lot of money on the table. [Yet,] I'm just like, That just doesn't make sense creatively. That doesn't align with my values. I'm not doing that. 

One huge creative decision was I stood up and pushed the entire headlining Midwest Princess tour back to the fall. The album was supposed to come out while we were on tour. I was like, "This is a horrible idea!" 

That caused a big ruckus, but it ended up being fine, and I was right. I'm usually right. [Laughs.] It's like a mother with her kid — a mother knows best. I feel like [that] when it comes to the integrity of my project.

I know how it is to not be able to afford a ticket or even f—ing food. A concert ticket, a lot of times, means multiple meals for someone. I get it, I couldn't afford some artists' tickets. That's why it's really important to me to try to keep them as low as I can and my merch as low as I can. 

There's pushback of ticket prices being low and we're playing rooms that are so expensive. The fee to even play them is so expensive. So, you have to raise the ticket prices to just even be able to afford to play the room. There's always an argument [with my team] there, every tour. I'm in control of stuff and if I'm saying this is how it's going to be —- it's just going to be that way.

Performing At Coachella For The First Time 

[After the first weekend of Coachella] I am feeling very relieved. I was so stressed about many things. How is the outfit going to work? Will the crowd really be engaged? It went so well, I have no qualms with anything. I loved every second of it.

It feels like I am partying with [my fans]. I am not performing to them; I’m performing with them. [I want people to remember] a really fun, freeing show. Very campy but very meaningful too. 

4 Ways Olivia Rodrigo's GUTS World Tour Shows A New Side Of The Pop Princess

Amaarae performing in London in 2024
Amaarae performs in London in March 2024.

Photo: Burak Cingi/Redferns

list

10 Can't-Miss Acts At Primavera Sound Barcelona 2024: Amaarae, Ethel Cain, Troye Sivan & More

Barcelona's Primavera Sound shines as a star-studded spectacle every year, but the famed international festival's 2024 lineup is especially lively. Get to know 10 acts you won't want to miss at Parc del Fòrum from May 29 to June 2.

GRAMMYs/May 22, 2024 - 08:43 pm

Since 2001, Primavera Sound has served as Barcelona's kickoff to summer. And with a stacked lineup chock full of effervescent acts for its 2024 iteration, this year's fest will certainly get the feel-good, warm-weather vibes rolling.

Phoenix starts the party with pop rock and new wave on May 29, setting the stage for fellow headliners Pulp, Vampire Weekend, and Justice on May 30. Lana Del Rey, The National, and Disclosure will make everyone's Friday night on May 31. Then, SZA, PJ Harvey, Mitski, and Charli XCX will ring in June on Saturday, before house/electronic acts ANOTR, The Blessed Madonna, Chloé Caillet, and Mochakk close things out on June 2.

But the headliners are just the beginning of what makes this year's Primavera Sound Barcelona exciting. Peggy Gou, L'Imperatrice, or Omar Apollo will likely tease new tunes, as they all gear up for June album releases. And just a month ago, Faye Webster, The Last Dinner Party, and Eartheater all had their respective Coachella debuts, proving they're more than ready to tackle the Primavera stage.

In the festival's jam-packed five-day lineup, hundreds of acts are primed to kick-start summer with a bang. Below, GRAMMY.com highlights 10 sets you won't want to miss in Barcelona — from Deftones' alt-metal bash to Amaarae's soulful hip-hop.

yeule

Performing: May 30, Plenitude Stage

Singaporean musician yeule is pioneering the ambient and glitch pop genres one song at a time. Born Nat Ćmiel, their stage name is based on a video game character, Paddra Nsu-Yeul, which speaks to their artistic steps in and out of reality. yeule's musical (and fashion) aesthetic is defined by the cyberworld, marked by futuristic, alternative styles that bewitchingly break norms.

Though they started out as a bedroom producer, yeule's more recent creative endeavors — like their invigorating 2022 album, softscars — have been more collaborative, adding a new layer of inspiration and beauty to their work. With influences ranging from Avril Lavigne to Radiohead, yeule's Primavera set will be ideal for living out all of your emo nostalgic fantasies.

Deftones

Performing: May 30, Amazon Music Stage

Get ready to scream with Deftones at Primavera. Winning their first GRAMMY back in 2001, the alternative metal band is still rocking out 20-plus years later — and making waves in this festival lineup. While Primavera tends to be led by various electronic and pop acts, Deftones is uniquely ushering punk to the festival's frontlines.

Banding together in 1988 in Sacramento, Deftones is known for their progressive experimentation within metal and rock, often dipping into psychedelia, post-punk, trip hop. Headed by lead vocalist Chino Moreno, the band's hardcore sound is unabashedly raw, original and heavy, continuing to evolve expansively with the metal genre.

Paving the way for contemporary heavy metal over the years, Deftones is a defiant act you won't want to miss at a major stage at Primavera Sound.

Troye Sivan

Performing: May 31, Santander Stage

Ready to feel the rush? Troye Sivan certainly is.

The Australian pop star is making Primavera an early stop in his tour for Something To Give Each Other, his latest album featuring jubilant singles like "Rush" and "Got Me Started." Once his European tour wraps in Birmingham, England at the tail end of June, he'll be headlining the Sweat Tour with fellow headliner Charli XCX — who coincidentally will be performing at Primavera the next day on June 1.

From the electropop seedlings on his 2015 debut, Blue Neighborhood, to the full-fledged forlorn beauty of his 2020 EP, In A Dream, Sivan's artistry has evolved significantly in the last decade. Today, his music is its most freeing yet, and there's no doubt it'll be glorious (and sweaty) on the Primavera stage.

Obongjayar

Performing: May 31, Plentitude Stage

UK-based Nigerian artist Obongjayar's musical style is nearly indescribable. Interlacing Afrobeat, spoken word, and EDM, all of his songs are distinctly tinged with a signature, soulful vibrance, and it'll be sensational to see how Obongjayar takes his pensive profundity to fill the Primavera stage.

Though he might be best known for the Fred again.. collaboration "adore u" (which samples his track "I Wish It Was Me"), Obongjayar's special sound effortlessly meshes with everyone he works with. From "If You Say" with Sarz, to "Point and Kill" with Little Simz, to "Protein" with Jeshi, it would be fair to call Obongjayar a chameleon — except instead of blending in, he's standing out.

Ethel Cain

Performing: May 31, Santander Stage

There's no better word to describe Ethel Cain's music than transcendent.

A master of gothic indie rock, Cain stitches together uncanny Americana and lovelorn nostalgia into a radiant, sensory experience. Her debut album, 2022's Preacher's Daughter, is divine and sometimes disturbing, but its ambience live sends audiences into an impossibly satisfying trance.

Whether you're listening to the enchanting slow burn of "A House In Nebraska" or the eerie roar of "American Teenager," both Cain's storytelling and live performance are infallibly spine-chilling — do yourself a favor and don't miss Cain's hauntingly beautiful set at Primavera.

BADBADNOTGOOD

Performing: May 31, Cupra Stage

Looking for a band that combines jazz styles with hip-hop production? Look no further than BADBADNOTGOOD, an innovative Canadian instrumental band.

After meeting at a Toronto jazz program in 2010, the three-piece band bonded over their hip-hop music appreciation, and the rest is history. Since then, BADBADNOTGOOD (which now features Leland Whitty in place of original member Matthew Tavares) has released five studio albums — fittingly, including covers of hip-hop songs with jazz interpretations. The group has also worked with Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, The Creator, Thundercat, and many more notable artists.

The band's collaborative production and remixing has earned them two GRAMMY wins and five total nominations, and there's no question BADBADNOTGOOD's set will put a spell on Barcelona.

Arca

Performing: May 31, Amazon Music Stage

Electronica is Arca's playground, and the pioneering producer's set at Primavera is sure to craft a whole new world. Dynamism defines the Venezuelan musician's shape-shifting art; through its avant-garde fusion of reggaeton, ambient techno, and dark electronica, her music is bursting with vigor.

Arca's music often discusses themes of gender identity and sexuality, and her views of queerness center around harmony and inclusion, which reflect in her pristine tracks "Nonbinary" and "Machote" on her GRAMMY-nominated album KiCk i. Having released 10 albums since 2006; worked with artists like Rosalía, Björk, and the late SOPHIE; and even opened for Beyoncé's Renaissance World Tour, Arca brings immeasurable experience to Barcelona.

The producer's music naturally begs to be heard live — it's meant to sweat to and be danced to, and Arca's Primavera set will embody true electronic extravagance.

ATARASHII GAKKO!

Performing: June 1, Cupra Stage

This rising Japanese girl group's powerful sound easily warrants a stage name in all caps and with an exclamation point.

Fresh off their U.S. television debut on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," ATARASHII GAKKO! is ready to tackle the Primavera Sound stage with their engaging J-pop that integrates elements of hip-hop, rock, and jazz. Intrepid and commanding, their live performance features synchronized dancing, matching sailor school uniforms, and occasionally a marching band.

The quartet's upcoming world tour has a handful of sold-out dates. They've already conquered crowds at Coachella and Head in the Clouds — and there's no doubt that ATARASHII GAKKO! will bring their best to Barcelona.

Amaarae

Performing: June 1, Amazon Music Stage

Ama Serwah Genfi — better known as Amaarae — is an alté trailblazer. Raised between Atlanta and Accra, Ghana, the singer crafts mercurial music that is both introspective and stylish, and destined to be performed for vast audiences.

From her 2017 EP, Passionfruit Summers, to her 2023 album, Fountain Baby, it's easy to be mesmerized by her distinct, eccentric soprano and overflowing confidence. Her critically acclaimed "Sad Girlz Luv Money" (featuring Molly and Kali Uchis) charted globally in 2021, and just last year, she became the first Ghanaian American to perform an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Amaarae's live performances bring her blend of R&B, pop, and afrobeats to a new level, and she's ready to introduce her infectious global beats to Primavera.

Bikini Kill

Performing: June 1, Pull&Bear Stage

Famed pioneers of the riot grrrl movement in the '90s, Bikini Kill is bringing punk fun (and rage) to the Primavera stage.

Influencing alternative stars like Sleater-Kinney, Pussy Riot, and The Linda Lindas, it's no question that the iconic American band has inspired the next generation, whether that be through their music or activism. From "Rebel Girl" to "Feels Blind" to "I Like F—ing," Bikini Kill's beautifully irate music calls for female solidarity and empowerment still resonate with listeners today.

Though the band broke up in 1997, they reunited in 2019 and have since been touring together — and now, Primavera offers a special chance to see another inspiring moment from the revolutionary rockers.

​​Leap Into AAPI Month 2024 With A Playlist Featuring Laufey, Diljit Dosanjh, & Peggy Gou

Graham "Suggs" McPherson of Madness performs in 2023
Graham "Suggs" McPherson of Madness performs in 2023

Photo: Gus Stewart/Redferns

interview

Madness Frontman Suggs Talks New Album, First U.S. Tour & Getting Kicked Off "Top Of The Pops" — Four Times

Ahead of their appearance at Las Vegas' Punk Rock Bowling fest and first American shows in 10 years, Madness' lead singer Suggs details the band's hit-filled history, 2023 album and coming up Two Tone.

GRAMMYs/May 22, 2024 - 01:32 pm

American audiences may only know "Our House," but there’s much more to Madness than their lone Stateside mega-hit.

Prior to their 1982 smash, the English band enjoyed immense commercial success in their home country. Between 1979 and 1981, Madness sent nine consecutive singles into the Top 10 of the UK Official Singles Chart. 

"It was a few years of hard work and all of a sudden, we were the most successful band in England," says Madness frontman Suggs (born Graham McPherson), chatting from London. "That happened because people f—ikn’ dug the tunes we made."

Madness also helped bring ska to the masses. Alongside comrades like the Specials, the London septet were leaders of the late ‘70s British ska boom, which combined Jamaican rhythms with punk swagger, and united Black and white working-class kids. Among their hits from this era were "One Step Beyond" (1979),  "Baggy Trousers" (1980) and "House of Fun" (1982). 

With their street-savvy fashions and Monty Python-style music videos (which caught the eye of Honda and led to a series of advertisements in the early '80s), Madness have been  fixtures in UK culture and beyond for over 40 years. They endured so strongly that their 13th LP, 2023’s Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie, hit No. 1 on the UK Official Albums Chart — their first studio album to reach the summit.

Beginning May 22, Madness will tour the U.S. for the first time in 10 years, including a headline slot at Las Vegas’ Punk Rock Bowling festival, alongside Devo and Descendents.

On the phone, Suggs is chatty and jovial, quick to break into song or pull a good story from his band’s topsy-turvy history. Madness once turned down a chance to play Madison Square Garden as "Our House" surged in 1983. (They’d already performed on "SNL" and "Our House" was an MTV staple.) Madness could have been a much bigger band in America. But after years of non-stop touring and promotion in the UK, Madness was nearing its breaking point. "We had f—in’ 20 hits and we were all getting a bit tired," Suggs remembers. "I see the Pretenders, 18 months touring America! So, we never really continued." In 1986, Madness went their separate ways. 

A decade later, ska was enjoying a moment in the sun in America as groups like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt and Reel Big Fish dominated airwaves during the genre's "third wave." Over in the UK, a rejuvenated Madness was enjoying its elder statesman status, drawing massive festival crowds since reuniting in 1992. No Doubt frequently cited Madness as an inspiration and even tapped keyboardist Mike Barson to play on one of their songs. And the fire still burns. At Coachella 2024, No Doubt covered Madness’ rendition of "One Step Beyond," itself a cover of a ‘60s classic by Jamaican ska legend Prince Buster. 

Madness — whose current lineup also includes guitarist Chrissy Boy, saxophonist Lee Thompson, bassist Mark Bedford, and drummer Woody — has earned its place in rock history. Their classics still bring crowds to a frenzy and, as their latest album proves, fans are still enthralled by what Suggs and company have to say.

GRAMMY.com recently caught up with the Madness singer for a career-spanning swath of topics: crafting tunes in the modern day, some sage advice he got from Clash frontman Joe Strummer, why Madness kept getting banned from "Top of the Pops," and much more. 

Was there a moment you realized "Our House" was going to be a much bigger song than your previous hits?

When it was a hit in America, that was definitely an indication. And that’s the alchemy of music — you just don’t know when you’re doing it at the time. I remember we were rehearsing, when the song started… our bass player Mark [Bedford] goes [hums "Our House" intro], dum-dum, dum-dum-de-dum-dum… There wasn’t a chorus at the time, so our producer Clive [Langer], just sang, "Our house, in the middle of the street," just joking. 

But without that, it wouldn’t have been the hit that it is. [Songs] are like babies. You have them, you bring them up, and then they go out into the world, and you don’t know where they’re gonna go. It’s not up to you. It’s up to other people to decide if they like them or not. 

We’d been in America for a month and suddenly "Our House" was a massive hit. We’d been offered to play Madison Square Garden but we were just tired and wanted to go home. We all had kids. We didn’t do a few gigs [that] we were offered in America that might have changed the situation. 

We [weren't] arrogant — but we were a bit. And we were so popular in England. We were making a very good living; we didn’t really have to go anywhere anymore. We just decided that it was kind of too late to try and break — whatever that word means — America. It was a great hit, it was fantastic, but that was kind of it.

What do you remember from the first time Madness toured the States?

It was 1979 or so… It was a really big, eye-opening experience. There were seven [of us] in the band, so probably 10 of our friends [including crew]. We were like a party on the road, we didn’t really need anyone else’s company. Coming over the Brooklyn Bridge and seeing New York, you know what I mean? When you come from London — I mean, London isn’t small — but you don’t compare it to New York. 

And then L.A. and all the palm trees. I remember we played at Whisky a Go Go. We did two shows a night: one at 11 and one at 2 in the morning — my suit was still wet. 

It was kind of off because [L.A.] was still catching up with punk. You had the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, X. People were doing all this mad punk dancing and the worm or whatever, writhing about on the floor. We’d sort of done that in London; we’d had the Sex Pistols and the Clash. We were into something else, which was dancing, and playing music by Black origin. We weren’t just thrashing about and spitting at each other. But that kind of thing was still going on, which made it a bit difficult for us because a lot of the places we were playing were really punk. And we weren’t punk. We were over that.

By the time "Our House" came around in '82, I’d think America was starting to catch up.

By then you had Blondie, the CBGB scene, Talking Heads, and it started to make more sense to us. With post-punk, there were grooves suddenly. It was offbeat, but it wasn’t anger. 

When Madness first started playing, what were the crowds like?

It was just our friends. We started off in a pub in Camden Town, where we were living. We got a residency, every Wednesday night. First week, there’d be 10 people. Second week, 30, 40, 60, 80, 90, 100, and then two months later, we had a queue around the block. The music we were playing, which was ska, and the clothes we were wearing was kinda different than everybody else around. 

Then we got a gig supporting the Specials in a pub in West London. They sort of appeared out of nowhere — Coventry — which is quite a long way from London. And they were wearing the same clothes as us, playing the same kind of music. I remember [Specials singer] Neville [Staple] was shooting holes in the ceiling with a starting pistol and I just thought, Crikey, these are kooks. We might be onto something. I remember Johnny Rotten getting out of a cab and going, "Are you for real?" And these kids went, "Yeah, you f—ing arse." It was the transition of power. It wasn't that long: ‘77, punk. ‘78, us. And suddenly you got the Specials, the Beat, the Selecter. Two-tone became this massive phenomenon in London. So we went on tour with them: the Specials, Selecter, Beat. 

I remember being with Joe Strummer from the Clash and I was walking through a playground with him. I can’t remember where we were going, but all the kids were singing "Baggy Trousers" on the swings. And I’m going, "I want to be cool, I don’t want school kids." And he went, "No, you’ve got it wrong, mate. You want to have young kids, that’s the best thing that can happen. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the young people you want to connect with." 

When you’ve got pretty naive school kids singing your songs, you’ve definitely done something you should be proud of. 

What was Camden Town like when you were growing up there?

It was rough, man. You know, people now in London are getting more and more scared, lot of knives flyin’ and gangs, but it was the same. You lived in a certain area and you would be very wary of another area across the road because you could be stabbed, shot. The greatest thing was the music. 

Every pub had a stage and there’d be music on every night. In that period, punk was still there, then you got goth, you got psychobilly, rockabilly, then you got new romantic. Every pub you went to was something going on. Different scenes, all these kids. 

The pride I have [as one of] these working class kids. There’s no money, you just tried: this is what you’re gonna wear, and this is what you’re into. And suddenly a whole scene started. It was totally organic and individual. It wasn’t trend sections, fashion magazines; it was just kids doing what they want.

Where you grew up, what were race relations like?

They were difficult. And we got caught up in that, unfortunately, because we were all white… Although our original drummer was Black, but he left because we were too s—. Like I said, there was all these different scenes and the scene we were into was ska and reggae. And you had this whole culture — from the mods to the skinheads to the suedeheads in the late ‘60s and ‘70s — which was all about fashion and listening to that music, but it got usurped by these [racist] skinheads who started to take it the other way.

We’d be playing concerts and there’d be all sorts of racism going on and we’d have to deal with it in our own way. I remember jumping into the audience a few times and getting beaten up. It went away, fortunately. Only a couple years: probably ‘78, ‘79 maybe. Even the Specials were getting it, and they had Black people in their own group. They’d get people f—ing sieg heiling. It’s a fucking long story. 

What we had here was football hooliganism, which has now become very popular in Italy, France, and Germany. It’s one of our greatest exports. [Laughs.] It was easier for them to come to rock concerts than football matches, where there were loads of police. 

How did the commercial success first come?

By being really good. People saw what we’d done. It was a few years of hard work and all of a sudden, we were the most successful band in England. That happened because people f—in’ dug the tunes we made. Then we split up in 1985 and I think we were still the most successful band of the ‘80s… in England. Ha ha! 

"The Prince" on 2 Tone [Records] got to No. 16, then we had [our debut album] One Step Beyond get to No. 2, then we had "House of Fun" [reach No. 1]. We just had hit after hit, you tell me. 

Music videos played a big role in Madness' success, right?

That had just started. This was before MTV. We went to Stiff Records [in 1979]. We’d been on 2 Tone [Records], but we decided we wanted to spread our wings and Stiff had Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Kirsty MacColl, the Damned. Dave Robinson, who ran that label, also saw the potential that we were all quite theatrical, so we started making videos. 

[Television program] "Top of the Pops" had 20 million viewers; it only was allowed one promo pop video, and we were always the one that they showed. When we did "Baggy Trousers," there was a feeling in the air. People would talk about our videos, and it definitely added to the potency of what we were doing. 

The intellectual types and the tastemakers, the people who make and break you, just thought we were a flash in the pan joke, and the music got slightly sidelined. Only recently we’ve had much better reviews of our history. We put a lot of effort into the music [and] those videos. 

There’s so much going on in those songs, musically, if you really listen.

We’d have friends, musicians, play covers and they’d go, "We can’t play your songs, it’s too complicated." We had seven of us, all wrote songs, so we were in constant competition with each other. You couldn’t just go, "Mine’s the best." You had to actually write the best song. 

So many bands with two or three songwriters are fighting all the time, or just break up. How did Madness do it with so many?

Tolerance is the main thing. The underlying reason is we were friends from when we were at school. We were famous around our way. It was a gang called the Aldenham Glamour Boys, and to be in or amongst them, you were famous. So by the time we got the band going, we weren’t really bothered by other people’s impressions of us. 

On "Top of the Pops," we got banned four times. The girl who used to do our promotions said, "Do you realize people would give their right arm to be on this?" And I said, "The thing is, we’re just not right arm-giving people."

What were the four things you got banned from "Top of the Pops" for?

The first time was when one of our friend’s brothers was in prison and he held up a sign saying, "This is for prisoner number 44224022." That wasn’t allowed. The second time, we got on a lift with this dance troupe and the lift plummeted into the basement because there were too many of us. The third time, Lee [Thompson], our saxophone player, had a t-shirt that said, "I need the BBC" and then he had another t-shirt underneath that said, "Like a hole in the head." And I can’t remember what the fourth one was.  

When America had its brief ska moment in the ‘90s, did Madness get any new attention?

I don’t think so, no, because we had accepted that it was too late. It was great to see, all the Americans, Mighty Mighty Bosstones or whoever checking us. But we weren’t going to go back. If it had been 20 years earlier, it would have helped. But it was too late, like, "Who are these old farts?" [Laughs.]

When Madness got back together in the ‘90s, what was that like?

Vince Power, who just passed away, a great promoter, used to do this Irish festival, Fleadh, in North London. We all used to go. And he says, "When’s the last time you played?" And I said, "Well, probably about six years ago." And he said, "Why don’t you do a one-off comeback?" 

So we did Madstock! in 1992. We didn’t know if anyone was going to turn up. 35,000 people turned up. So we put on another one. And 70,000 people turned up. There was an earthquake, 4.5 on the Richter scale, people were jumping up and down. And they had to evacuate people out of their houses, flats, and apartments because of the earthquake that we’d created. We put out a greatest hits album, it goes to No. 1, sold 2 million copies, blah, blah, blah… And we’ve been going longer now on this bit than we did on that first bit. 

It’s really interesting to hear how you’ve been part of rock music through so many eras.

I’ve just done a couple songs with Paul Weller, he’s a friend of mine from the old days. We were working on a tune and I went, "Look Paul, it’s only music." And he said, "No, it f—ing isn’t." [Laughs.] And it’s true innit? We made a lot of f—ing good pop music. It’s something I’m very proud of. It’s the soundtrack of our lives. When you hear a tune, you remember exactly where you were. 

When you wrote the lyrics for the new album, Theatre of the Absurd, what was on your mind?

We all write. We had 40 songs. During the lockdown, for that two years, the worst way to communicate is email. People were losing their minds. So I thought we were going to fall out and never speak to each other… And we made a record I think is good. I mean, [it went] No. 1 in England; that’s the first number one [studio] album we ever had. 

I wrote the first song on the album, "Theatre of the Absurd." I was just sitting on my own, stuck, and I was imagining being in some old theater with all the doors locked, not being able to get out. Theatre of the Absurd was a French artistic [concept]  where things became so absurd, it was all gobbledygook. They just made up words. 

I’m really fortunate. This band of mine, they're a dysfunctional family, it’s very difficult to be in. But it’s like the philosophers the Eagles once said, "You can check out any time you like, but you can never f—in’ leave." 

But I’m looking forward to playing America. The fella from "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Larry David wants to introduce us. 

Are you gonna do that?

You know, Helen Mirren did a bit on our new album, [so did] Martin Freeman, actors from England. Getting someone from America who likes us, I can’t see the problem with that. We shall see. 

Watch: "A History Of L.A. Ska" Panel At The GRAMMY Museum With Reel Big Fish, NOFX & More

AAPI Month Playlist 2024 Hero
(From left) ATEEZ, YOASOBI, Peggy Gou, Kanon of Atarashi Gakko!, Diljit Dosanjh, Laufey

Photos: KQ Entertainment; KATO SHUMPEI; Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images; Medios y Media/Getty Images; Presley Ann/Getty Images for Coachella; Lauren Kim

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Leap Into AAPI Month 2024 With A Playlist Featuring Laufey, Diljit Dosanjh, & Peggy Gou

Celebrate AAPI artists this May with a genre-spanning playlist spotlighting festival headliners and up-and-coming musicians. From Korean hip-hop to Icelandic jazz-pop, listen to some of the most exciting artists from the Asian diaspora.

GRAMMYs/May 1, 2024 - 02:47 pm

With spring just around the corner, it’s time to welcome AAPI Month in full blossom. From rising musical artists to inspiring community leaders, it’s essential to recognize AAPI members of the artistic world and their achievements.

While AAPI Month is a U.S. holiday, the Recording Academy takes a global approach in celebrating artists and creators from across the Asian and Asian American diaspora. This aligns with the Recording Academy's growing mission to expand its reach on a global scale and celebrate international creators outside of the U.S.  

Musicians of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander heritage have not only helped establish the music industry, but have transformed it. From Diljit Dosanjh being the first artist to play a Coachella set entirely in Punjabi to Laufey winning a GRAMMY for her jazz-inspired pop, AAPI artists continue to influence music by both honoring tradition and reshaping modern standards.

It’s thrilling to see AAPI musicians continue to take centerstage — from Atarashi Gakko! to Tiger JK’s memorable sets at Coachella, to surprise appearances from Olivia Rodrigo, Dominic Fike, and Towa Bird. As festival season gets underway, examples of the AAPI starpower from every corner of the world abound.

As one of many ways to celebrate AAPI Month, listen to the GRAMMY.com playlist below — as a reminder to give AAPI musicians not just their May flowers, but their flowers all year-round!

Blur in Tokyo in November 1994
Blur in Tokyo in November 1994.

Photo: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

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7 Ways Blur's 'Parklife' Served As The Genesis Of Britpop

On the heels of their Coachella return, Blur celebrates the 30th anniversary of their opus, 'Parklife,' on April 25. Take a look at how the album helped bring Britpop to the mainstream.

GRAMMYs/Apr 25, 2024 - 02:33 pm

In April 1993, journalist Stuart Maconie coined the term Britpop for a Select magazine article celebrating the UK's fight back against the dominance of American rock. Remarkably, London four-piece Blur weren't even mentioned in the story. And yet, frontman Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James, and drummer Dave Rowntree would provide the catalyst for the scene's mainstream breakthrough.

Just a year later, Blur released what many consider to be Britpop's defining statement. Parklife served as a colorful, vibrant, and incredibly infectious love letter to all things Anglocentric, drawing upon the nation's great cultural heritage while also foreshadowing what was to come. And it instantly struck a chord with homegrown audiences desperate for guitar music that wasn't drowning in abject misery, and better reflected their day-to-day lives.

Remarkably, Albarn had predicted Parklife's success four years earlier. As he declared to music writer David Cavanagh in 1990, "When our third album comes out, our place as the quintessential English band of the '90s will be assured. That is a simple statement of fact."

Three decades after its game-changing release, here's a look at how Parklife forever changed both Blur's career trajectory and the history of British rock.

It Kickstarted Britpop's Greatest Rivalry

In one of those great rock coincidences, Blur's third LP hit the shelves just 24 hours after "Supersonic" gave a then-relative unknown Manchester outfit named Oasis their first ever UK Top 40 single. And the two bands would remain intertwined (perhaps begrudgingly so) from then on, culminating in the most high-profile chart battle in British music history.

You could argue that Oasis' Noel Gallagher threw the first stone, describing Parklife as "Southern England personified" in a manner that suggested it wasn't exactly complimentary. And according to his manager Alan McGee, Definitely Maybe cut "Digsy's Dinner" was written as a deliberate "piss-take of Blur."

An increasingly bitter war of words then broke out in the summer of 1995 as the "Country House" versus "Roll With It" war swept the nation. Blur emerged victorious, although Oasis had the last laugh when (What's The Story) Morning Glory spent 10 weeks atop the UK album chart.

It Brought Storytelling Back To Indie Pop

Heavily inspired by Martin Amis novel London Fields, Parklife was inhabited by a cast of intriguing fictional characters, essentially doubling up as a series of short stories. "Tracy Jacks," for example, is about a golf-obsessed civil servant who ends up getting arrested for public indecency before bulldozing his own house.

"Magic America" is the tale of Bill Barret, a Brit who commits to a life of excess during a Stateside holiday ("Took a cab to the shopping malls/ Bought and ate until he could do neither anymore"), while "Clover Over Dover" explores the mindset of a manipulative boyfriend threatening to jumping off the titular white cliffs.

Over the following 18 months, everything from Pulp's "Common People" and Space's "Neighbourhood" to Supergrass' "Caught by the Fuzz" and The Boo Radleys' "It's Lulu" were combining classic British guitar pop with witty Mike Leigh-esque vignettes of modern life.

It Originated The Big Indie Ballad

Dramatic ballads aren't necessarily the first thing that come to mind with Parklife, a record famed for its jaunty, "knees-up Mother Brown" ditties. But it boasts two examples: "To The End," an alternate Bond theme featuring a burst of Gallic flair from Stereolab's Laetitia Sadler, and the swoonsome "This Is A Low." Turns out the "mystical lager-eater" the record was designed to embody could also get a little vulnerable from time to time.

This appeared to give all of their laddish peers some pause for thought. Oasis, the most fervent advocates of the "cigarettes and alcohol" lifestyle, later scored their biggest hit with acoustic ballad "Wonderwall." And bands including Cast ("Walkaway"), Shed Seven ("Chasing Rainbows") and Menswear ("Being Brave") all enjoyed UK hits revealing their softer sides. No doubt Coldplay, Travis, and every other sensitive post-Britpop outfit that emerged in the late 1990s were taking notes, too.

It Paid Respect To The Greats

The Britpop scene was renowned for its slavish devotion to the first time British guitar bands ruled the airwaves, the Swinging Sixties. Oasis freely admitted they modeled themselves on the Beatles, while the likes of Ocean Colour Scene, Kula Shaker and The Paul Weller all released albums that sounded like they'd been discovered in a vintage record shop.

And while Blur would later distance themselves from the past with a sense of invention (which Albarn would also parlay into his various side projects, including the virtual band Gorillaz), they were more than happy to get all nostalgic on Parklife. See "Far Out," their only track to feature James on lead vocal, which resembled the trippy psychedelia of Pink Floyd in their Syd Barrett era, and the Sgt. Pepper-esque brassy instrumental "The Debt Collector," while there are also echoes of the Walker Brothers, The Kinks, and Small Faces. Suddenly, retro was the new cool.

It Turned Blur Into Britain's Biggest Guitar Band

The UK Top 10 success of 1991's "There's No Other Way" proved to be something of a false start for Blur, with the band soon falling by the wayside like every other baggy pop outfit that emerged at the turn of the decade. "Popscene," the 1992 single intended to revolutionize both their career and British guitar music in general, stalled at No. 32, while 1993 sophomore Modern Life is Rubbish sold just 40,000 copies.

But Parklife single-handedly turned Blur into Britain's biggest guitar band, reaching No. 1 in their homeland, spending 82 weeks in the Top 40, and eventually becoming a million-seller. It went on to pick up four BRITs, a Mercury Prize nomination, and has been recognized as an all-time great by Spin, Pitchfork, and Rolling Stone. Further proof of its glowing reputation came in 2009 when Royal Mail selected it as one of 10 albums worthy of commemorating on a postage stamp.

It Spawned A String Of Classic Singles

Parklife's campaign was kicked off in March 1994 with "Girls and Boys," a glorious dissection of British vacationers — which, surprisingly in the days when genre-hopping was frowned upon — evoked the '80s synth-pop of Duran Duran and Pet Shop Boys. Rowntree was even replaced by a drum machine, not that he particularly minded, luckily.

This indie floorfiller was followed up by the hugely underrated "To The End" and then the much-quoted title track. Everything about "Parklife" the song is larger than life: the Cockney geezer narration from Quadrophenia's Phil Daniels, the festival-friendly sing-along chorus, and the brightly colored video in which James — perhaps tipping his hat to Queen's "I Want to Break Free" -– donned soap opera drag. But fourth release "End of a Century," a melancholic tale of domestic drudgery complete with mournful trombone solo, once again proved there was a depth beyond their cheeky chappy personas.

It Made Brits Proud To Be British Again

Unable to connect with the oppressive angst and flannel shirts of the grunge movement that had plagued their first major North American tour in 1992, Blur first started to embrace their inherent Englishness on the following year's Modern Life is Rubbish. Unfortunately, this throwback to the original British Invasion was met with a resounding shrug of the shoulders on both sides of the Atlantic.

Undeterred, however, the band doubled down on all things Anglocentric on its follow-up, from its original title of London, to its greyhound racing cover art, to its celebrations of bank holidays, Club 18-30 holidays, and shipping forecasts. This time around, they managed to capture the zeitgeist (at home, at least), as the rise of New Labour and the forthcoming hosting of Euro '96 made everyone proud to be British again. Within 12 months, the UK charts were littered with homegrown guitar bands selling the idea of the English dream — and it all started with Parklife.

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