Photo: Raven Varona
Cordae Talks Making His Cathartic, Star-Studded Album 'From A Bird's Eye View' — And Why He's Already Looking Ahead
After two years of loss and change, Cordae delivers 'From A Bird's Eye View,' his most introspective LP yet. Also launching a new business venture in that time, the 24-year-old is preparing to leave a mark beyond his own music.
The sky's the limit for Cordae after releasing his sophomore album, From A Bird's Eye View. The Maryland-raised rapper followed up his GRAMMY-nominated 2019 debut, The Lost Boy, with the deeply personal effort, which sees contributions from Lil Wayne, H.E.R., Lil Durk, Stevie Wonder, Gunna and more.
Recent tragedies — including the death of his grandmother and murder of his childhood friend — resulted in reflective tales on From A Bird's Eye View, with the 24-year-old bringing listeners on a journey from his upbringing to current stardom.
Now that he's released the introspective effort, Cordae is looking straight ahead at the ever-growing opportunities that await him. One of those ventures is Hi Level, the record label he launched in 2021 one year after leaving his former hip-hop collective YBN. Cordae got his start with the YBN Nahmir-founded group in 2018 (and initially took the stage name YBN Cordae as a result), but it officially disbanded in 2020.
With Hi Level up and running and the release of From A Bird's Eye View — his first album since leaving the YBN collective, and second on Atlantic Records — Cordae is planning major moves for this new phase of his solo career.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Cordae about his vision for Hi Level, using songwriting as a form of therapy on his new album, and not getting stuck in an artistic box.
Congratulations on releasing your album! I've been seeing a lot of positive fan reactions online.
Thank you! For sure, I appreciate the support. I don't take it for granted; it's something that doesn't go unnoticed.
On the album track "Super," you mention leaving YBN because you didn't have ownership in the collective. Did wanting to have ownership and control in your career inspire you to then launch Hi Level?
Absolutely. And even more than that, I started Hi Level to open the door for other creatives. Hi Level is a record label, but it's also a way of life — a mantra, if you would.
I always say that everything I do, I must do it at the highest level that I'm capable of. So, when I see Hi Level, it's sort of a reminder of that and what it represents. Allowing creatives — and even non-creatives, just anybody from any walk of life — allowing them to have that mentality or reminding them to have that mentality.
What's your vision for Hi Level? Are you planning on signing some artists this year?
Yeah, absolutely. I'm definitely looking to sign some artists and some producers. We already have, like, an in-house team, as far as videographers, cinematographers, photographers, producers, engineers. We have a bunch of these assets in-house. So, we're just waiting for the right artists, producers and creatives to build with and utilize these resources.
Yeah, he definitely did. For me personally, I wasn't super tapped into Nipsey's music, but [more] his mindset and his frame of mind. I used to watch his interviews — if you didn't know his music, you knew him for being a boss, for ownership.
Obviously people like JAY-Z, too, and even Prince, all these great artists throughout the years have highlighted this idea of ownership, especially when it comes to music. I think it's a cool trend, to want to own some things. Ownership is a dope trend.
You collaborated with Lil Wayne on "Sinister" and you've mentioned how impressive it is that he's managed to stay hungry after over 20 years in the game. Have you picked up any tips from him, or other veterans, about how to have a long, successful career?
Yeah, you've just got to work! That's kind of what they all tell me, to sum it up in layman's terms. Just keep going. You might get overwhelmed with things, or maybe get too much on your schedule, but you've got to just keep going.
The album starts with "Shiloh's Intro" where your brother freestyles over the phone from prison. We also hear more of that phone call in "Shiloh's Interlude." Why was it important for you to feature your brother on the project?
Well for one, that's my brother Shiloh. He's in prison right now serving a 24-year sentence. He used to rap — we used to rap all the time together, and I felt like it was necessary, but also dope from the creative side, to include him on the intro for the album to shed some light on him and his situation.
It also kind of put the pieces [of the album] together because he's really seeing things from a bird's eye view perspective — more so from a caged bird's perspective, if you would. I think it starts [the album] off beautifully.
Read More: 2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Rap
Slim Jxmmi from Rae Sremmurd recently shouted you out on Twitter since you referenced the duo on "Parables (Remix)." They're gearing up to drop an album soon, do you think there's a chance for a collaboration?
Oh dope! I didn't know they were finna drop an album. Mike WiLL [Made-It] is my big homie, so I'm sure there's definitely something that could be worked out.
Before dropping From A Bird's Eye View, you asked fans to listen to the album from front to back with no interruptions, as it was intended. Other artists have said this, too, with Adele recently getting Spotify to remove its shuffle button for albums. Since album cohesiveness is important to you, do you agree with the change?
I agree and disagree with it at the same time. I agree with it because it makes people more inclined to listen to the album from start to finish and that's how we, as artists, created this music for it to be listened to, from the beginning to the end in that order. That's why I spend so much time with the transitions and making sure the cohesiveness of the album is all in play, and so if somebody presses shuffle, they kind of just s<em></em><em> on it. [Laughs*.]
I do think it's very important, especially for the first time listening. But also, if you want to shuffle, just make a playlist. Pick all your favorite songs from the album and make a playlist and hit shuffle on that. I personally don't ever hit shuffle on an album, especially if it just came out.
You rapped about losing loved ones on From A Bird's Eye View — your grandmother, your friend. Were any of the songs on the album difficult for you to record?
It was hard to listen to them more so than to record them. Writing songs is therapy for me, so it's never really that hard writing it. Recording can get a little tough, but actually listening to it — that can be therapeutic too, but when I re-listen to, like, the end of "Westlake High," I can get a little emotional. "Momma's Hood," I get a little emotional.
Hopefully using music as an outlet for heavy emotions can help your listeners who might be going through similar things, too.
You and H.E.R. linked up again on the album's "Chronicles." You guys have collaborated a few times now [on her songs "Racks," "Trauma" and "Lord Is Coming"]. What is that artistic chemistry like?
The artistic chemistry with H.E.R. is incredible, honestly. She's one of the most talented artists I've ever worked with or that you'll see, in terms of songwriting ability, vocal ability, being able to play different instruments, and producing as well. She's really a top-tier artist as far as creativity, musicality and just the overall package.
She got you in your singing bag, too!
I was trying! [Laughs.] I can harmonize. I can keep a note. You know, I'm always trying to extend the creative pallet — not get stuck in a box.
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
9 Essential Jack Harlow Collaborations: Drake, Lil Wayne, Saweetie, Lil Nas X & More
As Jack Harlow releases his third album, 'Jackman,' revisit some of the most epic — and star-studded — collabs he's delivered in the past several years, from Eminem to Justin Timberlake.
Long before Jack Harlow was one of rap's buzziest stars, he was making music for his middle-school classmates. Even at just age 12, he knew the art of collaboration, teaming up with a friend to create his first album, and later creating a rap collective with other pals. Fast forward 13 years later, and he's teaming up with some of the biggest stars in the industry.
Harlow has counted several superstars as collaborators since signing with Atlantic Records in 2018; just the track list of his second album, 2022's Come Home the Kids Miss You, featured the likes of Drake, Lil Wayne, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams. So when Harlow surprised fans with the announcement of his third studio album, Jackman, just days before its April 28 release, it was easy to assume he'd deliver more star-studded tracks.
But upon the album's arrival, there was not a collaboration to be found. Based on Harlow opting to use his birth name as the title of his latest release, it's not all that surprising that he opted to take the no-features route this time around — and even without collaborators, he sounds more confident than ever.
Although Jackman didn't add to Harlow's reputable lineup of guest stars, he has quite the roster already, whether from his own projects or featuring on another artist's track. To celebrate Harlow's new music, GRAMMY.com revisits some of his most memorable collaborations so far.
DaBaby, Tory Lanez, and Lil Wayne — "Whats Poppin" (Remix)
Harlow released six mixtapes and two EPs in the many years leading up to his breakthrough hit "Whats Poppin," the lead single off his debut studio album, 2020's Thats What They All Say. Though "Whats Poppin" certainly isn't the only of Harlow's raps to reflect on the joys of being rich and famous, his hard-hitting delivery on the new remix verse is a standout among the rest.
And with the help of DaBaby and Tory Lanez on the remix as well, the song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 — an impressive feat for his first-ever entry on the chart. Not only did the song's commercial success put him on the map, but it nabbed Harlow his first GRAMMY nomination in 2021, for Best Rap Performance.
Drake — "Churchill Downs"
Named after Louisville's iconic racetrack, "Churchill Downs" is a heartfelt ode to Harlow's hometown; the music video was even filmed at the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Backed by a flute-driven beat, the standout track off Harlow's sophomore album, Come Home the Kids Miss You, is a perfect embodiment of his humble beginnings: "All that time in the kitchen finally panned out/ I put some flavor in a pot and took the bland out/ I know my grandpa would have a heart attack if I pulled a hunnid grand out," he raps.
Meanwhile, Drake's guest verse — which calls out the pitfalls of fame — is considered one of his best in recent years, likely due to the level of vulnerability the Canadian rapper is showing nearly two decades into his career.
The rags-to-riches tale resonated with fans and critics alike: "Churchill Downs" cracked the top 10 of Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and earned the pair a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap Song in 2022.
Lil Nas X — "Industry Baby"
Lil Nas X recruited Harlow for his multi-platinum single "Industry Baby," a pulsing track laden with triumphant horns and braggadocious lyrics. Accompanied by a provocative music video where both rappers break out of prison while donning bright pink jumpsuits, the song strategically followed Lil Nas X's legal battle with Nike. But the Kentucky rapper's verse arguably steals the show with brow-raising bars, including "I sent her back to her boyfriend with my handprint on her a— cheek."
The boisterous tune helped Harlow earn his first of two No. 1s on the Hot 100; his second came in 2022 with his solo track "First Class."
Saweetie — "Tap In" (Remix)
While the SoCal rapper isn't shy about flaunting her physical attributes ("Lil' waist, fat a—") and being able to "bag a eight-figure n—," Harlow just seems happy to be there. "I just crossed over to Top 40/ I can't even say 'Whats poppin?' now 'cause it got corny," he spits before telling listeners that his verse for Saweetie got him "horny."
Big Sean — "Way Out"
A solid single choice following "Whats Poppin" and "Tyler Herro," Harlow and Big Sean's "Way Out" is as straightforward and braggadocious as it is club-ready. Just under three minutes in length, Sean's guest verse does not disappoint — it's packed with punchlines, such as "I'm anointed, I'm the boss/ I done came out of pocket so much/ You thought that I was disjointed."
Lil Wayne — "Poison"
Lil Wayne was no stranger to AutoTune before teaming up with Harlow, but some critics disapproved of his use of it on "Poison," a track from Come Home the Kids Miss You. Even so, his rhyme about stealing someone's girl is pretty iconic: "I might have to jack your b— 'cause I be on my Harlow sh—."
Despite what critics have to say, clearly Wayne enjoys working with Harlow — "Poison" marked their third collab, following the "Whats Poppin" remix and 2020 single "P— Talk" alongside City Girls and Quavo.
Pharrell Williams — "Movie Star"
On "Movie Star," Harlow ditches his humble persona to rap about enjoying the perks of his then-newfound superstardom: money, women, and designer clothes. "Can't imagine being you, ooh, I'd hate to be it / I'm done fakin' humble, actin' like I ain't conceited / 'Cause, b—, I am conceited," he declares on the track produced by the legendary Pharrell Williams, a true indicator that an artist has made it in the music industry.
After Williams adds some of his flair to the chorus, both stars trade off rhymes in the song's final verse. "But do it jiggle though?" Williams asks. Harlow's response? "I feel like the whole damn city know."
Justin Timberlake — "Parent Trap"
The dark side of fame theme resurfaces in "Parent Trap," a collaboration with Justin Timberlake, who lends his signature southern drawl to the chorus. "Every sky can't be blue/ It's hard to see when you're walkin' in the grey/ So many flights, look at how the time flew," he sings.
Though it may not quite measure up to Harlow's top-tier duet with Drake on "Churchill Downs," which tackles similar subject matter, the collab is a fitting one — Harlow referenced NSYNC in "Tyler Herro" just two years prior.
Eminem and Cordae — "Killer" (Remix)
In late 2020, Harlow told GQ that he "grew up listening to Eminem" and idolized him, so it must have been surreal and full-circle when he got to join forces with the 15-time GRAMMY-winning rapper a mere six months later.
Rising to the challenge, Harlow holds his own alongside Em and then-fellow newcomer Cordae, demonstrating strong lyrical wordplay — particularly with lines like "I'm eatin' pizza in Little Italy, damn, I used to hit Caesars."
Even alongside his biggest heroes, Harlow has proven his natural ability to command attention — and though it's just him on the mic on Jackman, he seems poised and ready to see who's next.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.