Daniel Caesar On 'Never Enough' And The Pressures Of Responsibility, Fame & Sex
Daniel Caesar

Photo: Vladimir Kaminetsky


Daniel Caesar On 'Never Enough' And The Pressures Of Responsibility, Fame & Sex

On his first album in nearly four years, Daniel Caesar reckons with responsibility: to himself, to fans, to lovers and friends. He spoke to about 'Never Enough,' and the darkness from which the new record grew.

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2023 - 01:52 pm

The narrative of a meteoric rise and fall is compelling and tidy, it’s one we’re drawn to in artists both real and fictitious. But what happens when someone rockets to prominence, stays at the top, and realizes they might not love the view? That’s more complicated, and that’s what Daniel Caesar is going through.

The Toronto-based musician born Ashton Simmonds achieved critical recognition following his 2015 EP Pilgrim’s Paradise, later becoming a streaming darling and festival mainstay with 2017’s Freudian. He’s been nominated for nine GRAMMY awards, winning Best R&B Performance at the 2019 GRAMMYs, and has been part of several multi-platinum records. But achieving all of that by 27 has left the ever-philosophical singer at something of a crossroads.

"Plaques are boring to me and award shows are boring to me. I don’t enjoy sitting through the GRAMMYs," he tells "I was looking for a feeling like, I respect myself and I know I did something and I can feel that the respect from my peers and the people who enjoy it is real."

That realization is reflected in the title of his latest LP, Never Enough, which comes nearly four years after 2019’s Case Study 01. The creative process began in quarantine when Caesar was holed up in his Toronto home. The music he wrote in that period of relative isolation was somber, and when his younger brother visited, he told Caesar that though the songs were good, "It doesn’t sound like you’re enjoying doing this."

Caesar shifted his focus, going for more of a "pill in the peanut butter" approach where some of the weightier concepts were cloaked in buoyant, elegant soundscapes. But this is a Daniel Caesar record, and it wouldn’t be complete without frank self-examination, psychological jargon, and morally gray tales of romance and fame. The album’s most compelling track, "Buyer’s Remorse," is built around a line that Caesar had been ruminating on: "I guess I got what I paid for," which he uses as a lens to explore both his relationship to celebrity and to his love life.

"I'm envious of people who just let life happen to them, because all the bad things, they can just blame on the devil and all the good things they get to thank God and they’re just a victim of their life," Caesar says. "But for me, every time I do something I’m like, 'Oh s—, I made that happen and I made this thing happen.' By taking responsibility for all your own actions, you are now responsible for all the misery in your own life and all the hurt caused to other people."

His honey-sweet voice is still a major draw, as he glides across songs like "Homiesexual" and "Superpowers" with Olympic-level grace.  Never Enough also sees Caesar progressing and experimenting sonically on the psilocybin-y "Do You Like Me," with its distorted vocals and groovy guitar, as well as "Shot My Baby," with its serrated riffs and bristling drums.

Ahead of the release of his third album, caught up with Daniel Caesar in New York to discuss how success at an early age forced him to reconsider his goals, the much darker album he scrapped before Never Enough, and his thoughts on the sentiments behind toxic R&B.

A consistent theme across songs like "Toronto 2004" and "Cool" is your sense of nostalgia and yearning for when things were all ahead of you. I’m curious, are you generally a nostalgic person or is that a sensation that has come upon you in the last few years? 

Yeah, I think it’s come upon me. For most of my life, my mother would always tell me [that] I was always in a rush to grow up, as so many of us are. I guess through COVID I got to this place where I was like, "Oh s—, I’m old." Like today, at lunch, I stood up really fast at the table and I felt my knee do a thing, you know? I hate that feeling so much. That’s a very literal interpretation of it, but I’ve been feeling nostalgic, missing being younger.

This time passed during the early part of the pandemic doesn’t feel like it counts, but it does. You can’t recoup it on the backend.

It’s so insane. Just two years feels like [it was] down the drain. It was the worst time in my life, but then it did become the best time of my life.

What changed?

I wouldn’t have taken that time to stop had I not been forced to. So much of my life had become about doing what I want when I want to do it, and that was one of those times where I couldn’t do what I wanted. I’m not used to that. I’m always a get-around-the-rules kind of guy, so, I couldn’t. [I] had to face things and work through things.

When I was in COVID just in complete isolation, I set up a studio in my guest house and I put whiteboard paint all over the walls. I think everything I made from then is still up. The apartment is still as I left it and it looks like a madhouse.

You were drawing on the walls?

Yeah. I wrote out a list of rules that I had to abide by, little phrases. I just went nuts and that’s how I set out. I remember when my little brother came back home, he came in there and saw what I was up to, and he said something that really [stuck with me]. I was completely isolated and I was really going through it. I was showing him the music and he was like, "Yo, this is sick, but it doesn’t sound like you’re enjoying doing this. It all sounds like you’re sad and laboring through this." He was 19, 20 at the time. He’s fresh, he’s green, he’s just like, "You don’t sound like you’ve been in here vibing." It was all slow driving in-the-rain music, you know? 

I got to the end of making the album and I was like, "It’s not good enough yet." It was how I was feeling, I wasn’t feeling happy, so it was an honest representation. But I wondered, is that what I want the world to feel? Is that what I want to give the world? So, then it turned into this more ambiguous, "I’m just going places and vibing things out and the album is creating itself." I made three albums in the process of making this album.

When you say the three albums, were each of them very distinct in terms of the tone? Was there an optimistic album, this darker one, or was it all different moods interspersed?

The first was dark. The second was a refining of the first one, I guess. It was like a gradual arc, but it was dark to dark themes dressed up pretty and happy.

The Trojan horse thing.

The Trojan horse thing. Put the pill in the peanut butter. I didn’t want to be negative, but at the end of the day, I can’t deny that negativity plays a role in my life, and sometimes that’s what drives me to write a song. 

Especially being in isolation, I was dealing with love where the honeymoon phase had come before COVID. I had gotten separated from my love because she lived in America and I lived in Canada, so this album is not about falling in love, it’s about the flipside of love.

The song that really stuck with me when I was listening was "Buyer’s Remorse." That concept gets explored in music in the sense of "Oh, being famous isn’t what I bargained for," but to hear it being very literally applied to a romantic relationship was interesting, because most people aren’t that frank about it. 

That one we did in New York. Omar [Apollo] was there and Sean Leone was there. I just had the line "I guess I got what I paid for" and I dunno what was going on around the time, but I was going through this lust phase. Being heart-hurt, being in love — I’ve always been hyper vulnerable and growing up you realize that if you carry yourself super vulnerably with all women all the time, [you’ll get hurt].

It’s like, This way I’ve been living my life isn’t conducive, it’s not safe. So let me just separate love and lust. I’ve been in love before, but at the same time, I have this sexual attraction to all these different women, strippers and prostitutes. It’s fine, you separate the two things and then you have them mastered. I was going through this whole era of transactional sex. I don’t love this person, but we’re gonna go on a date and I don’t have a crush on you, but it’s sex devoid of love.

You have this one interaction and then you go your separate ways and you maybe never talk again or don’t see each other for months.

And it’s not just about that, but that’s kind of where [the lyric] came from, "I guess I got what I paid for." It might not be apparent all the time, but I do have a strong self belief and feel like I am in control of my reality. I make things happen. I make an action, then something happens, and I don’t always like the consequences. 

I’m envious of people who just let life happen to them, because all the bad things, they can just blame on the devil and all the good things they get to thank God and they’re just a victim of their life. By taking responsibility for all your own actions, you are now responsible for all the misery in your own life and all the hurt caused to other people.

There are downsides to that approach, too, because you can’t run around pretending you have no agency.

It’s tricky. Being human is tough, it's just coping. What’s the best way I can be human to cope with being a human? I wanted to change my life so badly at one point, I was like, "Let me just take responsibility for everything." I don’t want to sound pious, because I feel like I can very easily skirt responsibility for things off myself. 

Every time in an interview I say something and then I think of four examples of me doing the opposite, so I’m like, "Oh, I’m a fucking phony." It makes it hard to speak sometimes.

Your rise in music coincided with the boom in toxic R&B, which indulges in that "I can’t help myself," sentiment. But I feel like when you write a song about having done something wrong, there’s a real sense of turmoil and trying to figure out how you move forward.

I think why it connects is because there’s a certain level of religious guilt to everything I do and say. It’s a real self-chastisement, so it’s not for aesthetics. I admire the aesthetic of "Ah f—, girl. I’m such a bad guy." It’s not like I don’t engage in that sort of [toxic] behavior, I just have a different psychology when I’m doing it. I just do it in a different way so you don’t even get the glorified sexualization of that behavior.

I just feel bad about it and I don’t even weaponize it. That’s not even like, to be pious or whatever, it’s just like ick. It is what it is, but it’s interesting.

Does the songwriting process allow you to work through things emotionally?

I’ll go into a song thinking something and then, a lot of times, what I’m thinking is reflected in the song. Other times, I do the song just vibing and then I’m like, "Oh s—, I didn’t even know that I thought that." I found it after. 

I go into an album thinking I know what I’m gonna sing about or write about, and then ¾ of the way through the album, it always changes. Every time I pick a title starting an album, I know it’s gonna change, but I pick it so that I have a bearing. I can’t stick to a program, so I know it’s gonna tell me what it is. With songs, too, I learn about myself by writing.

Was there another title before it was Never Enough?

It was called Pseudomutuality at one point.

"Pseudomutuality" is really interesting because thematically, it fits with the first two albums, but I think some of the most interesting stuff on the record is about your relationship with your audience. The "Vince Van Gogh" song is fascinating. Why was he the figure you wanted as that tragic artist archetype? 

Van Gogh’s art became valuable after he died. I thought about my last album, which was about death. I think about death all the time, and it was a decision that I was going to figure out more than just making songs.

That’s another big struggle. I say all the time, there are so many things I’m really bad at, but when I need a boost of confidence, I think about the fact that I’m really good at making songs.Marketing is a part of this job that I don’t enjoy. I don’t like the fact that I have to figure out TikTok. I’m still working, I’m still figuring it out, but "Vincent Van Gogh" was [saying] it’s not gonna be like "Oh that guy’s dead? He was f—ing great." I want to be here, I want to experience it.

There’s also a point, I can imagine, where you don’t want to feel that sense of responsibility.

All the time. I’m an artist and I’m inconsistent and I flip flop emotionally. Given the music business, [I’ve been] having this conversation the past year, like "Yo, can you please just be consistent." We were just talking about this earlier, like, "Yo, can you pick an outfit you like and wear it every day so when people think about this outfit they think about you" And I’m like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." And then tomorrow I’m gonna wake up and put on shorts and flip-flops and socks. I’m just working through it.

Do you feel like at this point, having gone through the last couple of years and making this record that you’re at a more sustainable place? It sounds like you were pretty burnt out prior.

Yeah, I was burnt out. It’s still tough all the time, but I’ve proven to myself that at least I’m not gonna give up. The horse is gonna have to buck me off, I don’t even know if it’s in me to bow out gracefully and get off the horse.

I wonder if you had released that darker first iteration of the album and had to deal with that, maybe it’d be hard for that to get you back to the place where it motivated you to keep making music.

I don’t think so. I think, regardless, I would’ve wanted to make [something] again. I don’t want to sit here and pretend like I don’t want commercial success. That’s another big part of why I’m fighting; that’s why I’m not only focusing on things I enjoy. I’ve proven to myself that I can make songs and make a comfortable living, but I want to push myself. I also want commercial validation, but if no one buys the album, I’m still gonna make another album.

It’s all about how you frame it. If you say "I want plaques," that’s cynical. But if you say "I want a large number of people to connect with this and keep playing it the way they did with [the last two]," that’s understandable. You want to reach a wide audience and have them dig it.

I got a plaque just the other day. Plaques are boring to me and award shows are boring to me. I don’t enjoy sitting through the GRAMMYs. I was looking for a feeling like, "I respect myself and I know I did something and I can feel that the respect from my peers and the people who enjoy it is real."

After getting the first GRAMMY, I was depressed. I was like I achieved that thing. I thought it would be way harder to get this. It’s like, okay you’re in the club, you’re on the world stage of making music and can make music with other really good people. You’re not an amateur.I can’t really express it through words, but there’s a certain feeling I’ll probably never get , which is why I’ll keep making albums.

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15 Must-Hear New Albums Out This Month: Metallica, Yaeji, Daniel Caesar, Hunter Hayes & More
(Clockwise from left) Jessie Ware, Metallica's Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield, Daniel Caesar, IVE, Yaeji, Rae Sremmurd, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for BFC;  Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for P+ and MTV; Cassanova Cabrera; Jung Yeon/JAFP via Getty Images; Dasom Han; Ethan Miller/Getty Images; Kevin Mazur/WireImage


15 Must-Hear New Albums Out This Month: Metallica, Yaeji, Daniel Caesar, Hunter Hayes & More

From highly-anticipated returns to can't-miss debut releases, check out 15 albums dropping this April from Linkin Park, IVE, Rae Sremmurd, and many more.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2023 - 01:36 pm

Between the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Coachella and a release calendar stacked with fresh debuts and long-awaited returns, this April makes for an exciting time for music lovers.

This month sees Everything but the Girl's first album since 1999, as well as milestone freshman releases from IVE and Yaeji. Hard rock legends Metallica blend punk with heavy metal on 72 Seasons, and Illenium introduces a host of rock subgenres to his EDM catalog. Y La Bamba and Daniel Caesar bear the honesty and confusion of heartbreak, while Bebe Rexha and NF look toward a more promising future. 

From country jams to pop divas, delivers a guide to 15 essential albums dropping in April 2023.

Daniel Caesar - NEVER ENOUGH

Release date: April 7

With three critically acclaimed albums and a hit collaboration with Justin Bieber under his belt, a soulful rendition of Kanye West's "Street Lights" and his own passionate love ballads, Daniel Caesar has solidified his place as one of R&B's key players. 

Caesar's first studio album in nearly four years, NEVER ENOUGH, features introspective heartbreak singles "Do You Like Me?" and "Let Me Go," each of which meld blues and R&B. Caesar will commence the Almost Enough: The Intimate Sessions tour through North America on April 6 to highlight the new music.

Yaeji - With A Hammer

Release date: April 7

After a successful slew of festival appearances, mixtapes, EPs and even a merch drop on Animal Crossing, house DJ Yaeji is opening a new chapter of childlike exuberance. Her debut studio album, With A Hammer, features collaborations with fellow rising EDM artists Loraine James, Enayet, K Wata, and Nourished By Time and will dovetail with a North American tour later this month.

In an interview with Pitchfork, Yaeji explained that she curated a 111-page booklet to contextualize the release. The With A Hammer booklet details a fictional journey tinged with magical wizard dogs and conscious hammers, which she loosely references in the music video for the album’s second single, "Done (Let’s Get It)." Yaeji refers to the story as her inner "spunky kid who has just awakened and is trying to scream."  

Rae Sremmurd - SREMM4LIFE

Release date: April 7

In the mid-2010’s, Rae Sremmurd’s "No Flex Zone," "No Type" and "Swang" dominated radio stations and streaming platforms. The Mississippi-based hip-hop duo' "Black Beatles" had similar resonance, becoming the theme song for 2016's viral mannequin challenge and inspired Nicki Minaj's flirty remix, "Black Barbies."  

There has been no news of a comeback since 2018's SR3MM, while frequent solo endeavors from Swae Lee made a fourth release seem unimaginable. On March 9, the pair unexpectedly announced that the wait was finally over: Rae Sremmurd has finally reunited for their fourth album, SREMM4LIFE, leading with the cheeky single, "Tanisha (Pump That)."

Linkin Park - Meteora (20th Anniversary Edition)

Release date: April 7

Revisit the magic of Linkin Park's Meteora with a repackaged 20th Anniversary Edition. The group's sophomore album features some of the best-selling tracks in the band's discography, including the quadruple-platinum, GRAMMY-winning "Numb" and the Billboard Modern Rock chart-topping "Faint."

The revamped version includes six unreleased songs from the Meteora archives, most notably "Lost," which showcases the vocals of late frontman Chester Bennington. In a press statement, guitarist and vocalist Mike Shinoda said, "Finding this track was like finding a favorite photo you had forgotten you'd taken, like it was waiting for the right moment to reveal itself. For years, fans have been asking us to release something with Chester's voice, and I'm thrilled we've been able to make that happen in such a special way."

NF - Hope

Release date: April 7

Rapper NF is a silent star, quietly creeping onto the scene in late 2017 with his hit single, "Let You Down." Despite pulling over a billion streams on a single song, most people tend to overlook the existence of the artist born Nathan Feuerstein. In fact, he prefers it that way. NF's music was never about fame, but a place to lay out his battles with OCD and grapple with the resulting trauma of his upbringing.

On his upcoming project, HOPE, NF turns a new leaf, welcoming fans to indulge in a more optimistic view of the future. As he acknowledges the happiness he’s found in his wife and children on the album's titular single: "I'm a prime example of what happens when you choose to not accept defeat and face your demons." 

IVE - I’ve IVE

Release date: April 10

After stepping into the K-pop landscape in December 2021, IVE quickly became one of the industry's leading fourth generation girl groups. Tracks "Love Dive" (2022) and the viral Gloria Gaynor-sampling "After Like" (2022) ruled Korea's music charts, simultaneously receiving acclaim in the United States as one of the best K-pop songs of 2022 by NME and Teen Vogue. With such skyrocketing success, it's an understatement to say the anticipation for IVE's first studio album, I've IVE, is high.

I've IVE is a culmination of the confident IVE ethos, as their company, Starship Entertainment, described in a press release. To celebrate the release of their long-awaited album, IVE will begin the second leg of their Asia tour, The Prom Queens, this June.

Metallica - 72 Seasons

Release date: April 14

Fans have eagerly anticipated the heavy metal legends’ return since March 2019, when bassist Robert Trujillo teased the start of their eleventh studio album. Kicking off their new album is the guitar-heavy, punk-influenced "Lux Æterna." Following "Lux Æterna" are two more classic heavy metal tracks, "Screaming Suicide" and "If Darkness Had a Son."

In support of 72 Seasons, Metallica will embark on a North American tour  with support from Architects, Mammoth WVH, Five Finger Death Punch, Volbeat, Ice Nine Kills, Pantera, and Greta Van Fleet. Each city will see Metallica in a two-night performance containing two completely different setlists and opening acts.

Hunter Hayes - Red Sky

Release date: April 21

Knowing that the hazy turquoise of Hunter HayesWild Blue would be his final major label studio release, his seventh full-length album, Red Sky, becomes all the more symbolic. 

Red skies often signify change — a fitting title and visual as Hayes comes into himself as a fully independent artist. "This project is about the adventure of finding yourself," Hayes said on Instagram after unveiling two pop-country singles, "Sober" and "Someone Will." "Lyrically, it's for anyone who needs a reminder of how unique your fire inside is and how much the world needs more you in it." 

Hayes will begin his Red Sky Tour on May 6 in San Diego, culminating in Denver on June 3. 

Easy Star All Stars - Ziggy Stardub

Release date: April 21

New York-via-Jamaica reggae collective Easy Star All-Stars are known for their addicting interpretations of music’s most renowned albums: They’ve conquered the BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Next on their list is David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, now titled Ziggy Stardub, out on Easy Star Records. The album will feature guest appearances from Macy Gray, Steel Pulse, Alex Lifeson of Rush, Fishbone, Vernon Reid of Living Colour, and more. The first glimpse into the cosmic world of reggae Ziggy Stardust is "Starman," a charismatic take on Bowie’s single of the same name.

Jethro Tull - RökFlöte

Release date: April 21

On RökFlöte, prog rock pioneers Jethro Tull offer their own take on Norse mythology, specifically the apocalyptic tale of Ragnarök. The band's 23rd album launches with the release of "Ginnungagap," a flute-led rock tune inspired by the god Ymir. 

According to their press release, RökFlöte will largely be an instrumental homage to the group's incorporation of the flute. Throughout, Ian Anderson and co. will explore the storyline of "the characters and roles of some of the principal gods of the old Norse paganism."

Everything but the Girl - Fuse

Release date: April 21

It was an entirely different century the last time we saw Everything but the Girl. Since the release of Temperamental in 1999, the duo behind the sophisti-pop band got married to each other, published memoirs, and worked on solo efforts. Fuse holds Everything but the Girl in a modern context, exploring topics of love and anxiety.

Chatting with the New York Times, EBTG's Tracey Horn credits quarantine boredom for sparking the idea of reuniting as a duo. "We were confronted with the decision that a lot of people were confronted with: what are we going to do now? Are we going back to what we were doing? Or, is this the start of something new?"

Bebe Rexha - BEBE

Release date: April 28

In 2018, Bebe Rexha's contemplative Expectations narrated negative self-talk, heartbreak, and instability.  With the release of her 2022 chart-topper, "Blue (I'm Good)," and the lead single from her forthcoming self-titled album, Rexha reveals that she's settled into a happier place. No longer tied down to broken relationships or burdened by depression, Rexha just wants to have fun — and it shows on "Heart What It Wants." 

Bebe is a celebration, a requiem to the nights spent crying that led to her current bliss. Most importantly, it's an opportunity to connect with her supporters. "I want to see my fans in person. I want to play the deeper cuts, feel the energy of my fans," Rexha told Elite Daily in November.

Y La Bamba - Lucha

Release date: April 28

Latin indie alternative band Y La Bamba's Lucha has been a long time in the making, starting development right before the outbreak of COVID-19. Eventually, Lucha grew into a collection of stories of queerness, Chicanx identity, and loneliness prompted by the isolation of the pandemic. 

The album's lead single, "Dibujos de Mi Alma," chronicles the ambivalent feeling of loving someone but also recognizing it's time to move on. As lead vocalist Luz Elena Mendoza croons in Spanish, "Although it hurts, you will find/ The traces of another will give you affection." If "Dibujos" is any indication, the rest of Lucha's vulnerable yet relatable tracks will pull at your heartstrings.

Jessie Ware - That! Feels Good!

Release date: April 28

Fresh off Harry Styles' Love On Tour, Jessie Ware returns with her fifth studio album, That! Feels Good! The lead single, "Free Yourself," confirms that the singer is not leaving the disco present on her previous What's Your Pleasure? just yet.

In a press release, Ware explained that the album’s second single, "Pearls" was heavily influenced by disco divas Donna Summer, Evelyn "Champagne'' King, Teena Marie, and Chaka Khan. The album is a reflection of her growth, she continued. "That! Feels Good! stems from over 10 years of understanding who I am, and who I enjoy being as an artist and the thrill of performance."

Illenium - ILLENIUM

Release date: April 28

You probably know Illenium from his dance-pop tracks and remixes, including collaborations from the Chainsmokers, Khalid, Tori Kelly, and most recently, a rendition of Taylor Swift's Midnights' single, "Anti-Hero." But on his upcoming self-titled album, the EDM heavyweight is charting new territory.

With assistance from Jxdn, Travis Barker, Avril Lavigne, All Time Low, Motionless in White, and others, Illenium will be crossing over into rock sub-genres, ranging from emo rap to heavy metal. If you're a lover of EDM-pop fusion, don't worry too much — this album still holds Illenium's signature sound in his tracks with MAX, Nina Nesbitt, JVKE, and Skylar Grey.

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ARTIST Wins Record Of The Year For RECORD | 2022 GRAMMYs

ARTIST wins Record Of The Year for “RECORD” at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. The win marks their NUMOFGRAMMYWINS win ever.

GRAMMYs/Apr 2, 2022 - 12:08 am

ARTIST takes home Record Of The Year for “SONG” at the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards. This win marks the rapper/singer/etc’s NUMOFWINSSOFAR of the 2022 GRAMMYs and their TOTAL GRAMMY WINS altogether.

Other nominees in the stacked category included: Lil Nas X, Silk Sonic, Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Brandi Carlile, Jon Batiste, ABBA, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Doja Cat & SZA, and Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar and Giveon. [REMOVE WINNER’s NAME]

Check out the complete list of winners and nominees at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards here.

Explore The Visual Worlds Of This Year's Best Music Video Nominees | 2022 GRAMMYs
2022 GRAMMYs

Graphic: The Recording Academy


Explore The Visual Worlds Of This Year's Best Music Video Nominees | 2022 GRAMMYs

After another year of awe-inspiring and conversation-starting visuals, AC/DC, Jon Batiste, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber (with Daniel Caesar and Giveon), Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, and Olivia Rodrigo compete for the night's music video honor

GRAMMYs/Nov 26, 2021 - 10:33 pm

Editor's Note: The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show, officially known as the 64th GRAMMY Awards, <a href=" """>has been rescheduled to Sunday, April 3, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The below article was updated on Tuesday, Jan. 18, to reflect the new show date and location.

These days, a song's visual component is practically as important as the song itself. The artists nominated for Best Music Video at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards show understand that well, and now one of them will have a GRAMMY to prove it.

This year's lineup spans pop, hip-hop, rock, and even a jazz classic: AC/DC's 'Shot In The Dark', Jon Batiste's 'Freedom', Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga's 'I Get A Kick Out Of You', Justin Bieber's 'Peaches' (featuring Daniel Caesar & Giveon), Billie Eilish's 'Happier Than Ever', Lil Nas X's 'Montero (Call Me By Your Name)' and Olivia Rodrigo's 'good 4 u."

As we wait for the 64th GRAMMY Awards — airing on CBS on April 3, 2022 — to find out who will take home Best Music Video (which is awarded to the artist, video director, and video producer), revisit this year's nominees below.


David Mallet, video director; Dione Orrom, video producer


When AC/DC needed a music video that matched the muscle of their 2020 comeback single, "Shot In The Dark," the legendary hard rock band turned to longtime friend and collaborator David Mallet.

Mallet is a rock lifer, having directed music videos and concert films for rock royalty like Queen's Freddie Mercury, Def Leppard and, of course, AC/DC. His relationship with the band dates back to his music video for the reissued "You Shook Me All Night Long" in 1986.

For "Shot In The Dark," which appears on AC/DC's 17th album (and first since 2014), Power Up, Mallet captures the band in full flight on an arresting black and red stage. Flashes of singer Brian Johnson, lead guitarist Angus Young, bassist Cliff Williams, and rhythm guitarist Stevie Young illuminated with bolts of light — "electric sparks," as they might say — trade off with the epic performance.

The video is reminiscent of their performance-based "You Shook Me All Night Long" clip, and watched side-by-side, it's hard to believe 35 years have passed.

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"FREEDOM" — Jon Batiste

Alan Ferguson, video director; Alex P. Willson, video producer

Following the March 2021 release of his eighth artist album, WE ARE, singer and band leader Jon Batiste clearly sensed the world needed some cheering up.

In June, Batiste unveiled the music video for "FREEDOM," a track from WE ARE, the singer's eighth album that's full of bright horns, body-moving percussion and the singer's distinctive vocal tones. The video for the uplifting song brings that vivacity to life.

Shot over two days in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans — Batiste's hometown — "FREEDOM" brings in all the joy and spirit of the neighborhood (and its marching bands) with a high-energy street party.

Director Alan Ferguson is a virtuoso behind the camera, as evidenced by his past music videos for Lizzo, Solange and Janelle Monáe. Ferguson's video for Batiste's soul-lifting anthem is all quick cuts and bursts of color. By the time the song hits the first "let me see you wobble" refrain, you'll want to do just that.

Read More: Who Has The Most GRAMMY Nominations This Year? The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show Nominees By The Number

"I Get a Kick Out Of You" — Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga

Jennifer Lebeau, video director; Danny Bennett, Bobby Campbell & Jennifer Lebeau, video producers

It's always an occasion when mutual admirers Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga get together in the studio, and the pair's 2021 version of Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out of You" carries even more gravitas.

The song appears on Bennett and Gaga's second collaborative album (and Album Of The Year nominee), Love for Sale. Featuring 10 covers of Porter's jazz standards, the project has been billed as Bennett's final album, capping one of the great American musical careers.

The heartwarming video for "I Get A Kick Out of You" sees Gaga and Bennett trading off verses as they record the track at New York City's Electric Lady Studios. It's both touching and emotional, as Gaga adoringly watches Bennett croon, at one point with tears in her eyes.

Industry veteran Jennifer Lebeau caught the mood in the lighthearted visual, as it mirrors the song's laidback feel and analogue warmth — perfectly capturing the affection between the cross-generational collaborators.

Read More: Meet This Year's Best New Artist Nominees | 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show

"Peaches" — Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar & Giveon

Collin Tilley, video director

"Peaches," featuring R&B favorites Daniel Caesar and Giveon, the fifth single from Justin Bieber's latest Album Of The Year nominee, Justice, has proven to be the LP's biggest hit. A purely feel-good jam, the song needed a music video with charm to match.

Bieber called on in-demand director Colin Tilley, who has since directed the singer's video for his Kid LAROI collab "STAY" and his emotionally raw "Ghost" clip. For "Peaches," Tilley shot Bieber, Caesar and Giveon cruising a neon-lit cityscape in a vintage car, taking turns riding on the hood and top of the vehicle to deliver their lines.

The vid flips between two other scenes that allow the singers to dance as they serenade, the first showing the song's title in massive letters lining a mirrored runway. Finally, the trio gather inside a dome with flashing colored lights, with Bieber sporting a fittingly peach-colored suit.

Read More: Meet This Year’s Song Of The Year Nominees | 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show

"HAPPIER THAN EVER" — Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish, video director; Michelle An, Chelsea Dodson & David Moore, video producers

Billie Eilish's hugely anticipated second album, Happier Than Ever developed a slower, slinkier tone for her sophomore effort to delve deep into the anxieties and contradictions of life in the spotlight. Lead single "my future" and its follow-up "Therefore I Am" set that pensive mood, with the latter's music video directed by Eilish herself.

Eilish returned as director on the music video for title track "Happier Than Ever," which arrived in conjunction with the album's release in July. It mirrors the song's slow build to a cathartic pay-off, as Eilish escapes from a flooded house and lets it all out on the rainswept roof.

Compared to the intentionally lo-fi feel of the "Therefore I Am" visual, "Happier Than Ever" marked an ambitious step up, with Eilish using the shoot to confront her own fear of water.

Read More: Meet This Year's Record Of The Year Nominees | 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show

"MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" — Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X & Tanu Muino, video directors; Frank Borin, Ivanna Borin, Marco De Molina & Saul Levitz, video producers

If Lil Nas X hadn't already made it clear that he's not afraid to push boundaries, his "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" did the trick. The controversial clip takes an untraditional approach to biblical and mythology-inspired scenes, including The Garden of Eden, a Roman colosseum, and heaven and hell.

Like the song itself, the "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" video serves as a representation of Lil Nas X's unabashed openness about his sexuality (the rapper came out as gay in 2019). He kisses a snake, dresses in Marie Antoinette-esque drag, and pole dances, before the video reaches its pinnacle shock-factor moment that sees the rapper giving the devil a lap dance — sporting thigh-high heeled leather boots, no less.

While it certainly caused a stir among conservative and religious groups upon its release, the "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" video is actually quite a thought-provoking combination of themes. Above all, it was an important bold statement for Lil Nas to make, with a Variety article even stating that the video "has changed everything for queer music artists."

Read More: Meet This Year's Album Of The Year Nominees | 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show

"good 4 u" — Olivia Rodrigo

Petra Collins, video director; Christiana Divona, Marissa Ramirez & Tiffany Suh, video producers

After the runaway success of the heartbreak anthem "driver's license," Olivia Rodrigo quickly proved she wasn't going to be a one-hit wonder with "good 4 u" — both thanks to its scream-along chorus and its nostalgia-inducing video.

The noughties-channelling pop-punk smash about a scorned lover demanded an acid-dipped visual, and millennial expert Petra Collins perfectly executed that need. In the clip, Rodrigo plays a revenge seeking high school cheerleader — referencing characters from feminist horror movies like Jennifer's Body and Audition — as she raises hell across an unsuspecting high school.

At the song's bridge, Rodrigo (who has done her fair share of acting, most notably in the Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: the Series) looks into the camera, hauntingly caressing it with her black leather gloves. Meanwhile, a messy-haired version of herself sets her ex-boyfriend's bedroom ablaze, giving a devilish grin before delivering the final "good for you" howl.

2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show: Complete Nominations List

Meet This Year’s Song Of The Year Nominees | 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show


Meet This Year’s Song Of The Year Nominees | 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show

Here's everyone who's up for the vaunted GRAMMY for Song Of The Year at the 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show: Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys, Olivia Rodrigo, H.E.R., Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, SZA, Silk Sonic, Lil Nas X, Justin Bieber and Brandi Carlile

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2021 - 10:54 pm

Editor's Note: The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show, officially known as the 64th GRAMMY Awards, <a href=" """>has been rescheduled to Sunday, April 3, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The below article was updated on Tuesday, Jan. 18, to reflect the new show date and location.

What were the songs that defined your 2021, a year where the world tentatively felt its way back to normalcy? Were they Olivia Rodrigo's bedroom-floor ruminations? Billie Eilish's hushed revelations? Lil Nas X's colorful odes to LGBTQ+ romance? Silk Sonic's gilded funk-soul throwbacks?

Well, all those artists are up for Song Of The Year at the 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show — as are Ed Sheeran ("Bad Habits"), Alicia Keys feat. Brandi Carlile ("A Beautiful Noise"), Olivia Rodrigo ("drivers license"), H.E.R. ("Fight for You"), Billie Eilish ("Happier Than Ever"), Doja Cat feat. SZA ("Kiss Me More"), Silk Sonic ("Leave The Door Open"), Lil Nas X ("MONTERO [Call Me By Your Name]"), Justin Bieber feat. Daniel Caesar and Giveon ("Peaches") and Brandi Carlile ("Right On Time").

While the 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show will offer all the esteemed categories viewers have come to expect, there's truly no category like Song Of The Year. It's a testament to artists who have mastered how to pack personality, punch and poetry into just a few minutes.

These are artists who best leveraged their outlets to shepherd us through uncertain times, find joy in the small things and weave the sounds, rhythms and melodies that drive our days and nights. Ahead of the ceremony on April 3, 2022, here are the nominees for Song Of The Year.

Nominations for the 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show are officially here! See the full list of nominations.\


"Bad Habits" — Ed Sheeran

Don't let the title of "Bad Habits" — or Sheeran's Dracula-fanged visage in its video — tell you otherwise. The four-time GRAMMY winner's slinky lead single from his new album, =, is a guilt-free pleasure.

And the tune's sheer pop patina belies a surprising fact: Sheeran didn't initially hear "Bad Habits" as the single.

"My single was scheduled to come out in June, and I was like, 'I don't know if the world needs a depressing sad, slow acoustic song when it's all opening up,'" he told James Corden on The Late Late Show in 2021. "So, I was in the studio and we created this song and it's just fun, I think."

That's an understatement when it comes to its firepower — "Bad Habits" is a sly, hooky delight.

Read More: Fall 2021 Album Guide: From Taylor Swift to ENHYPEN to NBA Youngboy, 10 Upcoming Releases To Listen To As The Seasons Change

"A Beautiful Noise" — Alicia Keys feat. Brandi Carlile

There's no lever of democracy like the power to vote — so why do roughly half of those eligible in America choose not to do so?

The answer is complicated and manifold, but that didn't stop Keys and Carlile — plus a consortium of other powerful female songwriters, from Brandy Clark to Lori McKenna to Linda Perry — from doing something about it ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Together, they concocted the impactful "A Beautiful Noise," a gentle-yet-firm song of urging to get regular folks to use their oft-neglected democratic powers.

Sure, one person's vote might be a drop in the ocean, Keys acknowledges in the song. But together, the electorate is like an unstoppable deluge.

"When you're all alone, it's a quiet breeze," she sings. "But when you band together, it's a choir of thunder and rain."

Take A Look Back: For The Record: Inside Alicia Keys' Masterpiece Songs in A Minor At 20

"drivers license" — Olivia Rodrigo

The lovelorn ballad that leveled the internet proved to only be the beginning for Rodrigo. Her 2021 album Sour uses it as a diving-board into a multitude of styles.

Still, it arguably remains her signature song. Why? Because it's possible no other songwriter has captured this very specific locus on the map of heartache.

"drivers license" is about spending your entire relationship ideating the point where you can drive to your beau's pad — only for him to move on right at the moment of truth.

The gut punch? "Guess you didn't mean what you wrote in that song about me," Rodrigo sings in the chorus. "'Cause you said forever, now I drive alone past your street."

"Fight For You" — H.E.R.

If the global racial reckoning in 2020 was like the cauterization of a wound, H.E.R.'s "Fight for You" is like those first spasms of pain — good, necessary, authentic pain.

From Gabi Wilson's first, wordless aria to the spectral chorale that carries it to the end, the song feels like a Pandora's box of psychological nightmares, finally exorcised into the ether.

"Their guns don't play fair/All we got is a prayer," she sings over a rhythm-and-blues backing that wouldn't sound out of place on a Marvin Gaye or Donny Hathaway record. "It was all in their plans/Wash the blood from your hands."

Musically, it shows Silk Sonic weren't the only vanguards for horn-fueled soul in 2021: H.E.R.'s contribution to Judas and the Black Messiah feels like a throwback in the most vivid, meaningful way.

Take A Look Back: H.E.R. Wins Song Of The Year For "I Can't Breathe" | 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show

"Happier Than Ever" — Billie Eilish

Let's set lyrics aside for a second and talk about pure sound: is there another pop phenom doing more with less than Eilish?

The title track to 2021's Happier Than Ever is little more than guitar, voice and some subtle, spacey ambience from her brother and co-conspirator FINNEAS.

As for the words themselves, they're economical and beautiful: "When I'm away from you/ I'm happier than ever," she croons in the chorus. "Wish I could explain it better/ I wish it wasn't true."

But then, the production tilts from dreamland into realism, and the words shift with the vibe: the object of her heartache is careening drunk while behind the wheel. Eilish, too, swerves from philosophical to flat-out vindictive. And as the song explodes into punishingly noisy and bitcrushed dimensions worthy of a Microphones track, it all crescendos with five words: "Just f<em></em>*ing leave me alone!"

Read More: Billie Eilish's Road To Happier Than Ever: How The Superstar Continues To Break Pop's Status Quo

"Kiss Me More" — Doja Cat feat. SZA

Put yourself in this character's shoes. A fetching spaceman — played by Grey's Anatomy actor Alex Landi — winds up in a far-flung galaxy populated by (you guessed it) Doja Cat and SZA.

Just as things get steamy, it's revealed that he's unconscious in a tube of liquid, his consciousness plugged into a video-game netherworld. In other words, he's a plaything.

Such is the girl-power message of the duo's "Kiss Me More," where sex and love and flirtation are on their own terms. But the sentiment wouldn't mean much without a high-thread-count pop song to match, and every second of the hooky track delivers.

"I feel like me and SZA are similar in the way that we both grew up with spiritual backgrounds, but she was perfect for this song," Doja — who grew up in Alice Coltrane's ashram — told Capital XTRA Breakfast at the time. "She was in my heart when I wrote this."

Read More: From Meme Queen To Popstar: Revisiting Doja Cat's Inevitable Breakout

"Leave the Door Open" — Silk Sonic

Take it from a writer who combs through hundreds of hyperbolic pitches about the Next Big Thing per day — it's nice to finally get some truth in advertising.

"We're making music to make women feel good and make people dance, and that's it," Anderson .Paak, who is one half of the R&B/soul duo Silk Sonic with Bruno Mars, recently told Rolling Stone. "It's not gonna make people sad."

This frank evaluation of what Silk Sonic does may not seem particularly deep at first blush, but this simplicity is a feature, not a bug.

On a musical level, Mars and .Paak are making far more than feel-good party music. Even YouTube music dissector Rick Beato was blown away by the sophisticated, jazzy chords they brought back to the airwaves decades after AOR classics like Steely Dan's Aja.

Silk Sonic finally dropped their debut full-length, An Evening With Silk Sonic, after months of living with the funky, soulful, glittery highlight "Leave the Door Open."

Even with all these other tunes to enjoy, it remains the gravitational center of the release — and a reminder that Beato-friendly music is hurtling back into the zeitgeist.

Read More: The 64th GRAMMY Awards: Everything You Need To Know About The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show & Nominations

"MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" — Lil Nas X

On 2019’s smash "Old Town Road," we met Lil Nas X: a TikTok star with a boy-next-door grin even as he participated in a subversive, age-old cultural fusion of Black and white culture.

But in 2021, with the hat and spurs and Billy Ray Cyrus in the rearview, we met Montero.

That's the real name of the born Montero Lamar Hill, and the name of his long-awaited debut album. And on the titular single "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)," his Blackness and gayness — and musical intrepidity — are on fearless display.

"I feel like we've come to a time in music where everything is nice and nothing is really cutting-edge or starting conversations any more," Lil Nas X recently told Time about its delightfully racy video. "I want to be part of a conversation that actually applies to my situation and so many people that I know."

"MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" hasn't just started a conversation — it set the course for the rest of this American original's career.

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

"Peaches" — Justin Bieber feat. Daniel Caesar & Giveon

Fifty-five years after the Beach Boys wished that females the nation round could be "California Girls," Bieber sang in no uncertain terms about what the various regions of the USA could do for him.

"I got my peaches out in Georgia/ I get my weed from California," he sings in "Peaches," his single from 2021's Justice. "I took my chick up to the North/ I get my light right from the source."

It's pretty obvious that Biebs is paying tribute to his wife, Hailey — and his collaborators also shout out long-lasting, long-suffering relationships.

While Daniel Caesar proclaims "There's no time, I wanna make more time / And give you my whole life," Giveon croons, "Your kisses taste the sweetest with mine/ And I'll be right here with you 'til the end of time."

For anyone ready and willing to settle down with one's main squeeze, that's a sentiment one can vibe with.

Take A Look Back: The GRAMMY Oral History: Justin Bieber's Purpose

"Right On Time" — Brandi Carlile

As a member of the Highwomen amid a contemporary wave of confessional, thoughtful Americana singer/songwriters (see also: Margo Price, Jason Isbell, Julien Baker, et al) Carlile knows her way around a lyric that acts as a knife-twist.

"Right on Time," the crestfallen lead-off track from her 2021 album In These Silent Days, is full of them. "I never held my breath for quite this long," she sings near the end. "And I don't take it back / I did what I had to do."

To hear Carlile tell it, she wrote "Right on Time" to attempt to best her last signature song, "The  Joke" (which also received a SOTY nod in 2018). "It was a once-in-a-lifetime song," she told Spin in 2021. "I wanted to hit that mark of drama again." And when this tune came spilling from her pen?

"[I] felt like the pressure was off in terms of getting my heart to come out of my mouth," she recalled. And she need not worry whether she measured up to her last zenith: "Right on Time" is a classy, timeless triumph.

2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show: Complete Nominations List