meta-script5 Inspirations Behind Don McLean's New Album 'American Boys': Rock 'N' Roll Heroes, George Floyd & Much More |
Don McLean performing in 2022
Don McLean performing in 2022

Photo: Burak Cingi/Redferns via Getty Images


5 Inspirations Behind Don McLean's New Album 'American Boys': Rock 'N' Roll Heroes, George Floyd & Much More

The four-time GRAMMY-nominated "American Pie" singer/songwriter is back with a kicking new album, 'American Boys.' Here are five people, places and concepts that inspired it.

GRAMMYs/May 21, 2024 - 04:39 pm

"I'm not that smart a guy," Don McLean bluntly informs, at the top of a recent interview. (Which is news to this writer, as McLean went on to compellingly expound on everything from George Floyd to the crisis in the Middle East and beyond, for a full hour.)

Rather, "I am a very instinctive person," he contends, over the phone from his home in California's Palm Desert. "I'm a bit of a weirdo in many ways, and the music reflects that."

Surveying his other key songs, McLean says he wrote in "a different style of music for 'Castles in the Air,' and a different style for 'Wonderful Baby,' and a different style for 'Vincent.' Every time, there's a different person in me that comes out."

Indeed, the man we all know for the eight-and-a-half-minute epic "American Pie" — which was nominated for four golden gramophones at the 1973 GRAMMYs — is hardly one-note; his body of work is a kaleidoscope.

Which, naturally, extends to his latest album, American Boys, which dropped May 15. His first album of original material since 2018's Botanical Garden is a cornucopia of subjects, and characters — the "Thunderstorm Girl," the "Stone Cold Gangster," the "Mexicali Gal."

"Instinctive" McLean certainly is, and instinct and inspiration go hand in hand. Here are five inspirations behind American Boys, as stated by the master himself.

America's Rock 'N Roll Innovators

Cleverly looping back to "American Pie," the album's opener, "American Boys," salutes the foundational figures of early rock, who belted "rhythm and blues with a hillbilly soul": Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and "The Fat Man."

If you recall, the far more somber and cryptic "American Pie" grapples with the young deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in a 1959 plane crash," a tragedy McLean codified as "The Day the Music Died." They truly don't make them like that anymore: what is it about America that produced such game-changing young talent back then?

"I have theories about things. We were a lot closer to the land once," McLean says. "We're living in a very techno, fake, computer-created world now.

"Those boys that I mentioned in that song, whether it was Johnny Cash, or Elvis, or Buddy, or any of them, they were all just one step away from the cotton fields, or the truck they'd be driving," he continues. "They were close to the land, and there's something about the land that produces the music."

Living Out In The Desert

McLean grew up in the Larchmont Woods in New Rochelle, New York — but he eventually picked up sticks and became a desert man.

"I do things for the oddest reasons," McLean says. "But, they're the real reasons, and I can look at myself and say, 'I did what I wanted to do with my life. Nobody told me what to do, ever.'"

What about the desert speaks to him, or flows through this music? It comes back to that sense of authenticity.

"A sense of truth. I must be true," McLean says, in an echo of the American Boys track “Truth and Fame.”  "I'm not interested in society, and I'm not interested in what people expect from me. I'm interested in being true to myself, and to my ideas, and that's all."

Or, to put it more bluntly, "I don't give a f— and I never have."

Femme Fatales, Real Or Imagined

Reciting a verse of the swaggery, swampy, bluesy "Stone Gold Gangster," McLean puts on his best tough-guy, '70s-caper voice: "Dressed like a hoodlum princess/ Carrying a .44 gun/ Comes from down south with a filthy mouth/ Done everything that's been done."

"It's about your female hustler, gangster-type person, and it's a very interesting track that we created," McLean says. "I used a lot of sources for that."

The Murder Of George Floyd

On a totally different note, McLean was deeply rattled — as most of us were — by the 2020 murder of George Floyd, one of the pivotal events of our young decade.

Watching the horrible footage, McLean flashed back to his youth, missing swaths of his school year due to chronic asthma that led to pneumonia. He and his mother even had a system: If he couldn't breathe in the middle of the night, he'd bang the floor with a bat to get her.

"I just heard him calling for his mother. I said, 'Nobody is dangerous who's calling for their mother,'" McLean says. "This was a sad little man who didn't have anything, and now he's just reduced to calling for mom. This song just came right out of me."

The Ambience Of His Early Years

McLean is a self-professed "fifties guy," which he admits is a clash with modernity. "I know this is a new America. We have all sorts of new things going on, and we've got to adapt or die. Even as politics and culture, in his estimation, are in the pits.

"We are living in a very medieval time, not an intellectual time now." Music, McLean says, has "only gotten cleaner, and cleaner, and cleaner, and cleaner, and now human hands are not clean enough; our colleges are "going to produce a dumb population that is going to produce dumb music, and it's going to produce dumb leaders."

But he can protest in his own, personal way: in his art, he retrieves a fading America. "I Shall Find My Way" and "Resurrection Man" have an ageless, benedictory heft.

"Marley's Song (Save Yourself)" draws from the film A Christmas Carol — ostensibly the famous 1951 version. "It's about seeing a movie, but the movie is really your life," he's said. And "The Gypsy Road" is "a hobo song, in a way."

Clearly, this American boy knows what made him — and how it all flowed into his winning new album.

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James Blake

James Blake

Photo: Recording Academy


James Blake On 'Assume Form' Collabs: "A Dream Come True" | GRAMMY Museum

The GRAMMY-winning "Retrograde" singer talks about his 2019 album and shares who inspired him to pursue a career in music

GRAMMYs/Jan 17, 2020 - 12:08 am

Shortly before GRAMMY winner James Blake treated 300 or so lucky GRAMMY Museum guests to a lively conversation and acoustic piano performance, the British electro-soul artist caught up with the Recording Academy. In our Behind The Scenes conversation, Blake spoke about his empowered 2019 album, Assume Form—which is currently nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the 2020 GRAMMYs—and how he chose the epic collaborator list that includes current Best New Artist nominee Rosalía, André 3000, Travis Scott and Moses Sumney.

The "Retrograde" singer also shared who inspired him to pursue a career in music. (Spoiler alert, the answer is really cute.)

Watch our exclusive Behind The Scenes video with Blake below, and read on to learn more about the late-2019 GRAMMY Museum event, including what five songs he performed.

"They're just all some of my favorite artists, so it was a dream come true, really, of a collaborator list," he told us. "I've been lucky enough that some of the people that I listen to also listen to some of my music and were happy to oblige to part of it."

"I think they all brought something really unique and we were on the same wavelength when we were making the music, so it feels natural, it feels kind of organic, and I'm so happy and honored they were able to join it."

Watch: Billie Eilish On Her Long Relationship With The GRAMMY Museum, How Rihanna Shaped Her Fashion Sense & More

Blake also shared how influential his father, the senior James Litherland (Blake was born James Blake Litherland), has been to his own music. Litherland is a life-long musician and played with the late-'60s U.K. rock outfit Colosseum. In 2011, Blake covered and reimagined his father's song "Where to Turn" on "The Wilhelm Scream," featured on his 2011 self-titled debut album.

"Over my career, there's been a running theme of coming into the foreground…with every reveal, comes some kind of risk," Blake told GRAMMY Museum's Artistic Director Scott Goldman, who moderated the event. "If Assume Form was anything, it was not only a version of songwriting clarity but also emotional clarity. It was the most clear I'd felt in a long time, so it was a good time to make an album."

Read: Find Out Who Just Made History With Their GRAMMY Nominations: 2020 GRAMMYs By The Numbers

He also dove a bit more into the album's collaborators, praising André's musicality and his "heady-ass verse" on "Where's The Catch." "His verse is f**king genius and I couldn't have written that." Blake also shared his love of Spanish nu-flamenco queen Rosalía, who brought her otherworldly vocals and fierceness to "Barefoot In The Park," noting that working with her felt super easy and natural.

After the in-depth conversation, Blake made his way over to the piano for a soulful performance that opened with Assume Form's "Are You In Love?" and closed with his "favorite song ever written about a relationship:" Joni Mitchell's "Case Of You," which he covered on his 2011 EP, Enough Thunder. In between those two heartwrenching love songs, he treated fans to "Love Me In Whatever Way," from 2016's The Colour In Anything, "Overgrown," from his 2013 album of the same name, and "Vincent," his 2017 Don McLean cover.

Don't forget to tune into the 62nd GRAMMY Awards on Sun., Jan. 26 to find out if Blake will take home the golden gramophone for Best Alternative Music Album. and CBS will be your ticket to find out all the winners and watch all the fun on GRAMMY day—see you there!

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GRAMMY Rewind: 15th Annual GRAMMY Awards

George Harrison wins Album Of The Year, while Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" takes Record and Song Of The Year against these nominees

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(For a list of 54th GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)

Music's Biggest Night, the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards, will air live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

In the weeks leading up to the telecast, we will take a stroll down music memory lane with GRAMMY Rewind, highlighting the "big four" categories — Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, and Best New Artist — from past awards shows. In the process, we'll examine the winners and the nominees who just missed taking home a GRAMMY, while also shining a light on the artists' careers and the eras in which the recordings were born.

Join us as we take an abbreviated journey through the trajectory of pop music from the 1st Annual GRAMMY Awards in 1959 to last year's 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards.

15th Annual GRAMMY Awards
March 3, 1973

Album Of The Year
Winner: George Harrison & Friends, The Concert For Bangladesh
Neil Diamond, Moods
Don McLean, American Pie
Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson
Original Broadway Cast, Jesus Christ Superstar

The Concert For Bangladesh, the first major benefit album, took top honors at the 15th Annual GRAMMY Awards. GRAMMYs were presented to Harrison, who organized the project, and to the featured artists, including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Ravi Shankar, Ringo Starr, and Klaus Voormann, among others. It was the second award in the category for both Harrison and Starr, following a win for the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band five years earlier. Clapton and Dylan would go on to win Album Of The Year on their own in the '90s with Unplugged and Time Out Of Mind, respectively. The Concert…, which was recorded at Madison Square Garden, was the first live album to win the award since Judy Garland's Judy At Carnegie Hall, which was likewise recorded in New York, just one decade earlier.

Jesus Christ Superstar was in the running for the second year in a row, thanks to the release of the original Broadway cast album. The initial concept album had been a finalist in 1971. This was the first Broadway cast album to make the category since Funny Girl in 1964. McLean was nominated for his album American Pie, which spawned the smash title song and the graceful ballad "Vincent." Nilsson was nominated for Nilsson Schmilsson, which contained the hits "Without You" and "Coconut." Diamond was nominated for his album Moods, which spawned the hits "Song Sung Blue" and "Play Me."

Record Of The Year
Winner: Roberta Flack, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
Neil Diamond, "Song Sung Blue"
Don McLean, "American Pie"
Harry Nilsson, "Without You"
Gilbert O'Sullivan, "Alone Again (Naturally)"

For the second year in a row, all five of the category's nominees were No. 1 hits. Flack took Record Of The Year for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which she had introduced on her 1969 album First Take. The album was just a modest hit until director Clint Eastwood featured the romantic song in his 1971 movie Play Misty For Me. That catapulted both the song and the album to No. 1. McLean's "American Pie," an inspired run through recent American pop culture, was one of the most dissected hits in years. Nilsson's "Without You," an elegant torch ballad written by Tom Evans and Pete Ham of Badfinger, won a GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" was a poignant song about a man at the breaking point. Diamond's "Song Sung Blue" was an irresistible sing-along that had broad appeal. It was the first nomination in this category for all five artists.

Song Of The Year
Winner: Roberta Flack, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
Neil Diamond, "Song Sung Blue"
Don McLean, "American Pie"
Gilbert O'Sullivan, "Alone Again (Naturally)"
Sarah Vaughan, "The Summer Knows"

The Kingston Trio was the first major act to record Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (called "The First Time" on their 1963 album New Frontier). But it took Flack's recording, and its use in the movie Play Misty For Me, for the song to become a hit. MacColl's song wasn't the only nominee that owed its success to a hit film. Michel Legrand conducted "The Summer Knows," which he co-wrote with Marilyn and Alan Bergman, in Summer Of '42. An instrumental version of the song by GRAMMY winner Peter Nero became a hit. Performed by GRAMMY winner Vaughan, the song also nominated for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) award. (The Bergmans would go on to win in this category two years later for another movie theme, "The Way We Were," which they wrote with Marvin Hamlisch.) The other nominees, all of whom appeared in the Record Of The Year category (and all of which were written solely by the artist), were O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)," McLean's "American Pie" and Diamond's "Song Sung Blue."

Best New Artist
Winner: America
Harry Chapin
Loggins And Messina
John Prine

America topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972 with "A Horse With No Name." The Eagles and Loggins And Messina also had Top 10 hits with "Witchy Woman" and "Your Mama Don't Dance," respectively. Though America won this award, the Eagles took the GRAMMY for Record Of The Year five years later with "Hotel California." Chapin's "Taxi" was only a moderate hit, but the story of the song was so compelling and distinctive that it made an impression on GRAMMY voters. The final nominee was singer/songwriter Prine, who released two critically hailed albums, John Prine and Diamonds In The Rough, in the eligibility period.

Come back to Jan. 17 as we revisit the 20th Annual GRAMMY Awards. Meanwhile, visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Facebook and Twitter for updates and breaking GRAMMY news.



Megan Thee Stallion performing in Houston June 2024
Megan Thee Stallion performs in Houston on June 15, 2024.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation


5 Iconic Moments From Megan Thee Stallion's Houston Hometown Shows

Megan Thee Stallion returned to Houston on June 14 and 15 for an epic homecoming filled with surprise guests, gifts and plenty of twerking. Revisit five of the most exciting moments from the Houston stops on the rapper's Hot Girl Summer Tour.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 08:31 pm

Seven years into her career, Megan Thee Stallion is no stranger to a sold-out crowd. The rapper has been dubbed "Sold-out Stalli" since selling out nearly 20 shows on her Hot Girl Summer Tour — and though her stops at Houston's Toyota Center weren't the first sellouts on the trek, they were considerably the most meaningful ones.

"I'm so happy to be home," Megan, a lifelong Houstonian, told the crowd on June 14, night one of the back-to-back shows. After honing her rap skills and launching her career in H-Town, the star expressed her gratitude for the support her Houston fans have shown her from the start. 

"Hotties, y'all know what we've been through, y'all been rocking with me since day motherf—in' one," she gushed on night one. "I love y'all, I appreciate y'all, I respect y'all and I'm very grateful for y'all because, without the Hotties, there would be no motherf—in' Hot Girl Coach."

The two-night stint highlighted Megan's vulnerability, drive and exceptional showmanship. But above all else, her hometown shows reminded fans that she's just a strong-kneed, animé-loving girl from Houston. 

Below, check out five of the most memorable moments from Megan Thee Stallion's Houston homecoming.

She Organized A Hottie Egg Hunt

Before stepping on stage on June 14, Megan sent Houston fans on a Hottie Egg Hunt for a chance to win merchandise and tickets to the show that night. The three-part interactive adventure featured clues, documented on Instagram and X, that helped fans locate the golden eggs. 

The first clue reads, "A wild stallion can't be tamed…meet me at the place where I'm gonna rock the stage!" The second, "Where I run through the mall with your daddy." The last, "People are smart, my Hotties are smarter, find this egg where I got one degree hotter."

Eager fans scoured the whole city and eventually found the eggs at Megan’s favorite spots in Houston: Toyota Center, The Galleria and Texas Southern University. So far, Houston has been the only city Megan has done this for, making for another special moment between her and Houston hotties.

She Continued To Prove She's A Girls Girl

An unfortunate rap show trend has seen several female opening acts receive hate ahead of male headliners. Luckily this hasn't been the case for Memphis rapper GloRilla, who has noticeably been enjoying her experience as an opener on the Hot Girl Summer Tour. 

On night two in Houston, GloRilla presented Megan with a blown-up art piece commemorating her upcoming album, Megan, on stage. In return, Megan complimented the 24-year-old rapper, saying, "Glo is one of the realest women I've ever met." 

That evening, Megan showed her love for another rising star — and fellow Houston female rapper — Monaleo. The Mo City rapper sent the crowd into a frenzy as she sang her 2023 hit song "Beating Down Yo Block," which samples the classic "Knocking Pictures Off Da Wall" by Houston's Yungstar.

She Paid Homage To Houston Legends

Monaleo was far from the only Houston native to take the stage with Megan during her hometown visit. On night one, Megan surprised fans with a legendary performance from a few Houston all-stars. The room filled with excited screams as H-Town''s Bun B popped out to perform UGK's "Int'l. Players Anthem (I Choose You)." As if it couldn't get more iconic, Megan joined the legend on stage to rap Pimp C's verse of the song. 

The night also featured a legendary performance of "Southside" by Lil Keke, which Megan teased prior in the show with her "Southside Royalty Freestyle." Fans also got to enjoy Slim Thug's verse from "Still Tippin," a song he shares with Mike Jones and Paul Wall. (Wall also performed the song on Megan's tour the previous night at Austin's Moody Center.)

On night two, Megan brought out another Houston great, Z-Ro to rap a classic, "Mo City Don." Though a Hot Girl at heart, Megan couldn't help but celebrate the legendary men who paved the way and left a historic mark in Houston's dynamic hip-hop scene. 

She Showed — And Received — Hometown Love

As Megan arrived at the Toyota Center on June 14, she received a surprise welcome by students from her alma mater, the Pearland High School Band and Prancers — a heartwarming kickoff to a night of mutual love between Megan and Houston that put her in high-spirits before the show. 

Both nights were filled with an immense amount of energy and support, from Megan signing autographs throughout the show to making sure she got the perfect selfie with her beloved supporters. Even during more tender moments — like “Cobra," a song about suicide and her depression — felt particularly moving because of the interaction between Megan and her hometown fans.

She Put The "Hot" In Hottie

Taking notes from another H-Town hero and fellow Houstonian, Megan put on an impressive show reminiscent of Beyoncé, from jaw-dropping choreography to stunning wind-blown poses. Megan also tapped into her past life as a Prairie View A&M Panther Doll with majorette-inspired dancing during her song "Cognac Queen." 

Of course, she wouldn't be Thee Stallion if she didn't show off her twerking skills and famously powerful knees during her two-hour show run. Fans even got to participate in the twerk-fest during intermission, as a "Hottie Cam" panned through the audience, showing love to the girls and boys.

If her hometown shows were any indication, Megan Thee Stallion's future is not just bright — it's smoking hot as well. 

GRAMMY Rewind: Megan Thee Stallion Went From "Savage" To Speechless After Winning Best New Artist In 2021

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform  at the 77th annual Tony Awards in New York City, Sunday, June 16.
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform "Empire State Of Mind" at the 77th annual Tony Awards on June 16.

Photo: Mary Kouw


2024 Tony Awards Recap: Musical Theater Wins And Exciting Performances

From the big wins for "Merrily We Roll Along" to "The Outsiders" taking home Best Musical and "Suffs" unexpected win, musicals made a splash at the 2024 Tonys.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 05:36 pm

Broadway had a jam-packed slate of musicals this year, with everything from originals to adaptations and highly anticipated revivals. It would only follow, then, that it would be a busy race toward the 77th Tony Awards

Fifteen musicals were eligible for nomination this year, up from nine in 2023. Fittingly, the June 16 telecast from Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater in New York City had some dramatic surprises — especially in the music-related categories. 

One race that was anyone’s game was Best Musical. While many thought Alicia Keys' "Hell’s Kitchen" would take the big win, the award went to "The Outsiders." Featuring music by folk duo Jamestown Revival, the book/film adaptation won a handful of awards, including Direction Of A Musical for Dayna Taymor. It was a landmark year, in which four of the five nominees for direction were women.  

Broadway is perhaps trying to capitalize on pop music fans more due to post-pandemic struggles and the reputation of Broadway being for the elderly elite. The uptick in pop stars gracing the Great White Way led the New York Times’ Michael Paulson to declare that Broadway was entering its pop era; fittingly half of the eligible new musicals had scores composed by people who primarily work as recording artists. 

Broadway is rife with recording artist-helmed scores and jukebox musicals, including Alicia Keys, David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, the Who, and Jamestown Revival. Recording artist-driven musicals were also among some of the notable snubs at the Tonys. Shows that failed to secure Best Musical or Original Score nominations included Ingrid Michaelson for "The Notebook," Barry Manilow for "Harmony," Huey Lewis for "The Heart of Rock and Roll," and Britney Spears for "Once Upon a One More Time."

The music categories did offer up some big name winners. Best Original Score was set to be an interesting category this year because a play, "Stereophonic," with music by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler was in the running. However, the suffragette musical "Suffs" written and starring Shaina Taub took home the award. She also scored Best Book of a Musical, which was predicted by several experts. "Stereophonic" did win five awards total including Best Play and Sound Design Of A Play. 

Orchestrator and musical director Jonathan Tunick expectedly won Best Orchestrations for "Merrily We Roll Along." While the orchestrations aren’t terribly different from the original production, the Sondheim show flopped when it first opened in 1981. Yet the "Merrily" revival has found huge success due to the strength of the music and its three famous leads — perhaps the biggest name on the show's Playbill,  Daniel Radcliffe, won  Best Performance By A Featured Actor In A Musical.

Radcliffe was joined in the winners’ circle by costar "Merrily" Jonathan Groff, who took home Best Performance By An Actor in a Leading Role In A Musical. Costar Lindsay Mendez lost out on Best Actress in a Featured Role of a Musical to "Hell’s Kitchen’s" Kecia Lewis, whose performance in the Alicia Keys bio-musical was very well reviewed. Considered a front runner for Best Musical, "Hell’s Kitchen" only ended up taking home two awards: Lewis’ actress award and Best Performance by a Leading Actress In A Musical, which went to Maleah Joi Moon, who was the frontrunner in predictions.  

Beyond wins and upsets, performances were the highlight of the Tonys. "The Outsiders" has been garnering praise for its rumble scene, a segment of which made up the show’s Tonys performance, complete with rain. Meanwhile, "Merrily" featured its three stars with a sweet rendition of "Old Friends." Other notable performances showcased the "wow-factors" from many of the nominated shows, including a number from the passionate dance-focused show, "Illinoise," and circus tricks in the number from "Water for Elephants." Jay-Z and Alicia Keys brought the audience to their feet with their performance of "Empire State Of Mind" from "Hell’s Kitchen." Meanwhile, "Suffs" leaned into the history lessons of the show.  

Non-nominee performances that stood out include a Fosse-fueled tribute to Chita Rivera, which also included a dance from "West Side Story" performed by host Ariana DeBose (who won an Oscar for the 2021 re-make for the role of Anita, which Chita Rivera originated on Broadway). Nicole Scherzinger, who will appear in "Sunset Boulevard" next season, sang the "In Memoriam." Speaking of West End, the London-transfer production of "Cabaret" included an immersive rendition of "Willkommen," led by Eddie Redmayne, who got dragged on social media and in the press for the clown-like performance many found "terrifying." 

Next year we will be getting even more pop-artist driven musicals, including Elton John leading the charge with two musicals in the works, "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Tammy Faye." Other notable upcoming shows will have music by John Legend, Elvis Costello, Nas, Neko Case, and Mitski. Plus, a production of "Romeo and Juliet" will feature music by frequent Taylor Swift collaborator (as well as 2024 Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical) Jack Antonoff

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