meta-script'Future Nostalgia': How Dua Lipa Rose From Best New Artist To Massive Pop Star | GRAMMY.com
Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa

Photo: Hugo Comte

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'Future Nostalgia': How Dua Lipa Rose From Best New Artist To Massive Pop Star

Nominated for six GRAMMYs at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, Dua Lipa leaped into powerhouse territory with her 2020 sophomore album, 'Future Nostalgia,' becoming pop's newest reigning queen in the process

GRAMMYs/Mar 13, 2021 - 02:04 am

For Women's History Month 2021, GRAMMY.com is celebrating some of the women artists nominated at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show. Today, we honor Dua Lipa, who's currently nominated for six GRAMMYs.

There was so much to mourn in 2020: The last time we hugged our families, traveled to new places and swayed among sweaty strangers on a dance floor. But that didn't stop Dua Lipa.

Since last March, the English pop star has released not one, but three albums. The first of the trilogy, her defiant dance pop sophomore record, Future Nostalgia, released last March just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to take hold over the world, quickly became a nu-disco-tinged masterpiece. It was a bold move for Lipa to release a record in a pandemic, with the major-label pop album rollout upended and international touring put on pause. 

The risk paid off: Future Nostalgia became her first album to enter the Top 5 on Billboard's Hot 200 chart. And if Future Nostalgia was any indication, the thrill of taking risks was far from over. 

Last August, the singer released Club Future Nostalgia, an adrenaline-filled remix album for the digital dance floor, made with DJ/producer the Blessed Madonna. For the album, she enlisted collaborators Blackpink, Mark Ronson, Madonna, Missy Elliott and Gwen Stefani.

Related: Dua Lipa Talks 'Club Future Nostalgia,' Working With Madonna And How She's Navigating The Music Industry In The COVID-19 Era

But she still wasn't done expanding the Future Nostalgia universe. Just last month, she shared another version of the album, The Moonlight Edition, which included three new singles as well as Lipa's "Prisoner" collaboration with Miley Cyrus; "Un Día" with J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Tainy, for which she's currently nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance; and "Not My Problem" with J.I.D.

It's clear Lipa put in the work to get here. With the release of her 2017 self-titled debut album, the singer became crystallized as a feminist force in the pop world. Singles like the beguiling synth-pop anthem "Be the One" and the club-ready "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)" captivated listeners. But it was the empowering smash "New Rules" that ignited a viral craze for its infectious lyrics and GIF-able music video, which is filled with women holding and uplifting each other while dancing sleepover-themed choreography. 

Dua Lipa and the subsequent success of "New Rules" helped Lipa nab a Best New Artist GRAMMY in 2019—plus an internet nickname ("Dula Peep")—and primed her for pop superstardom. While her self-titled album established her as a headlining pop contender, Lipa continued to push herself.

Read: Taylor Swift's Road To 'Folklore': How The Superstar Evolved From 'Diaristic' Country Tunes To Her Most Progressive Music Yet

Part of challenging herself came in the fallout of the pandemic. The pop album release cycle is generally highly orchestrated, teeming with the careful planning of single releases, music videos and tour dates. But one cannot prepare for unprecedented times: Per The New York Times, as Lipa's 85-date arena tour was pushed back, there were talks in her camp of postponing the drop of Future Nostalgia—then days before her livestream of the album leaked—and an imminent release became necessary. This was all happening in parallel with the collective trauma and grief the world was facing with COVID. 

Future Nostalgia delivered exactly the escapism people around the world sought.

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The anthemic single "Don't Start Now," currently nominated for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, was the kind of carefree, disco-inflected number you'd hear while skating backward at a '70s roller rink. What followed was the candy-coated, dance pop track "Physical," which delivered '80s aerobics touchstones, and "Break My Heart," a glittery, disco funk jaunt with swaggering guitar riffs. (The album's retro-futuristic slant touched everything: from the songs themselves to the neon leotards in the music videos.)

Lipa saw how cathartic the music had become for her fans. The album hailed quarantine anthems and received the meme treatment: "Don't Start Now" for its refrain ("Don't show up/Don't come out") and "Break My Heart" for its very timely chorus ("I should have stayed home").

As fans found new ways to connect with Future Nostalgia, so did Lipa—and innovation took the lead. Doing late-night TV performances required a newfound sense of creativity.

Then there was the idea of trying to recreate concerts. While a garden variety of livestreams had been sprinkled throughout 2020, the absence of flashy arena performances was an obvious void. But despite live shows being canceled indefinitely, Lipa led the charge behind one of the year's most highly anticipated—and polished—virtual concerts with Studio 2054, which paid homage to the Future Nostalgia universe. Filmed in a sprawling London warehouse, the livestream concert saw Lipa command the stage of custom-built sets with sleek choreography, glitter, glam, raves and roller discos, along with special appearances from Elton John, FKA twigs, Kylie Minogue, Bad Bunny and more.

Future Nostalgia was indeed a game-changer for Lipa's musical arc and aesthetic; it was a transformation for her career, too. She didn't just create an album—she created an era. "Her voice changes a song the same way her presence lights up a room," Future Nostalgia producer Ian Kirkpatrick tells GRAMMY.com. 

Future Nostalgia took Lipa into powerhouse territory, with the singer making the massive leap from Best New Artist to pop's newest reigning queen. Most of all, it showed that Lipa could seamlessly redefine herself. Sarah Hudson, who co-wrote songs on her debut album as well as "Levitating" and "Physical" off Future Nostalgia, had "no doubt" that Lipa "would take over the world." "[Dua] had a very specific vision for Future Nostalgia, and she executed it flawlessly," she tells GRAMMY.com. "It comes genuinely from her heart, and you can feel that in every single song."

It also helped that Lipa had a top-tier team behind her. Chris Gehringer, who mastered Future Nostalgia, says that the album's success stemmed from the fact that Lipa enlisted producers and engineers who all "worked on a No. 1 song and album before." "I mastered three songs from her debut album, 'Lost In Your Light,' 'Blow Your Mind' and 'New Rules,' so I knew this new album was going to be big," he tells GRAMMY.com. Ali Tamposi, who co-wrote "Break My Heart," describes Lipa as a "force to be reckoned with." "We're lucky to have someone like her at the forefront of music who [continuously] raises the bar."

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And the 2021 GRAMMYs reflect that. With six GRAMMY nominations, including Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album, Lipa is one of the most nominated artists this year.

Following this year's GRAMMYs, it'll be interesting to watch how Dua Lipa continues to evolve as an artist. Future Nostalgia was such a sonic departure from her first album—how will she push the boundaries of pop next? 

How Harry Styles Emerged From Teen Pop Sensation To First-Time GRAMMY Nominee

Sabrina Carpenter performing at Governors Ball 2024
Sabrina Carpenter performs at Governors Ball 2024.

Photo: Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images

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9 New Pride Anthems For 2024: Sabrina Carpenter's "Espresso," Chappell Roan's "Casual" & More

Throughout the past year, a slew of music's brightest stars have blessed us with a batch of fresh songs that have quickly been embraced by the LGBTQIA+ community as classics, from Dua Lipa's "Houdini" to Troye Sivan's "One Of Your Girls."

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2024 - 01:27 pm

Every June, Pride Month offers a time for the LGBTQIA+ community to reflect and raise awareness — but also, to party it up. While there were plenty of Pride anthems to pack playlists prior to this year, the past 12 months have seen some flawless new additions from a mix of fresh talent and long-standing stalwart artists that the queer community happily embraces.

While there's no set template on how to create an undeniable Pride anthem, there are major hallmarks: high-energy tempo, candid lyrics, delicious camp, and an undeniable groove. Between pop bops and dance floor jams, no Pride party is complete without at least a couple of the songs listed below. Cheers to the cathartic power of music to usher in another season of acceptance and equality. 

Sabrina Carpenter — "Espresso"

You play it when you wake up. It's on the radio on the way to the club. It's playing at the club. Heck, it's even blasting at the gym the next day. 2024's newly crowned pop princess, Sabrina Carpenter, released an instant classic when she unfurled "Espresso" in April — more than enough time to learn the lyrics by Pride Month.

With an infectious melody targeting your ears like a jolt of morning caffeine, its steaming dose of memorable lines ("I'm working late/ 'cause I'm a singer") are the handiwork of Carpenter along with three veteran lyricists, including close collaborator Steph Jones, Amy Allen (Harry Styles, Selena Gomez) and Julian Bunetta, who is perhaps best known for his plethora of work with One Direction. "Espresso" marks further proof that if there's one thing Carpenter knows it's how to command an audience, whether through her captivating stage shows or viral, story-telling music videos that link together (including for recent single "Please, Please, Please").

Read More: Sabrina Carpenter Releases New Single "Please Please Please": Everything We Know About Her New Album 'Short N' Sweet'

Charli XCX — "360"

It's safe to say that Charli XCX is experiencing a new phase of her decade-long career as a critically acclaimed starlet. Her sixth studio album, BRAT, marks an evolution of her sound into a batch of adult tracks tailor-made for the club. As a result, it's spawned a number of viral memes among her legions of LGBTQIA+ fans, who have also boasted lime green avatars on social media in honor of what's being dubbed "brat summer."

It's no coincidence then that she'd release the project in the midst of Pride Month, led by the relentlessly pulsating single "360." With lyrics that have quickly already found itselves queer canon — "Drop down, yeah, Put the camera flash on" — the album boasts a hyperpoop energy and unapologetic individuality, making her recent spate of shows some of the hottest tickets in town.

Read More: Charli XCX's Road To 'Brat': How Her New Album Celebrates Unabashed Confidence & Eccentricity

Orville Peck, Diplo & Kylie Minogue — "Midnight Ride"

Giddy up! One of the brightest out stars in the LGBTQIA+ musical universe, the ever-masked Orville Peck has made a name for himself as a queer outlier in the country music scene. So it stands to reason that he'd partner up with none other than Kylie Minogue — who had the defining song of Pride '23 in the form of "Padam Padam" — for their own anthem for 2024. The result is "Midnight Ride," a whistle-powered, Diplo-produced earworm that's perfect for a rainbow-tinted hoedown.

The team-up is part of Peck's forthcoming duets project, for which he recruited a cavalcade of singing partners for queer-themed country-tinged tracks in a unique two-volume album dubbed Stampede (which drops in full Aug. 2). The collaborators include Willie Nelson, who croons with Peck on the eye-raising ditty "Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other."

Dua Lipa — "Houdini"

When Dua Lipa released Future Nostalgia in 2020, it became an instant classic in the pop world and LGBTQIA+ lexicon alike, cementing Lipa (and songs like "Don't Start Now" and "Physical") into the grand pantheon of queer playlist magic. The pressure was on, then, for her follow-up to live up to its commercial success and fandom.

Cue "Houdini," from this year's Radical Optimism, a cathartic dance floor anthem by one of the gay community's newer idols. Aside from setting the perfect tone for Pride Month with its delicious hook and refreshing confident lyrics "(Prove you got the right to please me"), in an interview with  SiriusXM Hits 1, Lipa said the production of the track set the tone for the new project: "I was like, "Okay, I feel like now I know exactly what this album's gonna be and what it's gonna sound like."

Read More: Dua Lipa's Road To 'Radical Optimism': How Finding The Joy In Every Moment Helped Her Become Pop's Dance Floor Queen

The Challengers soundtrack

Who knew that a soundtrack to a tense and sultry tennis drama would yield an album fit for the dance floor? The thumping array of tunes that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross churned out for Luca Guadagnino's Challengers has proved to be a hit beyond the film, with its synth-propelled soundtrack proving to be a unique and wild tracks, including the driving "I Know." 

Its embrace in the LGBTQIA+ community should come as no surprise considering the single note the director gave Ross before he started work. "The way he described 'Challengers' was in a one-sentence email," Ross told Variety earlier this year. "Do you want to be on my next film? It's going to be super sexxy.' Two x's."

Ariana Grande — "yes, and"

Ariana Grande is no stranger to gay-friendly anthems; in fact, she delivered one of 2020's most iconic Pride moments with her Lady Gaga duet, "Rain On Me." When her album eternal sunshine dropped earlier this year, it was no surprise that she'd offer a few more bops for a Pride playlist.

Among them is "yes, and," a Max Martin-produced hit that can get even your stiffest friend moving on the dance floor. Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that the creative team took the sonic elements of ballroom culture — a uniquely queer LGBTQIA+ experience — and fused them with lyrics perfect for a personal Pride anthem. "Say that s— with your chest," she croons. We will, Ari!

Read More: Listen To GRAMMY.com's 2024 Pride Month Playlist Of Rising LGBTQIA+ Artists

Peggy Gou — "(It Goes Like) Nanana"

If you've been on a dance floor in the recent past, odds are you've grooved to nostalgic beats courtesy the South Korean producer Peggy Gou. The breakout star is known for her unique brand of throwback dance jams, which carry a distinct '90s-era flavor that has led her to be embraced in queer spaces from Fire Island to West Hollywood. The most infectious, "(It Goes Like) Nanana").... samples the German artist ATB's 1998 track "9 PM (Till I Come)," no doubt a reaction to the recent revitalization of 90s-era culture popular in the LGBTQIA+ community, which provides a thumping link to queer culture past.

"For me,  the DJ is someone who teaches people the value of music and educates them," Gou told L'Official of her musical mission. "It is someone who transmits a beautiful memory and is somehow responsible for it."

Chappell Roan — "Casual"

While Roan has been a bubbling-under singer/songwriter for a handful of years, 2024 has proved to be decidedly her time to shine. Ever since the release of her debut album, 2023's The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, her back catalog has logged impressive streaming numbers, and she's commanded massive crowds at the likes of Governor's Ball and Bonnaroo.

Part of her appeal comes from her unabashed candidness about her sexuality (Roan identifies as a lesbian) and resilience. Both are exemplified by her single "Casual," which is about a relationship that doesn't seem to get all that serious, for better or worse.

However, Roan told the Associated Press last year that normally she isn't so sexually candid.  "The songs kind of give me the opportunity to act like that, and say that, and dress like that," she explained. "It's mainly to piss off — it's all a rebellion. That's what it is. It is very empowering, I think, for a lot of people. ... It's just not as empowering to me as it is living out a fantasy."

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

Troye Sivan — "One Of Your Girls"

By now, we've all heard Troye Sivan's infectious hit "Rush" or seen its viral music video — both of which earned the singer his first GRAMMY nominations this year. In the interim, his 2023 album, Something to Give Each Other, is filled with plenty of other tracks that speak intimately and eloquently about the queer experience.

Take, for example, the luscious "One Of Your Girls," a meditation on when a gay man has a transactional fling with an otherwise straight person. It subsequently has turned into yet another queer definitive anthem for the Australian star.

As a result, Sivan has turned into one of the musical heroes of the community: not only unabashedly talented, but an eloquent chronicler of the gay experience. Even better, as he told  NPR last year, his queer-focused projects are as cathartic for him as they may be for listeners. "There's a big element of pride in the fact that I am now so comfortably, openly gay."

PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices

Kehlani press photo
Kehlani

Photo: Mia André 

interview

Crashing Into The Present: How Kehlani Learned To Trust Their Instincts And Exist Loudly

"I want this next batch of music to feel like the most fiery parts of me," Kehlani says of her new album, 'Crash.' The singer/songwriter speaks with GRAMMY.com about embracing the moment and making an album she can headbang to.

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2024 - 01:07 pm

After finishing the first mixes of their new album, Kehlani knew exactly what she needed to do: head to Las Vegas. 

The L.A.-based, Oakland-born singer/songwriter had always identified with Sin City: "I’m full of juxtapositions," she tells GRAMMY.com. "Vegas is this crazy bright light city in the middle of a vacant desert that has weddings and also strippers." Fittingly, Kehlani harbored a very Vegas-like image in their head while creating Crash, a record built on blaring neon, glowing smoke, and the highest highs.

Crash drops June 21, and is Kehlani's fourth solo album. She burst onto the scene in 2009 as a member of teen sextet PopLyfe, but their 2014 debut solo mixtape Cloud 19 announced a far more complex character. Their debut full-length, SweetSexySavage, was released three years later to critical acclaim, with two more albums and a handful of platinum-certified singles following. As if that weren’t enough, Kehlani added acting, appearing in "The L Word: Generation Q" and a cameo in Creed III. 

And while Crash embodies the evolution and growth through all those experiences, the record builds a hyper-real language all their own. Beyond any sense of R&B or pop, soul or hip-hop, Crash finds Kehlani chasing passions that refuse to fit in any box, shifting multiple times within a track — refusing to focus on anything but the moment. 

"A crash isn't anything from the past. It isn't the anxiety of what's about to happen," she says. "It's the height of the moment. It's right now."

Nearing the release of Crash, Kehlani spoke with GRAMMY.com about finding inspiration from international music, getting their five-year-old to sing on the album, and their need to stage dive.

What’s it like living in Los Angeles after growing up in the Bay Area?

I moved to L.A. when I was about 17. I had already left the house. I left the house at 14, and by the time I was almost 18 it was the appropriate time for me to situate in a new place. L.A. and the Bay are like cousins. Do we have differences? Absolutely, things that are fundamental to us, but when you leave California, you can really see that we're just like a big family.

Had you been dreaming of L.A. as a place where you could pursue art? Were you already set on that goal?

It was the closest place that a young, very broke person could go and work in music. I'm sure there were other places with musical homes, musical cities, but if all I had to do was get on a $15 bus and go find someone to stay with in L.A., I was gonna do it for sure.

That’s the same ambition that I feel drives this new record, which is just so dense and full of surprises. That includes the lovely retro radio intro to "GrooveTheory," where you move from this ‘60s pop feel to the present. That’s such a smart way to foreground your evolution.

I think the second that we made that song and then turned it into ["GrooveTheory"], I was like, This feels like it encompasses where I'm headed, this whole new sound. 

Once that radio dials in and it comes in with R&B elements, it's producing where I'm headed, but also remembering that my core hasn't changed. Especially the energy of what I'm saying in the song, like, "I'm kind of crazy," it's introducing this energy difference on this album. I feel like that's the biggest change, and that's what's so prevalent in this whole rollout. Energetically, I'm on a whole different type of time.

You can sense it. 'Crash' feels really rooted in self-expression and personal growth, and when you listen to it as a whole, it really does seem like an evolution story. Beyond just the genre and style, how do you feel the way that you've expressed your true self has shifted over the years?

Thank you! That's been the feedback I've gotten from pretty much everyone who's listened, and I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this. I have realized the public's understanding of me and the general consensus for so long, and I also realized how multi-faceted I am to people. 

People get really confused when I express all the sides of my personality. They’re either, like, "Okay, she makes really sweet love songs," or "We've seen you be political, we've seen you come out, we've seen you be a family member." And then there's a lot of people who are, like, "I feel like she's f—ing crazy. I've seen her in multiple relationships. I've seen her be angry. I've seen her get online and cuss people out." 

I want this next batch of music to feel like the most fiery parts of me. I want it to feel like the most present and energetic parts of me. I don't want anything to feel somber. I don't want anything to feel reminiscent. I think a lot of my albums in the past have been me looking back, and sitting in that feeling and detailing it. I just wanted [this album] to feel right here, right now, which is why the title came about. A crash isn't anything from the past. It isn't the anxiety of what's about to happen. It's the height of the moment. It's right now.

That’s unfortunately a story you hear too often about artists of color — that essentialization, where you can only be seen as one thing. R&B often gets hit with those same issues. Throughout your career you’ve stood up to those expectations, and "Better Not" on this album is such a good example of that. It’s a left turn, a stylistic contrast and an open conversation with the listener. You cleverly fuse that intentionality with a voice that’s stronger than ever.

In the past, I have had moments where I would make the song and [start recording], and there would be so many versions of each song on different microphones, recorded in different places.

"Let me try vocal production. Let me try to go back and work with this version again." I went back and did vocal production with Oak Felder, who did all the vocal production on SweetSexySavage. When I come back to some of my favorite vocal production moments, it was moments like "Distraction" or "Advice" or "Escape" — songs on my very first album — and I wanted to get that feeling again. Where it's lush where it needs to be, but also that I really mean what I'm saying. 

That started with the approach in the songwriting. Once I had the songs and I had to go back and deliver them, I had enough time to listen and listen, to learn the songs and identify with them. We would make music all day and then go out, and we would be in this sprinter van on the way to going out, and, like, bang, the songs we just made, the energy was just different. It allowed me to be present in a different way where my voice is able to show up like that.

Learn more: R&B Isn't Dead: Listen To 51 Songs By Summer Walker, Josh Levi & More Artists Who Are Pushing The Genre Forward

Which again ties perfectly to crashing into the present. As someone from South Africa, I love that the other guests that you included represent different cultural viewpoints. You worked with Young Miko from Puerto Rico, Omah Lay from Nigeria. Having that musical dialogue is so powerful.

We had so many conversations about how America's in the backseat often when it comes to music. We have our moments, and it's fantastic, like Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter. There's a culture that is super American, that is Black, that historically needs to be dived into. It needs to be shown that we do have something here. 

So many people that don't speak Spanish bang Bad Bunny all day. Amapiano’s taking over; Tyla’s going up. It's really not here. So that wasn't a conscious choice. It's just what we've all been listening to, what we've been loving.

Read more: 11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More

Speaking of guests, I wanted to ask about your daughter, whose voice is on "Deep." Was she just in the studio and you got her singing?

So those vocals on that, that’s actually my little sister and my goddaughter. And [my daughter] was in the room and she started singing along. She has perfect pitch; she's always freestyling or singing or making something up. 

I was like, "You want to just go sing on it?" What's on there is her first take. Literally. She did it the first time, all the way through, perfectly. I was like, "Well, that's it, guys. I can retire." 

That track is so lush. It feels so alive. Were you working with a full band?

[Producer] Jack Rochon, who I did a lot of the music with, he just is a freaking genius music whiz. Honestly, he's one of the most humble people that I know, and deserves credit for how amazing a lot of this album is.

Talking about touchstones, there's a Prince energy to the title track. Did you have any new inspirations or influences for this record?

Thank you! My main focus for this album came from going on tour for my last one and making such a pretty, sweet, intimate album, and then playing some of the biggest venues of my career. At some point I had to rearrange the setlist to add in a lot of the album before that one, because it was just more energy on the stage. By week two of tour, the setlist had completely changed. I knew that I was playing venues on this next tour that I've dreamt about, places that I can't fathom that I'm playing, like Barclays Center. 

I do a lot of things for, like, my inner child, and this is such a move for my inner child. Like, You're about to go play Barclays. Do you want to look back and say, ‘I rocked out and played Barclays’? I'm a person who headbangs on stage. I stage dive. I wanted to create an album that would ring through a venue like that. I want people to be engaged again. I'm not looking for the lighters and the somber, holding each other — which will occur regardless, because it's a me show. 

But I really wanted people to be in their bodies, and their heart’s exploding and the ground’s shaking. So that's what we accomplished. I wanted to have fun. This album is so fun to me. It’s a place of fire in my heart.

It took me a second to get the word play on "Eight." I loved the track, and then suddenly I was like, 'Oh… I knew there was something raunchy going on here.'

[*Laughs.*] "Eight" was super fun, and shoutout to the boys that I did it with, because they made it everything for me. 

I didn't come up with the wordplay. My boys did. Like, "This is how you talk!" I was like, "It is! This is perfect." Once I got in to fix things, add things, add my own spin, and finish writing, my favorite part was that it sounds like a Brandy song. She's my favorite.

I also wanted to ask about the Nina Sky sample on "After Hours."

That was mine. I was like, "What can we flip that when it comes on, my generation loses their mind?" And for me, every single time that Nina Sky comes on in the club, everybody's like "Woo!" And then you see how many songs were made from that same sample, and they're all songs that make us lose our minds. 

I went into the room with the producers, and I was like, "So, I want to flip this, but I want you to make it to where it doesn't become one of those where the whole thing is just a sample."

Similarly, "Lose My Wife" balances breeziness with high emotional stakes. Is finding a balance like that just natural for someone so capable of juxtaposition?

The second that we established that [the record] felt like Vegas, I knew what components were missing from the energy of how I feel the second my car crosses the line into the city of Las Vegas. I knew I was missing that feeling of the next morning when you realize you went on this high and you come down. I wanted to create these scenarios that weren't necessarily applicable to me, but captured that emotion. I've been there before, and I want people to be like, Damn, I've been there before. I know this feeling. 

I recorded that song at 4 in the morning with a sinus infection. The second that we finished it, everybody was like, "You can never re-sing that. Don't try to make another version, you're not gonna be able to sound like that again." All the chatter in the background of that song is really everybody who was in the studio that stayed up to just hang out. We had the tequila out, it was perfect. That was probably one of my favorite moments of making the album.

It takes a while as an artist to reach a place where you can capture those moments. You said before that people try to figure you out, and I mean this in the best possible way, but it feels like now you don’t care if they can’t figure you out.

I don't give a f—anymore, yeah. And that was a very important thing for me to learn. I used to care so much, and I would spend so much time explaining myself online, in music, in interviews, on stage. I realized that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. 

I've been so forward-facing with my heart my entire career that I've left a lot of room for people to consistently pedestal me and then critique me, for people to want to tear me down. I realized I'm just being present, here, existing loudly in front of a billion people, and whichever way that goes is how the cookies gonna crumble. Me giving a f—? I'm the only one it's affecting at this point, for sure.

Angélica Garcia's Intuition: How 'Gemelo' Was Born By Embracing L.A., Ancestry & Spanish Language

Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023.
Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023

Photo: Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

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The Environmental Impact Of Touring: How Scientists, Musicians & Nonprofits Are Trying To Shrink Concerts' Carbon Footprint

"It’s not just [about] a single tour, it’s every tour," singer Brittany Howard says of efforts to make concerts more sustainable. From the nonprofit that partnered with Billie Eilish, to an MIT initiative, the music industry aims to curb climate change.

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2024 - 01:30 pm

Beloved by fans around the globe, yet increasingly unaffordable for many artists, concert tours are central to the world of entertainment and local economies. After the pandemic-era global shuttering of concert venues large and small, tours are back, and bigger than ever.  

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is smashing records, selling more than four million tickets and earning more than $1 billion. But that tour made headlines for another reason: as reported in Business Insider and other outlets, for a six-month period in 2023, Swift’s two jets spent a combined 166 hours in the air between concerts, shuttling at most a total of 28 passengers. 

Against that backdrop, heightened concerns about the global environmental cost of concert touring have led a number of prominent artists to launch initiatives. Those efforts seek both to mitigate the negative effects of touring and communicate messages about sustainability to concertgoers. 

A 2023 study sponsored by Texas-based electricity provider Payless Power found that the carbon footprint of many touring bands was massive. In 2022, concert tours in five genres — country, classic rock, hip-hop/rap, metal and pop — were responsible for CO2 emissions totaling nearly 45,000 metric tons. A so-called greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide contributes to climate change by radiative forcing; increased levels of CO2 also contribute to health problems.  

No serious discussion of climate issues suggests a worldwide halt to live music touring, but there exists much room for improvement. Both on their own and with the help of dedicated nonprofit organizations, many artists are taking positive steps toward mitigating the deleterious effects that touring exerts upon the environment.  

Smart tour planning is one way to lessen an artist’s carbon footprint. Ed Sheeran’s 2022 European run minimized flights between concert venues, making that leg of his tour the year's most environmentally efficient. Total carbon dioxide emissions (from flights and driving) on Sheeran’s tour came to less than 150 metric tons. In contrast, Dua Lipa’s tour during the same period generated 12 times as much — more than 1800 metric tons — of CO2 

In July, singer/songwriter and four-time GRAMMY nominee Jewel will embark on her first major tour in several years, alongside GRAMMY winner Melissa Etheridge. During the planning stage for the 28-city tour, Jewel suggested an idea that could reduce the tour’s carbon footprint.

"I always thought it was so silly and so wasteful — and so carbon footprint-negative — to have separate trucks, separate lighting, separate crews, separate hotel rooms, separate costs," Jewel says. She pitched the idea of sharing a backing band with Etheridge. "I’ve been trying to do this for 25 years," Jewel says with a laugh. "Melissa is the first person who took me up on it!" 

The changes will not only reduce the tour’s carbon footprint, but they’ll also lessen the cost of taking the shows on the road. Acknowledging that there are many opportunities to meet the challenges of touring’s negative impact upon the environment, Jewel emphasizes that “you have to find [solutions] that work for you.”

Sheeran and Jewel aren’t the only popular artists trying to make a difference. A number of high profile artists have become actively involved in creating the momentum for positive change. Those artists believe that their work on sustainability issues goes hand in hand with their role as public figures. Their efforts take two primary forms: making changes themselves, andadvocating for action among their fans.  

The Climate Machine 

Norhan Bayomi is an Egypt-born environmental scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a key member of the Environmental Solutions Initiative, a program launched to address sustainable climate action. She’s also a recording artist in the trance genre, working under the name Nourey 

The ESI collaborates with industry heavyweights Live Nation, Warner Music Group and others as well with touring/recording acts like Coldplay to examine the carbon footprint of the music industry. A key component of the ESI is the Climate Machine, a collaborative research group that seeks to help the live music industry reduce carbon emissions. "As a research institution, we bring technologies and analytics to understand, in the best way possible, the actual impact of the music industry upon climate change," says John Fernández, Director of the ESI.  

"I’m very interested in exploring ways that we can bridge between environmental science, climate change and music fans," Bayomi says. She explains that the tools at the ESI’s disposal include "virtual reality, augmented reality and generative AI," media forms that can communicate messages to music fans and concertgoers. Fernández says that those endeavors are aimed at "enlisting, enabling and inspiring people to get engaged in climate change." 

The Environmental Solutions Initiative cites Coldplay as a high-profile success. The band and its management issued an "Emissions Update" document in June 2024, outlining its success at achieving their goal of reducing direct carbon emissions from show production, freight, band and crew travel. The established target was a 50 percent cut in emissions compared to Coldplay’s previous tour; the final result was a 59 percent reduction between their 2022-23 tour and 2016-17 tour.  

A significant part of that reduction came as a result of a renewable-energy based battery system that powers audio and lights. The emissions data in the update was reviewed and independently validated by MIT’s Fernández.  

Change Is Reverberating 

Guitarist Adam Gardner is a founding member of Massachusetts-based indie rockers Guster, but he's more than just a singer in a rock band. Gardner is also the co-founder of REVERB, one of the organizations at the forefront of developing and implementing climate-focused sustainability initiatives.  

Founded in 2004 by Gardner and his wife, environmental activist Lauren Sullivan, REVERB  began with a goal of making touring more sustainable; over the years its focus has expanded to promote industry-wide changes. Today, the organization promotes sustainability throughout the industry  in partnership with music artists, concert venues and festivals.  

REVERB initiatives have included efforts to eliminate single-use plastics at the California Roots Music & Arts Festival, clean energy projects in cooperation with Willie Nelson and Billie Eilish, and efforts with other major artists. Gardner has seen sustainability efforts grow over two decades 

"It’s really amazing to see the [change] with artists, with venues, with fans," Gardner says. "Today, people are not just giving lip service to sustainable efforts; they really want to do things that are real and measurable."  

The Music Decarbonization Project is one tangible example of REVERB’s successes. "Diesel power is one of the dirtiest sources of power," Gardner explains. "And it’s an industry standard to power festival stages with diesel generators." Working with Willie Nelson, the organization helped switch the power sources at his annual Luck Reunion to clean energy. At last year’s festival, Nelson’s headlining stage drew 100 percent of its power from solar-powered batteries. "We set up a temporary solar farm," Gardner says, "and the main stage didn’t have to use any diesel power."  

Billie Eilish was another early supporter of the initiative. "She helped us launch the program," Gardner says. Eilish’s set at Lollapallooza 2023 drew power from solar batteries, too.  

With such high-profile successes as a backdrop, Gardner believes that REVERB is poised to do even more to foster sustainable concerts and touring. "Our role now," he says, "isn’t just, ‘Hey, think about this stuff.’ It’s more how do we push farther, faster?"  

Adam Gardner believes that musicians are uniquely positioned to help make a difference where issues of sustainability are concerned. "When you’re a musician, you’re connecting with fans heart-to-heart. That’s what moves people. And that’s where the good stuff happens."  

Small-scale, individual changes can make a difference — especially when they’re coordinated and amplified among other concertgoers. Gardner provides real-world examples. "Instead of buying a plastic bottle, I brought my reusable and filled it up. Maybe I carpooled to the show." Conceding that such steps might seem like drops of water in a giant pool, he emphasizes the power of scale. "When you actually multiply [those things for] just one summer tour, it adds up," he says. "And it reminds people, ‘You’re not alone in this; you’re part of a community that’s taking action."  

Gardner understands that REVERB’s arguments have to be framed the right way to reach concertgoers. "Look," he admits, "It’s a concert. We’re not here to be a buzzkill. Our [aim] now is making sure people don’t lose hope." He says that REVERB and its partners seek to demonstrate that, with collective action and cultural change, there is reason for optimism.  

"There’s a wonderful feedback loop between hope and action," Gardner says with a smile. "You can’t really have one without the other."  

Sustainable Partnerships 

Tanner Watt is Director of Partnerships at REVERB; he works directly with touring artists to develop, coordinate and implement initiatives that bring together his organization’s objectives and the specific personal concerns of the artists. "I get to come up with all the fun, big ideas," he says with a wide smile.  

Watt acknowledges that like every concertgoer, each touring artist has a certain level of responsibility where sustainability is concerned. "And everyone can be doing something," he says, noting a number of straightforward actions that artists can put in place while on tour. "They can eliminate single-use waste. They can donate hotel toiletries that [would otherwise] hit the landfill."  

Watt stresses that artists can lead by example. "Nobody wants to listen to an artist telling them what to do if they’re not doing it themselves," he says. "But we believe that everybody cares about something." He suggests that if an artist has cultivated a following, "Why not use [that platform] to be that change you want to see in the world?"  

Each artist has his or her own specific areas of concern, but Watt says that there’s a base level of "greening" that takes place on every REVERB-affiliated tour. Where things go from there is up to the artist, in coordination with REVERB. Watt mentions Billie Eilish and her tour’s sustainability commitment. "The Venn diagram of food security, community health, access to healthy food, and the impact on the planet is a big cause for her," he says. "So there’s plant-based catering for her entire crew, across the entire tour." 

Speaking to Billboard, Eilish's mother Maggie Baird said championing sustainability starts with artists. "If artists are interested, it does really start with them telling their teams that they care and that it’s foremost in their thoughts." In the same conversation, Eilish called the battle for sustainability "a never-ending f–king fight."  

Watt acknowledges that with so many challenges, it’s important for a concerned artist to focus on the issues that move them the most, and where they can make the biggest difference. "Jack Johnson is a great example," he says. While Johnson is a vocal advocate for many environmental issues, on tour he focuses on two (in Watt’s words) "cause umbrellas": single-use plastics solutions and sustainable community food systems. Each show on the tour hosts tables representing local nonprofit organizations, presenting concertgoers with real-world, human-scale solutions to those specific challenges.  

Four-time GRAMMY winner Brittany Howard is another passionate REVERB partner. "Knowing that I wanted to make my tours more sustainable was a start," she tells GRAMMY.com, "but working with REVERB really helped me bring it to life on the road. REVERB has helped us with guidelines and a green rider to keep our stage, greenrooms and buses more sustainable." 

After listing several other specific ways that her tour supports sustainability, Howard notes, "By supporting these efforts, I am helping ensure future generations have access to clean water, fish, and all that I love about the outdoors." A dollar from every ticket sold to a Brittany Howard concert goes toward support of REVERB’s Music Decarbonization project. "I’m also excited to see industry-wide efforts that are reducing the carbon pollution of live music," Howard continues. "Because it’s not just [about] a single tour, it’s every tour." 

There’s a popular aphorism: "You can’t manage what you can’t measure." From its start, REVERB has sought not only to promote change, but to measure its success. "As long as I’ve been at REVERB, we’ve issued impact reports," says Tanner Watt. "We include data points, and give the report to the artists so they understand what we’ve done together." He admits that some successes are more tangible than others, but that it’s helpful to focus on the ones that can be quantified. "We’re very excited that our artists share those with their fans."  

Watt is clear-eyed at the challenges that remain. "Even the word ‘sustainable’ can be misleading," he concedes, suggesting that the only truly sustainable tour is the one that doesn’t happen. "But if folks don’t step it up and change the way we do business in every industry — not just ours — we’re going to get to a place where we’re forced to make sacrifices that aren’t painless." Getting that message across is REVERB’s aim. "We can’t stop the world," Watt says. "So we find ways to approach these things positively."  

Watt says that the fans at concerts featuring Jack Johnson and the Dave Matthews Band — both longtime REVERB partners — are already on board with many of the sustainability-focused initiatives which those artists promote. "But there are lots of artists — and lots of fan bases — out there that aren’t messaged to, or have been mis-messaged to," he says. "I’m really excited to find more ways to expand our reach to them, beyond mainstream pop music. Because these are conversations that are meaningful for everyone, regardless of political affiliation or other beliefs."  

Reimagining The Planet’s Future 

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Adam Met does more than front AJR, the indie pop trio he founded in 2005 with brothers Jack and Ryan. Met has a PhD in sustainable development and is a climate activist; he's also the founder/Executive Director of Planet Reimagined, a nonprofit that promotes sustainability and activism through its work with businesses, other organizations and musicians.  

"I’ve spent years traveling around the world, seeing the direct impact of climate change," Met says. He cites two recent and stark examples. "When we pulled up to a venue in San Francisco, the band had to wear gas masks going from the bus into the venue, because of forest fires," he says. AJR’s road crew had to contend with a flash flood in Athens, Greece that washed out their hotel. "And in Rome, some of our crew members fainted because of the heat."  

Encouraged by representatives from the United Nations, Met launched Planet Reimagined. Met’s approach focuses on tailored, city-specific actions to empower fans and amplify diverse voices in the climate movement. Through social media and live shows, Met strives to galvanize climate activism among AJR fans. And the methods he has developed can be implemented by other touring artists.  

Met points out that one of the most climate-unfriendly parts of the entire concert tour enterprise is fans traveling to and from the concerts. And that’s something over which the artist has little or no control. What they can do, he says, is try to educate and influence. Working closely with Ticketmaster and other stakeholders, Met’s nonprofit initiated a study — conducted from July to December 2023, with results published in April 2024 — to explore the energy that happens at concerts. "In sociology," he explains, "that energy is called collective effervescence." The study’s goal is to find ways to channel that energy toward advocacy and action.  

Polling a quarter million concertgoers across musical genres, the study collected data on attitudes about climate change. "Seventy-three percent of fans who attend concerts believe that climate change is real, and that we need to be doing more about it," Met says. "Seventy-eight percent have already taken some sort of action in their lives." He believes that if his organization can activate even a fraction of the estimated 250 million people annually who attend concerts around the globe, "that’s the ballgame."  

Met’s goal is to do more than, say, get concertgoers to switch from plastic to paper drinking straws. "At scale those things make a difference. But people want to see actions where there’s a track record," he says; a return on investment.  

AJR will be putting a plan into action on the second half of their upcoming arena tour. Part of the initiative is encouraging concertgoers to register to vote, and then actually vote. Beyond that, Met has specific actions in mind. "At every single stop, we’re putting together materials around specific policies that are being debated at the local level," he explains. "We give people a script right there, so they can call their elected representative and say, ‘I want you to vote [a certain way on this issue].’"  

He believes the initiative will lead to thousands of people contacting – and hopefully influencing – their representatives. With regard to sustainability issues, Met is convinced that "the most impact that you can have as an artist is when you give fans ways to pick up the mantle themselves." 

Artists Who Are Going On Tour In 2024: The Rolling Stones, Drake, Olivia Rodrigo & More 

 

Nxdia, Shamir, girli, King Princess, Zolita, Laura Les, Towa Bird in collage
(From left) Nxdia, Shamir, girli, King Princess, Zolita, Laura Les, Towa Bird

Photos: Dave Benett/Getty Images for Depop; Matthew James-Wilson; Claryn Chong; Burak Cingi/Redferns; Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Boston Calling; Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage; Courtesy Interscope Records

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Listen To GRAMMY.com's 2024 Pride Month Playlist Of Rising LGBTQIA+ Artists

From Laura Les and Nxdia to Alice Longyu Gao and Bambi Thug, a new class of LGBTQIA+ artists is commanding you to live out loud.

GRAMMYs/Jun 3, 2024 - 01:37 pm

LGBTQ+ artists have long shaped the music industry and culture at large, offering audiences a glimpse into their unique lives, shared experiences and so much more.

Queer artists are foundational to American music; Released in 1935, Lucille Bogan’s “B.D. Woman’s Blues” was one of the first lesbian blues songs — and wouldn’t be the last. Fellow blues singers Gladys Bently, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith also sang about same-sex love (thinly veiled or otherwise). On opposite ends of the 1970s musical spectrum, disco (itself a queer artform) and punk musicians explored gender identity in song and performance —  defying conventional gender norms at the time. Gender fluidity became part of the culture during the '80s, with genre-bending artists such as David Bowie and Boy George leading the charge. 

In the decades since,  a spectrum of LGBTQIA+ artists is opening up —  and creating work about — their sexual and gender identities. Queer artists are also being recognized for their contributions to global culture. In 1999, six-time GRAMMY winner Elton John became the first gay man to receive the GRAMMY Legend Award. 

Read more: The Evolution Of The Queer Anthem: From Judy Garland To Lady Gaga & Lil Nas X

The GRAMMY Awards have become more inclusive of the queer community. In 2012, the Music's Biggest Night became the first major awards show to remove gendered categories. In 2014, Queen Latifah officiated a mass wedding of straight and gay couples during Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” performance, which included gay icon Madonna performing her “Open Your Heart.” In 2022, Brazilian singer/songwriter Liniker became the first trans artist to win a Latin GRAMMY. Just three months later, Sam Smith and Kim Petras became the first nonbinary and trans artists, respectively, to win a GRAMMY Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performances for their collaboration, “Unholy.” The 2024 GRAMMYs marked a record high for queer women winning major awards: Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, Victoria Monét, and boygenuis all took home golden gramophones in the Big Six Categories. 

As queer artists continue to command attention across genres and get their flowers on the global stage, a new class of LGBTQIA+ artists is emerging into the scene. These artists are both following in the steps of established acts by sharing their experiences through their music, and creating work that is unique to their lives and time. 

In celebration of Pride Month 2024, GRAMMY.com has put together a playlist of rising artists across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, whose sound commands you to live out loud. 

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