Photo: Jessica Aleece
Sibling Duo Lastlings Talk Debut Album 'First Contact,' Sci-Fi Inspiration, Sending Memes To RÜFÜS DU SOL & More
Lastlings discuss getting back on stage in Australia, the vision and process for creating 'First Contact,' working together as siblings, their friendship with RÜFÜS DU SOL, and more
Lastlings, made up of Josh and Amy Dowdle, create moody, synth-filled music inspired by sci-fi soundtracks and other dimensions. The Japanese-Australian brother-sister duo, on production duties and vocals/lyrics respectively, began dropping tracks in 2015 when they were still teenagers.
Since then, they've toured with fellow synth-loving Aussies RÜFÜS DU SOL, remixed for them and are signed to their Rose Avenue imprint, fostering a mentorship that has grown into a true friendship (meme sharing included.) That relationship has been major in growing their recognition and fanbases in Australia, the U.S. and beyond.
Lastlings released their emotive debut album, First Contact, in November 2020 on Rose Avenue and Astralwerks, which has spawned remixes from LP Giobbi, CRi, Tim Englehardt and others. Their trippy, otherworldly visuals and their name came from an essay Josh wrote in high school about the last humans on earth.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Amy and Josh over Zoom to learn more about getting back on stage in Australia recently, the vision and process for creating First Contact, working together as siblings, their friendship with RÜFÜS DU SOL, and more.
You wrapped up a real life, in-person Australia tour in May. What did it feel like to get back on stage after everything that was last year?
Amy: It felt really good. We missed playing shows so much. I think our first show of the tour was the first one we've played in about a year and a half. It was really awesome to be back on stage and to see people coming to our shows again.
The first few shows of the tour were actually seated and then I think the second half of the tour was standing, which was really cool. We're so lucky here in Australia that we get to actually play shows.
I was watching a Boiler Room or something for a real festival in Australia and people just looked so happy. It's nice to see people being happy and dancing together safely.
Josh: Yeah, especially where we're from, on the Gold Coast, it didn't really feel like there was much of an effect there. We had a little bit of a lockdown, but we were really lucky that we could still leave the house and go to the beach and all that kind of stuff. People in Melbourne had it way tougher, they went into lockdown a few times, [where] they couldn't leave the house or the five-kilometer radius.
And I think once it started to open up in Melbourne, that's when all the bigger events started happening down here and everyone was just like gearing to go out and have fun. And I've actually moved down to Melbourne from the Gold Coast and Amy's almost here, she's going to move to Melbourne as well. We're really excited for this next chapter.
Listen: Celebrate AAPI Month 2021 With This Playlist Featuring Artists Of Asian & Pacific Islander Descent
I want to talk about your album that came out last year. What was the vision for First Contact? What was the timeline for its release?
Amy: It's about all the moments you experienced in life for the first time and how they shape us as people. When we first started writing it, I think we wrote this one song that never actually made it onto the album and it was called "First Contact" at the time. We were like, "Oh, actually that'd be cool as an album name."
Josh: But yes, since then that song went to the back of the line and I still haven't finished it yet. And it's since changed names, but hopefully, it might make its way onto the second album. We didn't start writing First Contact as a like, "Oh we're going to write this album now." We started writing singles, and I think the first song that we finished was "Deja Vu" and that was ages ago, has to be two or three years ago.
That was the first one that we finished together, and then all the other ones we demoed out and then we went to America and we finished it. We stayed at the Rose Avenue house where RÜFÜS DU SOL was finishing their album [Solace] and we've worked a lot with Cassian, who's worked a lot with RUFUS. We were just really lucky to pair up with those guys and they helped us a lot with getting songs to another level. We learned a lot and they were really, really helpful with the album.
Cassian Talks Debut LP 'Laps,' Attending His First GRAMMYs & Staying Calm In Quarantine
So did you finish it before the pandemic?
Josh: Yeah, we finished it right before the pandemic, and we actually went to Japan to film our album teaser content and all of our press and promo stuff. We wanted to go out with a bang with this album, and Japan is such a beautiful place. We went over there literally right before COVID, it was right before Christmas actually.
And then COVID hit, so we couldn't really tour the album or didn't know what to do, so we had all this content backed up. So we just drip fed it all throughout 2020. We were lucky we could make that trip before COVID hit.
I was reading another interview, did you record some of the album or work on it in Japan?
Amy: Oh no, a lot of the lyrics were written in Japan. After I finished high school, I went to Japan with my mom. I used to sit up in my grandparents' top bedroom and it looked out onto all the other buildings with snow on them. It was a really good place to write, so I wrote a few of the songs there. Then, when Josh was 18—Do you want to tell the story, Josh?
Josh: I was 21. I went [to Japan] for four or five months and during that time I downloaded my first music software and was learning while I was traveling. And I know it sounds like a made-up story, but I was sitting on the bullet train one day and I open the software for the first time and literally I was going past Mount Fuji. It was a really beautiful, picturesque moment. The town that I was going to stay in got snowed in, so instead I stayed in a little hostel, just myself and the caretaker.
I just had nothing to do other than learn how to use the software, or read or walk out and go eat this special noodle there. It was just a really cool little town and I had to spend two or three weeks there snowed in because I couldn't leave. I couldn't go back to Tokyo, so I had no choice but to learn some music production.
That's so cool. Did being in Japan and the atmosphere there give birth to some of the songs?
Josh: Yeah, it's just a very inspiring place. And all the architecture, just the purposefulness of Japan and how much care they put into everything is very inspiring too.
Do you feel like the creative energy when you were working or writing in Japan felt different than when you're writing in Australia, than when you're writing in L.A.?
Amy: We [were] inspired by [the] snow [in Japan] a lot because we just don't have that here in Australia. It's just dry. We have a lot of other beautiful things.
Also, Blade Runner inspired this album a lot, it's one of our favorite movies. There's this scene where he's walking in the snow and it reminded us of Japan a lot. And we just don't have that in Australia, we don't have snow here. We do in one city but it's like the only place where you can go to here that actually has snow.
Josh: There are heaps of places that snow in Australia.
Amy: Really? Not like in Japan.
Josh: Yeah, not in the main towns, but yeah like it snows in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.
Amy: Yeah, but not like as much as Japan does, it snows everywhere in Japan.
Can you talk a little bit about the meaning and inspiration for the "Out Of Touch" music video?
Josh: [Chuckles.] So, we were meant to film it as like a three-part music video with "Out Of Touch," "No Time" and the interlude. We filmed it in South Australia because it was the only place we could travel to, there was like a travel bubble I guess you'd call it between South Australia and Queensland, two States in Australia. We found a Screen South Australia photo gallery, where you can see where lots of different film sets and locations [were shot].
We went there without really scoping them out and it kind of backfired on us a little bit because we got there—it was just the weather. I think because they had the most rain they've had in like 40 years. So a lot of the places that we wanted to film at, like the salt flats—there's really beautiful salt flats that are really reflective—they were just completely muddy and gross. And we went to two of those, they were both just completely ruined. Then we went to the sand dunes to film and it was like 60 kilometer winds and the whole trip we were just getting absolutely ruined by the weather.
But it was like one of the most fun trips ever because we normally shoot with our friend Dylan Duclos and our close friend Rico Zhang was over from China, where he's a director. So we all collaborated on the idea together and went over and shot it together. We didn't get as much as we wanted out of it, but it turned out great in the end.
Amy: We pretty much just got one video out of what was meant to be three videos.
Josh: Yeah, we had to come back and reshoot a lot of the stuff in Queensland to actually finish the "Out Of Touch" video. And all the set builds, like the big monolith and the stuff we stand on, my dad and I had to rebuild them when we came back to Queensland and we had to get a truck and lug them around. There was so much that went it, it was a very D.I.Y. shoot, so we were cutting off on the corners and building a lot of this stuff ourselves and pulling in a lot of favors, basically.
What was the initial inspiration for the visuals—when I'm watching it, I feel like there's imagery and stuff that probably means something, like the burning tree?
Josh: It ended up becoming more of an arty conceptual piece more than something that had a clear narrative. Because when we had it in the three-act form, it was the Lastlings—which are us—we go and collect our army from this kind of research facility, then we take them back because that world is going to explode or deteriorate. That was the first act and then the second one was a limbo of the Lastlings walking through a dream-esque land. And then the third act was the resolve, when Amy collects everyone and takes them back because the world is going to explode.
Amy: And there are all just these different Amys. It's like "Rick and Morty." [Laughs.]
Josh: It became a really ambitious thing with time constraints and the weather and everything just kind of fell to bits at the end, but we managed to get enough footage for "Out
Of Touch" and make it a really nice, interesting piece.
You know when you watch something and you're like, "Is there something more? What does this mean?" I'm glad I wasn't really missing things, but it's super cool and it feels cinematic.
Josh: Yeah. There wasn't too much symbolism and stuff, like you said with the fire, and all the portals and stuff. But I think the moments in themselves are really cool because we got to explore some VFX stuff and really just flex on a lot of our own movie inspos that we love; there was a lot of Blade Runner references.
Even random movies like Prometheus, with the color grading and all that kind of stuff as well. It was almost like a homage to all of our favorite sci-fi films. Even the big planet in it kind of looks like the Death Star from Star Wars. And the monolith, it was like the ones in Space Odyssey.
What's it like making music together as siblings?
Amy: Sometimes we do fight but then we can be really honest with each other [about] what we like and don't like, too. And every time we're on tour and stuff, we're always so comfortable because we always know that we have a good friend there with us. Some people tour by themselves—I've asked people this as well, and they've said that sometimes they get a bit lonely or they wish they had someone close with them. So it's nice to have a brother there with you when you're on tour and stuff.
Josh: Yeah, for the music-making part, we're both very different. Amy does the lyrics and the singing and I do most of the production. So, we work kind of separately most of the time, like I'll do an instrumental or a bit of piano or just an idea, and then Amy generally writes some lyrics over that. And at the moment, it's kind of hard because we're not living in the same city, so we kind of have to send stuff back and forth and record it in our own time.
What was your workflow on the album?
Josh: I think Amy wrote most of her lyrics when she was in Japan and then I did a lot of the instrumental stuff. I made a lot of instrumental demos with ideas on them and then I kind of gave them to Amy and then she could recycle lyrics from her Japan trip or write new ones. It's a very collaborative process when most of the time it doesn't really start with us [together], but usually, it starts with me with an instrumental, then Amy writes on it.
What kind of music did you guys grow up listening to? Was it like a musical house and everything?
Amy: Yeah. I grew up listening to a lot of classical music and mom used to listen to a lot of J-Pop and so I listened to that too. And a lot of indie rock music when I was in my teens and then I started listening to electronic music when I was 18 or 17. I listened to a bunch of different stuff.
Josh: Yeah, we both started playing classical music when we were younger and then I quit. And it wasn't for a few years until I got into rock music, like Led Zeppelin and the Chili Peppers and all that kind of stuff. I think I did like one classical guitar lesson, and I hated that and quit. I taught myself electric guitar, then played in a band with a few friends. I think all my music interests were kind of around the music I was playing at the time. So like I said, Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, is kind of the music we were playing in our band and Arctic Monkeys. Then I kind of moved on to more synthy stuff, more electronic stuff.
I think DJ Koze was my first introduction to electronic music. I think the DJ Koze remix of "Bad Kingdom" by Moderat was one of the first songs that I heard out in the club randomly one time that I'd actually really liked. Because the rest of them—it was just a kick drum really. That song really stuck out [to] me. I really loved electronic music from then.
I love that track. I think it was summer 2014? I just remember having it on repeat, and every time a DJ would play it, I was just like, "You're my favorite DJ."
Josh: Yeah, it was so good. And then like everyone started to rinse it; it just got so overplayed, but it's still such a good song. There were just a few DJs on the Gold Coast that would kind of ruin it; they'd play it too fast or just play it at the wrong time.
It was one that my friends and I would always play when we were DJing together. That's right, I started DJing before I started making music. My friends and I got one of those little [DJ] controllers when we were like 18, teaching each other how to DJ, it was so cute.
Do you remember your first electronic song or producer that you liked, Amy?
Amy: I actually think it was RÜFÜS. I would have been 15 when they put out "Take Me." I didn't even know that song was them when we were touring with them. I went back and found it and I was like, "I really liked that song when I was really young. My friends and I used to always play it," which is funny. I think that song and then also probably Flume when I was really young, he was probably one of the first electronic artists I started listening to.
And then it just started to evolve and then I went to a festival in Melbourne with Josh and a bunch of friends and I watched Fatima Yamaha and that was like the reason why I wanted to start listening to more electronic music.
Must Watch: RÜFÜS DU SOL's Epic Joshua Tree Concert For No One
And what does your relationship with RÜFÜS feel like for you guys?
Josh: It's really good. They're like really chill and really, really nice guys. So, it was really easy to get along with them when we were touring together. And even when they were giving us feedback for some of our songs as well, they're really great guys to work with. So we've become friends as well, it's really cool, we send each other memes and stuff. It's great.
That's awesome. Yeah, they're so nice. They seem like brothers—once you tour in a van around America together, you become brothers.
Josh: Totally, totally. Yeah we were lucky to go and stay on their tour bus as well when we were doing some of the American shows, which [was a] really cool experience. It's such a weird concept to do a tour bus because in Australia we kind of fly everywhere because the cities aren't close enough together.
Amy: So fun! [The buses] are so small, like little capsules. It's like staying in hotels in Japan, but on a bus.
You recently put out the Bob Moses remix. How do you usually approach a Lastlings remix?
Josh: I usually start with the vocals and with some chords and tend to stay in the same key as the remix. With that song, I wanted to preserve the vocals as much and not drop the pitch down and stuff because he has a really, really nice voice. There's a Four Tet remix, of Eric Prydz's "Opus"—I don't know why that was the inspo for it, I think because it has a really massive build. But yeah I just wanted to make a nice long, slow-burning remix that had a bit of a nice build-up in the second part.
But yeah, I don't know. I just kind of use my Prophet-6 [analog synth] to get a bunch of nice atmospheric sounds and then just start building around that. And then, I normally do all the melodies and all the chords and stuff first before I do the drums. I know a lot of other producers start with drums, but I do it the other way around.
That's cool. I really liked that remix, it's nice.
Josh: Yeah, that was fun to make. I actually did another version of it first—I made four or five different remixes, but that was the one that I ended on.
Are you a perfectionist?
Josh: Oh, very.
Where did the name Lastlings come from?
Josh: Lastlings was a short story I wrote in high school about the last beings on earth. It was a dystopian story. All the trees and nature had grown over the cities and stuff. Have you seen "Love, Death & Robots" on Netflix? It's really good. In the new season, there was a city and I was like, "Oh my God, that's exactly the city that I had in mind when I was writing the story."
You guys are sci-fi nerds, I take it?
Josh: I like sci-fi. I always get asked that, but I guess I've seen a lot of them. I do love it. I just love really fantastical worlds and stuff that probably will never exist. The more we get into the future, I'm like, "Wow, maybe some of this stuff is actually real."
Amy: Yeah, every story I read in high school was fantasy or sci-fi.
Okay, broad question but I always like to end on a positive note. What's your biggest hope for the future?
Amy: I have so many wishes, I just want the world to be less f*ed up.
Josh: Pretty much. I really want Coronavirus to f* off.
Amy: That's a lot of F words. I would like future generations are more open-minded—I think there's time [for all of us] to be more open-minded as well.
Josh: Yeah, I wish we had a more unified world and everyone was on the same wavelength.
Amy: Hopefully it's like that in the future.
For The Record: Explore The Colorful, Inclusive World Of Sylvester's 'Step II'
Photo: (L-R) Frank Hoensch/Redferns, David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images, Pablo Gallardo Sanchez/Redferns, Michael Tullberg/Getty Images, Joseph Okpako/WireImage, David Wolff-Patrick/Getty Images, Pablo Gallardo/Redferns, Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV
2022 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Dance Music
Dance music was resurgent in 2022, bringing an explosion of energy from underground names and top-line stars alike.
The dance/electronic genre runs wide and deep, encompassing a myriad of subgenres, artists, labels and fan cultures. By any definition, 2022 was a landmark year for the genre, as clubs and festivals returned more energized than ever and a wide spectrum of artists embraced dance music's spirit of collective release.
This year, Beyoncé and Drake turned to house music to inspire their respective albums, spotlighting several dance-music stars like Honey Dijon, Black Coffee, &ME and Rampa as collaborators. There was also a dizzying array of new music within the genre, including years-in-the-making albums from the likes of Flume and Bonobo and innumerable DJ sets loaded with unreleased tracks (or IDs, to EDM-heads).
The genre also thrived in the live sphere, with several dance festivals returning to their pre-pandemic status quo and many stars hitting the road for headline tours, including ODESZA and RÜFÜS DU SOL. In a genre that defies easy categorization, the outpouring of creativity was undeniable. Below, find eight trends that bubbled up in dance/electronic this year, setting the tone for 2023.
House Infused Pop
In a moment of cosmic alignment, two of music's biggest names found their 2022 muse in dance music. Beyoncé went all-in on house, disco and ballroom on her long awaited seventh studio album, which paid thrilling homage to dance music's Black and queer roots. In an all-star cast of collaborators, the singer found a kindred spirit in Chicago house veteran Honey Dijon, who brought her jacking energy to album cuts "Alien Superstar" and "Cozy."
Meanwhile, Drake's Honestly, Nevermind coasted breezy house and Baltimore club beats, with input from the likes of South African superstar Black Coffee, Keinemusik linchpins Rampa and &ME, and Gordo, the artist previously known as Carnage. Summer saw Drake take his own house pilgrimage, turning up at Black Coffee's Ibiza residency and a Keinemusik party in Saint-Tropez.
As the fog lifted on two years of pandemic life, the back-to-back albums — which both debuted at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 album chart — pushed house music back into mainstream discourse, and put a shine on lesser-known artists doing the work.
Artists Respected The Roots
While the work is far from done, this year saw dance music more consciously acknowledge its Black and queer foundations. After exploring the theme with Beyoncé, Honey Dijon delivered Black Girl Magic, a joyous house album that celebrates Black queer identity.
It was also a big year for forward-thinking Black artists in the UK, who foregrounded their lived experiences on some of the year's standout releases. Shygirl's Nymph and TSHA's Capricorn Sun were both supremely confident debut albums, while jungle DJ Nia Archives and pop-dance producer PinkPantheress also enjoyed breakout years; the former via electrifying DJ sets and her Forbidden Feelingz EP, and PinkPantheress with a string of releases including "Where you are," featuring Willow.
Accepting the first-ever award for Best Electronic/Dance Act at London's MOBOs Awards, which honor "music of black origin," Nia Archives spoke to dance music's essence: "Jungle is music of Black origin and I'm proud to be flying the flag for my community and my scene."
Women Took The Techno Reins
Like other dance subgenres, techno remained predominantly white and male in 2022. To redress this imbalance, some in the industry are pushing for top DJs to insist on an inclusion or diversity clause in their contracts, stipulating that promoters book a diverse lineup.
Despite this reality, a cohort of women made a strong claim to techno stages in 2022. Belgian talent Amelie Lens had a triumphant year as a producer, label boss and hard-hitting DJ, while Italy's Anfisa Letyago was a breakout performer at festivals like Movement, Sónar and EXIT and French DJ Anetha took her Mama Told Ya label to new heights.
Following a star-making Boiler Room set in 2018, Palestinian DJ Sama' Abdulhadi made her Coachella debut this April. Three months later, bona-fide techno superstar Charlotte de Witte became the first woman and techno artist to close the Tomorrowland mainstage in her native Belgium. Meanwhile, at Berlin's techno temple Berghain, new residents Nene H and Sedef Adasï pushed against techno's strictures in long, wide-ranging sets.
The UK Came Through
UK club music is always firing, but 2022 took it up a level with new iterations on UK bass music. In a year that electronic maestro Four Tet won his streaming royalty dispute with Domino Records, several of the producer's peers dropped consequential releases.
In April, Welsh duo Overmono distilled their fast-paced take on techno, house, breaks and UK garage on the five-track Cash Romantic EP, including the summer anthem "Gunk." The EP slotted neatly into Four Tet's orbit alongside fast-paced UK-centric club music from the likes of Brainfeeder recruit Ross From Friends and Vienna-born, Manchester-based salute. And up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, festival headlining duo Bicep perfected their own genre-blurring sound.
Within this world — and arguably in dance music at large — no one blew up this year quite like Fred again… Respected as a producer for artists as diverse as Headie One and Ed Sheeran, Fred made his name as a solo artist during the pandemic with the first two volumes of his Actual Life album series, which set the template for his intimate night-stalking sound.
In 2022, the producer's Boiler Room London set went viral — 11 million views on YouTube and counting — with its loved-up rollercoaster of Fred again.. originals and bootlegs spanning house, drum & bass, trance and pop. With Actual Life 3 (January 1 - September 9 2022) now out, Fred again.. is riding into 2023 as the UK producer to beat.
Tech-House Went Further Mainstream
When Australian producer Fisher released "Losing It" in 2018, he had no idea what a phenomenon it would spark. Originally a secret weapon in the DJ's sets, "Losing It" became Beatport's top-selling track that year and earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Dance Recording. It also cemented the tech-house subgenre — which evolved from its UK-centric roots in the 1990s to become a dominant club sound across Europe — as a mainstream force in a post-EDM world.
That trend continued in 2022, powered in part by Fisher's still-growing popularity and breakout hits like James Hype and Miggy Dela Rosa's "Ferrari," released on Universal's Island Records.
After an ascendant 2021, Chicago-born DJ-producer John Summit dominated the year in tech-house, thanks to his prolific output and savvy use of social media. Together with friends like Chris Lake and Dom Dolla, Summit has muscled onto festival mainstages with a bumping, vocal-laced tech-house sound typified by his 2022 releases "La Danza," "In Chicago" and "Show Me." With a 2023 headline show locked at Colorado's famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre - a strived-for badge of honor for dance artists in the US - Summit is proving the big-ticket appeal of tech-house.
EDM Nostalgia Lived On
A decade on from the explosion of EDM in the U.S., a few of that era's key players made notable returns in 2022.
Back in 2012, big room house hitmakers Swedish House Mafia shocked fans with the announcement of a farewell tour that kicked off just after they delivered their compilation album Until Now, featuring anthems like "Don't You Worry Child" and "Save The World." But 10 years later, the trio of Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello made their return with 2022's Paradise Again, which saw the trio evolve into a darker pop sound while still honoring past glories in their comeback shows.
EDM nostalgia also fueled the 2022 team-up from deadmau5 and Kaskade as kx5, whose debut single, "Escape," could've been the biggest progressive house hit of 2012. In a full-circle moment, the duo capped off the year with a headline show for 46,000 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the former home of EDM massive Electric Daisy Carnival. According to Billboard Boxscore, the concert was the biggest ticketed global dance event of 2022 for a headline artist.
Reaching further back, French electro-house trailblazers Justice marked the 15-year anniversary of their debut album, †, by sharing a previously unreleased demo version of its timeless single, "D.A.N.C.E." In dance music, even the recent past is ripe for reviving.
TikTok Made Dance Hits
Just as TikTok helped to make and sustain pop hits in 2022, the addictive video-sharing app also played its part in dance music. While DJs flocked to TikTok to share tips, tricks, mash-ups, and videos from the booth, some of the genre's biggest successes were driven by the TikTok community.
Released in late 2021, Acraze's "Do It To It" became the definitive TikTok dance/electronic hit of the year. A chunky tech-house rework of girl group Cherish's 2006 single of the same name, the track went viral as a TikTok dance, featuring in over 3 million videos. Oliver Tree and Robin Schulz's aggressively catchy "Miss You" also blew up on the platform, powered by Tree's all-in persona. Meanwhile, Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal's garage-tinged house banger "B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All)" hit No. 1 in the UK after going viral on TikTok, turning two club-focused producers into overnight stars.
Rave Was Recontextualized
Dance music is forever mining the past to inform the present, and this year was no different. Throughout 2022, a wide swathe of DJs and producers reached back to the sounds of '90s and early 2000s rave, Eurodance and hard dance to give their sets a jolt.
The trend was particularly notable in techno, which in recent years has become more open to trance and breakbeat influences. Proponents of this throwback sound include the German artists DJ Heartstring and Marlon Hoffstadt, while Dutch DJ KI/KI powers her sets with decades-old hard dance for a new generation.
At the more commercial end of the genre, DJ/producers David Guetta and MORTEN have reached back to the past to inform a sound they call "future rave," complete with the October launch of a dedicated Future Rave label.
Whether looking to the past or striving for the next big sound, the dance/electronic genre was undeniable in 2022, with more highs to come.
Catching Up With The Chainsmokers: Their Hopes For Another "Golden Age" Of Dance Music, A Latin Collab And Yes, Going To Space
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.