meta-scriptThe Environmental Impact Of Touring: How Scientists, Musicians & Nonprofits Are Trying To Shrink Concerts' Carbon Footprint | GRAMMY.com
Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023.
Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023

Photo: Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

feature

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 

 

Ryan Tedder Press Photo 2024
Ryan Tedder

Photo: Jeremy Cowart

interview

Behind Ryan Tedder's Hits: Stories From The Studio With OneRepublic, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift & More

As OneRepublic releases their latest album, the group's frontman and pop maverick gives an inside look into some of the biggest songs he's written — from how Beyoncé operates to Tom Cruise's prediction for their 'Top Gun' smash.

GRAMMYs/Jul 15, 2024 - 03:46 pm

Three months after OneRepublic began promoting their sixth album, Artificial Paradise, in February 2022, the band unexpectedly had their biggest release in nearly a decade. The pop-rock band's carefree jam, "I Ain't Worried," soundtracked Top Gun: Maverick's most memeable scene and quickly became a global smash — ultimately delaying album plans in favor of promoting their latest hit.

Two years later, "I Ain't Worried" is one of 16 tracks on Artificial Paradise, which arrived July 12. It's a seamless blend of songs that will resonate with longtime and newer fans alike. From the layered production of "Hurt," to the feel-good vibes of "Serotonin," to the evocative lyrics of "Last Holiday," Artificial Paradise shows that OneRepublic's sound is as dialed-in as it is ever-evolving.

The album also marks the end of an era for OneRepublic, as it's the last in their contract with Interscope Records. But for the group's singer, Ryan Tedder, that means the future is even more exciting than it's been in their entire 15-year career.

"I've never been more motivated to write the best material of my life than this very moment," he asserts. "I'm taking it as a challenge. We've had a lot of fun, and a lot of uplifting records for the last seven or eight years, but I also want to tap back into some deeper material with the band."

As he's been prepping Artificial Paradise with his OneRepublic cohorts, Tedder has also been as busy as he's ever been working with other artists. His career as a songwriter/producer took off almost simultaneously with OneRepublic's 2007 breakthrough, "Apologize" (his first major behind-the-board hit was Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love"); to this day he's one of the go-to guys for pop's biggest names, from BLACKPINK to Tate McRae.

Tedder sat down with GRAMMY.com to share some of his most prominent memories of OneRepublic's biggest songs, as well as some of the hits he's written with Beyoncé, Adele, Taylor Swift and more.

OneRepublic — "Apologize," 'Dreaming Out Loud' (2007)

I was producing and writing other songs for different artists on Epic and Atlantic — I was just cutting my teeth as a songwriter in L.A. This is like 2004. I was at my lowest mentally and financially. I was completely broke. Creditors chasing me, literally dodging the taxman and getting my car repoed, everything.

I had that song in my back pocket for four years. A buddy of mine just reminded me last month, a songwriter from Nashville — Ashley Gorley, actually. We had a session last month, me, him and Amy Allen, and he brought it up. He was like, "Is it true, the story about 'Apologize'? You were completely broke living in L.A. and Epic Records offered you like 100 grand or something just for the right to record the song on one of their artists?"

And that is true. It was, like, 20 [grand], then 50, then 100. And I was salivating. I was, like, I need this money so bad. And I give so many songs to other people, but with that song, I drew a line in the sand and said, "No one will sing this song but me. I will die with this song." 

It was my story, and I just didn't want anyone else to sing it. It was really that simple. It was a song about my past relationships, it was deeply personal. And it was also the song that — I spent two years trying to figure out what my sound was gonna be. I was a solo artist… and I wasn't landing on anything compelling. Then I landed on "Apologize" and a couple of other songs, and I was like, These songs make me think of a band, not solo artist material. So it was the song that led me to the sound of OneRepublic, and it also led me to the idea that I should start a band and not be a solo artist.

We do it every night. I'll never not do it. I've never gotten sick of it once. Every night that we do it, whether I'm in Houston or Hong Kong, I look out at the crowd and look at the band, and I'm like, Wow. This is the song that got us here.

Beyoncé — "Halo," 'I Am…Sacha Fierce' (2008)

We were halfway through promoting Dreaming Out Loud, our first album. I played basketball every day on tour, and I snapped my Achilles. The tour got canceled. The doctor told me not to even write. And I had this one sliver of an afternoon where my wife had to run an errand. And because I'm sadistic and crazy, I texted [songwriter] Evan Bogart, "I got a three-hour window, race over here. Beyoncé called me and asked me to write her a song. I want to do it with you." He had just come off his huge Rihanna No. 1, and we had an Ashley Tisdale single together.

When you write enough songs, not every day do the clouds part and God looks down on you and goes, "Here." But that's what happened on that day. I turn on the keyboard, the first sound that I play is the opening sound of the song. Sounds like angels singing. And we wrote the song pretty quick, as I recall. 

I didn't get a response [from Beyoncé after sending "Halo" over], which I've now learned is very, very typical of her. I did Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé "II MOST WANTED" [from COWBOY CARTER] — I didn't know that was coming out 'til five days before it came out. And when I did "XO" [from 2013's Beyoncé], I found out that "XO" was coming out 12 hours before it came out. That's how she operates.

OneRepublic — "Good Life," 'Waking Up' (2009)

["Good Life"] was kind of a Hail Mary. We already knew that "All the Right Moves" would be the first single [from Waking Up]. We knew that "Secrets" was the second single. And in the 11th hour, our engineer at the time — who I ended up signing as a songwriter, Noel Zancanella — had this drum loop that he had made, and he played it for Brent [Kutzle] in our band. Brent said, "You gotta hear this drum loop that Noel made. It's incredible."

He played it for me the next morning, and I was like, "Yo throw some chords to this. I'm writing to this today." They threw some chords down, and the first thing out of my mouth was, [sings] "Oh, this has gotta be the good life." 

It's the perfect example of, oftentimes, the chord I've tried to strike with this band with some of our bigger records, [which] is happy sad. Where you feel nostalgic and kind of melancholic, but at the same time, euphoric. That's what those chords and that melody did for me.

I was like, "Hey guys, would it be weird if I made the hook a whistle?" And everyone was like, "No! Do not whistle!" They're like, "Name the last hit song that had a whistle." And the only one I could think of was, like, Scorpion from like, 1988. [Laughs.] So I thought, To hell with it, man, it's been long enough, who cares? Let's try it. And the whistle kind of made the record. It became such a signature thing.

Adele — "Rumour Has It," '21' (2011)

"Rumour Has It" was the first song I did in probably a four year period, with any artist, that wasn't a ballad. All any artist ever wanted me to write with them or for them, was ballads, because of "Halo," and "Apologize" and "Bleeding Love."

I begged [Adele] to do a [song with] tempo, because we did "Turning Tables," another ballad. She was in a feisty mood [that day], so I was like, "Okay, we're doing a tempo today!"

Rick Rubin was originally producing the whole album. I was determined to produce Adele, not just write — because I wanted a shot to show her that I could, and to show myself. I stayed later after she left, and I remember thinking, What can I do in this record in this song that could be so difficult to reproduce that it might land me the gig?

So I intentionally muted the click track, changed the tempo, and [created that] whole piano bridge. I was making it up as I went. When she got in that morning. I said, "I have a crazy idea for a bridge. It's a movie." She listens and she says, "This is really different, I like this! How do we write to this?" 

I mean, it was very difficult. [But] we finished the song. She recorded the entire song that day. She recorded the whole song in one take. I've never seen anyone do that in my life — before or since.

Then I didn't hear from her for six months. Because I handed over the files, and Rick Rubin's doing it, so I don't need to check on it. I randomly check on the status of the song — and at this point, if you're a songwriter or producer, you're assuming that they're not keeping the songs. Her manager emails my manager, "Hey, good news — she's keeping both songs they did, and she wants Ryan to finish 'Rumour Has It' production and mix it." 

When I finally asked her, months later — probably at the GRAMMYs — I said, "Why didn't [Rick] do it?" She said, "Oh he did. It's that damn bridge! Nobody could figure out what the hell you were doing…It was so problematic that we just gave up on it."

OneRepublic — "Counting Stars," 'Native' (2013)

I was in a Beyoncé camp in the Hamptons writing for the self-titled album. [There were] a bunch of people in the house — me, Greg Kurstin, Sia — it was a fun group of people. I had four days there, and every morning I'd get up an hour and a half before I had to leave, make a coffee, and start prepping for the day. On the third day, I got up, I'm in the basement of this house at like 7 in the morning, and I'm coming up with ideas. I stumble across that chord progression, the guitar and the melody. It was instant shivers up my spine. 

"Lately I've been losing sleep, dreaming about the things that we could be" is the only line that I had. [My] first thought was, I should play this for Beyoncé, and then I'm listening to it and going, This is not Beyoncé, not even remotely. It'd be a waste. So I tabled it, and I texted the guys in my band, "Hey, I think I have a potentially really big record. I'm going to finish it when I get back to Denver."

I got back the next week, started recording it, did four or five versions of the chorus, bouncing all the versions off my wife, and then eventually landed it. And when I played it for the band, they were like, "This is our favorite song."

Taylor Swift — "Welcome to New York," '1989' (2014)

It was my second session with Taylor. The first one was [1989's] "I Know Places," and she sent me a voice memo. I was looking for a house in Venice [California], because we were spending so much time in L.A. So that whole memory is attached to me migrating back to Los Angeles. 

But I knew what she was talking about, because I lived in New York, and I remember the feeling — endless possibilities, all the different people and races and sexes and loves. That was her New York chapter. She was so excited to be there. If you never lived there, and especially if you get there and you've got a little money in the pocket, it is so exhilarating.

It was me just kind of witnessing her brilliant, fast-paced, lyrical wizardry. [Co-producer] Max [Martin] and I had a conversation nine months later at the GRAMMYs, when we had literally just won for 1989. He kind of laughed, he pointed to all the other producers on the album, and he's like, "If she had, like, three more hours in the day, she would just figure out what we do and she would do it. And she wouldn't need any of us." 

And I still think that's true. Some people are just forces of nature in and among themselves, and she's one of them. She just blew me away. She's the most talented top liner I've ever been in a room with, bar none. If you're talking lyric and melody, I've never been in a room with anyone faster, more adept, knows more what they want to say, focused, efficient, and just talented.

Jonas Brothers — "Sucker," 'Happiness Begins' (2019)

I had gone through a pretty dry spell mentally, emotionally. I had just burned it at both ends and tapped out, call it end of 2016. So, really, all of 2017 for me was a blur and a wash. I did a bunch of sessions in the first three months of the year, and then I just couldn't get a song out. I kept having, song after song, artists telling me it's the first single, [then] the song was not even on the album. I had never experienced that in my career.

I went six to nine months without finishing a song, which for me is unheard of. Andrew Watt kind of roped me back into working with him. We did "Easier" for 5 Seconds of Summer, and we did some Sam Smith and some Miley Cyrus, and right in that same window, I did this song "Sucker." Two [or] three months later, Wendy Goldstein from Republic [Records] heard the record, I had sent it to her. She'd said, very quietly, "We're relaunching the Jonas Brothers. They want you to be involved in a major way. Do you have anything?" 

She calls me, she goes, "Ryan, do not play this for anybody else. This is their comeback single. It's a No. 1 record. Watch what we're gonna do." And she delivered.

OneRepublic — "I Ain't Worried," 'Top Gun: Maverick' Soundtrack (2022)

My memory is, being in lockdown in COVID, and just being like, Who knows when this is going to end, working out of my Airstream at my house. I had done a lot of songs for movies over the years, and [for] that particular [song] Randy Spendlove, who runs [music at] Paramount, called me.

I end up Zooming with Tom Cruise [and Top Gun: Maverick director] Jerry Bruckheimer — everybody's in lockdown during post-production. The overarching memory was, Holy cow, I'm doing the scene, I'm doing the song for Top Gun. I can't believe this is happening. But the only way I knew how to approach it, rather than to, like, overreact and s— the bed, was, It's just another day.

I do prescription songs for movies, TV, film all the time. I love a brief. It's so antithetical to most writers. I'm either uncontrollably lazy or the most productive person you've ever met. And the dividing line between the two is, if I'm chasing some directive, some motivation, some endpoint, then I can be wildly productive.

I just thought, I'm going to do the absolute best thing I can do for this scene and serve the film. OneRepublic being the performing artist was not on the menu in my mind. I just told them, "I think you need a cool indie band sounding, like, breakbeat." I used adjectives to describe what I heard when I saw the scene, and Tom got really ramped and excited. 

You could argue [it's the biggest song] since the band started. The thing about it is, it's kind of become one of those every summer [hits]. And when it blew up, that's what Tom said. He said, "Mark my words, dude. You're gonna have a hit with this every summer for, like, the next 20 years or more." 

And that's what happened. The moment Memorial Day happened, "I Ain't Worried" got defrosted and marched itself back into the top 100.

Tate McRae — "Greedy," 'THINK LATER' (2023)

We had "10:35" [with Tiësto] the previous year that had been, like, a No. 1 in the UK and across Europe and Australia. So we were coming off the back of that, and the one thing she was clear about was, "That is not the direction of what I want to do."

If my memory serves me correct, "greedy" was the next to last session we had. Everything we had done up to that point was kind of dark, midtempo, emotional. So "greedy" was the weirdo outlier. I kept pushing her to do a dance record. I was like, "Tate, there's a lot of people that have great voices, and there's a lot of people who can write, but none of those people are professional dancers like you are. Your secret weapon is the thing you're not using. In this game and this career, you've got to use every asset that you have and exploit it."

There was a lot of cajoling. On that day, we did it, and I thought it was badass, and loved it. And she was like, "Ugh, what do we just do? What is this?"

So then it was just, like, months, months and months of me constantly bringing that song back up, and playing it for her, and annoying the s— out of her. And she came around on it. 

She has very specific taste. So much of the music with Tate, it really is her steering. I'll do what I think is like a finished version of a song, and then she will push everyone for weeks, if not months, to extract every ounce of everything out of them, to push the song harder, further, edgier — 19 versions of a song, until finally she goes, "Okay, this is the one." She's a perfectionist.

OneRepublic — "Last Holiday," 'Artificial Paradise' (2024)

I love [our latest single] "Hurt," but my favorite song on the album is called "Last Holiday." I probably started the beginning of that lyric, I'm not joking, seven, eight years ago. But I didn't finish it 'til this past year.

The verses are little maxims and words of advice that I've been given throughout the years. It's almost cynical in a way, the song. When I wrote the chorus, I was definitely in kind of a down place. So the opening line is, "So I don't believe in the stars anymore/ They never gave me what I wished for." And it's, obviously, a very not-so-slight reference to "Counting Stars." But it's also hopeful — "We've got some problems, okay, but this isn't our last holiday." 

It's very simple sentiments. Press pause. Take some moments. Find God before it all ends. All these things with this big, soaring chorus. Musically and emotionally and sonically, that song — and "Hurt," for sure — but "Last Holiday" is extremely us-sounding. 

The biggest enemy that we've had over the course of 18 years, I'll be the first to volunteer, is, this ever-evolving, undulating sound. No one's gonna accuse me of making these super complex concept albums, because that's just not how my brain's wired. I grew up listening to the radio. I didn't grow up hanging out in the Bowery in CBGBs listening to Nick Cave. So for us, the downside to that, and for me doing all these songs for all these other people, is the constant push and pull of "What is their sound? What genre is it?" 

I couldn't put a pin in exactly what the sound is, but what I would say is, if you look at the last 18 years, a song like "Last Holiday" really encompasses, sonically, what this band is about. It's very moving, and emotional, and dynamic. It takes me to a place — that's the best way for me to put it. And hopefully the listener finds the same.

Latest News & Exclusive Videos

John Summit press photo
John Summit

Photo: Dana Trippe

interview

Finding 'Comfort In Chaos': John Summit On The Journey To His Debut Album

"I always wanted to do an album," the DJ/producer says of 'Comfort in Chaos.' Although Summit has graced many major stages, creating his full-length debut took "over 10 years of producing and eight years of releasing music to get confident enough."

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2024 - 01:18 pm

"I'm a little hungover, but I'm hanging in there," John Summit admits with a chuckle. The DJ/producer had stayed out late the night before (as DJs typically do) but for once, it wasn’t for work. Instead, he and his friends went bar- and club-hopping — "normal people stuff," Summit calls it. When asked how often he gets to do that these days, he laughs again. "Literally never. I felt like it was the first time in years." 

Given the past few years, it’s understandable. Summit was still early in his career when he released his breakout hit, 2020’s "Deep End," a couple months into global lockdown. He maintained that momentum with a long string of releases including "Thin Line" with Guz, "Sun Came Up" with Sofi Tukker and "Human," the latter producing his first U.S. Dance Radio No. 1.

When live events powered back up, Summit quickly graduated to playing major venues and main stages. In the last two years, he’s DJed everywhere from Movement Detroit to Manchester, Turin to Tulum, and NYC to nearly every Ibiza superclub; in between, he launched his Experts Only record label. This year, Summit closed out EDC Las Vegas and Coachella; in June, he headlined a show at Madison Square Garden. Being a dance music superstar is a marathonic job, but a glance at his off-the-cuff social media posts suggests he’s more than up for the challenge. 

Despite his hectic schedule, Summit somehow carved out time to write his debut album, Comfort in Chaos. In a way, it showcases his past, present and possible future. Recent single "EAT THE BASS" delivers the booming energy of the club tracks upon which he made his name; others, such as Billboard Top 10 hits "Where You Are" and "Shiver" with Hayla, are examples of his current evolution into lyric-focused songs, equally rich in melody and emotion. There are more surprises, still, as Summit explores sounds beyond his house and techno playground. "[This is] exactly the kind of music I've always wanted to make," he says, "but I never had an outlet or a reason to because they're not dance-floor-focused tracks."

The album’s sonic extremes also represent the duality between John Summit, the artist we see living his best life, one party at a time; and John Schuster (his given name), who’s introspective, who isn’t always confident, and who’s experienced "the lows" of returning from a show to an empty hotel room. "Now I'm comfortable where I am in life and I feel like I can tap into that [emotion]," he says. "It's cool to be able to show that side of me." 

Before Comfort in Chaos’ release on July 12 via Darkroom/Experts Only, Summit tells GRAMMY.com how he got to this milestone.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How long has the idea of a debut album been in your mind? 

It's been in my mind since the day I started making music. I really got into songwriting four years ago. I did "Summertime Chi" with Lee Foss, which is an original written vocal, and then I did "What A Life" with Stevie Appleton a year later. That was received really well by my fans and I'm like, Oh, I don't have to just use samples. I can actually write completely original music.  

Ever since then, the music has gone crazy. The first single off the album that I made was "Where You Are" with Hayla, which came out over a year ago, and that's when I feel like the ball really started rolling. In November, I took a month off and wrote pretty much the whole album in London and it really all came together then.

An entire month off? That seems rare. 

Yeah, it's insane for me. I haven't taken a month off since I started touring, but I knew I had to do that, especially to make music that's not just meant for the dance floor. I produce on the go. I produce on planes and everything, but when you're always playing shows, you always make music just for the shows.

When you can actually take time off, I feel like you can make music that's actually meant for those rainy London days meant for just chilling with friends and stuff like that. So it was cool to make an actual body of work instead of just festival music.

What did that month look like for you in terms of the creative process? 

I got this studio house for a month; this crazy house that has a couple of studios in it. My bedroom's at the top and I would take a slide down to my studio literally from the bedroom. I had a session every day for 30 days straight, and I just invited all the singers and producers I worked with. Sub Focus for example, he lived in London and then Hayla, Julie Church, Paige Cavell.

Pretty much everyone I work with is UK-based, so it was kind of a no-brainer to go to London for that. It was a lot of fun because we just make music all day, then drink at night and party. That's when you can share all your ideas with other people, at night when you're having drinks, wanting to call it banter. It was great.

To speak more about the variety of music that you make: You initially broke out with very club-forward tracks like "Deep End." But as you said, you've since honed a more melodic, songwriting-based sound. Was it a conscious evolution or did it just gradually happen over time? 

I feel like it was just an evolution as an artist. House music is a very loop-based sound where it's, what, a four-by-four kick drum and an eight-bar loop… I kind of graduated from that to doing full-written songs [like] "Where You Are." But it took a lot of time.

I was always writing songs during that process, but they weren't good. Writing a full song, it's like going from a short film to a movie. I always wanted to do an album, but it really did take me over 10 years of producing and eight years of releasing music to get confident enough to be able to do this. 

How do you tap into the emotion of those songs, especially given the image that you portray online? 

I guess that's the whole purpose of the album: That I've been portraying this John Summit image my whole career, but in reality I'm John Schuster. The John Summit image is obviously an entertaining party guy that loves to have a good time; in reality, outside of the club, I'm just sitting at home making music, and I want to show the more introspective side of me.

I've been neglecting my emotions the past few years, especially after quitting the accounting job five years ago. Then I was just in this full party mindset, but now I'm comfortable where I am in life and I feel like I can tap into that. So it's cool to be able to show that side of me.

Who is that more introspective John Schuster? 

Someone that, I guess, shows that I'm not really a 100 percent confident all the time. That I've experienced very high highs, but very low lows as well. I mean, John Summit has the biggest highs on stage, but then I go back to my hotel room and I'm by myself and experiencing the lows and being by myself all the time. So I guess showing that kind of emotional side is fun for my music at least. 

Absolutely. I imagine it’s difficult going not from zero to a hundred, but a hundred to zero. 

Exactly. That's the hard part. Zero to a hundred is the fun part.

If debut albums are like an artist's mission statement, what do you want 'Comfort in Chaos' to say? 

I think kind of what I was just touching on, the duality of John Schuster and John Summit. This is the first time I've fully shown my other half. I've been showing it through singles: "Where You Are," "Go Back," "Shiver" and stuff. But to do it in a full album where — especially the intro track where there's really no vocals on it, and it starts experimental and a bit progressive, and then the drop is really just a kick in bass. It's tension-release, which I love in music, but it just shows, not to be too pun intended, the comfort in the chaos that is my life right now.

What brings you comfort in chaos? 

That's a good question. Honestly, it's more so me trying to find my comfort in chaos. Because the thing is that if I'm on stage every night, I’ve got to be comfortable up there. The more confident I am, the better show that I do. And so I think I'm finding it now.  

It's kind of the whole fake it till you make it. At first I had to get hammered every single night just to get on stage, and now I can get up there without doing that, which is a big stepping stone for me. 

So it seems like it's more about the journey than the destination. 

Exactly, exactly. It's basically trying to find my comfort in chaos. And I think I've gotten there, so now is the perfect time for the album. I couldn't release that while I'm still not comfortable.

Given how significant Kaskade and deadmau5’s "I Remember" is to your electronic music journey, it must feel very special to have Kaskade on the album. 

Yeah, it was kind of a no-brainer. I was able to remix "I Remember" last year, which is huge for me. The track that literally got me into electronic music. Kascade is also from Chicago, and he's the one that introduced me to Hayla, too.  

We've been trying to make something work and we just didn't know what direction to go with it. It took a while, but we both love melodic and emotional music and we both love heavy techno, and so we made it work in one song, which is great because the track starts very comforting and it gets very chaotic, so it's very on-brand with the album.

What have you learned from Kaskade, whether directly or from afar? 

I've learned patience, and that everything's going to be okay. I'm a very neurotic person; I am very anxious and worry about every little detail, and he's the coolest, calmest guy I've ever met. I think it has to do with just his experience in the scene. Everything I'm experiencing is something he's experienced at some point in his DJ career, and even before Coachella, I was like, "Man, I don't know if I can do this" And he was like, "Bro, you got this. It's easy. Play your music." And I'm like, "Oh s—, you're right." It’s as simple as that. Yeah, he's been a good mentor.

To borrow a word that you've used in another interview, being "unhinged" on social media has played a significant role in building your fan base over the years. How has your relationship with social media changed in terms of the content you share and fan interactions? 

I'm still definitely unhinged on social media. That hasn't changed, but it has made me not afraid to show all facets of myself. I've just started showing the more emotional and deeper side of myself, but it is cool that I can say no matter who I am, I have good days and bad days. The fans can connect and resonate with that, which is cool because it was annoying growing up and following artists who are perfect on social media all the time. So I try to be as transparent as possible. 

Given the positive response to your collaboration with Subfocus, do you feel more encouraged to get eclectic in your future music? 

The Subfocus one was still pretty dance-floor-focused, and I still haven't released anything that's not dance-floor-focused. I mean, obviously in the album there is with the intro, with "Calm Down," with "Undo," with ["Palm of My Hands"] and ["Stay With Me"], so I'm waiting to see how fans like that. But at the end of the day, though, I’m at the point in my career where I don't have to put out things just to please dance floors. I feel like I've kind of made it where now I can experiment more and take risks. Now is when my career is starting to actually get fun. 

Latest News & Exclusive Videos

Janet Jackson performs at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture.
Janet Jackson performs at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture

Photo Credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Essence 

interview

Celebrating 30 Years Of Essence Fest: How New Orleans & Multi-Generational, Diasporic Talent Create The "Super Bowl Of Culture"

Ahead of the 30th Essence Festival Of Culture, held July 4-7 in New Orleans, GRAMMY.com spoke with executives and curators of the legendary celebration of Black excellence.

GRAMMYs/Jul 2, 2024 - 03:02 pm

Every July, millions of Black people, specifically Black women, descend upon New Orleans for the Essence Festival of Culture (EFOC). Known for many years as the Essence Festival, the festival is a celebration of Black culture, community, and heritage. Since its inception in 1995 as a one-off event to commemorate the publication’s 25th anniversary, the festival has evolved into a diasporic jubilee, drawing in people of African descent from across the diaspora. 

In addition to its global presence, the festival pours millions of dollars into the local New Orleans community, which has served as the festival's home for 30 years (with the exception of 2006, when the festival was held in Houston, because of Hurricane Katrina). In 2020, the festival was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, the annual festival continues to be one of the most sought-after and attended festivals in the United States. 

This year’s Essence Festival of Culture will be held at the Superdome from July 4-7, replete with legendary and fast-rising talents. On July 5, Birdman & Friends will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cash Money Records. The following day will feature a special performance by Charlie Wilson, while Usher will commemorate the 20th anniversary of Confessions.

Janet Jackson and Victoria Monét will headline the festival's final night, while Frankie Beverly and Maze close out the festival with the return of All-White Night. Other performers include The Roots featuring Mickey Guyton, Ari Lennox and T-Pain, Busta Rhymes, Raphael Saadiq, D-Nice featuring Shelia E, Big Boi, and many more.  

Read more: Music Festivals 2024 Guide: Lineups & Dates For Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo & Much More 

EFOC has been compared to SXSW, Coachella, Austin City Limits, and other notable festivals, yet it stands out for its empowerment-centered approach. It is not simply a festival, it is a family reunion. The one festival in the United States that does not pander to or take advantage of Black audiences, but truly celebrates them and their achievements. Although music has always been an integral part of the festival’s ethos — Aretha Franklin and B.B. King performed at the first iteration — the festival excels in its multi-generational and interdisciplinary programming. On any given day, attendees can attend sessions on Black entrepreneurship, politics, mental health, and literature, as well as seminars focused on issues impacting the Black community.  

There’s a reason why the festival is referred to as the party with a purpose. For decades, it has operated as a celebratory convening place for Black people, Black families, and Black communities. Now, more than ever, spaces like EFOC are needed, as the Black community experiences an onslaught of changes — from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in North Carolina and Tennessee being subject to intense government oversight, to Black women-owned venture capital firms being targeted by conservatives, and Black voting rights becoming at risk during an election year. 

Ahead of the festival’s 30th celebration, Michael Barclay, Executive Vice President of Experiential for ESSENCE Ventures and Barkue Tubman Zawolo, Chief of Staff, Talent and Diasporic Engagement for Essence Ventures, spoke to the Recording Academy about the history, legacy, and future of the Essence Festival of Culture.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Are you part of the generation that grew up with the Essence Festival of Culture? If so, how does it feel to be a part of it?

Barkue Tubman Zawolo: I'm originally from Liberia. And even being in Liberia, prior to my family moving to the U.S. in 1980, Essence was always a thing for my mom and my aunts. When we came here, fast forward to me, as an adult, [after] graduating college, I got into the music industry. I've managed artists that have gone through the Essence stages and pages in different ways.

Essence Fest has always been something that we were familiar with. I have to say, I had not really experienced Essence Fest until 2019 when Essence was actually a client. One of the things that I was doing [at that point] was integrating the Diaspora and African creatives within the festival in fashion and music.

To be in the role that I'm in right now and to be on a team with people who have been a part of Essence for a long time…. Essence seems to be ingrained in all of our fabric. [What] started as a music festival now is the Super Bowl of Culture that is the Essence Festival of Culture. To be on the team that helps bring this to life for our community is a daunting but rewarding task all in the same. 

Essence is something that I don't think anybody in our community takes lightly. Even our partners understand the value of it. We certainly understand that we serve the Essence-inverse and, and we are in service to this community. It is a huge honor to be able to be a part of the team that brings this to life and, and, and constantly hear what it means to the community globally too. 

One thing that I admired, especially about last year's festival, was GU Kickback — a music event hosted by Girls United, the publication’s Gen Z vertical. I saw a number of local artists from New Orleans, such as 504ICYGRL. ESSENCE just released a series of cover stories celebrating the 30 year relationship between the publication and New Orleans; how do you highlight the city and their history?

Michael Barclay: As somebody who's worked in experiential, creating gatherings and experiences for almost 25 years now, the venue is always important when you're trying to set the box where you are creating for your community, for your audience. New Orleans has been that backdrop for us for almost 30 years now. 

New Orleans is the convergence of our mission, our brand, in a city that is perfectly matched for that energy. New Orleans is as much a part of Essence Festival of Culture as Essence Magazine is to Essence Festival. 

It is very much a partnership that has created this cultural movement. To be more inclusive, and highlight more of those local relationships and talent is very intentional. It has been something that we have put a lot of energy and effort into over the last couple of years. 

This will be my third festival this year. I think Barkue, you started maybe a year or two before me. We're a fairly new crew that is working to help grow and reshape and solidify those relationships. Even with how we handle the management of the festival. 

Our VP of Essence Festival, Hakeem Holmes is a hometown boy from New Orleans. He's the pride and joy. They love to see him coming. He's always enlightening us on the things that we need to be focused on for the city and how we make the best partnership and make the best impact on the area.

It was intentional what you saw last year. It's intentional this year. We dedicated our entire festival edition of the magazine as a love letter to New Orleans. It's a symbiotic relationship that is one of the key reasons why this festival is the Super Bowl of Culture.  

I would love to hear about the talent aspect of the festival. Last year, Megan Thee Stallion headlined. In previous years, Beyoncé and Prince have served as headliners. What is the formula between balancing local talent, national talent and diasporic talent at the festival?

Zawolo: As we grow the festival, the intentionality becomes even more and more important. And, what we do in understanding where we are as a brand. 

We're 30 years into the festival, the brand is 55 years. What's traditionally known as the Essence Woman is now bringing her daughter. It's multi-generational. We also know that the world is as big as your cell phone, so people are now exposed to different types of content and music. 

We see the influence of Afrobeats and Caribbean music. We are intentional about making sure that every night really speaks to multiple generations, but it's anchored in a generation. It's like, who's bringing, who to the concert on Friday? Is it the daughter bringing her mama? 

It's anchored in  that younger demo, but we're going to make sure that they're going to have a collective good time there. Saturday is usually our heaviest night. We have our living legends that show up there; that really cuts across generations. This is anybody can bring anybody, but let me tell you, you're going to be able to teach each other, connect with each other with the different groupings of talent that we have.

We try to make sure that there is something that speaks to us, but that that connects with the diaspora on as many nights as possible. Sometimes it's not because they're from a different country, but because we know the music also resonates.

If you think of Janet Jackson, you can go anywhere in the world. She can check off that box, although she's not from there. You can create those ties, but we also are intentional about having Ayra Starr and Machel Montano. Last year we had Tems and Wizkid. The goal is to continue to grow what that looks like, because we are a global brand and that is our diasporic and global intent in connecting the global Black community is really important.  

We are intentionally multi-generational. We intentionally lead into where a multitude of generational communities can come together and have fun together. There is something for everybody. We have a unique opportunity with Essence as the brand grows to be able to not only speak to what they want to call the aunties, I call the punties. I also think that this is where we get to educate the next generation on where we're coming from. We also get to learn from them on where they are and where they want to go. 

What a beautiful way to kind of tie all of these connections. Last year, the festival celebrated 50 years of hip-hop; this year you're celebrating the 30th anniversary of the festival. What is the intention behind this year’s music programming?

Zawolo: Paying homage to people who had done some historical things on our stages. We have Janet [Jackson] back. People are like, “Oh, we saw Janet two years ago,” but Janet is also one of the highest sellers in the festival's history. 

If we're going to celebrate, let's celebrate, because we know Janet never disappoints. We also want to lean into some of the [older] talent, like Charlie Wilson, Uncle Charlie. He's graced that stage so many times, but yet it's still very relevant. Using this moment to reignite things that we've done in the past and bring them back to life that we know the audience missed.

Frankie Beverly, who is going to come, this is probably going to really be his last performance. The passing of the torch. This year was about having to be intentional about what other milestones are happening that are important to this culture. Cash Money is also celebrating 30 years. Who better, right?  

Essence has been in New Orleans for 30 years. Cash Money and crew are from New Orleans. Juvenile just got the key to the city from the mayor. We want to honor and celebrate him, but we also want to recognize the influence that this group of very creative, entrepreneurial, rappers and artists have had on culture, because there was a time where we all were backing that ass up. 

Making sure we highlighted milestones, connecting with people who have historically been a part of making history with us, introducing some new ones — that's what we have to do. We have to set up now for the next 30 years. We want to go to the soul of what appeals to our audience, and we're really all about good music.  

I think the 30th year just continues to do what we do. As we look to grow and connect demos, Megan Thee Stallion is a very viable option because again, the daughter now is going to bring the mama. Intergenerational diasporic and connecting demos, I think that only happens at the Superdome. That's also happening in the convention center, which I believe is honestly the soul of the festival. 

What are your hopes and aspirations for the next 30 years of the Essence Festival of Culture? Will Essence Fest always be in New Orleans? Are we going to have an Essence Fest in Lagos, Nigeria?

Barclay: Being on this side of [EFOC], seeing the true impact of the festival and how it impacts the communities, how it impacts the folks that come to New Orleans, and now, because we've expanded to our virtual audience, the 1.7 million that are viewing around the world, my hope for the festival is that we continue to show up where our community needs us.

We're going to be in New Orleans. We're going to be in our official world as we call it. If you can't make it to New Orleans, you can tune into Essence.com and you can see what's going on there. We are creating virtual experiences, AR experiences, VR experiences, all those things, so really keeping up with the way that people continue to connect with each other, whether they're physically in the same place or halfway across the world.

I think that type of innovation is what I want to continue to see us do and allow us to create that joy that we generate in New Orleans and wherever it's needed for our community.

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

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

Photo: Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images

list

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