meta-scriptThe Evolution Of The Queer Anthem: From Judy Garland To Lady Gaga & Lil Nas X | GRAMMY.com
The Evolution Of The Queer Anthem: From Judy Garland To Lady Gaga & Lil Nas X
(Top row) Donna Summer, Frank Ocean, Madonna, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Nina Simone (Bottom row) Culture Club, Lil Nas X, Beyonce, Diana Ross

Photos: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Visionhaus#GP/Corbis via Getty Images; Gie Knaeps/Getty Images; Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation; Robin Platzer/Getty Images; Photo by David Redfern/Redferns; Mason Poole Ebet Roberts/Redferns; Amy Sussman/Getty Images; PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

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

Music is a creative tool of liberation, with queer communities finding meaning — overt or otherwise — in songs by a myriad of artists. GRAMMY.com unpacks the long history of queer anthems, from a 1920s cabaret to the top of the charts.

GRAMMYs/Jun 5, 2023 - 01:50 pm

When a young Judy Garland sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in 1939, dreaming of a more exciting, joyous and colorful life elsewhere, few might have known that her words would go on to inspire generations of queer people who found a glimmer of freedom where "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."

For decades, if not longer, music has continued to serve as a creative tool of liberation, with queer communities finding meaning — overt or otherwise — in songs either written directly for them or appropriated from the work of (seemingly) straight artists. Often with time, but occasionally immediately, such music becomes a queer anthem. While pride in one’s identity has often been a central theme, these anthems have also tackled the communal trauma — from the HIV/AIDS epidemic to discrimination that continues to this day. 

As the messages and musical styles have adapted with the times, what’s most powerful in the evolution of queer anthems is just how much more openly gay they have become. An increasing number of artists are able to unabashedly express their identity, including in genres that have been traditionally reticent or hostile to minorities. Tracing the history of the queer anthem provides an opportunity to see how far the LGBTQ+  community has come, and how creative expression can be used to fight for rights that are still being threatened. 

Press play on the Spotify playlist below, or visit Apple Music, Pandora or Amazon Music for an accompanying playlist of queer anthems.

In Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary, music writer Sasha Geffen explores the history of queer anthems past and present.

"I think it's important to honor these ancestors in the queer narrative and point to how things don't always go from worse to better," Geffen tells GRAMMY.com. "Right now in our current historical moment, where we're seeing a lot of closing in and that can be really scary, but there has always kind of been this pulsing and there has always been the survival." 

A Global Musical Movement

In fact, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" wasn’t even the first gay anthem. One of the earliest is the 1920 German cabaret number "Das lila Lied" ("The Lavender Song"), a clear product of the relative sexual freedom of the Weimar Republic. Written around the time of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld hosting the First International Conference for Sexual Reform, the song recognized the struggles queer people faced while also declaring, "and still most of us are proud/ to be cut from different cloth!"

In Europe, musicals provided sly opportunities to explore queer themes, notably the work of English playwright Noël Coward, whose hidden sexuality was expressed in unrequited love songs such as "Mad About the Boy'' and "If Love Were All." In the United States, Black women defined many of these early queer anthems, notably Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday, with "Prove It on Me Blues" and "Easy Living," respectively. As Geffen says, their music was "playful and raunchy and it sold." 

Holiday and Rainey, along with her prodigy, Bessie Smith, were all bisexual — an identity that along with their race and gender threatened their professional careers. They faced not only social ostracization, but also legal threats due to their sexuality. Yet these pioneers still expressed their emotions openly, as Ma Rainey sings on "Prove It on Me Blues": "I went out last night with a crowd of my friends'/It must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men/ Wear my clothes just like a fan/ Talk to the gals just like any old man."

The war years and social conservative of the 1950s didn’t see many lasting gay anthems, as white, male musicians appropriated and made famous the rebellious rock and roll sound of Black musicians. This was clear in songs like Little Richard’s "Tutti Frutti" (with clear sexual undertones) and "Hound Dog" by Big Mamma Thornton, who wore men’s clothes and has been appreciated for representing Black queerness

Through the sexual revolution of the mid-20th century, Black women continued to produce some of the most boundary-pushing music. Nina Simone switched the gender preference in her bubbly version of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" — from Lana Turner to… Liberace — and Diana Ross delivered a sultry take on "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough," showing the depths someone is willing to go for their paramour. 

Yet it’s impossible to include just one song by the disco diva in a compendium of queer anthems, overt or implied. The inspiration for 1980’s "I’m Coming Out" actually came out of a New York gay bar: Famed songwriter Nile Rodgers went to the bathroom and noticed a group of Ross impersonators. As Rodgers told Billboard in 2011, "I ran outside and called Bernard [Edwards, his frequent collaborator] and told him about it and said, ‘What if we recognize Diana Ross’ really cool alignment with her fan base in the gay community?’ So we sat down and wrote, ‘I’m Coming Out.’"

During this period of second-wave feminism, songs of female empowerment were also adapted by the queer community, such as Lesley Gore’s "You Don’t Own Me" (Gore herself came out as a lesbian in 2005). Some male acts embraced all that defied social norms, whether around identity or sexuality (although some of their depictions of race and gender can be questioned): "Lola" by the Kinks, "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed and "Rebel Rebel" by David Bowie, whose glam rock pushed against boundaries in terms of gender presentation.

More so than any genre before it, the arrival of disco in the 1970s provided a soundtrack for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, it could be said it was the first genre made for and by queer folks was disco, with high-rotation tracks like Donna Summer’s "I Feel Love," Chaka Khan’s "I’m Every Woman" or even ABBA’s "Dancing Queen." But arguably the most powerful queer anthem was Gloria Gaynor’s "I Will Survive," an unabashed tribute to overcoming against all odds that can still be heard blasting from Pride floats today. 

In maybe a less nuanced but equally impactful sense during this time, the Village People also played with gay sexual fantasies in both their appearance and music, notably with their songs "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A." While the camp was turned up to 11, the Village People’s influence in bringing queer life to the mainstream cannot be underestimated.

Openly queer artists also began asserting themselves more than ever by the 1980s and the rise of synth pop, finding fans among straight and queer communities, often in a "you know if you know way," according to Geffen. The sound coming from British groups like Culture Club ("Do You Really Want to Hurt Me"), Soft Cell ("Tainted Love") or Bronski Beat ("Smalltown Boy") was inextricable from queerness; an uptempo beat and thematic undercurrent ran through many of the era's biggest pop songs. These artists were "talking about an experience that was very specific to the queer community — this idea of figuring out who you are and leaving home and not knowing where you're gonna be ending up and just trusting something out there might be better than what you've got," Geffen notes.

Also during the 1980s, queer anthems also began to proliferate beyond English-language music, proving that a desire to express queerness through music was universal. This was notably seen in Canadian-French artist Mylène Farmer’s "Libertine" and "Sans contrefaçon" about embracing androgyny. And in the Spanish-speaking world, there was Alaska y Dinarama's "¿A quién le importa?" which translates to "who cares?" 

Anthems Rocked By Trauma

But this relative opening in terms of gay acceptance in popular culture was quickly shaken by the HIV/AIDS crisis, when queer anthems took on an even stronger political role. Whether it be Queen’s "I Want to Break Free" or "Somebody to Love," Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s "Relax" or Sylvester’s "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," these anthems were unabashed about expressing romantic feelings and sexual desire, as well as fighting back against violence, silence and stereotyping. 

Known for his falsetto voice, Sylvester was one of the leading voices in San Francisco’s growing queer community before passing away from AIDS-related complications in 1988. His song "Stars" is one of Geffen’s favorite queer anthems, particularly for how he conveyed both the joy and hardship of the queer experience. 

"He had such a powerful voice and powerful control over the subtleties of using it," Geffen continues. "There was this kind of melancholy that I can hear coming through sometimes of celebrating the world that you're in, this kind of sub-world inside the world where these forms of relationships are possible."

Read more: 'Spiceworld' At 25: How The Spice Girls' Feminine Enthusiasm & Camp Became A Beacon For Queer Youth

Female artists — many of whom were open allies of the queer community — also addressed the devastation of the epidemic. TLC’s "Waterfalls" (a cautionary tale with a hopeful note to "believe in yourself") and Cyndi Lauper’s "True Colors," a torch song to light the way in the darkest of times. Although, this relationship of seemingly straight artists to the queer community was not without faults. Madonna became a queer icon for her string of hits before kicking off the 1990s with "Vogue," a track that brought queer ballroom culture to a mainstream audience. While Madonna was clearly celebrating this art form, and giving a certain amount of recognition to those who created it, she was also making money off the talent and creativity of underrecognized queer communities of color.

Outside of mainstream music, the 1990s saw queer female artists asserting their identity, accompanied by the riot grrrl movement and Lilith Fair. These ranged from the Indigo Girls’ reflective "Closer to Fine" to k.d. lang’s yearnful "Constant Craving" to Bikini Kill’s "Rebel Girl," "the queen of my world." 

The Sound Of A New Millennium

The turn of the millennium heralded the beginning of a more assertive acceptance, with anthems coming from sometimes unexpected sources: Christina Aguilera’s "Beautiful," P!nk’s "Raise Your Glass,'' Robyn’s "Dancing on My Own" or Macklemore's "Same Love." With the political fight for marriage equality quickly gaining ground in the U.S., pop artists began responding with overtly pro-LGBTQAI+ messages in their music: Lady Gaga kicked off the 2010s with "Born This Way," with the theme that there is nothing abnormal about being queer.

 More recently, anthems have shed any need to hide their queerness through hidden messages or innuendos. Proudly queer artists are creating music clearly for their communities, and beyond: think Janelle Monae’s ode to female pleasure "Pynk," Perfume Genius’ searing "Queen" or Hayley Kiyoko’s "Girls Like Girls," whose title says it all (and was followed up with the more cheerful anthem "for the girls"). 

Perhaps most notably, genres that have been slower to embrace LGBTQAI+ artists have also had their share of anthems. Rap in particular has embraced queer artists from Cupcakke ("LGBT") to Frank Ocean ("Channel") to Leikeli47’s ​​("Attitude") to anything by Mykki Blanco. This also has been true in country: See Katie Pruitt’s "Loving Her," Kacey Musgraves’ "Follow Your Arrow'' or Orville Peck and his interpretation of "Smalltown Boy." This honoring of queer history and pioneers defines many modern queer anthems, perhaps most strongly in Beyoncé’s Renaissance.

Read more: How Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" Made An Important Statement About Acceptance — For Society And Herself

While her whole discography is full of bangers that have entered the queer pantheon, her latest release Renaissance is an ode to the queer and Black tradition of disco and house. Tracks like "COZY," an embrace of being "comfortable in my skin," quickly entered into heavy rotation at clubs around the world. Beyoncé has centered queer artists like Big Freedia, the queen of New Orleans bounce who wrote a powerful anthem in 2020’s "Chasing Rainbows" featuring Kesha (who herself named an album Rainbow and released "We R Who We R" after a series of suicides of gay teens across the U.S.).

Most significantly, songs about the queer experience are now defining the careers of many artists and garnering them unprecedented large audiences. This is the case for MUNA with "Silk Chiffon," King Princess with "1950" Troy Sivan with "Bloom'' or even Sam Smith and Kim Petras with "Unholy." This last sexy jam bought Petras unprecedented acclaim after years in the music industry and made her the first openly trans person to win a GRAMMY Award.

This trend might be most clearly seen in the rise of Little Nas X, who grew up mastering the language and codes of the internet before breaking through and quite quickly coming out. Geffen highlights how he uses shock to garner attention and push back against the homophobic haters, like giving Satan a lap dance in the music video "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)."

"I think of Little Nas X as a troll who trolled his way to the top," says Geffen," knowing what people will respond to positively and what will piss people off."

Contrasting this increase in openly queer anthems and depictions of queer people in media is a sharp political reality: anti-trans laws proliferate in many states and lawmakers attempt to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people, threatening many of the forward momentum in queer liberation. 

Read more: The Rise Of The Queer Pop Star In The 2010s

This moment in social and political history highlights the importance of an anthem, which  serves as a form of celebration and signaling of allegiance, as well as a salve against repression and motivation to continue the fight.

Of course, this list of queer anthems is far from exhaustive. Artists as diverse as the B-52s, Eurythmics, the Pet Shop Boys, Elton John, Cher, George Michael, RuPaul, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, the Smiths, Kylie Minogue, Brandi Carlile, Carley Rae Jepsen, Sufjan Stevens, SOPHIE, Taylor Swift and many, many others have released music that has deeply impacted the queer community. 

And really, any song can be a queer anthem if it speaks to someone on a personal level, providing a sense of connection and belonging. As Geffen notes, the magic occurs when a piece of music creates a moment of collective celebration or momentary bliss.

"There's nothing else quite like that feeling of the physical release of having a song run through you when it's also running through tons of other people who are in the crowd with you," they said, highlighting the power of that anxiety of whether you fit in dissolving away: "It opens a window into what's possible, in a world beyond the one we're in right now."

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Living Legends: Gloria Gaynor On How "I Will Survive" Has Made Her "Feel Like A Family Heirloom"
Gloria Gaynor

Photo: Alex Arroyo

interview

Living Legends: Gloria Gaynor On How "I Will Survive" Has Made Her "Feel Like A Family Heirloom"

Nearly five decades after Gloria Gaynor released her timeless anthem, "I Will Survive," she celebrates her legacy — and her own resilience — with a new documentary, only in theaters Feb. 13.

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2024 - 07:11 pm

She will survive, indeed! As a poster child for the disco era, an advocate for the power of resilience, and an artist who has mastered the craft of the comeback, Gloria Gaynor has proven that her triumphant classic, "I Will Survive" isn't just her signature hit — it's become her mantra.

In addition to her triumphant classic (which won the only GRAMMY ever given for Best Disco Recording, in 1980), Gaynor has carved out a unique career full of risk, reward and longevity. That includes taking major bets on herself, including self-funding and releasing her 2019 spiritual album, Testimony — which earned her a second GRAMMY 40 years after her first, this time for Best Gospel Album. 

Along the way, Gaynor faced both health and financial issues and stayed true to the meaning of the song. These days, she's been on a victory lap, still a queen of the modern disco scene — even releasing a track with another club icon, Kylie Mingoue, with 2021's "Can't Stop Writing Songs About You" — while basking in the enduring legacy of "I Will Survive." 

Now 80, the legend's inspiring story of highs and lows is on full display in the new documentary aptly titled Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive, which premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival and hits select theaters for one day only on Feb. 13. Gaynor reflected with GRAMMY.com about the hit that made her a household name, its lasting effects and her remarkable longevity.

I know it's been an eight year-long process working on the new documentary. What was it like bringing it to life with director Betsy Schechter?

It was difficult because I was working and there were things happening in both our lives that hindered us from coming together from time to time and progressing with the process — so part of what made it take so long was personal reasons. It was fun and tedious, but most of the time it was fun. 

What was it like seeing your emotional story on screen for the first time?

Well, I went through several emotions. It was kind of cathartic. It was surprising to see the reactions of people in the audience with me. When I was watching it on my own, I was like, "Is this going to be popular?" Because when you're watching your own life, you don't think anything big of it. You think everybody has the same problems and stories. But it was mixed emotions. 

People are saying they're learning new things about me that they've never known before or suspected. But a lot of people are also saying that they're being encouraged, and uplifted, and empowered by what they've seen in the documentary. It's been really wonderful, when it comes to the response. It's been tremendous. 

In the midst of production of the documentary, you entirely self-funded the album Testimony which later won a GRAMMY for Best Roots Gospel Album in 2020. Why was it important for you to release this independently and take on that risk?

Because I really believed it was something that God would have me do. When He calls you to do it, of course you do it. Unless I was totally wrong in what I believed I heard, in which case it'd just be an experience. 

But I really felt I had been called to do this, because it was something I've wanted to do for many years. My old management didn't think it was important. He was so interested in the money that would not come from whatever other music I did. So he thought, why bother? But for me, it was more than money. 

What did vindication of the subsequent GRAMMY win mean to you?

It was awesome and very, very validating for me. Just uplifting and encouraging. The GRAMMY is an award that comes from your peers; people who are in the business who know what it takes to record an album or talent when they hear it. It was extremely rewarding for me to win a GRAMMY for that album that was so not championed by everybody in the business. 

And leading up to the win, what was it like when you heard you were nominated?

It was like, "Okay, if this happens I'm going to be flying high." And for sure I was.

But this wasn't your first GRAMMY, because I know that distinction goes back to 1980 for "I Will Survive." Do you remember anything from that night?


Well, I was not familiar with the filming of the televising of the GRAMMYs; it was my first time there and I was actually not there when I received the GRAMMY.

Where were you?

I was in the restroom! I thought I could run to the restroom and get back and seated before it started, and then [my category came up]. Someone else received my GRAMMY and held it for like five years.

Five years, why?

I didn't even know who had it. But it was Tom Moulton, who was the geneious mixologist who did "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "I Am What I Am." He received the award for me and kept it before I even found out where it was. [But] I got it back from him! 

"I Will Survive" was waiting for you for a couple years until you recorded it. So what did you say and what did songwriters Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris say when you decided to record it?

What had happened was, I was sent to record a song that the record company president had chosen because he was newly over from England and had a hit with a song there ("Substitute", originally by the Righteous Brothers). He wanted to repeat the success of it here in the United States with me. 

They asked me what could be on the B side because they weren't sure about it, and wondered what kind of songs I liked. So I said, "I like songs that are thoughtful, meaningful and touch people's hearts and have a good melody." So they said, "Well, we think you're the one we've been waiting for to record this song we wrote two years prior." I was like, "Okay, what song is that?" 

When I read the lyrics I said, "What are you stupid, you're going to put this on the B-side? This is a timeless lyric. I'm standing here relating to this song since I had a back brace on from a surgery I had just had. I'm relating it to the fact that my mother passed away a few years prior, something I never thought I'd survive. Everybody is going to relate every traumatic situation they're going through with this song. Any situation they find seemingly insurmountable, they can relate." So they said, "Well, that's the deal we made." So I said, "Well, if it's for me then it won't stay on the B-side."

What happened when it was released?

It was definitely on the B-side, but they gave us a box of records, and there were 25 in a box, and we took them to Studio 54 and asked the DJ there, Richie Kaczor, to play it. When he did, the audience definitely responded to it, so I thought, "Okay, this jaded New York audience is losing their mind over this record, I have no doubt I'm right that this is a hit." 

So I asked him to give the records to his DJ friends in New York to play it, and they did and people began to request it on radio. The stations started calling the label: "Where is this record people keep asking for?" And the rest is history.

The song has impacted so many people over the years. Do you have any special memories of hearing how it impacted someone?

What immediately comes to mind is a situation that happened when I was in Italy. I had actually rewritten the words because I had become a devout Christian and wanted it reflected in the song. So I changed it from saying "It took all strength I had not to fall apart" to "Only the Lord can give me strength not to fall apart." And then when it said, "Now you see me somebody new," I changed it to say "He made me somebody new." 

After I sang those words for the first time at the concert in Italy, afterwards a young lady came to me and said, "You saved my life. I've been living here for almost a year and its been really, really difficult for me and I was going to home to commit suicide. But now that I've heard you sing that song, I know where my strength can come from and I don't have to die." I'll never forget her.

Before "I Will Survive" you had an early hit with "Never Can Say Goodbye," which was originally recorded by the Jackson 5. Take me inside the studio for that one.

What I remember about recording that song is that we went into the studio, the track had been done and now I'm putting my vocal on it. The producer told me, "Look, you can't sing it like Michael Jackson. You have to do your own thing with it. Let's stop now, go home and rehearse it and stop trying to sing it like Michael." 

I was so frustrated and came back the next day after not rehearsing anything, because I thought, This is the way I sing it. So when I got into the studio I knew I wanted to do something different, so I thought of the words and tried to make them really personal to me and just do it. My attitude after I finished was, "That's it, and if you don't like it, too bad!" And as I was thinking that, he jumped up from the console and said, "That's the take!" 

Clive Davis first signed you to Columbia Records in 1973. How quickly did your life change after that?

I was taken to Columbia and introduced by Paul Leka, a producer there at the time, and he was the one who introduced me to Clive. What I remember most of all is that Clive had me do three auditions; I went to New York to sing for him three times. I said, "There's no way this man has to hear me sing three times before he determines I can sing, he just likes my voice and wants a free concert." [Laughs]

He finally did sign me, but unfortunately right after I recorded my first song he left to form his own company. And I was not signed to Clive, I was signed to RCA, so he couldn't take me with him and I remained at Columbia. So my career took a different course I'm sure than if I had been signed to him specifically.  

New generations continue to discover your music and "I Will Survive," and you've even recorded new material as of late with people like Kylie Minogue. What has your recent resurgence been like?

It's wonderful, I feel like I have not missed my calling and that I'm on the path I'm supposed to be on. It's extremely rewarding, validating and encouraging. It's wonderful. I feel like a family heirloom, passing me down from one generation to another.

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New Music Friday: Listen To Songs From Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X, Jay-Z & More
Ariana Grande on 'The Voice' set in 2021.

Photo: Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

list

New Music Friday: Listen To Songs From Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X, Jay-Z & More

The year is already off to a massive start, with Jan. 12 spawning new releases from 21 Savage, ITZY, Jennifer Lopez and many more. Check out some of the hotly anticipated tracks here.

GRAMMYs/Jan 12, 2024 - 04:50 pm

January always marks fresh starts and clean slates as the world collectively turns the page from one year to the next. The world of music is no exception: the second week of 2024 is filled with artists embarking on new eras and album cycles.

On the full-length front, 21 Savage unveiled his third solo LP, american dream, with guest assists from the likes of Summer Walker ("Prove It"), Doja Cat ("N.H.I.E."), Young Thug and Metro Boomin ("Pop Ur S–t") and more while Kali Uchis celebrates her just-announced first pregnancy with longtime boyfriend Don Toliver by delivering her second Spanish-language studio set Orchídeas.

Meanwhile, Reneé Rapp brings the new Mean Girls musical movie to life as Gen Z's Regina George, with a soundtrack that also features Megan Thee Stallion, Auli'i Cravalho, Angourie Rice and more, and K-pop act ITZY makes a statement on their sophomore Korean-language album, Born To Be, which gives all five members a chance to shine with individual solo tracks on top of swaggering bangers like "Untouchable" and the title track.  

In addition to star-studded album drops, Jan. 12 sees several big single releases too. Press play on hotly anticipated musical resets from Ariana Grande and Lil Nas X, lead singles from Jennifer Lopez and Sheryl Crow, and a monumental collaboration between D'Angelo and Jay-Z for the new movie The Book of Clarence below.

Ariana Grande — "yes, and?"

Ariana Grande is officially back and ready to own everything. For "yes, and?" — her first new musical offering since 2020's Positions — the superstar is doling out heavy-hitting words to live by, disguised as a glossy pop confection that takes an irresistible cue from Madonna's "Vogue."

Both an exercise in self-affirmation and a runway-ready Pride anthem, "yes, and?" finds Grande unapologetically sharing her truth in a way she hasn't since 2018's "thank u, next." Her voice dripping with honey, the soon-to-be Wicked star slyly addresses the recent tabloid fodder surrounding her personal life. 

"Now I'm so done with caring/ What you think, no, I won't hide/ Underneath your own projections/ Or change my most authentic life," she vows in between spine-tingling harmonies and plenty of vocal fireworks. Ari only gets more blunt from there, clapping back with her whole chest about the obsession with her body, relationship status, sex life and more. In her words, "Yes…and?" 

Jennifer Lopez — "Can't Get Enough"

Jennifer Lopez's ninth studio album, This Is Me… Now, has been a long time coming. But if lead single "Can't Get Enough" is any indication, the sequel to 2002's This Is Me… Then will be well worth the wait when it arrives Feb. 16. The track, which samples the late Alton Ellis' 1967 release "Still in Love," is a fizzy, funky delight that pops like a blast of champagne straight out the bottle.

On the song's chorus, the multi-hyphenate superstar giddily professes just how much she loves being in love (and back in love with now-husband Ben Affleck). And while the accompanying music video pokes fun at her trio of past marriages, fans can rest assured she's singing the lovestruck lyrics to the same Dunkin'-lovin' guy she was serenading 21 years ago on This Is Me… Then.

Jeymes Samuel x D'Angelo x Jay-Z — "I Want You Forever"

A new D'Angelo single would be a major event. So would a new Jay-Z single. After all, it's quickly coming up on 10 years since the neo-soul star released his last album, 2014's Black Messiah and the rap mogul's last solo single was the title track off 2017's 4:44.

However, director Jeymes Samuel managed to coax both men back into the studio to join forces for the soundtrack of his new biblical film The Book of Clarence starring Lakeith Stanfield. On "I Want You Forever," D'Angelo holds court with a hypnotic, repetitive hook before ceding the mic to Hov for the song's lone, pleading verse. 

Lil Nas X — "J CHRIST"

Nearly three years after giving the devil a lap dance in the hellish music video for his No. 1 hit "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)," Lil Nas X is flipping the script and ascending to heaven on his new single "J CHRIST." Well, not for too long — turns out a giant stripper pole connects the celestial realm with the fires of purgatory, and Lil Nas X is equally at home in each.

The track's high-concept, cinematic music video has it all: angelic doppelgängers of everyone from Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey and Oprah to Michael Jackson and Barack Obama; Lil Nas cooking up a cauldron filled with human limbs; and yes, even the rapper pinned to a cross in a visual sure to enrage the critics who were already up in arms before the track was even released. But by song's end, as Lil Nas X takes on the role of Noah emerging from a worldwide flood, the GRAMMY winner makes clear the hip-hop banger isn't just religious cosplay — it's a new beginning.

Sheryl Crow — "Evolution"

Sheryl Crow is uncharacteristically on edge on "Evolution," the lead single and title track of her forthcoming 11th studio album. The queen of bright singer/songwriter jams like "All I Wanna Do" and "Soak Up the Sun" (and newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer) takes aim at the encroaching threat of artificial intelligence to the music industry and creativity at large on the spacey track. 

To top it all off, she even recruited Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine to concoct a supercharged guitar solo that ratchets the uneasiness up to 11 as Crow warns, "Where are we headed in this paradise?/ We are passengers and there's no one at the wheel."

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10 Reasons Why 'ARTPOP' Is Lady Gaga’s Bravest Album
Lady Gaga performs onstage during The ARTPOP Ball tour

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

news

10 Reasons Why 'ARTPOP' Is Lady Gaga’s Bravest Album

Released in 2013 and following the iconic 'Born This Way,' Lady Gaga's 'ARTPOP' was maligned and misunderstood. Yet the avant garde album took admirable leaps in genre, style and presentation — and deserves serious applause.

GRAMMYs/Nov 6, 2023 - 02:27 pm

A decade ago, the music industry was practically eulogizing Lady Gaga’s career. Cause of death: her fourth album, ARTPOP.

Universally deemed a misfit (even among Gaga’s off-kilter discography), it was all too easy to crack “artflop” jokes as the record’s reception paled in comparison to the thunder of 2011’s Born This Way. In addition to Billboard-charting bangers aside, Born This Way pledged to be a champion for LGBTQIA+ rights, employing the word “bravery” so frequently that the two are now inextricably bound. The album’s daring demeanor had created a tough spectacle to follow, even for the shock-pop maven.

But rebukes of ARTPOP’s avant-garde concepts and stylings, disregard the record’s brazen interweaving of music, fashion, technology, and digital art. Released after Gaga broke her hip and canceled the  Born This Way Ball tour, ARTPOP was a canvas of earth-shattering bursts of pain and passion, and an electronic confessional.

For her efforts and vision, Gaga's maligned 2013 album would become a blueprint for contemporary alt-pop artists — not just with its experimental clash of genres, but through its winking subversion of industry expectations.  

In honor of ARTPOP’s tenth anniversary this month, read on for 10 reasons why  the overlooked outcast of Gaga’s catalog is actually the bravest album of them all.

It Prioritized Creativity Over Sales And Charts

When the public slams an artist for “only” selling one million copies of an album in a week, record sales lose their shine. After facing flack for her Born This Way numbers in 2011, Lady Gaga entered the ARTPOP era with clear intentions: creativity for creativity’s sake.

“Really, it’s about freeing yourself from the expectations of the music industry and the expectations of the status quo,” she explained during an interview at SXSW. And you know she meant it, because that same week she bucked those pressures by climbing atop a mechanical bull, where she served as the human canvas for the "creative output” of vomit artist Millie Brown.

“I write for the music not for the charts,” she tweeted, addressing a comparison between her lead single “Applause” and Katy Perry’s song “Roar,” which outperformed “Applause” on the Billboard charts. The singles were released days apart, stirring up a heated conversation about which singer was a more powerful pop star. Gaga was, of course, quick to crush the debate.

“Applause” peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and despite being released in mid-November, ARTPOP nabbed 2.3 million album sales worldwide by the end of 2013. In contrast, Born This Way sold 2.1 million copies between its May 2011 release and the end of its debut year in the United States alone. 

It Put Gaga In The Producer's Seat — Alone 

By 2013, Lady Gaga boasted an impressive list of co-producing credits from working alongside collaborators like RedOne, DJ White Shadow, and Fernando Garibay. Yet ARTPOP marks the first time she slipped behind the soundboard by herself.

For "Venus," an intergalactic ode to lust that blossoms into starry-eyed infatuation, she saluted the titular goddess of love and pushed the men out of the room, folding a hybrid Sun Ra reference/Zombie Zombie sample into her sexually-emboldened EDM. Gaga cites "Venus" as the first song she ever self-produced, a major milestone for the multi-hyphenate and for women producers as a whole.

It Wasn't Afraid To Get Messy

One decade’s definition of "sloppy" is the next decade’s epitome of style. In 2013, the general consensus among critics was that ARTPOP’s sound was often too messy to take seriously. Their examples were copious; "Aura," for instance, dedicates 15 seconds to nothing but hysterical, autotuned laughter over an unraveling country western guitar riff. Manic deep cuts "MANiCURE" and "Jewels N’ Drugs" were labeled choppy and sonically inconsistent, as Gaga allegedly struggled to find common ground between rock, trap, and electronic music.

Compared to the streamlined pop sound of the time — including some of Gaga’s prior hits — ARTPOP’s frenetic mishmash of sounds felt totally alien. "I was desperate, in pain, and poured my heart into electronic music that slammed harder than any drug I could find," Gaga reflected, explaining her need for catharsis over catchiness (a choice that she was lambasted for at the time). 

Ten years later, her avant garde approach to pop suddenly seems remarkably en vogue, as genre-hopping and highly-textured sonic palettes become the norm — especially in the alt-pop sphere. In hindsight, it’s apparent that ARTPOP was ridiculed so artists like SOPHIE, Charli XCX, and Dorian Electra could rave.

It Was, Literally, Designed To Be Out Of The World

ARTPOP prioritized pushing art into uncharted territory, and not just on Earth.In addition to a naked Jeff Koons sculpture of Gaga herself, the album’s release was feted with the debut of a flying dress named Volantis. The original creation from Gaga’s TechHaus (a branch of her Haus Labs team) is technically an "electric powered hover vehicle" that fits around Gaga’s body to hoist her into the air. Gaga offered a less technical term for it, calling the dress a metaphor. "I will be the vehicle of their voices," she said during a press conference, sharing her vision for representing young fans in the sky.

Volantis arrived alongside news that Gaga would become the first musician to perform in space aboard a Virgin Galactic ship. The flying dress successfully cleared its first flight; the Virgin ship unfortunately did not. After a fatal test flight, the plans for Gaga’s galactic debut were canceled.

It Crushed Tabloid Trash-Talking  

It’s admittedly hard to recall ARTPOP’s ill-conceived R. Kelly collaboration "Do What U Want" without wincing. Beyond Kelly’s unnerving presence on the track, his lone sexually-charged verse ultimately skewed the true message of the song, transforming a kiss off to tabloid journalism into randy radio fodder.

Gaga scrubbed the song from streaming services in 2019, sparing the alternative version that instead features Christina Aguilera. Here, Gaga’s intended retaliation shines: "You can’t have my heart / and you won’t use my mind / but do what you want with my body," she taunts on the chorus, welcoming the public’s superficial — and therefore meaningless — judgments.  

When unveiling the track in October of 2013, she took to X (then named Twitter) to trounce a litany of rumors and nitpicks about her weight, likeness to Madonna, and erroneous identity as a hermaphrodite. At its core, "Do What U Want" proved that the only gesture more pointed than a middle finger is cackling while inviting the world to do its worst. 

It Invented A New Artistic Concept 

Lady Gaga can’t take credit for the notion of art-pop, but she did coin a new phrase, calling the conceptual glue of ARTPOP a "reverse Waholian expedition." Translation: if Andy Warhol transformed mass-produced items like Campbell’s soup into high art, then Gaga wanted to flip the process, placing high art where it could be easily accessible to the public.

As a result, the visual aspects of ARTPOP present a mosaic of the most esteemed masterpieces of all time. The busy album cover fuses the brilliance of American sculptor Jeff Koons with fragments of Sandro Boticelli’s magnum opus "The Birth of Venus," while her outfits for public appearances nodded to greats like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali with brash makeup and fake mustaches. The concept opened her up to mockery — including from Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine — but introduced the basics of art history to millions of listeners worldwide.

It Openly Examined Gaga's Relationship With Drugs And Alcohol

Many of ARTPOP’s most exuberant moments orbit high or drunken states, such as Gaga sneaking around Amersterdam while stoned and incognito on "Mary Jane Holland." Trap outlier "Jewels N’ Drugs," which collects verses from T.I., Twista, and Too $hort, packs the same giddy punch despite its somewhat awkward execution. Yet the party pauses on "Dope," ARTPOP’s sole piano ballad.

The sobering single gazes inward, where Gaga finds a startling void, her spirit gutted after years of addiction. While the song’s lyrics vow to prioritize loved ones over drugs and liquor, Gaga revealed the most personal promise during her album release show.

"I do not have to be high to be creative," she professed from behind her piano, hand raised in the air as if taking an oath. "I do not need to be drunk to have a good idea. I can sit with my thoughts and not feel crazy." On an album bursting with innovation, "Dope" is her firmest pledge to self-improvement, delivered with aching sincerity.

It Ventured Into The Tech World 

Designing mind-bending art? There’s an app for that. Or there was, anyways. ARTPOP arrived with a supplemental app, designed to enhance Gaga’s multimedia approach to the album’s release. As a way to empower fans to dabble in digital art, one of the app’s main features was a gif and still image generator that allowed users to choose from a rainbow of gyrating geometric shapes and backgrounds. Most creations straddled the line between optical illusion and Tumblr-ready art. The app also offered fans the ability to stream the album and chat with each other.

It was an entertaining endeavor, albeit ultimately a short-lived one. Despite an in-app countdown for other features, including a stream of new behind the scenes videos and a digital audio workshop called TrakStar, neither element came to fruition. Due to Gaga’s shift in management, the project was never developed further. 

Still, the ARTPOP app remains a unique addition to pop’s first brushes with modern tech, long predating crossovers like Charli XCX performances on Roblox and AI-created music.

It Refused To Shy Away From Themes Of Sexual Assault

When ARTPOP hit shelves, the world was still three years away from the awareness about pervasive sexual assault revealed by the #MeToo movement. But a hush around the topic didn’t stop Gaga from eeking out a screech or two about her own experiences with abuse in 2013. While Gaga has since divulged more information about her unfortunate experiences with predators as a fledgling popstar, the ARTPOP track "Swine" dropped some of the first angsty breadcrumbs about her survival story.

"I know you want me / You’re just a pig inside a human body / Squealer, squealer, squealer, you’re so dis-GUS-ting," she practically spits with revulsion on the chorus. The deep cut is an exorcism dressed up as a rave, revealing a gut-churning snapshot of a woman publicly processing her own violation years before the act was deemed acceptable.

It Was Her First Record After Canceling The Born This Way Ball 

Scrapping a major tour over an injury shouldn’t warrant a comeback, but that’s what the world demanded of Lady Gaga when her Born This Way Ball hit the brakes. Gaga was forced to end the tour early in February 2013 when she broke her hip, thwarting her ability to walk, let alone dance. As she underwent surgery and paparazzi vied for photos of her in a Louis Vuitton wheelchair, the public largely viewed the truncated Born This Way Ball as a personal failure on Gaga’s part. 

By the time ARTPOP arrived, the expectations for her next move couldn’t have been higher — which made Gaga’s spasmic, genre-jumping, vomit-covered return to pop all the more daring.

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New Music Friday: Listen To New Music From Jungkook & Jack Harlow, PinkPantheress, *NSYNC And More
Jungkook performs at the 2023 Global Citizen Festival in September.

Photo: Gotham/WireImage

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New Music Friday: Listen To New Music From Jungkook & Jack Harlow, PinkPantheress, *NSYNC And More

As September comes to a close, listen to these new songs, albums and collaborations from Ed Sheeran, Lil Wayne and more.

GRAMMYs/Sep 29, 2023 - 08:18 pm

As we close out the month, this New Music Friday has loads of fresh beginnings and highly anticipated reunions.

Several big-name collaborations dropped on Sept. 29, from an electric team-up of the Rolling Stones and Lady Gaga to an R&B and rap fusion from Jungkook and Jack Harlow

Two nostalgic releases arrived as well, with Lil Wayne's new album Tha Fix Before Tha Vi continuing his "Tha Carter" series, while *NSYNC fans were treated to the boy band's first new song in 20 years with "Better Place."

Dive into these seven new releases that blend the old generation with the new. 

Jungkook ft. Jack Harlow — "3D"

BTS singer Jungkook takes us through a nostalgic journey with "3D," a song reminiscent of an early 2000s boy band hit. The hypnotizing lyrics illustrate his close connection to someone he can't reach, so he'll watch them in 3D.

"So if you're ready (So if you're ready)/ And if you'll let me (And if you'll let me)/ I wanna see it in motion/ In 3D (Uh-uh)," he sings in the chorus. 

Jack Harlow pops in, dropping a few verses boasting about his global attraction with women. "Mr. First Class" claims he can "fly you from Korea to Kentucky," as he closes out the song.

With an addictive chorus and groovy baseline, this track has a different vibe from his "Seven" collaboration with Latto. The song marks Jungkook's seventh solo single and second of 2023.

Rolling Stones & Lady Gaga ft. Stevie Wonder — "Sweet Sounds of Heaven"

The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder blended their talents, to create a harmonic symphony of a song that lives up to its heavenly title. Seven minutes of gospel- and blues-inspired rhythms, enriched by Gaga and Mick Jagger's distinct riffs, make this collaboration an immersive experience. Stevie Wonder grounds the track with his command of piano and melodic tempo.

The track is the second peek of the Rolling Stones' upcoming album, Hackney Diamonds, their first LP release in 18 years; their first release, "Angry," arrived Sept. 6. With production from GRAMMY-winning Andrew Watt, the soulful essence makes "Sweet Sounds of Heaven" an exciting taste of the long-overdue album.

*NSYNC — "Better Place"

Yes, you read correctly. After two decades and a recent reunion at the 2023 MTV Video Music awards, *NSYNC is back with a new single, "Better Place," appearing in the new animated Trolls movie (due Nov. 17). With a nostalgic dance-pop beat, familiar production and breezy lyrics, this single is a remarkable comeback.

"Just let me take you to a better place/ I'm gonna make you kiss the sky tonight," they sing in the chorus. 

The reunion was first teased Sept. 14, through a video of the group's emotional studio session, as Justin Timberlake shared on Instagram. "When the stars align… got my brothers back together in the studio to work on something fun and the energy was special," he wrote in the post. 

PinkPantheress — "Mosquito"

Dive into this musical daydream as PinkPantheress serenades us on her new single, "Mosquito," a dreamy, lucid song reminiscent of old-school R&B. After recently hopping on the energetic remix of Troye Sivan's "Rush" and teaming up with Destroy Lonely on "Turn Your Phone Off," PinkPantheress is transporting us through a new era, full of charm and surprises.

"Cause I just had a dream I was dead/ And I only cared 'cause I was taken from you/ You're the only thing that I own/ I hear my bell ring, I'd only answer for you," she sings in the chorus. 

Co-crafted by GRAMMY-winning producer Greg Kurstin, this song is a transcending, surreal experience. This single isn't about romance, instead she takes us through her entanglements with treasures and money. That's further portrayed in the lavish video, which features a European shopping spree starring "Bridgerton" stars Charithra Chandran, India Amarteifio and "Grown-ish" star Yara Shahidi.

Ed Sheeran — Autumn Variations

The era of mathematical-themed albums seems to be over, as Ed Sheeran has entered a new chapter with Autumn Variations, his second project this year. Sheeran is singing from his heart, sharing soulful tales from emotional events in his life including the death of his dearest friend Jamal Edwards and his wife's health challenges during pregnancy — an extension of the stories he told with May's Subtract.

Autumn Variations is very raw, stripped down and authentic as he takes us through his personal journey. Amidst this, Sheeran still brings in some buzzing tracks including catchy songs like "American Town," "Paper Bag" and "Amazing."

Lil Wayne — Tha Fix Before Tha Vi

Lil Wayne celebrated his 41st birthday with a special present to his fans: the release of a new album two days later. The alluring 10-track project,"Tha Fix Before Tha Vi" dives into past vibes with songs like "Tity Boi," a reference to 2 Chainz's initial stage name, which may be a reference to the upcoming joint album between the two. Each song has a different feel including "Tuxedo," which features a more punk-rock melody and "Chanel No.5 ft. Foushee," which features a sensational beat.

His first album since 2020, Tha Fix Before Tha Vi features rather unexpected collaborators, including Jon Batiste, Fousheé and euro. With different sounds and features than past projects, we could possibly be entering a new Weezy era. 

Thomas Rhett & Morgan Wallen — "Mamaw's House"

Country superstars Morgan Wallen and Thomas Rhett unite for "Mamaw's House," a country-folk track relishing the memories of their grandparents' home and cozy fireplace tales. 

"It's where I spent my summers and she put me to work/ Shellin' peas and shuckin' corn until my fingers hurt/ No tellin' who I'da been without Mamaw's house," Rhett sings in the second verse. 

Rhett said the duo decided to write about their small-town culture — Rhett is from Valdosta, Georgia, while Wallen hails from Sneedville, Tennessee — and the significant presence of grandparents brought to their upbringings. 

"This song just kind of brings up how our mamaws used to act when we were little kids," Rhett told Audacy.. "It's an ode to all the grandmas out there."

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