meta-scriptFind Out Who Has The Most GRAMMY Nominations, Which Categories Are All-Female & More: 2021 GRAMMYs By The Numbers | GRAMMY.com
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Find Out Who Has The Most GRAMMY Nominations, Which Categories Are All-Female & More: 2021 GRAMMYs By The Numbers

For the first time in the history of the GRAMMY Awards, every nominee for Best Rock Performance and Best Country Album is a woman or a group fronted by a woman

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2020 - 12:01 am

Now that the 2021 GRAMMY nominees have been revealed, let's take a look deeper across the categories to see which artists fared the best, who some of the first-time nominees are, who made history and more.

Beyoncé leads the pack this year with nine nominations, followed by Dua Lipa, Roddy Ricch and Taylor Swift, all tied at six nods. Brittany Howard follows with five nominations, with Megan Thee Stallion, Billie Eilish, DaBaby, Phoebe Bridgers, Justin Bieber, John Beasley and David Frost all tied with four nods.

As for Queen Bey, her nine 63rd GRAMMY Awards nods bring her total number of career nominations to 79, making her the most-nominated female in GRAMMY history. She is now tied with Paul McCartney as the second most-nominated artist of all time, only behind her husband JAY-Z (who received three nods himself this year) and legendary producer Quincy Jones, who both have 80 career nominations.

The pop/R&B icon has won 24 GRAMMYs to date, and if she wins at least four of her nine nominations, she will become the female artist with the most GRAMMY wins. If she wins eight or nine, she will be the highest number of GRAMMY wins of all time.

Inside The Song Of The Year Nominees | 2021 GRAMMY Awards

Both Stallion and Bridgers are first-time GRAMMY nominees and are in the running for Best New Artist. The Houston rapper's other three nominations come from her "Savage Remix" featuring Beyoncé, which is up for Record Of The Year, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. The Los Angeles alt-rocker's other nods are for her sophomore solo album, Punisher, which is up for Best Alternative Music Album, and its second single "Kyoto," up for Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song.

Notably, all nominees in the Best New Artist category are female and/or people of color—Stallion and Bridgers' fellow talented contenders are Ingrid Andress, Chika, Noah Cyrus, D Smoke, Doja Cat and KAYTRANADA. All of them are also first-time nominees.

Explore This Year's Album Of The Year Nominees | 2021 GRAMMYs

Other 2021 first-time nominees include BTS, Harry Styles, the Strokes, Poppy, Jayda G, Arca, Baauer, Madeon and Toro Y Moi, the latter five who are nominated in the dance/electronic categories.

For the first time in the history of the GRAMMY Awards, every nominee for both Best Rock Performance and Best Country Album is a woman or a group fronted by a woman. The nominees for the former are Andress, Brandy Clark, Miranda Lambert, Ashley McBryde and the group Little Big Town. For Best Rock Performance, the contenders are Fiona Apple, Bridgers, Brittany Howard, Grace Potter, sister trio HAIM and group Big Thief.

More entries than ever before were submitted for 2021 GRAMMY consideration, totaling 23,207.

Stay tuned to GRAMMY.com and our social channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) for more 2021 GRAMMYs content, and tune in to the 63rd GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, March 14, on CBS to find out who the winners will be!

2021 GRAMMYs: Complete Nominees List

Twenty One Pilots performing in 2022
Twenty One Pilots perform at GPWeek Festival in 2022.

Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images

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Twenty One Pilots' Road To 'Clancy': How The New Album Wraps Up A Decade-Long Lore

Three years after 'Scaled and Icy,' Twenty One Pilots' seventh studio album is here. Dig into the rock duo's journey to 'Clancy,' and how it further showcases their knack for vivid world-building.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 07:28 pm

Long before Twenty One Pilots developed a cult following, the Columbus, Ohio natives were determined to not be put into a box. From their first EP, 2009's Johnny Boy, they've blended elements of emo, rap, alt-pop, electronica, incorporating hardcore and hip-hop into their shows. "No one knew where to put us," drummer Josh Dun told USA Today in 2014. "But we've approached live shows as a way to build something from nothing."

In the decade since, the band's sheer determination and eclectic onstage personality have made them one of the biggest rock groups of their generation. They're equally as spontaneous and intriguing in their music, building an entire world through dynamic soundscapes and visuals — and their new album, Clancy, ties all of it together.  

As the band revealed in a press release upon announcing the album in March, Clancy "marks the final chapter in an ambitious multi-album narrative" that began with Blurryface in 2015. But it certainly doesn't feel like an ending; Clancy further expands on the theatrical style and eclectic sound they've showcased from the start, offering both a resolution and an evolution.

While the makings of the signature Twenty One Pilots aesthetic began with its original formation as a trio — lead singer Tyler Joseph and his friends Nick Thomas and Chris Salih — it truly took shape when Dun replaced Thomas and Salih in 2011. Dun and Joseph had a common goal to re-formulate the way songs and shows were crafted; the drummer utilized samples and backing tapes at their gigs, helping the band dive deeper into their alternative style by fusing everything from reggae to pop together.

As a newly formed duo, Twenty One Pilots issued their album Regional at Best in 2011 — their last release before they signed to a major label (though, as they told Huffpost in 2013, they since consider the record a "glorified mixtape"). After significant social media buzz and selling out a show at Newport Music Hall in Columbus, the duo was courted by a dozen record labels, which set the stage for their big break.

"We went from no one in the industry caring to all of the sudden it was the hot thing for every label, independent and major, to be interested in some way," Joseph told Columbus Monthly in 2012 upon signing to Fueled by Ramen, which the singer said they were drawn to because they were able to retain "creative control" — a factor that would become increasingly more important with each release. 

Their 2013 album Vessel — which featured a combination of new and re-recorded songs from Regional At Best —spawned the band's first charting single, "Holding On to You," a rap-meets-pop track that oscillates from sensitive indie ballad to energetic anthem. Not only had they begun making a mark commercially, but it seemed to be the album that Twenty One Pilots felt they were hitting their stride creatively, too: "I know some people might not like this, but I kind of view Vessel as our first record," Joseph told Kerrang!at the time.

Though the character "Clancy" first came about with 2018's Trench, Twenty One Pilots actually introduced the world that Clancy would eventually live in with 2015's Blurryface, which focused on a titular character who embodies depression and anxiety. "It's a guy who kind of represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around me, are insecure about," Joseph said of his alter-ego in a 2015 interview with MTV.

To convey the "feeling of suffocation" caused by insecurities from what he creates, Joseph began wearing black paint on his neck and hands in music videos and on stage to represent the "Blurryface" character. As Joseph told the Recording Academy in 2015, the "common thread" of all of the songs on Blurryface was that Joseph's alter-ego would be defeated, and each song wrestled with the dichotomy between darkness and optimism.

While Vessel kickstarted the band's commercial success, Blurryface saw their popularity explode and resulted in the band's best-selling single, the eerie rap-rock anthem "Stressed Out." The commercial success of Blurryface helped their hot streak continue into 2016 with the release of "Heathens." While the song served as the first single from the Suicide Squad soundtrack, its haunting production fits right into the world the pair had begun building with Blurryface. Their acclaim continued to grow, with Twenty One Pilots earning their first GRAMMY in 2017 for "Stressed Out" in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance Category — and, in line with their affinity for stunts, dropping their pants as they accepted their award.

Ahead of the release of their 2018 concept album Trench, the lore surrounding "Clancy" really began. Twenty One Pilots began leaving clues for fans on a website known as DMAORG, which featured black-and-white images and letters from "Clancy," who ultimately became the protagonist of the album. Twenty One Pilots fans (often referred to as the"Skeleton Clique") began clamoring to deduce puzzling clues and posting their theories about the narrative's endgame online.

With Trench, they found more characters and a deeper narrative. The overall album depicts "a world where nine dictatorial bishops keep the inhabitants (Tyler included) of a fictional place named Dema from escaping its controlling clutches, with the help of the Banditos — a rebel organization (featuring Josh)." On a larger scale, the album grapples with mental illness, suicide and an expansion on Joseph's insecurities from Blurryface

But Trench isn't one cohesive story; rather, it's a series of songs with clues embedded within. For instance, in "Morph," the character Nico is introduced, who is also the subject of "Nico and The Niners." From there, fans gleaned that Nico was one of nine bishops controlling the citizens of Dema, and those nine bishops were represented by each of the songs on Blurryface. The bombastic "Pet Cheetah" references that the house has vultures on the roof which alludes to it — and Joseph's home — being Dema. 

As with Blurryface, visuals became an integral part of the album cycle. This time, they used them to illustrate life in the dystopian Dema, which personifies depression through the trilogy of music videos for "Levitate," "Nico and The Niners" and "Jumpsuit." While Joseph's black-painted neck and hands signaled the Blurryface era, dark green clothing marked with yellow tape signaled the Trench era. During this time, the "Clancy" character remained shrouded in mystery — though through videos and letters shared by the band, fans theorized that it is an opposing force to "Blurryface."

By the time Twenty One Pilots' 2021 album, Scaled and Icy, came around, fans quickly noticed that it paid homage to "Clancy" as an anagram for "Clancy is dead," while also acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic as a shortened phrase for "scaled back and isolated." While Twenty One Pilots could have leaned into the harrowing events of lockdown, they instead chose to focus on what has driven the band itself, the power of imagination — something that has been behind much of the band's work since Blurryface.

With the album came three singles — the propulsive "Shy Away," the heartwrenching banger "Choker" and the funk-pop-tinged "Saturday — which were recorded when the duo was working virtually during the pandemic. Unlike the past two projects which grappled with this doomed slant, Scaled and Icy pivoted toward a sunnier sound, signaling a shift in the narrative. But it didn't mean the dark world of Blurryface and Trench were completely in the past; upon Scaled and Icy's release, Joseph revealed to Apple Music that there would be "one more record" and "an explanation and book end" before moving onto another story.

Three years following the release of Scaled and Icy, fans began receiving letters from the "Sacred Municipality of Dema" — a reference to the fictional city featured on Trench, signaling what appeared to be a new era diving deeper into the band's lore. Since the previous record featured an anagram about "Clancy" in its title, it seemed natural that the next album would be named after the character. 

"'Clancy' is our protagonist in this story we've been telling, stretched out over the last several records. 'Clancy' is the type of character who, for a long time, didn't know if he was a leader or not, didn't want to take that responsibility," Joseph told BBC Radio earlier this year.

As the singer had hinted in the Scaled and Icy era, Clancy brings fans back to the darker narrative that began with Blurryfacet. After Joseph's character escapes Dema a handful of times, joins a rebellion, then is captured again, he finally has the same abilities as the bishops and aims to free the people of Dema. The album attempts to answer a few conceptual questions along the way.

Clancy's blistering first single, "Overcompensate" is inherently hopeful, and answers the long-lingering question fans have been wondering: Who is "Clancy"? According to the psych-funk number, it's been Joseph all along ("If you can't see, I am Clancy/ Prodigal son, done running, come up with Josh Dun.") As Joseph further explained to BBC Radio, "[With] 'Overcompensate', there's a bit of a confidence and swagger in it that the character needed to embody in order to take on the new role in the story we've been telling, and Clancy is gonna rise up as that person."

But much of the album focuses less on the literal lore, instead tackling the overarching themes of its counterparts: Joseph's struggles with mental health. Despite the darker, anxious nature of the album's lyrics, the majority of Clancy has a self-assured breeziness to it, jumping off of the upbeat Scaled and Icy sound. 

On the ballad-like closer, "Paladin Strait" — named after a fictional body of water off the coast of Dema —Twenty One Pilots really digs into the narrative of "Clancy" the character in a literal way again. What's revealed is the final battle between "Clancy" and "Blurryface" with no apparent winner — alluding to the idea that there is not necessarily a triumph over depression. In the final line, the band offers a callback to a lyric from Blurryface: "So few, so proud, so emotional/ Hello, Clancy."

While the ending may remain ambiguous, it may not be a coincidence that Twenty One Pilots postponed Clancy's release date by a week (from May 17 to May 24) in order to finish filming music videos for each of the tracks, all of which were unveiled upon the album's release. So, there's still hope that fans will find out definitively what happened to "Clancy" — or maybe it means his story isn't completely finished. 

How Andrew Watt Became Rock's Big Producer: His Work With Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, Pearl Jam, & More

RM of BTS in 2023
RM attends W Korea‘s ‘Love Your W' breast cancer awareness event in Seoul, South Korea in November 2023.

Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images

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Stream RM's New Album 'Right Place, Wrong Person': See The Tracklist, "LOST!" Video & Special Guests

The second solo album from BTS' RM further displays his knack for genre-bending experimentation, while also delving deeper into his vulnerable side. Listen to the new album here, and get to know the project's featured artists, tracklist and more.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 04:08 pm

As the world patiently awaits the return of BTS in full force, each member continues to deliver solo projects to show off their individual talents. And 18 months after his last album, RM is back.

With a discography that hops between pop, R&B, and hip-hop, RM returns to the spotlight with his second solo album, Right Place, Wrong Person. The project tells the relatable story of an individual who is a creature of habit, but slowly comes to find solace in foreign spaces.

Below, listen to RM's latest album, and discover more about how he's revealing a new side of his artistry with Right Place, Wrong Person.

The Tracklist

After RM's debut solo album, 2022's Indigo, had 10 tracks (including features from the likes of Erykah Badu, Anderson .Paak), he ups the tally with an 11-song tracklist this time around.

Here is the complete tracklist for Right Place, Wrong Person:

1. Right People, Wrong Place
2. Nuts
3. out of love
4. Domodachi (feat. Little Simz)
5. ? (Interlude)
6. Groin
7. Heaven
8. LOST!
9. Around the world in a day (feat. Moses Sumney)
10. ㅠㅠ (Credit Roll)
11. Come back to me

The Creative Visuals

Two weeks before the album dropped, he unveiled the music video for "Come Back to Me," the lead single from Right Place, Wrong Person. Directed by the critically acclaimed actor Lee Sung Jin, the music video narrates the tale of feeling like an outsider and yearning for a sense of belonging in unfamiliar surroundings.

Then, on the day Right Place, Wrong Person arrived, RM added to release-day excitement with another intriguing visual, this time for "LOST!" The five-minute clip sees RM as the star of "The Lost! Show," where he and a group endure an eerie whirlwind of scenarios they can't seem to get out of. It's equal parts dramatic and slapstick, and another clever display of RM's creative versatility.

Noteworthy Guests

The featured artists on Right Place, Wrong Person — British rapper Little Simz on "Domodachi" and art-pop artist Moses Sumney on "Around the world in a day" — underscore RM's ability to interlace his own musical style with artists from various genres.

The album also has some notable behind-the-scenes collaborators as well. Production credits include Kim Han-joo, keyboardist and vocalist from the South Korean rock band Silica Gel, on "LOST!" and GRAMMY-nominated jazz duo DOMi & JD Beck on "? (Interlude)."

On "Come back to me" — which RM initially debuted last August during a surprise performance at BTS bandmate Suga's encore concert in Seoul — he delves into the album's central theme of wanting to venture into unknown areas, but feeling the intense urge to stay with what's already known. The track was composed and arranged by OHHYUK from the South Korean indie-rock band Hyukoh, but also features credits from artists Kuo, JNKYRD, and San Yawn.

But no matter who RM is working with, his own talent and prowess as a creator always shines. Right Place, Wrong Person presents a diverse array of tracks marked by sheer vulnerability, honesty, and sensitivity — a masterful continuation of a remarkable solo journey.

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Photo of Lenny Kravitz wearing dark black sunglasses and a black leather jacket.
Lenny Kravitz

Photo: Mark Seliger

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Feel Lenny Kravitz's 'Blue Electric Light': How The GRAMMY-Winning Rocker Channeled His Teen Years For His New Album

'Blue Electric Light' is a laser beam through Lenny Kravtiz's musical ethos: a rocking, impassioned and defiantly Lenny production. The Global Impact Award honoree discusses his first album in six years, and the flowers he's received along the way.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 02:22 pm

Lenny Kravitz is a vessel — a divining rod of creative direction. 

"I just do what I'm told. I'm just an antenna. So what I hear and what I receive, I do," he tells GRAMMY.com.  It's with that extra-sensory, spiritual guidance that Kravitz created his latest album, Blue Electric Light. "I just saw and felt this blue light — electric blue, almost neon light —radiating down on me."

Out May 24, Blue Electric Light is Kravtiz's first LP in six years and fittingly flits through the rocker's cosmology: Arena-ready booty shakers like "TK421" (the music video for which features the nearly 60-year-old unabashedly shaking his own booty), Zeppelin and Pearl Jam-inspired rockers like  "Paralyzed," and shared humanity-focused groovers like "Human." There's plenty of '80s R&B sensibility throughout, giving  Blue Electric Light a perfectly timed, timeless feeling.

It's as if Kravitz took a tour through his own discography, landing right back where he started: In high school. In fact, two of the album's tracks — "Bundle of Joy" and "Heaven" — were written when the four-time GRAMMY winner was still a teenager. While Kravitz's latest may lean into the sounds of his young adulthood, the album's underlying themes remain consistently spiritual, intimate and emotional. "My main message is what it has always been, and that is love," Kravitz told GRAMMY.com in 2018. And by staying true to himself and this message of love, Lenny Kravitz is thriving.

"I've never felt better mentally, spiritually, and physically. I've never felt more vibrant," he says today.

Kravtiz has also had a big year. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, during 2024 GRAMMY week, was honored with the Global Impact Award at Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors. At the ceremony, Kravtiz was lauded for his work with his Let Love Rule foundation, and his iconic discography celebrated in a performance by Quavo, George Clinton, Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.

Reflecting on his achievements, Kravitz remains humble. "Success is wonderful, but I only want success by being me and doing what it is that I'm hearing, as opposed to following something or a formula."

Ahead of releasing Blue Electric Light into the world — just a few days shy of his 60th birthday on May 26— Lenny Kravitz spoke with GRAMMY.com about revisiting his past, following his gut, and stopping to smell the flowers.

You haven't released a record in about six years. Why did you feel now was the time to put new music out, and what was inspiring you?

Well, it was just by virtue of what was going on. So I released [2018's Raise Vibration and], I toured for two years. Then COVID hits two and a half years [later]. It wasn't like I went away or wasn't inspired. I had a whole other year planned. I was going to tour for three years on that last album.

But [when] COVID happened, the world shut down and I got stuck in the Bahamas for a couple of years and a half. And so during that time I was just being creative. I [wrote the whole album] during that time and a little bit afterwards; [I wrote] just maybe two songs afterwards.

When I finished, then I had to figure out when I wanted to put it out and how. I did the Baynard Rustin song ["Road to Freedom" from the Academy Award-nominated film Rustin], and then I ended up pushing my album so I could fully promote the film and the legacy of Bayard Rustin.

Anyway, here we are. Everything happens in the time that it should, and I'm looking forward to putting this out and getting back on the road.

I read that this record was like an album that you didn't make in high school and it has this very young spirit. What took you to that place?

At the beginning of the pandemic, I released a book called Let Love Rule, and it ended up on the New York Times bestseller list. It was about my life from birth to the first album [1989's Let Love Rule], so around 24 years old. In this book, I spent a lot of time in my teenage years when I was developing. That came out at the beginning of the pandemic and I was doing a lot of press for it.

And I think because I was exploring that time so much when I was writing the book and then talking about that time so much when I was promoting the book, it just came out. And it was a time in my life that I never really celebrated. I never put music out at that time.

When I found my sound [on] Let Love Rule, all that material I was working on at that time got buried before. And so I just went to that place. I didn't plan on it, it just happened. In fact, two songs on the record ["Bundle of Joy" and "Heaven"] are from high school. 

So it's a blend of where I am now and where I was then. And it's a really fun record and I had a really beautiful time making it. It's a celebration, and it's sensual and sexual and spiritual and social and it hits all the marks. I'm looking forward to getting out there.

You were obviously deep in your memories, and it sounds like you were probably listening to a lot of Prince in high school.

There's a lot of things. There's a blend of '80s technology and drum machines, and real instruments and synthesizers that I pulled out from then. During that time, yeah, I was listening to a lot of Bowie. I was listening to a lot of Prince, a lot of Rick James, a lot of just soul and R&B in general, and rock.

Are there any songs on the record that you are particularly proud of or that are really meaningful to you?

All of them. I hear it all as one piece. So it's just one flow of consciousness, but I'm really proud of the record. 

One of my favorite tracks would be the opening track, "It's Just Another Fine Day in this Universe." I just think it's such a vibe and I love the way the chorus makes me feel. I think "Stuck in the Middle" is really pretty and sensual.

Speaking of vibes, when I'm listening to the record, it feels very hopeful. Is that generally how you've been feeling or how you go through the world these days?

I'm pretty optimistic. But now even more than ever, just on a personal level, I've never felt better mentally, spiritually, and physically. I've never felt more vibrant and I'm becoming more comfortable within myself in my skin and in my place. 

I've learned that listening to that voice inside of me and sticking to what it is that was meant for me, my direction, has paid off and it feels good.

What do you attribute that growth and that deep comfort to, both personally and creatively?

Just [having] time to see the results. I'm blessed to live, to see the results of being faithful to what it is you've been given and told to do by the creative spirit, by God. People have always been trying to push me in different directions: "Do this, do that, follow this, go this way. This is what's happening right now." Follow the trends because they're looking at it as a business and they're trying to make money and have success.

Yes, success is wonderful, but I only want success by being me and doing what it is that I'm hearing, as opposed to following a formula that one thinks would work. Because once you follow that, you're already late, it's already happened. And I am not about being late. 

I don't mind setting the tone or the trend and being early and not getting recognized for it at the time. Because I'm not doing it for the reason of receiving accolades or whatever. I'm doing it to be expressive and to truthfully represent myself.

I think that's a fantastic way to be. People come around eventually, right?

Yes. I've been reading reviews of my heroes back in the day, and I remember seeing Led Zeppelin reviews just ripping them to shreds. Led Zeppelin [are] praised [for] being classic and genius, but at one time they were s—, somebody said. So if you live long enough and you keep doing what you're doing, if you're doing the right thing and what you're supposed to be doing, you'll see that shift in people's opinions. 

Not that that matters, but when you see it, it feels good because you know that you did it the way you were supposed to do it. 

I hear a little bit of that defiance on this record too, that and the centering of your own truth on "Human." Can you maybe tell me a little bit about that track and how it came to you?

Well, it just came like they all come. So I hear it and I think to myself, Okay, that's interesting. That has this real pop anthem, very uplifting feeling. [The song] speaks to us as spiritual beings having this human existence on this planet.

We are at our most powerful when we are authentic to ourselves. When you're authentic to who you are, you're shining and you represent what it is that you're meant to represent. And so the song just speaks on that, and really using this human existence to learn and to walk in your lane to reach your destiny.

In life since we've been born, we've been told what to do and how to do it: "Don't go this direction, go that way," and "No, don't do this, do that because this is the way it's done" or "This is what's safe." And we're all born with a gift; we're all born with a direction. And we don't all hit the marks because sometimes we don't accept what our gift is. Or we're too busy looking at others and what their gift is and we want what they have, and we leave behind what we were given. We go chase something that is not for us; it's that other person's calling.

So the more we shed all of that and really just walk in our lane, the better. And I am enjoying this journey of humanness and learning and growing, falling, getting up, climbing up the mountain, falling again, getting back up, continuing up. That's what it's about. It's not about how many times you fall... It's about how you get up and keep going. We're all here to live and learn and, hopefully, love. 

I'm curious if the title of the record translates to this idea at all. Does Blue Electric Light manifest in any real way to you as a spiritual guide?

To me, it's a feeling. I just saw and felt this blue light — electric blue, almost neon light —radiating down on me, and that light is life. It's God, it's love, it's humanity, it's energy. And just metaphorically, that's what that represents to me.

Right on. To take it away a little bit from the existential and the spiritual, you just received the Global Impact Award at the 2024 GRAMMYs. You said you're not doing these things for accolades, but I'm curious how it felt to be recognized for this aspect of your work something that isn't inherently musical that's a little more outside yourself.

Where I am in life right now is, if someone's going to hand you flowers, then stop, smell them and enjoy them. And that's what I'm doing. 

I make my art because I make my art and for no other reason, but when handed these flowers, I'm appreciative. I'm grateful, and I will enjoy them because I spent my whole career not doing that. I was always moving so fast and [was] not only concerned with the art and moving forward, that I didn't enjoy those moments when you get awards or things. So I made a promise to myself years ago, moving forward when the flowers are delivered, that I will stop and smell them, take a moment, breathe, and then move forward. 

And that's what I'm doing, because every day of life is beautiful. And when you can celebrate, why not celebrate?

Amen to that. It's that presence of mind and spirit that you have been talking about this whole time and seems to have flowed through your artwork as well. With regard to the work with your Let Love Rule foundation, are there any projects that you would love to tackle next?

There's so many. From some things I've been doing with friends, like building certain foundations in Africa with someone that's on the ground there, doing it firsthand with orphanages in schools, to the medical situation in the Bahamas, to continue providing medical and dental care for free to the people so they can have their basic health issues taken care of. 

And then also working with kids in the arts and helping to give them a foundation to work from. These are things that I'm interested in.

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Atarashii Gakko!, Ikura of Yoasobi, Hiroa Fukuda and Moeka Shiotsuka of Hitsuji Bungaku, King Gnu
(Clockwise from upper left): Atarashii Gakko!, Ikura of Yoasobi, Hiroa Fukuda and Moeka Shiotsuka of Hitsuji Bungaku, King Gnu

Photos: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Dana Jacobs/Getty Images, Justin Shin/Getty Images, Gene Wang/Getty Images

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10 Neo J-Pop Artists Breaking The Mold In 2024: Fujii Kaze, Kenshi Yonezu & Others

Japan’s domestic pop market has incredible depth and growing Western interest. From Vocaloid acts to anime-centric productions and a plethora of genre-bending releases, the country's musicians and solo artists are breaking ground and making noise.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2024 - 01:38 pm

At this year’s Coachella, Japan’s music industry made a statement: out with the old, in with the new. Where previous years hosted legacy acts like Utada Hikaru and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, up-and-coming hitmakers YOASOBI and cult favorites Atarashii Gakkou! played to sizable crowds in 2024. They represent just the tip of the iceberg for Japanese musicians touring stateside: J-R&B star Fujii Kaze will tour the country this month, and numerous acts have seen exposure abroad thanks to anime soundtrack work and streaming playlists such as Spotify’s Gatcha Pop.

Anime, by far the country’s biggest cultural export, is a major factor in Japan’s music industry, with songs composed for animated films, TV, and streaming projects — and to a lesser extent video games — making up a growing number of the country’s most dominant pop hits. "Anison," or anime songs, have become extremely prestigious commissions for the country’s pop musicians, especially for younger artists who have seen anime gain traction both in Japan and internationally. 

That younger generation is now taking control of the charts, and making inroads into international markets by leaning into what makes their music and culture unique. For musicians like Kenshi Yonezu, vocal synthesizer software Vocaloid allowed them to develop their own musical voice on their own terms. The most famous Vocaloid artist, Hatsune Miku, also played Coachella this year as a video-projected anime avatar. There’s also remarkable freedom to play with genre in J-pop. Acts freely swap between sounds —from alternative rock to funky city pop, or R&B to electro-pop — in the span of a few songs. 

These factors have made Japan’s domestic pop market one of the most interesting to watch in the world. It’s gotten to the point where top English-language artists aren’t seeing the success they used to in the country, largely because the Japanese public has shifted its attention toward Korean and domestic artists. For Westerners, Japan can seem like another world, and this is especially true for its music scene. 

To bridge the gap, GRAMMY.com has created a primer to 10 of Japan’s most interesting new acts. Who knows, you might just see them stateside soon. 

Ado

Japan isn’t exactly a happy country. Social pressure is high, the economy has been stagnant for years even before its current monetary crisis and its brutal work culture is not exactly the envy of the world. Young people often feel as though they have nothing to look forward to but misery, so when someone comes along and says it’s okay to tell the adults in your life to f— off, it resonates.

This is essentially how 22-year-old singer Ado (born 2002) became the voice of Gen Z. Late in 2020 amid the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, she burst onto the J-pop scene with "Useewa," a rock-centric track composed by Vocaloid producer Syudou whose title translates, roughly, to "Shut the f— up." Detailing the angst of having to grin and bear the conformity of adulthood and the satisfaction of rejecting it, the song clearly struck a chord with young people in Japan. The song’s brash lyrics also sparked a moral panic from parents and the media over its anti-conformist message.

Ado’s charismatic, fiery vocal delivery, coupled with a nasty anime visual, really sells the whole package, making it a rage-filled counterpart to YOASOBI’s similarly disaffected "Yoru ni Kakeru." 

"Usseewa" topped the Billboard Japan Hot 100, the Oricon Digital Singles and Streaming charts, and the Spotify Viral 50 Japan. The video reached 100 million views on YouTube within 150 days of release. Ado has since earned more hits, furthering her wild persona with the even louder and wilder "Show." She also earned a starring role as a singer in One Piece Film: Red, the most recent theatrical installment of the biggest manga franchise in the world. 

Atarashii Gakko! 

There’s a saying in Japan about the risks of refusing to conform to society’s expectations: "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." When it comes to finding success on the international music market, however, the opposite seems to be true. The world loves Japan when it’s at its zaniest and most distinctive, and artists that lean into this are often able to build a following abroad.

Case in point: A rapping girl group wearing vintage-inspired sailor-suit school uniforms called Atarashii Gakko! (translation: New School). The group just played Coachella and, prior, performed on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." To be sure, a lot of the foursome’s appeal is in the visual department. The group’s wild, Beastie Boys-esque video for "Tokyo Calling" pairs their sukeban girl gang-style outfits with a plethora of retro visual references: kaiju films like Godzilla, Super Sentai, even Bollywood-style dance. Musically, they’re just as mixed up, having taken on ‘80s city pop in "Otonablue" as well as adding to Japan’s legacy of unique hip-hop on "NAI NAI NAI." 

The group’s ethos since forming in 2015 has been to shine a new path for Japan’s youth by embracing individuality and nonconformity, and it’s paid dividends so far. Their new album, AG! Calling, is set for release June 7.

Creepy Nuts

There’s a lot of bizarre, potentially conflicting elements in Creepy Nuts’ hit song "Bling-Bang-Bang-Born." There’s the sound-effect-bubble title, the anarchic rapping of vocalist R-Shitei, and producer DJ Matsunaga’s use of a Jersey Club beat (a trend with forward-thinking East Asian pop acts). There’s also the fact that it was composed for an anime about…wizards with muscles

In any case, the theme song for the TV anime "Mashle: Magic and Muscles" has pulled some chart magic of its own, topping the Billboard Japan Hot 100 for eight weeks straight earlier this year, largely thanks to the viral "BBBB dance" challenge. The duo have also taken the song worldwide, reaching No. 8 on Billboard U.S.’s Global 200 and performing the song on Global Spin. If you want to find the biggest J-Pop hit of this exact moment, look no further. 

Fujii Kaze

Raised in small-town Okayama prefecture in the western reaches of Japan, Fujii Kaze is being positioned as the next big artist to emerge from the country. He toured Asia in 2023 and will come to America this May; he also launched the Japanese version of Tiny Desk Concerts earlier this year. He’s also been working with international talent, such as Kendrick Lamar and 21 Savage producer DJ Dahi on the piano-driven hip-hop track "Workin’ Hard."

The video for "Matsuri," in which Fujii (the artist lists his surname first) traipses around a Japanese garden and parties with foreigners at a traditional mansion, feels almost like a tourist advertisement for the country, projecting an image of refined, effortless Japanese cool. Recent song "Hana," produced by Charli XCX and Utada Hikaru collaborator A. G. Cook, feels even more like a play for the international market with a ‘70s California soft rock backing track and a visual that puts Fujii on a journey through the desert.

Herein lies the secret to Fujii Kaze’s appeal: he’s hot and cool at the same time. His success is predicated not just on good looks and buttery croon, but on a smooth, easygoing persona that feels native and international at the same time. "Matsuri," with its chill yet glamorous R&B production and can’t-be-bothered lyrics ("there’s no reason to suffer / no need to be disappointed / I really couldn’t care less") exemplifies his laid-back mentality. He’s also, notably, shunned the anime market, preferring to put his songs in basketball promos and telecoms commercials – anime is cool enough for Megan Thee Stallion but not for Fujii, it seems. 

Hitsujibungaku

Just as grunge reignited America’s love of rock music in the ‘90s, Japan also embraced guitar-oriented, pop-rock in the same decade thanks to bands like B’z, Number Girl, Southern All-Stars, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, and Visual Kei groups like L’Arc-en-Ciel and X Japan. As the U.S. began to embrace hip-hop and dance-pop in the 2000s, rock and metal persisted in the Japanese mainstream. New bands continue to perform at "live house" venues in hip areas like Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood, while groups playing niche styles like math rock, shoegaze, and metalcore have found support. CHAI, tricot, Alexandros, Otoboke Beaver, and Official Hige Dandism are just a few bands that have emerged from this milieu in recent years to success at home and abroad.

Tokyo-based trio Hitsujibungaku offers a good starting point of where Japan’s rock scene is going. The majority-female group found success on the anime song circuit last year, delivering the end credits track for mega-popular TV anime "Jujutsu Kaisen." "More than words" which became the lead single for their recent album 12 hugs like butterflies, immediately stuck out for its shuffling, nostalgic melody, and evocative, fuzzy layering of guitar tone influenced by shoegaze. 

Kenshi Yonezu

More than most mega-successful J-pop artists, Kenshi Yonezu owes his success to the Vocaloid and internet music communities in which he forged his artistry. Raised in rural Tokushima, he began his career as a teenager in the late 2000s, uploading music to the video site Nico Nico Douga under the name Hachi, and soon found his most successful tracks were the ones that used Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku. Like many artists in the digital age, Yonezu’s early work was entirely DIY, as thanks to Vocaloid he was able to produce, write, and even design artwork for his music all on his own.

Eventually, Yonezu signed to a major label and began to split time between his Vocaloid tracks as Hachi and music made under his own name. His album Bootleg won Album Of THe Year at the Japan Record Awards in 2018, and he became known for tender, uptempo ballads like "Uchiage Hanabi" and "Lemon" (the latter of which still reigns as the most-viewed video by a Japanese musician on YouTube with over 800 million views). 

Two high profile anime commissions have driven Yonezu’s star beyond Japan. In 2022, he produced the opening theme for the highly-anticipated adaptation of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s acclaimed manga Chainsaw Man. "Kick Back" departed from Yonezu’s biggest hits by leaning into the show’s action premise with drum and bass beats and an aggressive guitar melody. Buoyed by the anime’s success, "Kick Back" topped the Oricon and Billboard Japan singles charts and even charted in the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., where it became the first Japanese-language song to be certified gold by the RIAA. 

Then in 2023, he produced and sang "Spinning Globe," the end credits theme for Hayao Miyazaki’s first film in a decade, The Boy and the Heron. It was the first time the anime auteur, who usually uses older pop music or score from usual composer Joe Hisaishi, had chosen a contemporary pop artist to write for him. 

King Gnu

King Gnu aren’t afraid to mix it up. They gained acclaim in Japan by pursuing a pop rock sound that’s one part city pop, one part hip-hop. Tracks like "Hakujutsu" and "Kasa" pair sick riffs and boogie basslines with turntable scratching and delicate, yet powerful vocals from Daiki Tsuneta and Satoru Iguchi.

Last year they scored a major hit with "Specialz," which was used as an opening theme for popular anime "Jujutsu Kaisen." Setting the mood for the show’s bleak second season with metallic techno drums and brawny guitar riffs, the menacing song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100 and currently has over 166 million Spotify streams. Tsuneta also leads the collective millennium parade, who lean toward electronic music and scored a hit with "U," from the Mamoru Hosoda musical anime BELLE

MAISONdes

Conceptual projects are much more common in the Japanese pop landscape than one might expect. Case in point: MAISONdes. While not a band or a collective, MAISONdes is an imaginary apartment building where lonely hearts find solace in song. The virtual building is accessible through a website, and each song produced for the project is assigned a room number and created by a randomly-paired team of producers and vocalists that changes with each track. Participants have included chart star Aimer and VTubers such as KAF and Hoshimachi Suisei. 

Too complicated? Too weird? At least the music is good, focused on high-energy electro pop reminiscent of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, idol pop, and the Vocaloid, anisong, and netlabel acts of recent decades. As such, the most high-profile MAISONdes tracks have been those produced for anime and promotional campaigns. They’ve done all the opening and ending themes for the recent TV anime reboot of classic comedy manga "Urusei Yatsura," and their most recent track, "Popcorn" was a collab with Sanrio celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hello Kitty, one of the original kawaii culture icons. The hyperactive song gained a million views on YouTube within three days of being posted. 

Vaundy

City pop — the ‘70s and ‘80s musical movement that blended American funk and AOR with disco and synthpop — looms large in the J-pop landscape. Although its revival has somewhat peaked following the pandemic, that hasn’t stopped guys like Vaundy from channeling the sound into their own music.

His breakout hit "Tokyo Flash" paired the grooves of the city pop era with a more down-to-earth arrangement with simpler production. Further attempts to modernize the sound have also found success: "Todome no Ichigeki," written for the popular anime "Spy x Family," featured a grand, orchestral instrumental and a guest verse from rapper Cory Wong. With romantic lyrics reminiscent of City Pop king Tatsuro Yamashita, it’s a true return to the retro style. 

Of course, like most J-pop musicians, Vaundy isn’t a stylistic purist. He’s also applied his confident vocal style to several brisk rock tracks, resulting in chart success. His heavy metal jam for the Chainsaw Man TV anime soundtrack, "CHAINSAW BLOOD," peaked at 13 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100, while the poppier "Kaijuu no Hana Uta" went to No. 2 after he performed the song on the "2022 Kohaku Uta Gassen" New Year’s Eve show. 

YOASOBI

Inarguably the focal point of contemporary J-pop, no other act has defined the current era in Japan more than YOASOBI. The duo of Ayase and Ikura burst onto the scene in 2019 with the song "Yoru ni Kakeru," based on a short story posted on the site Monogatary. Pairing an upbeat instrumental with bleak, literary lyrics about death and suicide, it’s the most unlikely of pop hits. Released in late 2019, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip Japan a few months before the rest of the world. "Yoru ni Kakeru" became a massive, award-winning smash. Billboard Japan named it the first song in its chart history to pass 1 billion streams, and Oricon named it the most-streamed song of the Reiwa era just last month. 

Read more: From Tokyo To Coachella: YOASOBI's Journey To Validate J-Pop And Vocaloid As Art Forms

Since then the band have become major hitmakers and fixtures of the anison production line, writing theme tracks for hit anime like "Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury" and "Frieren: Journey’s End." They scored another era-defining hit with "Idol," their opening song for the controversial 2023 showbiz satire "Oshi no Ko." Responding to the anime’s twisted tale of a mysterious J-pop idol with dark secrets, the duo paired a bombastic instrumental with lyrics that perfectly capture the cardinal rule of stardom: tell all and reveal nothing. 

The song became such a cultural phenomenon in Japan that YOASOBI performed it at last year’s "Kohaku Uta Gassen" New Year’s TV special flanked by dozens of J-Pop and K-Pop idols, including members of NewJeans, LE SSERAFIM, and Nogizaka46. 

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