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Get To Know GRAMMY-Winning Rapper Cardi B | For The Record
Go way back with the "WAP" rapper to trace her record-breaking rise to the top
From bursting into the pop culture spotlight as a reality TV star to turning heads with her glistening new single "WAP" featuring Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B has always made money moves.
In the latest edition of GRAMMY.com's For The Record, take a look back at the GRAMMY-winning rapper's journey from reality TV star to chart-topping rap titan and GRAMMY-winning artist and songwriter.
Born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar on Oct. 11, 1992 in New York City, N.Y., Cardi B made the transition into music with two independent mixtapes before releasing her first No. 1 single, "Bodak Yellow," in 2017.
The hit song went on to earn Cardi her first two GRAMMY nominations at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. She made her GRAMMY stage debut the same year, performing "Finesse" with Bruno Mars.
On April 6, 2018, her debut album arrived to critical acclaim and climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Invasion Of Privacy landed the Bronx-native her first career GRAMMY win, named Best Rap Album at the 61st GRAMMY Awards.
Watch the latest edition of For The Record to find out more about the "WAP" rapper, including some of her blockbuster collaborations, record-setting record sales and more.
Cardi B And Megan Thee Stallion Deliver A Juicy Collaboration With "WAP"
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Met Gala 2023: All The Artists & Celebrities Who Served Fierce Looks & Hot Fashion On The Red Carpet, From Rihanna To Dua Lipa To Billie Eilish To Bad Bunny To Cardi B To Doja Cat & More
Fashion and music have always been inextricably linked, and the strong longs were on fully on display at the 2023 Met Gala — one of the most anticipated style events of the year. See the red carpet outfits from Rihanna, Lil Nas X, Anitta & more.
It's that time again! The 2023 Met Gala — one of the fashion bonanzas of the year — is in full force. And given that fashion has always been the yin to music's yang, GRAMMY winners and nominees were among the stars studding this glamorous, fashion-forward event.
Presented by gala co-chair Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue and global editorial director of Condé Nast, the Met Gala this year is co-chaired by Penélope Cruz, Michaela Coel, Roger Federer and three-time GRAMMY winner Dua Lipa.
GRAMMY winners and nominees as well as today’s leading artists in music are already setting the Met Gala red carpet on fire, with everyone from Dua Lipa, Phoebe Bridgers, Rita Ora, David Byrne, rising rap sensation Ice Spice, and more showing off their fierce fashion looks. Plus, Rihanna and her partner ASAP Rocky made a last-minute surprise arrival on the 2023 Met Gala red carpet, setting the fashion and music worlds ablaze.
This year's Met Gala celebrates the indelible legacy of the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld; the dress code is "In honor of Karl…")
Below, check out some of the most eye-catching red carpet fashion looks from music’s biggest stars at the 2023 Met Gala.
Rihanna attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Dua Lipa arrives for the 2023 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2023, in New York | Photo: ANGELA WEISS / AFP
(L-R) Finneas O'Connell and Billie Eilish attend The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Bad Bunny attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Jennifer Lopez attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Cardi B attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Doja Cat attends the 2023 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Lil Nas X attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Usher attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Sean "Diddy" Combs attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Phoebe Bridgers attends the 2023 Met Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Anitta attends the 2023 Met Gala the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Halle Bailey attends the 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Kevin Mazur/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
Janelle Monáe attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City | Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
'Invasion of Privacy' Turns 5: How Cardi B's Bold Debut Album Redefined Millennial Hip-Hop
Cardi B led with heart and hunger on 'Invasion of Privacy,' which quickly ascended her from a local Bronx rapper to an unconventional pop star — and history-making GRAMMY winner.
By the time Cardi B released her debut album on April 6, 2018, there was no denying that she was rap's biggest and boldest new star.
The rapper's fearlessness placed her at the head of her rap class — and on top of the charts — with 2017's history-making hit, "Bodak Yellow." But after she released her first album, Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B didn't just solidify herself as a superstar — she issued one of the most unforgettable rap albums of her generation.
Not only was Invasion of Privacy an audacious middle finger to those who denied Cardi's talent, but its versatility reflected a new era in millennial rap. Cardi's magnetic personality — a combination of tongue-wagging sexuality, unfiltered opinions and sheer silliness — shined across all 13 tracks. With that, Invasion of Privacy declared Cardi as the ringleader of rap's next class — one who wasn't afraid to make her own rules.
Cardi's rap aspirations were first introduced in 2015, when she joined the cast of VH1's Love & Hip Hop: New York; her audacious hometown pride and an undeniably hilarious personality captured the attention of millions. Though she branded herself as a "regular-degular-shmegular girl from the Bronx," it was clear she had her sights set on superstardom.
Initially, many people held her stripper background against her, with diehard rap fans (and even her Love & Hip Hop: New York castmates) insinuating that she was solely meant for the pole and not the studio. Yet, Cardi used her humble beginnings to her advantage, colorfully sharing booty-shaking tales on Instagram and foreshadowing the confidence she conveys on Invasion of Privacy. Her retable humor turned her into a viral social media maven and the growing attention — whether you loved or hated her — was the fuel she needed to ignite her music career.
Cardi B spun her stripping roots into gold (well, Platinum, in Invasion of Privacy's case — but more on that later). She dropped her first mixtape, Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1 in 2016, which featured the colloquialism and commanding delivery that has become her signature. Upon dropping Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 2 a year later, Cardi made it known that she was aware of her haters' disdain — and the fact that she was on her way to mainstream success. "They ain't like me before, now they bookin' me/ The glow got b—es so shook at me," she spits on "Lick," a Vol. 2 track with future husband Offset.
It didn't take long for the industry to notice the mixtapes' viral dominance: Atlantic Records signed Cardi B just one month following the release of Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 2. Her major-label debut single, "Bodak Yellow," arrived that June, almost instantly catapulting Cardi from beloved reality show personality to rap's breakthrough star. And she confidently walked those "bloody shoes" into history: Cardi B became the second female rapper to ever top the Billboard Hot 100 with a solo song.
As the anticipation for her debut album surged following the success of "Bodak Yellow" (as well as other hits alongside the likes of Migos and Bruno Mars), Cardi's rise earned her the title of "hood Cinderella" — and Invasion of Privacy perfectly captures her rags-to-riches story. The album encapsulates the same humility that initially made her a viral star, detailing the hard work she put in to finally secure a record deal. As she put it on a track called "Best Life," "This some real-life fairy tale Binderella s—."
While songs like "Bodak Yellow" and album opener "Get Up 10" show that Cardi hadn't lost sight of the explosive assertiveness she brought with her independent releases, Invasion of Privacy as a whole was a shift from her more hardcore mixtapes. But that only paid off: Some of the album's most impactful tracks are also her most vulnerable moments, whether it's her raw crooning in "Be Careful," revealing self-doubt in the Kehlani- assisted "Ring," or detailing her trust issues in "Thru Your Phone."
For every heartfelt moment on the album, there are still plenty to remind you of the rapper's Bronx-born swagger. She and SZA take turns slicing through enemies on "I Do" and Cardi flips Project Pat's misogynistic 2001 "Chickenhead" single on the feminist anthem "Bickenhead." Her ferocity came through in her performances, too: During her Coachella debut in 2018, she performed her entire set pregnant, even twerking during album cut "She Bad."
Just three days before Cardi gave birth in 2018, she scored her second No. 1 from Invasion of Privacy with "I Like It," a modern-day version of boogaloo with club-banging trap beats — an undeniably danceable homage to her hometown and her Dominican-Trinidadian heritage. Featuring reggaeton stars J Balvin and Bad Bunny, "I Like It" added another layer to Invasion of Privacy's impact, as it helped amplify Latin music's global breakthrough while also solidifying Cardi as a versatile mainstream star.
That's exactly the magic of Invasion of Privacy: Cardi B broke barriers by simply saying "what you see is what you get." Her tenacity resonated with fans and critics alike, leading Cardi to another history-making feat in 2019, this time on the GRAMMY stage: Invasion of Privacy won Best Rap Album, marking the first win by a solo female rapper. (Even four years after its release, Invasion of Privacy was still making history, becoming the first album by a female artist to have all of its tracks certified Platinum — or higher — by the RIAA in March 2022.)
Invasion of Privacy's legacy isn't just felt in the accolades, either. Cardi's unabashed authenticity helped open the doors for a new generation of women rappers, from Latto and Ice Spice to Saweetie and Megan Thee Stallion — the latter of whom Cardi recruited for 2020's "WAP," now one of the biggest hits of her career.
Five years after Invasion of Privacy's release, Cardi B still has fans eagerly awaiting its follow-up. And although she has released a number of one-off singles and collabs with several artists (including Lizzo and Rosalía), the anticipation for another album shows just how impactful Invasion of Privacy was for both Cardi and mainstream rap.
Whether she was letting her Bronx-born tone and Caribbean heritage shine, or unapologetically championing explicit women in rap, Cardi knew the secret formula to stardom was to remain her authentic self — even if some couldn't see it.
"My little 15 minutes lasted long as hell, huh?" she boasts on album closer "I Do." Thanks to Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B's hood Cinderella story is only just beginning.
Relive The Epic GRAMMY Tribute To Hip-Hop's 50th Anniversary With A Playlist Of Every Song Performed
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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