Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
Giles Martin On 'Rocketman,' Elton John, Reinventing "Tiny Dancer" & More
The GRAMMY-winning producer details the process of creating the soundtrack to the new Elton John biopic including working with star of the film Taron Egerton, recording John in the studio and creating new versions of timeless classics
Giles Martin is no stranger to the pressure of reimagining timeless classics. The GRAMMY winner and son of Beatles producer George Martin has remixed and rearranged the Fab Four's work a number of times throughout his career—perhaps most notably for Cirque du Soleil's production of Love. But that pressure to get it right and do the original recordings justice never disappears when he dives into a beloved artist's catalog, especially when the artist is Elton John.
As the musical director of John's new biopic, Rocketman, Martin was given free rein to interpret the legendary singer's work as he saw fit. John remained hands-off throughout the whole process, entrusting Martin and star Taron Egerton with the task of telling his story through the music.
"It was huge pressure," Martin says with a laugh. "It's a bit like you've got a top chef and they give you a bunch of ingredients and go, 'I completely trust you to make an amazing meal,' and you go, 'Oh, right, okay.' At the same time, I guess it's better than the other way around. It's better than someone saying 'I don't trust you at all.' I was delighted when he actually liked it by the end."
The endorsement from John came this past January in the form of an unexpected phone call from an L.A. number Martin didn't recognize.
"Elton doesn't have a mobile, so I haven't got a number saved for him," he explains. "He was like 'Giles? This is Elton John.' And I don't think I'd spoken to Elton at all for about four months, and I was like 'Oh god.' I always think I'm gonna get fired for some reason. But he goes, 'I've listened to the music, and I love it. I just wanted to phone you and tell you I've been watching the rushes, and I think what you've done is an amazing job, and I just wanted to say thank you very much, and I've phoned Taron as well.' And I think I nearly cried. It was a relief. Because you know, it is his music, and it's his life, and you just want to make sure that you do right by him. But you have to change things around because it has to suit the film."
Those changes instantly noticeable in the movie, whether they come in the form of John's family performing "I Want Love" to illustrate his troubled childhood, a slowed-down "Crocodile Rock" intro during his star-making set at the Troubadour or a version of "Rocketman" that draws inspiration from Pink Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky" during a scene that begins with John underwater in a pool and follows him all the way to his Dodger Stadium performance. But the change Martin struggled with the most was his decision to swap "Tiny Dancer"'s iconic piano intro for guitar.
"I did a lot of iterations of 'Tiny Dancer,'" he says. "'Tiny Dancer' was the one that I kept on changing. I did [at one point] have the piano starting, and do you know what? It didn't suit the mood. It was a really tough thing because it comes from a very quiet place, 'Tiny Dancer' in the movie. And it's at Mama Cass's party, and it's sort of quite folky, and I did it on 12-string acoustic guitar and that was a bit too strong. I then tried the piano because I really missed the piano riff. You know, who am I to get rid of that iconic riff? And I ended up with just doing it on acoustic guitar, and it worked better for the scene. It seemed to drift in better."
ICYMI: The soundtrack to @EltonOfficial biopic @RocketmanMovie is out now. Produced by Giles Martin (@mashupmartin), using Studio One, Three, Penthouse and Mix Stage.— Abbey Road Studios (@AbbeyRoad) May 30, 2019
Listen to songs from the soundtrack on our playlists: https://t.co/xCSTeJ2mRb | https://t.co/5Tb5Rt2v1h pic.twitter.com/ccJaxPnZEx
"In all honesty, it's as simple as you watch the movie and listen to the song, you think, "Does this sound too like, 'Here comes the song!'?" he continues. "Sometimes you need that, but in that moment in the movie, I didn't. It's funny, you can have strings—people don't mind having strings coming from anywhere, but if you're using a piano, you kind of want to see it [onscreen] to a certain degree. So that was the reason why. It didn't feel right having the piano starting it."
Despite those changes, several of the songs on the soundtrack remain deeply rooted in the source material—"Your Song" even features harpist Skaila Kanga, who played on John's original recording of the hit song half a century ago.
"Not on purpose, she's just the best harp player there is," Martin clarifies with a laugh. "She's great. She's brilliant. I mean, she's the harp player I get for all the sessions. There's a couple songs in the movie where we did takedowns of the originals, and 'Your Song' was one of them. And I forgot there was harp on it. And so I said, 'Oh god, there's harp, I better get a harpist in.' So we phoned up Skaila, and she goes, 'I played on the original of this.' We transcribed the part from the record, and she went and checked it because she'd done the original part. She was at the Royal Academy of Music with Elton when they were 15 or so, so she's known Elton that long...It was pretty amazing. I didn't realize that 'Your Song' was in 1969. So this is 50 years on that she's playing the same song."
Martin and Egerton were careful to match John's phrasing on the songs they were attempting to do loyal recreations of—as Martin notes, "Elton has the most amazing phrasing"—but they were careful to avoid mimicking him too closely, instead allowing Egerton to put his own spin on the tracks.
"I didn't really want him doing an impersonation of Elton," Martin explains. "Just because he's using his voice in the film. He's doing Elton's voice to a certain degree, but it's more of an interpretation than it is an imitation. Because it's gotta have the right soul. It's gotta have the right feel. You have to sing from within your heart. You can't sing from someone else's heart. And for me, that's why Taron's performance in the movie is really good, because he does that. It comes from within himself. He interprets Elton in the right way as opposed to just being a pastiche."
The most surreal moment for Martin, who was in the studio with John and his father in 1997 when they recorded "Candle in the Wind" after Princess Diana's funeral, was watching the singer join forces with Egerton for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again," the new song that plays over Rocketman's end credits.
I've recorded a new song with @TaronEgerton for the #Rocketman movie soundtrack and you can hear it now! It’s called ‘(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again’ and I hope you enjoy it! Elton xo— Elton John (@eltonofficial) May 16, 2019
Listen: https://t.co/CzUr2kAPAN pic.twitter.com/MaOyinYDx0
"It was funny having Taron and Elton in the studios because I'd spent a year working with Taron doing Elton, and then I had Elton," he says. "It was kind of strange for both of us...With myself and Taron, we have a close work relationship, we really dig in and he works really hard at getting it right, and Elton just goes and does it in one take. And then I started recording Taron and he goes, 'Is this gonna take long?' I said to Elton, 'Give him a break. He only sang it once.' He goes, 'Well, I only sang it once.' I said, 'Yeah, but you've been doing it for longer than he has.'" He laughs. "But the good thing about Elton is he's so open-minded about it. He really is. He's open for any ideas. He just loves music. That's what he thinks about, and that's what makes my life easier."
That love of music is abundantly clear in John's work—and in Rocketman—and it ultimately led to the soundtrack ballooning from the 13 songs originally called for in the script to the 26 that made the final cut. ("I think I ended up doing three times more work than I thought I was going to on this movie," Martin says with a laugh.)
"We realized that having music that wasn't Elton's in the film didn't make any sense, and we ended up using more and more songs as background," he explains. "We realized that the more music of his we had in the movie, the more we got of his life."
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
9 Times Queer Artists Made History At The GRAMMYs: From Elton John's Collab With BSB To Kim & Sam's "Unholy" Union
In celebration of Pride Month, GRAMMY.com has collected nine of the most meaningful and thrilling performances by queer artists from the ceremony’s history, which helped uplift the global LGBTIQA+ community.
The 60-plus years of the GRAMMY Awards encompasses some of the most awe-inspiring and breathtaking moments in music history — and it should be noted that queer performers have produced some of the most dazzling highlights. From Elton John’s 1999 GRAMMY Legend Award to Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ 2023 performance of "Unholy," there is no shortage of iconic queer moments in GRAMMY history.
But more than merely honoring and showcasing queer artists, the ceremony is also the only major award to have moved beyond the outdated gender binary in its categories, an important step in ensuring that every artist feels welcomed. And as queer stars continue to deliver stunning performances in addition to award wins on Music's Biggest Night, young artists have meaningful representation and inspiration.
In celebration of Pride Month, GRAMMY.com has collected nine of the most meaningful and thrilling performances by queer artists from the ceremony’s history. These moments commemorate some of the most impressive artists of the last few decades and helped uplift members of the LGBTIQA+ community around the world.
Elton John & The Backstreet Boys - "Philadelphia Freedom" (2000)
When one LGBTIQA+ icon writes a song that honors another queer trailblazer, it’s bound to make for a special moment on stage.
Performed at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards — the same night the Rocket Man was honored as MusiCares Person Of The Year, and a year after taking home the Legend Award — Elton John performed the bright and swinging "Philadelphia Freedom." With backing from the Backstreet Boys, the performance filled the room with sunshine.
The song was inspired by John’s close friend, tennis icon Billie Jean King. His piano flanked by the five Boys, John delivers a rollicking take on the number one hit, the mythic megastar in top form from every swaggery vocal growl to each thumping piano chord.
Melissa Etheridge & Joss Stone - "Piece Of My Heart" (2005)
Melissa Etheridge has always been an incredibly vulnerable artist, but when she walked onto the stage during the 47th GRAMMY Awards, her head bald due to chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, her legend of raw strength reached a new level.
A loving grin plastered on her face and chopping out an explosive guitar riff, Etheridge didn’t waste a second, joining soul pop star Joss Stone for a tribute to queer icon Janis Joplin. Every syllable of "Piece of My Heart" coming out of Etheridge’s mouth shines sharply like a rough-cut gem, but her explosive howl as the song comes to its climax is the stuff of legend.
The fact that Etheridge made it through her cancer treatment and can still rock stages to this day is only further testament to just how powerful this moment of defiance turned out to be.
Lady Gaga - "Born This Way" (2011)
While the conversation surrounding Lady Gaga’s early ‘10s award ceremony run will always center on her extravagant and boundary-pushing attire and stagecraft, she made sure to put her queer advocacy at full volume during her take on "Born This Way."
Sure, she entered the 53rd GRAMMY Awards in an egg and took time in her performance to play a snippet of Bach made famous in "The Phantom of the Opera" on a keyboard topped with mannequin heads. But in the very next moment, she ensured that the whole track slowed to a righteous halt to deliver a core message: "No matter gay, straight or bi/lesbian, transgender life/ I’m on the right track/ I was born to survive."
The white latex and space egg are important, but Lady Gaga wants to make sure you understand that the art is all in support of a message of inclusion, that stripped down to our strangest basics we’re all human.
Frank Ocean - "Forrest Gump" (2013)
Frank Ocean has proven to be one of the most mercurial stars in R&B, releasing just two studio albums since 2011 despite some of the most rabid anticipation in the music world. His changed plans, canceled performances, and vague updates only fuel that fire — but it’s performances like "Forrest Gump" that encapsulate that whole fandom experience.
The 55th Grammy Awards were a big night for Ocean, with six nominations and two golden gramophones coming his way, but his tender, raw love song was perhaps the most memorable of a night full of impressive tributes and star power. Homosexual love songs don’t get televised too often, and that’s what "Forrest Gump" is: pure, unabashed and straightforward; a young, mesmerizing vocalist and songwriter laid bare, playing a keyboard and backed by a video screen. There’s nothing to distract from his voice and his words: "You run my mind, boy/ Running on my mind, boy/ Forrest Gump."
Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert, Madonna & Queen Latifah - "Same Love/Open Your Heart" (2014)
There may not be a bigger performance of queer love in awards history than Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ elaborate staging of "Same Love" from the 56th GRAMMYs. Their performance of the anthem included lesbian vocalist Mary Lambert and queer icon Madonna — oh, and Queen Latifah literally overseeing marriage ceremonies for 33 couples of varying sexual identities and orientations, when same-sex marriage hadn’t yet been federally recognized.
Macklemore and Lewis won big at the ceremony, thanks in large part to inescapable upbeat hip-hop like "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us." But instead of getting everyone in the room with some easy fun, the duo opted for "Same Love" — a track in support of marriage equality and a protest to a tendency towards homophobia in the genre. Together, they provided a powerful statement of acceptance and love that surely opened eyes for audiences around the world.
Kesha, Camilla Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, Andra Day, and Bebe Rexha - "Praying" (2018)
The whole world was changing for Kesha on the runup to the 60th GRAMMY Awards. After years of struggle against her alleged abuser and an attempt to fully reclaim her career and life, she had not only taken powerful steps in that direction — she was doing so on Music's Biggest Night.
Her new album, Rainbow, had netted two nominations, and she was asked to perform. She opted for "Praying" (co-written by Ryan Lewis), a paean to the power of change and hope, even in the darkest hours. Surrounded by a cadre of powerful women and clad in white and embroidery of blooming flowers, Kesha’s performance shows a moment of new life and transformation, an inspirational moment that continues to grow with promise of even more new music.
Janelle Monáe - "Make Me Feel" (2019)
Janelle Monáe’s performance at the 61st GRAMMY Awards felt like a celebration of her quest to share her truest self. During a performance of the sensual, stylized, sci-fi epic take on "Make Me Feel," Monáe incorporated snippets of other Dirty Computer highlights into the breakdown — including the line "let the vagina have a monologue" from "Pynk" (probably the first time that request had been made on the GRAMMYs stage).
Her black-and-white clad synchronized backup dancers gave shades of Robert Palmer, but Prince (another Black icon comfortable in gender-fluidity) was the true touchstone. But that’s in no way to say that Monáe is anything but an unparalleled icon of her own, whether on the guitar, in her dance steps, or on the mic.
Lil Nas X - "Dead Right Now"/"Montero (Call Me By Your Name)"/"Industry Baby" (2022)
After years of controversy and criticism (notably from talking heads and members of the public who had or would not listen to his music), Lil Nas X’s performance at the 65th GRAMMY Awards had a real sense of catharsis.
Not that the Georgia-born rapper necessarily needed it — he’s proven plenty capable of pushing back and insisting on his identity on the daily, in social media and interviews. Still, the wide range of styles (both musical and visual) and performance versatility on display that evening felt special. His interstellar take on "Dead Right Now" proved he was capable of rising above all the noise; the hip-swiveling dazzle of "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" showed he was unafraid to show his sensual side; and the stomp-along "Industry Baby" (complete with an appearance from Jack Harlow) demonstrated that Lil Nas X is just flat-out one of the most exciting vocal talents in hip-hop.
Kim Petras and Sam Smith - "Unholy" (2023)
Trans representation on the GRAMMYs stage took a big step forward at the most recent ceremony, thanks to Kim Petras. Not only did the German-born pop star become the first openly trans woman to win a GRAMMY Award, but her blistering performance of "Unholy" with Sam Smith likely ignited more than a little bit of inspiration, intensity, and passion in the viewing audience.
Cast in a red glow, the duo embraced the fires of lust, Petras playing the fiery cage dancer to Smith’s devilish ringmaster. Every second of the performance dripped with sweat and sex, refusing to bow to any expectation or censure, Petras humping a corner of the cage as Smith gyrated around a cane. The smoking hot fever dream more than earned the FCC complaints and the zealous fans who went on to devour more of Smith and Petras’ music.
Photo: Alex Lake | C A Management
Masterful Remixer Giles Martin On The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' The Beatles, Paul McCartney
Ahead of his spectacular, Dolby Atmos-elevated remix of the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' Giles Martin discusses the pressures and jubilation of handling such a precious album.
Bicycle bells, Coca-Cola cans, sleigh bells, water bottles, French horn, Electro-Theremin — and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Compared to even ambitious Beatles masterpieces like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, remixing the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is an entirely different beast. While the Fabs' recordings were often deceptively sparse — "Taxman" is guitars, bass, drums and vocals — Pet Sounds is an ocean of eccentric, melancholic, joyful sound.
Astonishingly — by today's standards — the album was initially recorded to a four-track machine. A student of the studio might assume that remixing the such a record would require some form of sacrifice during the remixing process, wherein various elements would have to be buried, or excised, to bring another to the light.
Giles Martin, who has remixed Sgt. Pepper's, The White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be, and Revolver — and now Pet Sounds, for Dolby Atmos — has an incisive answer.
"Will I sacrifice taste or feel for the sake of it being an Atmos mix? If that starts getting compromised, then let's make it mono," two-time GRAMMY winner Martin tells GRAMMY.com. "It doesn't make any sense to affect the integrity of a song for the use of technology. Technology should be there to serve the music, as opposed to the other way around.
"I don't want people to listen to an Atmos mix I've done; I want people to listen to a song," he continues. "My mix is just a small part in the process."
But sitting in complete darkness in a Dolby screening room on Sixth Avenue in New York City, it was difficult to think of Martin's touch as being a "small part."
This version of Pet Sounds was nothing short of revelatory — shining up each Beach Boy's vocals, unburying numberless exotic instruments, mapping the musical elements in physical space. All without compromising Brian Wilson's timbral and harmonic syntheses that characterize this art-rock cornerstone.
Read on for a candid interview with Martin about his remixing philosophy, moving from the Beatles space to the Beach Boys space and what he wants to improve about his methodology — in short, "everything."
The Atmos mix of Pet Sounds is available now on Amazon Music, Tidal and Apple Music; stream it here.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
During Beatles listening events, there's a little bit of tension between yourself and that fan community. This Beach Boys event seemed to possess a completely different energy — less antagonistic, more of a lovefest. What's it been like moving from the Beatles world to the Beach Boys world as per their fan communities?
I don't know — I think that I may not be perceiving it right [laughs].
I never felt that there was a huge amount of antagonism with the Beatles thing. I think to begin with, there was. With the early days of me, certainly, doing Love, ironically, there was a suspicion of what I was up to — what are my motives, and what gives you the right to screw around with these tracks, and who the hell do you think you are, and that sort of thing.
I think there's been a sort of shift in a level of trust, hopefully, that people don't realize that I deliberately do this to try and screw things up.
I was actually more nervous going to a Beach Boys playback than I was going to a Beatles playback. With the Beatles, I kind of know where I am — and regardless of what anyone may think, I probably have more experience on this than most other people do.
The Beach Boys, I don't. It's my first rodeo, if you like, so I was probably a bit more nervous addressing their audience.
"Antagonism" is probably too strong a word. Just a little bit of tension in the air, when somebody's like, "What happened to that guitar squeak at 2:01 on 'Taxman,' Giles? Would you like to explain yourself?"
That always makes me laugh. There are two guys who are those people, and they come and listen in the studios. They came around recently for something, and they were like, "Well, we heard something at this moment."
I'll always listen and respect what they say, but then I'll just go… I do have Paul and Ringo. So they'll just go, "Well, we think it's fine."
I think what you are alluding to is there's a sense of ownership that people have over Beatles music. But I think that's the case with Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys as well.
From a business standpoint, what's it been like docking your spaceship on a new mothership?
I pay no attention to the business side of stuff. It's the same record label, actually — Capitol. I have a really good relationship with them, and they're great.
They know what they're getting themselves into by asking me to do stuff, which means that generally, things will be late; I'll miss deadlines. But they also know that I'll take care. And I think part of my job is, obviously, listening to what people have to say, and listening to and collaborating with other people on this, and doing it.
What role did the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds play in your life up to this point? Obviously, you're steeped in this overall miasma due to your lineage.
It's funny: as I said to my dad <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/george-martin/4663">legendary Beatles producer [George Martin], "It's amazing the work you did." And he was like, "Yeah, but I mean, compared to what Brian Wilson did when he was just on his own — you need to go listen to that." And so I did, and I suppose that there's an otherworldliness to it.
Just as a producer, or someone who loves music, Pet Sounds could not be ignored, because it's so intricate in the way it is, and it's an album that gets better the more you listen to it as well. And I hope that is sustainable in times of TikTok where people only have a short amount of time to pay anything attention.
I suppose that I wouldn't have agreed to do it if it wasn't important to me.You have to give it your all; you have to spend a lot of time listening to this music. It's such an important and influential record — not just for other people, but for me as well.
You mentioned during the listening party that you didn't have to employ the same AI techniques to unglue the tracks as you did on Revolver. Can you elaborate?
I wouldn't say it was unglued. If you imagine on, for instance, "That's Not Me," essentially, the band are kind of on three tracks a lot. So, they're stuck.
And "That's Not Me" has drums, organ, tambourine on one track. So, I can't move the organ or tambourine away from the drums. They have to be on one side. And I have bass and lead guitar on another track, so bass and guitar are going to be in the same place no matter what I do.
But there's an intent with this, where it's unlike having a band like the Beatles. This isn't really a band record; it's more of an orchestral record. It has a backing to it.
There's not really a drum kit on Pet Sounds, per se. There's drums on one or two tracks, but there's not really a drum kit. It's like orchestral percussion. So it's fine having those things glued together. Whereas on something like "Taxman," we have guitar, bass and drums — and only guitar, bass and drums going on for the whole song.
If you want to have a stereo record, you have to separate them — because otherwise, they're just on one side and the vocals on the other side; there's no reality. But with this, you have chunks of musicians in a room, and then you can create this real world around it.
Brian Wilson rightfully soaks up the lion's share of the discourse around Pet Sounds; he crafted the record. But in this process, what did you learn about them as per their group dynamic? You alluded to their vocal precision during the listening event. I love Carl and Bruce's vocals on "God Only Knows." I know that Carl and Dennis played on the record in a limited capacity.
I don't know what I learned that I didn't already know, apart from the fact that — this is what people miss — bands exist with resentment, and everything else. But bands exist because they're human beings in a room. The fact that you don't hear someone doesn't mean that they're not having influence.
With the Beach Boys, obviously, you hear their incredible harmonies. And Brian couldn't have done what he did without having the palette of outstanding musicianship, and the ability for these guys to harmonize and create these vocals that can't exist anywhere else.
So, that's what I suppose you hear. You hear the other members of the band come in on tracks, as you alluded to, and you suddenly think — not that it's a relief, but it's like, Oh my god, this is a band. This isn't just Brian. That's what I took from it.
I could genuinely sit there and think about the Beach Boys on a conceptual level and be entertained for hours. But is there a danger of overthinking an artifact like Pet Sounds? Or is it a fount for infinite analysis and edification?
No, I think you are absolutely right. You can take the fun out of it — and people do frequently — by being too pretentious about things. I find this quite amusing. It's almost like the song becomes the ownership of the journalist — or the expert, if you like — and not the person listening to it.
People are told what to listen to, and what to listen out for, in a sort of educational way: "You don't really understand this." It's that sort of thing: "If only you knew you knew how good this was, you'd be able to like it." That sort of conversation. "Music isn't like how it used to be, because it's not as good as this," and all this sort of conversation.
It's absolutely rubbish. It's like, let people enjoy what they want to enjoy. As long as you're passionate about something, it doesn't make a difference whether you like Megadeth or the Beach Boys.
You recently worked on a refreshed version of Paul McCartney's "Live or Let Die." That song is such a mind movie — and not just because it has James Bond roots. I'm sure you had fun with that one.
It was great. It's a bit like a lot of the projects I do; the expectancy is so vast spread.
It's quite tricky; how do you meet the expectation? Because one thing that mono or stereo or compression gives you, is it gives you loudness. You separate stuff in an immersive soundfield, you have to be careful that you don't start losing impact.
One thing that "Live and Let Die" has is impact. And that's the tricky thing about that song. But I'm really happy. It was actually a big mix to do; I can't lie. It was like, "Oh my god, here we go; I have to be fully qualified to do this mix."
But I'm really happy with it. I can't wait for people to hear it. I think it's super cool.
How do you want to get better at what you do? Where do you want to improve?
Oh, god. "Everywhere" is the answer. I think you are never done. It's only sometimes I hear things back and go, Oh, that actually sounds quite good. Oh, I did that. That's alright. Otherwise, you sort of hate everything.
I nervously watched you [all] through a screen in New York going, Oh my god, it sounds terrible. That's what goes through my head.
You still struggle with that, huh?
Yeah, of course. And then the thing is, I don't think, What if it sounds terrible? because of ego. It's, What if it sounds terrible because you guys really like this record and I need to do it justice? That's what goes through my head.
Photo: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for LARAS, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images, Gustavo Garcia Villa
Listen To GRAMMY.com's LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2023 Playlist Featuring Demi Lovato, Sam Smith, Kim Petras, Frank Ocean, Omar Apollo & More
Celebrate LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2023 with a 50-song playlist that spans genres and generations, honoring trailblazing artists and allies including George Michael, Miley Cyrus, Orville Peck, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande and many more.
In the past year, artists in the LGBTQIA+ community have continued to create change and make history — specifically, GRAMMY history. Last November, Liniker became the first trans artist to win a Latin GRAMMY Award when she took home Best MPB Album for Indigo Borboleta Anil; three months later, Sam Smith and Kim Petras became the first nonbinary and trans artists, respectively, to win the GRAMMY Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their sinful collab "Unholy."
Just those two feats alone prove that the LGBTQIA+ community is making more and more of an impact every year. So this Pride Month, GRAMMY.com celebrates those strides with a playlist of hits and timeless classics that are driving conversations around equality and fairness for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Photo: Rob Verhorst/Redferns
Remembering The Artistry Of Tina Turner, "The Epitome Of Power And Passion"
Throughout her eight GRAMMY wins and 25 nominations, Tina Turner’s vast and generation-spanning musical output proved equally entertaining and inspirational. The Bold Soul Sister died on May 24 at her home near Zurich, Switzerland. She was 83.
The Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, recording legend, icon of empowerment. No matter how one refers to Tina Turner, her passing constitutes a seismic loss that marks the end of a shining cultural legacy which leaves in its wake an industry-shaping career. Throughout her eight GRAMMY wins and 25 nominations, Turner’s vast and generation-spanning musical output proved equally entertaining and inspirational.
The icon died on May 24 at her home near Zurich, Switzerland. She was 83.
"Tina Turner broke barriers for women on and off the stage throughout her incredible career," said Harvey Mason jr, CEO of The Recording Academy, of Turner who received GRAMMY’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 and is a three-time inductee to the GRAMMY Hall of Fame. "She amazed audiences worldwide with her electrifying performances, including on our GRAMMY stage in 1985 and 2008, and was an undeniable rockstar who paved the way for so many with her signature style and powerful vocals. She will be greatly missed by all the people she touched around the globe."
It’s a sentiment shared by the music industry, and world, at large. "She was truly an enormously talented performer and singer,"Mick Jaggerwrote on social media. "She was inspiring, warm, funny and generous. She helped me so much when I was young and I will never forget her." On her website, Beyoncé — who performed with Turner at the 50th GRAMMY Awards — paid tribute to her "beloved Queen," writing, "I love you endlessly. I’m so grateful for your inspiration and all the ways you paved the way. You are strength and resilience. You are the epitome of power and passion."Elton John put it simply: "We have lost one of the world's most exciting and electric performers," he wrote. "She was untouchable."
Turner’s untouchable talent famously embodied two phases. First, her tumultuous collaboration with husband Ike Turner, during which they performed as a duo and yielded hits including the oft-covered "Proud Mary." The instantly-recognizable song earned the couple a GRAMMY Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Group in 1972 and was inducted in the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2003. In her triumphant second act, Turner broke away from the partnership. She reinvented herself as a solo performer, improbably transitioning from a '60s and '70s-era rocker to arena pop star in the 1980s.
For her efforts, the singer swept the major categories at the 1985 GRAMMY Awards, winning Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "What’s Love Got To Do With It." She also took home the golden gramophone for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for "Better Be Good To Me."
One of her most indelible hits, Turner utilized "What's Love Got To Do With It" as a call to action, becoming brutally honest about her abusive relationship with her ex-husband along the way. Turner later recalled toRolling Stone that when she left Ike in July 1976, "I had nothing. I didn’t even know how to get money. I had a girl working for me who had worked for Ike, because she knew about ways of getting money. I didn’t know how to do any of that stuff." She later devised what’s considered one of the greatest comebacks in music history.
First offered to Donna Summer — who sat on the track before ultimately passing — songwriter Terry Britten later revealed that she thought "What’s Love Got to Do With It" was "awful." Turner didn't like the song either, but recorded it following encouragement from her manager, Roger Davis.
"I said, 'If it doesn't work out, we won't use it. So let's give it a go,'" Britten recalled in her 2021 documentary, Tina. It wasn’t until Turner laid down her vocal track that the song was elevated from pop confection into a showcase for the vocal powerhouse. "They weren't used to a strong voice standing on top of music," Turner said in the documentary. "But I converted it and made it my own."
Turner’s deft musical translation is evident throughout her eclectic discography, from the blues-inflicted rock she performed as Ike & Tina Turner, to pop anthems like 1989’s "The Best" (which became a trademark and, naturally, the title of a popular greatest hits album). In 1962, she was nominated for her first GRAMMY Award for Best Rock and Roll Recording for "It’s Gonna Work Out Fine," her and Ike’s hit from the previous year which was offered to them after songwriter Rose Marie McCoy saw their energetic stage show at the Apollo.
It was an auspicious early hit for Turner, who would become a staple of the category for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female. Decades later, she earned back-to-back wins in the category for "One of the Living" and "Back Where We Started" in 1986 and 1987, a nomination for "Better Be Good To Me" in ‘88, and took home the golden gramophone in ‘89 for Tina Live in Europe, among many others.
"My songs are a little bit of everybody’s lives who are watching me," said Turner to Rolling Stonein the midst of her hot streak in 1986. "You gotta sing what they can relate to. And there are some raunchy people out there. The world is not perfect. And all of that is in my performance; I play with it."
Born Anna Mae Bullock, Turner’s journey to musical dynamo began on the farmlands of Tennessee where she discovered early on her passion for artistic expression. "As a girl, every chance I got, I’d go to our local movie theater and memorize scenes so I could reenact them," she recalled in 2021 the Harvard Business Review. "Although I did have a bit of singing training in high school and even learned some opera, my voice and dance abilities have mostly come naturally to me."
That vocal prowess and inimitable energy as a performer was on full display throughout her life behind the microphone, one of the most memorable examples being "River Deep-Mountain High." Inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 1999, her duet with Ike was produced by Phil Spector who Turner said had him cut her vocals ad nauseam to spectacular results. "I must have sung that 500,000 times," she told Rolling Stone after the publication ranked the track No. 33 of their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. "I was drenched with sweat. I had to take my shirt off and stand there in my bra to sing."
Upon her death, the New York Times called her "a magnetic singer with explosive power." That power was visible on and off the stage, both in her artistry and ability to soldier on in the face of the numerous obstacles. In a 2005 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Turner explained, "There's an expression, 'You'll never get out of this world alive.' It's true. We won't. Go forward. Do your best with your makeup, hair, and clothes."
In that same interview, Turner also mused about her legacy, touching on the inspiration she doled out by being her authentic self. "My wish is to give the kind of truth to people that will help them change their minds. When that happens, I'll be the best that I can be."