meta-scriptThe Evolution Of The Girl Group: How TLC, BLACKPINK, The Shirelles & More Have Elevated Female Expression | GRAMMY.com
Girl Groups Timeline Hero
(L-R, clockwise) The Shirelles, TLC, Little Mix, BLACKPINK

Photos (L-R, clockwise): GAB Archive/Redferns, Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images, Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

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The Evolution Of The Girl Group: How TLC, BLACKPINK, The Shirelles & More Have Elevated Female Expression

From the Supremes to the Spice Girls, take a deep dive into the history of girl groups — and how their songs, performance and vocal power changed pop culture.

GRAMMYs/Mar 27, 2023 - 09:47 pm

For more than eight decades, girl groups have harmonized their way into the collective consciousness, bringing female empowerment to the forefront — and changing culture along the way.

Of course, girl groups have come in many forms: there's the family-friendly Andrew Sisters, the funk rock-infused Labelle, and the R&B-leaning Destiny's Child. As the construct of the girl group has evolved, so has their cultural impact — while acts like the Supremes helped push popular music in a more diverse direction in America, J-Pop and K-Pop groups have helped girl groups be viewed through a global lens in recent years.

What has tied all of these groups together is their infectious and inspirational records, which have encouraged women to express themselves and feel empowered in doing so. Groups like the Spice Girls and the Shangri-Las, for instance, have helped women express all sides of themselves, reminding the world that there is joy and beauty in contrast.

As Women's History Month nears its end, GRAMMY.com celebrates all of the powerful women who have been part of the girl group evolution. (To narrow the field, we characterize a girl group as acts with a minimum of three members and a focus on vocal performance; hence why you won't see bands like the Go-Gos or the Chicks on this list.)

Below, take a look at how girl groups have changed in both construct and impact for nearly 90 years — and counting — and listen to GRAMMY.com's official Girl Groups playlist on Amazon MusicSpotifyApple Music, and Pandora.

Girl group timeline subhed 1930s/40s

Though women have no doubt sung together since the beginning of time, the formal concept of the girl group came sometime in the '20s or '30s, with the rise in popularity of tightly harmonizing family acts like the Boswell Sisters and the Hamilton Sisters (the latter of whom would become Three X Sisters). The groups really started to see a rise in popularity around the beginning of WWII — perhaps because the entrance of more women into the workforce opened peoples' minds to the idea of the pop girl group, or perhaps because the soldiers overseas sought comfort and mild excitement via the groups' smooth sounds and attractive looks.

The Andrews Sisters, who officially formed in 1937 as a Boswell Sisters tribute act, would become the most popular of the sister acts, riding tracks like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,""Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)" and "Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out The Barrel)" straight to the top of the charts. They're considered one of the most successful girl groups of all time, selling an estimated 80 million records and counting. Other girl groups followed the Andrews' act, including the Dinning Sisters, who released "They Just Chopped Down The Old Apple Tree" as an answer to their rivals' hit.

Girl group timeline subhed 1950s

The Andrews Sisters continued to be popular well into the '50s, inspiring similar close harmony acts like the Chordettes, who found success with tracks like "Mr. Sandman" and "Lollipop," and the Lennon Sisters, who became a mainstay on "The Lawrence Welk Show."

Around the middle of the decade, girl groups started pulling a bit more from the doo-wop movement, with songs like the Bobbettes "Mr Lee" helping pave the way for a wave of all-Black girl groups to come. The Chantels — who had come up together singing in a choir — quickly followed with "Maybe," which solidified the genre's style with a blend of rock, pop, doo-wop that would act as a sonic template for years to come.

Girl group timeline subhed 1960s

In 1961, the Shirelles found quick success with tracks like "Tonight's The Night" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," which became the first girl group cut to go to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. The group would have five more hit singles throughout the decade, and inspired acts like the Marvelettes, whose "Please Mr. Postman" would become the first No. 1 single for Motown Records.

Keen to seize on that success, Motown invested heavily in creating more girl groups, crafting trios and quartets out of various singers that they might have previously eyed for solo work or even passed on signing. That kind of business-minded molding is what yielded Martha and the Vandellas, the Velvelettes, and a little act called the Supremes, who would go on to become the most successful American vocal group of all time, according to CNN. The success of the Motown acts — the majority of whom were all Black — was also a sign of American culture's increasing acceptance of the integration of popular music.

Having seen the success that Motown had in consciously crafting its girl groups, other producers and small, independent labels sought to capture some of that lightning in a bottle for themselves. The Philles label cashed in on the sound of the Crystals and the Ronettes, while Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller signed the Shangri-Las and the Dixie Cups to their Red Bird label. Tracks like the Shangri-Las' "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" offered a surprisingly real perspective on teen girl crushes, while  "Leader Of The Pack" helped bring female perspective to a subgenre of songs about macabre teenage tragedies previously dominated by all-male acts like Jan And Dean and Wayne Cochran And The C.C. Riders.

Girl group timeline subhed 1970s

First formed in the '60s as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Labelle pushed the genre out of the sock hop and into the nightclub, becoming one of the premiere girl groups of the '70s. Their funky, rock-infused singles were unlike anything girl group aficionados had heard before, and in 1974, the group captured America's heart with "Lady Marmalade," a slightly suggestive song that broke out of the discos and into the collective consciousness. Other acts originally formed in the '60s found similar success, like the Three Degrees, who had a number of hits, including the sunny and soothing "When Will I See You Again."

Sister Sledge also capitalized on the disco boom, crafting lasting hits like "We Are Family" and "He's The Greatest Dancer." The Pointer Sisters went through a rainbow of genres, including R&B (1973's funky "Yes We Can Can") and country (1974's "Fairytale," which won a GRAMMY for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1975), before finding their biggest success at the beginning of the next decade with tracks like the sultry "Slow Hand" and the more frantic "I'm So Excited."

Girl group timeline subhed 1980s

Girl groups went through a bit of a lull in the '80s, as the culture trended toward hair metal and hip-hop. Some acts still managed to break through, capturing listeners' hearts with dance-friendly cuts imbued with Latin freestyle flair. Full of synths and syncopated percussion, freestyle burst out of clubs and parties in New York and Philadelphia, finding a particular hold amongst Hispanic and Italian-American audiences.

Miami's Exposé was one of the decade's biggest freestyle acts, blending girl group harmonies with synthetic sounds for hits like "Point Of No Return" and "Seasons Change." Two New York groups, Sweet Sensation and The Cover Girls, had freestyle success that bridged the '80s and '90s. Sweet Sensation's "Never Let You Go" tore up the dance charts, and while the Cover Girls' "Show Me" and "Because Of You" weren't quite as popular, they still hold a special place in the hearts of freestyle fans.

Girl group timeline subhed 1990s

Girl groups roared back in a big way in the '90s, thanks in part to the emergency of new jack swing and a renewed interest in R&B's smooth vocal stylings. En Vogue was one of the first groups to go big in the '90s, with debut single "Hold On" first hitting the Billboard charts in 1990. Their biggest tracks came later in the decade, with the powerful "Free Your Mind" and "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" showcasing the quartet's vocal range and character.

Two groups from Atlanta also came to prominence around the same time as En Vogue. First was the street-savvy quartet Xscape, who harnessed the sounds of 1993 with tracks like "Just Kickin' It." 

TLC had a more dynamic arc, first bursting into the collective consciousness with the new jack swing-infused "Ooooooohh… On The TLC Tip," which featured three top 10 singles, including "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg." The group's baggy pants and hip-hop aesthetic pushed girl group boundaries, in part because its members actually acknowledged their sexual desires, as well as the need for everyone to have safe sex. Later in the decade, TLC would rise to even higher heights with tracks like "Waterfalls" and the GRAMMY-winning "No Scrubs," the latter of which was actually co-written by two members of Xscape.

Destiny's Child initially emerged from Houston in the late '90s as a quartet, though they'd later lose some members and gain new ones, ending up as a trio. While it was hard to ignore the sheer star power of Beyonce, the threesome did generally function as a group, producing a string of danceable earworms, including "No, No, No," and "Bills, Bills, Bills." By the time they disbanded in 2006, Destiny's Child sold tens of millions of records and earned three GRAMMY Awards (and a total of nine nominations).

Out west, Wilson Phillips' Chyna Phillips, Wendy Wilson and Carnie Wilson were channeling the sounds of their respective parents, who had been members of the Beach Boys and the Mamas & The Papas. Their songs featured  vocal harmonies and were largely about emotional longing, pushing back against the dance and funk that ruled much of the radio dial throughout the '90s.

Girl groups were also gaining major traction in the U.K during the '90s, spurred by a boy band boom in the country around the same time. Two groups — All Saints and the Spice Girls — were actually assembled by managers, something that didn't help allay naysayers' concern that much of pop music at the time was wholly manufactured. (Another U.K. mainstay, Ireland's B*Witched, came together organically.)

Regardless, both All Saints and the Spice Girls found commercial success, with the latter becoming absolutely massive not just because of catchy pop romps like "Wannabe," but because of the quintet's singular personas and the strength of their "girl power" messaging. The Spice Girls even starred in their own movie, "Spice World," which came out at the height of Spice-mania in 1997 and drew instant comparisons to the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night."

Girl group timeline subhed 2000s

Girl groups continued to reign in the early part of the 2000s. A number of 2000s girl groups formed on television as part of reality programming, with U.K. sensation Girls Aloud forming on the ITV show "Popstars: The Rivals" and Danity Kane both forming and developing over three seasons of Sean Puffy Combs' "Making The Band." TV acted as a great launching pad for these pop acts, as fans were often emotionally invested in the group's success from watching the show so when a new single dropped, they were quick to get on board.

Girls Aloud and Danity Kane — as well as their peers, like Dream, 3LW, and Blacque — made pop music that was sexy, confident, and larger than life, with expensive-looking music videos to match. The songs also often crossed over from pop to urban radio.

Another of the most successful (and sexiest) girl groups of the 2000s also formed in a fairly roundabout way. The Pussycat Dolls found success with tracks like "Don't Cha" and "Buttons," but the actual origin of the Pussycat Dolls name and brand came almost 15 years earlier when an L.A. based choreographer named Robin Antin launched a burlesque troupe. After her club events and dancers became more and more popular (even posing for Playboy), she was urged by Interscope Records' Jimmy Iovine to attach the name to a pop group.

Antin recruited five singers who could hold a tune and looked the part, including Nicole Scherzinger — who initially got her start in Eden's Crush, another group formed on a TV show, the U.S. iteration of "Popstars" — and the Pussycat Dolls quickly strutted onto radio dials and Billboard charts with their catchy multi-tracked (and often risqué) hits.

Girl groups were also getting huge around the globe in the '00s, with Spain's Las Ketchup producing the insanely catchy pop ditty conveniently named "The Ketchup Song," Sweden's Play crossed over to commercial success in the American market, and the U.K.'s Atomic Kitten formed purely as a songwriting vehicle for Orchestral Maneuvers In the Dark's Andy McCluskey and Stuart Kershaw. Members of the latter would come and go throughout its career, but songs like "Whole Again" (which was also recorded by Play) have stood the test of time.

Though modern K-pop culture had begun in South Korea in the late '90s, it started to really pick up steam in the '00s, with both boy bands and girl groups benefiting from the surging Hallyu or Korean wave. One of those, Wonder Girls, found quick success in the late '00s with genre-spanning tracks like "Tell Me" and "Nobody," thanks in part to the pop act's ability to perform English versions of their songs while on tour with the Jonas Brothers.

Girl group timeline subhed 2010s

Two of the 2010s biggest girl groups also came from televised reality competition shows. Little Mix, a quartet, was formed on the U.K.'s "The X Factor" and came to redefine the girl group era in Britain, selling more than 60 million records and topping the charts with high octane singles like "Cannonball" and "Shout Out To My Ex." 

Stateside, Fifth Harmony was birthed on "The X Factor," where all five members had competed individually the season before but failed to advance. But after producers brought them back to compete as a group, Fifth Harmony was born, with viewers picking the name and ultimately helping them take third place in the competition.

The quintet emerged from the show signed to judge Simon Cowell's record label, Syco, and like so many great girl groups before it, embarked on a tour of malls and talk shows before eventually releasing a pop record tinged with both hip-hop and R&B. Fans latched on to songs like "I'm In Love With A Monster" and "Work From Home," the trap-laced monster hit that has garnered billions of hits on YouTube since its release.

The K-pop wave also continued in the 2010s, with groups like Girls Generation and Twice, both of whom broke the mold of a traditional girl group by having eight and nine members, respectively. At the same time, a J-Pop act, AKB48, rose to popularity, with a structure girl groups hadn't seen before — it has 80 members in total, with the group being divided into different "teams" that members are elected into by rabid fans.  All three acts were literally and figuratively massive, selling tens of millions of highly produced bubblegum pop LPs and larger than life dance singles.

The success of K-pop girl groups shot to a new level when BLACKPINK entered the scene in 2016, forming after its members joined a girl group academy and underwent what amounts to girl group boot camp. The result is a fine-tuned musical machine that's produced pop hit after pop hit — including "Boombayah" and "DDU DU DDU DU" — as well as music videos that have been viewed billions of times online.

Spurred by the devotion of their fans (known as the BLINKs), BLACKPINK has also managed to rack up an impressive roster of accolades. They were the first Asian act to headline Coachella, the first female K-Pop artists on the cover of Billboard, and have amassed the most subscribers of any musical act on YouTube. But they're not the only female K-Pop act helping girl groups stay alive: Groups like Mamamoo and Red Velvet released hit after hit in the 2010s, and 2NE1 captured hearts everywhere with tracks like "Lonely" and "I Am The Best." In 2012, 2NE1 set out on what many consider to be the first world tour by a K-pop girl group, visiting 11 cities in seven countries.

Girl group timeline subhed 2020s

A British girl group whose members pull from their individual cultures to create a unique, hip-hop influenced sound, Flo was also influenced by artists like Ciara and Amy Winehouse. Though they've only been together for a few years, their unique retro sound became almost instantly popular in the UK, with debut single "Cardboard Box" racking up almost a million views on YouTube within days of its release in early 2022. Other hit singles, like "Immature" and "Summertime" have followed.

Another thoroughly modern girl group, Boys World, was formed after managers found videos of five different women singing online and then contacted them to see if they wanted to team up. They said yes, launched a TikTok account, and moved into a house together in Los Angeles. Their thoroughly online approach to becoming a girl group has captivated audiences, along with their empowering anthems.

The K-Pop wave has continued to surge as well, with BLACKPINK headlining Coachella in 2023 and the quickly rising NewJeans earning the distinction of being the very first female Korean act to play Lollapalooza later this summer. Like so many girl groups before them, both acts continue to break boundaries and impact the culture at large, proving that the genre is as vital as ever.

While they may not be as abundant as in decades past, the girl group movement certainly hasn't shuttered. And with a diverse array of women still captivating audiences around the globe, girl groups will likely continue to spice up your life for years to come.

Listen To GRAMMY.com's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More

June 2024 albums list hero
(Clockwise from top right): Kehlani, Tems, Gracie Abrams, Carly Pearce, Camila Cabello, and Peso Pluma.

Photos (Clockwise from top right): Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for ABA, Cindy Ord/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue, Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images

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15 Must-Hear Albums In June 2024: Charli XCX, Kehlani, Peso Pluma, Normani & More

Lots of exciting releases ring in summertime this June, with highly anticipated albums from Tems, Meghan Trainor, Gracie Abrams, Camila Cabello and several other stars across genres.

GRAMMYs/Jun 3, 2024 - 01:08 pm

June's rising temperatures bring a heat wave of releases, and also important events. Pride Month, Black Music Month, and Juneteenth all happen in the next four weeks, and whether it's to celebrate or to console our hearts, a variety of new albums will soundtrack this journey.

The first Friday of the month packs a powerful group of women: Charli XCX's will release Brat, Meghan Trainor's returns with Timeless, Carly Pearce brings forward hummingbird, Tems makes her official debut with Born in the Wild, and DJ Peggy Gou will also put out her first LP, I Hear You.

Women continue to dominate later in the month, and former Fifth Harmony members Normani and Camila Cabello will both drop new material with Dopamine and C,XOXO, respectively. Gracie Abrams will return with The Secret of Us, as well as Kate Nash and her 9 Sad Symphonies, Joni Mitchell and The Asylum Albums (1976-1980), and Kehlani with Crash.

Of course, there will also be plenty of fresh music from male artists, too, like Peso Pluma's Éxodo, Imagine Dragons' Loom, Kygo's self-titled LP, Lucky Daye's Algorithm, as well as a new live album from Paul McCartney & Wings, titled One Hand Clapping. Closing out the month, all ears will be tuning in to Omar Apollo's God Said No, Lupe Fiasco's Samurai, Neil Young & Crazy Horse's Early Daze, a still unnamed Steve Aoki album, and many others.

Below, get to know more about 15 of the most exciting albums dropping in June 2024.

Charli XCX — Brat

Release date: June 7

The reception to Charli XCX's upcoming album cover — a low-res image of the word "brat" centered in a lime green background — was controversial, but that was precisely her intention. "I wanted to go with an offensive, off-trend shade of green to trigger the idea of something being wrong," the British singer told Vogue Singapore. "I'd like for us to question our expectations of pop culture — why are some things considered good and acceptable, and some things deemed bad? ... I'm not doing things to be nice."

Following 2022's Crash, Brat is Charli's sixth studio album, and boasts 15 club-ready tracks. Over on X (formerly Twitter), the pop provocateur stated that she "was born to make dance music," and that this is the album she's "always wanted to make." A preview of Brat's sleek, smacking sounds can be heard on singles "Von Dutch" and "360," plus a few other tracks shared in advance. The album also includes "So I," a tribute to late producer and DJ SOPHIE.

In support of the album, Charli lined up a slew of performances and DJ nights (dubbed Partygirl) in June, including stops in London, New York, and São Paulo. Later on, she will join Troye Sivan on their 2024 co-headlining Sweat Tour, set to kick off in September and hitting arenas around North America.

Tems — Born in the Wild

Release date: June 7

Nigerian singer Tems earned the eyes and the ears of international media with her Afrobeats-infused R&B. First raising attention with her feature in Wizkid's 2020 single "Essence," she later built up a devoted fandom through two EPs: 2020's For Broken Ears and 2021's If Orange Was a Place. In 2022, she was credited as a featured artist in Future's "Wait For U," which led her to win a GRAMMY for Best Melodic Rap Performance.

On June 7, Tems will release her long-awaited debut album, Born in the Wild. The official announcement came with a teaser video for the title track, disclosed one day after her Coachella set in April. "It's all over the news, all over the news, I know this/ Under the sun, struggling to find my focus/ When I was young, younger then/ I was always running away," she sings, reflecting on her childhood in Lagos. "I grew up in the wilderness/ Didn't know much about openness." 

The record's first single,"Love Me JeJe," came out on April 25, followed by the announcement of a world tour spanning Europe, North America, and Australia from June to November.

Carly Pearce — hummingbird

Release date: June 7

"When you hear this album — wherever you are on your journey, I hope it shows you that pain can be a lesson that shows you just how strong you are and what you truly deserve," Carly Pearce wrote on Instagram as she announced her fourth studio album, hummingbird, in March.

The release follows 2021's 29: Written in Stone, which documented the country star's journey through marriage and divorce at the age of 29. "The last few years have been a season of loss and growth, of healing and happiness," Pearce added. "A belief that if I did the inner work, I would rebuild myself stronger than I was before, and a knowing that I have done some living and will always be unapologetic about it."

Hummingbird holds 14 tracks that encapsulate the GRAMMY-winning singer's redemption and "true love for country music." Among them is her current single, "We Don't Fight Anymore" with Chris Stapleton, and the title track, and previously released tracks "country music made me do it", "heels over head," "my place," and "fault line." 

Peggy Gou — I Hear You

Release date: June 7

With 2023's "(It Goes Like) Nanana," DJ and singer Peggy Gou bounced from underground savant to worldwide summer queen. The single went viral on TikTok, entered charts across the globe, and led Gou to become one of the most in-demand electronic music artists in recent years — culminating with the title of first female DJ to headline Ushuaïa Ibiza.

Now, the South Korean-born, Berlin-based phenom is gearing up to release her debut LP, I Hear You, out June 7 via XL Recordings. According to a press release, the album depicts Gou "boldly claiming her voice through the kaleidoscopic lens of '90s house music." Featuring 10 tracks, it represents the "culmination of years of work," and includes the aforementioned "(It Goes Like) Nanana," 2021's "I Go," "I Believe in Love Again" with Lenny Kravitz, and lead single "1+1=11."

"I Hear You is more than just my debut album," Gou stated in the press release. "It embodies countless hours of dedication in my journey to create something timeless, and is a testament to the power of listening, to ourselves and to each other."

Bon Jovi — Forever

Release date: June 7

Rock icons Bon Jovi have been active for so long that it feels accurate to name their 16th studio album "Forever." In fact, the New Jersey band is celebrating their 40th anniversary with the release, set to drop on June 7.

"This record is a return to joy," said frontman Jon Bon Jovi in a statement. "From the writing, through the recording process, this is turn up the volume, feel good Bon Jovi." Forever follows 2020's 2020, and marks the band's first release after Bon Jovi's vocal surgery in 2022. Ushering in this new chapter, they also shared a Disney+ four-part documentary named Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story, and lofty single "Legendary."

In February of this year, Jon Bon Jovi was honored as the 2024 MusiCares Person Of The Year. The award recognized his extensive philanthropic work in a benefit gala during GRAMMY week — and granted the band yet another reason to celebrate.

The Decemberists — As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again

Release date: June 14

Following a six-year hiatus, The Decemberists are back with their ninth record, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again. The double-LP holds 13 tracks that are split into four thematic sides, and features guest appearances from The Shins' James Mercer and R.E.M.'s Mike Mills.

After sharing the opener and lead single, "Burial Ground," the folk rock band from Portland, Oregon, shared the 19-minute prog closer "Joan in the Garden," which was inspired by the story of Joan of Arc — and ultimately teased As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again will have many musical layers. 

"I wanted to make my own version of Joan," vocalist Colin Meloy said in a press release. "But the song that came was as much about the creative process as it was about the actual woman, about angelic visitation and creative visitation and the hallucinogenic quality of both."

Last month, The Decemberists announced a lengthy North American summer tour, starting on April 30 in Kingston, New York, and wrapping it up with a special hometown show on Aug. 3 in Troutdale, Oregon. 

Normani — Dopamine

Release date: June 14

Since her highly addictive 2019 hit, "Motivation," Normani has kept fans on the tip of their toes for a solo debut LP. She even turned their questioning into a website: wheresthedamnalbum.com. At last, the wait is finally over: after five long years, Dopamine will come out on June 14.

The album is spearheaded by lead single "1:59," which features rapper Gunna and blooms with late '90s R&B inspiration. Normani also shared a sultry album teaser, "Dopamine (First Dose)," which features a snippet of her latest release from the album, the airy "Candy Paint."

"The album feels like liberation, like a season of freedom," said the former Fifth Harmony member in an interview for WhoWhatWear earlier this year. "Not just because the record is finally coming out, but because it's a celebration of everything I have been through to get to this moment … I know I needed time, experiences, and space coming out of [Fifth Harmony] in order to become the version of myself I needed to be."

Peso Pluma — Éxodo

Release date: June 20

Almost exactly a year after releasing his third studio album, Génesis, Mexican star Peso Pluma follows his GRAMMY-winning LP by doubling down. Éxodo, his fourth studio effort, is a double album comprising 24 tracks — 16 corridos tumbados, 8 urbano songs — and a stellar guest list featuring Cardi B, Rich the Kid and Quavo, Anitta, and more.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Pluma stated that this album will confront more directly the negative press that surrounds him. "[On Génesis] people already saw the good side, the superhero side. But I think this year, they're going to know a darker side," he added.

He's previewed Éxodo through seven tracks so far, including "LA DURANGO" with Junior H and Eslabón Armado, "Rompe La Dompe" also with Junior H and Oscar Maydon, and "LA PEOPLE II" with Tito Double P and Joel de la P. Pluma is currently on a massive arena tour throughout the U.S., set to conclude on October 11 in Montville, Connecticut.

Gracie Abrams — The Secret of Us

Release date: June 21

Sixteen months after releasing her debut album, Good Riddance, GRAMMY-nominated singer Gracie Abrams is already back with her second LP, The Secret of Us. Set to drop on June 21, the project holds 13 tracks and is led by the lively pop and sharp lyrics of "Risk."

The single was co-written by Abrams and her childhood best friend, Audrey Hobert, and co-produced by Abrams and The National's Aaron Dessner (who helmed the production of Good Riddance). On Instagram, Abrams shared that she and her team "had real, true fun writing this album," but that "there were also the occasional tears." The raspy-voiced star also revealed The Secret's track list, which includes a collaboration with Taylor Swift in the track "us."

Abrams opened several dates of Swift's The Eras Tour in 2023. She'll celebrate her new album later this year by returning to the Eras Tour lineup, joining Swift again for the final North American shows in October, November and December. 

Lake Street Dive — Good Together

Release date: June 21

"The ethos of Good Together can be described as 'joyful rebellion,' just as energetic and danceable as it is defiantly principled," reads a press release on Lake Street Dive's upcoming record. Produced by Mike Elizondo, the album's main goal is to "highlight our shared humanity" through the quintet's dynamic, genre-bending compositions.

"There's a lot to be angry about in the world right now, a lot of pain and rage and divisiveness, but it isn't sustainable to constantly live in that anger — you need something else to keep you going," drummer Mike Calabrese said in a statement. "Joy is a great way to sustain yourself, and we wanted to encourage everyone to stay aware of that. In a way this album is our way of saying, 'Take your joy very seriously.'" A glimpse of those feelings appear in the laid-back album singles "Better Not Tell You" and the title track.

Lake Dive Street have also announced the biggest world tour of the band's career, kicking off its North American leg on June 14 in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and wrapping on October 12 in Atlanta, Georgia. In January 2025, they head on to Europe and the U.K.

Kehlani — Crash

Release date: June 21

It's already summer in Kehlani's world — or at least this is what their single "After Hours" feels like. Marking the Californian singer's first release since 2022's Blue Water Road, "After Hours" samples Cordel "Scatta" Burrell's "Coolie Dance Riddim" and sets expectations high for their upcoming record, Crash.

While little else is known about the album, Kehlani has been teasing bits and pieces of it on social media. She also released a second track, a booming dedication to a loved one called "Next 2 U," which Kehlani declared is "my favorite one" from the album.

Though Kehlani has yet to announce a coinciding tour for Crash, she'll play three shows at LIV Nightclub Las Vegas, in the Fontainebleau hotel. The first took place on May 31 — just hours after "Next 2 U" arrived — and the other two are on July 21 and Aug. 2.

Camila Cabello — C,XOXO

Release date: June 28

Another Fifth Harmony alum will make a comeback this month: Camila Cabello is set to release her fourth album, C,XOXO, on June 28. The LP marks a new sonic and visual era for the Cuban-born, Miami-based artist, and its inaugural mark came in the form of platinum blonde locks.

"The voice that I found with my new album has this big baddie energy vibe," Cabello explained in a recent Billboard cover story. "Part of that spirit is taking risks, not giving a f— and doing whatever you want. I think the blonde was me staying true to that feeling." The first single off the project, "I LUV IT" with Playboi Carti, displays how this fearless persona takes shape through hyperpop synths and a sample from Gucci Mane's "Lemonade."

Cabello also realized that this LP was a love letter to the city of Miami. "So much of the inspiration for this album was driving, listening to music, rolling the windows down and hearing what people in the city are listening to," she added. Among its collaborators are names like City Girls ("DADE COUNTY DREAMING"), Lil Nas X ("HE KNOWS"), and Drake, who features on "HOT UPTOWN" and "UUUGLY."

Imagine Dragons — Loom

Release date: June 28

Upon announcing Imagine Dragons' upcoming album, Loom, vocalist Dan Reynolds shared on Instagram that "working on this record was a rollercoaster." As he explained, "some days the songs came from a place of sadness and heartache and others joy and jubilance."

A press release further elaborated that the quartet's sixth LP will "represent the pinnacle of their artistic journey of self-discovery," while also balancing their familiar sounds with fresh ones. Through nine tracks, including lead single "Eyes Closed," Loom intends to symbolize "new beginnings on the horizon, the excitement for a new day, moments yet to come." As Reynolds added in his Instagram post, "may the things that loom in the future and distance be a beautiful tapestry of joy and pain that you can hang on your wall to reflect on as life passes us by."

The festive vibes will extend throughout the year, as the Las Vegas outfit just announced a world tour, which kicks off on July 30 in Camden, New Jersey. So far, they will stop through multiple cities in the U.S. and Canada through Oct. 22, but international dates are expected for 2025.

Omar Apollo — God Said No

Release date: June 28

"I gave it my everything," Omar Apollo said in a press release. "And God said 'no.'" Fortunately, the singer wasn't talking about crafting his sophomore LP, God Said No, but rather what led him to do it.

The 14-track record is described as "a survey of the emotional wreckage that followed the end of a torrid love affair," and was partially recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London. To process his grief, Apollo spent three months in the British city, and soon began to shape his most "soul-bearing and immediate body of work" so far.

In addition to vulnerable singles "Spite" and "Dispose of Me," Apollo also collaborated with musician Mustafa on "Plane Trees," and confirmed a participation by actor Pedro Pascal in an unspecified track — likely to be his namesake, "Pedro."

Lupe Fiasco — Samurai

Release date: June 28

Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco is gearing up to release his ninth studio album, Samurai. Entirely produced by longtime collaborator Soundtrakk (who also produced Fiasco's previous effort, 2022's Drill Music In Zion), the record is "smooth, yet cerebral, brimming with ideas," according to a press release. It is also one of Fiasco's most personal works to date: "The album weaves things from my life as an artist, touching on things other artists go through," he said in a statement.

Samurai's eight tracks accompany the narrative of a battle rapper's career, from first honing his skills until mastering his craft. "Before rap even, martial arts was my whole life, and it still plays a huge role in my life," Fiasco added. "The overall themes of the album speak to the constant fight and the battle one goes through being in the entertainment industry. Some of the things we need to defend."

As for the title, Fiasco shared that "the word 'samurai' means to serve," and that his relationship to the word "meant that you need to be at the service of other people, either in the overall community, or in this instance, the rap community at large that I've been a part of for years."

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

Shaboozey Press Photo 2024
Shaboozey

Photo: Daniel Prakopcyk

interview

Shaboozey On His New Album, Beyoncé & Why He'll Never Be A "Stereotypical" Artist

After Beyoncé introduced Shaboozey to a global audience via 'COWBOY CARTER,' his genre-shattering third album arrives on the wings of his own international smash, "A Bar Song (Tipsy)" and makes a declaration: 'Where I've Been, Isn't Where I'm Going.'

GRAMMYs/May 31, 2024 - 03:40 pm

The last two months have been monumental for Shaboozey. On March 29, Beyoncé fans around the world embraced his two guest collaborations on her COWBOY CARTER album, "SPAGHETTII" and "SWEET HONEY BUCKIIN'" — and they were instantly interested in what else the Nigerian-American singer had to offer. According to his label, EMPIRE, Spotify listens of Shaboozey's music (including his first two albums, 2018's Lady Wrangler and 2022's Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die) rose by 1000 percent after COWBOY CARTER dropped.

Six weeks later, his growing fandom sent his breakthrough single, "A Bar Song (Tipsy)," to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country chart — ironically, dethroning Queen Bey's "Texas Hold 'Em" in the process. The song instantly proved to have crossover appeal, also peaking at No. 3 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart, along with reaching the top spot on pop charts in Australia, Canada, Norway, and Sweden.

With his third album, Where I've Been, Isn't Where I'm Going, the man born Collins Chibueze is eager for audiences new and old to get a deeper look into his ever-evolving artistry, which he's been honing for more than a decade. He leans into country and the soundtrack of the open road on "Highway" and "Vegas," while also tapping into his talent as an MC on "Drink Don't Need No Mix" with Texas rapper BigXthaPlug. He displays a softer side, too, with tracks like "My Fault," an apologetic and pleading country ballad performed with Noah Cyrus, and "Steal Her From Me," which finds Shaboozey smoldering with his own Southern slow jam.

Shaboozey's massive global recognition may be fresh, but he's here to remind listeners that he's not a new artist. In a candid interview with GRAMMY.com, the singer discusses how he's put in a decade of hard work in order to appear to be an overnight success.

You've topped the country charts as well as pop charts around the world. Do you think we are witnessing a more welcoming era in country music right now?

I think it's definitely a lot more welcoming. All these genres of music now, just because of the internet age and the access to information — like, now I can go watch Tubi, which has thousands of Western movies, and then Spotify, I can jump from listening to a Townes Van Zandt album or a Leonard Cohen album, and then I can go play Future, you know what I mean?

And then I can jump from them, and go listen to The Marías, who are friends of mine. I can listen to some indie rock music, and then I can listen to some Fred again.. or something like that. So having all that at your fingertips, I think, it's allowed for some interesting combinations in all genres of music.

I think we're the generation of paint splatter! I do think it is very welcoming. As artists we are able to connect. We can have our own micro communities. There's not just one way to connect with people now, there are so many other ways. It's different out there now, it's really different.

You're releasing your second album with EMPIRE — how has the company helped you to develop?

EMPIRE has been super awesome. I was signed to Republic for a while, for a year or two, and I saw some article where it talked about Universal partnering with EMPIRE to handle some distribution stuff. I remember talking to my manager at the time, and being like, "We should go there!"

Major labels can get pretty cluttered. Sometimes they just don't have the bandwidth to develop acts that aren't going to take off in a couple weeks or a month or a quarter. They have these quarterlies they have to meet.

So for an artist like me, who is — a lot of people like to describe me as disruptive. It's weird to describe yourself as that. I'm just being me, and people are like, "That's disruptive." But for someone like me, who's like that, it's very important for me to be innovative and push things, and change the way people consume.

I never came in the game wanting to be stereotypical, or just your usual artist. I came in just trying to be like, Man, I love art. I love being creative and that's what I am. Sometimes that's hard to package to everyone. It's like, what is it? For major labels, sometimes, they love to be like, this is pop, this is country, this is just that.

And so for EMPIRE to bring me into what they had going on, and to stick with me within these three or four years I've been with them, knowing that there has been a lot of ups and downs. There've been a lot of [times] that we thought were going to do something that [we] didn't. Because it's a process with artistry, it doesn't happen overnight. They say it takes 10 years to have an overnight success, and it's true.

Your new album flows so well. Was it written to be taken in as one complete piece?

I'm a lover of a concept album. I love film, I love stories, I love payoffs. I love the hero's journey, they call it.

There is a way to tell a story in a three-act structure. And within those structures you have your rising action, you have your hero's call to action. They lead the world, you have your climax, and then you have, was the hero changed? Did they get the thing they were looking for at the end of it?

I'm a huge fan of film, huge on concepts, world building. I want something to feel immersive, so arrangement is big to me.

But before, I used to be super picky about [ensuring that] everything needs to connect, and I had to learn to let that go and just know that that's a part of me as an artist. As I create, I'm telling these stories naturally, so I stopped being too hard on myself about things needing to connect because that would cripple me at certain points. But now, again, I'm just learning how to let it go, and let it come naturally. It's cool to see that people are still saying with this project that there's still a concept there. And I'm like, oh, there is still a concept there. There is still a story.

My last project [Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die] was super inspired by western films. Old western films, like, spaghetti westerns, and the whole nature of outlaw, just like period piece western culture. So I was huge on everything needing to feel like it was period. It needed to feel like this 1800s western, and this Black outlaw and his gang.

Obviously, I wanted the [visual] content to reflect that. And then you're realizing…  Wait, every video shoot I'm having to rent western wardrobe and chaps? It's a lot to do all the time, you know? It was a commitment… and I don't wear that everyday, so it wasn't really 100 percent being authentically myself in that moment. It was like, I'm creating a character and this character is separate from me.

That's hard to do all the time. Especially when it's a period piece in the 1800s and you're in 2024. So at some point I was like, hey, I want this project to be more like, I can put something on in my closet and go shoot some content, versus having to find a western town, or a world or environment that fits the 1800s.

Do you think that Beyoncé was inspired by that album?

I definitely think so. I think that's what was cool about her project, and her entry into country. I saw a lot of similarities between the things that inspired us.

What I love about country is, I really love the old stuff that really does play into the old West, the Wild West — and I saw that Beyoncé, she would talk about little things like that, too. Like the outlaws, hangmen and six shooters, and stuff like that. So you can see that she's really inspired by that stuff as well. I was told by her team that she would definitely watch a lot of old Western films through the process of doing her project.

How has the Beyhive treated you since you appeared on COWBOY CARTER?

I love that community. Seriously, that community, they've been extremely supportive from what I've seen, because Beyoncé's message has been about shining light on people that may have been overlooked. So they definitely carry out the mission of supporting the people that Beyoncé supports. They've been amazing.

I would like to say that early on with "Bar Song," they were definitely pre-saving it, they were sharing it as much as they could on Twitter, and there were a lot of posts that I was making that were getting high viewership. You could tell that there were a lot of impressions before the "Bar Song" came out. So they're great.

Did you ever think you'd be on an album with Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton?

I hoped for those things when I was creating my album. I wanted to see more hip-hop artists collaborating with people like that. I was always like, man, if I was given a $10 million budget to make a project, I'd get Willie Nelson or Hank Williams Jr. or someone like that to jump on it. I want to see something like that.

As someone whose parents grew up in Nigeria, what do you think of the global breakthrough of Nigerian artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid?

It's amazing to see. Afrobeat is definitely universal now, global like that. I think Wizkid was one of the pioneers of getting that music across the water in such a way. Burna Boy, too — if you check out his aesthetic, it's influenced by a lot of different things. He's not just wearing traditional Nigerian garments, he's wearing designer stuff, and he's got the jewelry pieces and Cartier. It's presented in a way that that style of music wasn't really represented [before] in that sense.

I lived in Nigeria for a year or two, and when I was there, there was no wifi or the internet. Now I go back and my cousins are on Netflix and on Instagram and all these places. So yeah, everything is spreading out. But as far as Afrobeat, I mean, that music is incredible, the production. It's so infectious when you hear it, but it's cool to see people of Nigerian descent, me as well, having our reach everywhere.

Davido, he reached out to me a couple days ago, he's like, "I need you to get on this record." There's a lot of Nigerian artists now that are hitting me up, and are like, "Hey, will you jump on this, will you jump on that?" I'm hearing some of those guys are trying to get into country music. It's cool to kind of have my own Burna Boy moment right now!

The new album sounds like you really worked on developing your voice as an instrument, with more singing than rapping. Is that a fair assumption?

Yeah. Being from Virginia, we didn't have those outlets to kind of hone in on. I didn't have a vocal coach, or a songwriting program, or anything like that. We kind of had to figure it out on our own.

I think that's why you have so many artists that come from Virginia where they're all very eclectic, they all have this kind of rawness to them. Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Pharrell, even Tommy Richman. He's got that song going crazy viral too. You know the song, the "Million Dollar Baby" song. It's a guy singing falsetto [like] Bee Gees over a hip-hop beat. I'm like, where did you learn to structure a song like this?

This album was that project for me. My manager here [told me] it's working, because I'm learning how to arrange music and write songs that have a broader appeal, but I didn't know that at the time. We were just having fun, just learning how to do it with whatever resources we had. It can get kind of funky.

I think my first project was very funky, and then this one was [made after] 10 years of being in it. You start to figure it out a little bit more.

Beyond Country: All The Genres Beyoncé Explores On 'Cowboy Carter'

Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X
Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X

Photo: Courtesy Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X

list

New Music Friday: Listen to Songs From Megan Thee Stallion, Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X, BTS' RM & More

May 10 is quite the stacked day of new music across all genres — from Post Malone & Morgan Wallen's country collab, to Stray Kids' team-up with Charlie Puth, to The Chainsmokers and Kings of Leon. Check out some fresh releases to enjoy this weekend here.

GRAMMYs/May 10, 2024 - 06:55 pm

As the summer quickly approaches, artists from every genre continue to unveil new music for warmer weather. Friday May 10 is particularly packed with anticipated and surprise releases from both emerging talents and established names.

The new albums alone prove just that: pop songsmith Alec Benjamin's 12 Notes, folk-rock band Judah & the Lion's The Process, regional Mexican stars Grupo Frontera's Jugando a Que No Pasa Nada, and GRAMMY-winning R&B singer Andra Day's Cassandra, to name a few.

Meanwhile, a big, cool glass of major rap releases is here to help wash down the piping hot Kendrick and Drake beef served up over the last week. Full album releases debuted from Gunna, Chief Keef, and Ghostface Killah — the latter featuring guest spots from Nas, Kanye West, Raekwon, Method Man and more. Hottie Megan Thee Stallion's powerful new single, "BOA", sets the stage for her Hot Girl Summer tour which officially starts on May 14. New songs from Ice Spice, Kodak Black, NLE Choppa, Coi Leray, G-Eazy, Yung Gravy, Ski Mask the Slump God set the playlist for a weekend full of slappers.

There's tons of collaborations, too, including the much-teased pairing of Post Malone and Morgan Wallen with "I Had Some Help," a track that showcases Malone's furtherance into country in a catchy, reflective anthem. But country music lovers also have more to enjoy this weekend: Orville Peck's duets project, Stampede Vol.1, features the likes of Willie Nelson and Elton John," while Scotty McCreery's Rise & Fall and Avery Anna's single "Blonde" fill the fuel tank for a rodeo-ready summer. 

BTS's RM delivers another solo track "Come Back to Me" and Stray Kids dropped a new collaboration with Charlie Puth, coming fresh off the K-pop group's appearance at the Met Gala earlier this week. And the electronic and rock scenes are not left behind, with A.G. Cook exploring a new twist on Britpop and Sebastian Bach's release of Child Within The Man.

Dive into today's releases from Megan Thee Stallion, The Chainsmokers, RM, Stray Kids with Charlie Puth, Camila Cabello with Lil Nas X, Post Malone and Morgan Wallen below. 

Megan Thee Stallion, "BOA"

Megan Thee Stallion's new single "BOA" continues to play up the themes of empowerment and self-realization that define her current musical phase and comes just days ahead of her Hot Girl Summer Tour starting on May 14. The song's cover art features Megan with a striking snake, a recurring symbol of rebirth that has been significant in her recent work, appearing in tracks like the Billboard Hot 100 hit "Hiss" and the 2023 song "Cobra." 

"BOA" is a continuation of Megan's snake-themed narrative, but serves as a saccharine homage to her favorite late-'90s and early 2000s anime and video game classics. The music video features references to Scott Pilgrim, One Piece, Dance Dance Revolution, and iconic 3D fighting games like Mortal Kombat, complete with visuals and Gantz-inspired outfits.

Speaking to Women's Health about her upcoming summer album, Megan discussed the personal growth and renewal she has experienced, inspiring this new era of music. "I was inspired to create this album about rebirth because I feel I am becoming a new person physically and mentally," she shared.

Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X, "HE KNOWS"

Camila Cabello teams up with Lil Nas X for the tantalizing new song "He Knows," delivering a radio-friendly track that's as catchy as it is lustful. The new music mirrors the infectious energy of their recent appearance at FKA Twigs' Met Gala afterparty, where they both were seen dancing the night away behind the DJ booth. 

"He Knows" serves as a precursor to Cabello's highly anticipated fourth solo album, C,XOXO, — set to drop on June 28 — and teases a glimpse of Cabello's evolving artistic direction. The single follows on the heels of her recent hit "I LUV IT" featuring Playboi Carti, part of the  reimagining of her sound and artistic brand.

RM, "Come Back To Me"

BTS member RM has released a new single, "Come Back To Me," accompanied by a music video. The relaxed track gives fans a taste of his upcoming second solo album, Right Place, Wrong Person, set to release on May 24. 

In the song, RM explores themes of right and wrong, capturing the complex emotions of wanting to explore new avenues while wishing to stay comfortable in the present. "Come Back To Me" features contributions from OHHYUK of the South Korean band HYUKOH, and Kuo of the Taiwanese band Sunset Rollercoaster. Additional credits include JNKYRD and San Yawn from Balming Tiger. RM first performed "Come Back To Me" during a surprise appearance at BTS bandmate Suga's concert in Seoul last summer, noting it as a favorite from his forthcoming album. 

The music video for "Come Back To Me" was written, directed, and produced by Lee Sung Jin, known for his work on the Netflix show "Beef." The video features actress Kim Minha from the Apple TV+ series "Pachinko" and faces themes of identity and self-reflection, showing RM confronting different versions of himself. Its cast includes notable Korean and American actors such as Joseph Lee, Lee Sukhyeong, and Kim A Hyun.

Post Malone & Morgan Wallen, "I Had Some Help"

Post Malone and Morgan Wallen blend their distinct musical styles in the much-anticipated release of their collaborative single "I Had Some Help." Merging Malone's versatile pop sensibilities while leaning into his country roots with Wallen's, well, help, the duet is a unique crossover that has had fans clamoring to hear more since the two first teased the song earlier this year. 

Finally premiering during Wallen's headlining performance at Stagecoach Festival on April 28, the uptempo song explores themes of mutual support and shared experiences, encapsulated by the lyric, "It ain't like I can make this kind of mess all by myself."

The collaboration has sparked significant buzz and showcases the duo's chemistry and shared knack for storytelling. This single highlights their individual talents as well as their ability to bridge genre divides, already promising to be a hit on the charts and a favorite among fans.

The Chainsmokers, No Hard Feelings

Maestros of mainstream emotion, The Chainsmokers continue to master the art of turning personal reflections into global anthems with their latest EP, No Hard Feelings. The six-song project see Alex Pall and Drew Taggart exploring the emotional highs and lows of modern relationships, weaving their signature dance beats with pop sensibilities as they have since 2015's "Roses." 

The duo's latest release serves as a soundtrack to both sun-kissed days and introspective nights. The collection includes the single "Friday," a collaboration with Haitian-American singer Fridayy, described by the duo as a direct descendant of "Roses." Other tracks, such as "Addicted," also underscore the Chainsmokers' knack for capturing the zeitgeist of contemporary love and loss.

Kings of Leon, Can We Please Have Fun

Kings of Leon return with their signature blend of rock and introspection on their ninth studio album, Can We Please Have Fun. The LP finds the band infusing their established sound with fresh, unbridled energy, reminiscent of their early days yet matured by years of experience. The album features standout tracks like "Mustang" and "Nothing To Do," which mix playful lyrics with serious musical chops, showcasing Kings of Leon's unique ability to combine rock's raw power with catchy, thoughtful songwriting.

The band is set to bring Can We Please Have Fun to life on their 2024 world tour, starting in Leeds, United Kingdom on June 20 and wrapping in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Oct. 5. Fans can expect a high-energy series of performances that blend new tracks with beloved classics, all delivered with the Kings of Leon's legendary fervor.

Stray Kids & Charlie Puth, "Lose My Breath"

Stray Kids have teamed up with Charlie Puth for their latest release, "Lose My Breath," a track that blends K-pop dynamism with Western pop flair, written by Stray Kids' own producer team 3racha (Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han) along with Puth. The TK song details a whirlwind of emotions, describing symptoms of breathlessness and heart-palpitating moments encapsulated in the lyrics: "I lose my breath when you're walking in/ 'Cause when our eyes lock, it's like my heart stops." 

"Lose My Breath" is described as a "warm-up" for Stray Kids' forthcoming album, set for release this summer. The track further highlights the global appeal of Stray Kids ahead of their highly anticipated headlining set at Lollapalooza in August. It also continues Puth's engagement with K-pop, following his previous work with other K-pop acts including his collab with BTS' Jungkook, "Left and Right," and "Like That," a song he co-wrote for K-pop girl group BABYMONSTER

15 Must-Hear Albums In May 2024: Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Sia, Zayn & More

Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.
Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

feature

Beyond Country: All The Genres Beyoncé Explores On 'Cowboy Carter'

On 'COWBOY CARTER,' Beyoncé is free. Her eighth studio album is an unbridled exploration of musical genres — from country to opera and R&B — that celebrates the fluidity of music and her Texas roots.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 08:50 pm

"Genres are a funny little concept, aren't they? In theory, they have a simple definition that's easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined."

With those words, spoken on "SPAGHETTII" by Linda Martell — the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music and the first to play the Grand Ole Opry solo — Beyoncé provides a proxy response to her original call on Instagram 10 days before COWBOY CARTER was released: "This ain’t a Country album. This is a “Beyoncé” album." 

She delivered on that promise with intent. Through a mix of homage and innovation, Beyoncé's latest is a 27-track testament to her boundless musicality and draws  from a rich aural palette. In addition to its country leanings, COWBOY CARTER includes everything from the soulful depths of gospel to the intricate layers of opera. 

Beyoncé's stance is clear: she's not here to fit into a box. From the heartfelt tribute in "BLACKBIIRD" to the genre-blurring tracks like "YA YA," Beyoncé uses her platform to elevate the conversation around genre, culture, and history. She doesn't claim country music; she illuminates its roots and wings, celebrating the Black artists who've shaped its essence.

The collective album proves no genre was created or remains in isolation. It's a concept stoked in the words of the opening track, "AMERIICAN REQUIEM" when Beyonce reflects, "Nothing really ends / For things to stay the same they have to change again." For country, and all popular genres of music to exist they have to evolve. No sound ever stays the same.

COWBOY CARTER's narrative arc, from "AMERICAN REQUIEM" to "AMEN," is a journey through American music's heart and soul, paying tribute to its origins while charting a path forward. This album isn't just an exploration of musical heritage; it's an act of freedom and a declaration of the multifaceted influence of Black culture on American pop culture.

Here's a closer look at some of some of the musical genres touched on in act ii, the second release of an anticipated trilogy by Beyoncé, the most GRAMMY-winning artist of all-time: 

Country 

Before COWBOY CARTER was even released, Beyoncé sparked critical discussion over the role of herself and all Black artists in country music. Yet COWBOY CARTER doesn't stake a claim on country music. Rather, it spotlights the genre through collaborations with legends and modern icons, while championing the message that country music, like all popular American music and culture, has always been built on the labor and love of Black lives. 

It's a reckoning acknowledged not only by Beyoncé's personal connection to country music growing up in Texas, but the role Black artists have played in country music rooted in gospel, blues, and folk music. 

Enter The World Of Beyoncé

Country legends, Dolly Parton ("DOLLY P", "JOLENE," and "TYRANT"), Willie Nelson ("SMOKE HOUR" and "SMOKE HOUR II"), and Martell ("SPAGHETTII and "THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW") serve mainly as spoken-word collaborators, becoming MCs for Queen Bey. Some of the most prolific country music legends receiving her in a space where she has been made to feel unwelcome in music (most notably with the racism surrounding her 2016 CMA performance of "Daddy Lessons" with the Dixie Chicks) provides a prolific release of industry levies. Martell, a woman who trod the dark country road before Bey, finally getting her much-deserved dues appears as an almost pre-ordained and poetic act of justice. 

"BLACKBIIRD," a version of the Beatles' civil rights era song of encouragement and hope for the struggle of Black women is led softly by Beyoncé, backed by a quartet of Black female contemporary country songbirds: Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts. 

Beyoncé holds space for others, using the power of her star to shine a light on those around her. These inclusions rebuke nay-sayers who quipped pre-release that she was stealing attention from other Black country artists. It also flies in the faces that shunned and discriminated against her, serving as an example of how to do better. The reality that Beyoncé wasn't stealing a spotlight, but building a stage for fellow artists, is a case study in how success for one begets success for others. 

Read more: 8 Country Crossover Artists You Should Know: Ray Charles, The Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper & More

Gospel, Blues, & Folk (American Roots)

As is Beyoncé's way, she mounts a case for country music with evidence to back up her testimony. She meanders a course through a sequence of styles that serve as the genre's foundation: gospel, blues, and folk music.

"AMERIICAN REQUIEM" and "AMEN" bookend the album with gospel-inspired lyrics and choir vocals. The opener sets up a reflective sermon buoyed by  the sounds of a reverberating church organ, while the closer, with its introspective lyrics, pleads for mercy and redemption. The main verse on "AMEN", "This house was built with blood and bone/ The statues they made were beautiful/ But they were lies of stone," is complemented by a blend of piano, and choral harmonies. 

Hymnal references are interlaced throughout the album, particularly in songs like "II HANDS II HEAVEN" and in the lyrical nuances on "JUST FOR FUN." In the later track, Beyoncé's voice soars with gratitude in a powerful delivery of the lines, "Time heals everything / I don't need anything / Hallelujah, I pray to her." 

The gospel-inspired, blues-based "16 CARRIAGES" reflects the rich history of country songs borrowing from the blues while simultaneously calling back to songs sung by field laborers in the colonial American South. "Sixteen dollars, workin' all day/ Ain't got time to waste, I got art to make" serves as the exhausted plea of an artist working tirelessly long hours in dedication to a better life. 

Rhiannon Giddens, a celebrated musician-scholar, two-time GRAMMY winner, and Pulitzer Prize recipient, infuses "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" with her profound understanding of American folk, country, and blues. She plays the viola and banjo, the latter tracing its origins to Sub-Saharan West Africa and the lutes of ancient Egypt. Through her skilled plucking and bending of the strings, Giddens bridges the rich musical heritage of Africa and the South with the soul of country, blues, and folk music.

Pop, Funk, Soul & Rock 'n' Roll 

All in, Beyoncé is a pop star who is wrestling with labels placed on her 27-year career in COWBOY CARTER. Fittingly, she brings in two other pop artists known for swimming in the brackish water between country and pop, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. Her intentional inclusion of two artists who have blurred genres without much cross-examination begs the question, Why should Beyoncé's sound be segregated to a different realm? 

On "YA YA" Linda Martell returns as the listener's sonic sentinel, introducing the track like a lesson plan: "This particular tune stretches across a range of genres. And that’s what makes it a unique listening experience." The tune sinks into the strummed chords of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" before leaping into a fiery dance track that features reimagined lyrics from the Beach Boys, with soulful vocal flourishes and breaks that show the throughline connection between '60s era rock, funk, and pop music.

Robert Randolph lends his hands on "16 CARRIAGES" with a funk-infused grapple on his pedal-steel guitar. It's a style he honed through his early years touring and recording with his family band and later in his career as an in-demand collaborator working with names including the Allman Brothers, and Norah Jones

The lesson is solidified as the album transitions into an interlude on "OH LOUISIANA," featuring a sped-up sample of a classic track by Chuck Berry. This moment emphasizes the pop superstar's nod to civil rights era music history, spotlighting a controversial artist celebrated for his pioneering contributions to rock 'n' roll. (It's a part of music history Beyoncé knows well, after starring as Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, a veiled biopic of the legendary Chicago label Chess Records.)

Classical & Opera

Opera was missing from many listeners' Beyoncé Bingo card, but didn't surprise those that know her background. Beyoncé was trained for over a decade starting at an early age by her voice teacher David Lee Brewer, a retired opera singer who once lived with the Knowles family. 

COWBOY CARTER gives sing-along fans a 101 opera class with "DAUGHTER." In Italian, Beyoncé sings passages from the 1783 Italian opera "Caro Mio Ben," composed by Giuseppe Tommaso Giovanni Giordani. The aria is a classic piece of vocal training that fittingly shows off her full range — taking us back to the earliest days of her vocal teachings.

Hip-Hop & R&B

Midway through the album on "SPAGHETTII" Beyoncé announces, "I ain't no regular singer, now come get everythin' you came for," landing right where expectations have confined her: in the throes of a romping beat, experimenting with sounds that blend hip-hop with R&B and soul. The track notably highlights the talent of Nigerian American singer/rapper Shaboozey, who also shows up to the rodeo on "SWEET HONEY BUCKIN'" brandishing his unique mix of hip-hop, folk-pop, and country music. 

Beyoncé worked with longtime collaborator Raphael Saadiq on this album, a career legend in the R&B industry, who lends his mark to several tracks on which he wrote, produced, and played multiple instruments. Beyoncé also utilizes the Louisiana songwriter Willie Jones on "JUST FOR FUN," an artist who draws on a contemporary blend of country, Southern rap, and R&B in the hymnal ballad. 

The violin-heavy "TYRANT" and "SPAGHETTII" both underscore hip-hop's long love affair with the classical string instrument (See: Common's "Be," and Wu Tang Clan's "Reunited" as the tip of that particular iceberg) with a blend of soulful R&B lyrics paired with beat-based instrumentalization. 

In a world quick to draw lines and label sounds, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER stands as a vibrant mosaic of musical influence and innovation. Ultimately, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER isn't seeking anyone's acceptance. As a Texan once told she didn't belong, her critical response claps back at this exclusion.  It's also a reminder that in the hands of a true artist, music is limitless.

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