Photo: Jonathan Kise
girl in red
Girl In Red On New Album 'If I Could Make It Go Quiet,' Why The First Thought Isn't Always The Best Thought
'If I Could Make It Go Quiet' is Marie Ulven Ringheim's most significant work to date. But the singer/songwriter also known as girl in red didn't get there through impulsivity or scrappiness, but sheer meticulousness—a desire to get this thing right.
Why is "first thought, best thought" a goalpost to strive for?
To authors like Allen Ginsberg, it meant letting go of the conditioned mind, seizing the truth before inner or outer biases alter it. This might be helpful for forms like, say, free-verse poetry. But when it comes to crafting pop songs, it's potentially a different story. How does Marie Ulven Ringheim—the Norwegian singer/songwriter also known as girl in red—craft tunes that lodge in people's hearts?
"I would say rewriting is a good way—to not settle on the first thing you write," Ringheim tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom. "Say you wrote something personal: Ask yourself the question, "Could I apply this to someone else's life?" I usually don't ask myself those questions, but you could do that, maybe. You've got to not be too specific."
By straddling the spheres of the personal and the universal, girl in red has won over millions of fans, even securing a direct support spot for Billie Eilish in 2022. And as per her comments, Ringheim's latest album, If I Could Make It Go Quiet, is the work of a meticulous craftsperson.
Still, even this is a balance: Tracks like "Serotonin," "Body and Mind" and "I'll Call You Mine" required killer ideas at their core before Ringheim and her collaborators—including co-producer FINNEAS—went about futzing with them in post-production.
GRAMMY.com caught up with girl in red to discuss the making of If I Could Make It Go Quiet, her process as a songcrafter and what fans can expect from her on stage in 2022.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mental health is kind of the focal point of If I Could Make It Go Quiet. Is it challenging to make something scary and negative into art?
I guess, a little bit. When I was making that song, "Seratonin," I knew you have to talk about it delicately. You have to talk about it in a way that's relatable for everyone to understand it—and also not make it too personal. I feel like songs that are too personal—about a very specific topic—aren't relatable.
But it wasn't really that challenging, because I've been going through intrusive thoughts for a very, very long time. When I wrote this song, I felt like I was able to deal with them a lot more. It was like writing any other song, but it was also a very cool song to write.
As a lyricist, how do you achieve that balance between the personal and the universal?
That's the magic. I really don't know! I would say rewriting is a good way—to not settle on the first thing you write. Say you wrote something personal. Ask yourself the question: "Could I apply this to someone else's life?" I usually don't ask myself those questions, but you could do that, maybe. You've got to not be too specific.
But that's also limited. Phoebe Bridgers is super-specific in her songwriting and that makes her Phoebe Bridgers, if that makes sense. I'm not sure if you're into her songwriting, but I think it's really dope—it's really cool.
I don't know. I feel like songwriting is such a mystery to me. I feel like I don't know how to write songs. But, apparently I do, and I've done it many, many times now. I wish I had a more sensible answer.
What do you think it is about Phoebe that resonates with so many people? What is that ineffable something?
I don't know—it's just her vibe. I'm really coming to terms with even the word "vibe" recently. I'm not that much into analyzing what works or doesn't work, but she has a vibe that's good and tangible. It's relatable. It just feels good. She's very human. She's just cool.
I think people just like listening to music that's cool and feels like it wasn't made by 100 different people. There's something about her. I usually don't think too much about what makes people different. I just think "There's something cool about that person."
On the topic of intrusive thoughts, what tends to stick in your craw? Are you a big-picture worrier or do you sweat the small stuff?
I mean, I've thought about dying a lot before. It's actually less of that now. Honestly, I'm actually doing really well lately when it comes to my anxiety. I have GAD [generalized anxiety disorder], so I've been sweating the small stuff. I've been worrying about everything. But I've learned great techniques that I'm using in my everyday life to just get by.
I'm not constantly thinking about death anymore, which I used to. I used to go to a concert and go, "We're literally all skeletons here. We're all just dead people." I used to think everyone would just be dead all the time. It wasn't a very positive thing. Now, anxiety- and intrusive thoughts-wise, I'm actually dealing with them instead of letting them control my life.
As common fears go, it's said that public speaking surpasses death. As somebody dealing with anxiety disorder, what's it like to sing in front of thousands of people?
I don't feel any anxiety when I'm onstage, in that way. I always end up nervous before I go on stage, which is incredibly human. But just because I have anxiety doesn't mean I'm scared to go on stage, if that makes sense. And I'm not scared to talk in public.
I actually really enjoy rambling on stage. I really love talking about my day and making jokes and making 20,000 people laugh. It feels amazing to have all those people in front of you and make 20,000 people sing. It's an anxiety-free space when you're on stage because it's just fun, you know?
You've said that If I Could Make It Go Quiet is your most ambitious work to date. In which sense of the word do you mean? Lyrical ambition? Production ambition?
I feel like my ambitions for the album are everything. Lyrically, it's on a whole other level than all my previous work—and the work I hear, also. I just think it's a really, really ambitious album lyrically. It's smart and, melodically, I think it's really cool.
I think the production is really ambitious because I've never made a record that sounds like this. I've actually never made a record in my life, other than this one. I'm not trying to sound like anyone. I'm just trying to create my own lane. That, in itself, is an ambition: To stay true to what I want to say in my music.
I also want to take over the world with it. I want everyone to hear it. That in itself is also very ambitious—my mom, maybe, would say naïve, but I don't know!
Was most of the heavy lifting in pre-production, rewriting and rewriting songs? Or was it in post-production, trying to get it right behind the board?
The main idea can sound more demo-y, but I think the coolest ideas are the ones that are really clear from the beginning. You can tweak them a lot, but they'll sound good stripped back as well.
But in terms of creating, I'm all over everything, all the time. I've been turning the knobs and geeking over the sound of the entire record for a year and a half to make it feel like something new and exciting and different for me.
How do you craft melodies? Are you the type of melodist who works them out on the piano? Do they just come tumbling out of you?
They just come out. I just improvise. I just sing into my microphone and play some chords, and then I start improvising and seeing what's cool and hooky. I think I have a good ear for melodies because, sometimes, they come out really quick.
I feel like I wouldn't ever say "I wrote those melodies," even, because I just sang those melodies. Does that make sense? For some people, maybe that's writing—I don't know. But I feel like they come out of me quite naturally and quickly. The lyrics, obviously, also dictate where the melody goes.
Do you labor over little details like the number of syllables in a phrase?
Oh, yeah. Syllables and starting a word with a v or a d or a w sound. A "we" sound or a "he" sound, and making it so the articulation comes through perfectly. The melody amplifies that articulation. I'm a huge nerd when it comes to words and rhythms and syllables.
girl in red. Photo: Jonathan Kise
How did your path lead you to connect with Billie Eilish?
I mean, I wouldn't say we're that connected; I feel like I would be saying it's something it isn't. I'm a huge fan of Billie and I know she's heard some of my music. I guess my path has just been to keep going and do what I think is cool and what I like. She's heard some of that and that's been the connection, but we don't know each other or anything.
Well, what can fans expect from you on stage with Billie in 2022?
We have a connection in that sense. We've met very briefly and she knows me. She and her team, obviously, invited me to [open at] the O2 Arena next year.
What can we expect? It's going to be fing lit—that's all I can say. I haven't started planning it yet, but I want my one shot at the O2 Arena to be fing cool. I don't want to blow that s*. I definitely want it to be really cool. Even though there will probably be 20,000 people there, I want to do something really special and intimate.
If I Could Make It Go Quiet is your most substantial work yet. Do you think your best music is ahead of you?
[Face visibly lights up.] Dude! As a musician, that's exciting as f*! I mean, I hope so. I can only hope so. That's all I can do. Fingers crossed: The best music I will ever make is still ahead of me.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photos (L-R): Natasha Moustache, Natasha Moustache, Scott Eisen, Octavio Jones, Octavio Jones; all photos TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management
Behind The Scenes Of The Eras Tour: Taylor Swift's Opening Acts Unveil The Magic Of The Sensational Concert
Everyone's obsessed with Taylor Swift's massive stadium tour — including her opening acts. From indie pop star Gracie Abrams to GRAMMY nominee GAYLE, hear backstage memories and reflections from the people who take stage right before the superstar.
Distilling a 17-year discography as iconic as Swift's into one show sounds impossible, but the star has proven that no task is too daunting for her. And while she has conquered stadiums with ease before, The Eras Tour transcends her foregoing concerts with its all-encompassing three-hour setlist, high-level production and powerful pathos: its worldwide magnificence is pure magic.
Enchanting hundreds of thousands since March, Swift's latest tour is as delightful as it is influential, providing a perfectly satisfying mix of nostalgia and surprises in true Swift fashion. Even though the musician is technically in her Midnights era, the celebration of her remarkable career is undoubtedly historic — and she's determined to share the moment with other artists during her trek across the globe.
The Eras Tour has featured a cohort of rising and established stars, from 2000s rock staples Paramore to indie rockers like beabadoobee and Phoebe Bridgers. They all have that same sparkle of charm and creativity that made Swift a sensation, and they also share a passion for her beloved discography. To understand what it's like playing a part in such a historic tour, GRAMMY.com spoke with some of Swift's opening acts about performing for sold-out stadiums.
"I shed a tear because I knew that it meant Taylor really believed in me," OWENN, who was a backup dancer on Swift's 1989 Tour, said of his invitation to open for the tour.
From special epiphanies to hilarious backstage moments, OWENN and his fellow openers Gracie Abrams, beabadoobee, girl in red, and GAYLE take us along their Eras Tour journeys — all the way back to the very first night.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about the moment you were offered an opening slot for The Eras Tour. What did the invitation mean to you?
Gracie Abrams: Prior to ever dreaming about my own shows I dreamt about going on tour with Taylor… The invitation to join the Eras Tour felt like the biggest prank of all time. I was like, "this can't be right…"
It made my world stop and I just couldn't believe the scale of the honor. I still can't believe it, two months into playing the tour. It's the best for every reason and in every way.
OWENN: I was offered The Eras slot while I was on tour choreographing for Lil Nas X. It was definitely [a] moment that I will never forget… It meant that Taylor really believed in me and that my life was going to be forever changed.
beabadoobee: A serious pinch me moment! It was the end of last year, around the time I was doing "Jimmy Fallon" in December, and I was speaking with my manager about joining Taylor's tour as the main support. Funny because years ago I did an interview and mentioned how she would be my dream artist to go on tour with. I was thrilled to be a part of her Eras Tour.
girl in red: I was so stoked when I was offered to be opening act on the Eras Tour! I had never been to a stadium show, let alone play one, and the fact that my favorite artist invited me is just the coolest thing.
GAYLE: My manager and I — Kristina Russo, who has been my manager since I was 14 — were in my hotel room when she got a call and had a formal offer with all of the dates. We cried, jumped around, and hugged.
My manager and I then surprised [my bandmates] by screaming "We're opening for Taylor Swift!" and they were shocked! We all hugged and cried, and I got two ice cream cakes from Uber Eats delivered to my hotel room, and we all ate them with plastic forks on the ground. It was truly one of the best days ever!
It was such an honor to be invited onto this tour. I know that's not a decision she takes lightly, so to be a part of that is the best thing ever.
Walk me through your first night on the tour. What was going through your mind? What was the energy like?
Abrams: The first day of tour I just remember walking into the stadium for soundcheck and crying laughing as soon as I heard my voice on the PA. It felt insane, to be honest, I felt crazy.
But then walking on stage, it was all of a sudden just about the community of people, the beyond dedicated die-hard fans who looked gorgeous and sparkly and committed to their outfits — it was about celebrating Taylor's legacy. It was like everyone in the room could feel the weight of it. I felt the most amount of gratitude, and I was also just internally bubbling with anticipation to watch her show on this tour for the first time.
OWENN: The first night on tour was insane! I rehearsed so much and trained really hard, but nothing could have prepared me for that level of energy and intensity ... from my vocals to me dancing in front of all of those people. It was definitely a surreal moment. Electrifying!
beabadoobee: Honestly every emotion. I would go through being extremely excited to terrified, to wanting to throw up all over myself and then back to being just so pumped to get out there.
The energy was incredible — the stadiums, the stage, the crew, and the fans were all so supportive too. I always caught some fans singing and dancing to my songs; that really surprised me!
girl in red: The first day we were playing I remember walking up on stage for soundcheck and getting really nervous about playing later cause it was so big. I was worried I'd mess up the words and make a fool out of myself, but luckily it went well!
GAYLE: Opening up for the first night on the Eras tour was such a high honor and I was so scared. I practiced a million times in my hotel room because I was so anxious that I was going to forget the setlist. I made my whole family and my best friend's family go to the first two shows in Arizona. I also randomly really, really, really wanted my brother to think I did a good job.
Everyone in the crowd was so excited to kick off the tour, and so many people hadn't seen Taylor live in so long! It was such a kind crowd, and there was so much excitement and energy. It will forever be a memory I keep very close to my heart.
How does this tour compare to other tours you've been part of? What makes it unique?
Abrams: Every single inch of this tour is unlike any other I've been a part of in the past. This is only my second year touring ever, and to have had the opportunity to see the inner workings of the biggest tour in the world so intimately is just the luckiest thing.
Everyone that I've gotten to know on the crew of the Eras Tour is an exceptional person. Everyone is so hard working and so passionate about their role in the tour, and that alone is inspiring, even more so to realize it is a direct result of Taylor's energy and attitude as a person and as a leader. I think everybody feels as proud and lucky as I do to be involved in any capacity.
OWENN: I feel like every tour is unique in its own way, but this one for sure is different for me because I'm singing instead of dancing in the background. A completely different experience!
beabadoobee: The sheer size of everything, how professional Taylor is, and of course how it felt like we entered her world. She played for three plus hours and she looked like she didn't break a sweat. She's a superstar through and through and one of the nicest people on top. Really inspiring to see her perform to like 100,000 people yet still make you feel like she's playing and singing to just you.
girl in red: I think the biggest difference is the scale of the venue and that people might not know who you are. People are there to see Taylor, so the crowd chemistry is a little different and you have to adapt to that!
GAYLE: Well, Taylor was my first stadium tour ever — which is the craziest thing to say ever. With other tours I've been on, I can distantly remember at what age I heard their songs and fell in love with their music. I fell in love with AJR when I was 12. I fell in love with P!nk when I was 10, thanks to my mother. I got obsessed with My Chemical Romance when I was 14, and I heard Tate McRae when I was about 15 and I loved her music. I've heard of Taylor Swift my whole entire life and there was never a point in my life where I didn't know and love her.
Share a special backstage moment — anything fun, silly, memorable that happened.
Abrams: I honestly just feel so lucky to be going through this tour with my crew and band, every one of whom are my second family now, the people I love more than anything and trust so deeply and laugh so hard with. I think for all of us having the opportunity to lean on each other as we've gone through these milestone firsts has been really formative.
OWENN: A very special backstage moment for me is when myself, my band and team all join hands in a circle and say a prayer. It's a beautiful moment for me as we're all connected and about to go on stage.
beabadoobee: We got to hang out backstage and just have fun, have a laugh and speak about our cats and whatever was on our minds. She's the loveliest person and even that she made the time meant a lot.
girl in red: I think the most memorable part of the tour, aside from playing my show, is getting to see Taylor play her show. After my show, I get ready to see her put on the performance of a lifetime and it feels like I'm in a very special time in my life. Very happy to be here.
GAYLE: I get very nauseous before and after I'm on stage and once, I walked off stage and started vomiting everywhere. The trash can was unfortunately right where Phoebe Bridgers was walking on stage, so I wished her and her band good luck as I was vomiting.
What have you learned from watching Taylor's show? What's been your favorite song to hear live or a memorable onstage moment?
Abrams: Watching Taylor's show is like watching an Olympian. Watching Taylor's show is also like sitting in a tiny room and sharing secrets with your best friend. There's a strength and a sensitivity to her show that is unlike anything I have ever seen or heard of in my entire life, with the exception of knowing her as a friend.
She is as rare a person as she is an artist and performer. I think the most popular opinion in the world right now is that Taylor's show is the best in the history of time. To watch and study the ways in which she's able to hold herself fully, while also carrying these stadiums of so many tens of thousands as they sob and dance and laugh and scream, is just unimaginable until you're lucky enough to see it for yourself.
OWENN: I actually have a couple of favorite things. When Taylor goes through the 1989 and reputation eras, I have flashbacks of those tours from the memories with her and the dancers to the actual choreography, it's so nostalgic!
And the opening of The Eras Tour! "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince" is actually one of my favorite songs from Taylor so that's always a treat.
beabadoobee: I think the biggest take away is hearing her amazing songwriting. She really has a knack for making incredible songs and storytelling, being so direct with her words and lyric choices, I personally love that!
It was mind-blowing watching her go through each era and nail everything — all the costume changes, the acting theatrical elements to the show, and of course her insane stamina to go for more than three hours every night. I've never seen anything like that.
My favorite moment has to be when she dedicated "Our Song" to me and then played it on the first night. That song means so much to me and I mentioned in an interview a while back how it was my ringtone when I was younger and shaped my childhood. It was awesome!
girl in red: I've learned so much from seeing her performance, but I think what sticks out the most to me is how perfected the show is and how that truly just reflects Taylor as an artist. She has created all this beautiful and fantastic music and now she's made the most entertaining show. I'm so inspired by her work ethic and she really puts the work in – and that's why she is the best.
GAYLE: "Cruel Summer" is a hit and the best thing ever! Also "my tears ricochet" kills me, but also "champagne problems, " but also "Bejeweled." Also, watching Ice Spice and Taylor play "Karma" together was iconic!
I've learned that Taylor Swift is a beast and can do the impossible — sing for three and a half hours for three days straight, and for multiple weekends in a row. She paces herself beautifully and the way she paces her setlist is amazing. [She] is captivating from beginning to end.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].