meta-scriptGRAMMY Rewind: 26 Years Before "RuPaul's Drag Race," Boy George & Culture Club Brought Drag Queen Realness To America | GRAMMY.com
Culture Club at 1984 GRAMMYs

Culture Club at the 1984 GRAMMYs

 

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GRAMMY Rewind: 26 Years Before "RuPaul's Drag Race," Boy George & Culture Club Brought Drag Queen Realness To America

Watch Culture Club's acceptance speech to witness the legendary frontman deliver a charming moment that shocked a gender-binary, Ronald-Reagan-ruled America

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2020 - 01:26 am

For today's episode of GRAMMY Rewind, GRAMMY.com takes a trip back to 1984, when London New Wave group Culture Club won Best New Artist. Following the momentous release of their lively 1982 debut album, Kissing To Be Clever, they were also nominated for one of its hit singles—and '80s classic—"Do You Really Want To Hurt Me."

Watch the group's full acceptance speech below to witness legendary frontman Boy George, rocking winged eyeliner and magenta lips, deliver a charming moment that shocked a gender-binary, Ronald-Reagan-ruled America.

"Thank you, America, you've got taste, style and you know a good drag queen when you see one," George offered, with a coy kiss to the camera.

In 2018, the queer icon reflected on the moment during an interview with Variety: "I didn't really consider what it meant for anyone else, as I was in England…But people [in the U.S.] were freaking out when I said that. My press agent at the time, Susan Blond, literally cried. And now you have RuPaul and 'Drag Race,' which my nephew in Leeds watches. Look, sometimes the world just isn't ready—for a word, for a shift of the moral compass. I'm glad I said it now. I just wish I had said it with a bit more intention at the time."

Luckily, better representation for the LGBTQ+ rainbow—including drag queens, honey!—in American media has continued to improve throughout the decades via groundbreaking shows like "RuPaul's Drag Race" (2009-2021) and "Pose" (2018-2021), the latter of which features trans actors and writers.

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Omar Apollo Embraces Heartbreak On 'God Said No'
Omar Apollo

Photo: Aitor Laspiur

interview

Omar Apollo Embraces Heartbreak And Enters His "Zaddy" Era On 'God Said No'

Alongside producer Teo Halm, Omar Apollo discusses creating 'God Said No' in London, the role of poetry in the writing process, and eventually finding comfort in the record's "proof of pain."

GRAMMYs/Jun 27, 2024 - 01:21 pm

"Honestly, I feel like a zaddy," Omar Apollo says with a roguish grin, "because I'm 6'5" so, like, you can run up in my arms and stay there, you know what I mean?"

As a bonafide R&B sensation and one of the internet’s favorite boyfriends, Apollo is likely used to the labels, attention and online swooning that come with modern fame. But in this instance, there’s a valid reason for asking about his particular brand of "zaddyhood": he’s been turned into a Bratz doll.

In the middle of June, the popular toy company blasted  a video to its nearly 5 million social media followers showing off the singer as a real-life Bratz Boy — the plastic version draped in a long fur coat (shirtless, naturally), with a blinged-out cross necklace and matching silver earrings as he belts out his 2023 single "3 Boys" from a smoke-covered stage.

The video, which was captioned "Zaddy coded," promptly went viral, helped along by an amused Apollo reposting the clip to his own Instagram Story. "It was so funny," he adds. "And it's so accurate; that's literally how my shows go. It made me look so glamorous, I loved it."

The unexpected viral moment came with rather auspicious timing, considering Apollo is prepping for the release of his hotly anticipated sophomore album. God Said No arrives June 28 via Warner Records.

In fact, the star is so busy with the roll-out that, on the afternoon of our interview, he’s FaceTiming from the back of a car. The day prior, he’d filmed the music video for "Done With You," the album’s next single. Now he’s headed to the airport to jet off to Paris, where he’ll be photographed front row at the LOEWE SS25 men’s runway show in between Sabrina Carpenter and Mustafa — the latter of whom is one of the few collaborators featured on God Said No

Apollo’s trusted co-writer and producer, Teo Halm, is also joining the conversation from his home studio in L.A. In between amassing credits for Beyoncé (The Lion King: The Gift), Rosalía and J Balvin (the Latin GRAMMY-winning "Con Altura"), SZA ("Notice Me" and "Open Arms" featuring Travis Scott) and others, the 25-year-old virtuoso behind the boards had teamed up with Apollo on multiple occasions. Notably, the two collabed on "Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me At All)," which helped Apollo score his nomination for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs

In the wake of that triumph, Apollo doubled down on their creative chemistry by asking Halm to executive produce God Said No. (The producer is also quick to second his pal’s magnetic mystique: "Don't get it twisted, he's zaddy, for sure.") 

Apollo bares his soul like never before across the album’s 14 tracks,  as he processes the bitter end of a two-year relationship with an unnamed paramour. The resulting portrait of heartbreak is a new level of emotional exposure for a singer already known for his unguarded vulnerability and naked candor. (He commissioned artist Doron Langberg to paint a revealing portrait of him for the cover of his 2023 EP Live For Me, and unapologetically included a painting of his erect penis as the back cover of the vinyl release.) 

On lead single "Spite," he’s pulled between longing and resentment in the wake of the break-up over a bouncing guitar riff. Second single "Dispose of Me" finds Apollo heartsick and feeling abandoned as he laments, "It don’t matter if it’s 25 years, 25 months/ It don’t matter if it’s 25 days, it was real love/ We got too much history/ So don’t just dispose of me." 

Elsewhere, the singer offers the stunning admission that "I would’ve married you" on album cut "Life’s Unfair." Then, on the very next song — the bumping, braggadocious "Against Me" — Apollo grapples with the reality that he’s been permanently altered by the love affair while on the prowl for a rebound. "I cannot act like I’m average/ You know that I am the baddest bitch," he proclaims on the opening verse, only to later admit, "I’ve changed so much, but have you heard?/ I can’t move how I used to."

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Given the personal subject matter filling God Said No — not to mention the amount of acclaim he earned with Ivory — it would be understandable if Apollo felt a degree of pressure or anxiety when it came to crafting his sophomore studio set. But according to the singer, that was entirely not the case.

"I feel like I wouldn’t be able to make art if I felt pressure," he says. "Why would I be nervous about going back and making more music? If anything, I'm more excited and my mind is opened up in a whole other way and I've learned so much."

In order to throw his entire focus into the album’s creation, Apollo invited Halm to join him in London. The duo set up shop in the famous Abbey Road Studios, where the singer often spent 12- to 13-hour days attempting to exorcize his heartbreak fueled by a steady stream of Aperol spritzes and cigarettes.

The change of scenery infused the music with new sonic possibilities, like the kinetic synths and pulsating bass line that set flight to "Less of You." Apollo and Halm agree that the single was directly inspired by London’s unique energy.

"It's so funny because we were out there in London, but we weren't poppin' out at all," the Halm says. "Our London scene was really just, like, studio, food. Omar was a frickin' beast. He was hitting the gym every day…. But it was more like feeding off the culture on a day-to-day basis. Like, literally just on the walk to the studio or something as simple as getting a little coffee. I don't think that song would've happened in L.A."

Poetry played a surprisingly vital role in the album’s creation as well, with Apollo littering the studio with collections by "all of the greats," including the likes of Ocean Vuong, Victoria Chang, Philip Larkin, Alan Ginsberg, Mary Oliver and more.

"Could you imagine making films, but never watching a film?" the singer posits, turning his appreciation for the written art form into a metaphor about cinema. "Imagine if I never saw [films by] the greats, the beauty of words and language, and how it's manipulated and how it flows. So I was so inspired." 

Perhaps a natural result of consuming so much poetic prose, Apollo was also led to experiment with his own writing style. While on a day trip with his parents to the Palace of Versailles, he wrote a poem that ultimately became the soaring album highlight "Plane Trees," which sends the singer’s voice to new, shiver-inducing heights. 

"I'd been telling Teo that I wanted to challenge myself vocally and do a power ballad," he says. "But it wasn't coming and we had attempted those songs before. And I was exhausted with writing about love; I was so sick of it. I was like, Argh, I don't want to write anymore songs with this person in my mind." 

Instead, the GRAMMY nominee sat on the palace grounds with his parents, listening to his mom tell stories about her childhood spent in Mexico. He challenged himself to write about the majestic plane tree they were sitting under in order to capture the special moment. 

Back at the studio, Apollo’s dad asked Halm to simply "make a beat" and, soon enough, the singer was setting his poem to music. (Later, Mustafa’s hushed coda perfected the song’s denouement as the final piece of the puzzle.) And if Apollo’s dad is at least partially responsible for how "Plane Trees" turned out, his mom can take some credit for a different song on the album — that’s her voice, recorded beneath the same plane tree, on the outro of delicate closer "Glow." 

Both the artist and the producer ward off any lingering expectations that a happy ending will arrive by the time "Glow" fades to black, however. "The music that we make walks a tightrope of balancing beauty and tragedy," Halm says. "It's always got this optimism in it, but it's never just, like, one-stop shop happy. It's always got this inevitable pain that just life has. 

"You know, even if maybe there wasn't peace in the end for Omar, or if that wasn't his full journey with getting through that pain, I think a lot of people are dealing with broken hearts who it really is going to help," the producer continues. "I can only just hope that the music imparts leaving people with hope."

 Apollo agrees that God Said No contains a "hopeful thread," even if his perspective on the project remains achingly visceral. Did making the album help heal his broken heart? "No," he says with a sad smile on his face. "But it is proof of pain. And it’s a beautiful thing that is immortalized now, forever. 

"One day, I can look back at it and be like, Wow, what a beautiful thing I experienced. But yeah, no, it didn't help me," he says with a laugh. 

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Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Relive the moment Megan Thee Stallion won the coveted Best New Artist honor at the 2021 GRAMMYs, where she took home three golden gramophones thanks in part to her chart-topping smash "Savage."

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In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, revisit the sentimental moment the Houston "Hottie" accepted one of those golden gramophones, for Best New Artist.

"I don't want to cry," Megan Thee Stallion said after a speechless moment at the microphone. Before starting her praises, she gave a round of applause to her fellow nominees in the category, who she called "amazing."

Along with thanking God, she also acknowledged her manager, T. Farris, for "always being with me, being by my side"; her record label, 300 Entertainment, for "always believing in me, sticking by through my craziness"; and her mother, who "always believed I could do it."

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Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Beyoncé Win A GRAMMY For "Halo" During Her Record-Setting Night In 2010

As you dive into Beyoncé's new album, 'COWBOY CARTER,' revisit the moment Queen Bey won a GRAMMY for "Halo," one of six golden gramophones she won in 2010.

GRAMMYs/Mar 29, 2024 - 05:05 pm

Amongst Beyoncé's expansive catalog, "Halo" is easily one of her most iconic songs. Today, the 2009 single is her most-streamed song on Spotify; it was her first video to reach one billion views on YouTube; and it helped her set one of her GRAMMY records in 2010.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, watch the superstar take the stage to accept Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Halo" in 2010 — the year she became the first female artist to win six GRAMMYs in one night.

"This has been such an amazing night for me, and I'd love to thank the GRAMMYs," she said, admitting she was nervous before taking a deep breath.

Before leaving the stage, Beyoncé took a second to thank two more special groups: "I'd love to thank my family for all of their support, including my husband. I love you. And I'd like to thank all of my fans for their support over the years."

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As of 2024, Beyoncé has won the most GRAMMY Awards in history with 32 wins.

Press play on the video above to relive Queen Bey's "Halo" win for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Linda Ronstadt at the 1977 GRAMMYs
(L-R) Linda Ronstadt and Peter Asher at the 1977 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Linda Ronstadt's Sweet & Simple Acceptance Speech In 1977

When Linda Ronstadt won a GRAMMY for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance — for her seventh album, 'Hasten Down the Wind' — she only had one special person in mind: her producer, Peter Asher.

GRAMMYs/Mar 22, 2024 - 04:32 pm

With Hasten Down the Wind, Linda Ronstadt became the first female artist with three million-selling albums in a row — and furthered her legacy as one of the pioneers of women in rock music.

The album also helped Ronstadt snag her second GRAMMY, as it won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1977. (The year prior, she took home Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her cover of Hank Williams' "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You).")

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, relive the moment Linda Ronstadt won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Hasten Down the Wind in 1977.

Ronstadt kept her acceptance speech short and sweet: "I'd especially like to thank Peter Asher," the producer of the pop rock LP. "Thank you," she added with a smile.

To date, Ronstadt has won 11 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations. In 2011 and 2016, respectively, she received a Latin GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award and a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.

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