Photo: Mac Boucher & Neil Hansen
Grimes' Non-Violent Utopia
Seven months after releasing the far-reaching 'Miss Anthropocene,' the pop experimentalist talks to GRAMMY.com about how her 2020 is going, the frustrating paradoxes of pregnancy and motherhood, humane technology and more
There is no current artist quite like Grimes. From making a science fiction-inspired album (2010's Geidi Primes) in her Montreal bedroom to becoming an alt-pop favorite with 2012's Visions (also made in said sleeping quarters) to becoming celeb gossip fodder because of her famous CEO boyfriend, she has always remained 100 percent herself. On each of her five albums, she's stayed true to her D.I.Y. and experimental ethos—writing, singing, producing and engineering all the music herself and pushing creative boundaries every time, bringing us further into her enticing, otherworldly dimension. She also created each trippy album cover and directed every wild music video, collaborating with her brother Mac Boucher on the more recent visuals.
Back on Feb. 21, before COVID-19 shut the world down, before the killing of George Floyd by police sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the globe, Grimes (a.k.a. Claire Boucher, a.k.a. just "c") released the follow-up to 2015's Art Angels, the fittingly futurist, dystopian Miss Anthropocene. Recently, we caught up with the "IDORU" singer to talk about the album, the chaos of 2020 and motherhood. She also gets real about her best friend and frequent collaborator HANA, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's "WAP" and her interest in more humane technology.
So how have you been doing during quarantine, especially as a new parent?
It started really shitty because one of my best friends actually passed away on the first day of quarantine. And then I had to go right into having a baby. She passed away in a pregnancy-related issue so it was four months of not good, the least productive I've ever been. It was basically terrible until about a month ago. But yeah, I feel like a lot of people are on this path. I mean, granted, the whole is a shitshow and terrible and I'm really worried about everybody. And that's the other thing: I feel like it's getting worse and worse on the outside, so I don't know. Wait, maybe I'm getting too dark. Positive. Anyway.
No, you're fine. You can be real.
I have PTSD from being terrible in interviews. So please excuse me for constantly second-guessing myself. But yeah, I'm not really sure what to do, especially with being Canadian, because I feel I should have a vote in your election and I can't even say much about it. I didn't realize I'm not even allowed to donate to candidates and stuff. So it's a whole thing where I feel weirdly helpless about it. I feel American in my vibe and energy, and all my friends and family are American. But yeah, it's a weird situation. There is actually a lot of stuff to do, it's just not directly political stuff.
It's an interesting point you made, that things seem like they keep getting worse. I think it gets to place where we have to focus in on ourselves because at the end of the day, some shit's always going to be crazy. When we're able to be like, "Well, what can I do to take care of myself?" or, "What can I do to deal with what's feeling crazy for me?" it makes it seem more manageable. I'm sure that having another human to take care of adds a different layer to that.
Another human kind of helps. Although I disagree that it's unfixable or whatever. But when I look at it, another human is nice because it's very hard to go on social media when there's a baby. It's just hard. When are you going to do it? And then when you're not dealing with the baby, you're like, "Okay, I've got to do something actually useful." The baby caused me to not be on social media and I am very grateful for that.
Regarding society though, which I feel like the craziness of the moment is that the internet is forcing us to become a single unit. I was reading this thing about how the internet forcing us to become a single unit is basically forcing everyone to acknowledge everyone else's suffering at the same time. And even though it sucks so much, I feel like this is the only way to actually fix human suffering. And I also feel like we're at this weird junction in society where we're getting to a place where we can technologically have the ability to destroy civilization and destroy humanity—crazy. But we also have the ability to, theoretically, fix humanity. Not 100 percent solve suffering, and I don't know if we even want that. But I do think it's probably possible to an extent to end violence and extreme inequality.
And so, I feel like it just f*ing hurts, because we're in this moment where it's no longer possible to ignore those things. If you want to engage with society, you have to engage with suffering. And so, obviously, I feel like in the short term, this is super shitty. And especially anyone who has mental illness or depression or is predisposed to that at all, is having an extra hard time. This is existentially painful.
But at the same time, [maybe we need that] in order to get into, I don't want to say a utopian, but a future where we can just achieve and not be fixing. Right now, because of our own f*-ups, we're still just having to Band-Aid instead of solving physics and colonizing space and solving medical stuff. Instead, we're just still fixing the broken things.
Anyway, I feel like the thing that sucks is that we're becoming a single psychological entity. But that is possibly the thing that can save us, because if we're one thing, people are selfish and people want to fix themselves. And I am seeing people want to fix the world more than I've ever seen. It's what everyone's talking about and what everyone's focused on. So maybe that's a good thing? Sorry that was so long.
I feel that. The fact that people have to pay attention is big. Also, people need to feel like there's something that they can do. Obviously, not everyone that lives here can vote, but it is something that people are mobilizing around. I haven't seen people this excited for an election other than for Obama in 2008. So that's definitely something.
The other thing I keep seeing helplessness. But it's like, man, we're talking through the internet through space and time. And if we wanted to, we could video chat. We can kind of accomplish whatever we want. It seems normal, because we're stuck in this world. But that's all really new shit. And that's like magic. I feel like we can frigging solve things.
The themes and aesthetic of Miss Anthropocene feel so reflective of the chaos of 2020, it's wild that you released it in February. Do you feel like the album and its themes offer any messages of how we can prevent the demise of humanity?
I was trying to be provocative at the time I made the album. Because I made it a lot more in 2018, 2019. When I started making it, I was still like, "Why don't we care about the environment?" And in time since I made it and released it, the world totally changed. And even though I'm really proud of it and I think it's great, I feel like it is not the time to be provocative and trollish. That ended kind of almost before the album came out. It feels insensitive now.
I still actually like it. When I think about the anthropomorphic goddess of climate change and the anthropomorphic goddess of addiction, those things are compelling to me. I even kind of get anxiety talking about it. To myself, I feel like I made something effective, but I get why people found it to be kind of cruel now. But that's art. It goes back and forth.
Sauron sucks and gives me anxiety too, but I don't think Lord of the Rings was problematic, but some people might say it is. I don't know. I'm talking in circles again. Maybe that's the point. [Laughs.] They should not let me do interviews. I'm really bad at interviews.
Sometimes I feel like the most awkward interviewer. I'll ask a question and I'll giggle.
The giggling is good. When people are monotone and so bored with you, you're just like, "Oh, god. I'm sorry I'm keeping you from going home."
Also if it's more of a normal interviewer thing, you're kind of repeating the same thing. You feel like kind of like a phony. I'm always like, "Uh-oh. This question again." And then I'm like, "Oh, no. If any fans see this, they're going to know I answered this the exact same way. I'm such a fraud." You want to give a genuine answer, but it becomes disingenuous just by being forced to answer the same question again and again. It's a trap no matter what.
"Violence" is your only song you didn't produce yourself. What was it like working with i_o on it, and what did it feel like to let go of that specific element of creative control?
I mean, frankly, people need to realize sometimes collaborating is really hard. But when it's easy, it is incredible. There are no drugs that are like sitting in a room with someone when you're on the same page creatively. And it's your art. I've always been like, "Oh, the art high, the art high." When you make something good and the night after, you close the computer and you're like, "I made a good thing," it's literally the best feeling in the world. And when you're working with someone else, it feels like it's double.
I'm very conflicted right now, because for political reasons and reasons of self-worth, I want to make stuff on my own. But I'm really vibing creating with other people now. With i_o, he sent me stuff and I just wrote a vocal over it. By the way, "Violence" only took about an hour to make. I was like, "Oh my god. Why am I spending tons of hours making songs when it should really just take an hour?"
"Violence" sort of broke the barrier, because I had done so little collaboration before that. Well, "We Appreciate Power" was actually very fun. It was with my best friend [HANA], so it was much easier. It was almost like having a sleepover and writing it. It was not like a work situation.
That's super cool. I'm always really interested in collaboration and the process of it because, like you said, sometimes it's easier than others.
I feel like I'm starting again, because I've always made music by myself and I feel like 19 again. It feels like the first time I first started making music all over again. The human brain is a very amazing thing. And when you can find a brain that works with yours, it's better than any tool. It's also very hard to find. Maybe that's some argument for humans getting along.
When "We Appreciate Power" came out [in November 2018], I had it on repeat an embarrassing amount. When I learned what it was about, I'm like, "Oh, wow. This AI propaganda totally would work."
Here's the funny thing. It is now this so less-controversial "WAP," which I find so funny. When we made "We Appreciate Power," I was like "WAP" is such a random title. No one will ever make a song title like this. And this will definitely own this title forever. And then Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion came out with their "WAP" And I'm like, "Damn, they actually defeated us with making the more controversial song with this absurd title." Our "WAP" has been owned.
What did you think about the backlash that Cardi and Megan got for literally singing about their pssies, when other people sing about pssies all the time?
I actually didn't notice the backlash for about a week because, as I said, I haven't been online. So, I didn't watch the music video and I didn't even know the title. I thought it was "Wet and Gushy," or whatever. I had no idea what was going on. And then, my manager said something later and I was like, "What? Cardi B's in trouble for the song?" And [when I learned about it], I was like, "Oh, wow. This is kind of crazy." I'm still surprised it was so controversial, but then that just proves that I'm in sort of in a bubble, I guess.
I've been thinking about this in general, going through being pregnant, no one understands what's going on at all. And you're super unprepared for it. Sex ed is not comprehensive enough at all. And our society does really need to work on—I feel like everyone's way overusing the word "normalized"—normalizing [laughs] women's bodies because it's a huge problem.
"I'm a producer. My war zone is mostly a men's war zone. I get in the ring with the boys. And that seems easy compared to having a baby. I was shocked by how hard it was. I thought I was so tough."
It's so true. I feel like that is such like a valid parallel to the fact that women singing about their body parts is still found offensive. And I haven't had a child or been pregnant, but I've heard conversations around women feeling like they can't talk about the difficulties of being a mother or being pregnant. It's supposed to be like, "Pregnancy is beautiful!" I'm sure it's both, but I wish there more spaces for these conversations.
Yeah. I'll say this. I'm a producer. My war zone is mostly a men's war zone. I get in the ring with the boys. And that seems easy compared to having a baby. I was shocked by how hard it was. I thought I was so tough. It's almost the indignity of it and all the things that go along with it and just being so volatile. There were numerous meetings where I would puke. I was puking all the time. It was really humiliating.
And people are like, "Oh, yeah, morning sickness, well it's like 12 weeks, three months." If you were vomiting constantly for three months in any other kind of illness, it would be really serious. But it's not even considered. It's like, "Oh, yeah. Whatever. It's only a couple of months of puking many times a day." It's like, whoa. That's not even the hard part. That's the beginning. And then you kind of feel like a teenager. Teenagers are grumpy and crazy because of their hormones. Pregnant women are literally going through the same thing but they're supposed to act normal and stuff.
And then f*ing having the actual baby—if I didn't have nannies, babies are literally 24 hours. Being a stay-at-home mom with no help, or especially a single mom, is significantly harder. It's extreme sleep deprivation. As a society, it's possibly the hardest job, and it's not even a paid job. We devalue it and we expect it to be free labor. And the fact that we expect to be free labor gets women into situations where they have no financial freedom and if it's abusive or something they're just stuck.
I mean, other countries at least offer several months of paid maternity leave, and in Sweden [and many other countries] both parents get leave. The U.S. is the only—I hate this word—"developed" country that doesn't have mandatory maternity leave. It totally is devaluing, like you said, the actual labor and time that goes into it.
Yeah. I mean, I guess that's a very capitalistic viewpoint. So people could take issue with that. But I just feel like it's very weird that the hardest job I'm doing is free labor. Before I had my baby, I was always like, "Oh, I don't want to be a stay-at-home mom." And I was sort of rolling my eyes. And I had this bad vibe for stay-at-home moms. I was definitely internalizing misogyny. And now I'm like, "Man, I was such a f up. I can't believe no one ever corrected me on that fing shitty line of thinking." Being a stay-at-home mom is quite hard, I would say. Maybe it gets easier when they get older.
Long story short, "WAP" is productive towards society. Let's get more used to addressing anatomy.
How would you describe your creative relationship and friendship with HANA?
Oh, she'll be so mad you called her "Hannah." [Laughs.] It's the bane of her existence. I just feel so bad that she's trapped in this nightmare where everyone calls her Hannah and her real name is HANA. I thought an A that's ah is an imperial A, and I was telling people that for years. It turns out that was from a dream and that's not a real terminology. But it sounds real. So, it's HANA with an imperial A. And I'm coining that term, because it sounds right.
Anyway, she's great. I feel like HANA taught me about feminine energy or something. I did not have a lot of girlfriends previous to her. And going on tour with someone is kind of like being married to them. We toured for like three years or something.
HANA's underrated. Check out her latest release, HANADRIEL. It's great, and she produced on Twitch, which I thought was a really cool idea. She livestreamed her album creation on Twitch, which I would not be able to do that. And I think people were able to comment as well and stuff.
What's it like working with your brother Mac? Because you've worked together on pretty much all of your music videos, correct?
To an extent, more or less. The early stuff I did more on my own. I feel like I started working with him because he's probably the best working partner I've ever had. The one thing I think we would say is, don't judge the Miss Anthropocene music videos, because I was pregnant during them. The reason they're less crazy is because I couldn't be throwing my body around for 16 hours straight when I was super pregnant. So we feel slightly self-conscious. Please do not judge either of us.
I'm not talking shit, but it's just they're obviously single scene. They're just very, very simple comparatively to what we normally do. And that's just because what we normally do is not good for your body. Also, it's been Mac and I this whole time and it's just not big budget. So usually, we literally take the whole workload on ourselves. We color. We edit. We do post-production. Literally, when it's animation or something, it's like me and Mac literally doing it ourselves. I mean, we're excited to get to the next phase too though, because ideally, we can access bigger budgets in the future. And Mac's also been learning how to do CGI literally on his own. He probably never talks about this though. He's kind of like a private dude and doesn't want to be too discussed.
I really like the "Violence" music video. It feels sort of like the opening credits from a movie where you're getting the vibe of it and wondering who the characters are. It definitely drew me in.
I feel like even though that video is simple, it's like one of the best performances I've ever done in a weird way. I mean, the thing with "Violence" is we were like, "F* hiring random people. We're just going to hire our friends." The stylists and dancers were friends. My brother's girlfriend is one of the dancers. HANA's there [as the "nude corpse"]. Another friend of mine was helping with the styling and ideas. I'd rather sacrifice some physical proficiencies for an incredibly good vibe on set, because performance-wise it's like you're in front of a bunch of random people you don't know who are bored, versus being with all your friends, cheering and doing stuff. It makes a huge difference. Our roommate did the hair. And we wore masks, which seemed weird that was before the pandemic.
But I thought really, what would modern gods look like? All religion is referencing pre-technological existence. And if you just go by logic, if intelligent design is real, which is not out of the question, if we're either in a simulation or if there are gods in any capacity, they have technology. You know what I mean? There's a law [from scientist/science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke] that says, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." And my inverse law is any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. Let's say, we're in a Matrix situation, it's possible that everything condescends this extremely advanced technology. I mean, it kind of is biological technology if you just go on baseline level that life spontaneously occurred and the Big Bang happened.
But man, I just love the idea of there being teenage gods with cell phones who are bitchy. And this gods isplastic and she just looks amazing and she's got this crazy style and she's got this CGI all around her. Just why isn't there more kind of pursuance of this sort of idea?
Can you talk a little bit about your well, now, virtual art exhibit that you were planning with Michele Maccarone?
Most of the art exhibit has to be real. The thing that's online is just kind of my random art. I don't want to downplay it, it's stuff we've been making. But we have the whole installation and everything that took a really long time. We created these AI meditations where we send a bunch of meditative texts to this generative AI. If you feed an AI stuff, it starts making things, so it was making these meditations for us. Then we started making crazy meditations. We started feeding it dialogues from video games, for video game addiction meditations. And we fed it Kim Kardashian's Instagram feed, and it was making this weird kind of corporate poetry that was amazing. That kind of has to be experienced in real life. So the art installation is kind of in limbo until COVID is over, I suppose. But it's these AI meditations. I'm really interested in spiritual technology.
Okay, yeah, one thing I really want to talk about, coming back to the state of society and civilization and mental health right now. I'm really getting into pursuing humane technology. Why is technology so inhumane? Technology has not factored in human conditions, like human emotions, like the way our biology works, our cortisol, adrenaline and all this stuff. It's almost like a drug. It's sort of abusing our system to just make us addicted.
You should look up the Center for Humane Technology [who recently released the film Social Dilemma on Netflix]. There's all these charities and philosophies and stuff that are starting to pop up around making technology safer for the human brain, and trying to find ways to make it better for us, or whatever. The AI meditations sort of led me into that realm of philosophy. The meditations are kind of scary. They're not meditative, which is part of what's so interesting about them. We need to stop and consider how it's writing all this content that is beautiful and amazing but also scary and aggressive. Even though it's been fed all this information about meditation, it's unable to internalize what meditation is.
As a culture, we need to start getting more used to and more aware of technology safety. And by safety, I don't just mean, are you going to overdose and die? But are you giving yourself a serious mental condition? Are you getting infused with Nazi ideas? Are you growing to hate your neighbor? How do we stop those tendencies? I mean, fight-or-flight response is a powerful response. And most technology right now is giving us heroin and pulling us into darkness.
"I feel like we're at a crossroads right now where at least it might be possible to eliminate physical violence from our species. That's what enlightenment kind of entails."
What does a Grimes utopia look like?
Do know the writer Iain Banks? He's this obscure writer, for some reason. His books are kind of hard to read I guess, maybe they're just too dense. He wrote these books called the "Culture" series. And there's this book specifically, Surface Detail. I would argue that it's not a utopia, but it's edging towards a utopia. AI is this God, and saying conscious beings are existing with technology in a way that seems like there's mega structures in space for when there are no planets. It's like consciousness has been preserved and it is not in a dark and evil way.
When you look in the universe, there might not be any other consciousness, we might be the only thinking creatures. And right now, consciousness is under threat, obviously. Civilization is under threat. I mean, the ideal goal, I think about 10,000 years from now, [is that] consciousness is preserved and existence for those beings is happy. And it's not painless, because that seems like it could lead us through just nothingness. But overall, there's not massive suffering happening.
I feel like that involves a massive sort of philosophical and cultural overhaul. I'm not sure what that looks like. But obviously, reducing unnecessary violence. Physical violence should be unnecessary. I feel like we're at a crossroads right now where at least it might be possible to eliminate physical violence from our species. That's what enlightenment kind of entails. We get to a position where every child is educated in such a way where if they have violent tendencies, there's the ability to overcome those things and there's support systems get to a place where we can reduce that as much as possible.
And that's kind of the discussion of this moment in some ways right now. I feel like physical violence also includes not having enough food or not having adequate shelter and stuff. If we can get to a place where maybe there's still competition in a mental way—I haven't thought this through enough. But I feel like—I hope—utopia is achievable. I think a non-violent society is possibly achievable.
Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist
The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.
Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!
The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.
Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.
So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.
Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.
About GRAMMY U:
GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.
Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.
As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.
Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.
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].
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.