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Songbook: A Guide To Every Album By Guided By Voices' Current Lineup — So Far

Photos (L-R): Sarah Zade-Pollard, Tony Nelson

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Songbook: A Guide To Every Album By Guided By Voices' Current Lineup — So Far

The cult rock band Guided by Voices gets the most ink for their 1990s and early 2000s accomplishments. But as their current lineup's latest run of albums shows, they're a band for right now.

GRAMMYs/Jul 1, 2022 - 02:37 pm

Presented by GRAMMY.com, Songbook is an editorial series and hub for music discovery that dives into a legendary artist's discography and art in whole — from songs to albums to music films and videos and beyond.

When an artist has been doing their thing for four decades, how is their "classic era" to be determined? For Robert Pollard, the calculus is simple.

His long-running rock band, Guided by Voices, experienced their indie breakthrough in the early- to-mid-'90s with a smattering of indelible, rough-hewn, heart-on-sleeve albums: Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes and Under the Bushes Under the Stars. So, take those classics, throw in a few before and after, and, boom — you've got a neat entryway for GBV beginners.

But there are a couple of complicating factors at play. First, Pollard seems totally disinterested in the notion of a "classic era." When he reignited the project in 2010 with the members from those three albums, he made derisive references to the "so-called classic lineup" and feared a relegation to the indie-throwback festival circuit.

"People at festivals don't want to hear a new album — they want to hear the greatest hits," Pollard told Magnet in 2014. "And I'm not that interested in that. I'm more interested in what comes next."

Despite making six reunion albums together, the "so-called classic lineup" didn't last; at press time, the contemporary iteration of the band performs zero songs from this period. When Pollard rips into new songs like "Excited Ones," his boyish enthusiasm is palpable; when it's time for a 30-year-old song like "Tractor Rape Chain," he can look like he's in line at the DMV.

A Guided by Voices song from 2022 does not sound like one from 1992. Thanks in part to Pollard's deepening writing — but also the musicians in his band — there are very few of the band's earlier one-minute, tape-recorded quasi-throwaways, which toggle between inchoate and inspired.

Today, Pollard always completes his songs. And more often than not, they're majestic. Case in point: their potent new album, Tremblers and Goggles by Rank, out July 1.

A meditation on memory and loss in several movements, "Alex Bell" practically contains an album's worth of ideas on its own. "Cartoon Fashion (Bongo Lake)" is listed as an A-B-C-D suite on the album sleeve, like on the '70s prog albums that got Pollard going. And in all of three minutes, "Focus on the Flock" switches tempos, grooves, and even genres, all in the service of engaging dynamics and ascendant hooks.

Perhaps a YouTube commenter on the "Lizard on the Red Brick Wall" video said it best: "Peak GBV is now." And that arguably applies to their entire current era, featuring the lineup of guitarists Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare, Jr., bassist Mark Shue and drummer Kevin March.

While the world wouldn't know GBV at all without Bee Thousand and its ilk — and songs like "Blimps Go 90," "The Official Ironman Rally Song" and "The Best of Jill Hives" remain something of a zenith — perhaps it's time to put this current creative roll on equal footing. Because songs like "Amusement Park is Over," "My Future in Barcelona," and "Black and White Eyes in a Prism" are, at the very least, just as good.

In a unique edition of Songbook focusing on just one era of Pollard's voluminous discography, here's a guide to a reconstituted Guided by Voices' astonishing creative roll in the 2010s and 2020s.

Please Be Honest (2016)

While technically not the product of Guided by Voices' current lineup — Pollard sang every vocal and played every instrument — Please Be Honest remains a crucial introduction to this modern phase of the band.

Announced concurrently with Guided by Voices' relaunch, Please Be Honest felt at the time like a recentering, a palate-cleansing, a recommitment to authenticity and sincerity. (Hell, it's there in the title.)

While reams of thrilling music would follow it, Please Be Honest remains addictive and compelling — not only for that aforementioned quality, but because of the strength of the songwriting. Plus, an eerie and loamy atmosphere, coupled with insectoid themes (see "The Grasshopper Eaters" and "The Caterpillar Workforce") helps it stick in your craw.

Opener "My Zodiac Companion" detonates into one of Pollard's most affecting choruses; "Kid on a Ladder" sets Buddy Holly-esque pop jubilation to a hammering drum machine; the murky-sounding yet clear-eyed title track embodies ragged determination.

It all ends with "Eye Shop Heaven," where Pollard reaches into commanding, Eddie Vedder-esque depths of his register, before an unexpected flip into a sugary, Monkees-like coda. 

"You are simply lying!" Pollard sings. But on Please Be Honest, he never is.

August by Cake (2017)

Every GBV fan remembers where they were when they heard Pollard's ringmasterly intro — "Ladies and gentlemen! I present to you: August by Cake!" — followed by an exultant horn fanfare.

Because at that moment, Guided by Voices were not only back after years away: they gave us a double-album feast, like GBV lodestar the Who's Tommy or Quadrophenia.

And on its own, the honest-to-god anthemic opener "5º On the Inside" offers enough momentum to keep the listener engaged for 31 more tunes. But what tunes they are.

The brief "When We All Hold Hands at the End of the World" bends a simple melody into earworm after earworm. The Gillard-written and -sung "Goodbye Note" pumps and slams with brute impact.

"Packing the Dead Zone" is an excoriation of social media-age sloth with an unforgettable spoken-word intro by GBV associate (and NYPD veteran) Steven Stefanakos: "We're creating a society of cell-phone-crazed, marijuana-smoking zombies!"

And by then, you’re only eight songs in. Take some time to kick around inside August by Cake, and you'll likely come up with your own highlights. 

Deep within the album, the downstroked acoustic ballad "Amusement Park is Over" is a stirring bit of miniature theater, suggesting childhood bygones, internal turbulence and lashings of violence.

Clearly, "Amusement Park is Over" means something to Pollard: it's the only August by Cake song remaining on their current setlists.

How Do You Spell Heaven (2017)

After the initiatory sprawl of August by Cake — a swirl of hi- and mid- and lo-fi — a renewed Guided by Voices honed their aesthetic with How Do You Spell Heaven.

True to its cover art — featuring Pollard beholding an unearthly orb of light — this follow-up feels pure, focused and executed with aplomb. Mysterious sound effects, intentional recording mistakes and head-scratching interludes need not apply here.

"King 007" climbs staircases only to lapse into languid acoustic strums; the power-popping "Diver Dan" burns mellowly and consistently like a candlewick; "Nothing Gets You Real" is mellow, strummy and downcast.

And even as closer "Just To Show You" ups the ante section-by-section, Pollard never gets swept into the drama — he sounds stony and undeterred.

GBV would go on to make albums with more distinct peaks and valleys, but there's something to be said about this kind of entry — one that makes the band's detractors, who might view the ultra-productive band as unedited or unserious, eat crow.

Space Gun (2018)

Where August by Cake waded through volatile psychological waters and How Do You Spell Heaven felt philosophical and stoic, Space Gun is almost unerringly flashy, colorful and loud.

"Here it comes!" Pollard announces again and again in the opening title track, kicking up the interstellar drama to almost a comical degree, crashing riff into crashing riff into crashing riff.

This leads to the goofy, almost AC/DC-like swagger of "Colonel Paper," inspired by a real-life account of a drunken night eating chicken — and Pollard's hometown buddy rooting through cigarette-filled garbage for a hangover snack.

Space Gun keeps the energy percolating for 13 more songs, but it's hardly one-note. "Blink Blank" is hypnotic, psychedelic and mantra-like; "I Love Kangaroos" is peppy and irresistible; "Grey Spat Matters" burns for a minute and a half with a vocal melody to die for.

Near the end, we get "That's Good" —  a dead-earnest ballad culled from the archives and newly recorded with a string arrangement by Gillard (a talent that would reach full flower in ensuing years). 

All in all, Space Gun is a good one to reach for if you want utter immediacy from GBV — a quick hit, a sugar rush, a 38-minute whirl around the cosmos.

Zeppelin Over China (2019)

Craving the slicker side of GBV, stretched across four sides? Enter Zeppelin Over China, a weirdly under-discussed yet major work from this epoch of the band.

As always, the pacing is ironclad: "Good Morning Sir" instantly wakes you up in a rush of anticipation, then "Step of the Wave" withholds, withholds, withholds until an exhilarating crescendo.

As with  any classic double album, the tunes keep flying by, with more gems lurking around every corner. Some are deliciously lumpy and impenetrable, like "Blurring the Contacts" and "Holy Rhythm"; others are immediately radiant, like "Your Lights are Out" and "You Own the Night."

While the whole hangs together gloriously, it's up to a fan's discretion as to whether any individual Zeppelin Over China tracks belong in the time capsule. That said, the album features two crown jewels that represent the apogee of Pollard's powers.

One is "The Rally Boys," an update on the chest-beating camaraderie of yesteryear's classics, like "The Official Ironman Rally Song" and "Don't Stop Now." The ascendant chorus, a statement of purpose on Planet GBV, is meant to be beerily belted into your concert neighbor's ear. It just feels good.

The other is "My Future in Barcelona," practically a doctoral thesis on the limitless power of human imagination.

From a half-heard soccer-game announcement — something about "the future of Barcelona" — Pollard crafted an absolutely magical rock song, bursting with possibilities and expectation and longing and anything else you might want to map onto it. If you only check out one song from this article, make it this one.

Who else can be so receptive to the din of daily life, enough to pull a song like this from the air? John Lennon could do it. Pollard can do it. And the message of "My Future in Barcelona" is seemingly that we can all do it. From all but thin air, we can make music.

Warp and Woof (2019)

On the most informal end of the later-GBV spectrum is Warp and Woof, initially released in the form of two EPs: Wine Cork Stonehenge and 100 Dougs.

Recorded on the fly during soundchecks, in hotel rooms and even while teetering on the bench of the van, Warp and Woof has an unadulterated quality that might appeal to fans of Guided by Voices' most unpolished work from the early '90s (think Vampire on Titus).

Emerging from the GarageBand-y hiss and noise are a handful of tunes that stick in the imagination, like the happy-go-lucky baroque-pop pastiche "Photo Range Within" and hammering pop song "Blue Jay House."

But from the hip-swinging "My Angel" to the melodically serpentine "Cool Jewels and Aprons" to the lovably lunkheaded "My Dog Surprise," the highlights are yours to discern amid this curiosity-shop of an album.

And as usual, the band would take a very different tack with the follow-up.

Sweating the Plague (2019)

Think of the consistent aesthetic of How Do You Spell Heaven and Zeppelin Over China. Then, apply it to a stripped-down, 12-song sequence and beef it up with a stadium-rock heft. You'll land within spitting distance of Sweating the Plague.

Warp and Woof's far more traditional follow-up dispenses of almost everything one might find extraneous about Guided by Voices — left-field genre experiments, Pollard singing in funny voices, too many songs. No track could be reasonably cut; every decision lands.

As on those two aforementioned spiritual cousins of GBV albums, that consistency can sometimes translate to a lack of clear highlights. But in this case, one song stands tall.

"Heavy Like the World" is part of a proud GBV lineage of songs about nerve, pluck and courage — the band's true wellspring of emotional resonance, which transcends tired references to Miller Lite and high-kicks and album after album per year.

The next time you feel like you've waded out so far that your feet aren't touching the bottom, heed Pollard's counsel in the outro: "Get some danger in your life/ And more ink in your tattoo."

Surrender Your Poppy Field (2020)

Another swing in the opposite direction, Surrender Your Poppy Field is an album of rough terrain, jagged edges and odd marriages of tones.

Opener "Year of the Hard Hitter" sets the tone immediately — even after multiple listens, it's hard to predict which direction the song will zip into. "Volcano" has a meaty, alt-rock chorus that's more Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins than GBV.

Moving forward, the seemingly tossed-off "Queen Parking Lot" belies a melody of Beatles-level sweetness; "Woah Nelly" is a drunken boat of ghostly Pollards; the woozy "Andre the Hawk" has an almost plasticine sparkle.

The quiet triumph of Surrender Your Poppy Field, however, is "Cul-de-Sac Kids," where a stately Jethro Tull-style introduction bursts unexpectedly into wondrous, double-time ebullience.

By the time the Book of Revelation-like closer "Next Sea Level" subsumes the album, one walks away having experienced a one-of-a-kind — and wondrously scatterbrained — GBV experience.

Mirrored Aztec (2020)

If the psychedelic artwork by Courtney Latta makes you think you're getting GBV in their Incredible String Band phase, think again. Mirrored Aztec — a "summer album" by design — is a tight and dry listen that nonetheless allows ample whimsy through.

First, the wonderfully offbeat moments: "Math Rock" ridicules the titular subgenre with help from a children's chorus; "Haircut Sphinx" is a brief, punch-drunk bar rocker; and "Lip Curlers" is a head-scratcher, even for these guys.

Aside from the outliers, several of its tunes, like "Citizen's Blitz," wriggle about for a minute or two before peacing out. 

But a handful of them shine brightly, from the shone-up oldie "Bunco Men" to the radiant, 12-string-strummed "To Keep an Area" to the rowdy closing sequence, closing the curtain with "Party Rages On."

Styles We Paid For (2020)

A high watermark of GBV's current run of albums, Styles We Paid For drives straight down the middle of the road, keeping the focus squarely on the songcraft.

More than almost any album around it, this one lives right in the Goldilocks zone: just weird enough, just traditional enough, just enough tape hiss, just enough fidelity. The vibe is moody, philosophical, a tad paranoid. In other words, it hits a sweet spot for Guided By Voices.

Styles We Paid For is also the GBV album that, intentionally or not, most reflects its times — specifically, the early pandemic. The band had recorded remotely for many albums at this point, but the jagged edges of that process show — gloriously.

But the real reason Styles was such a pandemic savior wasn't its cabin-feverish, vaguely menacing vibe — but its sense of unbroken group solidarity.

Like "14 Cheerleader Coldfront" 30 years earlier, the acoustic "In Calculus Strategem" feels momentous, like a national anthem. "Never Abandon Ship" is permeated with steely-eyed resolve. And the beatific ballad "Stops" feels lost in reverie, awestruck at the power of song.

But all that aside, the simple fact remains that the hitters really hit.

The dirgelike anti-hit "Slaughterhouse" is deliciously sulky and morbid; the kinetic "Mr. Child" is seemingly about some Peter Pan-syndromed dervish; and "Electronic Windows to Nowhere" is one of the most gloriously melodic anti-tech bitch-fests in recent memory.

Earth Man Blues (2021)

Pollard arguably sold Earth Man Blues short when he called it a "collage of rejected songs." Because what could have simply been their first album of 2021 turns out to be something like their Sgt. Pepper’s.

This isn't just in the diversity of material, or the occasional psychedelic twist, or that it's even presented as some tongue-in-cheek performance. Rather, its Pepper-ness comes from its profound longing for and curiosity about the past — and how that can chart a path into the future.

During the demoing process, Pollard opted not to write new songs, but dig through old cassettes for material. "They were all rejects from other projects," he told Louder Than War. I was somewhat astonished by a few of those finds. Like, 'Why did I not think this song was good enough?'"

Read More: The Connected Citizens: How Guided By Voices Recorded Earth Man Blues Remotely During A Pandemic

Indeed, they weren't just "good enough." Realized by his muscular current band, the Earth Man Blues tunes all but sum up what makes GBV great.

The majestic "The Disconnected Citizen" evocatively references "radiated halls" and "psychogenic fugues" as the melody aims heavenward; "The Batman Sees the Ball" marries Television-like guitar interplay with a patient and bouncy groove; and the band throws the kitchen sink at "Dirty Kid School," exploding a simple composition to cinematic effect.

And so many other surprises lurk, including the warped, variety-show-style '60s-isms of "Sunshine Girl Hello" and the crepuscular "How Can a Plumb Be Perfected?" If this is what Pollard simply had lying around, how many other masterpieces could he make?

It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them! (2021)

Released about a week before Halloween, It's Not Them. It Couldn't Be Them. It Is Them! could represent the shadow of Earth Man Blues, featuring some of Pollard's most immersive, arcane writing to date.

"Climb another wall over the mountain," he sings in opener "Spanish Coin" with a Fantean energy. "Breathe in the force of experience." Then, something we've never heard at all on a Guided by Voices record: Spanish-influenced horns.

Side one consists of kick-the-tires rockers ("High in the Rain") and beatless, phantasmagorical experiments ("Maintenance Man of the Haunted House").

On top of that, the indisputable highlight "Dance of Gurus" is wound tight around a looping vocal line ("What'll I do with you? You do with me?") that'll lodge itself into your head for days.

But from then on, it's rock and roll time, with every string- and/or horn-laced track hitting harder than the last: From "I Wanna Monkey" into "Cherub and the Great Child Actor" into "Black and White Eyes in a Prism." 

And the curtain-call, "My (Limited) Engagement," is one of the all time great GBV closers — capped off by a spectacular guitar solo from Gillard.

Crystal Nuns Cathedral (2022)

Vaguely in the same galaxy as the streamlined How Do You Spell Heaven and Sweating the Plague, Crystal Nuns Cathedral shows how the band could reel back their experimentation yet, somehow, land in a deeper place.

"We approached this one with more of an eye to get slightly bigger sounds — slightly more homogenous throughout the album," Gillard told The Ash Grey Proclamation in 2022. "And deliberately less idiosyncratic mixes than usual, perhaps."

If this sounds like standard GBV, give it a chance — you'll be surprised on multiple levels. For instance, the band had never recorded a song like "Climbing a Ramp," building and building on a sawing cello line. Nor had they done anything like "Forced to Sea," which materializes in a twilit, ambient soundfield.

Plus, Pollard's lyrics on Crystal Nuns Cathedral hit harder than usual. "Nothing moves me like this," he admits in the gorgeous, mid-tempo rocker "Never Mind the List."

And in "Excited Ones," a galloping rocker about those who wrap their arms around life: "They crush it every day!" he proclaims. Pollard can certainly relate.

Tremblers and Goggles By Rank (2022)

This is no exaggeration: all the various GBVs represented in the above albums — the goofy, the intrepid, the moody, the plucky, the experimental, the pensive — are reflected in Tremblers and Goggles By Rank.

Want to be pummeled with galactic kabooms, like on Space Gun? Dig the flangered vortex of "Lizard on the Red Brick Wall." Want bittersweetness that hits from multiple angles, like on Earth Man Blues? "Alex Bell" and "Unproductive Funk" will send you. Interior explorations a la Styles We Paid For? "Boomerang" and "Who Wants to Go Hunting?"

Guided by Voices are often defined by their "prolificity," but let's face it: fans are getting both quality and quantity. And live performances get a dozen times the reaction for oldies like "Game of Pricks" than something like "Stops," but it's time to knock that down too.

The fact that even some professed fans sleep on the new stuff doesn't dim the reality one iota: Guided by Voices are a band for right now. And their still-ravenous cult fanbase won't fault you for getting on the train late. 

Indeed, for fans of any forward-thinking rock music with a beating heart, eye for invention and sense of wonder, nothing will move you like this.

Every Moment Flame On: A Guide To The Expanded Universe Of Robert Pollard & Guided By Voices

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Bonus Track: 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Sarah Mudler
Chicago

Chicago's Union Park was once again filled with a who's who of the music industry from July 15–17 for the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival. Drawing more than 18,000 industry insiders and music fans alike each day, the festival is known for bringing together an eclectic lineup of more than 40 artists, many of whom are on the brink of breaking into the mainstream.

Headliners this year included the psychedelic sounds of Animal Collective on Friday, Seattle-based mellow rockers Fleet Foxes on Saturday and festival-favorites TV On The Radio on Sunday. With many of the more talked about bands playing earlier in the day throughout the weekend, it was no surprise that three-day passes sold out in a single day.

In addition to the headliners, the festival's Green stage played host to recently reunited rockers Guided By Voices and the Dismemberment Plan, and ambient punk rockers Deerhunter, while its sister stage (the Red stage) boasted such heavy hitters as hometown darling Neko Case, Australian synth-pop collective Cut Copy and, one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, the untamable frontman Tyler, The Creator and his hip-hop outfit Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. But when festivalgoers trekked over to the slightly hidden Blue stage, they were lucky enough to catch some truly buzzworthy acts. Electronic newcomer James Blake played the nicely shaded stage to a tightly packed and dancing crowd on Friday, while concertgoers the following day were wooed by the larger-than-life personality and stage attire of Zola Jesus.

Rounding out the festival grounds, attendees had the opportunity to seek shelter from the sun while perusing the handmade crafts and hard-to-find vinyl at the annual CHIRP Record Fair, as well as browse the one-of-a-kind concert posters from local and national artists at the Flatstock poster show.

In spite of the almost unbearable heat that plagued the Windy City all weekend, this year's installment of the Pitchfork Music Festival was a resounding success for artists and concertgoers alike. And this blogger would recommend that you get your tickets early next year as it's sure to sell out even faster!

Pitchfork Music Festival Sample Playlist
"Summertime Clothes" — Animal Collective (iTunes>)
"The Wilhelm Scream" — James Blake (iTunes>)
"Need You Now" — Cut Copy (iTunes>)
"Def Surrounds Us" — DJ Shadow (iTunes>)
"Hopelessness Blues" — Fleet Foxes (iTunes>)
"Bizness" — Tune-Yards (iTunes>)
"Wolf Like Me" — TV On The Radio (iTunes>)
"Sea Talk" — Zola Jesus (iTunes>)

 

With 'Dolls,' Bella Poarch Is Speaking Up: "It's My Story And It's Me Expressing Myself"
Bella Poarch

Photo: Marcelo Cantu

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With 'Dolls,' Bella Poarch Is Speaking Up: "It's My Story And It's Me Expressing Myself"

On her debut EP, Bella Poarch transforms from viral TikTok star to dark-pop queen — and most importantly, she finally gets to speak her truth.

GRAMMYs/Aug 15, 2022 - 08:30 pm

When the world was first introduced to Bella Poarch in 2020, she was a viral TikToker without anyone hearing her voice. Poarch's lip-syncing videos (and undeniable charisma) rapidly garnered a following that exceeds 90 million, making her TikTok's third most-followed star and the top Asian American influencer in the world.

Now, Poarch is ready to take her success beyond TikTok — and let her voice be heard.

The young Filipina star ushers in a new persona as a dark-pop singer with her first EP, Dolls. The six-song project — which features her empowering debut single "Build a B—" — explores a spectrum of raw emotions as Bella continues to reveal her true self to fans.

As Poarch explained to GRAMMY.com, Dolls is a look into the ups and downs of her life. On songs like "Living Hell," she divulges the hardships she endured growing up; on others like the fierce title track, she showcases her creativity while also flexing her strength. It's clear that Poarch has a unique vision that resonates with many, and a goal to create an outlet for young women who may see themselves in her story.

In a candid conversation over Zoom, Poarch got real about her journey to stardom, the inspiration behind her first project, and why she wants to provide much-needed representation for fellow Filipinas.

Before you were a TikTok star, you served in the military, and you've been open about having a difficult childhood. So you've sort of lived a ton of lives, right? Do you think you've reinvented yourself at all? And how has your past impacted the music that you make now?

Growing up in the Philippines and switching to a whole different country taught me a lot. And also pushing myself to join the military taught me a lot. I did live different lives. But I was still the same when it comes to being hopeful and just like, manifesting good things in my life.

It also taught me to be less anxious, because I was very anxious as a kid. I wasn't really talking. My parents were not allowing me to speak whenever I wanted to. Now that I'm able to create music and be vocal about my feelings, I'm glad to be able to share my thoughts and express myself — and to be able to help other people — with my music.

This is your first EP, and a lot of your singles are largely about confidence. Is this a theme that's important to you?

Yes, because I myself struggle with confidence. I am a very shy person sometimes. And I guess it all depends on what I'm wearing and what I look like in a day. Like, you know, if I had my pigtails on, I'm 100 percent more confident than if I had just my hair down.

How did you get into that hairstyle?

Hatsune Miku. She's a Vocaloid. She's anime. I got a lot of inspiration from anime.

That's cool. So is it kind of like an alter ego?

Yeah, pretty much.

"Build A B—" had a pretty huge debut. Did you feel a sort of pressure after that, and how did its success affect you?

I was just really shocked that people were like, loving it. And I was like, "Wow, I'm very proud of myself." Because it was really hard to figure out what first song I wanted to release. And it was very important to me. I was like, "Uh, do I really want [to release a song called] 'Build A B—?'" Like…yes. [Laughs.]

There was a lot of going back and forth. I was just really happy that my fans love it.

What's the story behind "Living Hell" and its music video?

The music video takes a lot of inspiration from my childhood room and how I'm struggling to escape it. And now I'm struggling to escape my childhood trauma.

I've been very open about it with social media and it has helped me a lot. It's hard for me to express my feelings. But it also helped other people that are struggling with expressing themselves.

The room in the music video is yellow — everything's yellow. It's because I grew up in a yellow bedroom with yellow curtains and yellow tiled floors. And I was basically forced into that color. My parents were like, "You're gonna love this color. This is your room color." And I feel like that's them showing me that they had the power.

Over time, growing up in that room, I learned to love it because it's a happy color. Sorry, I'm getting emotional.

There is a lot of symbolism in the music video. I think I will be explaining what it means later on. But when people see it at first, they're probably confused, because they don't really know the inspiration from it — me escaping from my childhood trauma. When you see that music video without that context, you're just like, "Wow, this is art!" But when you really see the full meaning of it, it takes you to a different perspective.

What was your inspiration for making this whole EP? Obviously there's songs that are a little bit emotional, but there are also songs that are more upbeat. How does it all come together?

I think what inspired me the most and to do this is speaking up. Even [in] my journey with TikTok, I wasn't speaking for a whole year — nobody knew what I sounded like. And so they were all just like, "Whoa" when I started talking. They were like, "Wait, she talks?"

Me releasing music and releasing this EP is me coming out and saying, "I have a voice, and the messages of my songs are very important to me because it's my story and it's me expressing myself."

What does it mean to you to be a Filipina American talent right now? I know traditionally there hasn't been a lot of representation, at least in the U.S.

I'm just so proud that I myself can represent the Philippines. And, you know, like, Olivia Rodrigo — I love her.

I'm so happy whenever I hear that someone's Filipino, because I'm like, "Wow, family!" [Laughs.] Because back when I was in the Philippines, living there for 14 years of my life, I didn't really have anybody to look up to in the music side of things — when it comes to things like being a singer and being an artist. There was not a lot of Filipino representation there. Except for Lea Salonga. She sang "Reflection" in the movie Mulan, the very first one. And so she was really the only one that I looked up to.

I know you're invested in uplifting the AAPI community, and you were named to the 2022 Gold House A100 list. Are there any actions that you're taking to support the community? Or is it simply you being yourself and being Filipina that's making a difference?

Yeah, I think just embracing the community — being me, and just doing my best in everything that I do.

Do you have any new goals or anything that you haven't accomplished yet that you're working towards right now?

Performing live.  I haven't performed live yet.

Is there a tour in the works, or is it just something that you want to do eventually?

I think we're thinking about doing a tour.

Anything else coming up?

I'm going back to the Philippines soon.

For fun?

Yeah — it's been 10 years [since I've] seen my country.

Do you have anything fun planned, or are you just gonna go with the flow?

I'm gonna go everywhere!

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Machine Gun Kelly performs at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium on Aug. 13, 2022.

Photo: Amber Patrick

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Machine Gun Kelly Returns Home: 7 Highlights From His Biggest Cleveland Show Yet

Relive Machine Gun Kelly's epic homecoming that featured blood, sweat and tears — oh, and a $10 million life insurance policy.

GRAMMYs/Aug 15, 2022 - 07:00 pm

The "Mainstream Sellout" was a hometown sellout on Aug. 13 when Machine Gun Kelly (MGK) performed to more than 41,000 fans at a packed FirstEnergy Stadium in his native Cleveland.

Exactly 15 years after a teenage Colson Baker — now better known as MGK — first dreamed of hip-hop stardom, his unlikely journey from regional up-and-comer to emerging superstar was completed on the final show and first stadium date of his summer touring leg.

Machine Gun Kelly's homecoming was special from start to finish, with the Cleveland mayor officially dubbing Aug. 13 "Machine Gun Kelly Day" and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opening an MGK exhibit before he took the stage at FirstEnergy Stadium. But as soon as the show began — with openers Trippie Redd, Avril Lavigne, Willow and 44phantom warming up the raucous audience — it was clear MGK's hometown fans were dying to welcome home one of their own.

What transpired was a game-changing two-and-a-half-hour set (built heavily around his latest albums Tickets to My Downfall and Mainstream Sellout) that literally included blood, sweat and tears.

Below, check out seven highlights from MGK's debut as a stadium headliner — and hometown hero.

He Took Down The Internet

The theme throughout the night was destroying the evil internet, which was physically represented with a massive inflatable "Stranger Things"-like creature — complete with a computer screen head — that emerged in the back of the stage, declaring, "I am the internet. You are what I say you are." 

Often a paparazzi and social media target, MGK made sure to call out his online haters throughout the show. But more importantly, he encouraged  his audience to believe in themselves and not to give power to anonymous trolls. 

Spoiler alert: By the end of the show, MGK (along with a little pyrotechnical help from a pink helicopter) successfully destroyed the internet, freeing both himself and his fans from the chains of social media hell — at least for the night.

He Zip-Lined Against All Odds

After a brief video montage of a young rapping MGK rising up through different Northeast Ohio venues, the MC appeared at the back of the stadium dressed in a Cleveland Browns jersey with "XX" for numbers. 

Remembering his hip-hop roots for fans there at the beginning, MGK delivered a few lines of early tracks "Cleveland," "Alpha Omega" and "Chip Off the Block" — a special trio of songs he hasn't sung at other stops on the tour — before zip-lining the entire distance of the stadium to the stage. He then delivered an adrenaline-fueled performance of his platinum 2015 track "Till I Die."

"I had a dream three days ago," MGK told the audience afterward. "I said, 'Can you bring me into the stadium in a real helicopter?' They said, 'No.' I said, 'Alright, I want to zip-line from the top of the stadium.'

"They said, 'No.' So I called the mayor and said, 'Let's make this happen. I want to give them some Michael Jackson s— and make them remember.'" 

After raising enough money to cover a $10 million life insurance policy, MGK received the green light just before the show. 

"We made it happen," MGK said. "This is a special night for a kid who used to hand out CDs and now got 50,000 people together."

He Proved His Pop-Punk Prowess

Confirming his transformation from rapid-fire rapper to pop-punk purveyor, MGK proved his frenetic bona fides by bringing out songwriting partner and producer Travis Barker

Despite a doctor's orders against performing with a broken thumb, the blink-182 drummer (with wife Kourtney Kardashian in tow) joined MGK for a six-song stretch that featuredTickets To My Downfall tracks "title track," "kiss kiss," "concert for aliens," "all i know" and "bloody valentine" and finished with blink-182's "All the Small Things."

His Emotions Ran High

A trip to the B-stage turned into an emotional moment when MGK talked about wishing his deceased father and aunt could have witnessed his triumphant homecoming. "I wish so much my father and my aunt could be here," he told the crowd. "But I've got you all — the only family I have left."

Featuring a string section from Cleveland's Contemporary Youth Orchestra, the singer delivered raw performances of "Glass House" and "lonely."

Draped in blue light, MGK added, "I'm sorry to be emotional" to the crowd with many fans equally teary during the heartfelt moment. 

He Didn't Want The Party To End

Similar to MGK's late 2021 show at Cleveland's Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — where he refused to leave the stage, forcing the venue to cut the power — the FirstEnergy Stadium show ran more than 30 minutes longer than posted set times.  

Late into the concert, MGK said he was being told in his earpiece that he was getting fined $70,000 every 10 minutes for running late. He then downed a glass of wine. 

"You know what I say about that, we aren't stopping this concert yet," MGK said. "I'm rich, b—."

Just like he's done previously on the current tour, MGK smashed the glass on his head, which caused him to bleed WWE-style from his face. "Should we stop the show or spend the $70,000?" he asked, which prompted chants of "MGK."

With blood now clearly dripping down his face, the singer talked about all of the small club Cleveland venues he played. "I always wanted shows to feel intimate," he added. Mission accomplished.

Machine Gun Kelly Cleveland show photo 2

Photo: Amber Patrick

He Served Up Death-Defying Antics

With the aforementioned life insurance policy in mind, a bloodied and unharnessed MGK climbed 30 feet up the stage rigging — young Eddie Vedder style — to finish "my ex's best friend."  

He then proceeded to jam his legs into the rig and hang upside down, smiling and singing without missing a beat as tomato-shaped confetti reigned down around the stadium. The surreal moment epitomized the entire evening: a fearless artist truly wanting to give his hometown crowd a show they'll never forget. 

He Soaked Up Every Last Moment

Even 30 minutes (and apparently $210,000) overdue, Machine Gun Kelly clearly didn't want to leave the stage. Nearly awkward moments of silence were mixed with sincere ramblings toward the end, as MGK was obviously still processing the enormity of the evening. 

He recalled a phone call with fiancée Megan Fox from earlier in the day, when she told him that he doesn't have to prove anything on stage and that the audience is there to see him.

"We did it," MGK said. "We did sell out a stadium in our hometown. I love you all. I'll see you many times in this lifetime, I'm sure." 

After performing the set finale, the anthemic "twin flame," MGK fell to his knees and cried with his head held low. As the appropriately titled "9 lives" played over the PA, MGK hugged his band members and looked out to the crowd — taking in the last moments of a dream come true.

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It Goes to 11: Noah Reid's Favorite Instrument Is A Custom-Made Wedding Gift With A Family Connection
Noah Reid

Photo: Dane Clark

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It Goes to 11: Noah Reid's Favorite Instrument Is A Custom-Made Wedding Gift With A Family Connection

Noah Reid shares the story behind his one-of-a-kind acoustic guitar, which was made expressly with him in mind.

GRAMMYs/Aug 15, 2022 - 04:41 pm

Musician and actor Noah Reid's favorite instrument is an acoustic guitar that was custom-built by renowned luthier Linda Manzer, who's worked on guitars for the likes of Carlos Santana, Pat Metheny and Paul Simon. But the instrument's pedigree isn't the biggest thing that makes it special — it's also an important part of Reid's family history.

In this episode of It Goes to 11, Reid shares the deeply personal story behind his guitar, which was a wedding gift from his parents. Every detail behind the instrument was crafted with him in mind, beginning with the fact that it was made in 1987 — the year he was born. 

"It's personalized on the headstock with a drawing by my dad," Reid explains, adding that Manzer also worked on the instrument with him and his playing style in mind. "She included a letter that said, 'I've heard you play in person, and I've tuned this, and the action is such that I think it will suit your playing style."

Reid's parents gave him the guitar as a gift the night before his wedding ceremony in 2020, along with a detailed case for the instrument. Having it before the wedding itself allowed the musician to make a special memory with his new guitar right away: performing for his new wife in front of their loved ones.

"Playing this guitar on my wedding day was just a crazy confluence of music and emotion and belonging and family," the singer — who Schitt's Creek fans may remember from his heart-melting performances as Patrick — says. "It was really everything. There's a sense of belonging with this instrument that feels unique and special. It's not just for an everyday occasion."

Press play on the video above to get to know Reid's special acoustic guitar for yourself, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of It Goes to 11. 

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