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Hit-Makers Share The Specialized, Intuitive Art Of Crafting The Perfect Song

(L-R) Sarah Hudson, Rodney Jerkins, MarcLo, Shane Stevens & busbee
Photo: Antonio Espino

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Hit-Makers Share The Specialized, Intuitive Art Of Crafting The Perfect Song

"No one knows what a hit is until it happens," GRAMMY-winning songwriter/producer Rodney Jerkins, aka Darkchild, explained during a highly informative industry event hosted by our Los Angeles Chapter

GRAMMYs/Apr 14, 2019 - 12:17 am

Yesterday, April 12, a large, diverse group of musicians, artists and music lovers began the annual trek to the desert for weekend one of Coachella. Working with this creative, inspired energy, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Recording Academy brought together songwriters with an impressive roster of hits to share their wisdom with aspiring songwriters and artists for a hands-on Craft Session at a beautiful house in Palm Springs.

During the first half of the intimate event, songwriters busbee, Rodney Jerkins aka Darkchild, MarcLo of Monsters & Strangerz (part of team behind Zedd's GRAMMY-nominated "The Middle"), Sarah Hudson (who has written for Camila Cabello, Katy Perry and others) and Shane Stevens went deep into the art of crafting the perfect track and the things they've learned along the way in their quest to navigate and excel in the music industry. They discussed the weaving journeys each took that led them to their first hit and eventually to where they are today, as successful songwriters and producers.

Photo: Antonio Espino

Their stories all underscored the importance of perseverance, believing in yourself and really putting your work out there, as you never know when the right person will be in the right place to hear or share your song. "You start with nothing, then all of a sudden, there it is," Stevens underscored. all of them have a "song mountain," as busbee, who received a GRAMMY nomination for co-writing with Maren Morris on "My Church," put it, of tracks that may never see the light of day, but helped them learn, make mistakes, improve and grow as creatives.

The insights made clear that not only is there not one path or five hard-set rules to becoming a hit songwriter, there is also no formula to making great songs. Even GRAMMY winner Jerkins, who began making his mark in the late '90s with his work with Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez, Destiny's Child (with "Say My Name in 1999 and "Lose My Breath" in 2004, among others), agreed that each session is different.

They all agree that building good rapport and understanding with each artist you work with is vital to the process. For example, when Jerkins met with a then-up-and-coming Lopez in the 1999, while they had just met for the first time in the studio, and she had yet to release music, he asked himself what might she want to say to a man that he could express for her in the track. He wanted to express vulnerability in a way that felt real to her experience, and her debut hit single, "If You Had My Love," was born.

"No one knows what a hit is until it happens...I truly believe that if is meant to be, its meant to be," -Rodney Jerkins

"No one knows what a hit is until it happens," Jerkins said. "I truly believe that if is meant to be, its meant to be."

"We couldn't be doing anything else. It's passion, passion meets you at the door," added Stevens, who began as an aspiring singer/songwriter in Nashville and at one point switched to his "back-up career" of hair styling, until, as he puts it, fate had other ideas, and now he's become an in-demand songwriter in both pop and country, working with the likes of Lady Antebellum to Selena Gomez.

His comment, and similar ones from the other mentors, all underscored the importance of not giving up on your dreams, and not letting your fears get in the way of using the skills and passion you were meant to share with the world.

"Nobody else is going to get what's yours," busbee said. He added, "You never know who's going to make the decision that changes the course of your life."

After the discussion, which left the audience visibly inspired and excited to create, the group broke out into work sessions led by each mentor; who gave individual guidance to demo songs presented by each participant, allowing them the space to ask more specific questions to their work and aspirations.

Photo: Antonio Espino

In busbee's breakout session, he made sure he had context for each group member's aspirations and personal background, so that his advice would be as tailored as possible. Even then, he reminded the group that at the end of the day, everyone's feedback is based on their opinions, so it's important to know your north, and put yourself in the other person's shoes to best understand where they are coming from and how to move forward, which is sound advice for any professional relationship.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Touring In A Post-Pandemic World: How Costs, Personnel & Festival Culture Have Affected 2023 Performances
Crowds at the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

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Touring In A Post-Pandemic World: How Costs, Personnel & Festival Culture Have Affected 2023 Performances

The live music business is still dealing with the repercussions of the pandemic. GRAMMY.com spoke with a cross section of professionals about the industry's most profound changes, how they’re being addressed, and what it all might mean for the future.

GRAMMYs/May 19, 2023 - 02:51 pm

The pandemic wreaked global havoc on many levels. Beyond the human toll, the disruptions brought on by the spread of COVID-19 caused deep and lasting damage to nearly every business sector, including live entertainment. Virtually overnight, workers lost their livelihoods, businesses closed their doors or drastically curtailed operations, and supply chains were hobbled. 

Within days of lockdown, multiple outlets published sobering articles detailing the tours, concerts and festivals that had been affected by the outbreak; Insider.com article identified at least 170 postponements or cancellations. In a flash, every artist across the globe witnessed the live performance side of their careers vaporize. Crews were sent home, and all of the businesses that served the sector — logistics, audio gear, food service and more — found a barren landscape.

During the pandemic, major promoter Live Nation saw a drastic drop in the number of concerts and festivals under its banner: from over 40,000 events in 2019 to just over 8,000 in 2020. But by the end of 2022, Pollstar.com reported that the year’s top 100 tours sold approximately 59 million tickets — more than 2019's sales. 

Three years after the beginning of the pandemic, life is in many ways returning to normal. Yet the costs associated with putting on a concert have risen dramatically, due to both the pandemic's inflationary pressures and a surge in demand for the goods and services necessary to sustain tours. For those working in and around the live music business, the "new normal" means some things work as they did before COVID-19 while others have altered radically — either temporarily or for good. 

GRAMMY.com spoke with a cross section of industry professionals about some of the most profound changes, how they’re being addressed, and what it all might mean for the future. 

New Touring Paradigms

With the return of live music has come a corresponding, pent-up surge in demand, notes Christy Castillo Butcher, Senior VP, Programming & Booking at the 70,000 seat SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. "To satiate that demand, you have to have a bigger venue." 

In 2023 alone, SoFi Stadium is hosting several megashows: Billy Joel & Stevie Nicks, Grupo Firme, Romeo Santos, a five-night Taylor Swift residency, Metallica, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and P!nk are all on the venue’s calendar, with additional shows awaiting announcement. Madison Square Garden saw multiple sold-out performances by Janet Jackson, and will host a seven-night Phish residency. 

Since the pandemic, some artists have taken different approaches to touring. Tandem tours and residencies are just two of the phenomena that seem to be increasing in popularity with touring artists and their management teams.

Teaming up for a tandem tour isn’t a new idea; package tours have been part of the concert landscape from the days of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars in the mid 1960s. And in an era when post-pandemic-related shortages and logistical snags make touring even more challenging, the practice is finding renewed interest.

One of the highest-profile tandem tours of 2023 is the ZZ Top/Lynyrd Skynyrd Sharp Dressed Simple Man tour. Visiting more than 22 cities across the U.S, the tour brings together three-time GRAMMY nominees ZZ Top with the popular Southern rock band.

"You want to give the fans the value of seeing two bands together," says Ross Schilling, Lynyrd Skynyrd's Tour Manager. (Pollstar reported an average ticket price for the top 100 North American tours in the first half of 2022 at more than $108. Meanwhile, ticket prices for megastars such as Beyoncé and Swift have reached astronomical levels.)

Schilling acknowledges that there are pros and cons for the artists as well. "You're sharing the expenses and the revenues," he notes, adding that the production is often halved. "Video, pyro, smoke, whatever kind of elements you want to add" can be shared on a tandem tour.

Read more: 5 Reasons Why Taylor Swift's Eras Tour Will Be The Most Legendary Of Her Generation

Another option experiencing a renaissance is the concert residency. "Residencies are not new, of course," says Phil Carson, a touring and management veteran who spent many years on the road with high-profile rock bands including Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, AC/DC and Yes. "They started with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. when there was really only one place to go: Las Vegas." 

Today there are many more options, but the motivations are often the same as before. "Sammy, Dean Martin… all those guys wanted to hang out together, and didn't want to go on the bloody road," Carson explains. As their audiences grew older, they too were interested in the idea of going to one place to see their favorite performers.

And Carson thinks that the multi-night approach may well be part of a trend for the future. "We’re starting to get two-and three-night runs in casinos across America," he says. Adele, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood and Carlos Santana are just a few of the artists eschewing the road in favor of a series of dates in one venue. 

The trend is extending to smaller venues as well. Singer/songwriter James McMutry and his band launched a residency at Austin' Continental Club in November 2021; that booking continues to the present day. And just last August, Robert Glasper announced a 48-show residency at the Blue Note Club in New York City; it’s his fourth extended run of dates at the famed jazz venue.

Festivals Return En Force

Following increased demand for live entertainment post-lockdown, major music festivals returned with a force in 2022 and continue to do so in 2023. Coachella and Lollapalooza were among the multi-day, multi-weekend events returning after COVID-forced cancellations, while mid-level events such as San Francisco's Outside Lands also saw over 220,000 attendees in 2022 — a major boon for a live music industry that had been in crisis only a year before.

Celebrating and featuring a multigenerational lineup of Latinx artists and performers, the Bésame Mucho Festival premiered in December 2022 at the 56,000 capacity Dodger Stadium. Tickets sold out within 70 minutes. The lineup for the 2023 event was announced in February; once again, the event sold out almost immediately.

Read more: Latin Music's Next Era: How New Festivals & Big Billings Have Helped Bring Reggaeton, New Corridos & More To The Masses

Ashley Capps has been wholly immersed in the festival scene; former head of AC Entertainment, for many years he oversaw the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. These days he has scaled back his activities but still curates the adventurous Big Ears Festival which he founded in 2009 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

"The post-pandemic Big Ears has seen extraordinary growth," he says, noting a pre-COVID trajectory of growth, with an annual 20 percent increase in ticket sales. The 2022 Big Ears — the first after a two-year pause — experienced a 35 percent growth. "That led us to declare our first full-on sellout," he says, "five weeks before the festival happened." 

In 2023, Big Ears noted another surge in ticket sales, surpassing 50 percent over the previous year. The multiple-venue festival added additional larger venues to accommodate the increased demand. Concertgoers "are certainly hungry to get back into the live music experience," Capps says. "And the artists we’re working with at Big Ears are eager to be back out and in front of appreciative audiences."

That pent-up demand on both sides of the equation can result in a crowded field, with many events — even beyond music — competing both for attention, staffing and gear.

The Cost Of Making Music

Global logistical bottlenecks that plagued every industry continue to take a toll on the live music industry. Worldwide economic inflation — which hit 8.8 percent in 2022, nearly doubling year-over-year, a partial result of the pandemic — has increased costs and cut profits, laying the groundwork for a "rocky road to recovery." Finding themselves without opportunities for work during the pandemic, untold numbers of skilled tour technicians left the business. 

"People got out of the industry across the board, from musicians to agents to managers to bartenders to production staff," says Morgan Margolis, CEO/President of Knitting Factory Entertainment. "'I’ve got to do something else.' I saw a lot of that." Some never returned, causing a personnel shortage once live touring resumed.

All that affected live music venues, too. "We were shuffling around tour managers, production managers, box office personnel," says Margolis. He characterizes his company — active nationwide in venue operations, festivals, artist management, touring and more — as an "all hands on deck" operation. "I actually slung some drinks in Walla Walla at an Aaron Lewis concert," he says. 

Increased costs mean it’s essential to run the leanest operation possible while maintaining quality. Margolis recalls the landscape when live music started coming back in 2022. "Vans and buses: everything was running out, even rental cars," he remembers. "And everything — generators, lighting rigs, staging rigs – was now 20-30 percent more expensive, because everybody was spread so thin."  

But like many in the business, Margolis simply made the best of things. "Personally, I was excited to be on the ground again," he says. "I wanted to be around people." 

After a nearly overwhelming surge of music artists getting back into live performance, he says that he is seeing a "more methodical" mindset taking hold. That compares to how he characterizes 2022: "Throw it all against the wall: we’re going everywhere!"

Read more: Beyond Coachella: 10 Smaller Festivals Beloved For Their Homegrown Vibes & Huge Lineups

Another new wrinkle: proposed rule changes by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would increase the costs to international musicians of obtaining a U.S. visa by as much as 260 percent. "The more these policies are made, the harder it is for us to share our music,” says Sampa the Great. The Zambian singer/songwriter and rapper notes that the proposed changes will hit independent artists especially hard: "Touring is the only way our music gets heard globally."

Such across-the-board cost increases can mean that some international artists have to have tough conversations. If not through touring, Sampa the Great wonders, "How else do we connect with the people who support our music? And how else do we independent artists sustain our careers making music?"

Schilling admits that during the worst of the shutdown, he thought about retiring — and so did one of his biggest clients. Skynyrd began a farewell tour in 2018, which was ultimately cut short by the pandemic, prompting serious soul searching. "When everyone’s livelihood was ripped out from under them, they decided 'We want to go out on our own terms.'" This year’s tandem tour with ZZ Top puts things right, Schilling adds. 

That kind of thinking is widespread among the professionals who remain in the game post-COVID. From many working as venue owners to tour managers to crew to artists, the chance to get back on the road outweighs the challenges that they will inevitably encounter. There are many career paths easier than working in the live music industry, but few can compare with its rewards.

Changes Backstage And Post-Show

Before the pandemic, many touring artists arranged meet-and-greet sessions before or after their shows. They provided an opportunity for interaction between fans and artists, and represented an additional revenue stream for the artists. During the pandemic era, those sessions disappeared, even for the new shows that could still take place. Today, even while enforced social distancing has largely disappeared, the state of meet-and-greets is not what it was. 

"My last three artists aren’t doing meet-and-greets, because there's still that concern of COVID," says David Norman, a longtime promoter, tour director, manager and accountant currently on tour with Evanescence; his past clients have included Prince, John Fogerty, Earth Wind & Fire, Green Day, Alicia Keys, Tyler, the Creator and many others. 

Norman points out that his artists take a financial hit by eliminating the meet-and-greets. "But it’s better to be safe than sorry," he says, noting that a musician who tests positive for COVID can "shut down [performances] for weeks. Then you have to reroute [the tour], and refund money to people who aren’t able to come to rescheduled shows."

Others take a different approach. "Lynyrd Skynyrd will do meet-and-greets," says Schilling, adding that his team "wants to get back to as normal as we possibly can, as fast as we possibly can." André Cholmondeley is a musician, longtime tour manager and tech support professional who worked as guitar tech for Yes guitarist Steve Howe

Before 2020, "if you bought the meet-and-greet package, you could shake their hands," he says. "There were lots of hugs and pictures." Now the experience involves more waving and fist-bumping. Foreigner, meanwhile, has recently swapped meet-and-greets for Q&A sessions. “Everybody has a great time, and the band is not bored with it because it's different every night," says Phil Carson, the band's Tour Manager. 

Life away from the audience has changed, too. 

"One major change across the board is the huge difference in catering," says Cholmondeley, who has recently toured with Pat Metheny and Ani DiFranco. Before COVID, touring artists and their crews would typically find a buffet backstage. "We order a lot more food now," Cholmondeley explains. "You get a couple of menus texted to you each day."

Carson notes that the band has found an alternative solution that works for them. "Our singer Kelly Hansen is a chef who won an episode of Food Network’s 'Chopped,'" he says with pride. "He's got a whole kitchen range on our tour bus. He makes breakfast, he makes tacos after the show." 

Carson readily admits that such an approach stands in sharp contrast to rock‘n’roll road dining in the ‘70s. "Back then," he says with a hearty laugh, "it was a few lines of coke and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s!"

Bridging The Gap

Beginning in March 2020, the cancellations and disruptions brought upon by the pandemic reverberated throughout the live music industry. But as the business sector enters the third quarter of 2023, the focus is once again on the future, and guarded optimism is the prevailing perspective. 

Festival season is officially underway, with Coachella wrapping up two weekends of massive-scale excitement, and a host of other events slated throughout the summer promising an active several months for touring musicians and crews. Taylor Swift's Eras tour is selling out fast, while Beyoncé's Renaissance tour has only just begun (to much fanfare, as expected). It seems as if touring as we once knew it is falling back into place. 

Even with her focus on recording — she counts two albums, an EP, two mixtapes and nearly 30 singles — Sampa the Great emphasizes the appeal of live music for both audience and entertainer. 

"Performing is the best way to connect with an audience," she says. "You're translating your music from audio to something visual, something physical. It bridges that gap from just hearing an artist or seeing them on social [media] to actually experiencing the artist." 

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11 Electric Coachella Surprise Guest Moments From Weekend 1: Post Malone, Billie Eilish, Rauw Alejandro & More
Rauw Alejandro comes out as surprise guest at Coachella 2023 during fiancé Rosalía's set.

Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

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11 Electric Coachella Surprise Guest Moments From Weekend 1: Post Malone, Billie Eilish, Rauw Alejandro & More

Weekend 1 of Coachella 2023 has come and gone, but not without countless surprises and viral moments. Take a look at some of the most exhilarating surprise guests — from Billie Eilish and Rauw Alejandro — from one of the year's biggest music festivals.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2023 - 08:05 pm

As delightfully dizzying as its famous ferris wheel, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival fills Indio's Colorado Desert with never-ending fun.

This year, Coachella booked history-making headliners Bad Bunny, BLACKPINK, and Frank Ocean, along with more than 150 other artists to perform across six stages. But one of the festival's most exciting parts, however, is its surprise performers.

The first weekend of Coachella is traditionally known for its big surprises and busy crowds — and this year didn't disappoint, offering surprise performances from global superstars to underground darlings.

From Tyler, The Creator to The Weeknd, here are some of the standout surprise guests from Coachella Weekend 1.

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Metro Boomin Astonished With Not One, But 7 Star Guests

In perhaps the most star-studded performance of the weekend, Metro Boomin welcomed a slew of collaborators to color his already spectacular set at the Sahara Tent. Throughout the night, The Weeknd, Future, 21 Savage, Don Toliver, Diddy, John Legend, and Mike Dean all joined the producer on stage to perform highlights from Heroes & Villains, Savage Mode, and more. Metro Boomin ended the evening with a live debut of "Creepin" alongside 21 Savage and Diddy.

MUNA Brought Out boygenius For "Silk Chiffon"

Life's so fun, life's so fun. While many festival goers anticipated Phoebe Bridgers to join MUNA for their bubbly collaboration "Silk Chiffon," the band shocked their audience by bringing out not just Bridgers, but Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus as well — all members of the supergroup boygenius, who performed their own lively set at Coachella the next day.

Bad Bunny Tapped Post Malone, Jhayco & More Stars

Now a headliner four years after making his Coachella debut, Bad Bunny made sure to pull out all the stops for his highly-anticipated performance. The Puerto Rican superstar brought out Post Malone for guitar-driven renditions of “La Canción” and “Yonaguni"; Jhayco (and a jet ski) for “Dákiti”; and Ñengo Flow and Jowell & Randy for “Safaera.”

Among Many Guests, Gorillaz Brought Out De La Soul To Dedicate "Feel Good Inc." To Late David Jolicoeur

On the festival's main stage, Gorillaz brightened their already glowing set with many surprise stars. Thundercat appeared first for "Cracker Island," shortly followed by individual performers Peven Everett, Jamie Principle, Bootie Brown, and Slowthai.

De La Soul appeared for their collaboration "Feel Good Inc.," dedicating the song to their late member, David ‘Trugoy The Dove’ Jolicoeur. For the closer "Clint Eastwood," Del The Funky Homosapien returned to the stage, after assisting with "Rock The House" earlier in the set.

Becky G Enlisted Marca MP, Jesús Ortiz Paz, Peso Pluma & Natti Natasha

Becky G made her Coachella debut this year, and she made sure to fill her 45-minute set with several guest stars. Marca MP joined her for “Ya Acabó," and Jesús Ortiz Paz of Fuerza Regida sang “Te Quiero Besar" and "Bebe Dame" alongside the star. Fans went wild when Peso Pluma showed up to perform his collaboration “Chanel," and after an outfit change, Becky G welcomed Natti Natasha for their joint track “Sin Pijama.”

Kali Uchis Amazed With Tyler, The Creator, Omar Apollo & Don Toliver

Kali Uchis' performances are always magical, and her surprise guests helped enchant audiences during her Coachella set. Tyler, The Creator joined Uchis to perform their Flower Boy collaboration “See You Again,” and later, Omar Apollo and Don Toliver took the stage to perform "Worth the Wait" and “Fantasy" respectively, both duets from her hypnotic latest album Red Moon In Venus.

Charli XCX And Troye Sivan Took It Back To "1999"

For one of the last few explosive shows of her CRASH era, Charli XCX brought the lightning by inviting Troye Sivan on stage to perform their poppy joint song "1999." Donning shades and silver accessories, the close friends and collaborators wore all-black attire but still shined during their shared performance.

DOMi & JD Beck Welcomed Mac DeMarco & Thundercat

During their bouncy set on Friday, innovative jazz duo DOMi & JD Beck surprised with two high-profile guests: Mac DeMarco and Thundercat. At the Mojave Tent, the four celebrated DOMi & JD Beck's bright debut album NOT TIGHT.

Rosalía Shared Stage With Fiancé Rauw Alejandro

Partway through an already invigorating, dance-filled set, Rosalía took her show to a new level: her fiancé, Rauw Alejandro, joined her to perform "Beso" and "Vampiros" from their joint EP RR. The music video for the former song announced the global superstar couple's engagement last month, showing off Rosalía’s stunning diamond ring.

Ellie Goulding Was The "Miracle" Calvin Harris' Set Needed

With his set starting around midnight, Calvin Harris was just getting Coachella's party started on Saturday. After playing several high-profile collaboration mixes, Harris finally introduced his one guest of the evening — and a major one at that. Frequent collaborator Ellie Goulding appeared to perform "Miracle," the duo's single that dropped last month.

Labrinth Surprised Everyone With Billie Eilish

Loneliness didn't last long at Labrinth's Saturday set. The singer's massive crowd was pleased to see former Coachella headliner Billie Eilish stop by to perform the pair's latest collaboration, "Never Felt So Alone." The track originally premiered on HBO's Euphoria, and Labrinth and Eilish made its live debut at Eilish's headline show at California's Kia Forum back in December.

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 

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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.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

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

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

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

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

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.

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