Photo: Lionel Flusin/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Irish Artists Receive St. Patrick's Day Boost Online
Take a musical trip to Ireland, following the path of last year's St. Patrick's day and its spikes in views, provided by YouTube
St. Patrick's day is arriving once again this year on March 17, a special time to celebrate Ireland and Irish-American heritage, including with music. It's no surprise classic rockers such as GRAMMY winners U2 and Van Morrison receive spikes in YouTube searches every year, but thanks to Billboard and YouTube's analytics, this year we get to know what acts got a special green bump last year at the leading video destination.
Three GRAMMY nominees saw their YouTube views come close to doubling during last year's St. Patrick's day, according to Billboard's list: Celtic Woman, the Corrs and House of Pain. Celtic Woman have a new album, Ancient Land, being released today. The Corrs' 2017 album, Jupiter Calling, was produced by T Bone Burnett and gave Ireland's most famous family band more of the raw recording style that Burnett is known for in the Americana genre. Rappers House Of Pain had disbanded by 1997, after the release of their third album. Their 1992 GRAMMY-nominated hit "Jump Around" remains an Irish flag planted firmly in the rap genre.
An intriguing byproduct of the analytics provided to Billboard's piece by YouTube is that less-recognized bands become dramatically more recognized on St. Patrick's day. So while Celtic Woman's views doubled, Celtic Thunder's views more than tripled, as did the Waterboys, although.technically the group is primarily from Scotland.
The Billboard article includes a video playlist for the five bands who saw their views increase during last year's St. Patrick's day by ten times or even more. In reverse order they are the Rumjacks, the Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, and the Dubliners. It's only fitting that the Dubliners, a traditional Irish band formed in 1962 in Dublin's O'Donoghue's Pub, led YouTube's green-spiked traffic with 15 times more views than usual.
Celebrating Irish spirit and music, including its diversity of styles, provides a unique time to reflect on this cultural connection that has played such a prominent and continuing role in American life.
Photo: Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images
What Does U2 Stand For? To Mark 'Songs Of Surrender,' 6 Facts About The 22-Time GRAMMY Winners
One of the most innovative, popular and acclaimed rock bands of all time, U2 are reexamining their past on their new album, 'Songs of Surrender.'
From their songs to their vision to their constant evolution, U2 have earned their place as one of the most popular and innovative rock bands of all time — and they have an astounding 22 GRAMMYs to show for it.
With their earthy, tactile first three albums, 1980's Boy, 1981's October, and 1983's War, the band positioned themselves at the vanguard of post-punk. Summarily, they hurtled past its parameters with a little help from producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, culminating in their 1987 masterpiece The Joshua Tree.
After ripping up the rulebook with 1991's deconstructionist Achtung Baby, U2 spent the rest of the decade throwing electro-tinged curveball after curveball with Pop and Zooropa. The band then settled into something of an elder-statesmen role with 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind and its consolidative, substantive follow-ups.
Today, U2 remain intact without a single lineup change — save drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. having to sit out a Vegas residency due to recovery from surgery. Partly as a tribute to their astonishing longevity, U2 released the Songs of Surrender — the third in their Songs of… series — on Mar. 17.
Part retrospective, part reimagining, Songs of Surrender culls 40 songs from their past — including some of their biggest hits, like "One," "Pride (In the Name of Love" and "With or Without You" — and renders them in soft-focus minimalism.
Accompanied by a memoir by Bono, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, the album acts as a panorama of U2's singular landscape — the spiritual searches, the self-conscious reinventions, the sociopolitical grandstanding, the triumphs and travails.
What Does U2 Stand For?
While the band shares a name with an American spy plane, the exact origin of the name is unclear. What's established, however, is that they were previously known as Feedback — one of the only musical terms they knew — and the Hype before settling on the name.
In a BBC interview, Bono and the Edge explained that a friend curated a list of names for them, and they chose U2 because they hated it the least. Bono remarked that the name gave off "futuristic" images of "the spy plane" and "the U-boat." (The name still makes him "cringe.")
What Is U2's Latest Album?
After Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, U2 have released Songs of Surrender, which shrinks down the often grandiose arrangements of their past work and examines them with a new lens. Produced by the Edge, the album is spread across four discs, each named after a band member.
"I just need to be more silent, and to surrender to my band as being at the core of what I'm trying to do with my life, surrender to my wife," Bono recently told NPR. "And when I say 'surrender,' I do not mean making peace with the world... I'm trying to make peace with myself, I'm trying to make peace with my maker, but I am not trying to make peace with the world.
"The world is a deeply unfair place, and I'm ready to rumble," he continued. "I'm keeping my fists up for that one."
What Is U2's Latest Book?
Bono has characterized the operating principle behind Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story as such: "I was hoping to draw in detail what I'd previously only sketched in songs. The people, places, and possibilities in my life."
Organized around the 40 selections in its attendant album with plenty of off-ramps and asides, Surrender illuminates hidden corners of Bono's history, faith and psyche like never before.
Why Is Bono Called Bono?
Born Paul David Hewson, Bono was nicknamed Bono Vox as a teen in Dublin, when he and his friends were part of a surrealist street gang named Lypton Village.
As they were all assigned nicknames, Hewson assumed the moniker Bono Vox — the name of a hearing-aid store near where they grew up, which itself came from the Latin word Bonavox, which means "good voice."
Are U2 Touring In 2023?
Come fall 2023, U2 will return to the stage after a four-year absence for a Las Vegas residency focusing on their classic Achtung Baby album.
In an unprecedented move, Mullen won't be part of the proceedings, though the band looks forward to his return.
"No one is more disappointed than us that Larry won't be joining us in Vegas," the Edge told The Telegraph, adding: "In the history of U2, you can count the shows we've missed on the fingers of one hand."
What Was U2's Biggest Hit?
From a Billboard Hot 100 standpoint, the U2 song that's made the biggest commercial splash is "With or Without You," that skyscraping, eros-meets-agape wonder from The Joshua Tree. (That song stayed at No. 1 for three weeks; "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" remained in the same position for two.)
And when you listen to the hushed, humbled rendition of "With or Without You" just released on their new album, you hear not only how their artistic achievements have resonated through the decades.
Instead hear the four men not as rock titans, but as human beings — searching, striving, and ultimately surrendering.
Photo: Bradley Quinn
Living Legends: Van Morrison On New Album 'Moving On Skiffle,' Communing With His Roots & Reconnecting With Audiences
"It's in the backdrop of everything I've ever done," the two-time GRAMMY winner says of the primordial soup of skiffle, a scrappy, street-level genre formative to 1960s folk and rock in the United Kingdom.
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com presents an interview with two-time GRAMMY winner Van Morrison, one of the most influential singers, songwriters and bandleaders of the 20th century, who codified "Celtic soul" for a generation. His new album, Moving on Skiffle, is available now.
These days, Van Morrison tends to be in the news for reasons that have little to nothing to do with music.
His irascibility toward the World Economic Forum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, et al has been well documented — as have his public clashes with federal governments over pandemic lockdown policies. Sure, such policies have a lot to do with his livelihood; for a time, they precluded live performances for the master bandleader. In response, he released a string of protest singles with Eric Clapton: "The Rebels," "Stand & Deliver," "This Has Gotta Stop"; the topic made its way into his solo music as well. Robin Swann, the Northern Ireland Minister of Health, lambasted him as "dangerous" for his position on lockdowns; he cheekily responded with a song of the same name.
As such, the resultant discourse — and controversy — has lately earned him more attention as a political agitator than a still-vital musician. Which can threaten to obfuscate the ocean of output (or as he idiosyncratically calls it, "product") Morrison's released in the past decade and change.
That's a shame, because his recent run of albums has been fantastic; at 77, the two-time GRAMMY winner's talents remain essentially undimmed. 2016's autumnal Keep Me Singing was a treasure; so was You're Driving Me Crazy, his 2018 album with the late Hammond B-3 titan Joey DeFrancesco. Others, too, like 2018's rollicking The Prophet Speaks, which also featured DeFrancesco, and 2019's earthy Three Chords and the Truth are mightily satisfying as well.
His last two, 2021's Latest Record Project, Vol. 1 and 2022's What's It Gonna Take?, were charged with dark, sardonic energy as Morrison took shots at the government, marking the seventh or eighth Van's Mad epoch in his discography.
Despite traces of said animus at the Man, everything about his latest album, Moving on Skiffle, out Mar. 10, signals a new beginning — from its premise (it's all from the skiffle songbook, reimagined to various degrees) to its sound (simple, breezy, ebullient) to its title, suggestive of dusting off and forging ahead.
In this edition of Living Legends, GRAMMY.com sat down with Morrison to discuss the making of Moving on Skiffle, getting back onstage after music ground to a halt, and why the folk-oriented genre of yore remains fundamental to everything he's made in its wake.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Skiffle loomed so large in the music flowing out of the UK in the 1960s — among so many other artists, it birthed the Beatles, the Hollies and, from what I understand, you. Can you lay the groundwork as per your relationship to this beautiful mishmash of an artform?
"Mishmash," yeah. I don't know if you've done any history research, but it basically started with: Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Josh White got together to make this kind of music. Someone called it "skiffle." It was pre- the British kind of skiffle. It was forgotten about in the U.S., but it made its way to the U.K. and was incorporated into this kind of music.
It was basically a mixture of mostly American folk music and Black American folk music, stemming from Lead Belly and a guy in the U.K. called Lonnie Donegan. He came out with a record ["Rock Island Line"] and it was a big hit. So, that started the ball rolling.
How did it come into your life?
Well, because I heard it. It was all over the radio. There were programs that had people on Saturday mornings, and Lonnie Donegan was on the radio quite a bit. I got hold of the 78 r.p.m. with "Rock Island Line," and "John Henry" was on the B-side. But it was all over the place then, sometime in the '50s.
When I listen to Moving on Skiffle, I get the sense that these songs have been floating around your consciousness through all your eras, phases and decades. How did you boil down the skiffle songbook into this curated sequence of 23 tunes?
Well, with a lot of work.
I'd like to home in on a few tunes that stand out to me. Can you talk about your connection to "Sail Away Ladies"?
Yeah, well, I mean, again, it's one of those songs that's been in various versions, and it's an old song. I think it's from the Appalachians or something. It's also called "Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O." It came out as that. It came out as "Sail Away Ladies." There's, like, hundreds of versions of this song, you know? So, it's just part of the genre.
Another favorite is "Gypsy Davy," a Scottish ballad that runs so deep in the tradition, from what I was reading. My wife, who grew up on Celtic music, immediately recognized it. Can you talk about what appeals to you about that one?
Well, it's the same thing; it was part of the repertoire. I did it in a band I was in in 1963. It was also part of the folk memory, and it's also been under various titles. It's been done as "Black Jack Davy." In fact, there's a book that goes into all the history of that song, and other songs. I forget the title right now.
"Gov Don't Allow" also resonates with me. I connect to its anti-authoritarian message, which feels harmonious with some of the messages in your recent albums.
Well, that comes from the old song "Mama Don't Allow." I just changed the lyrics. It's what it says in the song. If you follow the lyrics, the lyrics can explain it better than I can right now.
Lastly, I want to bring up "Green Rocky Road." I was pretty blown away by it — it's nine minutes long. I've always known and loved it — Donovan and Tim Hardin's version in particular — but you brought it to a completely new space.
Again, it was one of those songs where there's loads of different versions of it. But I just stretched it out and made it longer, and added some lyrics. I put a few chords in it that I haven't heard before.
When you sing these songs live or in the studio, how does it make you feel to make these new connections with tunes you've known for 60-plus years?
[Slightly taken aback] How does it feel!
Well, it feels like the word you just used: connecting. But it's in the backdrop of everything I've ever done. I mean, this is what I came out of.
There was a book that came out in the UK when I was a kid called American Folk Guitar, by Alan Lomax and Peggy Seeger. Lomax and Seeger were both living in the UK then, and they were actually in a skiffle group themselves. So, it's all connected. This is where I'm coming from. These are the roots.
This is a 23-track album, and you've made so many in recent memory. More than that, they're really good. I listen to Three Chords and the Truth and Latest Record Project, Vol. 1 all the time. I feel like you don't get enough credit for bringing quality and quantity. What's been galvanizing you to make so much music lately?
Well, just 'cause I can do it, and the obvious reason is because of [chuckles] the obvious thing we're staring in the face, this plandemic that stopped the gigs.
You couldn't do gigs. Live gigs were banned. I don't know if you know about all this, but you couldn't travel. It was a couple of years where you really couldn't do gigs. So, the other thing is writing and recording.
It must have taken an emotional toll on you to not be able to connect with audiences. But I can feel that release in this music.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Van Morrison performing live. Photo: Bradley Quinn
Now that you've taken a trip through the skiffle songbook, what's next for you?
Well, there's other product, but it's pointless to talk about it now, because I don't know when it's going to come out. But if and when it comes out, we could do another interview about that, because there's so much stuff I have. I couldn't tell you when the next one's going to be, but we'll let you know when we put it out.
When I think of the throughline of your entire career, I see you as the consummate bandleader. Your interplay and telepathy with a large ensemble seems central to your art in some ways. Are there any musicians on Moving on Skiffle that you'd like to pay a token of appreciation to?
Well, all of them, because they work really well. Especially on this product, this album. There's Colin Griffin on drums, Pete Hurley on bass, Stuart McElroy on piano, Richard Dunn on organ, Dave Keary on guitar. Plus, there's backup singers like Crawford Bell, Dana Masters and Jolene O'Hara.
Don't forget "Sticky" Wicket on washboard! All these people need to be commended for doing such a good job.
Photos: (L to R): Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc; Ethan Miller/Getty Images; KMazur/WireImage; Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Songbook: How Mary J. Blige Became The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul Through Empathy, Attitude And An Open Heart
With 14 albums and nine GRAMMYs under her belt, Mary J. Blige puts no limitations on the music she creates. Explore her extensive catalog of hits, soundtrack favorites, stunning covers and impactful remixes.
Mary J. Blige’s tireless work ethic, extraordinary singing talent and soul-level relatability are the secret ingredients to her longevity as a recording artist. Her discography includes nine GRAMMY wins and 37 nominations, and the multi-hyphenate artist continues to demonstrate that there's no limit to her creativity.
Blige is nominated for six awards at the 2023 GRAMMYs, including Album Of The Year and Best R&B Album for Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe). The title track is nominated in three categories: Record Of The Year, Best Traditional R&B Performance and Best R&B Song, and "Here With Me" is up for Best R&B Performance.
Good Morning Gorgeous encapsulates the true self-love Blige felt after healing from divorce, abusive relationships and depression. As she explains on an album interlude "good morning gorgeous" is the affirmation Blige now says to herself in the mornings — and, for the first time, she believes it. And when it comes to the odds of adding to her GRAMMY wins on Feb. 5, it’s safe to wager that Blige thinks they’re sound.
"Bet on me, why not?" Blige sings in the chorus of the album’s "On Top." "Don’t act like I never left on top."
For her resonant musical messages, Blige has been crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. But she’s also an industry professional who deftly sets and iterates on trends, keeping even her earliest releases relevant and exciting.
Blige became a record label boss when she released Good Morning Gorgeous as a joint venture between Lyor Cohen’s 300 Entertainment and her own Mary Jane Productions. She’s a frequent executive producer of her albums and multimedia projects and is set to executive produce two fictional films for Lifetime in 2023 through her production company Blue Butterfly. Real Love and Strength of a Woman are both named for her songs. Real Love is described as a romantic drama set in an upstate New York college.
After more than 30 years of recording, Blige has amassed an acclaimed and extensive discography of consummate original classics, deep soundtrack cuts, scene-stealing covers and remixes. Press play on the Amazon Music playlist above and use the below guide as a diving board into a career full of the empathetic pain, healing, promise and happiness that she has shared with unflinching honesty and vulnerability.
The Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul
Blige was living in a housing project in Yonkers, N.Y. when the late Andre Harrell signed her to his Uptown Records, which released her 1992 debut album, What’s The 411? Harrell coined the nickname Queen of Hip-Hop Soul to describe the fresh way Blige's music melded rap beats with R&B hooks.
Harrell and his then-intern Sean Combs gave her a rugged style to match her music, with boots and baseball caps instead of heels and sparkles. Young women from the inner city saw themselves in Blige's aesthetic and in her rawness.
Yet admiration for Blige’s powerful vocals and unique tone grew before her name was ever recognized. Blige was first heard as a backup singer for Father MC’s 1990 hit "I'll Do 4 U" and, the following year, her own single "You Remind Me" (from the Strictly Business soundtrack) gave Blige some street buzz to lead into What’s The 411? The hip-hop swagger of "Real Love" — which samples "Top Billin'" by Audio Two, a beat highly familiar to New York City fans at the time — served as her formal introduction to the world and remains a calling card decades later.
The My Life Era (Extended Mix)
Contrary to the music industry’s sophomore slump stereotype, Blige’s second album is a seminal work. 1994's My Life became career-defining, and an album that she has subsequently reflected on to show her growth.
The album is a reflection of her volatile relationship with singer Cedric "K-Ci" Hailey, Blige explained in Mary J. Blige’s My Life, a documentary she executive produced for Amazon Studios in honor of the album’s 25th anniversary. Throughout, Blige keenly pairs heights of happiness with depths of her despair on songs like "You Bring Me Joy," "I’m Goin’ Down," "I Love You" and "Be Happy."
"The whole 'My Life' album is, 'Please love me, don’t go, I need you,'" she said in the documentary. Combs, then known as Puffy, continued: "When she made that album, she was fighting for her heart." (Combs and Harrell served as executive producers of My Life.)
Blige and Combs never collaborated quite so closely again, though they remained friends. Combs didn’t produce 2011’s My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1), but he appears in a telephone skit to open the album, similarly to how he did on My Life. The sequel features guest stars such as Nas, Beyoncé and Drake.
Though her earlier works hinted at the potential, My Life most firmly established Blige as a beacon for hurt hearts everywhere. In a 2021 interview with Trevor Noah, Blige described how childhood physical and mental abuse, as well as her relationship with Hailey, led to substance abuse and depression. When she used the songs on My Life as a way of saying she needed help, "four million people responded and said, ‘'We need help, too.'"
Covers, Collaborations And Remixes
Cover songs have been an acclaimed — and long-lasting — part of Blige’s career ever since she sang "Sweet Thing" by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan on What’s The 411? Blige released her hugely popular version of Rose Royce’s "I’m Goin’ Down" in 1994, which reached No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, and she beat Beyoncé to the punch in 2000 with her take on Maze’s "Before I Let Go."
But her ascension to rock star status has a lot to do with her scene-stealing covers of songs of stadium-level acts. Blige has delivered epic versions of songs by Led Zeppelin ("Stairway To Heaven") and Sting ("Whenever I Say Your Name"), and when she collaborated with U2 on a new version of "One," there’s an audible battle with Bono as to whose song this is now.
Blige collaborates with rap, R&B, rock, country, electronic and classical artists with equal ease, and her discography includes work with late legends, including "Holdin’ On" with Aretha Franklin and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s "As" with George Michael. She won her first career GRAMMY in 1995 for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for "I'll Be There For You / You're All I Need To Get By," a collaboration with Method Man that covers Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
A dance music collaboration with London duo Disclosure called "F for You" in 2013 helped to catalyze an entire album from the Capital of England called The London Sessions. The 2014 album features a second collaboration with Disclosure ("Right Now"), a cameo from UK garage DJ/producer MJ Cole ("Nobody But You") and guest vocals from Scottish singer Emeli Sandé ("Whole Damn Year").
Blige has long understood the potency of both hip-hop and dance music remixes, which remain a part of her single roll-outs. Over the years, she created a remix album of songs from What’s The 411?, and in 2002 released club-focused reworks of songs from No More Drama, Mary and Share My World on Dance For Me.
Blige's remixes also pay homage. On her cover of First Choice’s "Let No Man Put Asunder," Blige honors singers who came before by featuring guest vocals from the group's lead singer, Rochelle Fleming.
Her Rap Alter Ego
Blige has rapped a few times on her albums, beginning with a verse in "Love," from 2001’s No More Drama. She won her first solo GRAMMY for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 2003 for "He Think I Don't Know" from No More Drama. By the time she rhymed on "Enough Cryin’" and "Take Me As I Am" (both from 2005’s The Breakthrough), her rap alter ego had a name: Brook Lynn.
Her cadence caught the ear of her friend Busta Rhymes, who recruited Blige for his "Touch It (Remix)" the next year. "The haters plot and they watch, lookin’ all pale/While I’m on a yacht overseas, doin’ my nails," she raps alongside Busta, Missy Elliott and Rah Digga.
Brook Lynn took a hiatus for a few years after that, but she came back blazing in 2011. "Homegirls love me and we be ridin' Phantoms/Mad chicks hate me 'cause I be writin' anthems," she rhymes on "Midnight Drive" from My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1).
Since "You Remind Me," her first Top 40 entry, appeared on the soundtrack to Strictly Business, Blige has written stunning original songs such as "I Can See in Color" for Precious (2009). She has also licensed other hits to dozens of movies.
After years of contributing to soundtracks, Blige created her own as executive producer and performer of the soundtrack for Think Like a Man Too (2014), which includes a cover of Shalamar’s "A Night to Remember" and guest appearances by Pharrell Williams and The-Dream.
Blige has been cast in several acting roles since she guest starred in an episode of The Jamie Foxx Show in 1998 and has played fictional characters as well as real life figures Betty Shabazz (Betty and Coretta) and Dinah Washington (Respect). She received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song for her work on 2017 film Mudbound.
More than 30 years into her recording career, Blige appears happy, energized and ready to add more hits and heartfelt anthems to her songbook.
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.