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Ivan Barias On Silence As Complicity, Holding Major Labels Accountable & How To Be A Non-Black Latinx Ally

Ivan Barias 

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Ivan Barias On Silence As Complicity, Holding Major Labels Accountable & How To Be A Non-Black Latinx Ally

The Philadelphia-based, GRAMMY-nominated producer, engineer and songwriter gives an honest account on race relations in the U.S.

GRAMMYs/Jun 12, 2020 - 09:55 pm

For Ivan Barias, the GRAMMY-nominated producer, engineer, songwriter and Recording Academy P&E Wing leader, George Floyd's death is "a wake-up call for the nation." The tragic deaths at the hands of police, he believes, is the alarm waking up the whole country to the racism it has been sleeping on.

A Black Dominican who migrated to the U.S. at a young age, the Philadelphia-based producer behind albums from Jill ScottMusiq Soulchild and many others knows racism's effects firsthand. While for some the video showing Floyd's death in Minneapolis in broad daylight may have been a disturbing reality check on racial bias, Barias has been aware of how deeply rooted racism is in U.S. culture and society, and how it systematically continues to oppress Black communities, as well as all people of color. 

While public support has risen substantially on the left—and from politicians on both sides of the aisle—in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement, Barias notes the Black Lives Matter Movement, which formed in 2013 after the acquittal of the man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, continues to be misunderstood and associated with violence. "I think it gets such a bad rap because of the idea that Black people protesting and demanding equality goes against the ethos of supremacy. I'm going to just be real. White [supremacy]," he says. "There have been policies that have been created over the years, whether consciously or subconsciously, that have been exclusive, and not inclusive in giving equity to African Americans."

Despite the harsh realities for Black people and people of color, the producer doesn't feel hopeless. He wants the tragedy that happened in Minneapolis to be a motivator for people to vote this year, among other actionable ways to stay involved. "This is when you have to really double down," he says. 

In a phone interview with the Recording Academy, Barrias spoke more on his views of race in the U.S., how the music industry can help create change, the tough conversations Latinx need to have now, why he thinks people need to stay politically active and how his support system is helping him through it all.

How are you?

I'm good. Considering the circumstances and everything that we've been dealing with, I'm managing. [I] tell you, it's been a heck of a week compounded by a heck of a year, so far. But the last three months have been really crazy and then we are dealing with this on top of that.

Definitely, what a year it's been. We wanted to get your thoughts on what's going on now. How would you describe our current racial climate? 

I describe it as a wake-up call. It's a wake-up call for the nation. It's a situation that is troubling. It's saddening, it's angering, it's confusing, but one thing that we cannot ignore is that institutional and systemic racism has played a huge role in what we're seeing ... Now people are more aware. Watching a murder across all of our social media platforms, TV screens, not just relegated to certain spaces, [the video has] been playing all over the world. One thing that people have been saying for years is that police brutality, predominantly in the African American community, has been something that has needed to be addressed. [Yet] what we've been seeing is the Black Lives Matter movement demonized. We've seen people like Colin Kaepernick trying to bring attention to a situation we're talking about here, peacefully. You're talking about an athlete using his platform to peacefully protest and people conflated that with disrespect for the country, disrespect for the military, disrespect for the flag because he chose to kneel in a silent protest.

Now, with [what we've seen,] protesters and how it went from peaceful protest to the rioting and the anger—even though you had some agitators and some agent provocateurs, the news has shown there have been people that have been instigating and agitating. Regardless, I think that the energy that's out there is a rage that has been suppressed for years. I think we're being forced to deal with this. Instead of being proactive, we're being reactive now. I think that change, however you can institute change, it's a wake-up call for us as a country to really address these things that are egregious.

You bring up a really great point. Why do you think some people have associated negative things with the movement?

I think it gets such a bad rap because of the idea that Black people protesting and demanding equality goes against the ethos of supremacy. I'm going to just be real. White [supremacy]. There have been policies that have been created over the years, whether consciously or subconsciously, that have been exclusive, and not inclusive in giving equity to African Americans. And the idea of white superiority has been something that has been dominant in a lot of the narratives in several industries and in several sectors of our economy. When you see the [Black Lives Matter] movement, it's a very powerful movement. It has this abrupt support of people in the media, athletes, entertainers. I just think it makes people uncomfortable. I think that the original intent of the movement was to say all lives will matter when Black lives matter. It was never to say that Black lives are more important than any other lives, or that African Americans or Black people should be higher in a pecking order than any other ethnic group. It was to say, "Hey look, we matter, also. Yes, you matter. But we also matter." And it's just the inherent biases that people have that make them not want to share equity with other ethnic groups that they deem inferior to them. So it's just the stain and in our history that's still perpetuating those stereotypes. 

You posted a screenshot on your Instagram of a story printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, with a headline that read "Buildings Matter, Too," arguing that while protests are a just response to the inequality going on, people need to think more about the consequences of damaging property. Could you talk more about how you think that is problematic?

Well, listen, I'm going to say this: I don't condone rioting. When people go out there and they riot, and they loot, I just think it could be perceived as taking away from the original intent of why [people] were protesting or why the protests are the [way they] are. However, I think that the headline—which they changed—they saw the error of their ways and they changed it to something a little bit softer in tone⁠. But when you say buildings matter, too, that comma after "matter" really has a different energy. That's a silent energy. To imply that, "Hey, yeah, we get it. We see what you're saying... we see your little protest, but don't forget, these buildings have been around longer than you and you should not destroy them." It's such a dismissive statement .... I think what [that kind of thinking] does is insinuate more of the stereotypes that [these protests] are about the destruction of property, rather than the protest of lives being taken by police forces. Law enforcement has a history of killing Black lives right on the spot. I am charging you, I am trying you and I am issuing your sentence right here. Anyone else would look at the reasons why police would intervene and stop people and try to arrest people [and would acknowledge they are] for things that aren't even worth the time in a court of law. Not to say that, "Look, I'm endorsing lawlessness."

You look at what happened in Central Park. And you could parse from what I'm saying. You don't have to take everything I'm saying so literal. When you look at the situation in Central Park with Amy Cooper with the gentlemen bird watching in which he told her, "Hey, do you mind putting your dog on a leash?" This area of the park explicitly said that she should have your dog on a leash. And she went crazy on him and called the cops. And immediately went to all of these different tropes associated with Black men and created a scenario. Dramatized the scenario for the [cops] to imply that she was being attacked by this man who was just simply telling her, "Can you put your dog on a leash." A lot of the interactions you see between the police and people of color are interactions that are based on fear. And also the idea that you must be committing a crime. Therefore, I must stop you. And then, when you're watching, when you see those videos, [your perception is] they did something. They had to have done something crazy for that police officer to use the type of force that he used: "I, a non-person of color, interact with the police and I've never experienced that level of aggression from a police officer. Therefore, in my mind, I am pre-programmed, predisposed to think that you have had to have done something extreme that can be met with such lethal force."

And the reason why "buildings matter" is problematic is that it further enhances the trope that all things are equal, reducing Black lives. You're reducing a Black life to something static. Something that is not even a real object. You're objectifying a Black life the same way you objectify a building. And until we start seeing Black lives as lives, as people, as humans, as citizens, as Americans, as our neighbors, you will not be able to tear down these walls of bigotry that exists.

I'm Latina, and I've seen inequity in the Black and brown neighborhood I grew up in. But I couldn't really name it, or I couldn't really identify it. I became more aware of it in college when I majored in ethnic studies. You're obviously aware of it. How did you gain your awareness of these issues?

Well, let me be honest here. I am a Black Dominican. I was born in the Dominican Republic and I came here at an early age and my experiences have, because of how I look, people quite often think I'm a Black man, right? And my features, I'm of mixed heritage. I've identified with the Black culture because of hip-hop, the music that I grew up listening to and sports. The athletes that I idolize, the music, the sports, the culture, my friends, all of the different things. Me being immersed in a culture, being accepted, allowed me a front-row seat to seeing all these things. And then these things became things that were part of my life. [When you grow up,] you start seeing that things aren't as equal as they are. You believe in the American dream when you're young and you feel like you can be anything you want to be. But then when you start seeing that there are cultural barriers of entry, where you have people that don't have the same opportunities because of generational wealth, all things are interconnected. When you have someone who doesn't have the ability to amass economic power, simply because of redlining districts where you will not get approved for a loan if you lived here, and things like that. 

If you have an ethnic-sounding name, you might not get the call for a job. If you have an ethnic-sounding name, you look ethnic, you might get a different type of care in an emergency room. So all of those things start to shape your perspective. You start to see things are a little bit more nuanced than you are led to believe when you're younger and you start seeing that there are certain blind spots that people in society who have certain privileges have. They tend to be myopic towards real issues that affect people of color in ways that they will never experience. And it's been a gradual thing. As you get older, you see things a little bit clearer. Now I'm really seeing how oblivious people may have been to a lot of these issues. It's interesting that it took this for a lot of people that I know of, a lot of my friends and colleagues [to realize all this]. This has affected them deeply. They didn't know they live in a country that had these deep-rooted issues that are now playing out for the world to see.

It's not just one isolated incident. We're not talking just about George Floyd here. We're talking about Breonna Taylor. We're also talking about Ahmaud Arbery all in the span of four months. Tragic killings at the hands of police, or racist-driven murders that you're finally seeing footage of. That you're saying, "Oh my God, this is unacceptable. I can't believe that happened." That you've taken yourself from your specific set of circumstances [and you've put] yourself in those individual's shoes. You really empathize and you see that you you really feel the pain. And that's why so many people are out there protesting. It's such a diverse protest that it's not even, you can't just call it a Black protest. It's just a protest in favor of Black Lives Matter, Black issues. But the number of people you see out there, young, old, Black, White, Latino, Asian, straight, gay. It's not specific to one demographic. And I think that this really shows that people are finally starting to wake up and they're starting to empathize with what a lot of people have been dealing with for years. Not even years—decades and centuries.

It's definitely brought up conversations on allyship. When it comes to the Latinx community, some grew up in the same communities as Black friends, Black neighbors, some like yourself are Afro-Latinx. In your opinion, what do non-Black Latinx need to do to show allyship? 

Reach out and talk to your friends. Reach out to talk to your Black friends and allow yourself to be educated on these issues. Understand how unconscious bias, which is a privilege, plays a role in systemic and institutional racism. You could be Latinx and have your eccentric features and speak with a diction that's a little bit more acceptable and appropriate for the corporate world. Even within our communities, you might have a Latinx person who may be Afro-Latino, who may not have the same opportunities you have.

Within the Latinx culture, there is a polarizing issue that tears us all, and that's colorism. Even in our own culture, we have to examine these tropes that have existed for centuries and are part of how a lot of our countries were colonized. It's how you have the caste system and how people have grown up with these inherent views on race and race matters. So I would say, allow yourself to be educated within your own culture and outside of the cultures. Understand if you have privilege, learn why you have that privilege. Fight for equity. And continue to speak on injustices. I think if you stay silent, you are complicit. If you are an immigrant who has been given preferential treatment because of those things that I mentioned, and you don't speak out, I think you are silently a part of the problem. And sometimes we don't know we're doing that. I think one of the most dangerous things that you can do is be a part of an out-group, and you achieve in-group acceptance, and you start denigrating other people in the out-group, just to make the people in the in-group that you're a part of happy and to continue the privilege and dominance over any authority over the other groups.

You have to refocus your lens and ask yourself if you are doing all you can to be an ally. Are you really supporting these things? Are you truly moved? Are you truly empathetic? Do you truly understand? And if not, figure out how you can do more. As I said, talk to people, be educated. Your point of view shouldn't be anchored. It has to be one that's in constant flux because this thing has grown into a different type of virus. And it is adaptive. And we all have to figure out how to eradicate it.

What does change look like to you? 

I say it looks like comprehensive police reform. I think that we have to examine policing methods. The current administration undid a lot of the consent decrees that existed from the Obama administration justice department ...
with respect to how you should be a police officer. There's certain lawlessness that exists and I think what we have to reform, but we have to really reform policing. We have to really examine the idea of what a police officer should do. We have to retrain our officers. We might have to even raise the bar and use a different set of metrics for who should be a police officer. We have to stop investing so much in law and order and invest in people. You have to invest in your community as opposed to policing methods for your community.

It takes a lot of hands on deck to actually do all this heavy lifting. And again, this is not just a Federal issue or just a state issue, or just a municipal issue. It's an across-the-board government issue. Everyone has to work together in tandem to find solutions so that these things don't happen. So that we have proper methods for how you use lethal force and when it should be used and how to really protect people. Because we've seen the police being called just to do a wellness check, and it results in the death of a Black person. I think those things have to be talked about. We have to really address how police should stop feeling like it's an us versus them type of mentality that dominates the thinking amongst a lot of police officers. 

We know historically the music industry has profited off Black artists. How can the music industry and community at large contribute to change? 

One of the things the recording industry needs to do is establish funds to assist. Whether you're talking about social justice funds or educational funds to assist with helping people in impoverished communities. They have to really open their wallets. I saw Warner is contributing a hundred million dollars to social justice causes. That's great. When you look at the top three major labels, [they made in 2018] a combined $19 million a day in streaming and revenue which amounts to about $7 billion a year. That's a small slice of the pie. I think there should be a social responsibility when it comes to the recording industry because I think that they have a duty to—and I'm not talking about censoring artists or infringing on people's first amendment rights—but they have a duty to be socially responsible when it comes to the music they put out to communities that are the ones that are the most at risk. And they promote stereotypes to me that continue the cycle. So, not an attack on the industry, I just felt like we need to be more socially aware of the artists that we're giving a platform to. Those things are important.

 Also, give artists community equity, and create a better profit-sharing model, so that they can be assets in their own communities. Here's what I'm saying: if you don't know how to help, if you are one of the top execs in the music industry and this is not your community and you don't know how to help, aside from opening your wallet, empower your artists. Make them economically viable to be able to build these things in the communities they come from and help with the existing wealth gap by making sure that there's better equity, and better profit-sharing model for those artists to partake in. That's a great start right there.

What are some of the things that you've been doing?

On my end, I'm supporting social justice groups and I'm encouraging people in my community to activate. I'm using social media and I'm reaching out to people in my circle. I have several threads of music industry executives, managers, artists, performers, I mean a variety of different disciplines across the industry. These are the things that we're talking about and we're sharing resources. We're sharing links here. And we're making sure that we're spreading the word on how we can all help each other and help people in our communities with these resources. I'm also doing a lot of advocacy, as well. I helped establish a group called Philly Culture United, a few weeks ago to address the mayor's budget. We noticed there was $0 allocated to arts and culture. And we had an office. We had an office here that was the office of arts culture and the creative economy. They eliminated the office, zeroed out that line on the budget for arts and culture, and increased the budget for law and order. Police, prisons, and courts. So you're talking about 40% going to law and order, against zero as divestment in the arts and culture. So, we convened, and we were talking about how we're going to address this and create a campaign to target the members of the city council, to let them know how egregious this was. And mind you, this is before Memorial Day when George Floyd was killed. Then we saw the protests. Since then, we're starting to see other cities move away, resources that they had allocated for policing, and law and order. There's a certain level of urgency now that exists for the city council to see that an investment or divestment from your own citizens, is basically saying, "I am okay with removing arts and culture, which historically has allowed people the means to protest and express themselves peacefully." And you're saying, "We don't believe that arts and culture is an essential asset for our citizens. And we feel that these resources could be better allocated to putting more police officers on the street." And I think that when you send that message to a community, I think you're really going down a slippery slope. And what we're advocating for is that you not only restore but maybe increase the budget in the arts and culture and creative economy. To me, that is an essential service that gives your citizens equity and allows them to participate in ways that they can express themselves, they can speak and amplify other voices that are speaking on issues that we've been covering in this interview.  So I think that that's something that a lot of people should figure out how to be a little bit more active when it comes to advocacy in their own cities and state. And that's part of American democracy. You have to figure out if you have a voice, how to amplify other people's voices. And that's what I am doing. And that's what I'm challenging a lot of my colleagues to do. If you can't march and protest, okay, then support. And if you can't support, then be politically active, and encourage people to vote. Voting has not only national implications but local implications. A lot of the things that I mentioned earlier, like redlining, and gerrymandering, and really suppressing people's views and voices through political means, to where you can never really get out of these pitfalls that have been created that aren't your doing. And constantly allowing for the support for law and order that disproportionately affects you. If you vote, and you vote for policies, and you vote for people that are share in those ideals, you can demand accountability and transparency. So that is something that I'm passionate about and I try to challenge everyone to at least exercise that right.

I've been talking to some friends who are undocumented and they're like, "I wish I could vote." They obviously can't. Do you have any words for Latinx and other people out there who are undocumented and can't vote?

Your voice is still viable. They don't even understand how their story is so impactful. By making people who have the privilege to exercise their rights. They should be made aware that there is a class of people that are a part of this American culture who don't have that right. And the lack of having that voice and exercising that right continues oppressive practices that disproportionately affect them. So I would say, urge your friends and your colleagues who have that right to really think about how this really affects people who believe in the American dream. People who, if given the opportunity, will stay in a line for 12 hours to cast that vote. That to me, that's very meaningful to share your stories and not hide. And there's no shame in saying, "Hey, I'm here. I'm undocumented, and I'm here. And I think of myself as an American, and I believe in the American dream and I believe in the United States constitution and what it affords every person who comes to this country." And definitely, I would say, you really have to drive that point and make people understand how privileged they are to cast a vote during every election.

Last question, how are you coping through all of this?

I have a support system. I'm staying in touch with a lot of my friends and colleagues. And I'm on several texting threads where we're sharing stories, and tweets, and things that come across our own social media pages, and resources, and having conversations to where you don't feel like you're at it alone. And I think that that's what people need. You need to have a support system so that you don't feel like you're the only person dealing with this and I think what it does is it empowers everyone. Everyone is lifting each other up. It gives you the strength to fight and fight for what's right and to continue to demand accountability. When you hear that other people share your sentiments and they're feeling exactly the way you're feeling, it makes it a lot easier for you to find the strength to continue and not give up. Except I think I'll tell you that, I have so many friends in a lot of these threads wondering if it's even worth voting. We had voting here in Philadelphia, our primaries were on Tuesday [June 2] and so many people were saying, "I'm not going to vote. Why? It doesn't even matter." That's when I said, "No, this is when you have to really double down." And you have to keep motivating people. And we motivate each other. So I don't know how I would be coping if it wasn't for the various threads and people in my life. I don't know how I would be able to maintain. Having a support system and having people that you could talk to is very important. And even people, friends who aren't from my community have reached out, expressing support, and asking how they can help, and what can they do, and how they can be better allies. And that to me is very important.

How Anthony Hamilton Is Using His Voice To Create Change For The Black Community

Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.

GRAMMYs/Jan 6, 2023 - 12:17 am

Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!

The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.

Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.

So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.

Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.

About GRAMMY U:

GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.     

Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.

As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.

Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.

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.

The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring

interview

Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With

Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
2023 GRAMMYs

Graphic: The Recording Academy

list

Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2022 - 03:01 pm

Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.

Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.

Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."

Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business. 

As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.

Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"

In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.

Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt." 

There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.

Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"

Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.

After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon. 

"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"

Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.

In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."

Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall. 

Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"

When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.

Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production. 

Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.

Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"

Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."

Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar. 

Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List