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5 Takeaways From Jack Harlow's 'Come Home The Kids Miss You'
Jack Harlow performs at Music Midtown 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia

Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

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5 Takeaways From Jack Harlow's 'Come Home The Kids Miss You'

One of the biggest names in rap just dropped his sophomore album. GRAMMY.com highlights five key details about Jack Harlow's 'Come Home The Kids Miss You.'

GRAMMYs/May 6, 2022 - 11:12 pm

On May 6, at the stroke of midnight, the hip-hop and pop worlds successfully collided when Jack Harlow released Come Home the Kids Miss You. His second major-label album was released via a joint venture between Generation Now and Atlantic Records.

The 24-year-old Louisville native has made a name for himself as one of the most sought-after performers in the game — and he's not slacking at all on
Come Home the Kids Miss You, upping his witty and technically sound barbs.  Composed of 15 tracks and clocking in at 45 minutes, Harlow takes listeners through a myriad of experiences that connect back to his hometown and demonstrate why studying the greats has paid off.

Come Home the Kids Miss You is full of good old-fashioned throne-taking ambition. And as the rapper craves centrist hip-hop acclaim, Harlow's latest is proof that his past few years of hard work are now paying off with dividends. GRAMMY.com breaks down five key details from the record that listeners will enjoy.

1. 2forwOyNE's Chill Chords Power Jack Harlow's Party

Come Home the Kids Miss You boasts guest appearances from Pharrell Williams ("Movie Star"), Justin Timberlake ("Parent Trap"), John Mayer ("Nail Tech"), and Lil Wayne ("Poison") — but none of these features siphon from Harlow's star power. Rather, they boost his stock, and Harlow plays second fiddle to no one on his own record.

Beyond the album, the Kentucky rapper is even close to the precipice of rap's A-list. Harlow joined Kanye West and Lil Nas X onstage at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards and will make his acting debut in the upcoming White Men Can't Jump reboot — a promise that Harlow will be a force you cannot ignore for years to come.

2. Superstar Appearances Don't Overshadow Jack's Star Power

Come Home the Kids Miss You boasts guest appearances from Pharrell Williams ("Movie Star"), Justin Timberlake ("Parent Trap"), John Mayer ("Nail Tech"), and Lil Wayne ("Poison") — but none of these features siphon from Harlow's star power. Rather, they boost his stock, and Harlow plays second fiddle to no one on his own record.

Beyond the album, the Kentucky rapper is even close to the precipice of rap's A-list. Harlow joined Kanye West and Lil Nas X onstage at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards and will make his acting debut in the upcoming White Men Can't Jump reboot — a promise that Harlow will be a force you cannot ignore for years to come.

3. Pop Classics Earn Top-Billing On Sophomore Record

From the classic "No, No, No" by Destiny's Child being sampled on "Talk Of The Town" to Fergie's "Glamorous" setting up "First Class" for chart-topping success, Come Home the Kids Miss You features some solid late '90s, early 2000s pop references. Throughout, the Homies' and Jack Harlow's squad of producers have developed a record that can be seamlessly enjoyed with friends or in an intimate fashion.

4. Jack Harlow Shoots His Shot At Your Favorite Celeb Crush

Like his idol Drake, Jack Harlow knows how to make memeable raps. He also has a penchant for delivering bars that will have women in a tizzy, which is why it is amazing to see him try to land some of music's most eligible bachelorettes. Harlow has upped the level when it comes to shooting one's song through song. On "Dua Lipa," named after, duh, Dua Lipa, he strives to "do more with her than do a feature," while on "First Class," the rapper busts a move while getting ready for his night with Brazilian singer Anitta.

It is no secret that Harlow loves the ladies and gets it right back in return, but Come Home the Kids Miss You is a masterclass on how to get the object of your affection's attention with intention.

5. Come Home the Kids Miss You Is Going to Do Numbers

"First Class" gave Jack Harlow his first Billboard Hot 100 solo chart-topper in April, and ahead of the album release, Chicago rapper Lil Durk tweeted, "Told Jack Harlow a couple of days ago he gone do 200k first week." And while the reports haven't come in just yet, those "Young Drake" vibes may carry him to the top of the pop.

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Hip-Hop's Secret Weapon: Producer Boi-1da On Working With Kendrick, Staying Humble And Doing The Unorthodox
Boi-1da in Toronto in January 2023.

Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

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Hip-Hop's Secret Weapon: Producer Boi-1da On Working With Kendrick, Staying Humble And Doing The Unorthodox

The self-described "young veteran" producer, up for four awards at the 2023 GRAMMYs, including Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical, has his hand on songs by Drake, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. He spoke with GRAMMY.com about creating with hip-hop greats.

GRAMMYs/Feb 1, 2023 - 04:22 pm

If a rapper staying atop the mainstream for more than a decade is a herculean feat, then a producer doing the same is downright sisyphean. Boi-1da, the 36-year-old Canadian producer who netted four nominations at the 2023 GRAMMYs — including the coveted Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical — has risen to the very top of the industry, and remained there because he hasn’t lost the perspective from when he first started rolling the boulder up the hill

"I feel like my awareness is a lot of the reason I’ve been doing this for a long time, because I’m very socially aware of what’s going on and I can see," he tells GRAMMY.com. "In some rooms, you’ve got to find out what role you play. Sometimes, you've gotta play a bigger role. I find, working with newer artists, you have to play more of a mentoring role. But I find with other people, it’s about finding your use and being a utility." 

Boi-1da initially rose to prominence as one of Drake’s trusted beatsmiths and has his thumbprint on hits like "Best I Ever Had," "Over," and the GRAMMY-winning "God's Plan." His credits grew to include Rihanna's "Work" and Kanye West's Donda. Yet, even by these standards, 2022 was a banner year: Boi-1da contributed to Beyoncé’s Album of the Year nominee Renaissance ("Heated"), scored a pair of credits on Kendrick Lamar’s progressive, polarizing AOTY hopeful Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers ("N95," "Silent Hill"), and crafted the understated, elegant instrumental for Jack Harlow and Drake’s Best Rap Song contender "Churchill Downs." 

Hip-hop producers are often pigeonholed, but Boi-1da’s three biggest records from last year have virtually no sonic overlap. This malleability is the cornerstone of the self-described "young veteran"’s success, as he realized that eschewing one signature sound was the best way to remain in the zeitgeist.

"There have been many times where I’ve created sounds and it gets emulated and everybody starts doing it," he says. You’re liable to hear Boi-1da in every phylum of contemporary rap and pop music, from the horror movie menace of Nardo Wick’s "Wicked Freestyle," to Alessia Cara’s emphatic kiss-off "Lie to Me" to the bristling boom-bap of Freddie Gibb’s "Space Rabbit." More than 15 years into his career, Boi-1da continues to reinvent himself, and is gearing up to release his first solo studio album later in 2023.

Ahead of Music's Biggest Night, the GRAMMY-winning producer shared stories about working with Drake, Beyoncé, and Kendrick, as well as the importance of mentoring young talent, and why even after more than a dozen nominations, getting GRAMMY recognition still feels special.

This is your second time getting the Producer Of The Year nod after being nominated in 2019. What does that recognition mean to you and are there any ways it feels different than the first time?

I feel like it’s the highest honor as a producer. So I was extremely honored the first time and to be here again is even more of an honor. I’m not gonna lie, the first time I did it, I was going crazy and I was like, Man, that was so hard to even get nominated. I didn’t win the first time, so I was like, I’m gonna try equally hard and see if I can get back here. And by the grace of God, I’m back here again. You know, it just took a lot of hard work, a lot of putting my head down and making a lot of sacrifices.

What do you think has changed the most about the way you’ve approached making music since you were last nominated?

I think the growth point is truly the way I listen to music and the way I intake music. I’m learning to do that differently. I think the approach of creating is always the same for me, other than adding new elements, new sounds and whatnot. 

I feel like music is so different and it’s rapidly changing, so there’s a lot of adjustments. I feel like that’s the only thing that has really changed for me. I’ve been doing this for a long time; I feel like I’m kind of like a young veteran. Right now, there are a bunch of new kids growing up in this generation of music and their taste and style is totally different. I like to come left-field and do stuff unorthodox and different, so figuring out how to pivot and keep yourself relevant is what I’ve been doing.

The Daft Punk sample on that Drake and 21 Savage song "Circo Loco" feels like something the Boi-1da of 10 years ago wouldn’t have done.

Definitely. What I find today with a lot of music is people love extremely familiar samples over really straight-to-the-point beats. Not a lot of detail, something familiar, which is basically what we did with a song like "Circo Loco." The type of producer I am, I like to make beats; I’ll make one of five types of beats that sound the same, or use ideas that sound the same, and then I’ll move on.

That’s the way I’ve been able to stay relevant for so long, moving on from sounds. There have been many times where I’ve created sounds and it gets emulated and everybody starts doing it. You can be mad and sit there and be like, "Yo, everybody’s biting my style." I feel like I’m just that creative where I can move onto the next thing and be like "Okay, cool, you guys can have that. I’ll make something else."

It shows, because the three biggest songs you produced this year, "Heated," "Churchill Downs," and then "N95," those are wildly different poles in rap/R&B/pop music production. Were you and Drake already working on "Heated" when Beyoncé reached out?

Drake had been working with B; that was just an idea that we had started with Drake and he and B ended up finishing up the idea with me. I think Beyoncé added to the production as well.

I wasn’t around for the process of Beyoncé making that song, but I was heavily involved in the production. Whenever I work with Drake or someone like Beyoncé, it’s on easy mode. You have something they like, they usually know exactly what they want to do with it and you just trust ‘em completely. Sometimes, I’m hands off, I’m like, "Cool, y’all like it? Here you go. I know what you guys do and you guys do that."

The liner notes on a lot of your songs, like "I Got a Shot" off Jack’s album, that has a ton of people credited. Is there a level of ego sublimation with that where it’s like "You might not be able to hear my contributions in the final product, but I know that I did my part to get this song where it needs to go?"

[Jack Harlow] likes it to be a room full of producers. It’s like a band. We’d construct stuff and put it together. I have no ego when it comes to collaborating. I really just want the song to sound exactly how I want it to sound. If it takes 50 people to do that, then so be it. I’d rather it sounds the best that it can sound than like, "Oh, no, I’m getting lower publishing on this song."

It’s so fun to be in there with a bunch of people. You get that feeling of doing something and you see somebody else’s reaction and it just motivates you to be like, "Yeah, okay, I know what I’m doing." When I was younger, I’d sit in a room by myself and make music. That’s cool and all and I still do it, but it’s so much fun to be in a room of people with different energies. 

How did the "Churchill Downs" record come together?

When it comes to "Churchill Downs," I worked pretty closely with Jack. He and Drake are very good friends. Jack would always say, "Yo, I wanna do a song with Drake. Let’s make an idea." We were really and truly figuring it out. We were working in L.A. for some-odd weeks and I ended up going back home.

I went to a friend’s birthday party and he told me, "I’ve been working with this producer, I want you to hear some of his stuff." He gave me a flash drive…and it was full of samples. The first sample I heard was the one for "Churchill Downs." It sounded like a harp and a woman singing. I got home and chopped it up and did a little bounce to it and sent it over to my boy [TT] Audi, and he added some stuff to the beat and it was complete. 

I had sent it to Jack because he was still in the studio. He immediately fell in love with the beat. He played me his part in the song and said, "I really want Drake on this record." I was like, "S—, you’re homies with Drake, too. Just hit him. I’m pretty sure he’ll rock with this. It’s hard." They met up on their own and recorded that song together.

I was amazed looking back through stuff you were doing 10, 11 years ago that there were songs of yours that Kendrick was on back then. How has your creative relationship with Kendrick changed over the decade that you’ve known each other?

I’ve known Kendrick Lamar for a long time. I knew him actually before Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. I had met him through one of my good friends who actually signed him.  Our relationship hasn’t changed. Kendrick is one of the coolest guys ever. Me and him always lock in and create music together. We have tons of music that we’ve made together and he’s just a great dude. 

Kendrick really makes folks wait and wants to come with something that feels totally different and distinct with each new body of work. What was the direction that he was trying to push on Mr. Morale, and what did you bring to it?

When it comes to me working with Kendrick, it’s really just raw ideas and raw thoughts. A lot of the time, I’m not sure where it’s going or what he’s gonna do with it because I’m not really around for the song recording process. I like to sometimes just give artists…their own creative space and free-flow and whatnot. That’s why he’s one of my favorite guys to work with, because you go in there and it’s like, "Alright, what are we doing?" 

I didn’t really know what was gonna happen with ["N95"] and where he was gonna go with it lyrically. I just recall me, Jahaan [Sweet] and Sounwave in there, we had cooked up the idea and I was like, "Man, this sounds really dope but I’m not sure where it’s going." 

I ended up hearing it right before the album came out. We had done that before the pandemic and the pandemic happened and nobody saw each other for the longest time…and he did what he did to it. It’s always fun working with Kendrick because it’s just raw, it’s literally everybody doing whatever they wanna do and it meshing together.

You’ve done a lot through collaborations with Splice and people like Jahaan Sweet and WondaGurl, who’ve come up as proteges of yours. Why is taking that active role in mentorship and demystifying the production process important to you?

I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have YouTube, I didn’t have tutorials, I had to figure out everything [on my own]. I lived in Durham, Ontario, there was absolutely nothing to do, nothing going on. There was no way of reaching out to artists or reaching out to producers. So it’s like, if I could be some kind of mentor or do anything for anybody, I do it because I never had it. I know how it feels to be not heard and have to fight, tooth and claw, to get to where you gotta get to.

The feeling of serving and giving back is always rewarding, more rewarding than getting, to be honest. Remember, I had nothing, I came from Canada. People didn’t know we made hip-hop music in Canada or take us seriously. I’d go to America and people would ask me if there were polar bears where I live. But that’s the reason why I do it and I love it and I still continue to do it. I give bursaries to the highest music marks of my high school. I just always stay in tune and check stuff out. I love music and I love being around it and inspiring as much as I can.

You gotta stay in tune with the young guys, that’s the future right there. You’ve gotta [be] tapped in with them, because at the end of the day, it’s like you’re making music for them.

You’ve been nominated for 19 GRAMMYs, that’s staggering. Does that ever stop feeling special for you and the people in your circle, like Drake and 40?

No, it always feels great to be nominated and even win awards, as well. It just goes to show that sometimes, everybody that’s a human being will get into their head, especially as a musician. Especially someone like myself who has been doing it for a really long time, you sometimes question if you’re still doing the right thing, if you’re still dope. So literally being nominated for awards is a great feeling and [one] that will never get old to me. It lets me know that I’m still doing stuff that people love and heading in the right direction. 

Is there anything else you want to mention about what you’re working on in 2023?

I’m working on a compilation album right now. It’s gonna be really dope, a lot of your favorite artists, a lot of new artists you’ve never heard of. A lot of dope music and I’m really excited to finish it and put it out. 

It’s been in the works for a while. I’ve started and stopped it a few times because I’m really a perfectionist and I want to get it right. I’m not caring about numbers, I want to make the best project. I want people to hear it and be like "Wow, this is amazing." I care more about that than anything, which is why I’ve started and stopped it so many times. Music changes and I really just want to get it perfect.

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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.

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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].

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