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5 takeaways from janelle monae's age of pleasure
Janelle Monáe

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5 Takeaways From Janelle Monáe’s New Album, 'The Age of Pleasure'

On her first album in five years, Janelle Monáe trades a sci-fi world for a lush sense of escape. Out June 9, 'The Age of Pleasure' offers a utopia of sensual and sonic exploration.

GRAMMYs/Jun 9, 2023 - 05:41 pm

Since her 2010 debut album, The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monáe’s work has been grounded in intricacy. 

Whether Monáe is building sci-fi worlds, continuing the Afrofuturism narrative of her Cindi Mayweather character or analyzing the concept of American identity on 2019’s Dirty Computer — which scored a nomination for Album Of The Year at the 2019 GRAMMYs — she tasks listeners with digesting various storylines and concepts. 

Now, Monáe is shaking off all expectations with her fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure. Released on June 9, the 14-track album takes a more streamlined approach, creating an escape in just over 30 minutes. The artist appears lighter, even more self-assured and quite frankly (as seen with her near-nude promo campaign) ready to get wild.

The Age of Pleasure is Monáe's first album in five years and trades in her previous warnings of AI-driven dystopian futures for a lush paradise, replete with a reggae swing. With warm melodies and lyrics meant for the bedroom (or wherever one enjoys pleasure), the album creates a utopia where all are welcome.

"I think being an artist gets lonely," Monáe told Rolling Stone in May. "Most people don’t understand what’s going on in my brain. Community has been so helpful to me; it’s beautiful that I have a title called The Age of Pleasure because it actually re-centers me. It’s not about an album anymore. I’ve changed my whole f—ing lifestyle." 

​​Throughout its journey of self-exploration, here are five takeaways from Janelle Monáe’s new album, The Age of Pleasure.

Janelle Embraces Sexuality Across The Spectrum

In 2018, Monáe shared that she was pansexual and came out as nonbinary last year (using the pronouns "free-ass motherf—er, they/them, her/she"). Her journey of discovering more about her queer identity (which was alluded to in previous albums, most notably Dirty Computer’s woman empowerment anthem "Pynk") envelopes The Age of Pleasure

"Lipstick Lover" is a hazy, reggae-tinged ode to the queer woman gaze ("I just wanna feel a little tongue, we don't have a long time," Monáe urges), while "The Rush" mimics an orgasm complete with a breathy spoken word by actress Nia Long and a naughty verse from Ghanaian American singer Amaarae. And then there’s "Water Slide," which floods the speakers with barely-concealed innuendos. 

The idea of "guilty pleasure" is completely stripped of guilt. Here, there isn’t shame or taboo surrounding sexual acts or what one identifies as.

She Showcases The Beauty Of The Diaspora

While creating this album, Monáe got inspired through parties hosted on her Wondaland West property in Los Angeles. People from all backgrounds were welcomed, and the album celebrates the joining of the communities. Monáe called upon artists across the diaspora — Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica and the Dirty South — to be part of her utopia. 

Fela Kuti’s son Seun and his band Egypt 80 open the album on "Float," queer icon Grace Jones seduces the ear with the French-speaking "Ooh La La" interlude, Jamaican dancehall legend Sister Nancy provides reggae authenticity "The French 75." The end result shows there is power in creative numbers, as well as sonic commonality across the African diaspora.

Self-Confidence Is At An All-Time High

The artist is completely free lately, from displaying her breasts on red carpets to dancing on bar tops at afterparties. She adores every curve of her body, and that confidence radiates on The Age of Pleasure. It’s best displayed on "Phenomenal," where Monáe and rapper Doechii trade cocky lines atop a deliciously wacky beat that fuses South African amapiano with New York City ballroom culture. "I'm lookin' at a thousand versions of myself and we're all fine as f—," Monáe muses more than once.

She doesn’t want you to forget just how good she looks and wants everyone to feel that same way about themselves. The "I'm young and I'm Black and I'm wild" line on "Haute" is better digested as an affirmation in front of the mirror.

Pleasure Is Meant For Fun In The Sun

Pleasure is best enjoyed in the sweltering heat, so it only makes sense the artist released this album at the brink of summertime. Her "Lipstick Lover" music video is a hedonistic dream, with queer women and femmes enjoying each other’s company (and body parts) at a sweaty, West Coast pool party. 

Album highlight "Only Have Eyes 42" winks at polyamory and its dreamy flip on the Flamingos’ 1959 doo-wop classic is best served with a Red Stripe beer and sand beneath one’s feet. Whether you’re enjoying the lapping waves on a Caribbean island or soaking up the rays in your backyard, The Age of Pleasure is the fuel for your own fiesta.

She Hasn’t Lost The Funk

As the late Prince’s mentee, Janelle Monáe is a master at funk. While she boasts "No I’m not the same" on the album opener, parts of Monáe’s previous sound excitedly peek through.

Her discography is stuffed with dancefloor jams, and The Age of Pleasure keeps the party going with a seamless fusion of rap, R&B and funk. Still, its exploration of new sounds like reggae, dancehall, amapiano and Afrobeats is a thrill. 

From the triumphant horns on "Float" to the electric groove of "Champagne S—", the album is begging for a live rendition. It just so happens that Monáe is embarking on a North American tour. It kicks off on Aug. 30 in Seattle and will keep the good vibes going until Oct. 18 in Inglewood, California.

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Sheila E. performs during the GRAMMYs Salute To Prince
Sheila E. performs during the GRAMMY Salute To Prince in 2020

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

interview

Living Legends: Sheila E. On Prince, Playing Salsa And Marching To The Beat Of Her Own Drum

"I was a percussion player leading my band, playing timbales, which no one really understood," Sheila E. says of her debut record. Forty years later, the GRAMMY-nominated multi-hyphenate is still forging her own path on the energetic new record, 'Bailar.'

GRAMMYs/Apr 5, 2024 - 01:22 pm

GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter, producer and percussionist Sheila E. has certainly had a glamorous life — and has done a lot with it. 

The child of percussionist Pete Escovedo and goddaughter of legendary timbalero Tito Puente, Sheila Escovedo has been energizing stages for most of her life. First performing as a child, Sheila was one of few female percussionists in the 1970s and '80s, and rose to the upper echelons of the music industry — performing alongside Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Herbie Hancock and Diana Ross. Whether in session or onstage, her dynamism and inventiveness continually made Sheila the star of the show. 

"I think outside the box," Sheila E. tells GRAMMY.com. "You just come up with ideas and it doesn't have to be traditional. It just has to be from your heart, a feeling that makes sense, that compliments whatever song it may be." 

Sheila's energy and unique approach to playing drums, timbale, and percussion caught the attention of Prince, a unique artist in his own right. The two spent decades as creative partners – Sheila acting as the Purple One's drummer, producer, musical director and, for a time, romantic partner; Prince shepherded her 1984 solo debut, A Glamorous Life, into being — and worked together until his death. Among her lasting contributions to their musical legacy, Sheila performed on the Purple Rain sessions and toured the album, and her vocals appear on "Erotic City." The two duetted on Sheila's 1986 single "A Love Bizarre" and, fittingly, got engaged in the middle of a performance.

In addition to her list of impressive accomplishments (which include co-founding the educational nonprofit Elevate Oakland), Sheila E has released eight albums as a solo artist. Her ninth, Bailar, finds the one avenue Sheila had yet to pursue: salsa. 

Recorded in Miami with a cast of local musicians, the 10-track record features originals and covers in both Spanish and English, and its lead single — an energetic cover of Celia Cruz's "Bemba Colorá featuring Gloria Estefan & Mimy Succar — fittingly has Sheila playing percussion, timbale and singing. 

"This is the best record I've ever done. I feel that good about it," she says. Ahead of Bailar's April 5 release, Sheila E. spoke with GRAMMY.com about creating music in a new idiom, the importance of collaboration, and finding space in music. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You've been working in the funk, R&B and pop space for years. What brought you to salsa now?

I've wanted to do a salsa record for a long time. My bucket list is extensive, and then I met [GRAMMY-winning producer and timbale player] Tony Succar in 2015… he did a project and took Michael Jackson songs and flipped them into salsa. I said, "Man, if I ever do my salsa record, we have to do it together because you understand."

I'm bringing that Oakland vibe to salsa. My dad was a Latin jazz artist — that's the foundation of who I am —  however, he also played salsa music in the house. I grew up listening to Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz and Tito Rodriguez, and the Fania All-Stars.  Our whole family loves salsa dancing.

There was music that I had written for an R&B album that I didn't release, and I said we can take some of this and flip it into salsa. This is another side of me that I'm excited about sharing with the people. 

Bailar sounds like something you would hear in New York or Miami, but there's something slightly different about it. What are you bringing to this record that might be different from another salsa band?

Salsa is very demanding. It's specific and traditional; there are things that are supposed to be played in specific sections of a song — whether it's a conga rhythm, a timbal rhythm, a cowbell rhythm. The element of the Bay Area and the Latin jazz with a little bit of funk, that was me [adding something new]. 

I always wanted to do "Bemba Colorá." I did a rumba in front of it and took a conga solo, and when I got to the half-time of that song, I said, "I want to take a drum solo." I don't think anyone has taken a drum solo or have even played drums on this song…especially a woman. Just adding different elements like that, as well as the way that I mix: where I place the horns and where I place the percussion and where the bells are and where the drums are. 

Tony Succar and I produced this record together. I did a couple of arrangements [and] co-wrote seven of the 10 songs. The songs that I had already written were arranged, but then we wanted to flip them into salsa. 

Are there any other songs on this record that you're particularly proud of?

All of them. Every one is a different story. The only woman that I could think of to call [for "Bemba Colorá"] was Gloria Estefan; she's like my sister. Mimi Succar is a new and upcoming artist, so we had her to sing as well, and the three of us just had a blast. 

[Also] playing "Anacaona," which is a song I used to hear [by] Fania All-Stars and Cheo Feliciano. My dream was to have Rubén Blades sing on my record; he sang that song and I started crying. I was just overwhelmed. 

["El Rey del Timbal"] was one song that I had played with Tito [Puente] and my dad many times. When Tony sent me the demo, I listened to it and was like, "We got to go way faster than that. If Tito was playing it, he would've played it this way, and I know because I've played it with him."  So I started taking a solo, banging my legs while I was listening to it through the phone, and I just kept going faster, and then Tony's like, "Are you serious? This is 200-something BPMs." 

It was perfect for me taking the timbale solo, but when I had to then overdub and play all the parts on the bells and everything, it was so fast, I was like, What was I thinking? The horn section had it worse. A trumpet player yelled on the track  — "Ahh!" —  and I boosted him yelling [on the final mix], because that's real stuff.  It took everything for them. 

I'd love to hear a little bit about your relationship with Tito Puente and any important musical lessons he taught you, especially now that you're coming out with an album that's very much influenced by his work.

He was such an influence. He was amazing. He did so much for us as a family, musically, as well as being our friend and growing up listening to him. He and my dad met when they were 18, and having him around the house when I was growing up, I didn't even know he was.  

The biggest thing was we would go to New York, my dad and I, and we would sit in with Tito at the Palladium and the Corso. And back then, you'd have four bands playing in one night until 6 in the morning. And they would jump from one club to the other. It was the most stressful time because, as jazz artists, we didn't hardly sit in with salsa bands. I was like, "But papa, I don't know the clave, I don't understand what bell pattern or what conga pattern to play." He goes, "Don't worry about it. You don't listen to those guys. You just go play you."

So he kept encouraging [me]: it doesn't matter, you have the heart to go ahead. And my pops would say the same thing: We might not understand it technically, but we play it from our heart. [Tito] always encouraged me, and I got to play with Celia, Tito and [bassist] Cachao [Lopez] at the same time.

What a dream come true. Tito introduced me to all of these musicians as well, but really just telling everybody, "You be quiet and just let Sheila play."

Read more: Celebrating Tito Puente's Centennial: 10 Essential Songs By The Mambo King

Bailar is a bit more celebratory than your last album, 2017's Iconic: Message 4 America, which was heavily political. Obviously we continue to live in increasingly fraught times; why was it important for you to put more positive messages out into the world? One of your tracks is even called "Possibilities."

We are living in hard times, and it's challenging. Things are changing every single day. And everyone is going through something every single day.  One of the things that has been such a blessing to me is the gift of music. I don't take it for granted. To be able to share music and at least make people happy for the five minutes that you listen to this song or the entire record…is healing.

Many times in my shows, people end up crying. It's emotional, and music brings joy. It lifts you up. It brings you to a place of happiness and love, and we just want you to have a good time. But the joy that I get to be able to do this, it heals me too. And I just thought it was important.

Your work and relationship with Prince is so extensive and deep. What would you consider the peak of your creative partnership?

I don't think there ever was. We continued to grow and just kept experimenting on different sounds, and recording and jamming. We first jammed together in 1977 when he came to my house. We either recorded or played together [on] so many songs. There's still tons of stuff in the vault…I counted at least 200 songs I played on that I haven't even heard yet.

We were always jamming, coming up with something, or recording. A lot of times I would engineer for him as well; it's just he and I [in the room] most of the time. I taught myself some engineering when I was growing up; I saved all my money and started buying recording gear so I could learn how to write and produce myself when I was in my teens. 

So when I started to record with [Prince], I had already recorded songs on tape before. Being in the studio with him, we would see who could stay up the longest, who's going to fall asleep first. We would catch each other [falling asleep] almost at the same time. 

*You also worked with Prince on your debut album, 1984's The Glamorous Life. You'd been working so much as a musician up to that point already that it's interesting to think of it as your debut. How did you work on that project together?*

We had already been jamming and playing together before we did all that. And I had been out on tour with so many artists beforehand; when we first met, I was already touring with George Duke in the mid-'70s. [Prince was] like, "I've been watching you and I'm following your career, and maybe one day we could do something together." 

He started doing all these albums, and then he becomes the Prince that we all know. He changed every record, which was amazing musically. At the time [we recorded Glamorous Life], he was at Sunset Sound [recording studio and] he had all the rooms going at the same time. We just went in and started recording.

Prince was very involved in getting me the deal with Warner Brothers. He just one day said, "You want to do the record now?" And I was like, "Yeah, I think I'm ready. Let's do it." It was that simple. We went into the studio and we were pretty much done with my record, from top to bottom, in a week.

We just stayed in there, literally no sleep. We were so excited. We had so much fun.

Back then, I wasn't really playing drums a lot. I wanted to make sure that my percussion was in the forefront, and he knew that too. That's how Glamorous Life came about, to showcase me in a light that I wasn't really a singer. I was a percussion player leading my band, playing timbales, which no one really understood because, in pop culture, no one had done that. 

So it took even a minute for [Warner Brothers] to understand releasing the record. They wanted to release "Belle of St. Mark" first as the single and not "Glamorous Life"; I had to fight them on it because I said, "'Glamorous Life' is a song that is important to me, and it showcases me as a percussionist and a singer. If I do 'Belle of St. Mark,' it's only me singing. I'm not even playing percussion."

I would love to hear about other musical collaborators who are a big part of your story.

I've been able to play with so many people: George Duke and my dad, and [drummer] Billy Cobham, [bassist] Alfonso Johnson, and it went on. Then [jazz guitarist] Lee Ritenour and [jazz pianist] Patrice Rushen and all of these other artists; Herbie Hancock…. Then you go switch over to Marvin Gaye, and then you go to Brooks & Dunn. I just hopped all over the place with Con Funk Shun and sitting in with so many people and recording. When we do these events, you get to sit and play with Phil Collins and Elton John; I'll just play percussion, I'll be the backup. I don't need to be in the front. Part of what I love is I get to be on both sides.

I can be a team player and play with a group, which is so exciting. Or if you want to feature me, that's fine. That's kind of what had happened throughout my life; anyone that I performed with would just say, "Sheila, you just go out in the front." They would push me out there. Marvin Gaye is like, "Sheila, you take over. I'm going to go back and change." He made it a part of his show. And then same thing with Lionel Richie. Everyone would just feature me, it became that thing. Everyone has influenced me in some sort of way.

You're out there being featured and just putting so much into your performances. You have this incredible amount of energy. What powers you?

God's given me the gift and point-blank. I am forever grateful to be able to do what I get to do because of that gift. I don't take it for granted. 

You have musical directed the Obama's Festival Latina, the Recording Academy's Tribute to Prince, and of course, you were his musical director for many years. Does that work require a special set of musical muscles?

When it comes to music and just being an artist, whatever you put into it is what you get out. I would always do the homework that was needed to play with an artist — learn all the music — so when I walked into a situation, I would walk in with confidence. I wasn't a great reader at all; it was really all by ear. That preparation is everything. 

Putting together my first ever band during that time in the early '80s, I knew what I wanted. [Today] I'm able to put together projects and put the right people together. For some people, it's just a gig and for me, it's more than that. It's a lifestyle and it's family and it's trust and it's respect. 

How did you choose the music for "Let's Go Crazy: The GRAMMY Tribute To Prince"?

Some of the songs they already had, some of the other songs I suggested. Almost everything that they were going to play, I knew and I had a lot of the original music. I had a lot of the samples; I had Prince's vocals. There were things that I had that could help in some of the arrangements, and a lot of the arrangements I used from my show. 

You try to adjust to make sure that [the artists] shine and that they feel comfortable, because everyone was really nervous. I had many conversations with people making sure, "Is this a good key for you?" Making sure that "You don't have to sing it like Prince. This is your representation of who you are and you happen to be doing a Prince song and no one's going to judge you for it." 

Speaking of collaborative efforts, The Greatest Night in Pop music doc came out recently. What do you remember from recording "We Are the World"? 

I kind of didn't want to do it because, initially, we were on the Purple Rain tour [and] we were exhausted. At some point I thought,  Do I even belong in that caliber of people? 

[At the "We Are The World" session,] everyone was hanging out, everybody was really cool. No one had a huge entourage. I was excited to meet people I hadn't met before. One of the people I was excited about meeting was Cyndi Lauper. I loved her. I wanted to meet Bruce Springsteen, the boss. 

In that moment of being in that room with everyone, and it was just amazing to [think], Wow, we're going to do something incredible to be able to raise money for people who are starving.  Then you just take a breath and you do what you do, and then things happen.

Do you think that you have changed or contributed to the sound of percussion in R&B and pop music?

My style is my style. Different artists from the Bay — Sly and the Family Stone, Carlos Santana, my dad's band [Azteca], Grateful Dead, Tower Of Power, of course, Pointer Sisters — listening to all those bands and being able to watch their rehearsals when I was a teenager influenced me. 

The key was being adaptable to what needed to be for that specific song. You have to make up your own beats, because being a percussion player is like [working on] a beautiful painting that's already painted and they're asking you to put one color in there or you see a space — what would you put in that space? 

It's not about playing all over the place and playing something that doesn't belong. You have to figure out those spaces and, to me, the most important part of music is space. That space is what allows a song to breathe.

I would use different things even in the studios; I didn't use all of the right mics all the time. I would bite on an apple and sample it and put that sound on top of the snare. I just experimented. I started on pots and pans, and I used keys, and I used a spray bottle can that blows out air to clean your computer as a high hat. Everything can be musical. 

One of the biggest things is Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough." Quincy [Jones] had called me and said, "Michael wants this kind of sound, I don't know what it is, bring all your toys." I brought everything. I ended up getting two bottles and I poured water in it, and I used the holder to play the triangle on the sides of the bottle. So "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough" has those bottles.  

You just come up with ideas and it doesn't have to be traditional. It just has to be from your heart, a feeling that makes sense, that compliments whatever song it may be.

Are there any other female percussionists out there right now that you see carrying the torch that you lit?

Oh my God. There are so many drummers right now. I go on social media frequently throughout the week, and I try to find at least someone new and DM them and say, "You're amazing. God bless you. Thank you for your gift. Keep doing what you're doing," and people freak out. 

That's part of my job, to continue to encourage the young people to keep playing. 

You've mentioned in previous interviews that you've dealt with a lot of harassment throughout your career as a woman playing an instrument that women don't traditionally play. I'd like to know how you continued to move forward and own your vision in an industry, and in an era, where women are often belittled or posited as like sex objects.

When I first started, I didn't know it was a big deal that I was one of few — or one of one — that was doing what I was doing. In the Bay Area, you see a lot of women playing percussion. In Berkeley, we all go and hang out at the park and everyone plays and it's like 20 or 30 of us and whoever brings their instrument, they just jam with us.

Coming to L.A. and recording with other artists, when I walked into a room, the drummer would say, "Can you get me a cup of coffee?" And I'm like, "I'll get it for you but I'm not the receptionist or anything. I'm the percussion player." They would freak out. 

When that first started happening and things were being said that were really rude and bad, I would go back to my parents. They would just say, "You just keep doing what you're doing. They're jealous or they're mad because you're there, or they've never seen anyone like you. You have a gift and you just go ahead. You learn the music, know what you have to do, so when you walk in with confidence, it's not an issue." A lot of the time, those musicians were not prepared, and I was, and they hated me even more because I knew everything. 

I got so much joy out of performing. And even with all the nos and the nastiness and the stuff that was being said [like], "Hey, if you sleep with me," all of these other things. It just made me stronger. You keep pushing through; you just keep playing. 

When you find your passion and that's your purpose, no one can stop you.  I stand on that word.

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Lizzo GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Lizzo at the 2023 GRAMMYs

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

video

GRAMMY Rewind: Lizzo Thanks Prince For His Influence After "About Damn Time" Wins Record Of The Year In 2023

Watch Lizzo describe how Prince’s empowering sound led her to “dedicate my life to positive music” during her Record Of The Year acceptance speech for “About Damn Time” at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Jan 19, 2024 - 06:00 pm

Since the start of her career, four-time GRAMMY winner Lizzo has been making music that radiates positive energy. Her Record Of The Year win for "About Damn Time" at the 2023 GRAMMYs proved that being true to yourself and kind to one another always wins.

Travel back to revisit the moment Lizzo won her award in the coveted category in this episode of GRAMMY Rewind. 

"Um, huh?" Lizzo exclaimed at the start of her acceptance speech. "Let me tell you something. Me and Adele are having a good time, just enjoying ourselves and rooting for our friends. So, this is an amazing night. This is so unexpected."

Lizzo kicked off her GRAMMY acceptance speech by acknowledging Prince's influence on her sound. "When we lost Prince, I decided to dedicate my life to making positive music," she said. "This was at a time when positive music and feel-good music wasn't mainstream at that point and I felt very misunderstood. I felt on the outside looking in. But I stayed true to myself because I wanted to make the world a better place so I had to be that change."

As tracks like "Good as Hell" and "Truth Hurts" scaled the charts, she noticed more body positivity and self-love anthems from other artists. "I'm just so proud to be a part of it," she cheered.

Most importantly, Lizzo credited staying true to herself despite the pushback for her win. "I promise that you will attract people in your life who believe in you and support you," she said in front of a tearful audience that included Beyoncé and Taylor Swift in standing ovation, before giving a shout-out to her team, family, partner and producers on the record, Blake Slatkin and Ricky Reed

Watch the video above for Lizzo's complete acceptance speech for Record Of The Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs. Check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind, and be sure to tune into the 2024 GRAMMYs on Sunday, Feb. 4, airing live on the CBS Television Network (8-11:30 p.m. LIVE ET/5-8:30 p.m. LIVE PT) and streaming on Paramount+ (live and on-demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on-demand for Paramount+ Essential subscribers the day after the special airs).

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Babyface, Emily King, SZA, Usher and Summer Walker in a colllage
(From left) Babyface, Emily King, SZA, Usher & Summer Walker

**Photos: **Steve Granitz/FilmMagic; Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Recording Academy; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Webby Awards; Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ABA; Paras Griffin/Getty Images

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2023 Year In Review: 5 Trends That Defined R&B

R&B dominated in 2023, with women leading the vocal-charge behind R&B’s biggest recognitions. From deep confessional projects to the comeback of Usher, check out this year’s R&B biggest trends

GRAMMYs/Dec 27, 2023 - 05:42 pm

R&B lovers were spoiled in 2023. 

Talented legends received well-deserved flowers, while focused newcomers celebrated many exciting firsts. Usher set his sights on an epic comeback, and Best New Artist nominees Coco Jones and Victoria Monét (who are nominated in the category alongside Gracie Abrams, Fred again.., Ice Spice, Jelly Roll, Noah Kahan, and The War And Treaty) set the R&B charts ablaze while embarking on their first headlining tours.

R&B in particular is set up for a big year at the 2024 GRAMMYs: SZA earned the most nominations at the 66th GRAMMY Awards with a total of nine, followed by Monét with seven nods. What's more, women led the way in the genre this year — four out of the five Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song nominees are ladies.

As R&B music continues to evolve and shatter naysayers' expectations, revisit some of the biggest trends that defined the genre in 2023.

The Ladies Dominated

Women ate and left no crumbs in 2023. Vulnerable as ever, self-discovery through romantic heartbreak was a common theme — as evidenced by Emily King and Summer Walker's confessional projects (more on those later).

R&B-infused bangers from Tyla and Tems took the male-dominated Afrobeats genre by storm, while Chlöe and Halle Bailey's solo endeavors set the sisters apart creatively. Janelle Monáe's first album in five years saw her basking in the fierceness of sexual freedom. Part of R&B's new class, Kiana Ledé joined forces with London-born Ella Mai for a "strong R&B girl moment" and her first release of 2023, "Jealous," is set to appear on Ledé's upcoming sophomore album.

Women were the highlight of Babyface's collaborative Girls Night Out — which is nominated for Best R&B Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs alongside Coco Jones' What I Didn't Tell You (Deluxe), Victoria Monet's JAGUAR II, Emily King's Special Occasion, and Summer Walker's CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE. Singers Ari Lennox, Kehlani, Muni Long, Queen Naija, and a host of other female R&B artists shined bright as they belted out tunes about the highs and lows of love.

But the year in R&B unequivocally belonged to SZA, who boasts the most nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs, including Record of the Year, Song Of The Year, and Album Of The Year.

Women Made Vulnerability Their Superpower

The ladies of R&B took the confessional route with their 2023 projects. On Special Occasion, Emily King channeled the inevitable pain brought on by the end of her 15-year relationship but not without leaving room for joy — from the delightful opening track "This Year" to feeling regretful on "Bad Memory." Summer Walker similarly left it all on the table with CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE, a nine-track EP that chronicles her frustration with feeling undervalued in relationships. The frankness of "Hardlife" speaks to the emotional burdens many Black women face in their relationships and beyond.

SZA's SOS (nominated for Album Of The Year alongside Jon Batiste's World Music Radio, boygenius' the record, Miley Cyrus' Endless Summer Vacation, Lana Del Rey's Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, Janelle Monáe's The Age Of Pleasure, Olivia Rodrigo's GUTS, and Taylor Swift's Midnights) was the gift that kept on giving in 2023. Self-described as "bizarre acts of self-embarrassment," SOS solidifies SZA as a generational talent as she fearlessly toys with folk ("Special") and grunge ("F2F") and spits rap verses ("Smoking on My Ex Pack") like it's nothing all while wearing her heart on her sleeve. That unapologetic candor is what makes SOS such a standout.

R&B Veterans Made A Comeback

Nostalgia was front and center in 2023 as acts like New Edition announced a 2024 Las Vegas residency and Y2K-era duos like Ashanti and Nelly gave love (and touring) a second chance.

After two show-stopping runs in 2021 and 2022, Usher's acclaimed Las Vegas residency continued well into 2023 and solidified him as the "New King of Vegas." In between shows, the eight-time GRAMMY winner released "Good Good" featuring Summer Walker and 21 Savage — signaling a new and exciting era that also includes a headlining spot at the 2024 Super Bowl halftime show. The performance will coincide with a global tour and the release of Coming Home, marking Usher's first studio album in nearly a decade. 

Babyface kicked off 2023 with "As a Matter of Fact," his first solo record in eight years. It spent five consecutive weeks atop Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay chart, becoming his longest-running single. In June, Babyface crammed four decades' worth of music into his NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which included snippets of his own hits like "Whip Appeal" and beloved songs he penned for other artists like Whitney Houston's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" and Tevin Campbell's "Can We Talk." The latter song is sampled in his duet with Ella Mai, "Keeps On Fallin'." 

Meanwhile, vocal powerhouse Cheryl Lynn's 1983 hit "Encore" went viral on TikTok. Penned by the legendary duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the song's resurgence 40 years later even took Lynn by surprise. "What in the world is going on?" she tweeted. The "Got to Be Real" singer now boasts over 500 million Spotify streams.

New Names Shined Bright

While icons like Usher, Babyface, and Cheryl Lynn took us down memory lane, Best New Artist nominees Coco Jones and Victoria Monét achieved critical and commercial success while proving that the future of R&B is in gifted hands.

Thousands of miles away in South Africa, 21-year-old Tyla's "Water" cracked the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the first solo song by a South African artist to chart since Hugh Masekela's "Grazing in the Grass" 55 years ago. "Water" is nominated for Best African Music Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs alongside ASAKE & Olamide's "Amapiano," Burna Boy's "City Boys," Davido's "UNAVAILABLE" featuring Musa Keys, and Ayra Starr's "Rush."

Two weeks after inking a new deal with Epic Records, Mariah the Scientist kept the celebratory vibes going by dropping her third studio album, To Be Eaten Alive, on her 26th birthday. Lead single "From a Woman" not only answers boyfriend Young Thug's "From a Man," but it explores relationship-centric vulnerability and surrender through the lens of empowerment. "I close my eyes and trust your plan / Won't let no one force my hand," she sings softly against a smooth beat — illustrating that the studio is indeed a creative lab for the former biology student.

EPs Stole The Show

Many emerging artists are choosing to release EPs over studio albums as a more cost-effective way of establishing their fan base while creating anticipation for future full-length projects. In fact, two of the five nominated works in this year's Best R&B Album category are categorized as EPs.

After many years of putting out music independently, Coco Jones' debut EP, What I Didn't Tell You, repositioned the 25-year-old "Bel-Air star" as someone worth watching on the charts. "Sometimes people see me as the characters I play, but these stories are my own script," Jones shared in a press release. Becoming her first-ever entry on the Hot 100, Jones' "ICU" is nominated for Best R&B Song (alongside Halle Bailey's "Angel," Robert Glasper's "Back To Love" featuring SiR & Alex Isley, Victoria Monét's "On My Mama," and SZA's "Snooze"). The sizzling ballad is also up for Best R&B Performance (alongside Chris Brown's "Summer Too Hot," Glasper's "Back To Love, Victoria Monét's "How Does It Make You Feel," and SZA's "Kill Bill").

Following the success of Summer Walker's 2021 sophomore effort, Still Over It, many fans awaited another studio album from the 27-year-old mother of three. But in late spring, Walker surprised audiences by dropping an EP titled, CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE. Walker is diaristic in detailing her journey toward joy and self-compassion, from being fed up in "Mind Yo Mouth" to holding herself accountable on closer "Agayu's Revelation."

Whether you prefer the old or new school, R&B's biggest names are putting their own spin on a decades-old sound, proving that the genre knows no bounds.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Pop Music

2024 Album Of The Year Nominees Hero
(Clockwise): Jon Batiste, Olivia Rodrigo, Janelle Monae, Lana Del Rey, Miley Cyrus, boygenius, SZA, Taylor Swift

Photos (clockwise, from top left): Dave Benett/Getty Images for Alexander McQueen; Image from TiVO; Mason Rose; Image from TiVO; Arturo Holmes/Getty Images; Image from TiVO; Prince Williams/WireImage; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

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Here Are The Album Of The Year Nominees At The 2024 GRAMMYs

The 2024 GRAMMY nominees for Album Of The Year have arrived: Jon Batiste, boygenius, Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey, Janelle Monáe, Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift, and SZA.

GRAMMYs/Nov 10, 2023 - 04:16 pm

In a world dominated by singles and streaming, it's even more important for albums to be cherished and preserved. The Recording Academy celebrates albums as essential, beloved formats of artistic expression, especially in the coveted Album Of The Year Category.

From gutsy pop to psychedelic soul, the eight nominees for Album Of The Year at the 2024 GRAMMYs — which are notably dominated by women, people of color, and the queer community — are a reflection of the joyous diversity within the music community.

Below, take a deeper dive into who's in the running for Album Of The Year on Music's Biggest Night.

Jon Batiste — World Music Radio

On the opening track of World Music Radio, Jon Batiste importantly reminds listeners that music is not just a passive recreation, but an experience. Or, at least the interstellar radio host Billy Bob does.

Narrated by Billy Bob, Batiste's 21-song concept album is made to sound like it's an actual radio station; amid intermittent static and between-song messaging, the station welcomes a slew of high-profile musical guests, ranging from Lana Del Rey to NewJeans to Lil Wayne. Including everything from smooth DJ interludes to crystal-clear saxophone solos to sparkling piano riffs, World Music Radio has something for everyone within its one-hour runtime.

With five GRAMMYs under his belt — including one for Album Of The Year — Batiste understands the significance of pushing boundaries in music. Consequently, World Music Radio questions genre as much as it questions how we can make the world a more inclusive place.

According to an Instagram post, Batiste's album aims to "'re-examine and redefine terms like world music as they exist in the culture."' The "'re"' prefix is what music is all about: reliving memories, reinventing what's been done before, and redefining things we previously thought we understood. Riding the airwaves all the way to an Album Of The Year nomination, Batiste's latest visionary work reminds us to reconsider what we think we know — and then, dial in.

boygenius — the record

On the vinyl version of the record, a locked groove leaves listeners perpetually listening to a single word: "'waiting."' The lyric goes eternally unfinished.

But good things come to those who wait, and for boygenius, a year like 2023 has never made this more discernible. Less than a year after the group debuted at Coachella and embarked on not one but two tours, they're now in the running for the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year.

Skyrocketing to headliner fame this year, the indie rock supergroup composed of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus released their debut album back in spring. Preceded only by a singular, successful EP from five years prior, the record proves itself to be very much worth the wait: chock-full of dreams of arson, $20 bills, and calls to kill the bourgeois, it froths with charisma and jocular amity.

This marks boygenius' first collective GRAMMY nomination, as well as the first nominations for Baker and Dacus. Bridgers' Punisher made her a 4-time GRAMMY nominee at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards. But it's not the group's only nod at the 2024 show — boygenius earned six nominations in total, including Record Of The Year.

What makes the record so momentous is its testament to the trio's vibrant, long-standing friendship — specifically, a companionship rooted in queerness, as well as in opposition to the idea that women in the industry should be pitted against each other. the record intensely and unmistakably feels the gravity of their organic bond, and in this way, it stands for so much more than 12 songs.

Miley Cyrus — Endless Summer Vacation

It's time to give Miley Cyrus her flowers. The GRAMMY-nominated artist already struck gold earlier this year, with her liberating lead single "'Flowers"' breaking records left and right. The track blossoms with the sweet nectar of independence, and this embrace of freedom is the heart of Endless Summer Vacation.

Her album's title denotes a perpetual stretch into eternity, but if there's one thing Cyrus is known for, it's change. Whether it's radically altering her style or switching up her aesthetic, the longtime pop queen knows that creative adaptability is one of her many strengths.

Endless Summer Vacation spotlights this versatility, from Cyrus warmly soaking up "'Violet Chemistry"' to reflecting on when she "'Used To Be Young."' Her signature gravelly drawl suits the album's disco-infused, beachy production — a major shift from the unyielding, punk rock of predecessor Plastic Hearts (2020), or the power pop-trap spotlighted on her 2019 EP, SHE IS COMING.

Notably, this marks Cyrus' first Album Of The Year nomination for her own work (she received a nod for her feature on Lil Nas X's 2021 LP Montero). The honor praises not just Endless Summer Vacation as a salient career highlight, but also applauds the singer's resilience after years of musical shapeshifting — Cyrus was due for a well-deserved vacation.

Lana Del Rey — Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd

On her ninth studio album, Lana Del Rey honors kintsugi, or the ​​Japanese art of repairing broken pottery pieces with gold. Now, with an Album Of The Year nomination, she could be taking home GRAMMY gold.

Del Rey's last nomination in this Big Four category was for Norman Fucking Rockwell! at the 2020 GRAMMYs. While NFR! freewheeled along the West Coast, paving a soft rock landscape inspired by '70s Americana, Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd leans away from Del Rey's habitual worldbuilding. Instead, the singer let spirituality guide her music-making process, dabbling in everything from gospel to trap.

Even though Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is Del Rey's most natural album yet, the work still feels otherworldly. Throwing caution to the wind, she delves into the multifaceted nature of her identity, candidly examining personal matters relating to religion, mortality and family.

In the same way a pottery artist might delicately approach kintsugi, Del Rey approaches making music with a keen eye and open heart. She searches for ways to sculpt beauty from flaws and fractures — after all, that's how the light gets in.

Janelle Monáe — The Age Of Pleasure

The rush of a crush, the sigh from a single touch — euphoria comes in many beautiful forms, and on her latest album, Janelle Monáe wants you to experience all of them.

The Age Of Pleasure ushers in Monáe's vision of rapture, dreamily blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. The 10-time GRAMMY-nominated artist has long defied labels, whether it be regarding genre or their personal identity, and their latest album celebrates love in all its color and fluidity.

It's all smooth sailing in The Age Of Pleasure. Soulfully, the multihyphenate singer swims through romantic R&B, plunges into funky rap, and bathes in soft pop radiance — but above all, Monáe floats. She's untroubled and unbothered, and that's more than enough to warrant raising a glass.

Monáe's nomination for Album Of The Year acknowledges not just the thrill of living a life carefree, but also celebrates the divinity of all-encompassing love. The album is more than hips and lips galore: beyond giving into passion, it's about cherishing community and, most importantly, choosing joy for yourself.

Olivia Rodrigo — GUTS

Though she's the youngest nominee on the list, Olivia Rodrigo knows she has nothing to prove.

Already a 3-time GRAMMY winner before her 20th birthday, the "'drivers license"' singer/songwriter unsurprisingly resisted the sophomore slump. On her plucky second album GUTS, she leans a little more into punkish pent-up rage than the crying-on-the-bathroom-floor heartache of her 2021 debut, SOUR — and impressively, her determination earned her a second consecutive GRAMMY nomination for Album Of The Year.

Whether her self-reflection appears in the form of piano-led balladry or pop-rock headbangers, Rodrigo tackles wilted relationships, growing pains and everything in between with her characteristically refreshing charm. From the gritty, Joan Didion-inspired "'all american b—"' to the leave-him-to-rot breakup anthem "'vampire,"' GUTS knows how to make a statement without forgetting to have a bit of fun.

Rodrigo, who won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist at the 2022 ceremony, understands the resonant power of her pen, and the singer's swift ascent to fame mirrors her swelling talent. It's already been almost two years since the smash success of "'drivers license,"' but Rodrigo isn't taking her foot off the gas.

Taylor Swift — Midnights

Best believe Taylor Swift is still bejeweled.

Of the megastar's extensive discography, Midnights might just be its crowning jewel thus far. Swift's tenth studio album dives deeper into pop experimentalism, steering away from the indie folk journeys that folklore and evermore so calmly encompassed; Midnights silhouettes the life of a beloved, high-profile "'Anti-Hero"' and assertively offers some of Swift's most ambitious work yet.

It's this fearless ambition that makes Swift no stranger to the GRAMMYs. On top of nearly 50 nominations total, the 12-time GRAMMY winner is the first and only woman solo artist to win Album Of The Year three times for her solo recordings. As Swifties know, she loves to break her own records — and if Midnights takes home GRAMMY gold, Swift would become the artist with the most Album Of The Year wins of all time.

This Midnights nomination marks a climax for Swift's career, and even though the singer has collected countless milestones, this year might be her most colossal yet. As she continues to bring all of her musical eras to life, Swift isn't just reliving her musical past — she's writing her future.

SZA — SOS

SZA knows how to build anticipation. Keeping her fans in suspense for five years, the prolific GRAMMY winner released her 2022 sophomore album SOS to wide critical acclaim — and while its title suggests a sense of helplessness, SOS puts forth plenty of strength.

SZA understands the vast power of vulnerability, and she wields this power expertly, whether it be forcefully or delicately. During the album's wade through loneliness and insecurity, the singer occasionally employs features from friends like Don Toliver, Phoebe Bridgers, and Travis Scott, but above all, SZA's self-discovery remains in the spotlight.

The R&B star scored her first GRAMMY just two years ago, sharing the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with Doja Cat for their lovable collaboration "'Kiss Me More"' at the 2022 GRAMMYs. While the pop-rap collaboration bubbles with lost-in-the-moment delight, SOS looks at life with a wider lens; in her single "'Shirt,"' SZA admits that she's "'in the dark right now/ feeling lost but I like it,"' and it's these glimmers of self-assurance that show her a light at the end of the tunnel.

This Album Of The Year nomination nods to the singer's personal growth since her 2017 debut Ctrl. Although SZA sings about a fear of letting other people define her, SOS rejects other people's terms and soars as a bold reclamation: by defying others, she rediscovers herself.

The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, returns to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, and will broadcast live on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on-demand on Paramount+ at 8-11:30 p.m. ET/5-8:30 p.m. PT.

The Recording Academy and GRAMMY.com do not endorse any particular artist, submission or nominee over another. The results of the GRAMMY Awards, including winners and nominees, are solely dependent on the Recording Academy's Voting Membership.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List