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For The Record: The Transformational Public Heartache Of Janet Jackson's 'All For You' At 20

Janet Jackson's GRAMMY-winning seventh album, 'All For You,' released two decades ago this year, was a healing session that solidified her as an unshakeable icon

GRAMMYs/May 3, 2021 - 02:37 am

After years of turmoil, Janet Jackson entered the Y2K era as a free woman. The artwork of her 2001 album, All For You, says it all: Lounging on a bed, a white blanket covering her nude curves, she flashes her famous, million-watt smile. It's a stark contrast to the cover of her 1997 album, The Velvet Rope, in which her face is lowered and nearly covered by ginger curls.

The introspective The Velvet Rope digs into Jackson's depression caused by an emotional breakdown. Long regarded as her magnum opus, the album embraces the LBGTQ+ community, addresses domestic violence and serves as a raw therapy session where Jackson lets the curtain of the "Strong Black Woman" trope fall.

In her 2017 essay, "The Mule of the World: The Strong Black Woman and the Woes of Being 'Independent,'" Cailyn Petrona Stewartee discusses how Black women have historically been forced to mask their true selves behind armor.

"The Black woman is represented to be either too mad or too strong, her presence is constructed as one that is always hyper-visible leaving no room for acknowledgment of her organic human complexity and nuance," Stewart writes. "And if survival is attained, pieces of the Black woman's sanity and humanity have been lost along the journey."

Of course, Jackson had taken breaks in between albums before. But the four-year-long journey that led to All For You, her seventh album, found her picking up those shattered pieces and relearning herself again. What was behind that beaming smile on the cover? Her glow-up after finalizing her divorce from René Elizondo Jr.

Elizondo Jr. was a backup dancer for Jackson's older sister, LaToya. He later became Janet's creative partner—he directed some of her music videos, including "That's the Way Love Goes" and "Together Again"—and one of the main songwriters on The Velvet Rope.

Theirs was a nine-year secret marriage—Jackson even lied about it during a 1997 "Oprah" interview—that was only revealed following the divorce announcement. Things soon turned messy, as Elizondo Jr., who initiated the breakup in 2000, later sued Jackson for $10 million over property rights.

Once the ink dried on the divorce papers, Jackson lifted her head up high and doubled down on her newfound singledom on All For You.

"I'm no longer married. I hope it doesn't sound bad to say that was the inspiration. But because I'm in a different space, it's like I'm being introduced to a whole new world that I've never experienced before," she explained in an album promo video. "I feel really good, and the album was a lot of fun to make. My life has changed a great deal, and that's why there's a new, freer me."

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Compared to Velvet Rope, All For You trades dark vulnerability for a delicate intimacy as she takes back her power as a woman and uses happiness as her revenge. Jackson goes the opposite route of pop's post-Y2K futurism that artists like Britney Spears, *NSYNC, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez were exploring at the time. Instead, she and her longtime producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, traveled back to the '70s and '80s to revive funk, disco, dance and rock.

That joyride is near-tangible on All For You's title track, which is pure sunshine captured in a song. Sampling Italian-American ensemble Change's 1980 single, "The Glow of Love," the song's vibrant production and signature Janet winks—"Got a nice package alright/Guess I'm gonna have to ride it tonight"—were a winning combination: Her fifth No. 1 hit, "All For You" won a GRAMMY for Best Dance Recording at the 44th GRAMMY Awards, held in 2002.

Jackson's free spirit continued with "Come On Get Up," an extension of her early-'80s dance-pop eras. Rockwilder, best known for his work with Method Man and Redman in the '90s, co-produced the song, along with four other tracks, marking the first time Jackson sought out new collaborators since 1986's Control. "Someone To Call My Lover," which also received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and "Doesn't Really Matter" also exude happiness. The former samples America's 1972 song, "Ventura Highway," as Jackson sweetly dreams about her next beau; the latter, a single off the 2000 soundtrack to the Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, in which Jackson also starred, is a sparkling ode to unconditional love.

Read: The Bodyguard Soundtrack: 25 Years After Whitney Houston's Masterpiece

But this wouldn't be a Janet Jackson album without a hefty dose of sex. While "When We Oooo" continues the feminine sensuality from 1993's janet., it's the one-two punch of "Love Scene (Ooh Baby)" and "Would You Mind" that really augments the erotica. "Would You Mind" finds the singer yearning to "Kiss you, suck you, taste you, ride you" as the rain comes down and she literally moans into the listener's ear. (Jackson later reignited the freaky adventure on 2004's Damita Jo via "Warmth" and "Moist," two songs even more explicit than their predecessors, in which Jackson further details the pleasures of giving and receiving oral sex.)

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On the flipside of pleasure is pain, and Jackson's $10 million lawsuit is still top of mind. "Trust A Try" finds the singer raging about feeling betrayed atop a headbanging fusion of opera, rap and hard rock. On the Five Stairsteps-interpolating "Truth," she makes note of her sold-out tours and radio hits while feeling a bit bitter: "How much is enough to pay for this mistake?" she sings. She calls on Carly Simon for "Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)," which interpolates Simon's 1972 classic, "You're So Vain." Jackson has every right to be angry, and she fearlessly taunts her ex-husband on the refrain: "Thought you'd get the money, too/Greedy motherf*****s try to have their cake and eat it, too."

"There are times when it feels like it just happened yesterday, and there's a bit of a sting. But I have to move on. I have to keep going. I can't let it stress me out, stop me from reaching my goals. I'm just glad that I'm in the state of mind that I'm in," Jackson told VIBE of the divorce in 2001. On the album's closer, "Better Days," she makes it a priority to live for herself without restraints: "Leavin' old s*** behind/And move on with my life/The blindfold's off my eyes/And now all I see for me is better days."

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Jackson stuck to that promise to "leavin' old s*** behind" following All For You. The double-platinum album continued her No. 1 hot streak, debuting atop the Billboard 200 in May 2001, and earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album. That same year, at age 35, MTV crowned her their first MTV Icon. The moment broke more ageist stereotypes, as seen with Tina Turner's 1984 Private Dancer comeback in her mid-'40s followed by Beyoncé, who most recently scored the most GRAMMY wins as a female artist at age 39.

Since All For You, Jackson has released four albums, survived a misogynistic Super Bowl catastrophe, became a mom in 2017, scored more acting roles, and received the Billboard Icon Award and the MTV EMA Global Icon Award, both in 2018. The singer could've let the divorce circus derail her, but All For You proved she couldn't be confined by a man nor her music. Along with celebrating the beauty of Black women's multifaceted nature, the album showed they could maneuver through pop and R&B with ease.

It's a feat that has continued with Black millennial artists like Rihanna, whose Rated R and Loud mimics Jackson's Velvet Rope and All For You transition, Ciara, Dawn Richard, Solange, Doja Cat, Tinashe and Kelela. Since All For You, women have shattered genre boundaries, dominated the charts and revealed their most vulnerable selves. We have Janet Jackson to thank for first inviting us into her world.

Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814: For The Record

Aaliyah in 2001
Aaliyah in 2001.

Photo: Sal Idriss/Redferns

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8 Ways Aaliyah Empowered A Generation Of Female R&B Stars

More than 20 years after her untimely death and 30 since her debut album, 'Age Ain't Nothing But a Number,' Aaliyah's legacy lives on through female R&B artists of generations new and old. Dig into her impact, from her fearlessness to her fashion sense.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 02:39 pm

With worldwide sales of 32 million, five GRAMMY nominations, and more than a dozen Hot 100 hits to her name, Aaliyah achieved more in her tragically cut-short 22 years than most would several lifetimes over. And more than two decades after her untimely death, the female R&B scene is still very much indebted to her pioneering talents.

In the last few years alone, she's been namechecked by Beyoncé, sampled by SZA and Normani, and covered by Mariah the Scientist and Sinead Harnett. And that's only on a sonic level. Ella Mai and Mahalia also recreated her signature tomboyish look in their video for "What You Did," as did Jhené Aiko on " P*$$Y Fairy (OTW)." Justine Skye and Sevyn Streeter are just a few of the names who paid their respects in 2023 ABC tribute Superstar. And going further back, Aaliyah has also been cited as a major source of inspiration by Ciara, Tinashe, Nelly Furtado, and Rihanna, while Katy B and Jessie Ware even named their "Jolene"-esque duet after their musical icon.

And thanks to Aaliyah's innovative second and third studio efforts, 1996's One In A Million and 2001's Aaliyah, finally escaping from licensing limbo in 2021, those growing up in the streaming age are now discovering her supremely sultry voice, masterly interpretative skills, and array of forward-thinking hits, too. In the last three years, the likes of "Try Again" and "Are You That Somebody" have racked up more than 140 ad 170 million streams, respectively, on Spotify alone.

But why exactly does the singer nicknamed Baby Girl still have such a hold on contemporary artists, several of whom were barely out of diapers when she was busy tearing up the R&B rulebook? To coincide with the 30th anniversary of Aaliyah's debut album, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, here's a look at how the "street but sweet" star built up such an inspirational legacy.

She Knew How To Use Her Voice 

Aaliyah arrived at a time when powerhouses Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston were the dominant female singers. But the New Yorker quickly proved that lung-busting multiple octaves isn't the only way to vocally impress.

Aaliyah was still capable of such acrobatics. According to producer Daryl Simmons, she would often rely on opera runs before recording to warm up her voice; Diane Warren, who worked with the star on ballad "The One I Gave My Heart To," has spoken of how she was taken aback by her versatility. But Aaliyah's signature delivery was very much "less is more." You can hear her sensual, featherlight tones in the likes of Kelela, Rochelle Jordan, and The Internet's Syd, the latter of whom has specifically hailed Aaliyah as a formative influence on her own cooler-than-cool style.

She Retained An Air Of Mystery 

Aaliyah's less-is-more approach also applied to her public profile. Perhaps due to the controversy surrounding her relationship with debut album producer R. Kelly, the singer largely preferred to let her music do the talking.

Even when she did speak to the press, she kept her cards close to her chest. And she avoided giving the more salacious outlets any further ammunition by growing up away from the spotlight. If they were looking for celebrity beefs, love triangles or stumbling out of nightclubs, they had to look elsewhere.

In the social media era where oversharing is the norm, Aaliyah's desire to keep her private life entirely private now seems both admirable and practically impossible. But there are still several artists who've recognized there's a power in retaining a sense of mystery. Just look at Sault, the enigmatic collective said to be fronted by the Aaliyah-esque Cleo Sol, who've released 11 albums and evenperformed live without officially revealing their true identities.

She Was A Triple Threat 

Triple threats are par for the course these days. From Beyoncé and Rihanna to Brandy and Nicki Minaj, almost every female R&B star now seems determined to show they can pull off singing, dancing and acting — and, in the case of Jennifer Lopez's recent passion project, all at the same time. But Aaliyah was one of the first to showcase such impressive versatility.

In 2000 thriller Romeo Must Die, she stole the show from Jet Li as the daughter of a crime lord who refuses to get drawn into his dangerous underworld. And thanks to an inventive blend of wirework and futuristic choreography, she was equally spellbinding in the video for tie-in single "Try Again." 

Meanwhile, her slithery performance as the titular bloodsucker was by far the standout in 2001 horror Queen of the Damned. Having landed key roles in The Matrix Reloaded and Sparkle shortly before her untimely death, Aaliyah's movie career would undoubtedly have ascended to the same lofty heights as her musical.

She Wasn't Afraid To Take Control 

Don't be fooled by Aaliyah's softly spoken vocals and coy demeanor. The star was never afraid to tell it like it is. Just ask A&R executive Jeff Sledge, who guided her early days with Jive Records. "She was shy but when she would speak, you could tell she was a real artist," he told The Guardian in 2021. "She had her ideas of what she wanted to do and say — she wasn't a puppet."

Although her talents lay as a performer/interpreter rather than a songwriter/producer, Aaliyah continued to exert creative control throughout her discography. While promoting sophomore One In A Million, she told MTV, "I was very confident in my convictions and what I wanted this time around." 

It's a mindset reflected across her lyrical themes, too. On "If Your Girl Only Knew," she hits back at a player whose attention she's unwillingly caught, while on "Are You That Somebody," she insists on keeping her new beau a secret until he proves his worth.

She Helped Launch Missy Elliott's Career 

Although Missy Elliott had started to make waves in the music industry — firstly in short-lived girlband Sista, and then as writer/producer for Jodeci and Aaron Hall — it was her partnership with Timbaland and Aaliyah on 1996's One In A Million where she truly established herself as an R&B game-changer. Elliott co-penned nine tracks, including the singles "Hot Like Fire," "4 Page Letter" and "If Your Girl Only Knew," her sensual melodic hooks the perfect foil for Timbaland's innovative beats.

By the time their crowning glory, "Are You That Somebody," dropped in 1998, Elliott had become a star in her own right: maintaining the synergy, her debut album, 1997's Supa Dupa Fly, also boasted a guest appearance from Aaliyah. But as Elliott told Entertainment Weekly in a tribute to Aaliyah after her passing, their connection went far beyond the studio: "It was more of a family vibe than just work. We could tell each other anything." Over the next few years, both established (Whitney, Mariah) and emerging (702, Tweet) female talent would follow Aaliyah's lead by utilizing Elliott's production skills.

She Gave The Youth A Voice 

From SWV and En Vogue to Brownstone and Jade, the mid-'90s R&B scene was dominated by ladies well into adulthood. Aaliyah, however, was just 15 when debut Age Ain't Nothing But A Number hit the shelves. Subsequently, a generation of young girls immediately latched on to who they saw as a kindred spirit.

Although Aaliyah always sounded more mature than her years, her debut often reads like a schoolgirl's diary entry. (She even opens the title track by noting one: "May 5, 1993/ Aaliyah's diary/ Got it," goes the often-omitted intro.) Songs about crushes, hanging out with her friends, and partying on the weekend certainly reflected the teenage experience with authenticity (Aaliyah was still attending Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts).

What's more, "Young Nation" essentially finds her spearheading a new youth movement, "keeping it smooth with a jazz attitude.""There were so many messages in her songs that guided me and became the soundtrack to my childhood," British singer Kara Marni told The Guardian, proving that Aaliyah's generational influence extended far beyond her homeland.

She Had A Timeless Sense Of Style 

"There doesn't seem to be a current streetwear trend that Aaliyah didn't sport first," Vogue's fashion editor Janelle Okwodu recently claimed, no doubt referring to everything from bandanas and baggy jeans to sports jerseys and ski hats. From the moment she first graced MTV in overalls, a tracksuit and the chunkiest of leather vests in "Back & Forth," the New Yorker made it crystal clear she wasn't interested in appealing solely to the male gaze.

Aaliyah could dress up for the occasion; see the Roberto Cavalli ballgown she wore to the 2000 VMAs. But her sense of style always leaned more toward the casual and tomboyish end of the spectrum, empowering the next generation of R&B performers to wear exactly what they wanted. British singer Nao was one such follower of her fashion: "There was a part of Aaliyah that made me feel comfortable in rolling out in my denim trousers or in an oversized jumper and knowing that my music can be enough."

She Proved Female R&B Could Think Outside The Box 

TLC's "No Scrubs," Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On," Amerie's "1 Thing." Think of the most innovative R&B singles of the pre-streaming era and it's likely a female act is responsible. And thanks to a sonic palette that still sounds like it's been sent from the future, Aaliyah undeniably paved the way.

Age Ain't Nothing But A Number first established her innovative ways, her mellifluous vocals gliding across Timbaland's progressive beats and bank of avant-garde sound effects. But it was 2001's eponymous LP that truly pushed the genre into various weird and wonderful directions, from the snake-charming classical sample on "We Need A Resolution," to the warped Nine Inch Nails-esque guitars on "What If," to the squelchy sci-fi funk of "Try Again." 

Even when she went classic, as on gorgeous slow jam, "I Care 4 U," she practically invented alternative R&B. Musical boundaries might now be a thing of the past, but in the early '00s, Aaliyah was one of the few breaking them down.

​​10 Ways TLC Shaped The Future Of R&B

Photo of Sexyy Red performing onstage during at the 2024 Rolling Loud Festival in Los Angeles. She is wearing a blue bikini top with white stars, red and white shorts, white sunglasses, and bright red hair.
Sexyy Reds perform onstage at the 2024 Rolling Loud Festival in Los Angeles

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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New Music Friday: Listen To New Albums & Songs From Sexyy Red, Charlie Puth, Vince Staples, Aaron Carter & More

Don't slide into your Memorial Day weekend without stocking your New Music Friday playlist with fresh tunes. Here are new albums and songs from Willie Nelson, Maya Hawke, Arooj Aftab, Trueno, and many more.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 02:11 pm

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, which means we're inching closer to another music-filled summer. Less than halfway through 2024, we've received a veritable bounty of new music from Green Day, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Kacey Musgraves, Zayn … the list goes on and on.

Clearly, no matter which musical world you inhabit, 2024 has had something for you — and the slate of today's releases continues that streak. Pull up your favorite streaming service — or dust off your record player — and check out this slate of new music that's fresh out of the oven.

Sexyy Red — In Sexyy We Trust

The #MakeAmericaSexyyAgain train is unstoppable. Amid numberless recent accolades — including five nominations at the 2024 BET Awards, including Best Female Hip Hop Artist and Best New Artist — Sexyy Red has dropped a new EP, In Sexyy We Trust. By the sound of "Awesome Jawsome," we all live in Sexyy's lascivious, irresistible universe: "Give me that awesome jawsome, suck it, baby, use your teeth / Shake your dreads between my legs, do it for a G." (Take that under advisement.) And with more than 8.3 million YouTube views for her "Get it Sexyy" music video, legions are clamoring for her second official release without a doubt.

Charlie Puth — "Hero"

"You smokеd, then ate seven bars of chocolate / We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist." So recounted the one and only Taylor Swift in the title track to her new album, The Tortured Poets Department, which rocketed Puth's name even further into the public consciousness. This shine partly inspired Puth to release "Hero": "I want to thank @taylorswift for letting me know musically that I just couldn't keep this on my hard drive any longer," he stated on Instagram. "It's one of the hardest songs I've ever had to write, but I wrote it in hopes that you've gone through something similar in your life, and that it can fill in the BLANK for you like it did for me," he continued. Leave it to a hero to shake that loose for Puth.

Vince Staples — Dark Times

If you're currently rounding a difficult corner in your life, Vince Staples' latest album is a trusty companion. Take the first single "Shame on the Devil," where he licks his wounds amid thick isolation and friction with loved ones. "It's me mastering some things I've tried before that I wasn't great at in the beginning," he said in a statement. "It's a testament to musical growth, song structure — all the good stuff." By the sound of this haunted yet resolute single, Dark Times could materialize as Staples' most realized album to date — and most hard-won victory to boot.

Willie Nelson — The Border

By some counts, Willie Nelson has released more than 150 albums — try and let that soak in. The Red Headed Stranger tends to crank out a Buddy Cannon-produced album or two per year in his autumn years, each with a slight conceptual tilt: bluegrass, family matters, tributes to Harlan Howard or the Great American Songbook. The earthy, muted The Border is another helping of the good stuff — this time homing in on songwriters like Rodney Crowell ("The Border"), Shawn Camp ("Made in Texas") and Mike Reid ("Nobody Knows Me Like You.") Elsewhere, Nelson-Cannon originals like "What If I'm Out of My Mind" and "How Much Does It Cost" fold it all into the 12-time GRAMMY winner's manifold musical universe.

Listen: Listen To GRAMMY.com's Outlaw Country Playlist: 32 Songs From Honky Tonk Heroes Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard & More

Arooj Aftab — Night Reign

Arooj Aftab landed on the scene with the exquisitely blue Vulture Prince, which bridged modern jazz and folk idioms with what she calls "heritage material" from Pakistan and South Asia. The album's pandemic-era success threatened to box her in, though; Aftab is a funny, well-rounded cat who's crazy about pop music, too. Crucially, the guest-stuffed Night Reign shows many more sides of this GRAMMY-winning artist, whose most transcendent work seems still ahead of us. By the strength of songs like "Raat Ki Rani" and "Whiskey," this Reign is for the long haul.

Explore More: Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad Ismaily On New Album Love In Exile, Improvisation Versus Co-Construction And The Primacy Of The Pulse

Aaron Carter — The Recovery Album

By all means, we should have Aaron Carter alive, healthy and, yes, recovered. But the beloved singer unexpectedly died in November 2022. (He accidentally drowned in his bathtub after taking sedatives and inhaling a spray cleaner.) Still, the 2000s-era teen star, who gave us "I Want Candy," "Aaron's Party (Come Get It)" and "That's How I Beat Shaq," left us with a poignant, posthumous statement in The Recovery Album: "Tomorrow is a new day / Tryin' to shake the pain away / 'Cause I'm still in recovery," he sings in the title track. Carter, who was open about his struggles with addiction, substance abuse and mental health, is also in the news for a rough ride of a documentary, Fallen Idols: Nick and Aaron Carter. But if you'd rather focus on Carter the artist, The Recovery Album shows that his considerable talent remains undimmed.

DIIV — Frog in Boiling Water

The idiom of a frog in boiling water is a familiar one, but it's never quite unfolded in music like this — and DIIV, one of rock's most impressionistic acts, is the band for the job. In a press statement, the group, led by Zachary Cole Smith, called Frog in Boiling Water a reflection of "a slow, sick, and overwhelmingly banal collapse of society under end-stage capitalism." To wit, tracks like "Brown Paper Bag," "Raining on Your Pillow" and "Soul-net" sound like dying in a beautiful way. "Everyone Out," another album highlight, provides a clear, critical directive.

Shenseea — Never Gets Late Here

To hear Jamaican leading light Shenseea tell it, she's been boxed in as a "dancehall artiste," but she's so much more than that. "By next year I want to be international," she said back in 2018. "An international pop star." Her second album, Never Gets Late Here, might be that final boost to the big time she's chasin. Throughout the sticky-sweet album, the genre traverser tries on disco vibes ("Flava" with Voi Leray), an Afrobeats tint ("Work Me Out" with Wizkid), and a bona fide, swing-for-the-rafters anthem in the power ballad "Stars." "Everyone is looking at everything I'm going through," she recently told Revolt, "which is special because they can see the fight I'm getting, but still see me pushing and persevering."

Trueno — EL ÚLTIMO BAILE

Argentine phenom Trueno — a rapper, singer and songwriter of equal fire — has been on a sharp rise ever since his debut, 2020's Atrevido. This time, he's especially leaning into his rap skills as he pays homage to his beloved hip-hop. And, as he explained to Rolling Stone, he's been diligently crafting this artistic culmination. "We also don't want to rush anything. We're working day and night on it," he said of EL ÚLTIMO BAILE. "I'm an artist who's all about albums and big projects, so I'm immersed in this." We're about to be, too.

Yola — My Way

Yola has been nominated for six GRAMMYs to date; this impressive feat has thickened the momentum behind her latest batch of music. For her new My Way EP, the British singer/songwriter tapped GRAMMY-nominated producer Sean Douglas, who's worked with everyone from Lizzo to Madonna to Sia. Not that this synthesist of progressive R&B, synth pop, electronica, and more needs a reintroduction. But if you're not already on board with this musically keen, lyrically conscious artist, songs like "Future Enemies" should lure you there.

2025 GRAMMYs To Take Place Sunday, Feb. 2, Live In Los Angeles; GRAMMY Awards Nominations To Be Announced Friday, Nov. 8, 2024

Kate Hudson Press Photo 2024
Kate Hudson

Photo: Guy Aroch

interview

Kate Hudson Is A Singer Now — And She Doesn't Care What You Think

With her debut album, 'Glorious,' actress Kate Hudson transforms her lifelong love of music into a full-fledged venture as a singer/songwriter. As she details, the album is the truest form of her creativity: "I've never felt more present."

GRAMMYs/May 22, 2024 - 07:37 pm

When legendary songwriter Linda Perry discovered that Kate Hudson could sing, she enabled the actress' childhood dream to come true.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Perry happened to be on a virtual school program during which Hudson sang a rendition of Katy Perry's "Firework." Soon after, Perry called Hudson in for a studio session — and before they knew it, they were creating Hudson's debut album.

But their interaction was much more serendipity than it was coincidence. And perhaps you could say the same for Hudson's breakthrough role as the music-obsessed "band-aide" Penny Lane in 2000's Almost Famous. Music was always Hudson's first love, now manifested as Glorious — a glittering musical coronation.

Across 12 tracks, Hudson shows off her sultry voice over an array of pop-rock melodies, conjuring the enchanting air of Stevie Nicks and the dynamic vocal power of Sheryl Crow. While some may remember hearing Hudson sing in the 2009 film adaptation of the musical Nine or her short stint as a sassy dance instructor on season 5 of "Glee," Glorious shows an entirely new side of the actress. She feels right at home as she rocks the soulful opener "Gonna Find Out," hits you in the heart on the tender ballad "Live Forever," and surprises with belting power on the soaring title track.  

A musical venture has been on Hudson's vision board, first recognizing the pop star prowess of Madonna and Belinda Carlisle when she was just 5 years old. That lifelong aspiration has led her to feeling more assured in her debut album than anything she's done in her career thus far. As she declares, "I've never felt more present in something in my life." 

She's already felt that synergy on stage, too. Hudson made her performance debut in Los Angeles the day after Glorious lead single, "Talk About Love," premiered in January; she's since shocked viewers of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and "The Voice" with her prowess ("Who knew Kate Hudson could sing?" one "Voice" fan tweeted). And while her singing career doesn't mean her acting chapter is closed, she's ready for a tour: "I can't wait to actually go out and meet people that I've never been able to meet before."

Below, Hudson details her journey to Glorious in her own words — from letting go of potential criticism, to gaining confidence in her voice (with help from Sia!), to simply enjoying a particularly special life moment.

I would always say no if someone asked me to sing. [Whether] it was a charity [event] or some sort of show, I just always had this thing where I didn't want to put myself out there like that.

I realized I had a fear of being on stage. And I was like, You know what, I've got to just start saying yes. So it started with that — I'm just going to say yes to singing, even if it scares me to death. 

It's my happy place, singing and writing. The only thing that would have been holding me back was the fear of what people might say about it. And that is, I think, the worst possible thing to do — not make art because you're afraid of the criticism. 

I'm always writing, but when Linda [Perry] said, "Will you come in and sing this song?" and I did, and then she asked if I wrote music, and she's like, "We should write together," that was sort of the beginning of what this album became. Getting in the studio with Linda, we had no expectation, we didn't know what it was going to be — one song, four songs. It ended up being, like, 20-plus songs.

It was a real passion project, versus being a younger artist, and wanting that to be my number one vocation. So I was able to be more present in the process and with no expectation. It sort of had that domino effect of starting the writing and then really just loving it — becoming kind of all-encompassing. Once you open the floodgates, there's so much to write about. I can't wait to get back in the studio already.

I think [my hesitation to sing before] was more about, Why am I singing? I find music so precious that, if I wasn't ready, ready, ready, I just didn't want to do it. And it's kind of my personality too. I was the little girl that wouldn't do anything unless I felt like I had perfected it and had the confidence to be doing it.

And then COVID [hit]. Honestly, it was like, Okay, I'm not getting any younger. I want music to be a part of my life in a bigger way. I can sort of see myself, as I get older, being more surrounded by music and writing music, and being more immersed in music like that, because I love it so much. 

I was thinking about this the other day — lately, Danny [Fujikawa, Hudson's musician/actor fiancé] and I write, like, a song a week, and sometimes multiple. I love it, we love doing it together. So it's something that I can't wait to, hopefully, be able to do just more of.

The performance thing is so new for me that it's wild. This past month of performing, and being in front of people, and sharing music, and sharing my voice like that, is something brand new. I call it, like, putting on a new pair of shoes and wearing them in a little bit — going to different places and your voice sounds different in different rooms. 

Trying to really understand what that feels like is so much fun for me, and so interesting, and so exhilarating. But I find that they're two very different things to love, singing live and writing.

When I was little, I just loved pop stars — like, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Belinda Carlisle. I was also very fashion-forward. My mom always let me wear my own outfits, and sometimes I was so insane. When I was, like, 5, I dressed like I was living out my pop star life. So, I think, the whole thing with music, and fashion, and dancing, that was my dream when I was little.

For a lot of performers — people who like to be [doing] musical theater, love to sing, love to dance — we kind of get into all of it. To me, it's the performing aspect. I say to my kids, "Do all of it. You need to get into movement. You need to get into voice. You use all of it." As you see, a lot of great actors are wonderful singers, and love to do musical theater, and started out doing musical theater. Whether it be Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, Annie Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Hugh Jackman — a lot of these people are just so musical and have incredible instruments. 

I never focused on the instrument. I never took real vocal classes. I would sing instinctually, but I never was "in voice" or anything like that. When I would get into writing, it's a little bit of a different thing. Finding that feeling, that energy of, like, what your voice is as a singer/songwriter is a really interesting process. But I've kind of secretly been doing that since I was like, 19 in my living room. [Laughs.]

It took me a lot to find confidence in my voice. Because some instruments have bigger range, some instruments are more intricate — and by instruments, I mean voices. And if I was to compare myself [to anyone], I think it would take away from the freedom I feel when I just love to sing. 

Certain people that I admire that I've worked with, [have] allowed me to feel more confidence in opening up my voice, being able to really just go for it. Like, working with Sia on Music, the film that we did [in 2021], was huge for me. She really helped me feel more confidence in my big, belting voice.

I've always been writing [songs]. It's always been my outlet for myself, whether I think they're good or terrible. [Laughs.] I'd say 19 [is when] I picked up guitar, and I always played a little piano when I was younger, but then I got more into piano at like, 20. People always say, "Where's your happy place?" and I've always said, "My piano." When I'm really sad and depressed, it's just where I go to get it out. And then the opposite, too — when I'm ready to have fun, it's my favorite place to be. 

There's a lot of people that just have a connection to music, love it so much, and don't know what they would do without it. I find it to be the most connective art form. Large groups of people get to feel something at the same time, together, and have these experiences that, I think, are just so important for the human experience, to be that connected through something.

[When I was filming Almost Famous],I still probably felt like, at some point, I will do music, whether it be in a movie, a musical or in my life. And, to be honest, I'm not a calculated person. I really have never been someone who was like, I'm going to do this and then I'm going to do that, and then I have to do that, and that's going to look like this. 

I'm such an Aries. I just want to have fun where I'm at. I like being spontaneous, I like being open to things, and I like being present in where I am. So if you took me back there, I was just so happy to be a working actress. I wasn't thinking, like, Now what?

In reflection, at that time, crossing over [into music] was sort of looked poorly upon— if you're starting to become successful in one thing, you need to stick to that. You have to understand, like, if someone even did a commercial, the perception of it would be like, "Oh that person's career is over."

Now, the world has completely shifted and it just doesn't matter anymore. Which is such a nice thing for a lot of artists.

At the end of the day, these are art forms that we really care about. It's really important to us to make the right movies — when you're creating a character, or when you're writing an album. People might not see [that] from the outside in. It fuels something that is just like, you couldn't live without it. 

So when you get to a certain place that you are being known for what you love, for the art form, and you become a celebrity, the criticism is so extreme. It's so extreme that it's like, if you feed into it, it will stop you from wanting to take any risks as an artist. You start to become precious about things — you get nervous to step out on a limb because it could destroy things that you've been really working hard to build. But the irony of that is, you aren't really an artist unless you're taking those chances. 

Entering this phase of my life age-wise, I've been through all of that harsh criticism so many times that after a while, you realize like it just doesn't matter. What matters is that you're putting your best foot forward, you know?

I'm so happy in my home life. I feel very cozy in my familial unit — my parents, and my brothers, and my partner, and my kids. That allows the safety to feel good putting myself out there like this.

Obviously music is in our life all the time, but [my kids] love it. It's a very comfortable place for all of us — being on tour, being in all these different stages. It's just so funny, I think, for them to see me in that position, versus their dad. [Editor's note: Hudson has three kids; son Ryder with the Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson, son Bing with Muse singer Matt Belamy, and daughter Rani with Fujikawa.] It's been really fun for them to watch. At least that's what they tell me. 

I think what's really fun for them is to see that the thing that they know that I love, that they've been surrounded by their whole life — which is me singing and writing — I think it's fun for them to actually see that I decided to pursue the thing I love the most.

I'll never forget the first time [performing live] because I felt like I was surrounded by all of my closest friends and family, and they all know what the process has been for me. So it was very special. 

I'm just so happy singing on stage. I can't wait to actually go out and meet people that I've never been able to meet before and have that connection. I can't wait to get into like, the weird places in the world, and experience what it feels like to connect with people in Cleveland, or in Kansas City, or Dusseldorf, Germany!

I was reading something about women and imposter syndrome, and how many women feel that way about all of the things that we've done — it doesn't matter what it is. It's a very popular thing for women to feel when they become successful in something, [that] they don't really deserve it.

I've had that before in my acting career. Those kinds of feelings creep up all the time. I think they do for a lot of women. But, I'm a worker bee. I work really hard, and I put the things out in the world that I feel connected to, and that I hope people love. And if there's success in it, the only thing that would ever make me feel like I didn't deserve it would be someone else, not the work I've put into it.

And the truth is, I think all artists [are] always striving to be better than how we are right now. I think that's part of the deal. If you've thought, like, Yeah, I'm the best. That's kind of weird. That's problematic. For most artists, it's never enough. You're always striving to make things better.

I'm old enough, at this point, to have a good sense of what not to worry about. I would love for people to like what I'm doing, it would make me feel so good. But I also know that everyone's gonna have a different opinion.What I've learned the most is put your head down, do good work and have fun — enjoy every moment and don't overthink it. So that's kind of what I'm leaning into in this process [with].

I definitely want to make more music. That's the thing I know, is that no matter where, or what it's for — whether it's for musicals, film, television, another album — writing is just something I'm never going to stop doing. I started this with no expectations, and I've taken each moment in the moment it presents itself. And I'm gonna stay there.

I've never felt more present in something in my life. Even though it's so crazy right now — I don't even know what day it is. It's been a wildly busy time. But having music being a part of my life like this has just been the greatest, cathartic, joyful transition. I don't ever want that to go away.

I definitely have moments where I wake up and I feel this immense amount of gratitude that I'm getting to share music and that people are hearing it. And the warmth that I'm receiving has felt really special. It does not go unnoticed. 

It's been the most special moment of my life. So far, it's been great. I'm sure my sophomore experience will feel very different. [Laughs.] But right now, I'm just having so much fun.

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Tori Kelly
Tori Kelly

Photo: Sarah Morris/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Tori Kelly Gets “Unwrapped” For 'TORI' At GRAMMY U Event Showcasing Production & Recording Techniques From Her New Album

The singer stepped out for GRAMMY U's first "Unwrapped" event to give fans a look deep inside her new record, TORI. Joined by producer and collaborator Tenroc, the pair walked guests through the making of several tracks including "missin u" and "oceans."

GRAMMYs/May 21, 2024 - 10:11 pm

GRAMMY U members got a special treat from Tori Kelly when the singer (and Sing-er) took the stage for the first ever GRAMMY U "Unwrapped" event on May 15. Held at The Novo in downtown Los Angeles, the event brought together fans, music industry professionals, and students for a night that dove deep into the creative process behind Kelly’s brand new record, TORI. Amazon Music and Mastercard were presenting sponsors for this event. 

Joined on stage by producer and collaborator Tenroc, Kelly took fans through a journey of several tracks from her new record, from inception to completion. Kelly discussed each track, aided by a video presentation and using stems to highlight special production techniques, musical intricacies, and cool little Easter eggs. The showcase was followed by a round of live questions from the audience, where Kelly dished about everything from her voiceover work to her pre-studio rituals, before grabbing a guitar and performing two new tracks: "High Water" and "Oceans." 

Here’s a glimpse into all the songs Kelly and Tenroc featured, from "Missin' U" to "Spruce."

"thing u do”

When it came time to make Tori, Kelly told the audience that she wanted to focus on "songs that make [you] wanna dance," and "songs that [anyone] can belt out in the car." Mainly collaborating just with Tenroc, Bellion, Clyde Lawrence, and Jordan Cohen, Kelly put together a record that's strongly influenced by late '90s and early '00s pop, with references to chirping Sidekick phones and plenty of nostalgic vocal effects. 

"missin u" in particular is interesting, not just because it was inspired by Craig David and the U.K. Garage sound — with Kelly taking special care to pronounce "garage" in true British fashion at the live event — but also because it was released in both its original form and as an R&B edit. The latter version is the one Kelly and Tenroc highlighted at the event, going through Kelly's vocal tracks, and really digging in on the remix's bridge, which Kelly wrote just for that track and recorded in her home studio.

Getting to see Tenroc's Logic Pro work on the big screen seemed to mesmerize everyone in attendance, with most marveling at the ease he seemed to have flicking through the dozens of stems, layers, and plug-ins. 

"missin u"

When it came time to make TORI, Kelly told the audience that she wanted to focus on "songs that make [you] wanna dance," and "songs that [anyone] can belt out in the car." Mainly collaborating just with Tenroc, Bellion, Clyde Lawrence, and Jordan Cohen, Kelly put together a record that's strongly influenced by late '90s and early '00s pop, with references to chirping Sidekick phones and plenty of nostalgic vocal effects.

In particular, "missin u" is interesting, not just because it was inspired by Craig David and the U.K. Garage sound — with Kelly taking special care to pronounce "garage" in true British fashion at the live event — but also because it was released in both its original form and as an R&B edit. The latter version is the one Kelly and Tenroc highlighted at the event, going through Kelly's vocal tracks, and really digging in on the remix's bridge, which Kelly wrote just for that track and recorded in her home studio.

Getting to see Tenroc's Logic Pro work on the big screen seemed to mesmerize everyone in attendance, with most marveling at the ease he seemed to have flicking through the dozens of stems, layers, and plug-ins. 

"shelter"

Talking about "shelter," Kelly described a sort of shorthand she'd developed with Tenroc, after working closely together over the past few years. She said they're at the point where they can communicate with "sounds" and "telepathy," a benefit she attributes to not switching producers throughout the making of her record.

Tenroc and Kelly used "shelter" to talk about the comping process, or the act of combining the best parts of different takes into a single track. Kelly said she typically does about five takes of a vocal track, all in different personas: one normal, one shyer, one wild, one with a lot of vocal runs, and one that's sort of a wild card. She can keep each take separate in her mind that way, remembering how she recorded a vowel slightly better in one take or gave a line a little grittier vocal texture in another. It's not something everyone can do, though, and Tenroc said it's truly amazing to witness in person — a fact the live audience could attest to. 

For Kelly, a lot of making TORI, was about exploring different tones and textures of her voice, she said. She'd sometimes start by doing an impression of a singer like Rihanna and Willow in one run, and then blend the inspired version with her own, stretching herself vocally. She demonstrated that kind of thing live at the show, doing off-the-cuff runs of bits of "Shelter" to talk about how they changed the way the word "plate" in the chorus. 

Tenroc also showed off how he used the Little Alterboy plug-in to alter Kelly's voice, turning the rap in "shelter," as well as the "you, you, you, you, you" bit into what sounds like a deep masculine voice, even though those lines were originally laid down by Kelly herself. 

"spruce"

When "spruce" was first being envisioned by Kelly and co-writer Casey Smith, it was a song called "truce" about making up with your loved one before going out on the town. Kelly had been wanting to make a "getting ready, girly song," though, and Bellion came into the studio one day with the idea of merging the two ideas in what became "spruce." 

Written over a loop made by Tenroc, "spruce" — featuring Kim Chaewon of K-Pop group LE SSERAFIM — is emblematic, Kelly said, of her effort to let go, change, and try new things in the studio. The production was inspired by Jai Paul and uses sidechain compression, which is when the level of one instrument or sound triggers a compressor to control the level of another sound. The crowd clearly seemed taken with the sound when Tenroc played examples of how it was used in the track, which he said he made in part with the Serum plugin. Kelly said the result feels fully "3-D," like you're "inside" the track rather than just listening along.

"same girl"

The last — and most personal —song on the record, "same girl," was mostly written by Kelly while she was on a plane. She wanted something that felt like it could close the record, and she recorded it live with Tenroc in her studio, where he also played piano. 

Kelly said the song was inspired by her love of various music styles and genres. She explained, "Coming up as an artist, I always felt a little insecure about trying to stay in one lane and be in one box. I love so many different genres. I'm inspired by so many different things." She continued, "And so finding my sound I always thought that was a bad thing... But I'm grateful for all these different genres I've been able to dabble in. This song was me being overwhelmed by people's opinions and letting it get to me a little bit while thinking of my career as a whole."

Kelly said that while she worried when she was writing that the lyrics would be too personal and too specific, she's had great feedback about the track, something that reminds her that, "Anytime you write about your own experience, someone else out there is going to be able to relate to it." 

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