Photo: Peter Ash Lee
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner On Self-Actualization, Grieving In Public And Her Nominations For 'Jubilee' At The 2022 GRAMMY Awards
Japanese Breakfast is nominated for two GRAMMYs at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. Their leader, Michelle Zauner, opened up to GRAMMY.com about how the nominations feel, and why personal and global crises just made her more motivated.
When the pandemic first descended on humanity, countless millennials moved home, donned pajama pants and brooded at their parents' kitchen islands. In this sea of dejected Instagram posts, though, a few public figures stood out — those who decided to thrive during the age of demoralization. One conspicuous example was the singer, songwriter and debut author Michelle Zauner.
Zauner hit two professional home runs during the pajama-pants era. In April 2020, she released her affecting memoir Crying in H Mart, and that June, her band Japanese Breakfast released a critically acclaimed album, Jubilee. Granted, the lion's share of both projects was completed before we started wiping down bags of Doritos — and Zauner wasn't immune to "being depressed and eating a lot." Still, the timing of her breakthroughs speaks to her character.
Read More: How Japanese Breakfast Found Joy On Her New Album Jubilee
"I've discovered through the past few years that I'm a surprisingly optimistic person — I'm a secret hopeful person!" she quips. "Because in any narrative or story I've told, it's been important for me to find some type of hope to cling to. I certainly am not one to dwell on the negative. It doesn't help me to have that be my end goal."
As such, accentuating the positive was something of an animating force while making Jubilee — and the result was a critically-acclaimed album on top of a New York Times bestseller.
Japanese Breakfast is nominated for two GRAMMYs at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards: one for Best New Artist, another for Best Alternative Music Album for Jubilee. In the above video, watch Zauner's recollection of drearily watching the nominations roll in, expecting nothing — and her very loud reaction at the results.
That's her magic in microcosm, alchemizing the depressing into the sublime. And her mother (whose loss looms large in both Crying in H Mart and previous Japanese Breakfast music) would undoubtedly be proud.
With the 2022 GRAMMY Awards on the immediate horizon (April 3), GRAMMY.com sat down with Zauner to discuss what motivates her during hard times, the palette of influences reflected on Jubilee, and the life-changing moments it produced— like watching Jeff Tweedy cover her Wilco-influenced song.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
During the early pandemic, I felt drawn to people who rose above their circumstances and thrived, rather than sinking into a mire. Where did your motivation come from during a very demotivated time?
I will say that a majority of both Jubilee and Crying in H Mart were done prior to the pandemic, so I was kind of one of those people being depressed and eating a lot.
But I was able to work on the final, final draft of Crying in H Mart during a time I was supposed to be on tour. I do think that having the perspective of going into the final stages of this book, when I had a ton of time off for the first time, was actually kind of helpful for me to get some of the really good, final touches on this book.
Honestly, I feel like I became very motivated in general after a very dark time in my life. I became grounded by my work ethic and my ambition and sticking very close to routine after my mom passed away. So, after this dark limbo period, I recalled being a caretaker for six months and being stuck in the house in Eugene, Oregon.
In a way, I feel like I've gone through this part of life before, and I felt prepared. I know what it feels like to be out of control of my life and watch a lot of darkness descend around me. I found that sticking close to a regimen or staying grounded through work is what helped me through that time. So, I think that's something I'm unfortunately used to at this point in my life.
Some people view grievous loss as a moment where their life stops, and they just wander through the past after that. But it seems like you're more interested in moving forward and honoring your mom that way.
Yeah, I think I got there through working through it creatively, in a way. But it is really interesting; I think that happens really often.
My father and I navigated our grief in totally different ways. I think that happens in families a lot — where one person goes on one path and another experiences it through another path. They can be at odds with one another.
But for me, personally, I was so worried about allowing myself to fall into a deep pit of depression about something very real for the first time — that I would struggle to ever pull out of it. I know my mom would want me to navigate my grief in this way, and that's what really helped me through that.
Another destabilizing factor for people in our age range can be a sense of futurelessness. Perhaps we share a drive to work around global traumas.
Yeah, I've discovered through the past few years that I'm a surprisingly optimistic person — I'm a secret hopeful person! Because in any narrative or story I've told, it's been important for me to find some type of hope to cling to. I certainly am not one to dwell on the negative. It doesn't help me to have that be my end goal.
Is it irritating to have to dredge up your personal adversities over and over and over in interviews?
Sometimes. Sometimes, it's honestly kind of therapeutic, which is, like, gross and weird. But there's this other stage of art making that I'm less prickly to than other artists. I learn a lot about what I've made through the press process. A lot of the themes and questions I navigate in the work get solidified with different perspectives through the press process.
So, sometimes I don't mind it as much, because it can be kind of enlightening. But certainly, like everything, it can become exhausting.
What's your relationship with pop music, like making something that appeals to as many people as humanly possible? Do you feel like an odd duck on the GRAMMY nominees list?
Yes and no. I'm kind of a poptimist and I really admire great pop music. One of my favorite artists is, honestly, Ariana Grande. In some cases, there are top-tier composers, producers, arrangers, and mixing engineers working to create something with mass appeal, which is widely enjoyable.
Even in K-pop, it's like that. You have the greatest music video directors, the greatest production designers! The highest-paid costume [designers] and stylists and makeup artists! Watching a city come together to create a piece of art that can reach a lot of people is very inspiring to me.
As an indie artist, trying to reach beyond my means in a similar way, on a smaller scale, has always been something very fun for me. I don't like to make purposefully complicated music. I enjoy making what I think to be listenable, enjoyable music that a lot of people can get into.
So, I'm happy to be in this realm, and I think it's really exciting. It's an honor.
When making a record, I think of the canon almost as a buffet to pick from — a little Richard and Linda Thompson here, a little R.E.M. there. Who did you pick from the proverbial buffet for Jubilee?
I've never thought of it quite as a buffet, but I do really like that idea. One thing about Japanese Breakfast that I enjoy is that we have a pretty broad range of influences on all our records. There's a lot of range and diversity.
There was certainly a lot of Kate Bush in this buffet. A lot of Björk and Wilco. There was some Bill Withers and Randy Newman. Certainly, Fleetwood Mac. Alex G. Those were, I think, the main buffet trays.
I'm a Randy Newman fanatic — I love the Pixar soundtracks, the dark-humored stuff, the love songs. What's your Randy era or album?
It's either called Something New Under the Sun or it's self-titled.
Yeah, the debut.
It's the one with "Living Without You" on it. That was my introduction to Randy Newman. An ex-boyfriend had shown me that song and it just haunted me for years and years. He's just the master of a sweeping love song — a ballad. That was the inspiration for the piano and string arrangement on "Tactics."
I was always trying to channel my inner Randy. I think he's timelessness incarnate.
Classic rockers are always thrown into court over "stealing," but I think that's part of the musical process. Do you ever hear a great lick and say "I'm going to place that right here"?
I've never done that purposefully. But it's funny: When [Japanese Breakfast drummer and producer] Craig [Hendrix] and I were working on "Kokomo, IN" — I almost said "Kokomo, Etc." — we were definitely very inspired by the string arrangement on [Wilco's] "Jesus, Etc." The classic nature of that Beatles math that goes into a great pop song.
It was very funny, because Jeff Tweedy actually covered that song in one of his livestreams. I was super-inspired by "Jesus, Etc." for "Kokomo, IN," and I was also inspired by "At Least That's What You Said" — the solo — in the quiet acoustic section that leads to a big solo in "Posing for Cars."
It was amazing. I got to meet Wilco this year and see Jeff Tweedy cover my song! He's such a songwriting hero of mine.
I've never purposefully plopped a direct lick from anything. But there was a moment when we were doing "Kokomo" where we were like, "Are we biting 'Jesus, Etc.' a little too hard with the pizzacato strings?" But it's Jeff Tweedy-approved, so I don't think they'll be suing us anytime soon.
How do you see the musical landscape before you? What do you want your next few years to look like?
God, I have no idea. I feel like I'm just trying to roll with the punches here [with Omicron]. But I hope we just ride the wave of this record and get to play big festivals and travel again. I'm just going to try to do my best, as I always do.
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Arooj Aftab On Her Latest Album Vulture Prince, The Multiplicity Of Pakistani Musics And Why We Should Listen With Nuance & Care
Photo: Ian Dickson/Redferns
From Fanny To Madam Wong's & The GRAMMYs: How The Asian Community Has Impacted Rock
While K-pop is Asia’s most dominant musical export today, the continent and its diaspora have a rich rock heritage. GRAMMY.com takes an in-depth look at guitar heroes of Asian descent who have made a significant impact on Western soil.
While K-pop is Asia’s most dominant musical export today, the continent has a rich rock heritage that has traveled much further than you may imagine. Indeed, while the genre is the result of a cultural interplay between Africa and America (with fruitful trips to the UK), its history encompasses numerous important names whose roots trace to Japan, Korea, the Philippines and beyond.
Who can forget the impact Yoko Ono had on John Lennon and his post-Beatles career, for example? And then there's the unsung heroes: the Californian restaurant owner who played a vital part in the rise of punk and the little-known '60s singer who single-handedly brought the sounds of the West to Vietnam.
With the likes of Mitski, Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som now steering a new revolution in rock, what better time to take an in-depth look at the guitar heroes of Asian descent who have made a significant impact on Western soil?
While first- and second-generation Asian artists had previously enjoyed crossover success in the fields of jazz (Toshiko Akiyoshi), doo-wop (the Kim Sisters) and teen pop (Eden Kane) in the first half of the 20th century, the burgeoning rock 'n' roll scene remained out of reach. That is, until a band of Filipino American brothers paid tribute to the post-war era's version of Tony Manero.
The Rocky Fellers reached No. 16 on the Hot 100 in 1963 with "Killer Joe," named in honor of "King of the Discotheque" Killer Joe Piro, and later worked with Neil Diamond on the song "We Got Love." But their sole album on Scepter Records got lost as attention switched to the first British Invasion, and it would be another seven years before a predominantly Asian rock act graced the U.S. singles charts.
Formed by sisters Jean and June Millington nearly a decade after their family moved to Sacramento, California from the Philippines, four-piece Fanny also broke barriers. As the first all-female outfit to land a major label deal, they paved the way for the Runaways, the Bangles and the Go-Gos (Fanny drummer Alice de Buhr would later serve as theGo-Gos' publicist).
Reprise Records reportedly signed Fanny without hearing any of their music — presuming the novelty of four women playing their own instruments was enough of a selling point. The original quartet proved they were far from a mere gimmick, though, with four albums of anthemic rock which inspired David Bowie to hail them as one of the genre's true unsung heroes. Incidentally, the Thin White Duke was the subject of Fanny's biggest hit, "Butter Boy," while Jean was briefly wed to his regular guitarist Earl Slick.
Bowie was just as enamored with Vodka Collins — a Japanese rock supergroup fronted by native New Yorker (and future Arrows frontman Alan Merrill). The cult favorites are rumored to have inspired one of his many alter-egos, Ziggy Stardust. Sadly, a major financial dispute led to their disbanding shortly after the release of their 1973 debut, Tokyo – New York.
That album's producer, Masatoshi Hashiba, however, would also steer a more enduring group to the fringes of the mainstream. Fronted by married couple Kazuhiko Katō and Mika Fuku, Sadistic Mika Band supported Roxy Music on their mid-1970s Siren Tour, while drummer Yukihiro Takahashi later co-founded the pioneering Kraftwerk-esque Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Sadistic Mika Band's name was actually intended to parody the Plastic Ono Band's, the conceptual project co-founded by arguably rock's most prominent Asian crossover artist. Ono helped to push the boundaries of rock music while simultaneously paying homage to her East Asian heritage, drawing upon everything from hetai, a vocal technique hailing from the kabuki form of Japanese theater, to the ancient classical style of Gagaku.
Released on the same day (and with a similar title) as husband John Lennon's solo debut in 1970, Ono’s debut solo album charted 176 places lower on the Billboard 200. Yet it unarguably had the bigger impact: Its uncompromising avant-garde sound credited with ushering in the birth of punk, alternative rock and no-wave (Sonic Youth, tUnE-yArDs and the Flaming Lips are just a few of the artists who have since acknowledged Ono's influence through collaboration). Ono has occasionally flirted with the mainstream — see 1981 Top 40 single "Walking on Thin Ice" — but it's her fearless experimentalism that positioned her as an icon.
Continuing the Beatles-adjacent theme, Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar informed much of George Harrison's work, both as a member of the Fab Four and as a solo artist. The pair worked together on several albums and essentially paved the way for Live Aid with 1971's legendary The Concert for Bangladesh, a star-studded benefit show boasting performances from Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan.
Of course, some of Asia's most culturally significant artists had to wait decades before receiving their dues. Phuong Tâm, for example, was pivotal in bringing the sounds of the West to the East in the early 1960s Saigon. During her late teenage years, she spent up to eight hours an evening performing Vietnamese compositions heavily inspired by the growing presence of American GIs.
Tâm's music career was cut short when her army doctor husband landed a job hundreds of miles away. Remarkably, she kept this past life a secret from her own children until a film producer requested the use of her recordings, much of which had been misattributed. Two years later, a compilation assembled by daughter Hà, Magical Nights: Saigon Surf, Twist & Soul 1964-1966, finally showcased Tâm's youthful grasp of the genre to a wider audience.
Formed by brothers David and Romeo Bustamante in San Francisco's Mission District, the largely Filipino collective Dakila prided themselves on bringing a pan-continental flavor to the early '70s rock scene. They were the first U.S. major label signing to perform material in Tagalog and made a conscious effort to align themselves with various Asian-American causes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Epic didn't exactly handle such an outlier with the utmost sensitivity. Not only did they instruct producers to meddle with Dakila's self-titled debut behind the group's backs, they also released first single "El Dùbi" with a patronizing spoken word instructional on how to pronounce their song titles. Luckily, the double whammy of a more faithful 50th anniversary reissue and forthcoming documentary Searchin' for My Soul is set to give the first true Asian American rock album some long overdue props.
The artwork for Dakila's eponymous LP also featured a wicker chair originating from what would become an unlikely hub of the punk scene. At the time, the Mabuhay Gardens was a Filipino restaurant but within a few years, owner Ness Aquino had joined forces with promoter and punk magazine publisher Jerry Paulsen to reinvent the struggling business as a thriving venue.
The Mab, as it would become known as, attracted some of the West Coast's rowdiest bands including Black Flag, the Nuns and the Dead Kennedys while also welcoming further afield acts such as the Damned and Sex Pistols, hosting one of the latter's final ever shows. Thanks to another sideline in stand-up comedy, the once-flailing business stayed open until 1987.
This San Francisco joint's pivot into the world of mohawks and safety pins appeared to inspire other Asian proprietors in Southern California. In 1978, promoter Paul Greenstein and owners George and Esther Wong helped to transform Madame Wong's into a haven for West Coast punk. The Chinatown venue had a strict policy on vandalism: Rumor has it Esther once confronted two of the Ramones about their bathroom wall graffiti while they were still performing on stage.
Frustrated with such defacing, the Wongs decided to focus on a slightly more "civilized" genre when they opened up a second venue. Madame Wong's West helped put new wave on the Santa Monica map, giving early gigs to the likes of the Police, the Motels and the Knack. But the original remained their bread and butter, which is why a major rivalry — problematically dubbed the Wonton Wars by the local press — started when another nearby struggling eatery muscled in on their territory.
Barry Seidel, who'd rented out the upstairs banquet hall of Cantonese immigrant Bill Hong's family restaurant Hong Kong Cafe, was much less discerning when it came to wanton destruction. When Madame Wong's prevented anyone under 21 from entering the premises, for example, Seidel made his punk nights all ages. To placate Hong, Seidel agreed that performers would pay for any damage caused, a much-needed stipulation as punks with a disregard for crowd capacity regularly broke in via the roof and air conditioning ducts.
But by the dawn of the following decade, the punk boom had given way to hardcore, a style too aggressive even for Hong Kong Cafe who called time on its musical endeavors in 1981. Madame Wong's closed its doors for good following a fire six years later, but its West branch stayed open until 1991 having added the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M. to its impressive resume. Esther's standing in the community was confirmed in the wake of her 2005 death when the Los Angeles Times dubbed her the "Godmother of Punk."
The GRAMMY Winners
Although Larry Ramos of the New Christy Minstrels and the Association, singer/songwriter Yvonne Elliman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma had been nominated at Music's Biggest Night, it wasn't until 1992 that an act of Asian descent won a GRAMMY in a rock category.
Born to an Indonesian mother, guitar hero Eddie Van Halen and his drummer brother Alex picked up Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal for their eponymous group's ninth LP, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Their victory which appeared to open the floodgates.
Just three years later, Indian American lead guitarist Kim Thayil and Japanese American bassist Hiro Yamamoto helped Soundgarden land Best Metal Performance and Best Hard Rock Performance for their album Superunknown. It was the latter category that Smashing Pumpkins, featuring Japanese American guitarist James Iha, also triumphed in at the 1997 ceremony thanks to "Bullet with Butterfly Wings." In 2002, the same award went to Linkin Park for "Crawling," a track boasting the turntablism skills of Korean American Joe Hahn. And let's not forget Tony Kanal, a child of Indian immigrants, whose basslines steered No Doubt to Best Pop Vocal Album for Rock Steady that same year.
Remarkably, the most famous rock star of Asian descent never got the chance to make an acceptance speech. Freddie Mercury, whose parents hailed from western India, received four nominations as frontman of Queen. The band was honored with a Lifetime Achievement in 2018, 27 years after his untimely passing.
It also took decades for another rock giant to hear their name read out. Co-founded in 1985 by Korean American bassist John Myung, prog favorites Dream Theater won Best Metal Performance for "The Alien" in 2022. Also nominated that same year for Best Alternative Music Album and Best New Artist were Japanese Breakfast, the indie-rock outfit fronted by Korean American Michelle Zauner, and one of several artists spearheading a new wave of Asian American indie rock.
The Indie Scene
The first wave of Asian American alternative guitar acts signed to independent labels began to blossom in 1995. It was here when the palindromic Emily's Sassy Lime released their one and only album, Desperate, Scared But Social, through Kill Rock Stars while still at school. One of the few Asian American acts to align themselves with the riot grrrl movement, the all-female trio had to write, record and perform on the odd occasion their parents allowed them a break from their studies. And although they split shortly after graduation, Yao sisters Wendy and Amy remained regulars of the DIY art scene.
That same year, Satomi Matsuzaki joined noise-pop experimentalists Deerhoof, another Kill Rock Stars act, in the same week she emigrated from Japan to America. Obviously not averse to throwing herself in the deep end, the bassist/singer headed out on tour with the band just a few days later, too. Having since tackled everything from tropicalia and conceptual prog rock to sheet music experiments and classical ensembles, few contemporary bands have been so brazenly audacious.
Blonde Redhead, the similarly creative outfit co-founded by Japanese art students Maki Takahashi and Kazu Makino, also released their self-titled debut in 1995. Produced by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and released through his indie label Smells Like Records, one of the no-wave scene's defining records was followed by equally atmospheric excursions into shoegaze and dreampop, while a guest appearance from Ryuichi Sakamoto on her 2019 first solo effort Adult Baby cemented Makino's status as an icon of the avant-garde.
A year later, Korean American Mike Park founded Asian Man Records, a predominantly ska/punk label run from his California garage. Park and his label helped kickstart the careers of Stateside cult heroes such as Less Than Jake and Alkaline Trio, while also giving a platform for acts of Asian heritage including India's Nicotine and Japan's Yoko Utsumi.
Asian and Asian American indie artists have remained in the public eye through the mid 2010s, crafting devoted followings across the globe. With eight GRAMMY nominations to her name, South Korean-born Karen O has kept the flag flying over the following two decades as the frontwoman of garage punks Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Osaka's Shonen Knife, the one-time Lollapalooza regulars championed by Kurt Cobain, did as much alongside Tokyo's Buffalo Daughter — the Shibuya-kei pioneers who signed to the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label. Meanwhile, the music of Cornelius, a.k.a. the "Japanese" Beck" has graced everything from NFL ads to Scott Pilgrim vs the World. And then there’s David Pajo, the Filipino American guitarist whose journeyman career has incorporated everyone from Slint and Tortoise to Zwan and Gang of Four.
The Asian American rock scene has further coalesced in the last few years with women leading the way. Whether it’s the dreamy indie of Leslie Bear's alter ego Long Beard, intimate bedroom pop of Filipino American singer-songwriter Jay Som or, perhaps most notably, the sonic adventurism of Japanese American Mitski.
Indeed, Mitski's 2018 LP Be the Cowboy was named Album of the Year by both Pitchfork and Vulture, and she received an Oscar nod for her contribution to the soundtrack of Everything Everywhere All at Once alongside New York post-rockers Son Lux, two-thirds of whom are also of Asian descent In another landmark in Asian American representation Mitski had also previously invited Som and Japanese Breakfast to provide support on her North American tour.
And with indie chameleons such as Korean Canadian Luna Li, American Korean Deb Never and Chinese American Sofya Wang all emerging in the 2020s, the future seems bright, too. Indeed, despite concerns the convergence of artists with Asian heritage would be dismissed as a passing fad, it’s clear that rock grounded in this community is thriving stronger than ever before.
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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Anitta On The “Insane” Success Of "Envolver," Representing Brazil & Reshaping Global Pop
After a decade of building a massive career in her home country of Brazil, Anitta took her success to a global level in 2022. The singer discusses her “brand new career” and the Best New Artist nomination that came from it.
Before Anitta released her album Versions of Me last April, she already had four albums in her catalog. But as the title insists, Versions of Me is the project that showed Anitta has many layers to her success — and now, she has a GRAMMY nomination to show for it.
The Brazilian star is nominated for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs, which may feel like a long time coming for those who have been a fan since Anitta's self-titled debut album arrived in 2013. After becoming a household name in her native Brazil, and then in Latin America, she finally cracked the U.S. last year with the worldwide hit "Envolver." Ten years in, Anitta almost feels reborn.
"In Brazil I got the recognition before, but internationally, it's amazing because I've just started a brand new career," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I feel really special. I feel like things are happening really fast and I'm really happy about it."
With Versions of Me, Anitta explored and embraced her cross-cultural appeal, even singing in Portuguese, Spanish and English across its 15 tracks. The album opens with "Envolver," which blends reggaeton music with an electronic allure; later, she put a trap music twist on the Brazilian bossa nova classic "The Girl From Ipanema" in "Girl From Rio," a tribute to her hometown of Rio de Janeiro.
Those personal details helped Versions of Me resonate with a global audience, and they were amplified by Anitta's unabashed ability to push pop music to new places. She embedded elements of funk carioca (Brazilian funk music from the favelas of Rio De Janeiro where she grew up) into genre-bending collaborations alongside stars like Cardi B, Khalid, and Saweetie.
Anitta has also become widely acclaimed for her show-stopping performances, from Coachella to the Latin GRAMMY Awards to the viral "Envolver" dance challenge on TikTok. Her charming transparency with her fans helps uplift women, her country of Brazil, and the LGBTQIA+ community (she publicly identified as bisexual in 2018) — in turn helping Anitta become one of Latin pop's most refreshing and boldest artists in recent memory.
Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, Anitta spoke with GRAMMY.com about her first GRAMMY nomination, the viral success of "Envolver," and what's next.
How do you feel about being nominated for Best New Artist?
I feel really special. First of all for the nomination, to be part of the GRAMMYs. That makes me feel like I'm doing a good job. I'm on the right path. But also, I felt really special that I was nominated for the Best New Artist category. I feel happy that people understand that for me it's a whole new world.
Even though I have more than 10 years of a career in Brazil, for me, in these other markets, like singing in English and Spanish, it's brand new stuff. I am a new artist in these other markets. I feel really happy that people can understand that and see it like I do.
You're also representing Portuguese and Spanish music in the Best New Artist category. What does it mean to you to be able to represent those languages within the category?
I feel like it's really important. My country feels very special about it. They've never seen something like that. Last time they saw something like that was like 57 years ago <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/astrud-gilberto/16737">when Brazilian artists [Astrud Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim were nominated for Best New Artist], so they're really happy for me to be part of this. To be representing so much for my country, I'm really glad that I can do that.
Your song "Girl From Rio" interpolates one of Jobim and Gilberto's classic songs.
"The Girl From Ipanema"! It's crazy, it's like a cycle. It's amazing!
In your album Versions of Me, you sing in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Why did you decide to record music in those three languages?
Portuguese is my first language, obviously. And then I started to learn English when I was still a kid. I started to learn Spanish after I went to Spain for the first time because one of my songs in Portuguese, "Show Das Poderosas," was playing in Madrid. So I went to Spain to sing for a radio show, and I didn't understand anything that people were telling me, so I decided to start learning Spanish, and I loved it. And I started singing [in that language].
I think it's just part of my personality to enjoy learning languages. When I was a kid, I also learned Italian, so I have songs in Italian. I really enjoy it.
The album cover art features different versions of yourself throughout your career. Why did you decide to bring together those images from your past and present?
I think controversy is good when people talk about a subject, and they can see it's accurate and real, and they can get to know you a little better. I think it's a little fun.
I like being open about the [plastic surgery] procedures I've done. Being open about all the things in my life. I don't like to fake or hide situations. I feel like I would feel stuck in some kind of prison. I feel better if people just get to know me from a 360 point of view.
In the album, you explore genres like pop, R&B, trap, and reggaeton music. What was experience like to work with those different genres?
I wanted to show different types of music that I like singing. Like different versions of myself. I'm fascinated by people's music — the different countries and cultures. I love traveling and getting to know the way people consume music, the way people create music. It's really special when I can travel and get to know a new culture, and sing, and get that feeling running through my blood.
I love playing with the biggest amount of places and rhythms, and everything that I can, because I think that's what it is about, when you can create music that's more than just something fun to listen to. If you can bring cultures and bring people together, I think it's even more of a special thing.
How did the song "Envolver" come together?
The [COVID-19 pandemic] quarantine was over, but still the gates were closed to Brazil from America. To go to America, you had to quarantine for 15 days somewhere. I was in Punta Cana waiting for these 15 days to pass, and I decided to bring some friends of mine — artists to write songs with. It was Phantom and Lenny Tavárez. We started writing, [and when] we got to "Envolver," it was really special. We wrote it so fast. It was insane. It was amazing.
What was the inspiration behind that song?
We wanted to talk about a woman that is always in control and not the opposite. In songs, we always see guys talking like that to women, and I wanted to bring exactly the opposite — when a woman is in power.
Did you think that "Envolver" would become the massive hit that it was?
We did think that — but we also think that about so many songs, so it's like, we never know. It was insanely big. I think it wouldn't have been that big if I didn't have the support of the foundation of my country, and also if I [hadn't] done so much work in the Latin community. It got big because we were already doing a lot of stuff.
You've become known for your electric live performances. How important is it to express your music through dancing as well?
Even more right now, with TikTok and things like that, I think people are so engaged to dancing. They want to feel involved somewhere, so that's one way of how people are getting into music right now. Getting involved with the artists in some way more than just the music. I think dance is a very good way of doing that.
You incorporate elements of Brazilian funk music throughout Versions of Me. How important was it for you to bring that genre into some of the songs?
I put in a little bit. Not as much as I wanted to. I think in the next albums I will do more. I'm trying to introduce a little bit of [Brazilian] funk to the worldwide audience, and then I will [release] something really cultural that I really believe in.
Since I started traveling around the world, I'm fascinated about showing people where I come from, my origins. I think funk is my origin. It's so different, and it has the power to be the next big thing, so I feel really special about it. I feel like people are starting to get into funk and making more Brazilian funk music, and I really love that I'm part of this change.
You announced that your next album will be a Brazilian funk album. How is that coming along?
I'm still waiting. I'm working on the album. I have most of the songs kind of ready. I'm still adjusting some things and the features on it. But I'm going to wait for the best time to release it. I'm not going to do it in a rush.
I'm going to put effort behind it because this is the thing I always dreamed about doing. I always dreamed about having an album where I can truly feel my culture and what I really love about funk and Brazilian music. I think I'm going to wait for everything to be completely perfect for me to release it.
Throughout your career, you've proudly represented the LGBTQIA+ community, collaborating with artists like Brazilian drag pop stars Pabllo Vittar and Gloria Groove and being open about your own sexuality. How do you feel to be helping raise that representation and visibility?
I think it's amazing the more we can [do that], because it's still very hard for the LGBTQIA+ community to show up and to get a space to talk and be open without prejudice. The more that we can open room for artists who are openly gay, or trans, or drag queens — I think the scene needs more representation, more artists. The more I can do to bring people to me, or bring visibility to new artists like that, I will do it. It's really important.
Coming off of such a huge year in 2022, what can fans expect from you this year?
I'm going to rest a little bit. I thought I was going to do that last year, but with everything that happened with "Envolver," I ended up not resting the way I wanted to, so for sure this year, I'm going to take more time for myself.
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Photo: AB + DM
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Viola Davis On Sharing Her Life To Help People Change Theirs & Her Potential EGOT
Viola Davis has already netted an Academy Award, two Tonys, and an Emmy, but now the iconic actor has earned her first GRAMMY nod for her performance of the audiobook for her memoir, 'Finding Me' — a work that Davis hopes can help change lives.
"There are not enough words and pages to quantify one's life," Viola Davis says with a warm, stern certainty — despite having delivered a memoir that carries a remarkable weight and beauty.
Living through difficult experiences takes incredible strength. Living through them again to write a memoir and then read them aloud as an audiobook must be a herculean feat. But it should come as no surprise that Davis has proven herself more than capable of meeting that challenge.
The acclaimed actor’s memoir, Finding Me, reaches back to her difficult childhood, to trauma and struggle, and continues through on her journey of healing and artistic achievement — and Davis delivers it with an uncanny blend of fragility and strength. Davis, a first-time GRAMMY nominee, has been lauded for her efforts, with Finding Me receiving a nod for Best Audio Book, Narration, and Storytelling Recording at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
And now the audiobook extends the possibility to add a GRAMMY Award to her awards shelf alongside an Emmy, an Oscar, and two Tonys, potentially making her the 18th person to complete the EGOT. While joining those ranks would be an undeniable honor, Davis’ vision of achievement and impact remains much simpler: helping others find the hope and healing that she discovered. "When you begin to connect with yourself, to unpack your life and make peace with it, it's easier to connect to the world — and I want other people to do the same," she says.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Davis to talk about how reading Finding Me differed from her usual style of performance, finding her calling in life, and what joining the ranks of EGOT winners would mean to her.
Let’s start at the beginning! How did you feel when you got the call that you were nominated for a GRAMMY?
I don't know if I expected it. When I wrote the book, I was just trying to write a good book. That was the goal. I wanted to be honest. I wanted to honor the people who were in my life and who were the subject of my story. And that was it.
Everything else that came out of it has been the icing on the cake, those beautiful sort of boons and gifts that come when you put yourself out there. 'Cause they don't always come. The GRAMMY nomination and how the book has done have been truly a gift that I didn't expect.
And it’s something of your own. It takes such an incredible amount of introspection to write a memoir, and Finding Me is simultaneously so elegant and raw. I can imagine that the whole experience of writing was incredibly powerful as well — putting yourself at the forefront, but also giving yourself the time to honor that self.
Absolutely. The character that I played in The Woman King, Nanisca, who is the leader of this female army, has a line in the movie that has been motivating me in this part of my life. She says to her daughter, Nawi, "I'm sorry I left you. I wasn't brave enough."
And I just never want to get to the end of my life with that turn, saying, "I wasn't brave enough." And I certainly do not wanna get to the point in my life that I say that to my younger self. I don't wanna leave my story behind. I don't want wanna leave it unexplored, not articulated, hidden, in a vat of shame. I don't want that.
With this book you got to tell your own story in your own time, and you get to shine a light on stories that haven't been told before. And now that might bring you into the storied halls of EGOT winners. You don't seem like the type of person driven primarily by ego, but the EGOT is a rare achievement and a huge moment to recognize all the work that you've done in the past as well.
I absolutely, definitely think about it as a huge accomplishment. I feel this way, even though it's probably a very dramatic statement on my part: I think that everybody wants their life to mean something. I believe in the Cherokee birth blessing, which is "May you live long enough to know why you were born." I do believe that you literally wanna blow a hole through this world in whatever way you can.
A lot of people don't know how to do that. A lot of people haven't found that thing that they're passionate about, that they can do. Some have. But we all are looking for that, blowing a hole through this earth before we leave it. I think about that in my work a lot. I really found that thing that I love to do. So I always wanna make it meaningful.
You can feel that when listening to you read the audiobook. There's that passion throughout your work that's always there with you. How did you make sure that you punched that hole in the world with the audiobook, specifically?
Well, my briefing to myself was to be honest with my voice with each chapter, to match my heartbeat with my voice; to not make it feel formal. I always feel that when one is honest, words leap off of the page and they really enter someone's soul. When you speak from the soul, people receive it in their soul. I really wanted that, which sometimes is very difficult when you're reading an entire book that's over 300 pages. You get tired. But I have to say, I wrote most of the book at 2, 3 o'clock in the morning. That's when inspiration hit me. That's also the hormone reset time. [Laughs.] But I wrote it at that hour because things would hit my spirit.
I really, really do believe that when it comes to artistic excellence — and this is not my ego saying it, it's a general statement — when it comes to things that are just good, they always have to move you. You cannot stay in your head and admire something from afar, the technical aspects and proficiency of it, the technical execution of it. It's got to hit your heart. And once it does that, you cannot downplay that value. That is what we are supposed to do as artists. And that was what I wanted to hit when I was doing the audiobook.
Three o'clock in the morning is, I suppose, a time when you can get out of your own way.
Your book showed that, and the story flows without impediment. But it must have been difficult at times to not have another actor to bounce off of. I'm so curious about how you've trained yourself as an artist to ensure you can still deliver a powerful performance in the audio booth.
It's a wonderful question. Listen, I'm always an actor in search of a director. I got my Equity card at 23. That's when I became a professional actress. That's 34 years ago. I have put in my 10,000 hours. [Laughs.] I cannot tell you how many speaking gigs I've had. I can't tell you how many times I've had performances where there was a director, but they weren't very good so I had to direct myself. Then there's my undergraduate degree, my degree from Julliard, as well as other schools where you learn a way of working.
That's what being an artist is about. Being an artist is not getting up and making the bold statement: I wanna be an actor. Yes, I did say that, but the step in between is learning a process, learning how to warm up your voice, learning what to emphasize, learning what the main thought is, how to breathe, what exactly you are saying and what the journey is. I ask myself all of those big questions. If I did not have a process, I don't know, maybe I'd just be an entertainer. But I went to school to learn a process and it serves me when I am in a situation where there is no director other than the guy running the sound booth.
You have to just check yourself. That process clearly helped ground you in the performance, but at the same time you're almost re-embodying your own past and experiences. Were you conscious of that as you were performing? Or was it more of a natural process?
Sometimes both. It is my story, so I know where I was at each moment — at the beginning, running as a 6-year-old little girl, being called ugly Black n—. Here's the thing, no matter what I wrote on the page, there are not enough words and pages to quantify one's life. As much as I remember, it only represents 30 percent of who I was. A huge part of what I was just still exists somewhere. Some memories were just lost. Some memories I just couldn't even interpret.
But when I'm speaking them, there is a sort of backstory stream of consciousness, of emotional elements, that could not even be put on the page but can inform the words when I speak them. It's my life. My heartbeat. And at the same time, there is a technical aspect of it because you have to speak it in a way that people receive it. They have to understand phrases, pauses, those technical things, but for the most part I spoke from my heart because the story was birthed in my heart.
The mere existence of the book is proof of concept for the hope that exists in its pages, the hope that cycles of trauma and suffering can be broken through healing. How does it feel to know that that hope will impact readers? As an artist, you have similarly chosen roles that have really impacted people, so it must be a guiding principle for you.
It feels fantastic. I started out being an actor because it was the one thing I loved to do and I knew that it would get me out of my situation. But sometimes, it is divine intervention with what you choose in life. I was just driven to get out, and I found something that just made me jump out of bed in the morning. Sometimes when you fall in love with something, the reason why you fall in love with it becomes your purpose, which in this case is it helped heal me.
It was almost like everything that happened in my life created this giant emotional cyst within me and I couldn't rein it in. It was just being fed by just holding onto secrets, holding onto shame, holding onto feeling not worthy. And then all of a sudden, whenever you're given a chance to express what is inside of you, to put your story out there, showing up as Viola, it slowly began to drain that cyst. That then provides extraordinary healing to people who are witnessing it.
I've had so many people read my book, and I so appreciate it. More than even my acting, I'm really, really enjoying this whole experience with my book. But I find there's one thing that I wanna say to people, but I don't say, but in the back of my mind is my fantasy. There are so many people that read my book and say, "Oh my God, you've had a hard life. It's so unbelievable what you were able to accomplish. Oh my God. It was so hard. It was harder than anything I've been through." I always wanna say, "That's not why I wrote the book. I shared my story, now I want you to share yours." I'm not the only one moving through life with all of the sticks and stones and filthy swill and obstacles. We all have it because life is hard.
But the other side of it is not sharing. Then what you do is you abandon people. You make them feel alone. We're not alone. I've had people read my book who I know have been abused by their spouses, who I know have been in jail for substance abuse, who I know have addiction issues. And they've said, "Wow, your life was hard." Well, their life was too. But you see, what I did was I unpacked it. I resolved it. I continue to resolve it and continue to not live in shame, to make peace with myself. That's a larger conversation. It makes me feel so wonderful when people say "Your book has shifted people." That for me is everything.
Speaking about the potential impact to shift people, it's incredible to look at your fellow nominees in the category. You've got Mel Brooks, who's obviously an EGOT winner himself. You've got three other people of color: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Questlove, Jamie Foxx. How powerful is it for you to see that your own story is sharing the category with these nominees?
It feels overwhelming. They say everything you are is the company you keep. Being with that level of excellence? I have to say, I've always wanted to be excellent. And I understand that in the path to be excellent, there's lots of failures along the way. There has to be. It's how you chisel yourself. It's how you become. But to be in the presence of these extraordinary artists — all men too by the way [laughs] — it makes me feel like I'm on the right path.
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Photo: Allister Ann
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: How Carly Pearce's Darkest Personal Moments Helped Her Reach Milestones
Blending her personal story of heartbreak with her passion for traditional country storytelling, Pearce’s "Never Wanted to Be That Girl" earned her new career highs — including her very first GRAMMY nod.
Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde may reflect different corners of the country music spectrum, but they share a reverence for tradition and a penchant for heartbreak songs. The singers explore their stylistic common ground in “Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” a duet that tells the story of two women who have been cheated by the same man.
The country ballad resonated deeply with audiences, both because of its traditional leanings and its gripping personal narrative. At a spring 2022 show in Albany, N.Y., Pearce even saw two fans holding a sign saying that the song told their story of being romantically entangled with the same unfaithful man. The experience brought them together, and they wound up becoming friends.
"Never Wanted to Be That Girl" reached the top of the country radio chart — one of only three female-female duets to do so since 1993. One of those, Reba McEntire and Linda Davis’ “Does He Love You,” specifically influenced Pearce and McBryde. In addition to its chart success, "Never Wanted to Be That Girl" won Musical Event of the Year at the 2022 CMA Awards, and earned Pearce her first GRAMMY nomination, for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
Pearce’s personal missive is at the center of a breakthrough personal and musical era ushered in by two enormous heartbreaks: Her highly public divorce from fellow artist Michael Ray and the untimely death of her producer, Busbee. Rather than retreat from the spotlight, Pearce used her grief and trauma to create 29: Written in Stone, a grippingly personal artistic statement. The singer’s authenticity paid dividends: She started seeing more commercial success, more critical recognition and extra passion from her fans.
Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, Pearce caught up with GRAMMY.com to discuss her first nomination, her powerful musical friendship with McBryde, and why she considers 29 to be the album that changed everything.
After you learned you were nominated, what was the first thing you said to Ashley McBryde?
You know, this isn’t her first GRAMMY nomination, but it is her first No. 1 song, and so we’ve kind of had this thing where we’ve given each other firsts. It wasn’t my first No. 1 song, but it was my first GRAMMY nomination. So we were just texting, and I said thank you.
I wanted so badly to collaborate with her — and I knew that it was an unlikely pairing — but I knew that if we really tried to write a song together we could do something really special. And we did.
Take me back to the day you wrote the song.
I feel like this song in particular wasn’t written like any other song I’ve been a part of. We were in the room and we had zero ideas of what we were gonna write. No riffs, no hooks, no musical hints at all. We just started talking. She was privy to what was happening in my life, and obviously [co-writer and 29 producer] Shane [McAnally] was too, so when we wrote that song, we started a story. We had no idea where it was gonna land.
We wrote this song in top to bottom chronological order. But we wanted to make sure that the choruses were the same, even though the women were experiencing different perspectives. I think we very carefully wanted to not pit the women against each other, but to show that you can both be burned by the same man.
You and Ashley have known each other since early on in your time in Nashville, just from being at the same songwriter’s nights and shows. How has your relationship evolved?
I’ve always loved her. We did kind of come up together in a lot of ways. We would play shows together and sing each other’s songs, and I just felt like she understood my voice and I understood hers. I was making this album and brainstorming with one of the members of my team, and he said, "Wouldn’t it be so awesome if you had a collaboration with Ashley? She’s so different from you, but we miss those female-female duets. There haven’t really been any since the ‘90s." So I just texted her and asked, "I don’t know if this would ever interest you, but would you write a song with me for my record?" And she was in, immediately. It just felt like it was always destined to happen.
Speaking of female-female ‘90s duets, one of your fellow nominees in this category is Reba McEntire’s new version of "Does He Love You" with Dolly Parton. I know the original version of this song with Linda Davis, in 1993 helped inspire "Never Wanted to Be That Girl."
We definitely referenced "Does He Love You" that day in the write. We knew we couldn’t touch that, but we were striving to make something as impactful. So it feels very full circle to have watched this song climb the charts, and watch it win all these different awards, and now be nominated in a category with the same woman that inspired us to even sing that song.
Have you talked to Reba about your song’s connection to "Does He Love You"?
I haven’t seen her, but I’m hoping to get to do that. Maybe at the GRAMMYs! Not that she needs any other women to tell her she’s a trailblazer, but certainly, she inspired us to double down.
When you think back to the beginnings of 29, when you were preparing to release all these personal songs. What were some of your biggest questions or fears, and how have they been resolved?
I remember turning in the first half of my album and wondering if my record label would even put it out, because it felt so personal — almost to a fault. And I remember thinking the production on it was so country that I wondered if it was going to be commercially accepted. I actually have a distinct memory of playing my song "29" for a group of friends and none of them were divorced, but they were crying, because they were inserting their own story into it.
I think this is the album that I will look back on in my life and say it was the one that changed everything for me in my career. It gave me such direction. It gave me hope that I’m not alone. That’s been the most amazing thing; when I look at it now, I go, Gosh, this album brought so many people to a place of feeling not alone, and in return, through their stories and their showing up for me when I needed it, they made me feel not alone. That’s all you ever want, when you’re an artist, to have that kind of connection.
Do you feel like people, even outside of country fans, are connecting with your story and responding to your music?
I’ve had a few albums out — this is my third — but I feel like in a lot of ways it was my first. I think we all go through the same struggles in life, and I think that people really resonated with me on a human level with this record. Everybody’s experienced heartache. And sometimes people need to feel hope, and that they’re not alone. So yes, I feel that very much.
You’re in the middle of making a new album now. What can you share about that process?
As a writer, I wish I could go through a divorce every time I make a new album, because it makes you feel so inspired. But I think what I learned through making that record is, people wanna hear how I see the world. They wanna hear what I’m going through. From [age] 29 to 32, almost 33, there’s been a lot of life that I’ve intentionally kept more private. [Now], people say to me, "Oh my gosh, you’re so happy, but we’re not gonna get those Carly Pearce heartbreak songs."
Honestly, yes, you can be happy and struggle to get there. I think there are songs that are reflective, there are songs that are nostalgic, there are songs that are in love and happy. But you don’t realize how much you’ve been affected until you try to love somebody else. I don’t think that’s a topic that’s really talked about, but it’s something that I think a lot of people go through, and I kind of share my take on that.
You’ve teased a little bit of a song called "Trust Issues." How does that song fit into your new music?
I felt very overwhelmed when I first started writing — just, you know, what this direction was. And I wrote in my phone, "trust issues." That’s kind of on the theme of, you never know how hurt you are until you try to love somebody else. But I wanted to spin it into a hopeful and happy thing, because I love titles where you look at them and you think it’s gonna be one thing, but it’s a totally different thing.
So I got in the room with two of my favorite people, [songwriters] Nicolle Galyon and Jordan Reynolds, and we crafted this song that felt so hopeful. It’s a love song, but it’s a love song out of pain. And I remember when we wrote it — I see my albums in pictures, and I thought this was such an important facet to this transitional period of my life —of moving on.
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