meta-scriptJennifer Hudson Delivers Touching Tribute To Kobe Bryant At The 2020 NBA All-Star Game | GRAMMY.com
Jennifer Hudson performs a tribute to Kobe Bryant at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game

Jennifer Hudson performs a tribute to Kobe Bryant at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game

 

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

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Jennifer Hudson Delivers Touching Tribute To Kobe Bryant At The 2020 NBA All-Star Game

Following a moving speech from NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the singer performed a heart-wrenching rendition of "For All We Know," from Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway

GRAMMYs/Feb 17, 2020 - 07:14 am

Jennifer Hudson brought the house down to tears when she performed a touching tribute to late NBA icon Kobe Bryant tonight (Feb. 16) at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game.

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Ahead of Hudson's performance, NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson gave a moving speech in memory of Bryant and former NBA commissioner David Stern, who both died last month. 

"We'll never see another basketball player quite like Kobe… So we all are hurting. This is a tough time for the whole NBA family," Johnson said. 

Following Johnson's speech, Hudson—a native to Chicago, where this year's NBA All-Star Game is being hosted—came to the stage and performed a heart-wrenching rendition of "For All We Know," the classic song popularized by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway in 1972, as images of Kobe displayed on a screen behind the emotionally distraught singer. 

Read: Queen Latifah Delivers Soulful Performance Of Stevie Wonder's "Love's In Need Of Love Today" At NBA All-Star 2020 Weekend

Hudson, a GRAMMY-, Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning singer and actress, is no stranger to delivering tearjerking tributes. In 2019, Hudson honored Aretha Franklin when she performed at the Aretha! A GRAMMY Celebration For The Queen Of Soul commemorative concert and TV special. At the 2019 Academy Awards, she also sang a powerful rendition of "I'll Fight," a featured song from RBG, the 2018 documentary on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; the song was nominated for Best Original Song at that year's award show. 

The two-time GRAMMY winner received her most recent GRAMMY win at the 59th GRAMMY Awards, held in 2017, when she won for Best Musical Theater Album for her performance in the Broadway musical "The Color Purple." She won her first GRAMMY at the 51st GRAMMY Awards, held in 2009, for Best R&B Album for her 2008 self-titled album. 

Hudson's tribute is part of a stacked musical lineup at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game and Weekend, which includes performances from: Chaka Khan, who sang the national anthem to officially open the game; Queen Latifah, who covered Stevie Wonder; and Chance The Rapper, who's confirmed to deliver a star-studded halftime show later tonight alongside DJ KhaledMigos rapper Quavo and Lil Wayne

Other artists who performed and appeared throughout the weekend include Common, Chance The Rapper's brother and fellow rapper, Taylor Bennett, Megan Thee Stallion, Normani, Jeremih and others. 

Watch Jennifer Lopez And Shakira Deliver Dazzling Halftime Show At Super Bowl 2020

Four members of Destiny's Child in 2000
Destiny's Child

Photo: Michael Crabtree - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

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5 Reasons Why 'The Writing's On The Wall' Is Destiny's Child's Defining Album

From its embrace of experimental R&B production and memorable music videos, to its GRAMMY-winning empowering songs, 'The Writing’s On the Wall' remains a touchstone for fans of Destiny's Child.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 02:07 pm

In 1997, all-female R&B groups were thriving: TLC already had seven Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, En Vogue had numerous platinum singles, and Xscape reached No. 1 more than once. Soon, a quartet of teenagers would burst upon the scene and leave an indelible impact.

While Destiny’s Child are now canonical in the world of '90s and early aughts R&B, the group initially experienced spotty success. Their 1997 debut single, "No, No, No (Part 2)" peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and was certified platinum. Yet their eponymous album, released in February 1998, only hit No. 67. Their follow up single, "With Me," also failed to set the charts ablaze. 

Destiny’s Child's underwhelming chart performances could’ve easily derailed the budding group. Fortunately, the four ambitious girls from Texas had other plans. 

Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson, and Le Toya Luckett were determined not to become one hit wonders, and quickly went back into the studio to record their sophomore album. Released on July 14, 1999, The Writing’s On the Wall became Destiny’s Child’s highest selling album and spawned some of their most iconic songs — one of which led to the group's first GRAMMY win. Not only did the album establish Destiny's Child as a household name, but it fine tuned the R&B girl group concept to perfection.

"We had no idea that The Writing's on the Wall would be as big a record as it was. Especially worldwide," Beyoncé said in a 2006 Guardian interview.

In celebration of the iconic album's 25th anniversary, read on for five reasons why The Writing’s On the Wall is the defining album of Destiny’s Child’s career.

Its Members Took Creative Control

On their debut album, Destiny’s Child tapped into the neo soul trend popularized by the likes of D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Maxwell — artists in their early-to-mid twenties with a maturity the teen quartet didn’t yet have. The references and creative direction clashed with the reality of the group members being so young.

"It was a neo-soul record and we were 15 years old. It was way too mature for us," Beyoncé tol the Guardian.

Heading back into the studio, the girls made sure to eradicate any misalignments and put more of themselves into their sophomore album. In an interview with MTV, the members said The Writing’s On the Wall had a fresher, more youthful vibe because "it comes from us." The quartet's fingerprints are all over the 16 track album: Each member co-wrote at least 50 percent of the album. 

"Even at the time, Beyoncé would produce a lot of their background vocals, and she was a leader even at a young age," Xscape's Kandi Burruss said in a Vice interview, reflecting on her work as a songwriter and producer on The Writing's On the Wall. This heightened presence enabled the group to develop lyrics that boldly reflected their opinions and youthful energy. In turn, The Writing's On the Wall netted a run of iconic hit singles.

Read more: Destiny's Child's Debut Album At 25: How A Neo-Soul Album From Teens Spawned R&B Legends

It Pushed R&B Forward 

Like its predecessor, The Writing’s On the Wall is very much an R&B album. However, Beyoncé's father Mathew Knowles — who still managed the group at the time — brought in producers who weren’t afraid to experiment. The result was a more commercial album that fused classic R&B with pop influences, creating a sound that was simultaneously contemporary and timeless.

Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs and Burrus (who would go on to co-write and produce TLC’s "No Scrubs") contributed to five of the album's tracks, shaping its overall sound and differentiating it from Destiny’s Child. The duo kept a few elements from the group’s debut effort, including the sing-rapping heard on "Bug A Boo" and "Hey Ladies." With syncopated beats, thumping basslines, and their knack for writing catchy hooks, Briggs and Burrus created R&B records with the perfect blend of chart-friendly accessibility.

On the Missy Elliott produced "Confessions," synthesizers, drum machines, and electronic garbling were layered to create a lush, futuristic backdrop. Further subverting the classic R&B ballad, Elliott paired what sounds like a cabasa to match Beyonce’s cadence throughout the verses which gives her laidback vocals an almost robotic feel. In addition to producing, Elliott’s velvety vocals also appear quite prominently on the chorus, adding to the track’s sonic tapestry.

GRAMMY-winner Rodney Jerkins was tapped to produce "Say My Name." The original beat Jerkins used was two-step garage, a subgenre of UK garage. No one else liked the sound, so he completely revamped the track into the GRAMMY-winning anthem we know today. Jerkins melded funk-inspired guitar and a call and response approach, then modernized them with a shimmery, polished production. This helped "Say My Name" become the group’s most listened to song on Spotify with over 840 million streams. Jerkins has even gone on record to say this is his favorite song he’s produced to date.

Read more: "Say My Name" 20 Years Later: Why The Destiny's Child Staple Is Still On Everyone's Lips

Its Music Videos Praised Black Culture

"For me, it is about amplifying the beauty in all of us," Beyoncé said in a 2019 interview with Elle when asked about the importance of representation. Even before her solo work, the importance of spotlighting Black culture was evident in Destiny's Child's music videos.

In "Bills, Bills, Bills," we see the group play the role of hair stylists in a salon which is an obvious nod to Beyoncé's mother’s longstanding relationship with all things hair. Near the end of "Bug a Boo," the members change into their version of majorette costumes and dance in front of a marching band. Majorettes and marching bands have a vibrant legacy within HBCUs; almost 20 years after this video premiered, Beyoncé revisited this very concept for her 2018 Coachella performance. 

It Delivered Mainstream Success 

The Writing’s On the Wall was a hit across the charts. The group earned their first No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 with "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Say My Name." Promotions for the latter also reinvigorated album sales and helped shift another 157,000 copies (an impressive 15 percent increase from their first-week sales). The fourth and final single, "Jumpin’, Jumpin’" was released during the summer of 2000 and became one of the most played songs on the radio that year.

Songs from the album were nominated at both the 42nd and 43rd GRAMMY Awards. Destiny’s Child took home their first golden gramophone at the 2001 GRAMMYs, winning Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "Say My Name." The single also won Best R&B Song and  was nominated for Record Of The Year. 

With 14 nominations, Destiny’s Child remain the most nominated girl group in GRAMMY history. With worldwide sales of 13 million, The Writing’s On the Wall is also the fourth best-selling girl group album of all time.

It Expanded The Concept Of "Girl Power"

The Writing’s On the Wall was much more than catchy, radio-friendly tunes. Lyrically and in production, the album reintroduced Destiny’s Child as the architects for their own lives. The tongue-in-cheek Godfather-inspired intro tees up each song with a commandment for their partners and, at times, for themselves.

Often misconstrued as a gold digger anthem,"Bills, Bills, Bills" empowers a woman to confront a lover who's financially taking advantage of her. This is a far cry from the theme of a young woman focused on finding love — a common theme on Destiny's Child —  and puts their confidence on full display. "So Good" is a sassy, uplifting anthem which explicitly addresses haters with pointed lyrics like "For all the people ‘round us that have been negative/Look at us now/See how we live." Destiny's Child was sending a clear message: they’re going to be fine regardless of what others say. 

And when the group became tabloid fodder due to unexpected lineup changes, "So Good" took on a new meaning for persevering through hard times. While there are some songs with morally questionable lyrics — we’re looking at you ‘"Confessions" — the consistent message of embracing one’s self-worth and independence is clear. 

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The Spice Girls - Melanie B, Melanie C, Geri Halliwell, Victoria Adams And Emma Bunton, The Spice Girls - Melanie B, Melanie C, Geri Halliwell, Victoria Adams And Emma Bunton
Spice Girls

Photo: Brian Rasic

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On This Day In Music: Spice Girls Release "Wannabe," Their Iconic Debut Single

In 1996, the Spice Girls' spirited anthem not only dominated the charts and airwaves, but also put girl groups on the map. If you want to uncover the magic behind their meteoric rise, "you gotta listen carefully…"

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2024 - 08:44 pm

Who could have guessed that a track recorded in under an hour would become an iconic celebratory anthem of female empowerment and friendship? It seems like the Spice Girls did.

The music industry was ripe for a bouncy pop hit in 1996, and "Wannabe" entered the arena with undeniable power. With an infectious blend of dance-pop and hip-hop, as well as catchy lyrics promoting female empowerment, "Wannabe" carried on the spirit of the early '90s riot grrrl movement while delivering a radio-friendly bop.

The Spice Girls' debut single proved that the girl group wouldn't be wannabe stars for long. The song spent four weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, and was certified platinum multiple times in the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, and several other countries.

Producer Richard Stannard told BBC that the now-canonical British quintet battled Virgin Records to release "Wannabe" as their debut single (executives pushed for "Love Thing"). While both songs would appear on Spice, the Spice Girls' 1996 debut album, the group's instinct and confidence paid off. Twenty-eight years later, "Wannabe" remains an iconic pop song and one of the Spice Girls' most enduring tracks.

While the Spice Girls may have seemed like an overnight success in America, its members had been working their way through the British music scene for years. In March 1994, hundreds of aspiring stars crammed into Dancework Studios in London after an advertisement was posted in The Stage magazine looking for the next girl band.

The groups were randomly split up, taught a dance routine, and then had to perform the song for talent managers and father-son duo, Bob and Chris Herbert. One month later, with 10 girls left, the initial final four — Melanie "Scary Spice" Brown, Melanie "Sporty Spice" Chisholm, Victoria "Posh Spice" Adams, and Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell — were all chosen to form the final group with a then-17-year-old Michelle Stephenson. The group moved into a home together, where they received additional dance training and vocal coaching. However, Michelle was soon replaced by Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton, completing the lineup of Spice Girls that as we know them today.

"Of course I regret I'm not a multi-millionaire like them. But at the time I left the group I knew I was doing the right thing and I still think it was the right thing," Stephenson told The Mirror in 2001. "It wasn't my kind of music and they were not living the lifestyle I wanted." 

Read More: The Evolution Of The Girl Group: How TLC, BLACKPINK, The Shirelles & More Have Elevated Female Expression

The group's charisma and corresponding archetypal personalities were put on display in the music video for "Wannabe." The iconic, single-take music video shot in London’s Midland Grand Hotel (now St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel), became as legendary as the track itself. In 2015, Billboard included the video for "Wannabe" in a list of 10 iconic girl group videos, solidifying the video's lasting impression.

Directed by Johan Camitz, the video was the perfect visual introduction to the group: Ginger Spice unapologetically dances through the hotel in a sparkly Union Jack leotard alongside Scary Spice, whose bold persona is conveyed through carefree dances that included whipping her hair around. The group's distinct, playful personalities remained a key selling point used throughout their career.

"Wannabe" producers Matt Rowe and Stannard first saw the Spice Girls at a showcase, and the duo instantly knew that they had the next group of superstars. Soon after, Rowe and Stannard worked with the group to produce "Wannabe," and the chemistry was undeniable.

In her 2002 book, Catch a Fire: The Autobiography, Brown recalls that the producer duo understood the group's vision and automatically knew how to blend "the spirit of five loud girls into great pop music."

"Wannabe" was an inescapable radio hit in the '90s — for all the right reasons. From the punchy beat and distinctive vocal inflections, to the shouts of "if you wanna be my lover," the song remains as a persistent earworm.

Even science backs that claim up. According to a 2014 study conducted by the University of Amsterdam and Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, researchers found that study participants were able to identify and name "Wannabe" in an average of 2.29 seconds, making it the quickest recognized song in the study. This was ahead of Lou Bega’s "Mambo No 5" and Survivor’s "Eye of The Tiger," and underscores "Wannabe’s" celebrated and timeless status.

While the song itself is a lively, carefree summer anthem perfect for blasting in the car with the windows down, its lyrics resonate with a powerful message of female empowerment and friendship, standing tall above conventional romantic themes.

Read more: 'Spiceworld' At 25: How The Spice Girls' Feminine Enthusiasm & Camp Became A Beacon For Queer Youth 

"Girl Power embodies much more than a gender," Gerri Horner, formerly Halliwell, told BBC in 2017. "It's about everybody. Everybody deserves the same treatment, whatever race you are, gender you are, age you are. Everybody deserves a voice." 

With such a strong debut as "Wannabe," it's clear why the Spice Girls weren't just a one-hit wonder. The British girl group went on to deliver dozens of other pop hits like "Say You'll Be There" and "2 Become 1," which defined the late '90s and early '00s. Released months after "Wannabe," Spice would spend 15 weeks at No. 1 on the Official Charts U.K. Album Chart and also topped the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. The album sold more than 23 million copies worldwide. 

Even after 28 years, the meaning of "zig-a-zig-ah" remains a mystery, but it's a small price to pay for the beloved dance-pop song we cherish today.

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Scene Queen press photo
Scene Queen

Photo: Danin Jacquay

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Meet Scene Queen, The "Chaotic Mess" Cleaning Up The Alternative Scene

"I'm cool taking sticks and stones thrown my way if it means that 10 years down the line there's gonna be another girl that tries to do what I do and gets zero flak for it," Scene Queen says of her take-no-prisoners album, 'Hot Singles In Your Area.'

GRAMMYs/Jul 3, 2024 - 02:14 pm

"F*** the scene, I’m the queen!" Scene Queen announces early on her debut album, Hot Singles in Your Area. Delivered in a snarky sing-song, the exclamation serves as something of a mission statement for everything the singer has set out to accomplish with her winking metal-pop persona.  

On Hot Singles (out June 28 via Hopeless Records), the artist calls out the bad behavior that’s run rampant in the alternative music scene for decades. From the insidious grooming of teen fans ("Headline spot goes to the abuser/ Half my idols are f—ing losers," she sings on blistering lead single "18+"), to the blatant discrimination experienced by female artists in the genre (opener "BDSM"), and date rape drugs and sexual assault ("Whips and Chains") — Scene Queen takes unflinching aim.

Born Hannah Collins, Scene Queen isn’t out to destroy the genre she grew up loving as a Warped Tour-obsessed teenager in suburban Ohio. Instead, she’s using her perspective as a queer female artist and knack for razor-sharp songwriting to make the scene safer, more accountable and, ultimately, more inclusive. 

Featuring high-octane collaborations with the likes of The Ready Set ("POV"), WARGASM ("Girls Gone Wild") and 6arelyhuman ("Stuck"), Hot Singles in Your Area is also an unabashed pleasure ride that introduces listeners to Scene Queen’s unique brand of sexual freedom, self-love, queer pride and self-deprecating humor.

"My fans know that I'm playing into the joke of it a lot," Collins says from her home in L.A. "But a lot of people still don't understand it."

Ahead of her album release, Scene Queen opened up exclusively to GRAMMY.com about finding her voice in the metal space, the pop icons who inspired her persona (from Britney Spears to Paris Hilton, Dolly Parton, and Jessica Simpson), standing up to misogynists, homophobes and haters, and more.

How does it feel to be on the verge of finally releasing your debut album?

Really exciting! But also terrifying in a way. With [2022 EPs] Bimbocore Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, I feel like I told the story of, "Who is Scene Queen? What is this project?" Like, she's very loud and out there and opinionated, and in your face and whatever.  

But this record touches on everything in my life that happened for me to become this version of myself — why I needed to become Scene Queen. I made a whole record about being independent and reclaiming my power and sticking up for myself and sticking up for people in the scene…In a weird way, I'm making jokes this entire album, but it’s a vulnerable album in the sense that I'm revealing a lot via the lens of humor.

How did the Scene Queen persona come about?

I grew up in the alternative space. Like, I went to a million Warped Tours and all of that stuff. I was at shows in Cleveland, like, every weekend during high school. I've been listening to bands like Hawthorne Heights and stuff since I was 8 or 9 years old. So when I was 18, I moved out to L.A. from Ohio, and that was around the time that all of these bands started dropping members left and right because they were finally getting called out for, like, predatory behavior or what have you — just being, generally, not great people.  

Coming into adulthood, you start looking at things through a different lens, like, Oh, that was a weird interaction or Oh, I feel weird that they let me do that at 16 years old. It really felt like, as a woman, the scene wasn't a safe space for me anymore. Then suddenly, during COVID, the only thing I wanted to listen to was, like, super alternative music. 

TikTok introduced me to a lot of bands like The Home Team, that were combining pop-punk with, like, R&B — I always loved that experimental stuff. And I was listening to a ton of BABYMETAL and WARGASM, experimental metal-pop stuff. But I told myself the only way I would come back into the alternative space was if I did it on the terms of what I wished I’d had in the scene growing up.

So now I operate my entire persona as this elevated version of myself because I feel like people need that. Scene Queen is like a superpower for me in a way — she helps in my day-to-day life as Hannah, too.

What makes the Y2K era such a key element of the Scene Queen aesthetic?

Growing up in that time, super hyper-feminine women were often vilified, especially in rock music. If you were super girly at a show, people would assume that you were there to sleep with the band. Like, you weren't as worthy of being there as a man. When I was in high school, I actively chose to dress in mostly all black because I just didn't think I would be taken seriously.

So I wanted to pull that whole era into it and just be like, I'm actively going against everything I grew up with and what the scene told me was acceptable. And now I'm gonna be the antithesis of what any of the people that were misogynistic — or also just underestimated me — would want from me. And now I make the choice every day to irritate those people. [Grins.] 

Growing up, were there female artists you looked up to in the scene?

I just came off of a tour with PVRIS, and [Lynn Gunn] was one of the first queer people I ever knew of within the scene. Which is so crazy to think of back then, that I only had one example of that. She was just, like, openly queer and didn't feel the need to... I don't know, she didn't come out to anyone, she just always existed that way and people didn't criticize her for it. It was the first time that I saw that and was like, Oh, maybe I would be able to do that someday."

But behind the scenes, she was on the receiving end of so much misogyny, because men didn't think they could get something out of her, 'cause they knew that she was a lesbian and whatever. She was enduring 10 years of misogyny and homophobia so that someone like me could come around 10 years later and be this voice in the scene.

So it's cool that I'm getting recognition, but the only reason that I'm able to do this now is because so many women just took extreme hate and terrible things behind the scenes before me. And I still get massive flak for it now. The end goal of all of this, and I think if you ask any woman, they'll tell you the same thing: I'm cool taking sticks and stones thrown my way if it means that 10 years down the line there's gonna be another girl that tries to do what I do and gets zero flak for it. Someday I hope we get there. 

What other female artists helped inspire your Scene Queen persona?  

So there's two different versions of this answer. On the pop side, I'm so obsessed with 2000s pop princesses and also just pop icons in the sense of, like, that bimbo aesthetic. I allude a lot to Britney Spears in my music. Also Paris Hilton. Dolly Parton. Jessica Simpson. Women that, like, knew how they were perceived by the media and played into it, but were so the other way. 

Like if you've ever seen the Paris Hilton documentary [2020’s This Is Paris], she talks about how she put on this voice and everything, because people were just gonna assume that she was dumb anyway. So she completely capitalized on that and was like, "That's fine, I'll take your money and make my career successful. If you're already gonna assume negatively about me, then that's my superpower." Those people really inspired me, and that's very much the aesthetic drive behind my project. 

In the alternative space, there are bands that I grew up with that I was also super into like We Are the In Crowd, VersaEmerge, In This Moment. So there's a lot of women that have helped create the Scene Queen project without knowing.

How much of the album is autobiographical?

It tells the whole tale of coming [to L.A.] and getting my foot in the door, the music industry experience of it all. No one talks about having this second coming of age in your twenties and thirties where you're actually figuring out who you are. I was one of those people that didn't come out, or didn't even fully process that I was queer, until I was in my twenties.

I was just so scared about it 'cause I grew up in a small conservative town. And then I came here and was just like, I need to work in music so bad that I don't even want to think about dating! [Eventually,] I realized I spent all this time trying to be independent and confident. And now I'm going into the dating world. 

Some days you feel like an absolute sex god and the next morning you wake up, and you're on a first date and you have word vomit, and you don't know how to interact with people. So you get a song like "Oral Fixation" where it's just about having absolutely no game when you're dating for the first time. The record really tells the whole story of becoming all of this chaotic mess that is Scene Queen, which is both making fun of itself and hypersexual, and this, and this, and this. 

Read more: 15 LGBTQIA+ Artists Performing At 2024 Summer Festivals 

You play around so much on the album by mixing really serious topics with a sense of humor. How do you balance that in your songwriting? 

I always come into a session with the baseline idea of subject matter and title. This album was a lot easier because it's a concept album in a sense, and I thought of all these [explicit] categories that I could've used… Take "Oral Fixation," for example. That was the first song I wrote for Hot Singles other than the title track. I realized I could write it about word vomit and, like, choking on something, instead. Or, like, the last song of the record is called "Climax" because it's the high point of the record, but it’s actually a really wholesome song.

And then "BDSM" means "Beat Down Slut Metal," but also "Big Dumb Stupid Men." I decided to make that the opening track because I was getting all of these comments that were like, "Scene Queen's a man hater!" for criticizing anything men do in any capacity. This was after my song "Pink Push-Up Bra," which is so specifically about sexual assault that I was like, "OK, of I can't even criticize people that sexually assault women as being bad, then sure, I’ll put it as the first track." 

What was your motivation behind the hypersexualization in some of the songs? 

I think people don't understand that you can be fully confident with yourself and your sexuality and think you're a good person, and worthy of love and worthy of sexual pleasure, while also not taking yourself too seriously. You can still make fun of yourself but also know your self-worth.

As much as I make these self-deprecating jokes, at the end of the day I refuse to be treated poorly. And I think that comes across in all the songs about sexual pleasure and sexuality. You learn at a young age — especially if you've been closeted for a long time — [the feeling of] I robbed myself of so much joy for so long. I deserve to get off for something. [Laughs.] I deserve a little bit of joy in my life. So I tried to write that. 

"M.I.L.F" is obviously a raunchy, very sexual song. But that song came from spending a summer in Nashville, and I was always just like, "Tennessee: conservative." But there's this huge population of people who have stayed or moved to Tennessee; who grew up listening to country music but then shied away from it because their beliefs no longer resonated with the [genre's] subject matter. So I wanted to have a song for those people who are like, "Yeah, I still wanna go chug a beer and jump off a boat on a lake, but also, I am pro-gay marriage and whatever."

I wrote a song that I knew the people who were country elitists, that would never like me anyway, would be horrified by. And the way I did that was via very explicit lyrics and the most sexual content ever. But it ends up being one of the rowdiest songs in my live set, because so many people truly do want to just put a hat on and do a line dance. They just don't want to be judged when they do it, you know?

So it ended up being this weird statement that I didn't necessarily fully think it would be, but it's one of my favorite parts of my set now. Having that little hoedown for the hoes every week is really fun for me.

I actually just attended this charity event at Stonewall for this organization called Inclusion Tennessee, where I learned that Nashville is the largest city in the country without its own LGBTQ center. Queer people in those types of communities are still fighting constantly for resources and inclusion and acceptance.

It is so wild, too, 'cause there's this discussion around Chappell Roan making that statement at Gov Ball about not performing at the White House, and then going to play in Charlotte, where North Carolina obviously has conservative views as a whole. There are so many pockets of queer communities that are actively seeking out someone that will advocate for them and give them a voice, and I think it is so cool. It's such a privilege to get to be one of those people now. 

This summer, you’ll be co-headlining idobi Radio’s Summer School Tour. What are you looking forward to about that?

That tour, in and of itself, is so cool and exciting for me. Because one, it has the rotating co-headliners, which emphasizes the importance of music discovery. You have to show up at the beginning of the day to see who you want to see. Anyone that grew up with Warped Tour obviously is going to be stoked to have something like that.

But also, there are so many queer people and women and people of color on that tour. The lineup is so diverse and I feel like if that tour had existed in the 2010s and 2000s and ‘90s even, that never would've happened. So the fact that the initial launch looks that way makes me so hopeful for the future of it. 

OK, last two questions: What’s the most memorable Warped Tour set you ever saw? And what are your top 3 "Bimbo" pop songs? 

Most memorable Warped Tour set: I'd probably say the first time I ever crowd-surfed. I think I was, like, 13, it was to the band Sleeping with Sirens, and that was just the pinnacle of, like, "I love alternative music!"

Then as far as the "Bimbo" pop songs, hmm...I have to say "I’m a Slave 4 U" just because that Britney Spears music video is so iconic — the dancing, all of it. We gotta do a Paris Hilton song. It was hard to be in a mall food court in the late 2000s and not be humming "Stars Are Blind." Yeah, soundtrack to my youth, for sure. And then "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton even though that’s country, not pop. Like, how do you not want to trot out there to [sings], "Hopped out of bed and I stumbled to the kitchen..."? It just gets the bimbo vibes going.

Listen To GRAMMY.com's 2024 Pride Month Playlist Of Rising LGBTQIA+ Artists 

Janet Jackson performs at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture.
Janet Jackson performs at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture

Photo Credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Essence 

interview

Celebrating 30 Years Of Essence Fest: How New Orleans & Multi-Generational, Diasporic Talent Create The "Super Bowl Of Culture"

Ahead of the 30th Essence Festival Of Culture, held July 4-7 in New Orleans, GRAMMY.com spoke with executives and curators of the legendary celebration of Black excellence.

GRAMMYs/Jul 2, 2024 - 03:02 pm

Every July, millions of Black people, specifically Black women, descend upon New Orleans for the Essence Festival of Culture (EFOC). Known for many years as the Essence Festival, the festival is a celebration of Black culture, community, and heritage. Since its inception in 1995 as a one-off event to commemorate the publication’s 25th anniversary, the festival has evolved into a diasporic jubilee, drawing in people of African descent from across the diaspora. 

In addition to its global presence, the festival pours millions of dollars into the local New Orleans community, which has served as the festival's home for 30 years (with the exception of 2006, when the festival was held in Houston, because of Hurricane Katrina). In 2020, the festival was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, the annual festival continues to be one of the most sought-after and attended festivals in the United States. 

This year’s Essence Festival of Culture will be held at the Superdome from July 4-7, replete with legendary and fast-rising talents. On July 5, Birdman & Friends will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cash Money Records. The following day will feature a special performance by Charlie Wilson, while Usher will commemorate the 20th anniversary of Confessions.

Janet Jackson and Victoria Monét will headline the festival's final night, while Frankie Beverly and Maze close out the festival with the return of All-White Night. Other performers include The Roots featuring Mickey Guyton, Ari Lennox and T-Pain, Busta Rhymes, Raphael Saadiq, D-Nice featuring Shelia E, Big Boi, and many more.  

Read more: Music Festivals 2024 Guide: Lineups & Dates For Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo & Much More 

EFOC has been compared to SXSW, Coachella, Austin City Limits, and other notable festivals, yet it stands out for its empowerment-centered approach. It is not simply a festival, it is a family reunion. The one festival in the United States that does not pander to or take advantage of Black audiences, but truly celebrates them and their achievements. Although music has always been an integral part of the festival’s ethos — Aretha Franklin and B.B. King performed at the first iteration — the festival excels in its multi-generational and interdisciplinary programming. On any given day, attendees can attend sessions on Black entrepreneurship, politics, mental health, and literature, as well as seminars focused on issues impacting the Black community.  

There’s a reason why the festival is referred to as the party with a purpose. For decades, it has operated as a celebratory convening place for Black people, Black families, and Black communities. Now, more than ever, spaces like EFOC are needed, as the Black community experiences an onslaught of changes — from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in North Carolina and Tennessee being subject to intense government oversight, to Black women-owned venture capital firms being targeted by conservatives, and Black voting rights becoming at risk during an election year. 

Ahead of the festival’s 30th celebration, Michael Barclay, Executive Vice President of Experiential for ESSENCE Ventures and Barkue Tubman Zawolo, Chief of Staff, Talent and Diasporic Engagement for Essence Ventures, spoke to the Recording Academy about the history, legacy, and future of the Essence Festival of Culture.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Are you part of the generation that grew up with the Essence Festival of Culture? If so, how does it feel to be a part of it?

Barkue Tubman Zawolo: I'm originally from Liberia. And even being in Liberia, prior to my family moving to the U.S. in 1980, Essence was always a thing for my mom and my aunts. When we came here, fast forward to me, as an adult, [after] graduating college, I got into the music industry. I've managed artists that have gone through the Essence stages and pages in different ways.

Essence Fest has always been something that we were familiar with. I have to say, I had not really experienced Essence Fest until 2019 when Essence was actually a client. One of the things that I was doing [at that point] was integrating the Diaspora and African creatives within the festival in fashion and music.

To be in the role that I'm in right now and to be on a team with people who have been a part of Essence for a long time…. Essence seems to be ingrained in all of our fabric. [What] started as a music festival now is the Super Bowl of Culture that is the Essence Festival of Culture. To be on the team that helps bring this to life for our community is a daunting but rewarding task all in the same. 

Essence is something that I don't think anybody in our community takes lightly. Even our partners understand the value of it. We certainly understand that we serve the Essence-inverse and, and we are in service to this community. It is a huge honor to be able to be a part of the team that brings this to life and, and, and constantly hear what it means to the community globally too. 

One thing that I admired, especially about last year's festival, was GU Kickback — a music event hosted by Girls United, the publication’s Gen Z vertical. I saw a number of local artists from New Orleans, such as 504ICYGRL. ESSENCE just released a series of cover stories celebrating the 30 year relationship between the publication and New Orleans; how do you highlight the city and their history?

Michael Barclay: As somebody who's worked in experiential, creating gatherings and experiences for almost 25 years now, the venue is always important when you're trying to set the box where you are creating for your community, for your audience. New Orleans has been that backdrop for us for almost 30 years now. 

New Orleans is the convergence of our mission, our brand, in a city that is perfectly matched for that energy. New Orleans is as much a part of Essence Festival of Culture as Essence Magazine is to Essence Festival. 

It is very much a partnership that has created this cultural movement. To be more inclusive, and highlight more of those local relationships and talent is very intentional. It has been something that we have put a lot of energy and effort into over the last couple of years. 

This will be my third festival this year. I think Barkue, you started maybe a year or two before me. We're a fairly new crew that is working to help grow and reshape and solidify those relationships. Even with how we handle the management of the festival. 

Our VP of Essence Festival, Hakeem Holmes is a hometown boy from New Orleans. He's the pride and joy. They love to see him coming. He's always enlightening us on the things that we need to be focused on for the city and how we make the best partnership and make the best impact on the area.

It was intentional what you saw last year. It's intentional this year. We dedicated our entire festival edition of the magazine as a love letter to New Orleans. It's a symbiotic relationship that is one of the key reasons why this festival is the Super Bowl of Culture.  

I would love to hear about the talent aspect of the festival. Last year, Megan Thee Stallion headlined. In previous years, Beyoncé and Prince have served as headliners. What is the formula between balancing local talent, national talent and diasporic talent at the festival?

Zawolo: As we grow the festival, the intentionality becomes even more and more important. And, what we do in understanding where we are as a brand. 

We're 30 years into the festival, the brand is 55 years. What's traditionally known as the Essence Woman is now bringing her daughter. It's multi-generational. We also know that the world is as big as your cell phone, so people are now exposed to different types of content and music. 

We see the influence of Afrobeats and Caribbean music. We are intentional about making sure that every night really speaks to multiple generations, but it's anchored in a generation. It's like, who's bringing, who to the concert on Friday? Is it the daughter bringing her mama? 

It's anchored in  that younger demo, but we're going to make sure that they're going to have a collective good time there. Saturday is usually our heaviest night. We have our living legends that show up there; that really cuts across generations. This is anybody can bring anybody, but let me tell you, you're going to be able to teach each other, connect with each other with the different groupings of talent that we have.

We try to make sure that there is something that speaks to us, but that that connects with the diaspora on as many nights as possible. Sometimes it's not because they're from a different country, but because we know the music also resonates.

If you think of Janet Jackson, you can go anywhere in the world. She can check off that box, although she's not from there. You can create those ties, but we also are intentional about having Ayra Starr and Machel Montano. Last year we had Tems and Wizkid. The goal is to continue to grow what that looks like, because we are a global brand and that is our diasporic and global intent in connecting the global Black community is really important.  

We are intentionally multi-generational. We intentionally lead into where a multitude of generational communities can come together and have fun together. There is something for everybody. We have a unique opportunity with Essence as the brand grows to be able to not only speak to what they want to call the aunties, I call the punties. I also think that this is where we get to educate the next generation on where we're coming from. We also get to learn from them on where they are and where they want to go. 

What a beautiful way to kind of tie all of these connections. Last year, the festival celebrated 50 years of hip-hop; this year you're celebrating the 30th anniversary of the festival. What is the intention behind this year’s music programming?

Zawolo: Paying homage to people who had done some historical things on our stages. We have Janet [Jackson] back. People are like, “Oh, we saw Janet two years ago,” but Janet is also one of the highest sellers in the festival's history. 

If we're going to celebrate, let's celebrate, because we know Janet never disappoints. We also want to lean into some of the [older] talent, like Charlie Wilson, Uncle Charlie. He's graced that stage so many times, but yet it's still very relevant. Using this moment to reignite things that we've done in the past and bring them back to life that we know the audience missed.

Frankie Beverly, who is going to come, this is probably going to really be his last performance. The passing of the torch. This year was about having to be intentional about what other milestones are happening that are important to this culture. Cash Money is also celebrating 30 years. Who better, right?  

Essence has been in New Orleans for 30 years. Cash Money and crew are from New Orleans. Juvenile just got the key to the city from the mayor. We want to honor and celebrate him, but we also want to recognize the influence that this group of very creative, entrepreneurial, rappers and artists have had on culture, because there was a time where we all were backing that ass up. 

Making sure we highlighted milestones, connecting with people who have historically been a part of making history with us, introducing some new ones — that's what we have to do. We have to set up now for the next 30 years. We want to go to the soul of what appeals to our audience, and we're really all about good music.  

I think the 30th year just continues to do what we do. As we look to grow and connect demos, Megan Thee Stallion is a very viable option because again, the daughter now is going to bring the mama. Intergenerational diasporic and connecting demos, I think that only happens at the Superdome. That's also happening in the convention center, which I believe is honestly the soul of the festival. 

What are your hopes and aspirations for the next 30 years of the Essence Festival of Culture? Will Essence Fest always be in New Orleans? Are we going to have an Essence Fest in Lagos, Nigeria?

Barclay: Being on this side of [EFOC], seeing the true impact of the festival and how it impacts the communities, how it impacts the folks that come to New Orleans, and now, because we've expanded to our virtual audience, the 1.7 million that are viewing around the world, my hope for the festival is that we continue to show up where our community needs us.

We're going to be in New Orleans. We're going to be in our official world as we call it. If you can't make it to New Orleans, you can tune into Essence.com and you can see what's going on there. We are creating virtual experiences, AR experiences, VR experiences, all those things, so really keeping up with the way that people continue to connect with each other, whether they're physically in the same place or halfway across the world.

I think that type of innovation is what I want to continue to see us do and allow us to create that joy that we generate in New Orleans and wherever it's needed for our community.

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