meta-scriptThe Jesus And Mary Chain Is Unbroken: Jim Reid On New Album 'Glasgow Eyes' & Their Tempestuous History | GRAMMY.com
Jim Reid and William Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Jim Reid and William Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Photo: Mel Butler

interview

The Jesus And Mary Chain Is Unbroken: Jim Reid On New Album 'Glasgow Eyes' & Their Tempestuous History

"We used to say things that no one ought to say to another human being," says Jim Reid about his brother and musical partner, William. Yet the bond of the Jesus and Mary Chain remains intact — and they're out with a new album, 'Glasgow Eyes,' out March 8.

GRAMMYs/Mar 4, 2024 - 04:46 pm

Aside from an eight-year hiatus, noise-poppers the Jesus and Mary Chain have been together and productive for more than four decades — and stuck to their guns creatively. 

How could a hysterical, screaming, improvised onstage meltdown from the mid-'80s — titled "Jesus F—" — possibly foreshadow this?

"The first six months of the band was the only time that you could get away with doing things like that," Jim Reid, their co-leader with brother William, tells GRAMMY.com. "People have paid next to no money to see you. They're not really your fans, because you don't have fans yet. So, you just went out there and did whatever the f— you want."

This involved any number of onstage provocations, fueled by Dutch courage — swinging at the audience, cursing them, playing with their backs to the audience. Of course, the rest is history: they got their act together, at least enough to make masterpieces like 1985's Psychocandy and 1987's Darklands.

After six albums, the chemicals and resentments came to a head in 1999. The Reids wouldn't fire up the project again until 2007, nor release a new album until 2017. But the Mary Chain have forged on.

Despite their tumultuous history, their new album, Glasgow Eyes, out March 8, bears remarkable artistic consistency; it's like the verbal and physical fisticuffs never happened. On tunes like "jamcod," "The Eagles and the Beatles" and "Hey Lou Reid," the Reid brothers' creative compass remains unswerving: Whatever they started doing in 1983, they're still doing it.

"We started because we didn't like the music that we were hearing coming out of the radio," Reid says, calling the pop hits of the day "diarrhea." And if the mainstream still alienates you in 2024, well — look at it all through Glasgow Eyes.

Reid spoke with GRAMMY.com about the past, present and future of the Jesus and Mary Chain.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

In the Glasgow Eyes press release, you said something succinct yet kind of holistic and profound: "Our creative approach is remarkably the same as it was in 1984, just hit the studio and see what happens." Can you expand on that at all?

Well, that's just the way it works. To be honest, when we go into the studio very often we don't have a clue what the record's going to sound like. We've got songs. We don't write in the studio. So, there are a collection of songs, but they could go in any direction.

Generally, we deliberately try not to plan what the record's going to end up [as]. But the only thing that we did see with this record, is we wanted to get out the synths and drum machines. We used things like that in the past, but never quite so upfront. 

Did that come from what you were listening to at the time? Darker, older stuff?

We've always listened to that kind of music, but I guess people might not have actually realized that. We love all of that krautrock stuff — Kraftwerk and D.A.F. and Can and all of that. All of those kinds of bands are massively important to us.

It feels like on the earliest Jesus and Mary Chain material, the outré stuff was the yin to pop's yang.

Well, yeah, that's kind of it with us, really. It's the whole package: it's psycho and it's candy.

Regarding that great '80s-ish dark music, what have you been listening to lately?

I'm terrible because I don't listen to much new music. I'm pretty satisfied with my old record collection, and I play kind of a mystery jukebox. Every record I've ever bought since I was 12 is on this computer here, and I just sit with the computer on random play.

I'll just trawl through the records I've had for a long time and I'll dig something out that way. I heard something the other day — it's not a new band, but I can't remember how I heard it. Somebody played it, maybe. A band called Crocodiles. I quite like them. It sounded really good.

When it comes to releasing new music, is the landscape of 2024 destabilizing for you?

Yeah, the musical landscape has always confused us, to be honest with you. Mary Chain never really belonged. We never fit in. We didn't fit in 1984 when we started, and that was why we started.

We started because we didn't like the music that we were hearing coming out of the radio. We thought the radio was ill; we thought it was sick. It was spewing out all of this diarrhea, and we thought, well, it's got to be some better music that can come out of that thing than what we're hearing now.

I'm sorry, but just Kid Creole and the Coconuts — and Spandau Ballet — did not float our boats in 1984 or '85. So it was rubbish then in a kind of way that that's always been the driving force for the Mary Chain. We just think that everybody else's music just isn't good enough. So we will kind of do it to our satisfaction and that's it.

Did you ever meet Mark E. Smith from the Fall back in the day?

I never met Mark E. Smith. He was kind of terrifying from what I can understand. I would've been scared to meet Mark, but loved his band.

I ask because Hex Enduction Hour is one of my favorite albums of all time, and Smith consciously crafted it as a reaction to "bland bastards like… Spandau Ballet."

Oh, God, yeah. That was the dark side of the '80s. Those were the bands that came along and hijacked music and destroyed its soul, I suppose. Take the 1960s and the 1970s. You turned on the radio, and you heard the Rolling Stones singing "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," and everything was good in the world. Same in the '70s, to a certain degree. It was starting to become less so in the '70s, but you could turn on the radio and you could hear Roxy Music or the Sex Pistols or David Bowie.

We got to the '80s and it was like, What the f—? What's going wrong? So, me and William used to sit there and think, Why did we get the '80s? It's not fair. This is our time, and it's the f—ing '80s.

But there were great bands. There were bands like the Fall, the Cocteau Twins, and the Birthday Party, but they were made to take the crumbs that were left over from the main event, if you know what I mean.

One thing I really admire about Glasgow Eyes is that it sounds like you guys. I feel like many bands from certain eras — I won't name any names — slowly bland down and start to sound like each other. Not the Mary Chain.

Well, that's it. That's all we ever try to do: make a Mary Chain record.

A lot of bands… make a record for their audience. And to us, that's the wrong way around. What you do is you make a record for yourself, and if it's any good, you'll get an audience. But as soon as you start making music for other people, you've had it; you're lost. It's the cart before the horse.

I'm sure you've seen that over and over and over, in your decades in the industry.

Yeah, I see it all the time. Everybody thinks, The last record didn't sell as much as we hoped it would. So, what should we do? Who's selling loads of records right now? Oh, U2; let's make a record for the U2 crowd then. In the 1980s, almost every other band sounded like they were trying to be U2.

How did you guys negotiate that territory? I'm sure 30 years ago, the brass was throwing hot new producers at you, or trying to get you on trend bandwagons.

That was it. Our record label were forever trying to run producers down in our throat. Because we produced more or less all of our own music. [2017's] Damage and Joy was the first time we've ever actually brought a producer into the studio, and that was Youth.

We met Daniel Lanois in the late '80s. And I can't remember what album it was, but at the record company's insistence, we met Daniel Lanois and we had this meeting. And he was saying things like, "Yeah, what we'll do is, we won't get a recording studio. We'll get maybe an old church and we'll get all of the gear in there and we'll just get stoned."

We were like, "I'm not sure about this, Daniel." And he was like, "What are you listening to at the moment?" And we said, "Well, we're listening to a lot of hip-hop actually." And he was like, "Hip-hop, are you kidding me?" You could see him looking for the exit thinking, I want to get out.

That's hilarious.

The drugs that I was into at that time, I certainly wasn't interested in sitting getting stoned with Daniel in a church with U2's music playing in the background. I was more into getting off my tits on cocaine listening to stuff like Run-DMC at that time.

I enjoy imagining this.

It was never going to happen. And then we went back to Warner Brothers — it was Rob Dickens running Warner's at that time… and the guy was shouting at us, "You guys are losers. "Yeah, we're losers. But we're losers that are making pretty good records, Rob, so f— off.

There were a few other comedy meetings with producers. I won't go into it, but it was the same deal every time. They would just come along and say all of the opposite of what we had imagined for the record in question — and so it would just never work out.

**The fruitage of this is that you can make whatever kind of music you want in 2024. Take us through the early stages of making Glasgow Eyes, when you had dumped all your toys on the table, as it were, and began trying to make sense of them.**

William's a bit better, but the thing about me is I'm not very technical at all. I love the idea that this technology is out there to be used, but if it was left to me to actually figure out how to use it, it would never get done. But thankfully, that's what studio engineers are for.

We recorded at Mogwai Studio in Glasgow; it's called Castle of Doom. And Tony Doogan's the house engineer there. With Tony, it was like his record collection was probably the same as ours. So, it was going to work.

And then the way it works is you can just say, "That little sort of slightly detuned synth riff that's on 'Der Mussolini' by D.A.F.," And he would go, "Yeah." I don't know how many times in the past when you [reference these things] and [engineers] just go, "Uh, what?"

So it was really good that we had someone in the studio that could speak our language. And he made all of that technology accessible to us. It would be a few sentences to describe what you were looking for — and then, a couple of presses of buttons and twiddles of knobs later, and you'd be hearing what you just described.

Sounds like you had a lot of old-school reference points.

It's weird when you get to my age, yeah, they were old school. But you're thinking old school is probably the noughties. To me, old-school is like the f—ing 1920s. I'm old, man.

So it was things that I considered to be quite modern. I think of Kraftwerk as a futuristic band — because they are. They made records in the early '70s, but to me, it still sounds like new music. I can imagine people in 50 years would listen to Kraftwerk records and think that it had been made then.

The best music is timeless, and they were just way ahead of the game. Way ahead of the game.

At what point did Glasgow Eyes really start to take shape?

Well, that doesn't happen right away. It's the same every time: you start making the record and at some point you think you're losing it. It's not happening. You're thinking, This is going to be embarrassing

It's almost like you will the record into shape. It goes from this unrecognizable beast into this recognizably Mary Chain [work], and then better and better and better. And then almost like within a couple of days you start to think, F—, this sounds pretty good. And then you start to feel really quite smug about it.

And by the end of it you're like, woohoo, we've done it again. So there's some sort of black magic. It's slightly mystical, but it kind of starts to take shape by itself. But it only happens after some trauma and some sort of serious nervous breakdowns in the middle. And then it just seems to come together. I don't know; it's alchemy.

I can't name too many other bands from your scene who are still grinding it out like this, and staying creative.

There's not many of us left, but Primal Scream are still doing it, man. They're as good as they've ever been. [Singer] Bobby [Gillespie]'s our old drummer and he's rocking it out. And I went to see them a few weeks ago and it's great. He's still great. He's still going.

Growing up with the Mary Chain, I remember reading stories about how you guys had a… tempestuous relationship with your audience. Which included a lot of provocation from the stage. Is that true?

Well, it is, but a lot of it was insecurity on our part.

Well, it was a couple of things. One, we'd never been in any other bands before. Lou Reed did a [1980] album called Growing Up in Public; well, that was us. We made all of our mistakes in front of an audience, and often in front of cameras, and often on TV shows.

But we were very, very insecure, and I was incredibly shy. And the only way that I could get the nerve to get on stage was to get wasted. I used to swig down bottles of whiskey before I went onstage — then, I'd be up there, swinging at people and stuff like that. Or telling the audience to go f— themselves.

But it was all based on my own insecurity and that was it. I was unable to deal with the situation that I found myself in. And we quickly learned that you couldn't continue doing that. So we found a way to make it work.

Did you guys really play with your backs to the audience?

Yeah. We were literally so embarrassed and so awkward on stage that we would turn around and every now and again, glimpse over our shoulders at the audience, like, He's still here. Oh, God.

I'll leave you with this: how has your creative relationship with William been over the past several decades?

Well, at the beginning, we were so in tune with each other. It was like we totally, totally agreed with everything about what direction the band ought to be taking.

The band broke up in 1998 for a while, and that was because we just totally lost touch with each other. We used to argue about creative decisions. By 1998, we were arguing about anything.

We couldn't stand being in the same room as each other. And it was a very messy breakup. In 1998, we were trying to f—ing eradicate each other. And then for a couple of years, we couldn't talk. The band broke up, we didn't speak to each other.

[In 2007], the band got back together. Our relationship healed a bit. It's better now than I think it's been for years.

We argue. We always will. We always have. But it's more productive and it's less nasty. And towards 1998, we used to say things that no one ought to say to another human being. And once you've said those kind of things, they can never be taken back.

And I know there are things that he said to me and I've said to him — that even though the wounds have healed, I'm still kind of thinking, But f— you, man. I remember when you said that night.

So now when it's getting that bad, you think, Oh, we're approaching that line, step back. So it works much better now than it used to. We're OK.

Lou Reed's Berlin Is One Of Rock's Darkest Albums. So Why Does It Sound Like So Much Fun?

Mickey Hart - Dead & Company
Mickey Hart

Photo: Nick Spanos

interview

Living Legends: How Dead & Company Drummer Mickey Hart Makes Visual Art From Vibrations — And Brought It To Las Vegas' Sphere

Dead & Company are currently embarking a residency at Las Vegas' sphere, which features drummer Mickey Hart's eye-popping, unconventional art. Hart spoke to GRAMMY.com about how it came to be, and how the Grateful Dead's legacy continues to ripple forth.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2024 - 09:06 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music who are still going strong today. This week, we interviewed Mickey Hart, one of two drummers — along with Bill Kreutzmann — of the Grateful Dead and its contemporary offshoot, Dead & Company.

His first-ever solo art exhibition, Art at the Edge of Magic, will run through July 13 at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, as part of the Dead Forever Experience. His work is also incorporated into their current residency at Las Vegas' Sphere.

After decades behind a drum kit with the Grateful Dead, and now in the same role in Dead & Company, Mickey Hart has learned a truly cosmic lesson: "The basis of all of creation is vibratory." 

For years, in parallel with his legacy as a music maker, he's made visual art using a sui generis method, which has plenty in common with his techniques as a drummer. Check out his visual art, which he's been creating for years in parallel with his music making; some of it may look like paintings, but that doesn't quite describe what it is.

Rather, Hart employs vibrations — much like he's done behind the kit for decades — to bring out hitherto-invisible dimensions in paint. The results are captivating to the eye — at times, otherworldly.

The strength of Hart's visual art has added another layer to the Grateful Dead cosmos. If you're in or near Las Vegas, you can check out these works as part of the Dead Forever Experience, in an exhibition at the Venetian running until mid-July.

Additionally, if you catch Dead & Company during their Sphere residency (which runs through July 13), you can immerse yourself in it during the famous "Drums/Space" portion of the set — a percussive, celestial section stretching way back in Dead setlist history.

"I just love to do it. Sometimes, your hobbies overtake you and become a necessary ingredient in your life," Hart cheerily tells GRAMMY.com. "And that's what happened with this visual medium, that it kind of grew on me and made me want to go back over and over and over again to learn the craft."

Whether or not you'll be heading to Vegas, read on for an interview with Hart about how he makes these sumptuous textures and hues truly pop — as well as his gratitude for the potency and longevity of the Dead's afterlife. (No pun intended.)

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Your visual work is beautiful. What can you tell readers about how you make it — the brass tacks?

Well, I wouldn't say I paint. I don't use brushes — sometimes, once in a while — but really it's more of a pouring medium, and a spinning medium, and so forth. But I use vibrations in the painting process, and I think that's why people call it vibrational expressionism.

I use a subwoofer and the Pythagorean monochord — a stringed instrument — drives the subwoofer. Pythagoras, of course, invented it, and it goes down very low to 15 cycles, sometimes 10 cycles. And that vibrates the paint. I mix multiple colors, and the colors come up within each other, and it reveals these details that you cannot get in any other way.

And I just kind of fell on it. In the beginning, I was drumming them — beating underneath them and so forth. But now, I've progressed to using a Meyer subwoofer, and it works just fine. And that's how the paintings are born. They're vibrated into existence.

Once I apply my mumbo jumbo to it, and using additives that create unique features — shapes, people, animals, mountain ranges, glaciers — you see all kinds of things within the paintings if you look at them, and let yourself go, and become part of the paintings.

Everybody has their own interpretation of [what they reveal], which is really important. These are not, like, a rose, or a vase, or a car. It's not that kind of art form. So, it raises your consciousness. And if you can connect with it, you get high. And that's what these things are all about. That's what art's all about. No matter what it is, audio or visual, it's consciousness raising at its best.

I take it you've been developing this ability in parallel with your work in the Dead universe for some time.

Well, of course. I work with vibrations. The vibratory world is where I live, and I make my art there. It's always been like that. I'm a lover of low end; low frequencies are my specialty. And because I'm a percussionist and many of my drums are very large and they speak to the range, the frequency, which is not normally accessed.

So, I create these works using these low-frequency creations. And that was something that I fell on years ago, but as a hobby; this was nothing more than an escape to another virtual headspace. Now, I share it with others.

I feel like this sound-based approach to visual art is a fairly unexplored space.

For sure. I mean, you can look it up. I've looked it up. And when you look up vibrational expressionism, I'm the only one that's there. Someone coined that term years ago, and it's kind of fitting.

I might be unique in that particular way, but that's the only way I know how to bring the colors up within themselves and reveal the super details.

Mickey Hart - Visual Art

Photo: Emily Frost

And I'm sure this process is fluid and mutable; you don't apply the same technique for every piece.

Yes, I apply different frequencies and different rhythms to different paintings. They're not the same. Every time I approach it — whether it be a canvas, or wood, or plexiglass, or glass, or whatever the surface is — it's always different. I never repeat. Every one of them is unique. 

It's about the mixing of the paints, and the ingredients I put in the paint. And then you have to let it go and you jam. That's what these works are — they're jams. Sometimes, I have a thought on how I want it to be, and then sometimes it'll completely change once I put paint to canvas.

You learn over years. I've been doing this for about 25 years as a hobby, so I've got hundreds of these. And some of them never see the light of day. That's the luck of the draw, but luck favors the prepared mind, and I prepare that before I go in. I focus and concentrate on not concentrating. I just try to be there now and let the flow happen.

I improvise. That's my love. That's the only thing I really know how to do. Memorizing things and repeating is not who I am. I don't paint by the numbers. You don't need me for that.

Much like what you do on stage!

The Grateful Dead never did memorize many things. It was mostly a seat-of-the-pants kind of art form, but you learn how to become a seat-of-the-pants artist, if you will. There's adventure, there's failure, there's success, there's luck, there's chaos, there's order, and back and forth. 

The duality of all of that reflects life. It gets you high too. You can look at it and all of a sudden you're in a different, virtual space. That's what art does — good art, anyway. It puts you in a place of great wonder and awe.

Mickey Hart

Photo: Emily Frost

Can you talk about using the Sphere as a canvas for your work?

That's how I look at it — as a blank canvas. When I hit the stage, I'm not thinking of anything. I prepared, I have my skill, I'm ready to go, but I'm not really thinking in the normal sense of the word. I throw that away and I just feel muscle memory, you might call it.

When you're playing music in a band, you become a groupist. You learn to be able to interrelate between six people each having their own consciousness, making something larger than the parts. Music is great at that. But in painting, it's a singular thing.

Music is just the moving of air. That's the delivery system. It's the movement of air. And in this case, it's light. It's what the light does to you. The eye is more powerful than the ear as an organ. So people really react to the visual. Hopefully in the Sphere, there's a combination of both that come together and form something much larger.

I appreciate that you view a drum as far more than simply a drum.

It's not something that just played to keep time. It's something that is an integral part of the orchestra, right up there with melody and harmony. The primacy of rhythm is something that has come into music in this century. If you listen to the radio, it's rhythmic-driven, mostly. Of course, there's the melodies, but the basis of it all is rhythmic.

Visual art is the same thing. It's all about rhythm and flow. If you don't have that, you don't really have anything. You have to have a groove.

The basis of all of creation is vibratory. These arts are just miniatures of what's happening in the cosmos. I mean, we are in the wash of these vibrations that were created 13.8 billion years ago from the singularity, the big bang, and that's still washing over us. And that's where art comes in. It connects you to the infinite universe at its best.

You guys seemed to realize early on that you could transcend simply playing rock songs in a band.

When we were younger, we were all ingesting psychoactive drugs. They certainly freed our perspective, and created a different kind of perspective when we all played together. Some of it was drug-related, you might say. We took what we could from those experiences and created a new kind of music.

That was an important part of our exploratory nature as we were falling on Grateful Dead music. We were exploring realms of consciousness that were not accessible to us normally in a normal waking state. These chemicals certainly helped in that respect, used correctly and professionally. They were an enormous, enormous help.

And now we're finding out that LSD is being used in therapeutic and medicinal and diagnostics and all of that. These are very helpful in many ways.

Mickey Hart

Photo: Emily Frost

How has it felt watching the Grateful Dead turn into a franchise, a universe? This visual element at the Sphere adds a whole new layer to it.

Well, it's very interesting to see all the corners and of the universe that the Grateful Dead spirit has reached and all the people and all the bands that copy our music. It's very rewarding and complimentary, I think.

We knew it was special. First time I ever heard it, I knew it was special. How special? You never know, but you have to keep at it being special. And eventually, it skips generations, which is what we've done — generation, after generation, after generation. The parents share with their kids, their kids, their kids.

It's something that's very friendly — hanging out with your parents at a concert like that, and having a great time together, and sharing something that they shared when they were younger.

It's fantastic. It's unbelievable that it has that power. I was just talking to someone the other night and they asked me to explain it. You can't explain it in words. You have to hear it. You have to be there. You have to feel it. You have to feel the community that it spawns, and this feeling that you get in the music. It's very seductive, if you allow yourself that moment.

I was just reading this morning that Diplo — the electronic musician, a very good musician — just became a Deadhead the other night.

Really!

Oh, yeah. It transformed him completely. You never can tell who gets touched by our music. It's something that's not explainable, but it keeps going on. The people will not let it go.

As long as people are interested in our kind of music and our kind of scene, we'll keep playing. There's no end to it until we don't have the facility to play, or the rhythm stops. I plan to do this till the day I die. There's no question about it. I've always thought that. There's no secret.

I think Bob and I both agree on that, and all of the Grateful Dead, Bill, Phil, certainly Jerry, we're all in the same boat when it comes to Grateful Dead music, the passion that we bring to it. And it's very rewarding that people enjoy it as deeply as they do.

I tell you, I can't express the gratitude that I have just being part of it. We all feel that same way. It's very humbling, to be honest with you, that it's grown to be this. It was just a little cub. Now it's a roaring lion. It's just a gigantic monster that is always meant for the good, and that's very rewarding. It's a good life to lead. We work very hard at it.

A Beginner's Guide To The Grateful Dead: 5 Ways To Get Into The Legendary Jam Band

Photo of Lady Gaga performing during The Chromatica Ball in Stockholm, Sweden, in July 2022. Lady Gaga is wearing a pink costume pink head dress with goggles.
Lady Gaga performs during The Chromatica Ball in Stockholm, Sweden, in July 2022.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

list

Lady Gaga's Biggest Songs: 15 Tracks That Show Her Avant-Garde Pop Prowess

As fans relive the exhilarating spectacle of Lady Gaga's 2022 stadium tour with a new HBO Max concert film, 'GAGA CHROMATICA BALL,' jam out to 15 of her signature songs, from "Poker Face" to "Rain on Me."

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2024 - 07:29 pm

Nearly two years after bringing her 2020 album Chromatica to life with a sold-out stadium tour, Lady Gaga is bringing The Chromatical Ball to your living room. GAGA CHROMATICA BALL, an HBO Original special that premieres May 25 exclusively on MAX, will take Little Monsters into the mesmerizing, colorful world the 13-time GRAMMY winner crafted with her sixth studio set. 

The Chromatica Ball was a joyful cultural triumph as the world emerged from lockdown, hitting 20 stadiums across Europe, North America and Asia in the summer of 2022. While it was named after Chromatica and featured the majority of the dance-driven album's track list — including the smash Ariana Grande duet, "Rain On Me," and lead single "Stupid Love" — the tour was a celebration of the breadth of her acclaimed career as a whole, which has spanned decades, genres, styles, and entire industries. 

GAGA CHROMATICA BALL documents Lady Gaga's sold-out September 2022 show at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, which was one of the biggest venues on the tour. Showcasing a stage inspired by brutalist architecture and a set list stretching from the pop star's 2008 debut album, The Fame, to her Top Gun: Maverick track, "Hold My Hand," the film will also take fans inside the raw passion Gaga brings to each and every live show. 

In celebration of the concert film, GRAMMY.com revisits 15 of Gaga's most career-defining songs to date, from early hits like "Poker Face" to stunning deep cuts like Chromatica's "Free Woman."

"Just Dance" (feat. Colby O'Donis), The Fame (2008)

Lady Gaga burst onto the scene in 2008 with a fully realized point of view and pop star persona, but her debut single actually wasn't an immediate smash on the charts. Instead, "Just Dance" served as the sleeper hit that kick-started Gaga's legendary career, landing at the precipice of the Billboard Hot 100 after a 22-week climb from its initial entry at No. 76 to the nascent pop star her very first No. 1 hit. 

A polished dance floor banger produced by RedOne and co-written with Akon, "Just Dance" perfectly crystallizes the dance-pop resurgence of the late 2000s that Gaga not only helped spearhead, but masterfully rode into the upper echelon of 21st century pop stardom. Notably, the song also earned Gaga the first GRAMMY nomination of her career for Best Dance Recording in 2009 — a full year before her debut album would announce itself as a major force at the 2010 ceremony.

"Poker Face," The Fame (2008)

If "Just Dance" set expectations sky high for the music Gaga had up her well-manicured sleeve, "Poker Face" majorly surpassed them — and subsequently, became one of the defining pop songs of the decade. With its relentless rhythm, sing-song  "Po-po-po-poker face, po-po-poker face" refrain, and winkingly naughty lyrics ("'Cause I'm bluffin' with my muffin," anybody?), the song proved Gaga knew how to expertly construct an earworm while delivering a high-concept visual spectacle in spades. 

"Poker Face" became the singer's second consecutive No. 1 single on the Hot 100, marking the first time a brand-new artist had accomplished the feat since Christina Aguilera's one-two punch of "Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl Wants" a full decade prior. By year's end, "Poker Face" had become top-selling single of 2009 across the globe, and the following year, it earned Gaga her first nods for both Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year at the 2010 GRAMMYs, with The Fame also being nominated for Album Of The Year.

Though the song and LP ultimately lost in the major categories, they respectively took home the golden gramophones for Best Dance Recording and Best Electronic Dance Album, officially making Gaga a GRAMMY-winning artist after less than two years in the industry. 

"The Fame," The Fame (2008)

While it was never released as an official single, the title track off Gaga's 2008 debut album serves as something of an early thesis statement for the avant garde star who so confidently declared, "POP MUSIC WILL NEVER BE LOWBROW" as she burst from New York City's underground scene to the global stage.

Gaga lays bare her ambitions with brazen clarity on the punchy electronic track, as she gushes over her single-minded love for "runway models, Cadillacs and liquor bottles" and sings, "Give me something I wanna be/ Retro glamor, Hollywood, yes we live for the fame/ Doin' it for the fame/ 'Cause we wanna live the life of the rich and famous." Later on the song's bridge, the pop star vows, "Don't ask me how or why/ But I'm gonna make it happen this time," and in retrospect, there's no denying Gaga accomplished everything she set out to achieve at the start of her career. 

"Bad Romance," The Fame Monster (2009)

The Fame heralded Gaga as the next big thing in pop music. But rather than spend a couple years fine-tuning her follow-up, the newly minted star decided to double down while the iron was red hot by reissuing the album as The Fame Monster, complete with eight new songs. And in doing so, she catapulted herself to superstar status with just five syllables: "Ra-ra-ah-ah-ahh." 

If the Gaga of "Just Dance" and "Poker Face" was a flashy striver fighting her way to the center of the cultural zeitgeist, "Bad Romance" presented Gaga as a high-fashion pop queen ready to turn her coronation into a victory lap. Not only did "Bad Romance" score Gaga her fifth consecutive top 5 hit on the Billboard 200, it also won her the GRAMMYs for Female Pop Solo Performance and Music Video/Short Form in 2011. (The Fame Monster, meanwhile, took home the golden gramophone for Pop Vocal Album — the first of Gaga's four nominations and counting in the category.)

"Telephone" (featuring Beyoncé), The Fame Monster (2009)

"Hello, hello, baby, you called, I can't hear a thing…" On its face, "Telephone" may sound like a garden variety electro-pop bop, but Gaga turned the track into an unforgettable club banger of the highest order by recruiting the one and only Beyoncé. The two superstars play off one another with panache as they shrug off responsibility and incessant calls from home in favor of giving into the music.

The single's murderous, Jonas Åkerlund-directed visual remains one of the most iconic in Gaga's storied visual history. Fourteen years after Gaga and Honey B drove off in the Pussy Wagon with the promise to never come back, Little Monsters and the Beyhive are still clamoring for a follow-up. Need proof? Just look at the internet frenzy Queen Bey caused when she appeared driving a similarly hued taxi in a teaser for the album that became COWBOY CARTER earlier this year.

"Born This Way," Born This Way (2011)

Almost from the moment she emerged onto the national consciousness, Gaga was considered a gay icon in the making, proudly advocating for the queer community — and in turn, cultivating a passionate, devoted LGBTQ+ fan base who worshiped at the feet of Mother Monster. So, naturally, she used her 2010 sophomore album to gift the masses with the Pride anthem of a generation

Drawing comparisons to Madonna's "Express Yourself," "Born This Way" became a defining hit of the 2010s and helped empower listeners from the clubs, to the streets, to the inside of the closet to embrace what makes them special and fearlessly declare, "Baby, I was born this way!" Additionally, the gay anthem holds the distinction of being the 1,000th No. 1 hit in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, as well as Gaga's first single to bow at the top of the chart upon its debut.

"Yoü And I," Born This Way (2011)

Though she would go on to explore the genre further in 2016's Joanne, Gaga pretty much perfected her interpretation of classic Americana with the country-rock stomp of "Yoü and I" in 2011. Released as the fourth single from Born This Way, the gutsy power ballad found the singer driving a muscle car right through the glitzy, electro-pop aesthetic of her past as she wailed, "This time I'm not leavin' without you" over a sample of Queen's "We Will Rock You" and an original electric guitar line by none other than Brian May himself.

The music video for "Yoü And I," meanwhile, was classically high-concept in the most Gaga of terms. It saw the star transform into a number of alter egos including Yüyi the mermaid and the snarling, chain-smoking Jo Calderone. Whether running through the Nebraska cornfields of the song's setting or being brought back to life a la bride of Frankenstein by future ex-fiancé Taylor Kinney, Gaga proved that she could make a visit to America's heartland as avant-garde as ever.

"Marry The Night," Born This Way (2011)

Among Born This Way's litany of hits, "Marry the Night" is widely regarded among Little Monsters as something of a cult favorite. Though it didn't ascend quite as high up the charts as preceding singles like "Judas" or "The Edge of Glory," the track's music video might just be the most autobiographical visual the New York City native has ever released. 

As the fantastical clip opens on an unconscious Gaga lying prone in a hospital bed wearing "next season Calvin Klein" and custom Giuseppe Zanoti, the singer lays out her entire approach to her artistry. "When I look back on my life, it's not that I don't want to see things exactly as they happened, it's just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way," she explained. "And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it…

"It's sort of like my past is an unfinished painting," she continues. "And as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. It's not that I've been dishonest; it's just that I loathe reality." Gaga's rejection of the ordinary in favor of artistic reinterpretation has given fans not only the creative explosion of "Marry the Night," but the entirety of the pop star's avant-garde oeuvre.

"The Lady Is a Tramp" (with Tony Bennett), Duets II (2011)

Smack dab in the middle of Gaga's Born This Way era, Tony Bennett invited Gaga to duet on his 2011 album, Duets II. The pair's charming, spunky rendition of the Rodgers and Hart classic "The Lady is a Tramp" not only opened the album, but it showcased an irrepressible chemistry between the two stars that led to two more collaborative full-length albums, 2014's Cheek to Cheek and 2021's Love For Sale — both of which won GRAMMYs for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. 

The song ultimately became something of a cheeky hallmark to how much Gaga and Bennett adored one another; even after they'd released an album full of jazz standards like Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" and Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," the young pop ingénue chose to sing "The Lady Is a Tramp" for Bennett's 90th birthday celebration at Radio City Music Hall, dedicating it to her friend as he beamed from the front row.

The pair's sweet friendship would continue on all the way until Bennett's death in 2023 following a years-long battle with Alzheimer's disease. In a heartfelt social media tribute, Gaga shared the impact of Bennett's friendship: "Sure he taught me about music, about showbiz life, but he also showed me how to keep my spirits high and my head screwed on straight."

"Applause," ARTPOP (2013)

She lives for the applause! For the lead single for her 2014 album ARTPOP, Gaga shined a spotlight back on the parasocial relationship and adoration that comes with fame. This time, though, the pop star demands listener participation rather than simple voyeurism as she belts, "Give me that thing that I love/ Put your hands up, make 'em touch!" 

In the song, Gaga also shares the complex philosophy behind the album's title ("Pop culture was in art, now art's in pop culture in me.") But between shouting out famed sculpturist Jeffrey Koons (whom she commissioned to create the iconic ARTPOP cover art) and referencing everything from Botticelli's The Birth of Venus to the pop iconography of Andy Warhol in the surrealist music video, Gaga's message was deceptively simple: She lives for the A-P-P-L-A-U-S-E, baby.

"Aura," ARTPOP (2013)

When it came time to present the highbrow themes of ARTPOP to the masses, Gaga chose to open the 2013 iTunes Festival with "Aura," a frenetic exploration of fame, celebrity, suppression and identity built over a skittering sonic palette inspired in equal parts by Middle Eastern music, spaghetti Westerns and mariachi.

Though she initially faced some backlash over accusations that she had appropriated the wearing of a Muslim burqa in the song's lyrics, "Aura" effectively set the stage for ARTPOP as a piece of sophisticated performance art unlike anything Gaga had created before — all while promising fans a glimpse "behind the curtain" at the girl underneath the camp and artistry. And though ARTPOP may have been more than a bit misunderstood at the time of its release, it arguably remains the boldest and bravest album in Gaga's manifold discography.

"Joanne," Joanne (2016)

Gaga found inspiration for her fifth studio album from the life and death of her late aunt (and namesake), Joanne Stefani Germanotta. The singer never met her relative, but Joanne's spirit was imbued throughout the album, from its homespun lyricism to its stripped-back sonic palette that found the singer exploring the sounds of country, soft rock and Americana.

Nowhere on the record is Gaga's profound connection to her aunt more evident than the title track, which she recorded two different versions of and released as the album's third and final single. "Take my hand, stay Joanne/ Heaven's not ready for you/ Every part of my aching heart/ Needs you more than the angels do," she sings softly over a spare piano line on "Joanne (Where Do You Think You're Goin'?)."

With its roots in her family tree, the song clearly holds a special place in Gaga's heart — especially considering she chose to mix it with "Million Reasons" for her performance at the 2018 GRAMMYs. (A full year later, she took home the GRAMMY for Best Pop Solo Performance in 2019 for the acoustic piano version.)

"Shallow" (with Bradley Cooper), A Star Is Born (2018)

"I can see myself in the movies/ With my picture in city lights," Gaga memorably sang in "The Fame." And a decade later, she manifested her dream into reality with a starring role in the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born

Opposite Bradley Cooper, the singer proved she had plenty of star quality on the silver screen on top of her status as a pop supernova. The movie musical's soundtrack was also dominated by Gaga's vulnerability and vocal abilities, fully giving herself over to the story of a star-crossed love that ends in superstardom and tragedy — particularly on the emotional keystone that is "Shallow." In fact, by the time she lets out her famous, guttural wail in the song's emotional bridge, it's easy to forget that "Shallow" is, in fact, a duet rather than a dazzling showcase of Gaga's chops. 

On top of being an essential touchstone in Gaga's canon, "Shallow" is also memorable for being the song that turned Mother Monster into an Oscar winner after she, co-writer Mark Ronson and the rest of their collaborators took home the trophy for Best Original Song at the 2019 Academy Awards. (The song also won a GRAMMY for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance that year.)

"I've worked hard for a long time," Gaga said through tears while accepting her Oscar. "And it's not about winning, but what it's about is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it. There's a discipline for passion, and it's not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you're beaten up. It's about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going." 

"Rain On Me" (with Ariana Grande), Chromatica (2020)

Gaga's Chromatica era began with "Stupid Love" and its colorful, Power Rangers-chic video, but the star hit peak pop excellence by joining forces with Ariana Grande on the album's second single "Rain on Me." 

"I'd rather be dry but at least I'm alive/ Rain on me, rain, rain," the two superstars harmonized on the house-fueled disco fantasia's upbeat refrain, before letting the beat drop and giving in to the impulse to dance it out. Released in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the track provided hope, joy and a message of hard-fought resilience at a scary, unpredictable and unprecedented time when it felt like the world was ending as we knew it.

The following year, Gaga and Grande won the GRAMMY for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance at the 2011 ceremony, becoming the first female collaborators to take home the award in GRAMMYs history. 

"Free Woman," Chromatica (2020)

"Free Woman" was a bit overlooked when it was released as Chromatica's fourth and final single in the spring of 2021, but the narrative Gaga shares on the jubilant track is central to her personal history and experiences in the music industry. Over a thumping Eurodance-leaning beat, she recounts the PTSD she suffered from after being sexually assaulted by an unnamed producer early in her career.

Gaga also offers a rallying cry for her beloved LGBTQ+ fan base on the song, particularly those in the trans community, as she belts, "This is my dance floor I fought for/ Ain't hard, that's what I'm livin' for…We own the downtown, hear our sound." Ultimately, that empowering lyric is a notion that encapsulates the overarching theme of Gaga's career thus far — one that fans around the world can revel in again and again with GAGA CHROMATICA BALL.

Explore The World Of Lady Gaga

Atarashii Gakko!, Ikura of Yoasobi, Hiroa Fukuda and Moeka Shiotsuka of Hitsuji Bungaku, King Gnu
(Clockwise from upper left): Atarashii Gakko!, Ikura of Yoasobi, Hiroa Fukuda and Moeka Shiotsuka of Hitsuji Bungaku, King Gnu

Photos: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Dana Jacobs/Getty Images, Justin Shin/Getty Images, Gene Wang/Getty Images

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10 Neo J-Pop Artists Breaking The Mold In 2024: Fujii Kaze, Kenshi Yonezu & Others

Japan’s domestic pop market has incredible depth and growing Western interest. From Vocaloid acts to anime-centric productions and a plethora of genre-bending releases, the country's musicians and solo artists are breaking ground and making noise.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2024 - 01:38 pm

At this year’s Coachella, Japan’s music industry made a statement: out with the old, in with the new. Where previous years hosted legacy acts like Utada Hikaru and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, up-and-coming hitmakers YOASOBI and cult favorites Atarashii Gakkou! played to sizable crowds in 2024. They represent just the tip of the iceberg for Japanese musicians touring stateside: J-R&B star Fujii Kaze will tour the country this month, and numerous acts have seen exposure abroad thanks to anime soundtrack work and streaming playlists such as Spotify’s Gatcha Pop.

Anime, by far the country’s biggest cultural export, is a major factor in Japan’s music industry, with songs composed for animated films, TV, and streaming projects — and to a lesser extent video games — making up a growing number of the country’s most dominant pop hits. "Anison," or anime songs, have become extremely prestigious commissions for the country’s pop musicians, especially for younger artists who have seen anime gain traction both in Japan and internationally. 

That younger generation is now taking control of the charts, and making inroads into international markets by leaning into what makes their music and culture unique. For musicians like Kenshi Yonezu, vocal synthesizer software Vocaloid allowed them to develop their own musical voice on their own terms. The most famous Vocaloid artist, Hatsune Miku, also played Coachella this year as a video-projected anime avatar. There’s also remarkable freedom to play with genre in J-pop. Acts freely swap between sounds —from alternative rock to funky city pop, or R&B to electro-pop — in the span of a few songs. 

These factors have made Japan’s domestic pop market one of the most interesting to watch in the world. It’s gotten to the point where top English-language artists aren’t seeing the success they used to in the country, largely because the Japanese public has shifted its attention toward Korean and domestic artists. For Westerners, Japan can seem like another world, and this is especially true for its music scene. 

To bridge the gap, GRAMMY.com has created a primer to 10 of Japan’s most interesting new acts. Who knows, you might just see them stateside soon. 

Ado

Japan isn’t exactly a happy country. Social pressure is high, the economy has been stagnant for years even before its current monetary crisis and its brutal work culture is not exactly the envy of the world. Young people often feel as though they have nothing to look forward to but misery, so when someone comes along and says it’s okay to tell the adults in your life to f— off, it resonates.

This is essentially how 22-year-old singer Ado (born 2002) became the voice of Gen Z. Late in 2020 amid the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, she burst onto the J-pop scene with "Useewa," a rock-centric track composed by Vocaloid producer Syudou whose title translates, roughly, to "Shut the f— up." Detailing the angst of having to grin and bear the conformity of adulthood and the satisfaction of rejecting it, the song clearly struck a chord with young people in Japan. The song’s brash lyrics also sparked a moral panic from parents and the media over its anti-conformist message.

Ado’s charismatic, fiery vocal delivery, coupled with a nasty anime visual, really sells the whole package, making it a rage-filled counterpart to YOASOBI’s similarly disaffected "Yoru ni Kakeru." 

"Usseewa" topped the Billboard Japan Hot 100, the Oricon Digital Singles and Streaming charts, and the Spotify Viral 50 Japan. The video reached 100 million views on YouTube within 150 days of release. Ado has since earned more hits, furthering her wild persona with the even louder and wilder "Show." She also earned a starring role as a singer in One Piece Film: Red, the most recent theatrical installment of the biggest manga franchise in the world. 

Atarashii Gakko! 

There’s a saying in Japan about the risks of refusing to conform to society’s expectations: "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." When it comes to finding success on the international music market, however, the opposite seems to be true. The world loves Japan when it’s at its zaniest and most distinctive, and artists that lean into this are often able to build a following abroad.

Case in point: A rapping girl group wearing vintage-inspired sailor-suit school uniforms called Atarashii Gakko! (translation: New School). The group just played Coachella and, prior, performed on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." To be sure, a lot of the foursome’s appeal is in the visual department. The group’s wild, Beastie Boys-esque video for "Tokyo Calling" pairs their sukeban girl gang-style outfits with a plethora of retro visual references: kaiju films like Godzilla, Super Sentai, even Bollywood-style dance. Musically, they’re just as mixed up, having taken on ‘80s city pop in "Otonablue" as well as adding to Japan’s legacy of unique hip-hop on "NAI NAI NAI." 

The group’s ethos since forming in 2015 has been to shine a new path for Japan’s youth by embracing individuality and nonconformity, and it’s paid dividends so far. Their new album, AG! Calling, is set for release June 7.

Creepy Nuts

There’s a lot of bizarre, potentially conflicting elements in Creepy Nuts’ hit song "Bling-Bang-Bang-Born." There’s the sound-effect-bubble title, the anarchic rapping of vocalist R-Shitei, and producer DJ Matsunaga’s use of a Jersey Club beat (a trend with forward-thinking East Asian pop acts). There’s also the fact that it was composed for an anime about…wizards with muscles

In any case, the theme song for the TV anime "Mashle: Magic and Muscles" has pulled some chart magic of its own, topping the Billboard Japan Hot 100 for eight weeks straight earlier this year, largely thanks to the viral "BBBB dance" challenge. The duo have also taken the song worldwide, reaching No. 8 on Billboard U.S.’s Global 200 and performing the song on Global Spin. If you want to find the biggest J-Pop hit of this exact moment, look no further. 

Fujii Kaze

Raised in small-town Okayama prefecture in the western reaches of Japan, Fujii Kaze is being positioned as the next big artist to emerge from the country. He toured Asia in 2023 and will come to America this May; he also launched the Japanese version of Tiny Desk Concerts earlier this year. He’s also been working with international talent, such as Kendrick Lamar and 21 Savage producer DJ Dahi on the piano-driven hip-hop track "Workin’ Hard."

The video for "Matsuri," in which Fujii (the artist lists his surname first) traipses around a Japanese garden and parties with foreigners at a traditional mansion, feels almost like a tourist advertisement for the country, projecting an image of refined, effortless Japanese cool. Recent song "Hana," produced by Charli XCX and Utada Hikaru collaborator A. G. Cook, feels even more like a play for the international market with a ‘70s California soft rock backing track and a visual that puts Fujii on a journey through the desert.

Herein lies the secret to Fujii Kaze’s appeal: he’s hot and cool at the same time. His success is predicated not just on good looks and buttery croon, but on a smooth, easygoing persona that feels native and international at the same time. "Matsuri," with its chill yet glamorous R&B production and can’t-be-bothered lyrics ("there’s no reason to suffer / no need to be disappointed / I really couldn’t care less") exemplifies his laid-back mentality. He’s also, notably, shunned the anime market, preferring to put his songs in basketball promos and telecoms commercials – anime is cool enough for Megan Thee Stallion but not for Fujii, it seems. 

Hitsujibungaku

Just as grunge reignited America’s love of rock music in the ‘90s, Japan also embraced guitar-oriented, pop-rock in the same decade thanks to bands like B’z, Number Girl, Southern All-Stars, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, and Visual Kei groups like L’Arc-en-Ciel and X Japan. As the U.S. began to embrace hip-hop and dance-pop in the 2000s, rock and metal persisted in the Japanese mainstream. New bands continue to perform at "live house" venues in hip areas like Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood, while groups playing niche styles like math rock, shoegaze, and metalcore have found support. CHAI, tricot, Alexandros, Otoboke Beaver, and Official Hige Dandism are just a few bands that have emerged from this milieu in recent years to success at home and abroad.

Tokyo-based trio Hitsujibungaku offers a good starting point of where Japan’s rock scene is going. The majority-female group found success on the anime song circuit last year, delivering the end credits track for mega-popular TV anime "Jujutsu Kaisen." "More than words" which became the lead single for their recent album 12 hugs like butterflies, immediately stuck out for its shuffling, nostalgic melody, and evocative, fuzzy layering of guitar tone influenced by shoegaze. 

Kenshi Yonezu

More than most mega-successful J-pop artists, Kenshi Yonezu owes his success to the Vocaloid and internet music communities in which he forged his artistry. Raised in rural Tokushima, he began his career as a teenager in the late 2000s, uploading music to the video site Nico Nico Douga under the name Hachi, and soon found his most successful tracks were the ones that used Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku. Like many artists in the digital age, Yonezu’s early work was entirely DIY, as thanks to Vocaloid he was able to produce, write, and even design artwork for his music all on his own.

Eventually, Yonezu signed to a major label and began to split time between his Vocaloid tracks as Hachi and music made under his own name. His album Bootleg won Album Of THe Year at the Japan Record Awards in 2018, and he became known for tender, uptempo ballads like "Uchiage Hanabi" and "Lemon" (the latter of which still reigns as the most-viewed video by a Japanese musician on YouTube with over 800 million views). 

Two high profile anime commissions have driven Yonezu’s star beyond Japan. In 2022, he produced the opening theme for the highly-anticipated adaptation of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s acclaimed manga Chainsaw Man. "Kick Back" departed from Yonezu’s biggest hits by leaning into the show’s action premise with drum and bass beats and an aggressive guitar melody. Buoyed by the anime’s success, "Kick Back" topped the Oricon and Billboard Japan singles charts and even charted in the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., where it became the first Japanese-language song to be certified gold by the RIAA. 

Then in 2023, he produced and sang "Spinning Globe," the end credits theme for Hayao Miyazaki’s first film in a decade, The Boy and the Heron. It was the first time the anime auteur, who usually uses older pop music or score from usual composer Joe Hisaishi, had chosen a contemporary pop artist to write for him. 

King Gnu

King Gnu aren’t afraid to mix it up. They gained acclaim in Japan by pursuing a pop rock sound that’s one part city pop, one part hip-hop. Tracks like "Hakujutsu" and "Kasa" pair sick riffs and boogie basslines with turntable scratching and delicate, yet powerful vocals from Daiki Tsuneta and Satoru Iguchi.

Last year they scored a major hit with "Specialz," which was used as an opening theme for popular anime "Jujutsu Kaisen." Setting the mood for the show’s bleak second season with metallic techno drums and brawny guitar riffs, the menacing song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100 and currently has over 166 million Spotify streams. Tsuneta also leads the collective millennium parade, who lean toward electronic music and scored a hit with "U," from the Mamoru Hosoda musical anime BELLE

MAISONdes

Conceptual projects are much more common in the Japanese pop landscape than one might expect. Case in point: MAISONdes. While not a band or a collective, MAISONdes is an imaginary apartment building where lonely hearts find solace in song. The virtual building is accessible through a website, and each song produced for the project is assigned a room number and created by a randomly-paired team of producers and vocalists that changes with each track. Participants have included chart star Aimer and VTubers such as KAF and Hoshimachi Suisei. 

Too complicated? Too weird? At least the music is good, focused on high-energy electro pop reminiscent of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, idol pop, and the Vocaloid, anisong, and netlabel acts of recent decades. As such, the most high-profile MAISONdes tracks have been those produced for anime and promotional campaigns. They’ve done all the opening and ending themes for the recent TV anime reboot of classic comedy manga "Urusei Yatsura," and their most recent track, "Popcorn" was a collab with Sanrio celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hello Kitty, one of the original kawaii culture icons. The hyperactive song gained a million views on YouTube within three days of being posted. 

Vaundy

City pop — the ‘70s and ‘80s musical movement that blended American funk and AOR with disco and synthpop — looms large in the J-pop landscape. Although its revival has somewhat peaked following the pandemic, that hasn’t stopped guys like Vaundy from channeling the sound into their own music.

His breakout hit "Tokyo Flash" paired the grooves of the city pop era with a more down-to-earth arrangement with simpler production. Further attempts to modernize the sound have also found success: "Todome no Ichigeki," written for the popular anime "Spy x Family," featured a grand, orchestral instrumental and a guest verse from rapper Cory Wong. With romantic lyrics reminiscent of City Pop king Tatsuro Yamashita, it’s a true return to the retro style. 

Of course, like most J-pop musicians, Vaundy isn’t a stylistic purist. He’s also applied his confident vocal style to several brisk rock tracks, resulting in chart success. His heavy metal jam for the Chainsaw Man TV anime soundtrack, "CHAINSAW BLOOD," peaked at 13 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100, while the poppier "Kaijuu no Hana Uta" went to No. 2 after he performed the song on the "2022 Kohaku Uta Gassen" New Year’s Eve show. 

YOASOBI

Inarguably the focal point of contemporary J-pop, no other act has defined the current era in Japan more than YOASOBI. The duo of Ayase and Ikura burst onto the scene in 2019 with the song "Yoru ni Kakeru," based on a short story posted on the site Monogatary. Pairing an upbeat instrumental with bleak, literary lyrics about death and suicide, it’s the most unlikely of pop hits. Released in late 2019, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip Japan a few months before the rest of the world. "Yoru ni Kakeru" became a massive, award-winning smash. Billboard Japan named it the first song in its chart history to pass 1 billion streams, and Oricon named it the most-streamed song of the Reiwa era just last month. 

Read more: From Tokyo To Coachella: YOASOBI's Journey To Validate J-Pop And Vocaloid As Art Forms

Since then the band have become major hitmakers and fixtures of the anison production line, writing theme tracks for hit anime like "Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury" and "Frieren: Journey’s End." They scored another era-defining hit with "Idol," their opening song for the controversial 2023 showbiz satire "Oshi no Ko." Responding to the anime’s twisted tale of a mysterious J-pop idol with dark secrets, the duo paired a bombastic instrumental with lyrics that perfectly capture the cardinal rule of stardom: tell all and reveal nothing. 

The song became such a cultural phenomenon in Japan that YOASOBI performed it at last year’s "Kohaku Uta Gassen" New Year’s TV special flanked by dozens of J-Pop and K-Pop idols, including members of NewJeans, LE SSERAFIM, and Nogizaka46. 

A Guide To Cantopop: From Beyond And Sam Hui To Anita Mui

Michael Sticka, President/CEO of the GRAMMY Museum, Lauryn Hill, and Jimmy Jam
(L-R): Michael Sticka, President/CEO of the GRAMMY Museum, Lauryn Hill, and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Sarah Morris/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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6 Key Highlights From The Inaugural GRAMMY Hall of Fame Gala Honoring Lauryn Hill, Donna Summer, Atlantic Records & Many More

The Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum celebrated music's legacy with tributes to Charley Pride, Wanda Jackson, Buena Vista Social Club, and more, featuring performances by Andra Day, The War and Treaty, and other musical greats.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2024 - 12:34 am

Many years ago, veteran CBS journalist Anthony Mason lost his entire record collection when it disappeared in transit as he moved from one place to another. Mason was inconsolable, and you could still hear a tinge of sadness in his voice when he recounted this painful story at the inaugural GRAMMY Hall of Fame Gala, held on May 21 at the Novo Theater in Los Angeles. The evening’s eloquent and entertaining host, Mason was making a point with his personal anecdote of lost records: music is priceless, one of our most treasured possessions — both as individuals and as a community. Preserving its legacy is essential.

It’s been over 50 years since the GRAMMY Hall of Fame was established by the Recording Academy's National Trustees to honor records of deep historical significance that are at least 25 years old. This year, the Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Museum paid tribute to 10 newly inducted recordings (four albums and six singles) by artists including De La Soul, Lauryn Hill, Buena Vista Social Club, Donna Summer, Guns 'N Roses, Charley Pride, Kid Ory’s Creole Orchestra, the Doobie Brothers, William Bell, Wanda Jackson, and Atlantic Records, the annual Gala's inaugural label honoree. 

The first Hall of Fame Gala was a dazzling event presented by City National Bank, complete with guest speakers and performances by Andra Day, The War and Treaty, William Bell, Elle King, and HANSON covering some of the inducted works. The event underscored the sumptuous variety that continues to define popular music, spanning the sounds of hip-hop, rock, country, R&B, disco, and even the venerable Cuban dance music of decades past.

Here are six takeaway points from an evening marked by celebration and transcendent musical memories.

Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” Has Lost None Of Its Edge

Studious music fans are well aware that “I Feel Love” — written by Donna Summer with visionary Italian producer Giorgio Moroder and British songwriter Pete Bellotte — is a shimmering disco gem, a futuristic precursor to the entire EDM genre. What was stunning about the Gala performance of the track by singer and actress Andra Day is how edgy and fresh the 1977 track still sounds today. Day’s ethereal reading was appropriately hypnotic, with live drums, nebulous synth textures and glorious, three-part vocal harmonies.

The Future Of American Music Is In Good Hands With The War and Treaty

Formed by husband and wife Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter, The War and Treaty were rightfully nominated for Best New Artist at the 2024 GRAMMYs earlier this year. The duo’s electrifying combination of Americana, gospel, and rock is especially effective on a live stage, and the pair delivered a memorable rendition of Charley Pride's inducted Hall Of Fame country hit, “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’,” recorded in 1971. The War and Treaty also received a standing ovation later in the evening for their performance of Ray Charles' classic, "What'd I Say," released in 1959.

26 Years Later, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill Is Still Ahead Of Its Time

Released in August 1998, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone, and became the first hip-hop artist to win Album Of The Year at the 1999 GRAMMYs. At the Gala, Andra Day delighted the audience — including Lauryn Hill and her family — with a soulful version of hidden track “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” originally a Frankie Valli hit from 1967. Day's performance was marked by brassy accents and funky bass lines, creating an unapologetically lush rendition that mirrored the sonic richness of Hill's original take.

Read more: Revisiting 'The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill': Why The Multiple GRAMMY-Winning Record Is Still Everything 25 Years Later

Atlantic Records Transformed The Face Of Global Culture

Celebrating 75 years of inaugural label honoree Atlantic Records in the span of a few minutes loomed like an impossible task, but the Gala producers paid tribute to the legacy label well. Beginning with a short video, the event segment highlighted the miraculous roster assembled by Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson that included Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, ABBA, Phil Collins, and Bruno Mars — to name just a few. But it was the actual performances that highlighted the label’s hold on pop culture: Ravyn Lenae’s breathy take on Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” made a case for considering the 1973 hit as one of the most vulnerable recordings of all time. On the other side of the dynamic spectrum, the epic rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” by alt-rock quartet Shinedown was appropriately intense.

The Wondrous Legacy Of Stax Records Should Not Be Underestimated

The home of such legendary artists as Otis Redding, The Staple Singers and Carla Thomas, Memphis-based Stax Records developed a rich, ragged sound with gospel, blues, R&B and luminous pop as its foundational pillars. Currently the subject of an HBO documentary series, "Stax: Soulsville USA," the record label defined American music during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Memphis singer/songwriter William Bell was one of its most prolific artists, and he regaled guests with a performance of his Hall of Fame inducted debut 1961 single, “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” At 84 years of age — and the winner of a Best Americana Album at the 2017 GRAMMYs — Bell was in rare form, and the band backed him up seamlessly, reproducing the sinuous organ lines of the original.

Read more: 1968: A Year Of Change For The World, Memphis & Stax Records

Future Editions Of The Gala Will Continue To Surprise And Delight

The inaugural GRAMMY Hall of Fame Gala set a high standard for future celebrations of iconic recordings. The event proved to be fertile ground for the creation of indelible music moments, showcasing the beauty and authority of music across genres and generations. Other honored Hall of Fame inducted recordings including De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising, Guns’N’Roses Appetite For Destruction, the Buena Vista Social Club’s debut, Wanda Jackson’s “Let’s Have A Party,” Kid Ory’s Creole Orchestra’s “Ory’s Creole Trombone” and The Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes.”  

As we look ahead, the excitement for future Galas grows, with each event promising to honor more historic recordings, and uphold the tradition of celebrating excellence in music's rich legacy.

Explore The 2024 GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inducted Recordings: Lauryn Hill, Guns N' Roses, De La Soul, Donna Summer & Many More

Explore The 2024 GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inductees