Photo: Alysse Gafkjen
Big Questions And 'Little Oblivions': Julien Baker On How Her Latest Album Navigates Healing & Forgiveness
Tennesseean indie folk artist Julien Baker expands her palette for songs of introspection and recovery on 'Little Oblivions'
There’s a fluidity to the way Julien Baker hops between discussing the "hopeless zones" of life that influenced her new record and the joy she gets out of making dinner for her roommates. This rapid shifting between the ecstatic and the somber should be familiar to many of us. In a year with too many calamities and surrealities to detail, the experience of swiftly bouncing between cherishing small joys and dissecting previously unknown darkness has become commonplace.
On her latest album, Little Oblivions—due February 26th via Matador—Baker explores her list of pains, staring down her tornado of experiences with stunning, present clarity.
The 25-year-old Tennessean’s catalog packs an immense emotional weight, her lithe vocals and vivid songwriting ensuring the songs bore ever deeper into the listener’s heart. A voracious reader of theology, philosophy and sociology, Baker’s lyrics find acute precision even in the uncertain examination of existence’s biggest questions.
"Like so many people raised in the Western world, specifically evangelical Americans, I have such an issue with guilt and shame," she tells GRAMMY.com. "But you can't go back and excuse or undo the hurt that has happened."
Little Oblivions captures the potency and immediacy of Baker’s debut, Sprained Ankle, combined with the widened scope of Boygenius, her collaborative project with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. It’s telling, too, that the record is inspired more by gray areas than revelations—including her ongoing journey with sobriety and addiction, dealing with her religious upbringing and current spiritual questing, and developing a relationship with the concepts of forgiveness and healing.
Little Oblivions doesn’t offer grand answers yet retains a certain strength of statement, both in Baker’s poetics and the increasingly welcoming structures. As evidenced by the steamy "Heatwave," she weaves a striking and painful image of Orion’s Belt as a noose. On "Bloodshot," her lyrics dig deeper into the vein than ever before: "Oh, there is no glory in love/ Only the gore of our hearts/ Oh, let it come for my throat/ Take me and tear me apart."
Baker spoke with GRAMMY.com about taking time away from music to go back to college, the value of setting boundaries, the danger of conflating identity and career, and how Little Oblivions grows from its predecessor, Turn Out the Lights.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Having a new album and not being able to tour must be so unbelievably strange. Have you been able to use this time to rest a little? How do you navigate your free time?
I haven’t thought of that before. I took some time off in 2019 because I had just been touring since 2015. I went back to school, and then I got the band back together to rehearse. We were all stoked for this summer tour we were going to do, and then an even longer hold was placed on my life.
At first, it was kind of maddening. It's always different when you make the decision, but it’s very different when your ability to work is no longer possible. My micro life has been pretty stable. I just got done working on a score. I work from home. I have a little studio up in the attic.
But as a function of everything that happened this year, I’ve learned how to better articulate and respect boundaries.
That’s been a difficult lesson for so many of us. How does that lesson function alongside looking toward the future?
Before I went back to school, I was originally supposed to go to South America to tour and make a record in London and then go to Australia. I was saying yes to all these things because the last time I took a significant amount of time off, I didn't know what to do with it! When you take a person who is used to being stable at a certain momentum and then slow them down, everything gets off balance.
But in conversations with my friends and people that I tour with, it was clear it wasn’t going to work out anymore. I was super burnt out and not being healthy. So I took some time off and went back to school. At that time, I realized that I have a deep love for the artistic ideal of music, but if music isn't the thing that I do to make money, it's going to be fine, and it's not going to mean that my life is less important or less fulfilling. I just dialed back the arbitrary anxieties that I had constructed and put on myself, like who I needed to be and what service I needed to provide in my job.
It's been freeing. It's been challenging but ultimately super healthy for me—which is a privileged thing to say because it's been an economic disaster for some people. It's been fatal for people.
But it's good to acknowledge the little things that you've overcome as well. There's a sense of chaos when you're constantly moving around. You don't have time for the little moments, like waiting for a kettle to boil and seeing some crumbs on your counter. When you stop moving suddenly, you're like, "Okay, I notice this, but then what am I without it?"
Yes! One thing that I've talked to with a couple of my friends is how our relationship to constant productivity has been reexamined. For a while, it had swung the opposite way for me where I kept thinking, "I have no excuse not to be doing something productive all the time because I work from home now." But people remembered that we still have an emotional bandwidth of how much we can engage with.
All the information that we can absorb in one day is overwhelming, and it comes at us from 500 channels. My expectation for myself, the negative self-talk that I would have about not being productive, has helped me set more realistic expectations for everyone else and to realize the anxiety that I take out on others.
There is a lot of joy in figuring those things out and knowing that tomorrow it can be completely different. It isn't about lessening expectations for oneself. It's about shifting your goalposts, knowing that you will achieve something at some point if you put your mind to it and not putting that pressure on yourself.
Oh gosh, exactly. Not even expectations, but... Okay, yeah, I'm going to talk about it. I was just thinking, "Do I talk about capitalism?" It's only been like 10 minutes!
How can we not?
How can we not? We live in this consumer-product relationship-based society, and even though I know this is BS, it's hard enough for me to feel like this is my job because there are people digging ditches.
But it has also shifted how I quantify what my job and my life are worth. As you said, it's shifting goalposts. What metrics do I want to use on whether I'm doing the right thing? It's incredibly meaningful for me to be able to be like, "You know what? I'm so tired of looking at these emails about magazine articles and stuff that may or may not happen.
They're a mechanism of me being in the consumerist music industry," and just shut my laptop and go make my roommates a big yummy dinner. I've been cooking so much in quarantine. The other day I made curry from leaves. My ass was up there at the international market, like, "Let's see how this goes. I'm going to try."
You're giving yourself time to enjoy those things. And it's very problematic when those things don't bleed into the things you do for a living. When you get caught up in this concept of, "I play this music with this guitar, this is me," all the other things don't matter.
I fixated so much on my identity. I tried to make my identity and my career the same. Sometimes, taking every opportunity comes at the cost of not understanding when things are special or doing things performatively.
And it was all predicated in the back of my mind on this weird looming feeling, like, "Or what? If you don't play the show, then people aren't going to care about your music. If you don't do this, then you're not going to make money." And then still it comes back around to this weird thing where I'm fixated on my career security, when I should know better than anyone how imaginary career security is.
It's been a trip, but there can be time just to sit and look at your dog and be like, "You're a doofus. You're not worried."
There's that duality between concern and freedom on songs like "Hardline," this thin line between poison and medicine where the same thing can be redemptive and also destroy you. That concept seems to be so important to this moment in time.
For all of my understanding of the need for balance, it's something that you can regurgitate as a theory but not understand for so long. I could be like, "Sexuality is on a spectrum, everything's on a spectrum, but the thing that isn't on a spectrum is good and bad or right and wrong."
I'm not saying, "Do whatever! There's no right and wrong," but it ends up that when you reevaluate the things that you felt so strongly about, and they end up not being the most important thing, it's this wild loss. It's a very heavy loss to think, "Oh, the parameters that governed my life before are gone, and I don't know what to do without them. I don't even know if I was happy or if I was just doing what I was doing."
For that reason, the idea of hope and redemption amid darkness is complex on the album. How do you feel sharing that honest yet complicated relationship to hope?
Yeah, which is wild since the events on the record take place in some pretty hopeless zones of my life. On Turn Out the Lights, I was looking back on tragic or traumatic events but that were four and five years away from me, where I had distance and had processed.
I had this binary attitude about that bad person I was versus the better me I've become. And when I circled back around to see that I still had unhealthy coping mechanisms and they were just manifesting in new ways that were equally as bad, it shocked me. I had no idea what forgiveness or healing was about because receiving forgiveness involves a lot of pain.
It's a very humbling experience that gave me a very different idea about what love entails and what healing feels like. It's not always the alleviation of negative feelings. Sometimes there's a whole bunch of appropriate guilt. It's a new mental territory for me to be in that is better, hopefully.
I expected my first record, Sprained Ankle, to flop. In the deal that we signed with the smaller label that put it out before Matador, I was like, "I'm not gonna sign this deal unless my band is also signed," because I thought it would be seen as a solo album from the girl that was in this band. But it did well, and I wasn't prepared for it. And then I had this crisis four years ago when Trump got elected, and I was supposed to be taking time off to write a record.
I had this call with my manager and my booking agent, like, "I gotta be out on the road interacting with people. I've got to do something about this with the power of my art!" [Laughs] I wanted to craft this record where I was feeling a whole bunch of super dark things but had begun to feel like healing is possible, and I could get to a better place.
I felt this need to represent and reiterate that to listeners. But at the same time, it does feel good sometimes not to have to put a happy or hopeful caveat on the end of a song.
From a writing perspective, that must be freeing—which is itself a sense of forgiveness.
Yeah, exactly. I'm an anxious person. I've always struggled with anxiety. I have so many thoughts all day long where I'm like, "Did that person take this this way?" It got to the point where I was like, "I can't think about this this much anymore because it's a problem, and it's giving me a week-long panic attack." So I just do a mental exercise where I follow whatever new thing I'm catastrophizing in my head out to its most logical end. Like, "Do I think they're going to hate me forever, or do I think they're going to think something was a little rude."
Before, I just couldn't handle other people's emotions. But, weirdly, that's not giving them space to feel angry or annoyed or stressed. And so accepting how another person is feeling and then being like, "Can I live with this? Can I make a mental note not to do this again? Or can I make a mental note to do something more considerate and learn from this? Because obsessing over it right now is only going to lead me to panic and over-apologize and infuriate the person even more."
I want to preface this by saying that I'm not necessarily asking about specific experiences of addiction and sobriety but rather about the process of sharing. I've been sober for eight years, and discussing my experience has become second nature to the point that doing so almost steps me out of it. It almost takes on its own life and then depends on the listener to respond to it. How does that relate to how you share this experience via songwriting?
When I was writing Turn Out the Lights, it was having been multiple years sober and not having recent experience with those things. And it's super humbling to return to a place… it almost feels like some of this record is made up of songs that were cringing not out of spite towards who's listening to them or who they're about, but more just at myself. Like, "Can I get down to the ugliest thing that I can admit about myself? And then can I have that be the starting place?"
It's this weird masochistic thing. I want to be a good person really bad, but I've got so much anxiety about if I'm doing it right. And then I was like, "Well, what if I just admit that I'm not doing it right?" And it's just the adrenaline rush of when you cancel plans. Like, "I've just confirmed to my friends yet again that I'm a flake. I can have them not expect anything from me."
That’s what happened here. I was like, "Well, what if I'm still struggling with substance abuse? Or what if I radically change what I believe about God?" I thought I was doing so much to sculpt my personality and my identity. When I was the worst me possible, it was super freeing because all of my friends were still there being annoyed.
But the reason they were friends with me in the first place was never the things I cultivated about myself or that I tried to live up to crazy expectations. That made me feel like I could trust my friends to be my friends. I can trust people not to hold my mistakes over my head. I had had very specific and stringent ideals about politics, and about being straight-edge, and about how I would let my faith out in the world and what that meant.
And really, what I needed was problem-solving skills, patience and communication. It wasn't like, "I need just to read all of these anarchist zines, and then I'll know the right ideology to have." I just need to be a kinder, more stable person instead of fixating on some random thing.
Graphic Courtesy of the Recording Academy
SZA's Massive Year Continues, 'Barbie' Dominates & Big Firsts From The 2024 GRAMMYs Nominations
Who is the most nominated artist at the 66th GRAMMY Awards? Who could potentially make history? Take a look at five takeaways from the nominations for the 2024 GRAMMYs.
One of the biggest days in music has arrived: the nominations for the 2024 GRAMMYs.
With the excitement of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations — which were announced on Nov. 10 — comes many big milestones. Whether it's first-time feats by this year's most nominated artist, SZA, or record-tying nominations by Taylor Swift, there's several intriguing takeaways from the 94 categories.
Below, check out five major outcomes of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations.
SZA's Big Year Is Rewarded
There's no denying that SZA has been one of the year's most in-demand artists, and her GRAMMY nominations reflect that. With nine nominations, SZA is the most-nominated artist at the 2024 GRAMMYs — and she has a lot of new milestones to celebrate.
With 15 nominations and one win going into the 2024 GRAMMYs, SZA had already received nods in several major categories. But her most recent noms are particularly special because they're all for her own work.
SZA's ambitious second album, SOS, is the singer's first LP to receive an Album Of The Year nomination, while lead single "Kill Bill" is her first solo song to be nominated in the Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year categories. (She was previously nominated for AOTY as a featured artist on Doja Cat's Planet Her (Deluxe) in 2022, and for ROTY and SOTY with Kendrick Lamar for "All The Stars" in 2019 and with Doja Cat for "Kiss Me More" in 2022.)
Plus, the R&B star expands her nominations within her own genre: she's nominated in the Best Progressive R&B Album (SOS) and Best Traditional R&B Performance ("Love Language") categories for the first time.
Women Lead The Pack
Who run the 2024 GRAMMYs? Girls.
SZA is far from the only female artist with several GRAMMY nominations this year. Of the nine most-nominated artists, eight are women: SZA (9), Phoebe Bridgers (7), boygenius (6), Brandy Clark (6), Miley Cyrus (6), Olivia Rodrigo (6), Taylor Swift (6), and Victoria Monét (6). As Cyrus noted in a social media post celebrating her nominations, "Watching women win & rule the music industry makes me proud."
In fact, a majority of this year's leading nominees are women artists or groups. The Record Of The Year and Album Of The Year categories, as well as the Best Pop Solo Performance category, are all dominated by women.
'Barbie' Dominates Once Again
Another woman who took over the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations was Barbie — well, sort of.
The Barbie soundtrack and some of its hit songs received 11 nominations, four of which dominate the Best Song Written For Visual Media category: Nicki Minaj's and Ice Spice's "Barbie World," Dua Lipa's "Dance The Night," Ryan Gosling's "I'm Just Ken," and Billie Eilish's "What Was I Made For?" (They'll be competing against Rihanna's highly anticipated return to music, "Lift Me Up" from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.)
"Dance the Night" also earned a coveted Song Of The Year nomination, while "What Was I Made For?" scored nods in both Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year, as well as Best Pop Solo Performance. Additionally, "Barbie World" received a nomination for Best Rap Song.
Naturally, Barbie The Album is nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media nomination. Mark Ronson's genius was further rewarded with a nom for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media, which he earned alongside his co-composer, Andrew Wyatt.
Artists Add Big Firsts
Like the 2023 GRAMMYs nominations, the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations resulted in many exciting firsts. While several artists are receiving their first GRAMMY nods — some of which will be highlighted in GRAMMY.com's Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee series in January — there are also several GRAMMY veterans with firsts to celebrate
Taylor Swift, for example, became the first songwriter to receive seven nominations in the Song Of The Year category. Along with her current nomination for "Anti-Hero," she was previously nominated for "All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (The Short Film)," "cardigan," "Lover," "Blank Space," "Shake It Off," and "You Belong With Me." And she could be making even more history at the 2024 GRAMMYs — but more on that later.
Miley Cyrus also achieved new GRAMMY feats, as her acclaimed eighth album, Endless Summer Vacation, is the pop star's first project to receive an Album Of The Year nomination. (She received an AOTY nod in 2022 as a featured artist on Lil Nas X's MONTERO.) The LP's smash lead single, "Flowers," helped Cyrus earn her first nominations in the Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance categories as well, and her collab with Brandi Carlile, "Thousand Miles," earned her first nod for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
R&B singer Victoria Monét isn't celebrating her first GRAMMY nominations this year, but she is celebrating her first as an artist. Monét had previously received three nominations: two in 2020 for her work as a songwriter/producer on Ariana Grande's "7 rings" (Record Of The Year) and thank u, next (Album Of The Year), and one in 2021 for Chloe x Halle's "Do It" (Best R&B Song). All six of her 2024 GRAMMY nominations recognize her work as an artist herself, including the esteemed honor of Best New Artist. Her other nods are for her debut album, JAGUAR II: Record Of The Year ("On My Mama"), Best R&B Performance ("How Does It Make You Feel"), Best Traditional R&B Performance ("Hollywood"), Best R&B Song ("On My Mama"), and Best R&B Album.
This also isn't the first time Phoebe Bridgers has received GRAMMY nominations — but it is for her supergroup boygenius, as well as for her bandmates Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker. With their six nods (including Album Of The Year for the record and Record Of The Year for "Not Strong Enough"), they became the first group to receive six or more GRAMMY nominations in a single year since 2012, when fun. and Mumford & Sons received six nominations each at the 2013 GRAMMYs.
A handful of other previously GRAMMY-nominated artists received their first nominations in new categories this year. 2022's Best New Artist, Olivia Rodrigo, earned her first in a Rock category for "ballad of a homeschooled girl" (Best Rock Song); 2022's Album Of The Year winner, Jon Batiste, has his first in the Song Of The Year ("Butterfly") and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance ("Candy Necklace" with Lana Del Rey) categories; Brandy Clark collected her first in the Best Americana Performance ("Dear Insecurity" with Brandi Carlile), Best American Roots Song ("Dear Insecurity") and Best Americana Album (Brandy Clark) categories, as well as her first in the Best Musical Theater Album category for "Shucked."
It's actually the first time a few artists are nominated for contributions to film and theater: Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are all first-time Best Song Written For Visual Media nominees, and Josh Groban earned his first nod in the Best Musical Theater Album category, for his role as principal vocalist in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street."
Last but certainly not least, in the Best African Music Performance category — one of three new categories for the 2024 GRAMMYs — four of the five artists or groups are first-time GRAMMY nominees: ASAKE & Olamide ("Amapiano"), Davido Featuring Musa Keys ("UNAVAILABLE"), Ayra Starr ("Rush"), and Tyla ("Water").
Taylor Swift Aims For More GRAMMY History
As Swifties know, Taylor Swift is no stranger to making GRAMMY history. In 2021, she made history as the first female artist to win Album Of The Year three times — but in 2024, she could become the artist with the most wins in the category ever.
That's right: If Swift's Midnights takes home the golden gramophone for Album Of The Year, she'll have a record-breaking four wins in the category, passing Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.
Even if she doesn't win, Swift has already tied a GRAMMY record. With her nomination for Midnights, Swift now ties Barbra Streisand for most nominations by a female artist for Album Of The Year, with six nominations in the category each.
Will Taylor Swift make more GRAMMY history? Will SZA cap off her unstoppable year with a GRAMMY win? Will Miley Cyrus get her "Flowers"? Tune into CBS on Feb. 4, 2024 to find out!
Photos: Dave Benett/Getty Images for Alexander McQueen; Image from TiVO;Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images; Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET;Arturo Holmes/Getty Images; Image from TiVO;Prince Williams/WireImage; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
Here Are The Record Of The Year Nominees At The 2024 GRAMMYs
The 2024 Record Of The Year nominees at the 2024 GRAMMYs are hits from some of music’s biggest names Jon Batiste, boygenius, Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish & FINNEAS, Victoria Monét, Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift and SZA.
Throughout the past year, Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift delivered inescapable pop anthems, while Victoria Monét and SZA proved that R&B deserves a place in the spotlight. Jon Batiste continued to evolve his artistry, while indie supergroup boygenius made an anticipated comeback.
With so many standout moments, the golden gramophone Record Of The Year — which is awarded to the artist and the producer(s), recording engineer(s) and/or mixer(s) and mastering engineer(s) — is shaping up to be a thrilling contest at the 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards.
Before tuning into the 2024 GRAMMYs on Feb. 4, 2024, learn more about this year's Record Of The Year nominees below.
Jon Batiste - "Worship"
Album highlight "Worship" encapsulates the LP’s message of unification and community by fusing various global sounds. The song is quite the joyride, beginning with bellowing organs before a choir joins with a glorious harmony and finally explodes with a Latin samba party. "We are born the same / Return to that place" Batiste repeats throughout the song, driving home his inclusive mission.
"Worship" is a joyous anthem and, following his Album Of The Year win at the 2023 GRAMMYs for We Are, it’s clear the five-time GRAMMY winner is keeping the celebration going.
boygenius -"Not Strong Enough"
The LP beautifully captured just how well the women rockers work together, and their chemistry is best seen in "Not Strong Enough." The single’s lush harmonies and feather-light guitars are a contrast to the candid lyricism, which attempts to juggle insecurities and having a God complex.
"The two wolves inside us can be self-hatred and self-aggrandizing," Bridgers explained to Rolling Stone. "Being like, ‘I’m not strong enough to show up for you. I can’t be the partner that you want me to be.’ But also being like, ‘I’m too f—ed up. I’m unknowable in some deep way!’"
"Not Strong Enough" marks a career milestone for boygenius, as it's the group’s first nomination for Record Of The Year.
Miley Cyrus - "Flowers"
A truly great pop star knows how to make a break-up anthem for the ages. Miley Cyrus already had a few under her belt, but she kicked off the year with her strongest offering to date.
"Flowers" was suggested to be inspired by Cyrus’ divorce from Liam Hemsworth, but the song’s messaging goes well beyond the singer’s personal life. Many can relate to having to pick up the pieces of a broken heart, but Cyrus’ confident vocals paired with the soaring disco-inspired melody reassure that self-love is the ultimate healer.
"The chorus was originally: ‘I can buy myself flowers, write my name in the sand, but I can’t love me better than you can,’" the singer told British Vogue of the song’s original lyrics. "It used to be more, like, 1950s. The saddest song. Like: ‘Sure, I can be my own lover, but you’re so much better.’"
The subtle decision to flip the "can’t" into a "can" showcases the brilliance of Cyrus’ songwriting, which ultimately makes the meaning of "Flowers" that much more empowering.
Billie Eilish & FINNEAS - "What Was I Made For?"
The Barbie movie was arguably this year’s biggest pop culture phenomenon, so of course the soundtrack had equally big names. But among the midst of fast-paced and glittery pop songs, Billie Eilish’s contribution tugged at heartstrings. The seven-time GRAMMY winner teamed with her brother and go-to collaborator FINNEAS for "What Was I Made For?"
It’s a tender, melancholic ballad that ties in the movie’s themes of autonomy and balancing feminism in a patriarchal world, with Eilish still holding on to hope: "I don’t know how to feel / But someday I might." The song reflects a universal experience for many women, including Eilish herself — although she didn’t realize it at first.
"I was purely inspired by this movie and this character and the way I thought she would feel and wrote about that," Eilish told Zane Lowe for Apple Music 1. "Over the next couple days, I was listening and [realized] I was writing for myself and I don’t even know it." That relatability is one of the beauties of music, for listeners and artists alike.
Victoria Monét - "On My Mama"
Victoria Monét has a long songwriting history, penning hits for the likes of Brandy, BLACKPINK, Chloe x Halle and longtime friend Ariana Grande. And while she’s released solo music in the past, her debut album Jaguar II cements her place within R&B’s new crop of stars. Third single "On My Mama" took the scene by storm, bringing together millennials and Gen Z’s shared love of ‘00s nostalgia.
Sampling Chalie Boy’s 2009 song "I Look Good" and lined with Monét’s signature horns, the song is a celebration of Black southern culture. As Monét described it on "The Ebro Show" on Apple Music 1, "It’s an anthem for affirmations, positive self-talk, manifestations, living in abundance, [and] speaking things into existence."
Olivia Rodrigo - "Vampire"
What makes Olivia Rodrigo a captivating artist is her honesty. Her ability to capture her generation’s emotional nature is why 2021’s debut album Sour took pop music by storm (and also made her a three-time GRAMMY winner). And she’s continued the movement with "Vampire", the lead single from her sophomore album, Guts.
The song is a red herring of sorts, beginning with melancholic piano keys that often kickstart the singer’s tunes. But rather than shed tears, she unleashes the fury of a woman scorned, dishing out insults to a manipulative ex-lover that ripped her heart out. "Bloodsucker, famef—er / Bleedin' me dry, like a goddamn vampire" she seethes on the chorus. The best revenge is always served cold.
Taylor Swift - "Anti-Hero"
Taylor Swift has grown to be even more self-aware as her status ascends. She knows being a pop superstar comes with its challenges, and “Anti-Hero” reveals the woman behind the glitzy veil. Inspired by her nightmares, the chart-topping smash from tTaylor Swift has become even more self aware as her status ascends. She knows being a pop superstar comes with its challenges, and "Anti-Hero" reveals the woman behind the glitzy veil.
Inspired by her nightmares, the chart-topping smash from the 12-time GRAMMY winner’s tenth album Midnights is a personal journal into feelings of self-doubt and anxiety. But in natural Swift fashion, the dark lyricism is anchored by hopeful pop synths courtesy of longtime collaborator and co-producer Jack Antonoff. The video heightens the song’s themes, as Swift confronts various versions of her former selves.
"We all hate things about ourselves, and it's all of those aspects of the things we dislike and like about ourselves that we have to come to terms with if we're going to be this person," Swift shared with fans on Instagram. That refreshing honesty is what makes "Anti-Hero" one of the singer’s most successful songs to date.
SZA - "Kill Bill"
Leave it to SZA to make murder sound so sweet. On SOS standout single "Kill Bill," the singer takes a page from director Quentin Tarantino by nodding to his 2003 film, as she lives out her vengeful fantasies.
The GRAMMY winner’s raging jealousy landed "Kill Bill" atop the Billboard Hot 100, making it her first-ever solo No.1 hit. SZA brought the fatal single to life with a cinematic music video, which pays homage to Kill Bill with fierce action scenes and an appearance from Vivica A. Fox, who starred as a Deadly Viper and Thurman's enemy Vernita Green in the film.
"I've never raged the way that I should have. This is my villain era, and I'm very comfortable with that," the singer shared with Glamour about her album’s themes. "It is in the way I say no. It's in the f–ked up things that I don't apologize for." And with lyrics like "I did all of this sober" on "Kill Bill," you have no choice but to believe her.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images
The Sound Of Collision: Boygenius Discuss Creating 'The Rest,' Their Deepening Friendship & Identities
Boygenius have experienced a year of exponential growth, culminating with a new EP. In a candid and wide-ranging interview, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus discuss five years of music-making and 'the rest,' which drops Oct.13.
Quite a lot has changed for boygenius in the months following the release of their debut album, the record, in March.
The indie supergroup of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus initially joined forces in 2018, offering a self-titled EP and North American tour. Despite positive reception for both, the trio were largely quiet for several years and shifted to their solo projects.
So when their reunion and debut full-length was confirmed in January 2023, much attention was given to boygenius' trajectory. Once the record was released, the group seemingly went skyward.
Fast forward to the present and the band is on the third leg of their tour in support of the record, recently performing for 25,000 people at Gunnersbury Park in London and selling out Madison Square Garden. Continuing their exponential growth, boygenius recently announced the rest, a four-track EP set for release Oct.13.
Sonically, the rest is a revisitation. "We veered away from our folkier roots on the record in a way that was fun to come back to for the EP," says Bridgers sitting alongside Baker and Dacus on a Zoom call from the Westville Music Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut.
Even deeper rooted than their love of folk music, and what has remained consistent throughout the five years after their initial connection, is the trio's shared dynamic.
"We were never not a band," says Bridgers. Yet, "it doesn’t just mean that we’re all great musicians and therefore our talent gets exponentially multiplied," Baker says of their "supergroup" designation. "It’s the dedication to how we mediate music between the three of us as a conduit. That’s the important part."
Their impact and connection extends beyond music as well. The trio has moved into other forms of media, producing a music film directed by Academy Award nominee Kristen Stewart, and have become icons for the queer community after performing in drag in Nashville to protest the city’s anti-drag legislation (among other pro-queer activities).
Ahead of their new EP, boygenius candidly dive into their songwriting process, relationships with queerness, and using music as a conduit of their connection.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
When you think back on who you were professionally and personally when you wrote the first EP, what is it like to bring those songs into the present on much bigger stages?
Phoebe Bridgers: I think about it more from a fan perspective now. I’m like The kids are singing it to me. They get excited when we play older songs 'cause they feel a part of it.
Julien Baker: It's sweet imagining them having anticipated it. Having been at that [older] show or missed that show. We’ve aged with them and they can trace our parallel aging.
Bridgers: When we play "Me & My Dog," I was singing about myself and from my perspective. Now I’m so far away from it that it’s like the fans are singing it. I feel that way about "Souvenir." This is one for the fans to sing to us.
How did you view yourselves at the start of the group in 2018, and how does that compare to you are today?
Lucy Dacus: I’m a bigger fan of who I am now than who I was, but you gotta root for yourself, so I’m retroactively rooting for who I was.
Baker: I have more grace for my past self. I don’t know if I would have the wisdom to admire current me… think overall I’d be stoked. Some of the stuff [I've done] would surprise me.
Bridgers: We talk sometimes about how there’s a certain hometown mentality that can be poisonous. Like your friend whose band never took off says, “You guys f—ing sold out,” and we’re like “Well you didn’t get a chance to my friend. 'Sold out' means people buy the album.”
Baker: In 2018 when I met you guys I was straight edge and vegan and now it’s nice to have a lobster roll when you’re in New England. I’m a lot more lax but more mature and I don’t know if I would have had the foresight as such a young kid. I was so neurotic then and really principled in a misguided way, but I think I have to have retroactive grace for that person more than I need to admire.
You’ve mentioned that much of the writing for boygenius takes place separately, but the songs are finished together. How did writing the record compare to the first EP?
Bridgers: The main way is that we talk about each other now. We were just writing, trying to help each other with songs that already existed or little ideas that already existed. Now we have so much context for each other that the record starts eating its own tail and becomes about making the record, which is cool.
Baker: There’s an ease of communication that maybe wasn’t quite available when we were first working together, where each of us brought a verse that then got gently edited.
A lot of the record is an exquisite corpse of working out line by line with each other. Then there are huge swaths that are just s— [Phoebe] wrote or just s— that Lucy wrote, but it’s nice to feel an entitlement to something that’s being created corporately instead of pieced [together].
Dacus: It’s never been difficult [communicating], so it’s not like it even had the chance to get easier. We do a lot of work to avoid difficulty. We do group therapy together and try to foresee what our pitfalls could be and avoid them.
Not like it’s all easy. We’ll encounter really difficult math problems — [that’s] what it feels like in the studio where none of us will get it and we’ll be frustrated but it’s not at each other.
The final lines of "Powers" are "The force of our impact, the fission/The hum of our contact/The sound of our collision." From my perspective, the sound of your collision as human beings includes the music you’ve made together, but also the way you’ve presented yourselves to the public, for example, in standing up for causes you believe in, and then there is the sound no one else hears within your dynamic as a band. With all this mind, how would you describe "the sound of your collision?"
Baker: Those are both semi-stolen lyrics. I read this book Cruising Utopia by José Esteban Muñoz and he talks about the idea of the lived experience being its own work of art, and then that art needing a witness to be savored and appreciated.
He talks about the hum of our contact. It’s evocative of all the things that aren’t explicitly stated that take place. All the communication that’s extra-lingual. That is witnessed only in time and action and accrued over years and years. It’s so incremental that you can barely observe it as it's happening. Then you look back and realize that you’ve spent your life with people that have become like your family and they’ve been the driving force in what motivates you. It’s small and daily and powerful.
So the album and all the other things you guys have done together are all the particles accruing?
Dacus: It’s just a gradual deepening all the time. I think that the closeness has been a pleasant surprise for all of us. Now that we’ve discovered it, we want to interact with it and protect it however we can. Originally it was just a fun lightweight idea. Now it’s my whole life.
Baker: There’s the real face-to-face friendship that we have, but we’ve always been making music together. It feels very much like music is the water that you’re swimming in. Music is the language that you’re speaking.
The album artwork on the rest is in many ways the counterpart to the record, which feels very hopeful with the three of you looking towards the horizon like a team of superheroes. Whereas on the EP cover, the surroundings are dark, your faces are darkened, and you’re huddled together for support. Through that lens, how would you compare the two releases?
Dacus: That photo was taken during the same shoot for the original album art. We always liked the image, but when we chose these four songs to put out together, they all have this spacey, eerie quality about them. I think the wind being in our hair, the natural elements messing us up, it’s a little more unsettling and I feel like these songs — I don’t think they lack optimism, but they’re a little more focused on fear and unsteadiness.
Bridgers: We had wanted it to be a different time of day in the photo. The back of the EP is dusk at the beach. Not a very hidden meaning in that.
You three have been celebrated very much of late for standing up for the queer community, trans community, and other marginalized communities, but you’ve also stated that doing so doesn’t necessarily make you “role models.” How has the time you’ve spent together as a band affected your relationship with your own queerness?
Dacus: I’m definitely gayer because of these guys. [All laugh.]
Baker: That’s true! And I’m straighter somehow.
Bridgers: I was thinking that it makes me feel straighter to be around a bunch of gay people all the time. Like when I’m with only straight people.
Baker: You’re the gayest one.
Bridgers: I’m so gay and when I’m around gay people I’m like, damn. But that doesn’t hold true all the time.
Dacus: A serious answer would be that my favorite thing about queerness is how undefined it actually is. Having less allegiance to who I was, being willing to betray my idea of myself in service of what actually feels best and is most honest to the moment at hand — that’s a skill that I think I’ve been getting better at through my life. Not in small part to the people who love me and will accept me at any point of understanding myself, and these guys are included in that.
Baker: It’s like finding a new vernacular around queerness. It’s how you carry out the outfit, or it's how you carry out dancing, or it’s how you carry out some sort of body language that determines whether it’s queer. Not what the action is. It’s how you employ, and I think being around people who see the core static parts of myself …makes me feel more secure to play with the mutable parts of my identity.
Referring to what Julien said earlier about the lived experience being a work of art that needs a witness, how have you served as witnesses for each other? How has your lived experience with queerness influenced your art?
Baker: Queerness is inherently creative. Queerness exists in opposition to a standard. Not to replace it with a superior thing, but to dismantle a dominant prevailing view of how things should be just because that’s how they’re traditionally understood.
Queerness involves creating a different future for yourself. Imagining yourself towards a different embodiment of you. An embodiment of you that isn’t naturally going to be fomented any other place than by these guys or by your community or by the community you construct.
Dacus: Julien has a banjo that she drew on and has “queer joy” on it, and I think that queerness and joy are inextricable themes. Why be queer if you aren’t trying your very best to access more joy in your life or more authenticity?
So it’s actually amazing to realize I’m living in it so thoroughly now that I don’t actively think about it as much because it’s a part of everything that I do to the point where I don’t even see it sometimes, which is such a privilege.
In listening to “Without you, without them” I get the impression you guys are telling each other to share everything, so I ask a version of the question that’s posed in the final line of the song: after years of growing together, who would you guys be without each other?
Dacus: Impossible to know.
Dacus: The idea of it from here feels really lonely. But it’s also weird to think [about] who would I have cared deeply about or who haven’t I met yet that [would be] as important as these people. Life is so various, and no matter how much you prepare for it it always will catch you off guard in sometimes the best ways.
Bridgers: I think if we had individually gotten more famous and then made friends even with each other from this point of view, it would be great, but I feel lucky that we met when we did. We were all on the same plain with a dream of selling out a 2000-capacity venue. Laying awake at night thinking about it as the end goal.
So it's weird that I met two people with as close to the same life experience as possible and then it changed into another version of as close as possible. We all come from an indie space. We all are queer. It would be s—y to have nobody that was in my shoes around me.
Baker: Y’all have been additional rudders in my trajectory since we met, and I have no way of knowing — nor do I care to know — how my character would differ if I didn’t have y’all as a whetstone of sharpening my own wit and honesty and musical practice.