Photo Courtesy of PLEDIS Entertainment
K-Pop Group SEVENTEEN Talk New Album 'Your Choice,' Love And Growing Together
K-pop superstars SEVENTEEN open up about their evolution as a group and their artistry
Whether you look at SEVENTEEN through the polished edits of their music videos or the grainy lens of a laptop camera (thanks, COVID-19), the cohesiveness simmering beneath is palpable. The members have a language beyond mere words: every nod is acknowledged, every nudge met with a smile, every pointed look ends in a fit of giggles. Their lexicon is dynamic, often non-verbal and so uniquely theirs that one can’t help but feel like a voyeur, peeping into a personal equation.
On paper, SEVENTEEN sounds like a precarious act: 13 members, all divided into three neat units, each specializing in a different form of art: the Vocal Unit (Jeonghan, Woozi, Joshua, DK, Seungkwan), the Hip-hop unit (S.Coups, Vernon, Wonwoo, Mingyu) and the Performance Unit (THE8, Hoshi, Jun, Dino).
At first glance, it’s a bubbling broth with elements that might constantly be at war with each other. Look closer and you’ll find that the generous amount of trust SEVENTEEN have poured into each other becomes a binding magical element, translating into fluid compositions, vibrant concepts, pointed choreography, and a diverse discography worthy of an act such as them.
Their unshakable faith in each other is the other side of the coin of their reputation in k-pop as a "self-produced" group. Since their inception, the members have been involved in nearly every aspect of their albums.
Woozi is one of the main composers for the group (along with longtime collaborator Bumzu); the members regularly work together to pen their songs and the performance unit turns the tracks into visual treats of choreography. Of course, they regularly credit their extended teams for help, but at the core of the magic is the perfect synchronicity of the 13 members, peppering their music with serene confidence and creating opportunities to grow as one. On the journey from "promising rookie act" to "only the second act in k-pop history to sell one million copies of an album in the first week," it’s made all the difference.
As if in tandem with their upwards trajectory, the group’s eighth mini-album, Your Choice, which came out on June 18th, unveils a more mature side of the act, one more suited to address the ever evasive, ever misunderstood concept of love. Gone are the boisterous parties of "Left & Right" or the exhilaration of “HOME;RUN”. This time, hip streetwear and suave velvet and plaid have been swapped for soft, cozy sweaters and pink pastels replace vibrant hues.
"Your Choice is about sharing what is on your mind but also respecting the other person’s choices. This is a very sweet and honest side of SEVENTEEN: it’s our profession of honesty,” said Woozi in a press conference marking the release of the album on June 18th. "It means ‘I love you, but I also respect your choices."
SEVENTEEN spoke with GRAMMY.com about the inspirations behind Your Choice, their group dynamic, and what they’re hoping for in the future.
In a previous interview, HOSHI said that your albums are always based on your current fears and concerns. How did that play into Power of Love? How did you decide on the subject of love?
Hoshi: On Your Choice, we tried to put in a more mature side, the more mature images of various behaviors and emotions associated with love.
Why did you think this was the perfect time for an album like this as an act, and also in terms of your career trajectory?
Seungkwan: We thought the message of love is what could really console people and resonate with them, especially in these tough times that we're having. Last year, with Heng:garæ and ; [Semicolon], we tried to send a message of consolation and encouragement to young people.
This time, we wanted to use this word, "love," and the concept of love: we thought it would really express our growth. We thought that would be a good keyword to show where we are and express how we have grown.
I like that you said growth because what we see on this album is more complex and mature as compared to your other releases. What was it like stepping into this more mature persona?
S.Coups: I think SEVENTEEN is a group that grows together [and] matures together. We are aging together. So, I think that is a natural side of us that we want to express. This growth and maturity is a natural progression of [events] for SEVENTEEN.
When you were working on the album, how did you narrow down which aspects of love you wanted to cover? Was it more about what felt right or was it more structured?
Woozi: So, Your Choice is part of our project Power of Love. Through this album and the title track, we wanted to show the variety of emotions [related to] confessing your love to somebody who is the object of your affection. As Seungkwan said, we wanted to show a more mature and grown side of SEVENTEEN. But as the [Power Of Love] project continues, we will show various facets of love, not just one-dimensional emotions.
You said you wanted to show a more mature and grown-up side to SEVENTEEN through Your Choice, which focuses on confession and love. How is the feeling of love related to this more mature side of SEVENTEEN?
Mingyu: I think we tried to and did go deeper and focus on the certain level of maturity it takes to be able to truly listen to someone else’s thoughts and ultimately respect their decision—their choice. Your Choice signifies somewhat deeper and more mature versions of love of being considerate and respectful.
Love is such an expansive emotion. When you were working on the album, how did each unit interpret it in terms of their own artistic language? Was there anything that you really paid attention to?
Woozi: For this album, as a full group, we tried to show the various sides and emotions of love [overall]. But for the units, I think we tried to focus more on genres, [basically] express different emotions through different genres. The underlying concept of love and confessing your love are similar, but [each unit] tried to interpret them in unique ways through the musical genres they [specialize in].
What was the hardest part about working on the album?
Woozi: I think overall, for the entire album, what was really challenging—as you said, love is a very expansive concept. It resonates with a lot of people. It can both be very shallow and also have very deep emotions. It has a lot of shades and different facets, different varieties.
So, we really thought a lot about, you know, "How can we express this? How can we show this through our music and through our performance, in a way that is not too shallow or not too deep or profound? How can we express this the right way?" We had a lot of meetings, we really discussed this a lot among ourselves.
Is there anything new that any member tried doing on this album?
Hoshi: With every album, we always try to collectively push our boundaries and challenge ourselves. Your Choice is no different. The Performance team’s "WAVE," for example, is a house genre track and we had fun challenging ourselves with this new genre. All four of us (me, JUN, THE 8, and DINO) participated in writing the lyrics as well.
You had a spectacular 2020, followed by multiple US TV performances in 2021. In light of the massive success, what kind of responsibility did you feel going into this new album?
Vernon: We definitely do feel more responsibility as the days go by, as more and more Carats, [our group of fans,] start to have an interest in us and listen to our music and watch our performances. We just really didn’t want to let any of them down. Our highest hope [right now] is just performing in front of them in person, hopefully during a tour.
Photo: Aaron Marsh
Teddy Swims Is Letting Himself Be Brutally Honest On 'I've Tried Everything But Therapy'
As the world continues to discover the magnitude of Teddy Swims' soulful voice, he realized the power of opening up and letting go with his debut album, 'I've Tried Everything But Therapy.'
Four years into his career, Teddy Swims made a promise to himself to be more honest. With that in mind, he decided to be unflinchingly real with his debut album title: I've Tried Everything But Therapy.
While the title may be true for now, Swims is incredibly vulnerable. Across 10 tracks, he divulges the raw emotions of heartbreak, from reeling over what could've been in opener "Some Things I'll Never Know" to leaning into new love — while still in repair — on closer "Evergreen."
"It's the most honest I've ever let myself be," Swims, born Jaten Dimsdale, says of the album. "I'm proud of it, and I'm proud of myself. And it's a f—ing relief to just get it off my shoulders."
For someone who bares his soul in his music, both lyrically and vocally, it's rather surprising to think that he wouldn't be the type for therapy. But now that the album is out, his next step is seeking professional help — another promise he made to himself upon choosing the candid title.
In the meantime, Swims is already seeing the impact of being more and more open in his music. "Lose Control," the album's lead single, has earned Swims his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 and first solo radio hit (in 2022, his Meghan Trainor collab "Bad For Me" reached No. 15 on Billboard's Adult Pop Airplay chart). But perhaps more notably, his powerful vocal runs on the song's dynamic chorus are stopping listeners in their tracks. As one YouTube commenter put it, "Man has a voice that speaks to the core of your soul."
Just before the album's arrival, Swims talked with GRAMMY.com about how I've Tried Everything But Therapy has helped him understand the impact of wearing his insecurities on his sleeve — and how his bewitchingly soulful voice ties it all together.
How does this album feel different from what you've put out before this, whether it's lyrically or sonically, or even how you feel mentally based around the process?
I feel like this is maturity. I can listen to these songs and I feel proud of them.
Everybody kinda doesn't like their own voice, you know? But I feel like I belong on those songs, and nobody could say what I needed to say the way I could say it. I feel like I'm saying something that I need to say and get off my chest in an entirely different way than I ever have.
I'm kind of an emotional toddler. I'm getting more of a grasp on what I want to say and how to say it, how to talk about my feelings more. I feel like the more I do it, the longer I do it, the more honest I become, the more I get out of the way of things. I'm learning to get out of the way and let the creative flow just be what it is now.
Going into writing this album, like, what were you going through? And did you have a goal in mind about what you wanted the album to be?
I really didn't know at the time. In the last four years, I've written maybe four or five hundred songs. I didn't write it knowing that it was an album, or write it knowing that this was going to be the album; but more so, when it started coming together, it just felt like things fell into place.
I realized that I've been circling around the same feelings and emotions for a very long time. It's always about — I was in a very toxic relationship, and I have been a lot in my life. This is me kind of learning that I can be loved, and that I am beautiful, and I deserve love. That's kind of what the struggle is and always has been.
The album title is interesting to me, because so many artists compare songwriting to therapy. But has songwriting always felt like therapy for you?
Songwriting can be therapeutic if you have a feeling that you need to get out, and you write that feeling down, and you get it out. But what I tend to do a lot in my life, I'll write it down into a song, and then I'll write it into another song from a different perspective. And I'll write it down 100 different ways, in 100 different perspectives, to the point that it ends up that that small problem has now turned into the biggest problem in my life, because I've thought about so many different ways.
Instead of being more therapeutic, [songwriting has] been more of a way of highlighting what I'm going through, sometimes way too much.
The title itself was kind of a promise to myself that I would go to therapy when the album comes out. I think it's something that everyone can benefit from, especially me. But there's still something about me — maybe it's a generational mindset, like, I'm not crazy, I don't need that, or maybe there's answers to questions I don't really want to ask that I'm gonna get.
I like my coping mechanisms. I like how I am and who I am when I do cope. So there's a part of me that's afraid that I'll have to change.
But I made a promise to myself, put a deadline on myself where I'll go and I'll seek help, and I'll try. It's also me being honest and open about that, to you and to everyone, that I'm like, "I need help, that's okay." I'm gonna ask for help, and that's a liberating and equally terrifying thing.
The nice thing is, there has been a lot more public acceptance of mental health in recent years. How have you felt that change since you started releasing music, and how has it impacted your songwriting?
I think what's so great about our industry these days is that I'm not held to the same standard as, like, Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson, where I have to be such a star, and you don't know anything about me. These days, as an artist, I get to be absolutely insecure and absolutely terrified, and it's what makes my artistry beautiful. And people that feel the way I feel can look at me and say, "That guy's so insecure, and he's so scared. But he's doing it, and we want him to win."
I don't want to swallow my insecurities. I don't have to wait until I feel like I'm worthy of love to put myself out there. Every bit of insecurity, and everything that's going on in my life, I'm allowed to just wear it and put it on for everybody to see. That has helped me in more ways than me trying to be anything I'm not.
You've said that for a long time, you worried about giving too much of yourself in your music, but seeing people connect to the music has made you realize it's actually making a difference. When did you start realizing that?
I am very lucky — every show we do, I have a meet and greet where I can talk to 100 people, and they tell me things that have changed their life, ways that I've affected them, and the ways that I've touched their lives.
I also want them to know that I'm just that fat kid from Rockdale County, Georgia, and still feels like that. And they make me be able to be honest and have an outlet to turn my trauma into something positive in me.
I feel like I learn it more and more every day that I am in a safe space, and I've created a safe space for people, and I become safer in that all the time. And I'm becoming more honest with myself, with them, in the safe space. It's just sacred, you know?
Was there a song of yours that kind of opened that up for you, because of the way that people connected to it?
I've had a few like that, but "Simple Things" that I released on one of my EPs is still a song I sing all the time. I thought the verses were only specific to my life and what I was going through — that was the first time I was honest, and I wrote from only what I was going through specifically to my life, and that connected and did more for people than anything I did [previously].
You've said that you're insecure, but would you consider yourself an introvert?
I think the more that I do this, the more I become one. I used to be the biggest extrovert in the world, but the more I do this job, the more I have to be social, I feel myself becoming more of an introvert.
Well, I brought that up because so many artists consider themselves introverts, when you are pouring your heart out in music that is then heard by thousands, if not millions, of people. Has that dichotomy ever crossed your mind?
Yeah, but that's kind of why I think I've become more introverted, because I gotta figure out what's still mine or if there should be anything that I should hold to myself. That is the question: What is still for me, or should there still be anything just for me?
That's so interesting to think about — I've never really thought about the battle that an artist can have when they share so much. Because it's like, at that point, you're so exposed, how are you even supposed to function as a private person in any regard?
Yeah. You figure it out, you let me know. [Laughs.]
It's cool that you're feeling so proud of this album, though, because I'd say that means that you haven't gone too far.
It's the most honest I've ever let myself be. And I don't feel exposed — I just feel like I said what I needed to say.
I've heard that I've Tried Everything But Therapy is coming in multiple parts and this is just part one. Is that true?
Yeah, we're planning on part two, but I don't know what that looks like yet. But I want to put out more music. And I think I want to come from a different place of what I've learned from how I've healed. I just don't feel like this story's done yet.
But you said you're going to start therapy after this album releases — so you're going to release a part two of I've Tried Everything But Therapy after you've been in therapy?
Yeah, I guess that doesn't make sense. But it will!
It would be kind of interesting to have part two be the response to therapy after you have done it.
Yeah, exactly. That's the vibe. Maybe we just go straight to part three and skip part two altogether.
Before you even released part one, people were going crazy over "Lose Control" because of how soulful you sound on it. When did you realize you had such a captivating voice?
It wasn't really a realization — I was bad for a long time. But I love this, and I wanted this, so I worked hard to become good at it. I wanted to be the best I could at it, because using my voice means everything to me, and I want to know how to do everything I can with it.
Well, you're doing something right, because people are exclaiming about it left and right. I saw a comment on one of your Instagram posts that said, "I just threw my shoe across my damn office, you better sing!" Do you feel the power of your own music?
I know, technically and dynamically, I am a good singer. When I listen to myself, I can't say I can't sing, because it's all there. Any singer or vocal coach could tell "That kid knows what he's doing. He can sing his ass off."
But also, there's part of me that still doesn't like my voice, too, just like anyone else. And I think that might be why I became so good at it. Because I want to hear it and be like, "Well, you can't tell yourself you ain't good, 'cause that was f—ing — that takes skill." I've learned enough to know that I can't tell myself I'm bad. [Laughs.]
And I have to say, I've been impressed with all of the people you've posted singing their own versions of "Lose Control."
People can sing! And people have been writing verses to it too. The love on it has been so rewarding.
I feel very justified [that the music] is connecting. I feel like it's already helping. I feel very humbled, appreciated and loved.
Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Justin Timberlake's Biggest Songs, From His Best *NSYNC Moments To The Solo Smashes
As rumors swirl about a new Justin Timberlake album and *NSYNC fans pray for a reunion tour, revisit the defining songs that have made JT one of pop's greats.
From the moment Justin Timberlake first stepped into the spotlight at just 11 years old, his star power was strikingly apparent. Initially dabbling in country music on Star Search, he further displayed his knack for performing on The Mickey Mouse Club in 1993 and 1994 before being recruited for the boy band *NSYNC in 1995 — and soon, he was on his way to pop domination.
As the group's popularity soared and they sold over 70 million records worldwide, so did Timberlake's solo appeal. With his curly blond hair and falsetto that would make Michael Jackson proud, he became a defining figure in the late '90s/early 2000s zeitgeist. He took the lead in several *NSYNC songs and progressively developed his songwriting skills, hinting to the world that he was a star of his own right.
By the time <em>NSYNC halted in early 2002, Timberlake's solo career was not a mere possibility, but an undeniable next step. A few months later, he released his debut album, Justified*, which set the stage for one of the most innovative, defining artists of his time. In the two decades since, Timberlake has released five studio albums (with a sixth reportedly on the way), sold more than 88 million records, collaborated with the likes of Jay-Z and Madonna, and won 10 GRAMMYs. It's hard to imagine pop music today without his contributions.
Although Timberlake has periodically taken some time off music to focus on his family, acting and producing, a comeback was always around the corner. Last week, for example, he reunited with *NSYNC at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards and confirmed the release of their first new song in 20 years, "Better Place," out Sept. 29.
He also recently reunited with Nelly Furtado and Timbaland for "Keep Going Up," the long-awaited follow-up to their 2007 smash "Give It To Me." Timbaland — a longtime collaborator of Timberlake's — further teased what's to come for JT, telling Variety that Timberlake's next album is "finished up" and sounds like "FutureSex/LoveSounds part two."
To celebrate these upcoming chapters, as well as Timberlake's boundless creativity, GRAMMY.com looks back at the most defining songs in his trailblazing career.
"Pop," Celebrity (2001)
A response to all the animosity surrounding the success of late 90s' boy bands, "Pop" gave us *NSYNC at their most "no strings attached." Composed by Timberlake in partnership with choreographer, director, and songwriter Wade Robson, it blended electropop, metal riffs and Timberlake's signature beatboxing into a thrilling, limitless portrait of what being a pop star really means.
"It doesn't matter/ 'Bout the clothes I wear, and where I go, and why/ All that matters/ Is that you get hyped, and we'll do it to you every time," Timberlake sings in the pre-chorus. As the first single off <em>NSYNC's last album, 2001's Celebrity*, "Pop" foreshadowed key elements of Timberlake's burgeoning success — setting sights on his impending, hit-filled solo career.
"Gone," Celebrity (2001)
Another collaboration between Timberlake and Robson for Celebrity, "Gone" remains one of the most stirring ballads of the new millennium. Originally written for Michael Jackson, who passed on the offer — but later regretted it, as Timberlake told Oprah's Master Class Podcast in 2014 — "Gone" was the first and only *NSYNC single where Timberlake sings all the lead vocals and plays the music video protagonist.
Although its success led to a nomination for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 2002's GRAMMY Awards, the song unveiled uncomfortable feelings about the future of the group. If *NSYNC were to halt activities, it laid bare the fact that Timberlake could survive — and thrive — as a soloist just as well.
"Like I Love You," Justified (2002)
As many suspected, <em>NSYNC did go into a hiatus after the release of Celebrity, and Timberlake's much-anticipated solo debut came shortly after. In November 2002, he released the studio album Justified*, spearheaded by lead single "Like I Love You."
Pairing his penmanship with producer duo the Neptunes, Timberlake found an exquisite recipe to express himself. "Like I Love You" posed a sleek introduction to a fully-developed star, mixing funk drums, pop beats, Spanish guitars, sultry falsettos, and a participation by hip-hop duo Clipse. Coincidentally landing the same spot on the Billboard Hot 100 as "Gone" at No. 11, "Like I Love You" showed that Timberlake was able — and ready — to hold his own.
"Cry Me a River," Justified (2002)
If "Like I Love You" was an introduction to Justin Timberlake the soloist, follow-up single "Cry Me a River" cemented him as 2002's main character. A vengeful opera inspired by his former (and very high-profile) relationship with Britney Spears, Timberlake showed his spiteful side — one that would later resurface on his second album, FutureSex/LoveSounds.
The poignancy of his feelings is aided by producers Timbaland and Scott Storch, who crafted a haunting synthscape filled with wails and warnings. In the music video, Timberlake finally sheds his good-boy image, breaking into a Spears look-alike's mansion to film steamy moments of himself with another woman.
On top of giving the audience much to think about, "Cry Me a River" gave Timberlake one his first two solo GRAMMY Awards in 2003: the song won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, and Justified won Best Pop Vocal Album.
"Señorita," Justified (2002)
Justified offered hit after hit, and although "Señorita" wasn't the biggest (it peaked at No. 27 on the Hot 100), it's still a Timberlake staple. The song highlighted Timberlake's commitment to go beyond expectations, as he created his own deconstructed salsa, pushing and pulling vocals around the Neptunes' unmistakable drum beats and Stevie Wonder influences.
While singles like "Rock Your Body" may have found more popularity, "Señorita" and its odd little strutting intro is instantly recognizable — and remains one of Timberlake's best displays of the fun he has in the studio . The call-and-response section at the end, where Timberlake directs "the fellas and the ladies" to sing in different vocal tones, is the cherry on top of it all.
"SexyBack," FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006)
Four years after Justified, Timberlake returned raunchier than ever: "I'm bringing sexy back," he sings in the opening line of "SexyBack," unknowingly birthing 2006's ultimate catchphrase. The first single off his highly-acclaimed sophomore album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, "SexyBack" became Timberlake's first No.1 song on the Billboard Hot 100, and further solidified the finesse of his collaborations with Timbaland.
Scurrying through a suffocating dance floor, "SexyBack" distorts everything it touches, creating a cybernetic atmosphere where Timberlake will both "let you whip me, if I misbehave" and make you "watch how I attack." Timbaland's low vocals bounce off Timberlake's high-pitched lines and make for a breathless, sweaty run.
"My Love," FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006)
Timberlake achieved his second consecutive Hot 100 No.1 with "My Love," a song that has been defined by many as the sequel to "Cry Me a River." Although borrowing from the same insistent staccato beats, "My Love" is rather a happier, snappier version of it. Gone is the desire for retaliation — Timberlake is now focused on the sweet highs of a promising relationship.
"All I want you to do is be my love," he sings over masterful production by Nate "Danja" Hills and Timbaland, who infuse the track with quirky distortions, beatboxing and a slow beat juxtaposed to Timberlake's frenzy. Atlanta rapper T.I. also adds contrast to the track, delivering a stack of verses that contrast Timberlake's lyrics and add to the multifaceted perceptions of love. If Timberlake's lines represent one's heart soaring with possibility, the other elements of the song keep it grounded, reminding us that true love runs steady.
"What Goes Around... Comes Around," FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006)
The true "Cry Me a River" sequel lays on the grandiose "What Goes Around... Comes Around." Despite the single's lofty arrangements and a cinematic music video starring Scarlett Johansson, Timberlake is still heartbroken.
However, instead of seeking revenge by his own hands, he now trusts karma to take care of his lover's wrongdoings. The circular, haunting motifs of the lyrics are repeated through synth loops and Turkish strings.
"What Goes Around... Comes Around" is one of FutureSex/LoveSounds' standouts, bridging the catchy sounds of Justified with more experimental nuances. It also seemed to resonate with listeners, as it landed the singer his third consecutive chart-topper.
"LoveStoned," FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006)
While violins surely can provide a sultry mood, it's not often that they will be paired with beatboxing and funky bass — which makes "LoveStoned" a peculiar feat.
One of Timberlake's most provocative tracks off FutureSex/LoveSounds, it could also be defined as a bolder cousin to 2002's "Rock Your Body" due to its rushing, disco-esque energy. Along an easygoing progression, it carries Timbaland's trademark vibes and fiery lyrics about what the internet would call a "baddie" nowadays ("She's bad, and she knows," Timberlake sings).
Originally named "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows (Interlude)," the track swiftly slows down in the last two minutes, where an Interpol-inspired guitar solo flourishes, offering a hazy conclusion to an innovative pop expedition.
"Suit & Tie (feat. Jay-Z)" The 20/20 Experience, (2013)
After wrapping up his highly successful FutureSex/LoveShow world tour in 2007, Timberlake took some time off to focus on acting and producing for other musicians. Following a six-year musical hiatus, he released his third studio album in 2013, The 20/20 Experience, led by the steamy "Suit & Tie," featuring rapper Jay-Z.
The single is anchored by samples of Sly, Slick and Wicked's 1972 song "Sho' Nuff" and swirls around a matured, glistening R&B production by Timberlake, Timbaland and J-Roc. It's the most sophisticated that Timberlake has sounded, accompanied by a fittingly classy, black-and-white music video — which won a GRAMMY for Best Music Video in 2014.
"Mirrors," The 20/20 Experience, (2013)
The second single off The 20/20 Experience, "Mirrors" was written back in 2009 and inspired by Timberlake's relationship with wife Jessica Biel, as well as his grandparents' six-decade marriage. Although the sounds harken back to "Cry Me a River" at times, the lyrics reveal that Timberlake is no longer bitter, but instead very much in love: "Now, you're the inspiration of this precious song/ And I just wanna see your face light up since you put me on/ So now I say goodbye to the old me, it's already gone."
Paired with an emotional music video, "Mirrors" is a defining landmark in Timberlake's discography, showing how personal growth impacted his music for the better. Alongside trusty producers Timbaland and J-Roc, he proved that it's possible to turn an eight-minute prog-soul aria into a timeless, effortlessly catchy love song.
"Drink You Away," The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 (2013)
Six months after the release of The 20/20 Experience, in September 2013, Timberlake dropped the second half of the album, The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2. Out of its four singles (which also included "Take Back the Night," "TKO," and "Not a Bad Thing"), "Drink You Away" stands out for its adventurous streak.
Here, Timberlake recalls his Southern roots, spinning a pop twist on Memphis soul and country rock riffs. "I've tried Jack, I've tried Jim/ I've tried all of their friends/ But I can't drink you away," he sings, matching love pains to alcoholism. Once again working with producers Timbaland and J-Roc, he daringly explores new scenarios, ultimately proving that his talents can't be restrained. (The track also teased Timberlake's later collab with country crooner Chris Stapleton, as the pair mashed "Drink You Away" with Stapleton's "Tennessee Whiskey" at the 2015 CMA Awards.)
"CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!," Trolls (2016)
Timberlake's career may have firm pillars in experimentation, but 2016's "CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!" showed that he is also a master in well-rounded bubblegum pop. In 2016, after voicing the character Branch and serving as the executive music producer for the movie Trolls, Timberlake worked with Max Martin and Shellback for the soundtrack's lead single.
The result was a simple, yet contagiously happy disco track that quickly hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100, followed by several other countries' charts. "CAN'T STOP THE FEELING!" was also the top-selling song in the U.S. that year according to Nielsen Music's Year-End Report, and quickly achieved an omnipresent status; the song remains a global staple today.
"Young Man," Man of the Woods (2018)
After another long break between albums, Timberlake released his fifth LP, Man of the Woods, in 2018. The title references the meaning behind his firstborn son's name, Silas, and features some of his most experimental trials to date, despite enlisting the same longtime producers like the Neptunes and Timbaland.
As Timberlake's personal life changed with marriage and parenthood, so did his music. He plunged even deeper into his Tennessee origins and the country music of his childhood, as evidenced in singles "Filthy," "Supplies," and the Stapleton-featuring "Say Something."
However, the most essential song to understand Timberlake's current moment is the sweet, deeply personal "Young Man." It closes the album on a vulnerable note, showing the singer not as a superstar, but as a devoted father passing on his teachings. Vocal snippets from both Silas and Jessica Biel make it even more special, framing a fleeting moment into eternity.
After seeing Timberlake grow from a teenager himself to raising his own family, there's a full-circle element coloring his next steps with much expectation. What will be his next reinvention? If Timbaland's words are true, luckily we won't have to wait too long to find out.
Photo: Sasha Samsonova
How Tori Kelly Used Hair Dye, Y2K & Collaborators To Create Her Most Authentic Project To Date
Tori Kelly unpacks her new self-titled EP — the "big sister" of her expansive discography — and illustrates how her 11 years as a recording artist unlocked her most bona fide songwriting yet.
Blondes might have more fun, but Tori Kelly can tell you brunettes keep it real.
Almost one year ago, Kelly posted an Instagram video debuting a new brown 'do. For most pop stars, hair is a playground to define the different chapters of their lives. But if you know Kelly, her curly golden mane was a hallmark of her image for over a decade, and with reports of a record label switch, a seemingly dramatic change was on the horizon.
The next few months saw Kelly head-to-toe in shiny cybercore ensembles and Buff sunglasses until she released a cryptic teaser for her new music. She sat down next to a vintage television, watching the highlights of her career pass by — from her viral 2012 cover of Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T" to her acceptance speech for Best Gospel Song at the 2019 GRAMMY Awards. The screen went static, officially commencing a new era.
On March 17, Kelly dropped "missin' u," a 2000s R&B-inspired single with a fast-paced 808 drum beat and a sample of Craig David's "Fill Me In." The song's accompanying music video solidified Y2K as the aesthetic of the hour, as a starry-eyed Kelly daydreams about dancing in crimson leather and silver bodysuits, like a modern-day Britney Spears.
At the beginning of her journey, Kelly created her music from the ground up, writing every lyric, producing every note, and singing every vocal stem. "I had to prove to myself and everyone else that I could do it," she reminisces. But with tori, Kelly lowered the shield to be candid with her process. Ultimately, it became an exploration of what it meant to be "authentically Tori" in her thirties, and a rekindling with the childhood version of herself that started it all.
Between tour rehearsals and preparation for the release of her deluxe EP, Tori Kelly sat down with GRAMMY.com to discuss her potpourri of sounds since her debut, what it means to return to the stage in a post-pandemic society, and how dyeing her hair back to its natural color tied tori together.
Sonically, you have been flexible throughout your career. You started with acoustic pop, then gospel. Now, with tori, you fully step into the realm of pure R&B. What was the genesis of this shift?
Sometimes, I feel like I'm all over the place genre-wise. A lot of my career has been like, "Oh, I hope people come along with me for this right now." But at the same time, when I listen back, I see a through line: my voice. That has always been what connects my music and these different styles I love and are authentic to me. The way I sing and what I bring to a song is the grounds for everything.
It's interesting to look back at the previous chapters of myself and see where I am now. All of those past versions have culminated into who I am today.
Self-titled projects are often considered a declaration of who you are and what you stand for. What does tori say about you that might not have been evident from your other releases?
Naming this project, I went back and forth with titles. It's an EP — there's definitely more to come, so it was like, "What should I call it?" I tried different lyrics, but nothing was hitting. I kept coming back to the idea of making it self-titled because the music really does feel like me.
The biggest thing at this moment, as I'm getting older, is stepping deeper into myself. I want to show versions of myself that have always been there but I haven't been able to express yet.
You dyed your hair brown. There's something symbolic about returning to your natural color on a self-titled project. It feels like a rebirth. How did that play out during the development of tori?
I was blonde for 10 years. I actually stayed blonde throughout the making of this EP, but I slowly kept putting more lowlights and highlights into my hair. Subconsciously, I always knew I wasn't loving it for whatever reason.
I didn't know exactly what it was at the time, but the music felt different. Aesthetically, I wanted it to be different, too — that's when I started exploring new looks. Right before my 30th birthday, I was like, "You know what? This is it. I just need to do it." It was the cherry on top of the other things I was expressing and the confidence I was feeling.
What initially prompted the blonde at the start of your career?
I started playing with the idea when I was 16 by putting streaks into my hair. When I graduated high school, I wanted to do something crazy, so I went full blonde. It was a big deal because that was around the same time I had my first viral video, which was a cover of Frank Ocean's "Thinkin' 'Bout You."
The first time I bleached it, it fried my hair, so I went back to brunette, but I was becoming recognizable as a blonde. As I'm trying to get my music out there, I'm thinking about what kind of things will connect. I went blonde again, but I still felt like myself because I had the big curls. That time, I did it the right way. It was healthy. [Laughs.]
When I returned to brown hair again, I didn't expect it to be a huge thing. It went completely over my head that people only knew me as a blonde.
The brunette hair puts me more in touch with my childhood self. I look at photos of me as a kid, and I look even more like her now. I have always tried to stay true to myself, but I feel more like myself than ever. A part of that is going back to my roots, physically and musically.
You said that the lead single, "missin' u," was a Y2K-inspired track. What were some of the projects of that decade that left an impact on you and inspired the creation of this EP?
When it came to making the music from tori, there were so many songs that I was reminded of, even if I didn't grow up listening to it religiously — like Craig David, for example. Jon Bellion and I were really inspired by him, especially on "missin' u" and "cut," which have that fast, drum-and-bass UK garage sound.
Do you remember the moment when you decided "missin' u" would be the lead single from tori?
It was definitely a process. It actually wasn't the first choice. Everyone had a different favorite, which was cool for me to experience. In the past, there was usually an obvious single. This time, no one knew what the single should be, and that tells me we did a great job at creating music that feels really good.
It was the head of my label who was like, "Wait? Why aren't we going with 'missin' u'? It feels so big." I began envisioning the music video concepts and the styles and references I could incorporate into it, and it started to make sense. It was the perfect song to push the Y2K theme, so we ran with it.
I can hear those Y2K references on "missin' u." Maybe it's the guitar.
Oh, yeah. It's a combination. We were very intentional. It's very "Say My Name" and Darkchild in the verses and bridge. When the chorus hits, that's when you hear the influence of Craig David's UK sound, but that was also 2000s R&B. It's a hybrid of all those genres that makes it sound fresh and new.
You collaborated with Ayra Starr, who is 21, and Jon Bellion, who is closer to your age. Was there a dichotomy between working with someone from an entirely different generation and someone who is similar to you in age?
Working with Jon has been amazing because we're similar. We grew up with the same music and can pull from those inspirations.
It made sense to throw one of those younger, up-and-coming artists into the mix, like Ayra Starr. Whether through fashion or music, Y2K is coming back. Ayra walked into the studio, decked out in Y2K, and I had the realization that we were in the same world, meeting in the middle.
"Unbelievable," the song with Ayra Starr, marks the first Afrobeats track in your discography. How does your approach to a new genre differ from something that might be more typical of the Tori Kelly sound, like "alive if i die?"
I'm stretching myself into these genres I love. I've been obsessed with Afrobeats for the last few years. Fireboy and also Ayra. Jon had the idea for "unbelievable," and I thought it would be awesome to have an actual Afrobeats singer featured on the track. Ayra took it to the next level.
For me, it's all about having fun and experimenting — making it sound true to my artistry.
The Take Control Tour will be your first tour in four years and the first one post-pandemic. How has that preparation shifted with our new reality?
I'm looking forward to this tour like crazy. I said that so monotone, but it's because I can't even find the right words to express how excited I am. I feel like a shaken soda can, about to explode, because I've been waiting so long.
I was four shows into what was going to be my first world tour in March 2020. It felt like it got yanked away for me, for lack of a better term. Health and safety were obviously the most important, but it was a bummer to cancel those shows.
The tour before that was all acoustic. It's such a contrast to Take Control because I'm going with a band. It's a way more energetic show.
Touring is my favorite part about doing what I do. I love being in the studio, but performing live is the heart of what I do. That's what little Tori wanted to do: go on stage and sing her head off, and I haven't been able to tap into that for a really long time. I'm going to be very emotional.
You posted a clip of you practicing "Nobody Love" on Instagram. How has your relationship changed with those older hits?
During rehearsals, we were playing those throwbacks. I've done so much in my career with so many styles like we've been talking about — but it's cool to play those older songs and go right into the new music. If anything, I feel like the songs from tori have been a big sister to those older songs, like "Nobody Love" and "Should've Been Us."
We're going to put a new spin on it so they feel fresh again, but I'll always love performing those older songs.
Photo: Kigon Kwak
Eric Nam Unravels An Existential Crisis On New Album 'House On A Hill'
Korean American ace Eric Nam has done nearly everything in the entertainment industry, yet still found himself wanting more. But with his latest album, 'House on a Hill,' he found himself finally appreciating "the very basics of human life."
Eric Nam is living proof that risk can sometimes lead to reward — or in his case, a booming career.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, to Korean immigrant parents, the 34-year-old was once a business analyst at Deloitte Consulting in New York, but saw a chance to turn his dreams into reality by moving to South Korea and joining the music competition show "Star Audition: Birth Of A Great Star 2" in 2011. While Nam may not have won the competition (he placed fifth), he has since proven that entertainment was his calling — and now, he's one of the most influential figures in South Korean culture.
As a singer, Nam has released two studio albums, four EPs and a slew of collaborations with names like Timbaland and Armaan Malik. As a TV personality, he hosted shows like "After School Club" and interviewed several Hollywood A-listers including Will Smith and Robert Downey Jr. He is also the co-founder and creative director of leading digital media company DIVE Studios, which focuses on AAPI and K-pop communities, and Mindset, a mental health and wellness platform.
His next enterprising step is his forthcoming album House on a Hill (out Sept. 8), where Nam makes his directorial debut through four music videos and a short film. The release will also kickstart a 67-date world tour across North America, Latin America, the UK, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand, with more stops to come.
Ahead of his latest venture, GRAMMY.com caught up with Nam to talk about the highs, the lows and all the lessons of the past decade that led him to this moment.
When you participated in "Star Audition," did you imagine it would be such a defining moment in your career?
I don't think so. For me, it was just the first and only chance to try to become a singer. Going on an audition program and potentially making it is a dream so many young kids have, you never think it's going to actually work. But I ended up doing the program for about nine months, I got to the top five, and at that point, it was one of the highest-rated shows in Korea, so it ended up being very successful. And then I was able to sign a record deal, so that show was just a very, very important start to my career.
Since then, you have released several EPs and albums, and developed your singing and songwriting skills to best portray who you are as an artist. What do you think is the most important song you wrote?
Oh, my gosh, that is an impossible question. It's kind of crazy, because I feel like every album [represents] such a different point of my life, of my career. [Cloud 9], the first one from 2013, was where I didn't really know what I was doing — I was just following the direction of the label.
And then the album in 2016 was the first time [a song I wrote] became a single. What was interesting about it is that I started as a singer, but I became bigger as a TV personality and interviewer in Korea, so that was a big stress for me. People wanted me to just be on TV more, and not so much focus on the music. And so [me and my team] were like, "Well, why don't we just write an album called Interview that is more in line with where we want to go musically?" It was an interesting approach that fit with my personality at the time. Was it musically fulfilling? Not really.
2018 was the first time where I started to really dive into music that I wanted to do, which is a lot more popular. I think that 2018's Honestly [had] a lot of stuff that I wanted to do as a musician. And so if there's one [most important] song, I think it's "I Don't Know You Anymore," only because it's the first song that I put out as a fully independent artist, which was terrifying. It was the first time where there was no label [behind me]. If it doesn't work, it's just me completely failing out, on my own, and that's a scary thing. But that was the kickoff of my indie career.
What has the experience of going indie taught you about yourself?
Well, I already knew it was not going to be easy. It's really not easy. There's so many different challenges and things that happen, stresses and all that kind of stuff. But through the process I've learned that I'm pretty strong mentally, and I have a lot of perseverance to push through things.
That's what was needed, and is still needed, to keep my head up and keep sprinting as an indie artist, because there is no right answer. The only person that can tell you what the right answer is yourself. So you have to really trust your instincts and also have the grit to push through anything and everything that's being thrown at you. That's probably been the biggest realization I've had about myself.
Was there any moment that you thought about giving up? Or that it wasn't going as you expected and you started to doubt yourself?
I think I have that very often. And I think it's because, as a creative person, you're putting out your baby, your creative child into the world, and the world can tear it apart. And it's very scary to sit there, and be fatigued, and yes, there are people who love it, but then, there's also people who are like, "This sucks." It's an emotional roller coaster.
That's why, whenever I do stuff, I always think of it as, "This is not going to be my last, but I have to appreciate it as if it is." Maybe I will retire, I don't know. That's a very real conversation I have with myself all the time.
More than a single moment, I think [this feeling] is always in the back of my head. I know I'm very lucky. I'm very blessed to be doing what I do, to write music and write about your feelings, your stories, and then perform them around the world. And so, as much as it is a blessing, I also know that it could go away at any point. So I'm just trying to appreciate it and live in every moment.
Throughout the years, you collaborated with legendary names in music, such as Timbaland, Gallant and Epik High's Tablo. How important were these encounters as you developed your own sound?
Somebody asked me recently, "What's your favorite collaboration?" and I was like, "I don't know." They're so different and it's been so many people. Obviously, Timbaland is a legend, and to be able to be on a song with him and be on stage with him was a really, really cool moment.
And then with Tablo, he's a legend for Korean hip-hop, and as somebody who is also like him — I'd say more Western- and English-based than just Korean — I felt like there was a connection where I could talk to him and ask questions. Mind you, a few years before the song came out, I was sitting in my college dorm, listening to his music like, "Wow, this is so good." And then we're getting to work on a song together. That was so cool.
And Gallant is the nicest dude ever, very talented. He was having this crazy year of musical success [in 2016] and touring, so for me, to be in the room, to be included on that song ["Cave Me In," featuring Tablo], was a really amazing moment, and I felt very grateful to be a part of it.
Fans always say your concerts are a whole experience, and you expressed your love for going on extensive tours as well. Do you have any remarkable shows or live experiences that remain in your mind?
They're all very memorable. So many shows and cities are special. Just thinking about the last tour, I was playing at House of Blues, Boston, and that's the first place I saw Adele play. Years ago, I played at The Tabernacle [in Atlanta, which marked] the first time I had paid for my own ticket. I saw John Legend and Robin Thicke in high school.
So many of these venues are just really special, but I still can't forget the first show I ever did in the States, on my own. That was 2017, I think, at Irving Plaza in New York. And then I did two back-to-back shows in Atlanta. It was the first time my parents and my friends were seeing me perform. It was probably a 600-person venue, very intimate, very small. But even then, I was like, "Wow, this is so cool."
Were you nervous in those first concerts? What were you thinking at that time?
Yeah, I think I'm always nervous. I think being nervous is a good thing. It means that you care and that you're trying to focus.
When I think about those early days, I still didn't have a lot of songs because, again, I was so busy doing TV, radio, hosting, all that stuff. The label's perspective was, "Oh, Eric, if we keep you busy with other stuff, we make a lot more money than music, so let's just do everything else," so I was always self-conscious about doing my own show. I was like, "Do I have enough songs? Are they going to enjoy it?" It was always very scary.
As you mentioned, you have extensively worked as a host and interviewer, and you still do that today with DIVE Studios and the Mindset platform. You interviewed basically everyone in K-pop, and more. What have you learned from talking to so many different people?
Everybody's human. That's all. Like, I still get anxious sometimes going to interviews if I don't know much about the person, but at the end of the day, that's what an interview is. Let's just talk, and then I'll ask you questions so I can get to know you, and maybe we can become friends. And if we don't, that's fine, too. That's just us learning that everybody's the same.
The biggest stars in the world have the same concerns, and eat the same food, and drink the same stuff as we do. That's it. That's why I think people enjoy my interviews, because I don't like to think of them as the biggest stars in the world.
It's so funny that you were saying, "They do the same stuff that we do," but you are also a star. That shows how you truly don't see that distinction from yourself to others, or vice-versa.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I mean, if there's any criticism I ever get from the people around me, they're like, "You have to remember that you're a celebrity. Can you please not wear this in public? You should maintain an image." And I'm like, "Uh, I don't know, maybe."
People want artists to be more relatable, more human, they like that. And that's why I think your work is so popular, because you can bring that relatableness to the public in ways that K-pop usually doesn't allow.
Oh, thank you. I mean, it is kind of a struggle. I look at some of my friends and peers in their music videos, and they are wearing and doing the craziest things. They're going to outer space, and then they're going, I don't know, into the sewer, and I'm like, "I don't think I can pull that off."
So many of them are in these groups where it's all about the group's presence, not about the solo artist, so for me that's the one thing that is different. It is about me, not about five other people that I'm standing on stage with. I feel more comfortable being honest and open about "This is just the way I am," and not having to — I don't want to say pretend, but — put on an image.
You say you couldn't pull off those things, but for House on a Hill, you directed a lot of stuff, like the music videos and the short film. What were you able to pull off as Eric Nam?
We pretty much put together a screenplay and an entire script for this album, because I wanted everything to have a bigger purpose and meaning. It was a lot, like, going from writing the script, writing all the songs, writing the dialogue, to finding the locations with our team, and giving a lot of direction during the shoots and stuff. It was just very hectic. Luckily I had a great team working with me, and we were able to put it together. We are still editing stuff, and hopefully we get it all done, but it feels good.
Acting, writing and directing are things that I've always been curious about, but never had the time or the energy to really focus on it. But [this time] I was like, "Okay, how can we kill two birds with one stone? We're gonna do these videos, I might as well get a taste of it."
It was like my internship, I learned a lot. There's still so much that I don't know, and so much that I need to learn, but I do have this curiosity and this desire to write more, potentially act more. I don't know about directing, because directing seems like too much. But it is something that was really fun. Hopefully there will be more of it in the future.
You've said that "House on a Hill" felt like the start of the album when you wrote it. What was it about the song that felt that way?
Chronologically, it was the first song I wrote, in August [of last year], and that was kind of, "Okay, even though we're still on tour, this is going to be the start." I feel like, in order to put an album together, you have to live life and experience things, and get in trouble, and have fights, and fall in love, and all those things. But because I was literally touring nine months out of last year, and I have DIVE Studios and Mindset as well, all I do is work, so I was like, "I have nothing that I want to talk about."
And then I was starting to think, "Well, what's on my mind lately? Oh, I want to buy a house. And I want to be happier." And when I wrote "House on a Hill," that's the essence of the song. It's about wanting to find fulfillment and all that stuff. Once we had that [idea], I was like, "Oh, this feels good. What if we start just talking about more of the ways in which I'm feeling and thinking about life?" And that's the overarching theme of the album. It's very much an existential crisis that we're trying to work through.
Do you have the answer to some of the questions that you posed in "House on a Hill"? Like, what if more is never enough? What if nothing ever fills you up?
[Laughs.] I think we will always have those questions, but the one thing that I do believe is that I should be very grateful and happy. That's been my takeaway. We can always want more, want a nicer house, or a better car, or nicer clothes, or the newest phone, and all these things, but let's focus on why should those things be tied directly to happiness.
I think it's being appreciative of the fact that I'm able to do what I like to do, the fact that I am generally healthy, and that I have people that I love and people who love me, and that I have food on the table. It gets down to the very basics of human life. This album has been a big reminder of that fact.
After trying out so many different things, is there anything you still want to try in the future?
Oh man, I think I want to keep acting and writing. I guess something in fashion, but I don't even know what that means… That, or I'm just going to set up a coffee shop and retire. [Laughs.] That sounds pretty simple.
I try not to think too much, I think that everything that I'm doing right now comes very naturally — and that's why I keep doing it.