Courtesy Photo: CJ ENM
K-Pop Phenom Eric Nam Talks New Mini-Album 'The Other Side' And Life As One Of Korea's Biggest Stars
The breakout Korean-American singer tells GRAMMY.com about the challenges he faced in writing and creating his newest project in the middle of a pandemic: "It was not easy"
Eric Nam's journey into K-pop stardom is a fairy-tale-like story that almost didn't happen.
Born and reared in Atlanta, Ga., the breakout Korean-American singer had hopes of being a performer. (His parents, on the other hand, did not share his vision.) As a kid, he took up several music-centric extracurricular activities as a means of getting into a good university: He trained as a member of the Atlanta Boy Choir and played in his high school orchestra.
After graduating from Boston College, where he majored in international studies and minored in Asian studies, in 2011, he began a career path that initially took him in the opposite direction of his dreams. He landed a consultant job at Deloitte, the multinational business advisory and accounting firm, which he ultimately deferred to follow nonprofit initiatives in India. Life as a world-class singer was put on pause.
Things began to change, however, while he was in India. His YouTube videos of him singing K-pop covers landed him a spot on "Star Audition: Birth Of A Great Star 2," South Korea's answer to "American Idol." He placed in the top five in the show's 2011 season, and his journey into music took flight.
Nam has since worked his way to become one of the most recognized names and faces in Korea's mammoth entertainment industry today. Over the course of nine years, he's released four EPs and one English-language album, 2019's Before We Begin.
His latest mini-album, The Other Side, released in late July, is a melting pot of playful, upbeat sounds that combines elements of pop and house music. Largely written during the coronavirus pandemic, the album contains a message of freedom, as heard on the lead track, "Paradise."
"It was not easy," Nam tells GRAMMY.com about the making of The Other Side. "Luckily, two or three of the songs we had already written prior to the pandemic. We did a lot of Zoom calls. But I also found it challenging in terms of content, because the only thing that was on my mind is everybody being locked down and the realities that we're living in. So I was a little stressed about that, but then I realised this is something that everybody is feeling right now. The frustration, the heartbreak, the pent-up energy—whatever it may be, let's write to that. That's kind of how 'Paradise' and 'How You Been' came to life."
Outside of his music career, Nam has hosted multiple TV shows in South Korea, including "KCON:TACT" and "After School Club," as well as the podcast, "K-Pop Daebak w/ Eric Nam." As South Korea's go-to host for Hollywood stars, he's interviewed Lupita Nyong'o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Will Smith and many others. It's no wonder he was declared one of GQ Korea's Men Of The Year in 2016 and featured in Forbes' 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2017.
GRAMMY.com spoke with Eric Nam about his new mini-album, The Other Side, his double life as a host to Hollywood's elite stars and the urgent need for dialogue and social change within the entertainment world and beyond.
You're a singer, songwriter, TV personality and host. Was this always your dream growing up?
Not really. I fell into it in many ways. It was a dream to be a singer/performer, but I never thought I had a chance or had a real shot; I never thought I was good enough. And I think a big part of it was [that] I never saw an Asian face on TV or doing music, particularly in the U.S. where I was born and raised. So it was never a realistic possibility for me, but I think it's fascinating that I am doing it, and I'm very thankful.
Did you have a backup plan? Did you say to yourself, "I'm going to give myself X amount of years in Korea"? Or was it success as a singer and nothing else?
I think it was the former. I said, "Let's give it two to three years. And within three years, if it's not going to work out, then let's not waste valuable time in my 20s." And for me, the backup plan [was] to go back to consulting or finding another job.
What are the differences between your new mini-album, The Other Side, and your last album, Before We Begin?
I think Before We Begin may have been a little more understated and mature in the musicality. I think this one is a little more playful, a little more upbeat, a little brighter. And I think that draws more from the K-pop side.
Why did you pick "Paradise" as the lead single?
I really wanted to experiment with sounds in a way that I hadn't done before. I wanted something that hasn't often been heard, particularly in the K-pop world. A lot of my peers, be seniors or juniors, they'll text me or they'll call me and they'll say, "Thank you for doing the music that you do because it pushes the genre forward in different ways." It's a very rewarding thing to hear.
How was the process of making an album during the pandemic?
It was not easy. Luckily, two or three of the songs we had already written prior to the pandemic. We did a lot of Zoom calls. But I also found it challenging in terms of content, because the only thing that was on my mind is everybody being locked down and the realities that we're living in. So I was a little stressed about that, but then I realized this is something that everybody is feeling right now. The frustration, the heartbreak, the pent-up energy—whatever it may be, let's write to that. That's kind of how "Paradise" and "How You Been" came to life.
Young K from DAY6 wrote four out of the five songs on the mini-album. How did that collaboration happen?
I'd worked with him in the past on some songs that haven't been released, but he's a great lyricist. I was in California and I texted him, "Hey, I have a bunch of songs. I need lyrics. Would you be down to work on these with me?" And he quickly responded "yes" on them all. And then we just started the process of collaborating.
You've worked with some amazing producers in the past, including Timbaland. Are there any other producers you would like to work with in the future?
2020 has seen some real shifts in social dynamics: racism against East Asians in the U.S., the killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement. Do you think those social dynamics are going to impact the Korean music industry?
I really don't know how it's going to affect the Korean industry, because I feel like in Korea, people feel very far-removed from the realities that are going on outside of Korea. So I'm sure while people may be more sensitive to it, and maybe more cognizant to what's going on, I don't know exactly how that will change the industry itself. Does that make sense?
The one thing that we strive for—not as a Korean artist or not as somebody working [or] living in Korea, just as humans, as a citizen of the world—is for more dialogue and for social change. I think it's something that's needed. I think it's something that's way overdue. I can't wait for somebody to say, "OK, let's open up dialogue and have public discourse in a healthy manner so that we can all learn from these experiences that we're having."
If there were any three songs in the entire history of music that you wish you could have written, what three songs would they be?
Adele's "Someone Like You". I think that was a song that truly captivated the entire world. And it was a song that anyone and everybody could relate to globally. "Blackbird" by The Beatles. And I'm going to go with a collaboration: Alicia Keys and Usher, "My Boo." I love that song: two of my most favorite artists growing up in one song together.
What was the moment in your career where you wanted to pick up the phone and say, "Mom, I made it"?
I feel like I have an imposter syndrome where I'm like, "Why am I here?" You think about it, like, I was this kid from Atlanta, Ga. I can barely speak Korean. I'm the one of the few active people from three seasons of that one TV show. But I think it's the tours. It's so wild to be able to say that I can do shows in front of thousands of people and have them sing my songs in Korean and in English—that is wild to me.
How did you become the go-to person in South Korea for A-list Hollywood interviews?
I had to do all these different TV shows all the time. They were putting me on TV to become a reporter for international people coming in. That really kick-started my career, because for the first time in Korea, I was asking very straightforward questions. One of my first interviews was Robert Downey Jr. for Iron Man. Then the movie houses started calling: "Hey, we'll fly you out to London to meet with the cast of Justice League. We'll fly you out to Hong Kong to meet with Benedict Cumberbatch. And that's kind of how it happened.
Is there anything else about The Other Side you'd like to share?
I think this is an album that is, hopefully, just going to continue to help progress my music. But my hope is that in the next year or two, I can really start to make bigger moves on a more international level, in the States and Europe [and] in Latin America, that are interesting. Fight for acceptance, fight for representation, but also at its core, great music and content.
ZEROBASEONE's Big Year: From Winning "Boys Planet" To The World Stage
The nine-member K-pop act have seen a stratospheric rise over the past year. GRAMMY.com spoke with ZB1 about the most exciting moments of their career and their recently released EP, 'Melting Point.'
Rising K-pop stars ZEROBASEONE have experienced a rapid transition from boy group hopefuls to full-blown idols. While they're full speed ahead promoting their latest EP, Melting Point, it's necessary to turn back the clock and go into the very beginning to fully grasp how their growth has been unfolding.
Last fall, Zhang Hao, Kim Taerae, Sung Hanbin, Seok Matthew, Ricky, Park Gunwook, Kim Gyuvin, Kim Jiwoong, and Han Yujin received an announcement that changed the course of their personal journey: they were accepted into "Boys Planet," a televised K-pop survival series. This platform would introduce more than 90 idol trainees, each of whom strived for the opportunity to debut in a boy group.
Each week of the competition was an uphill climb, but the nine singers were resilient. ZEROBASEONE (shortened as ZB1) emerged as the victors of "Boys Planet," voted by hundreds of thousands of fans around the world who watched them unlock their artistic potential that drafted sky-high expectations.
That summer, the multicultural ensemble from South Korea, China, and Canada released their first mini album, Youth In The Shade. The six-track collection was helmed by "In Bloom," which alludes to the sentiments of flourishing despite the finite nature of a path. "Nothing lasts forever," they sing in the pre-chorus, later reassuring: "But I can change that, my fate."
It was a captivating entry into the world of K-pop and is now the best-selling debut record in K-pop history with almost two million copies sold to date — a milestone that elevated them as "monster rookies." And as such, in true K-pop fashion, they have been busy.
ZEROBASEONE have graced the covers of some of the most prestigious South Korean magazines, made television appearances and circled the globe, all while preparing for Melting Point. In addition to their first performances in Europe, Japan and the U.S., ZB1 performed at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, an event that sold out in a matter of minutes.
But what makes ZB1 truly shine is their essence as artists and individuals. "We have become one," Seok Matthew tells GRAMMY.com over a video call from Seoul. "I just get these random feelings that make me think how grateful [I am] that I got to be a part of this group, and that I have these eight amazing members beside me."
Before ZEROBASEONE continues forging ahead with Melting Point, the group spent some time reminiscing about their big year. From how far they've come since "Boys Planet," to fully stepping into their new facet as K-pop idols, this is the initial stride of nine youngsters etching a future together.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Winning Big On "Boys Planet"
Seok Matthew: To be honest, I didn’t even think I was going to pass the audition for "Boys Planet" because I went from company to company [when I was a trainee]. But, when I did get in, I was super happy because I found that Hanbin hyung also got accepted [into the show], and that made me feel a lot more relieved. I didn't have high hopes and I knew it was going to be a fierce competition…but he made me feel like I could go into this with a bit more confidence than I would have if I didn't go with him.
Sung Hanbin: When I met [my fellow ZB1 members] as trainees, I could tell from their eyes that they were not expecting "Boys Planet" to be hugely popular. We were all there because we just wanted to show off our potential and present something we hadn't been able to share with the world.
We cannot forget about all the hard work from the program's producers, writers, and all staff members, but on top of that, all trainees' passion is what I believe made the program do so well.
Kim Gyuvin: "Boys Planet'' was the program that made the dreams we have been desiring for a long time come true. I think it was the first step for us to receive the Rookie Of The Year awards [at The Fact Music Awards and the K-Global Heart Dream Awards], which [are] not easy to come by, so we are very thankful and feel extremely fortunate to receive that. "Boys Planet'' really served as a stepping stone for us, and I would say it was truly a life-changing experience.
Officially Becoming ZEROBASEONE
Park Gunwook: The realization [that my life was about to change] came pretty soon because after the final episode aired, we went to the dorm where we were going to live together. It was very exciting to learn that I was going to be starting my group activities and living together with these members that I love and respect so much. I felt like my stomach was full of butterflies every time I thought about that.
Ricky: For me, even before the final lineup was out, we already knew that "Boys Planet'' was getting bigger than we thought it would be. Honestly, I wasn’t not sure if I was going to make it into the group, so the moment my name was called, and I went upstairs to sit in [one of the] top nine chairs, I thought, Oh, this is a big turning point in my life.
Kim Jiwoong: Something I want to mention is that we are a very funny group. [Laughs.] I think it shines through the content that we share with our fans and the general public, and they are getting to know a different side of ZEROBASEONE.
Something that I learned by being close with the members is that I'm really cute — even more than I expected. [Laughs.] I'm the oldest member in the group and as I spend more time with the younger members, I find more pure and childish sides of me that I didn't even know. My relationship with the members has made me feel like a flower that is just blooming, and I'm glad I get to enjoy my youth with them.
Making A Statement At KCON Japan
Zhang Hao: It was our first [official] performance as ZEROBASEONE, and we wanted to show who we are as a group to the world. We wanted to demonstrate what we could do as artists because people have been seeing us since we were trainees, and now we are a debut group. I truly think that the KCON Japan performance was my life’s turning point because it announced the birth of ZEROBASEONE in front of everyone.
Kim Taerae: After we finished the performance, I felt very proud of our group because I think we did well. I also thought that we have a long way to go, and [I know] that we can do better, so we need to work even harder… and truly grow as artists while maintaining our youth and beginner's minds. That was something I was looking forward to right after coming off the stage.
Seok Matthew: I just remember vividly that we got to play with the fans, and we were handing out all these gifts to them. Everyone was having such a great time and I felt like we were actually giving back all the love that they gave us.
At the end of KCON, we all went to the stage to say goodbye [to the audience], and we got to see our sunbaenims [senior groups] we have always admired…it was really an honor. I think that was the big point for us where, after we finished our performance, we thought, wow, I can't believe we just did that. At that point, that's when we were like, "we need to get as good as our sunbaenims."
Releasing Their Debut EP, Youth In The Shade, & Continuing To Grow
Han Yujin: On our debut day, I remember looking at the members and feeling absolutely proud of each and every one of them. And I had this thought that if we work harder, we are going to succeed and improve to be even better. I could just feel it. I also thought that, personally, I wanted to work even harder to resemble my amazing hyungs [older members]. I've been enjoying every single day since our debut.
Sung Hanbin: We chose this path because we've been enjoying the process and we love what we do. While preparing for Youth In The Shade, I learned that there are so many more things to learn — and it's not just about improving ourselves as performers, but also building our experience, attitude, and stage [presence].
We also need to consider our relationship with other seniors and colleagues as well, which I think is essential in this industry. The most important thing that I learned and I'm still figuring out is to be open about new things and grow every day.
Performing At Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome
Han Yujin: I remember stepping out [to the stage] for the opening song, which was "Back to ZEROBASE." As we started singing the very first part of the song, the door in front of us opened and we were able to see all the audience cheering for us. It was just a very grand moment and I felt overwhelmed and somewhat emotional as well.
It immediately motivated me to give my best throughout the whole concert. I think that specific memory of just being on that stage for the first time and seeing our fans through an opening door will stay in my mind forever.
Conquering Big Stages Around The World
Ricky: KCON L.A. was special for me because Los Angeles is my second hometown, and it was my first time going back since we debuted. As soon as we got there, it made me realize that all the hard work was worth it.
Zhang Hao: And we met Ricky's mom! [Laughs.]
Ricky: It was the first time my family came to see us perform [as ZEROBASEONE], so it was an unforgettable moment.
Seok Matthew: I'd say that one really good memory I have right now is [M Countdown] in France because I was a special MC. It was my first time being able to do something like that, so I did have a bit of pressure. Hanbin hyung was the main MC, and the fact that I was able to do it with him, it was a very cool experience.
After that, I wanted to also get better at all the three languages that I speak, which are French, Korean, and English. And then, maybe in the future, I can get another chance to be an MC. It felt so different because France is really far [from South Korea], right? It was everyone's first time [visiting the country], and it was beautiful.
Releasing Their New Album, Melting Point
Park Gunwook: I think our intention to tell our stories has never altered from our debut album, but we also wanted to show another side of us. In [Youth In The Shade], we wanted to talk more about our identity and who we are as ZEROBASEONE. But Melting Point serves as a chapter where we expand our sound and share our story with the audience and our fans.
We wanted to include some new sounds and powerful performances that we had never presented before. We wanted to show how much we had grown as a team, and how much chemistry we were able to build. Of course, we practiced very hard, but we also had a lot of discussions among ourselves, and we were very open [when] talking with each other.
Kim Taerae: Our debut track "In Bloom" and Melting Point are aligned in the message that we want to walk along with [our fans]. For "Crush," it’s more about, "with all your love and support so far, we are determined to protect you." I think our new album serves as our future direction and our determination for our fans and our music.
Photo: Choi Na Rang
Global Spin: POW Offers A "Dazzling" Performance Of A B-Side From Their Debut EP, 'Favorite'
Just after making their official debut on Oct. 11, K-pop quintet POW deliver their first performance of "Dazzling," an easygoing love song from their mini-album, 'Favorite.'
There's nothing quite like a summer fling; the feelings are high and the stakes are low. And as POW's love story "Dazzling" proves, sometimes a relationship — fling or not — can make every day feel like "a summer night," regardless of the season.
"Love and peace, young and free/ Here, good vibes only/ Hot and cold, fast and slow/ Life is sweet and salty," POW sings in "Dazzling," switching between English and Korean. "Let's seize the day/ For that someday when this becomes a gleaming memory."
In this episode of Global Spin, POW — the new K-pop group that just debuted on Oct. 11 — delivers a lighthearted premiere performance of "Dazzling." Each member takes a turn at the microphone as they sit in a clay room.
"Dazzling" is a B-side from their debut mini-album, Favorite. The K-pop quintet is the first group under GRID Entertainment. According to a press statement, POW hopes to "make a bold entrance to the music scene with a bang, promising an ambitious quest to deliver a refreshing and entertaining experience to global listeners."
Press play on the video above to watch POW's feel-good performance of "Dazzling," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Global Spin.
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: Aysia Marotta
Noah Kahan's Big Year: How The "Stick Season" Singer Became A Folk-Pop Hero
On the heels of announcing an arena and stadium tour for 2024, Noah Kahan revisits some of the biggest moments that have led to it, from going viral with "Stick Season" to collaborating with Post Malone.
In July 2019, Noah Kahan made a promise to his fans via Twitter: "I prolly won't sell out Madison square garden, or even all the shows on my tour but I'll keep writing songs for you all for as long as you'll have me."
Four years later, he's made good on his word about continuing to write songs. But he's also proved himself wrong; not only has the Vermont-born star sold out his entire 2023 tour, but 2024 will see him play a sold-out Madison Square Garden — twice.
While Kahan himself asserts that he's always had a "very dedicated" fan base — whether from his days of posting to SoundCloud and YouTube or since he signed with Republic Records in 2017 – he admits he still finds it hard to process the level to which it's grown. "It's f—ing unbelievable," he says. "It feels so fake that it's almost like, the more time I spend thinking about it, the more abstract it becomes."
His humility is a large part of his appeal (as well as his sense of humor, both on Twitter and on stage), which carries into his folk-pop music. It's matched with extreme vulnerability, as Kahan has been open about his struggles with mental health. Even one of his biggest hits has revealing lyrics: "So I thought that if I piled something good on all my bad/ That I could cancel out the darkness I inherited from Dad," he sings the second verse of "Stick Season."
"Stick Season" became Kahan's breakout song in 2022, first making waves on social media — catching the attention of stars like Zach Bryan and Maisie Peters — and earning him his first radio hit. Its namesake album earned Kahan top 5 spots on Billboard's Top Alternative Albums, Top Rock Albums and Top Rock & Alternative Albums charts in October 2022, but it was the 2023 deluxe edition that really showed his trajectory: all 18 tracks debuted on Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Charts, making him one of only five artists to ever land 18 songs on the chart in one week.
Kahan's disbelief in his success is only going to continue into the new year, as his 2024 tour will also include L.A.'s Hollywood Bowl and two nights at Boston's Fenway Park. At this rate, he's seemingly on his way to Taylor Swift-level stardom — though, as he jokes, three-hour shows will never be in the cards: "From a physical health standpoint, this is as big as it can get."
In the midst of his Stick Season Tour, Kahan reminisced on the wild ride he's been on for the past 18 months. Below, he details seven of his most career-defining moments to date.
Watching "Stick Season" Blow Up
I wrote the song in 2020 and I posted the first verse and the chorus [on social media] the next morning. It was kind of an awkward time, because I had another album coming out right after that video was posted [2021's I Was / I Am] , and I had to promote that, and people were like, "What about that other song?" I'd be at shows and people would be like, "Play 'Stick Season'!"
I started to play it live, which is really what stoked the fire in terms of us realizing that it could be a big song. I played it in Syracuse, New York — and we hadn't posted any snippets besides what I would do on my Instagram Lives, or I'd perform it here and there on social media. Everyone in the room knew every single word to it. That was the song that got the biggest reaction all night, and it was a song that wasn't even out yet. That definitely opened my eyes to the desire for that song to be out in the world.
A lot of my set at the time was more pop-leaning, and this song is definitely more folk-leaning. I could really see the desire for sing-along folk anthems after that performance. [I remember] talking to my team and being like, "I think this song is gonna be around for a long time."
It gave confidence to something that I had been trying to do for a long time, even subconsciously. I think I was always making folk music, and I would always gravitate toward those songs, but a part of me would be like, This isn't who you are, you make pop. So I would stay away from it.
It took this one song — and playing it the way that I wanted to, and having people really respond — it opened my eyes to the audience that I didn't realize was there. It also opened my eyes to that confidence in myself that really comes through in this kind of songwriting. It let me look at folk music and storytelling as a bigger focus in my life instead of something that I did for fun or in the privacy of my home.
Seeing The Success Of Stick Season
When I was a kid, I would write my name on a blank CD, and I'd put it next to my Green Day CD, and I would pretend that we were the same. For a second it feels real, but it's really not.
Seeing my name on the charts and in conversations with all of these incredible famous artists, it kind of gave me the same feeling where I felt like, This just can't be real — I must be back in my childhood bedroom writing my band name on blank CDs. Because this doesn't happen to people making folk music, really. I was just kind of stunned into disbelief to the point where it took people reminding me that it was happening to actually process it.
I was in love with everything about the process of making this album, and honestly, that was enough for me. I felt so fulfilled. The organic nature of how it all came together felt so real to me, and it felt so important to me. And doing it in Vermont, and having the record be about Vermont and New England — it really felt like the album I've been waiting to make my whole life.
I think my fans could see how much it meant to me, and it meant the same to them. We kind of shared this real emotional attachment to this album together.
It just felt like a huge change in the way my life was gonna be. It meant that I could make music that fulfilled me that would fulfill others. I guess you could say it reinvigorated my faith in music in a lot of ways.
The chart success, and the radio play, and the co-signs from other really great artists and songwriters was incredible and overwhelming. I still haven't really processed it all.
It definitely changed my life and put me into a place where I'm selling out shows, and there's lots of people that want me to work with them. It feels so nice, because it all came from following my heart — in the least cliché way.
Playing Boston Calling
It started to feel monumental when I got there. It's, like, three minutes away from my house, which is crazy. So I took a van from my house and I started walking around the festival, and it felt like I was Justin Bieber — people were chasing me around the festival and screaming.
It was one of the first times I've played in Boston since the deluxe [version of Stick Season] came out, and it was the second festival of the tour, so we were not expecting this crazy reaction. We get on stage and the crowd is just a sea of people. It looked like the crowd for a headliner, and it was only, like, 6 p.m.
We had a really good performance — objectively, we kind of crushed it — and all the fans were losing their minds, and then later, I went on stage with the Lumineers, which was so insane. It just felt like this moment of this hometown crowd really coming out in full force, showing their support and showing the world that I had this kind of fan base. I felt like I was kind of stepping out into a new world in a lot of ways when I got on stage.
Singing "Homesick" was pretty incredible. It has a line about the Boston [Marathon] bombers, and we were literally right next to Watertown where the Boston bombers were caught. And hearing like 40,000 New Englanders sing "I'm mean because I grew up in New England" was incredible — it made me tear up watching videos the next day. Seeing all those people connect over this common understanding of who we are, and that region, all at once was really, really special. It was just such a Boston moment.
Ever since then, it was kind of just crazy show after crazy show. And every hometown show has been so unbelievable. It was kind of the start of the madness.
Headlining Red Rocks
A show that felt particularly special was Red Rocks. Having gone from being an opener there to a headliner in a little less than a year was really special for me. The growth was so evident.
The crowds at Red Rocks are in this trance of community and love — it felt like the crowd was connecting with each other, and watching that happen was really incredible. Every single person there had a smile on their face. I think that everybody there had an amazing time, and that made me so happy.
Another thing that I've loved about all the shows, but Red Rocks in particular, is that some of these songs are filled with painful feelings and thoughts, and things that, for me, required a lot of vulnerability. And when the crowd is singing every single word, it just means that a whole crowd of — in Red Rocks' case, 9,900 people — are just being vulnerable, and yelling it out loud.
That's the greatest gift a musician can ever get — watching people express themselves and free themselves from any kind of shame at a show. That's what I try to do with my music, and I feel like I saw thousands of people shedding their guilt, their fear and their shame, and singing the lyrics.
We were playing the song "Maine," and there's a line that's like, "If there were cameras in the traffic lights, they'd make me a star," and I remember looking up at the crowd — that line is really about knowing that you have something special, but not knowing if anyone can ever see it.
I remember singing that song and that line, and I looked up to the crowd — 9,,000 people, that's four times bigger than everyone in my hometown — screaming that line back to me, and I cried. I couldn't believe where I was in my life.
And I still can't, but there are moments that I get numb to all of it and there are moments when the absurdity of it all slaps me in the face. That was definitely a moment where I felt just shocked by where I had gotten to, and how things have grown.
Launching The Busyhead Project
The Busyhead Project is an endeavor to raise a million dollars for mental health awareness, and these organizations that are doing so much for fighting the stigma and supporting people who suffer around North America. We wanted to start this organization because I have spent a lot of my career thinking and about my own journey with mental health, but I always felt like I was not doing enough, or just kind of providing lip service.
I never wanted to feel like I was accessorizing it or commodifying it. So I wanted to do something that felt boots-on-the-ground, tangible, [and] would make a real difference. We set out with a goal to raise a million dollars [for these organizations], and we're getting really close. [Editor's note: As of press time, The Busyhead Project has raised $977,055.]
I think it just comes down to putting your money where your mouth is. Like, I'm playing bigger venues and I sell merch — I'm starting to make money, and part of my philosophy on wealth and making money is that you're supposed to use it to help other people.
I don't need a lot for myself. I live on a diet of sunflower seeds and bananas — I'm literally eating both of them right now — so I wanted to give back as much as I can. It's really that simple; trying to raise money for people that really need it, and organizations that are doing miraculous work. We're definitely not going to stop at a million — I hope not, because that would be kind of lame. [Laughs.] If we can raise more money, we should raise it.
When I was a kid, I would look up "Artists with depression" or "Artists on medication." I didn't find a lot of 'em, but when I did find somebody, it would feel like I was, like, saved by God or something. That became like religion to me, to see that someone who was in the music industry was also struggling with what I was really struggling with as a kid. I want to provide that for some kid making music out there.
Breaking Onto The Hot 100 (And Collaborating With Post Malone) With "Dial Drunk"
The chart is kind of, like, the one thing from movies about the music industry that signify when the band is doing well — like The Rocker, or Rockstar, where it's like, "Oh my god, the music's on the charts!" And they're doing a montage where the chart spins, and they're on a magazine cover, you know what I mean? And what's always followed by that is a horrible downward spiral, so I think when I saw the song charting well, I was like, Oh God, this is where my career starts to go bad.
But I was really excited, and it was super cool — and, again, one of those things that's hard to actually understand from a human level.
It was also really nice because I always feel like the last thing I did is the best thing I did, so after "Stick Season" was a big success, I was like, I have to have another song! And I was touring so much, and I was on Zoloft, so I was feeling emotionally kind of numbed-down. Writing this song was kind of a wake-me-up from what was going on.
It was kind of a personal victory in a lot of ways — I challenged myself to make something new, and I did, and then it had this massive success. It felt like I can get through anything and do this again if I have to. It reminded me that what was happening in my career wasn't lightning in a bottle, but a real reflection of an audience being hungry for my music.
So then when Post Malone started recording his verse in the song, I felt like I was in a fever dream. I felt like it was gonna elevate my career to a new place, and I think it did.
He's always been an inspiration to me in the way he approaches music. I literally just reached out to him on DMs randomly one day, I was like, "Bro, I think you might like this song, we should do it together." He responded two months later, like, "Yeah, I f—ing love it!" It felt really natural.
We sat cross-legged and drank beers at the show in Massachusetts that I went out with him [to perform "Dial Drunk"]. It was so Post Malone — we talked about adult diapers and The Dewey Cox Story. He was just so funny and fun to be around.
Announcing An Arena & Stadium Tour For 2024
They had been talked about for a while when we were starting the tour in the spring, but they never felt real — I always kind of think, That'll happen later. At the point that I'm doing those shows, I'll feel like I belong in those rooms.
Having these shows scheduled is truly surreal. I just don't know how we're gonna sell that many tickets. [Laughs.] I think I'll believe it when I'm in the room — like, Madison Square Garden, to me, has always felt like just where Paul McCartney goes, and I can't believe that I get to be having my name on the marquee.
I told my managers on the phone when they booked Fenway, "I'm actually going to retire after this." [Laughs.] There's really no way to describe what that means to someone from New England.
As someone who grew up loving the Red Sox, going to Fenway Park all the time with my friends — getting drunk and stealing somebody's seats, and screaming at the opposing players over the dugout — that place has meant so much to me and so many people in my life. And the fact that I'm going to be one of not many people that have headlined that venue is just the craziest f—ing thing in the entire world. It feels like there's no other higher peak than playing songs about New England in the mecca of New England.
There was, like, a limit to my dreams when I was a kid — what I could do for a living and how big it could be. I'm trying to have my 8-year-old self be proud of me. I don't think he could even imagine where I'd be now.
I'm so proud of the people I work with, I'm so proud of myself, because I have really worked hard for this, and I've sacrificed a lot of things in my life to make music happen. To get to this place, it just feels like all those hard decisions were worth it.
I'm grateful for all the people that have supported me, and the people that have taken time out of their day to believe in my music when I couldn't believe in it. I'm just happy to feel like I belong here.