meta-scriptKane Brown Transforms Before Our Ears On Genre-Blurring Album 'Different Man': "I Just Feel Completely Different" | GRAMMY.com
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Kane Brown

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Kane Brown Transforms Before Our Ears On Genre-Blurring Album 'Different Man': "I Just Feel Completely Different"

Kane Brown continues carving a new path for country music with his new album, 'Different Man,' which is aptly titled: Brown describes his life today as a brave new world.

GRAMMYs/Sep 9, 2022 - 06:36 pm

Kane Brown is a special kind of artist, in that he seemingly can't stop breaking new ground.

At the 2022 MTV VMAs, he became the first male country artist to take the stage at the ceremony. There and then, he performed his new single "Grand," a hip-hop-heavy declaration of achieving his dreams and living the good life.

"Grand" is a reflection of where Brown is now both in his career and his personal life, feeling lighter and happier in what we might call the "post-pandemic" era. This change also prompted the title track of his new album Different Man, where Brown audibly hits his stride alongside featured artist Blake Shelton. "What if I was made for the stage?" goes the exultant chorus. "What if I was made for the lights?/ What if I was chosen to write the stories?"

These lines form the ideal clarion call for Different Man, which dropped Sept. 9 — and this bold blend of genres, as heard on tunes like "Bury Me in Georgia," "See You Like I Do," and "Drunk or Dreamin'," reflects just another enticing chapter in his ongoing evolution.

Past collaborations with artists including H.E.R., John Legend and Khalid prove that Brown is well versed in all types of music. Still, this is the first time we are seeing Brown really push aural boundaries for a full album, infusing traditional country music with elements of hip-hop, rock and R&B. Indeed, Different Man is aptly titled; Kane is transforming before our ears.

Just ahead of the release of Different Man, Brown announced a North American tour. The Drunk Or Dreaming tour includes 25 dates throughout the US, following an international trek throughout Canada, Europe and Australia.

Brown spoke with GRAMMY.com about the upcoming tour, the new album, and pushing boundaries within country music.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How did you settle on the title of Different Man?

Well, the song is what got me for the title, but recently I've just kind of felt different when it comes to everything, you know. We went through the quarantine and I was super-depressed and felt like literal gum on the bottom of my shoe, basically.

After freaking out about this album and being really nervous, we got the finished product, then I absolutely loved it. I just love playing my shows now. I just kind of found my sound, like I just feel like a completely different man. I'm just a really happy person right now.

What was making you nervous about the album?

Usually, every artist would be nervous about any album, I would say. I've always heard that the third album was like, make or break. So yeah, I guess that was kinda that was in the back of my head. But now this is the most excited I've ever been.

The way you broke into country music is interesting. You used social media and streaming to kind of get around the traditional systems. So, you've always kind of been outside the box, and this new album pushes the boundaries aurally. Do you think that you felt like you had a little bit more freedom, because you've taken a different route?

I would say just because I came in looking different, I came in releasing what I wanted. I've never been scared to release songs that we want to release. I feel like a lot of artists don't do it because they feel like they have a certain sound that they have to stay with.

That's not the case for me. I grew up around all types of music and culture. I think that's what's different with me — the people who support me know that I'll never actually leave country music. So, that gives me the freedom to experiment a little bit.

Do you think that with you pushing those boundaries and experimenting you'll reach a different audience outside of country music? And are you interested in or open to them?

Yeah, and that's another reason I've been doing it — because I'm trying to open more doors. The biggest thing that I hate is when people say country music is boring. Or when we get looked down on at awards. And it really makes me so mad because country artists can keep up with any artists in any other genre in ticket sales and things. So it really makes me mad when people just look down on country music.

People say country music is just sad songs. I've had the argument, especially as a person of color trying to convince people it's valid. I think it'll really give people a different perspective on what country music can be.

I hope so. I hope it comes across.

For this album, you've written with Ernest, Josh Thompson, Natalie Stovall and Shy Carter. Do you have any really memorable songwriting experiences as you were putting the album together?

It's always memorable when Ernest is around. He's just a funny guy, there's never a dull moment. He's so talented. Honestly, all those writers are. I write with those writers all the time. I usually go off of the word family. But I'm not just talking about my family; I'm talking about the writers I write with, the people I work with in Nashville. So, all that's what all those writers are. It's always memorable.

Did you start writing this album during quarantine or after?

It was right after the pandemic started. And that's another thing. I was really nervous because we were talking about releasing the album, and then we couldn't go in rooms with people. So then, I'm just really not feeling anything over Zoom. So I was like, "I'm not getting any songs for this album."

I was terrified. Then, it just kind of all opened up at once — and I've never had more confidence in it.

I'm sure you have a lot of favorites on the album, especially the duet with your wife. That must be special. 

Yeah, so that's what I'm really pumped about. I have a lot of them: "Thank God," of course, with my wife. To me, that's going to be the biggest song on the record — just because, to me, it's so good. And then Kate sounds absolutely amazing. My fans have been waiting, like, five years for a duet from us.

Another one I really love is "Drunk or Dreaming." It's very beachy. It makes me happy when I listen to it. It makes me wanna open up a Corona. I don't think I really have one of those songs that sounds like that.

"Bury Me in Georgia" — I absolutely love that one. Super rockin', kinda swampy.

"Riot" was one of my favorites from the album. It caught me off guard, in a really good way. Can you tell me more about it? 

So, "Riot" is intriguing, right? It just comes straight in with vocals.

I didn't write it. I had the song in 2015. This was when I first met Akon; his artist had it and I said I wanted it. When they gave it to me, it was super hip-hop. Then, I took it to Dann Huff, and [he] turned it into rock and roll. 

We've held on to it because a lot of people that first listen to it, it's controversial, how they take the meaning. For me, it's just saying: If you mess with my family, I'mma mess you up. But then a lot of people have also been talking about George Floyd, and all that stuff. I don't know if it's them trying to get a media outlet or if that's just how they hear the song. But regardless, that's why I love music. Because everybody can take different things away from it.

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You just announced your Drunk Or Dreaming Tour. Are you going to take your family with you on tour so you and [your wife] Katelyn can sing your duet?

Yeah they usually always come out with me. The only thing that sucks is that they won't come to Australia. Then, Kate will probably come to Europe, but the babies won't. Then the new tour, starting in March, that's with Dustin [Lynch] and Gabby [Barrett] and Locash, they should be at every show.

Does it feel different touring now that you're a parent?

I would say the only difference is my youngest, Kodi. It's a little hard having her. Because at 7 o'clock the bus is dead quiet. No noise. I used to always bring my boys and party — hang out. Now, you make any noise, and my wife is throwing her flip-flop at you.

It's good that you get to take them with you.

You know, that's one of the things I've always talked about is growing up without a dad. So it's cool to get to have them with me all the time and feel like I don't ever have to miss anything.

What can fans look forward to on the tour?

I just want to say it's going to be so much fun. You will not be disappointed. I've never been so stoked to tour. I'm telling you: I just feel completely different.

I want to talk a bit about just how the country music industry is changing. How do you feel about that and what would you like to see going forward?

I think it's changing for the better. This is the most popular that country music's been in a while, but it's still growing. I see a lot of times where people are kind of saying, you know, "I'm just now getting into the country music scene," which I love.

Definitely a lot more color, which I also love. We got me, Mickey [Guyton], Jimmie [Allen], my boy Breland, Willie Jones, so many more coming in. And then you got Kat and Alex. I just love it so much, so much color coming in. Beautiful people. I can't wait to see where it goes in another year, another two years.

Are there any of the artists that are coming in from the newer, more diverse generation that you're really looking forward to working with?

I really want to work with Breland. We actually wrote some super cool songs together, it just didn't make sense for the album. But he's so talented, and definitely needs to be heard more.

I would honestly do one with any of those artists that I mentioned. I'm surprised me and Jimmie Allen haven't done one yet.

I'm waiting for you and Brittney Spencer to do a song together, personally.

She's so sweet. Yeah, we gotta make that happen, too. That's gonna be my next goal. I'll definitely have songs with all of them — if not all of us on one song.

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Kane Brown performing in 2023
Kane Brown performing at the 2023 iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas.

Photo: Denise Truscello/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

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A Brief History Of Black Country Music: 11 Important Tracks From DeFord Bailey, Kane Brown & More

While the world anticipates the arrival of Beyoncé's 'Act II: COWBOY CARTER' on March 29, revisit these 11 songs by influential Black country musicians throughout history, from a Charley Pride classic to a Mickey Guyton statement piece.

GRAMMYs/Mar 22, 2024 - 10:24 pm

In February, Beyoncé added to her record-breaking legacy by becoming the first Black woman to top Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart with her single "TEXAS HOLD 'EM."

"I feel honored," she shared on Instagram in a countdown post to her RENAISSANCE sequel, Act II: COWBOY CARTER, out March 29. "My hope is that years from now, the mention of an artist's race, as it relates to releasing genres of music, will be irrelevant."

Since she first dabbled in country music with "Daddy Lessons" in 2016, the icon has received consistent backlash about whether she belongs in the genre. That same year, audiences campaigned for a boycott against the Country Music Awards for her performance of the track alongside The Chicks, later resulting in its erasure from promotional advertisements. And eight years later, the conversation returns as radio listeners question if her music should air on country stations.

Ironically, if you look back through music history, you will quickly discover that Beyoncé isn't the first (and certainly not the last) Black musician doing country music. 

In fact, the genre plants its sonic roots in negro spirituals and field songs, written on slave plantations. African American Vernacular English continues to influence contemporary chart-topper's lyricism and vocal twang. The banjo, which descends from the West African akonting lute, remains one of the quintessential instruments of the genre. Whether Beyoncé or the many artists who came before her, nothing sits at the heart of country music more than Black art.

To understand the full scope of Black creatives' impact in country, GRAMMY.com examines some of the influential tracks and moments of those who have made their mark on the genre and the music industry — from DeFord Bailey's Grand Ole Opry debut in 1927, to Darius Rucker's post-Hootie & The Blowfish country foray in 2008, to Breland's 2021 fusion of country and hip-hop.

DeFord Bailey — "Pan American Blues" (1927)

Before there was Mickey Guyton, Darius Rucker, or even Charley Pride, there was DeFord Bailey, the "harmonica wizard" from Tennessee.

After performing locally, another musician introduced Bailey to Nashville powerhouse radio station WSM's manager, George D. Hay, who later invited him to join the Grand Ole Opry — making Bailey the first Black member. He quickly rose to become one of the program's highest-paid players at the time, largely thanks to his iconic instrumental tune, "Pan American Blues," which imitated the sounds he heard from the railroad during his childhood.

As of press time, the only other Black inductees in the Grand Ole Opry are Rucker and Pride.

Lead Belly — "In The Pines" (1944)

"My girl, my girl, don't lie to me/ Tell me, where did you sleep last night?/ In the pines, in the pines/ Whether the sun don't ever shine/ I would shiver the whole night through," Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter questions in the Appalachian folk song, "In the Pines."

Though Lead Belly isn't the original writer of the song, his chilling vibrato on the recording inspired singers for years to come, including Kurt Cobain, who later covered the track in Nirvana's 1993 MTV Unplugged performance under the title "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" and named the '40s country blues legend his "favorite performer."

Linda Martell — "Color Him Father" (1969)

In "Color Him Father," Linda Martell narrates the heartfelt tale of a stepdad who embraces his new paternal role to a widowed mother and her seven children. It's also the song that propelled her to stardom, landing her a historic performance as the first Black woman on the Grand Ole Opry stage and later opening the door for debut album, Color Me Country.

After the project was released, Martell stepped away from the limelight, but her impact lived on. She was the inspiration for contemporary luminaries like Mickey Guyton: "The fact that she was there was groundbreaking ... She gave me the courage to be here," Guyton told Rolling Stone in 2020.

Charley Pride — "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" (1971)

Through his nearly seven decades-spanning career, Charley Pride became a certified hitmaker and one of the most renowned pioneers of his time. By 1987, he amassed more than 50 Top 10 hits on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, with 30 peaking at No. 1 — including his most notable single, "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'."

After Pride passed away from COVID-19 complications in 2020, the response to his death highlighted the magnitude of his legacy, receiving condolences from Dolly Parton, Billy Ray Cyrus, and perhaps the most personal from Darius Rucker.

"I couldn't have done what I do, I don't think, if there hadn't been Charley before me," Rucker said in an essay for Billboard. Pride served not only as an icon but also as a mentor to Rucker, and his kindness ultimately gave Rucker the courage to do the same for the next generation.

Cleve Francis — "You Do My Heart Good" (1992)

As a cardiologist and songwriter, Dr. Cleve Francis certainly knew a "good heart."

In his 1992 track, "You Do My Heart Good," Francis sings about a budding love that shows him how to see life in a beautiful light. The song eventually became the second single from his Liberty Records debut LP, Tourist in Paradise.

Francis later founded the now-defunct Black Country Music Association in 1995 to foster an inclusive environment in the Nashville music scene and provide resources to aspiring singers. Under his advisory, the BCMA, with the help of Warner Bros., produced From Where I Stand, a record book of Black artists' contributions to the genre.

Darius Rucker — "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" (2008)

Before 2008, many knew Darius Rucker better as Hootie, thanks to his remarkable '90s run as frontman of jangle pop band Hootie & the Blowfish. But with his second album as a solo act, 2008's Learn to Live, the world met Darius Rucker, the country artist.

Fittingly, he chose a heartbreaking ballad for his first country single — "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," a heartbreaking ballad about a man who wonders what could have been in a previous relationship. The choice resonated with country listeners:  "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, making Rucker the first Black country artist to have a chart-topper since Pride in 1983. 

Kane Brown — "Heaven" (2017)

Since his major label debut, Brown has possessed a unique boy-next-door charm, less "Western" than his peers. "Not laced up in a tight belt and buckle hat," but proof that "you can be who you want to be, and you can still listen to country music," his manager, Martha Earls, told Variety in 2018.

Take "Heaven," a romantic ballad with the Southern drawl and instrumentation of a classic country tune. But when you add Brown's R&B influence and natural swagger, the track invites audiences both in and outside of country.

Though Brown now has 12 No. 1 songs on the Country Airplay chart, "Heaven" is undoubtedly the country star's biggest song to date thanks to its crossover qualities and romantic resonance. And just last year, "Heaven" became only the seventh country artist in history to receive a diamond certification from the RIAA; Brown is the second Black country artist to achieve the feat, as Rucker's anthemic cover of "Wagon Wheel" reached diamond status in 2022.

Mickey Guyton — "Black Like Me" (2020)

In a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone, Mickey Guyton recalled that she wrote "Black Like Me" at a writer's retreat in 2019, thinking, "There is no way that anybody is going to accept this." But at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, there was no doubt that it was what the industry, especially the country genre, needed to hear.

"It's a hard life on easy street/ Just white painted picket fences far as you can see/ If you think we live in the land of the free/ You should try to be Black like me," she croons on the chorus.

The single made Guyton the first-ever Black woman nominated for Best Country Solo Performance at the 2021 GRAMMYs, and also helped her earn nominations for New Female Artist Of The Year and New Artist Of The Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Country Music Association Awards, respectively, in 2021..

Guyton continues to use her voice for advocacy, from speaking out on racial issues to chronicling the Black experience on her 2021 album, Remember Her Name

Breland — "Throw It Back" (2021)

Since making his debut with "My Truck" in 2019, Breland has been praised for his innovative fusion of country, gospel, hip-hop, and R&B. But beyond his sonic landscape, he's also inviting some unlikely choreography into the genre: twerking.

"If she got a shot of whiskey, she know how to throw it back/ She turn up for Elvis Presley, told the DJ, 'Throw it back,'" Breland cheers in the chorus of the trap-infused track.  "If you sexy and you know it, make it clap."

"Throw It Back" features Keith Urban, whoappreciates Breland for his confidence to go beyond the mold of country music's expectations. "He's one of the only artists I've ever met that does not care at all what something sounds like or what box it fits. If he likes it, if it catches his ear, he wants to be a part of it in some way," Urban explained to Taste of Country in 2021.

The War and Treaty — "Blank Page" (2022)

The War and Treaty are making the most of their "Blank Page."

The husband-and-wife pair — Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter — began their musical journey together in 2016.  Seven years later, thanks to their first major label EP, 2022's Blank Page, they also started making history. The War and Treaty became the first Black duo to receive a nomination for Duo Of The Year at the 2023 Academy of Country Music Awards, where they also delivered a stirring performance of the EP's title track, a heartfelt song about a new slate in love. 

Six months later, they made history again as the first Black pair nominated for Duo Of The Year at the 2023 Country Music Association Awards; they took the stage there as well, performing"That's How Love Is Made" from their 2023 album, Lover's Game

They added to their growing legacy at the 2024 GRAMMYs as well,  receiving their first GRAMMY nominations. "Blank Page" earned the duo a nod for Best American Roots Song, and they also were up for the coveted Best New Artist.

Tanner Adell — "Buckle Bunny" (2023)

When Beyoncé dropped "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" and "16 CARRIAGES" in February, country newcomer Tanner Adell readily tossed her cowgirl hat into the ring to become Queen Bey's next collaborator. "I hope Bey decides to sprinkle me with a dash of her magic," she pitched in a tweet that has now garnered more than four million views.

Adell's music is reminiscent of Beyoncé's own empowered narratives, particularly the 2023 single "Buckle Bunny," which even declares that she's "Lookin' like Beyoncé with a lasso." Like Breland, Adell brings a hip-hop flair to country music, exemplified by the thumping beats and rap-inspired singing of "Buckle Bunny."

As artists like Adell, Breland, Kane Brown, and more continue to push the boundaries of the country genre, they'll also remind listeners of its rich lineage in Black culture — past, present, and future.

Why 2024 Is The Year Women In Country Music Will Finally Have Their Moment

Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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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.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

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."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

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.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

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." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Franc Moody
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."

Moniquea

Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.

L'Impératrice

L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

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Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring

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Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

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