Kaskade Talks New 'Reset' EP, Executing Epic Fortnite Show, NFTs & More


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Kaskade Talks New 'Reset' EP, Executing Epic Fortnite Show, NFTs & More caught up with Kaskade in celebration of his latest EP, 'Reset,' featuring music from the Rocket League video game, and to learn more about the huge production that went into creating his March 26 Fortnite concert

GRAMMYs/Mar 29, 2021 - 08:08 pm

It's hard to imagine dance music and festivals without Kaskade. The beloved GRAMMY-nominated DJ/producer has been putting out melodic dancefloor bangers since 2001 and seems to have headlined almost every major music festival across the globe. Yet, somehow, none of it has gone to his head as he remains at the top 20 years into the game.

"The fact that other people wanted to hear my music, outside of that little, tiny world that I was in, just blew me away," he recently told over Zoom, from his studio in Santa Monica, California. "To this day, I am still so grateful for everything that transpired." caught up with Kaskade in celebration of his latest project, the Reset EP, featuring four tracks that soundtrack the Rocket League video game, dropped on Monstercat on March 5. He also dived deep into the EP, the epic production that went into creating his March 26 Fortnite concert, and planning his foray into NFTs (non-fungible tokens). The "Atmosphere" producer also reflected on his journey to super stardom and said he looks forward to returning to the dancefloor.

Let's start with the new music. Your latest project, Reset, recently dropped on Monstercat. I'm curious what your vision for this EP was.

Vision. Wow, that's a big word. [Laughs.] I've known the Monstercat guys for—it seems like a really long time—probably three or four years. I was really intrigued with how, I don't know, progressive-minded the label was. So, I reached out and became friends with them. And then, maybe two years ago, they came to me and were like, "We want to do something [with you] in the gaming space. Are you interested in that?" And I'm like, "Absolutely." Oh, hey. [Motions behind at arcade games.] My studio's named Arkade and I have video games here. I'm like, "I love video games! Yeah, that would be super fun, and different." A different software company hired me about 20 years ago to remix some game stuff, but that was so long ago.

And so, the EP was a pretty collaborative effort in the fact that they were like, "Hey, we want it to fit in the game, and these are some of the different vibes." And so, I sat down and played Rocket League for the first time about eight months ago. I'll paint it as one of those silver linings of the pandemic. Typically, I'm doing 120, 150 shows a year, flipping out, and completely over-scheduled, and trying to find some kind of balance.

With more free time and more studio time, I've just been open to do things like this. Which I would have been, prior to this—I just think it would have been a lot harder to have that collaborative "What are you looking for?" element. And it would be harder to sit down and really sink my teeth into it and wrap my head around the game and give my take on what I think would work when you're playing the game.

It was like, "Okay, what's cool and energetic, fun and light? How can that fit with my sound? How can I cater my style to that?" Really, I just approached it that way. But certainly, the Monstercat people were all, "We love your classic sounding stuff." And "Miles To Go," to me, is quintessential me. This is about as me as I can sound, but with a fresh take on it, a 2021 vibe to it.

I want to talk a bit more about "Miles To Go," which I love. I feel like Ella Vos' voice sounds euphoric but also urgent. What was it like working with her?

Working with Ella was a dream. She's equally as cool and amazing as her voice sounds. I didn't know her before this project. And honestly, we met on the back side of it. It all kind of happened in the cloud, out in space.

True to the current state of affairs, it was a song that was sent to my manager. "Hey, this is something that Kaskade might be interested in. He likes this style of vocal." And when I heard it, I was like, "Holy cow! She killed the performance! I wish I wrote this song." It was just kind of a piano demo. And instantly, when I heard it, I had some ideas on how I wanted to produce it. But yeah, her voice was already recorded—beautiful, pristine.

I'd only heard her one time before that, on a song ["Exhale"] with R3HAB. And I loved her voice then, I was like, "Wow! Who is this?" So, it was a cool moment [when I got the demo]. And actually, I sat on the track for quite a bit, because I was like, "There's a message here." I was holding it for maybe a future album, or something that was part of a bigger picture.

And one of the life lessons I've taken away from this whole thing is, maybe I don't need to be holding on to those things. I produced it up, sent it over to Monstercat. I was like, "Is this right [for Rocket League]?" If we look at the tracks together, this is on one side and "Flip Reset" is on the other side. "Flip Reset" is more like banging, peak, kind of like you scored a goal in the game! "Miles To Go" is the most emotive out of the bunch. But that works. They didn't want one flavor.

And what are some of the sonic elements that you brought in to "Miles To Go" to give it that classic Kaskade sound?

Early on in my career, somewhere along the line, I decided that to set myself apart I wanted the electronic music I was making to be more about lyrics and melody. Even on my first album It's You, It's Me, it's almost 20 years old now, it's all about the songwriting. And that was my deal. I sat down and got in the studio with people who I thought were great songwriters and said, "I've been really testing my writing skills. I want to continue to push this boundary."

I feel like dance music shouldn't be only just sound design. I've always felt that something that resonates and goes beyond, and something you can leave a mark with, is where you take a cool message, these lyrics, and a strong melody, and marry that with something sonically interesting. It can be a global impact moment.

Dance music is always just where my head's at. Dance music's always been about sonics. That's where we came from. Drum machines, synthesis, "I'm going to put this in a box, and stretch it, tweak it and freak it out, and make it sound like nothing you've ever heard before." And you hear it, and you're like, "What is this? I want more."

A lot has changed over the years, because 20, 25 years ago when I got into it, nobody was really writing songs and pitching them to dance music producers, because we were such a tiny little niche. I think the biggest thing for me that's changed in the last five to seven years, with guys like David Guetta and Calvin Harris that were able to really crossover and conquer the pop charts, people were like, "Oh, that guy, Kaskade's called me before, maybe I should call him back?" Even though we were filling nightclubs and large venues, and playing massive festivals before that, I think it took a few guys from our world to clip through to let other songwriters and artists know our world was credible.

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I grew up listening to disco because of my dad—he loves Diana Ross and all the iconic female vocalists. And you were the first dance music I got into, back in college. Now, I definitely see the connection in your music to disco, especially as disco is the root of dance music.

100 percent. Let me take that one step further. When I really got into this initially, I grew up in suburban Chicago and most of those early house records were so—I mean, disco [had] just ended. In Chicago they're like, "No, we're still doing it. We're going to call it something different though, because people are burning disco records at Comiskey Park. Okay cool, we're doing this in a warehouse, let's call it house music." A lot of people argue how that happened, but I'm not here to be that guy. Those guys were so influenced by disco.

And when I came up, all of those first wave of producers, they were borrowing [disco] as inspiration, and sampling, all of that stuff. Now, we don't do that so much because it's illegal. But back then, there was a lot of stuff that wasn't figured out yet. There's so many of those early records that I look back to, I was a huge DJ Sneak fan growing up, and I am still. [Points to huge vinyl.] I've got probably 150 DJ Sneak records. He was cutting a lot of those old disco records up and making them sonically new.

When I first got into it, I was imitating that. When I moved to San Francisco is kind of when I had that mindset of, "Oh, I can write my own songs." By then, the power of the computer had got so great—first we had 10 seconds, then 12 seconds, then you could record lyrics inside your computer. That led to a creative boom in electronic music.

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What else did I want to talk about? Let's keep talking about disco.

Disco's good. You're lucky you grew up in a house with it. I got a little bit of disco. I got some Bee Gees, of course, but I got a lot of ABBA in my house, man. They're amazing. The first time I went to Stockholm, all I could think was like, "ABBA. Where did they live? Can I go to a bar where ABBA hung out?" My tour manager was like, "Just leave it already." And I'm like, "No, no, I'm not trying to be funny. I grew up listening to this stuff, it's a big deal for me."

I want to talk more about how you approached sound-tracking Rocket League. How was it different than when you're creating a song that will sound great at a festival or on the dancefloor?

Well, when I go into the studio—it's a pretty selfish thing—I write songs for me, mainly. I like writing, and creating, and sitting down and messing around with sounds. With the first remix I got hired to do ages ago, the A&R person was very particular like, "Hey, I really like this one song that you did, and I think it could fit stylistically with something like that because I want this to be played in nightclubs at one in the morning. How can you approach this?" I was like, "Oh, yeah. I can totally see that working."

It's that same mentality when I sat down to [work on Rocket League.] "What would I want to hear? What's going to work? How can I put my spin on this?" "Flip Reset," the song I did with WILL K, was the most obvious thing to me. It's something that's super energetic, fun, light, banging. So now, when you're in the lobby of the game and you're waiting to choose your car, it's banging and kind of hypes you up. "Closer" was more about just the vibe. It's the music in the background while you're playing, you want it vibey, cool, but still energetic. Honestly, I think that's why the gamers in general listen to so much dance music. I get messages all the time on Twitter and Instagram, usually people who ask me to post more sets because they've listened to them at least 20 times each and have them totally memorized. 

[For Rocket League,] I wanted it to range from banging, super energetic stuff, to vibey, and then some of my kind of classic, emotive stuff that will be memorable. The hope for me was, and it's cool it's working this way, is that people turn off the game and they're like, "Man, I love that one track. What was the name of it? Oh, 'Miles To Go,' let me put that on."Discovery now, it's happening through TikTok, these games and all these different platforms. The industry can barely keep up. It's cool to see the young upstarts and the real savvy people out there figuring out that they can connect to people in different ways and different platforms.

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What's your relationship to video games? Obviously, I see the old-school arcade games behind you, but did you grow up playing them? Do you still play them?

I'm usually too busy, I don't get much gaming stuff in. But yes, I've got a PS4 and an Xbox at my house and every once in a while, I jump on there. But really, I still love the classics. I have some pinball machines in the other room. So, I love it all, I love gaming. But people are always like, "Dude, let me play you on Fortnite." I'm like, "You don't understand. I suck. I'm like 20 hours into that."

And speaking of Fortnite, your Fortnite concert happened on March 26. How did you prepare for that? And what do you see as a positive of being able to do a show in a virtual space?

That's a good question. I think the challenge for me [is doing shorter sets]. Even festivals are hard for me. You have 67 minutes of performance time. I came from the club world, and I'm used to playing two, three, four or five hours, and I feel really comfortable in that space.

What's cool about the whole virtual thing, especially when it's such a whole production like this, is that it can be quite planned. I'm totally winging it a lot of my concerts. That's one of the things that's cool about electronic music, because you can go one night and listen to me and feel, "My gosh! We were on the same wavelength." I mean, obviously, I strive for that every single night. But some nights go better than others. But the virtual space was cool because it was so thought out. It's like, "Here's your time allotment. This is what we need to deliver."

For the production of my shows, I'm very much a part of that process. And not that we get it right every time, we try to. For this, we're doing something much more rehearsed. We filmed the set, my goodness, over four days ... I'm going to say, conservatively, I did the set at least 30 times. And that is no exaggeration. I was so sore at the end of it because I was jumping around. On the second day, they were like, "Bro, are you all right on energy? You need a Red Bull or something?" I was so sore, because they kept being, "You got to bring the energy man, we're doing some close-up shots now." I can only spaz out so much. It's like I did two months' worth of touring in four days.

That's crazy. Did you work with a VR team? Or how did you collaborate on the visuals and all that stuff?

It's insane. Listen, we sent all my visuals in advance, and then I sent them a wish list of songs I wanted to play. We paired it down, got the visuals to sync up. And they started programming, a team of 50 people, when I showed up to film. This is massive undertaking. Honestly, I felt like I was preparing to go on the road for a year-and-a-half on a global tour. It was huge. And they had prepped for six or eight weeks before I showed up to perform.

The guys that  produced it and put it together are incredibly talented. It's wild. It was way beyond the scope of what I understood until I showed up there. During the streams that I've been doing during quarantine, I'm in my kitchen like, "Hey, I'm baking banana bread and playing some records. Tune in." That was the extent of my streaming. I did one at the Grand Canyon, that was awesome, and obviously, that took a small staff of people to execute that. But we were using the beauty of the surroundings to drop people's jaw.

This thing is very much a tech miracle. It feels like a festival. They had the camera on a boom, going over my shoulder, and then out into this virtual audience. Everything else [was] animated, except for me. It's like I [was] actually inside the game. 

Speaking of crazy things slightly beyond my imagination, you've Tweeted about working on putting out some NFTs [non-fungible tokens]. I'm curious what you see as the future for artists putting out NFTs and using that as a way to connect with their fans, and also as another revenue source.

I think it's exciting. [I'm always excited about] any kind of new platform or technology. Honestly, over the last 12 weeks, me and pretty much, I don't know, the rest of the art world, is reading, having discussions, watching YouTube videos, just trying to understand the space more.

For me, it's an opportunity for people to get my art in a different format, or see it in a different way, and potentially bring it to a new audience. I see it as a new opportunity to connect with my fans that have been around for so long, or even people that are just meeting me for the first time. I think on the music side, it's so new, we're kind of discovering the problems as we go along. I'm collaborating with a [visual] artist—and I'm not going to give any more than that away in this interview—because, to me, to be really effective, there needs to be a visual element to the music.

As far as the revenue, I mean, I am super fortunate to be in a position where, I'm in this part of my career, and I didn't spend all of my money. Although the pandemic sucked for many reasons, and I'm sure we all have our list of reasons why it sucked, for me, the short list of reasons why it was kind of cool is I got to slow down. I'm not looking to NFTs as part of some new gold rush. I think a lot of people are just head-over-heels like, "Oh, my gosh, money! I've got to get some of this money." 

It is kind of crazy how, a few weeks ago, all of a sudden the news was Kings of Leon has an NFT album and Grimes is doing an NFT, and then everybody's jumping on board.

I'm buddies with deadmau5, I follow him on his platforms, and chat from time to time, and he's up to his chin in this stuff. He put something [about NFTs] up, I think it was November of last year, and that was really when I was like, "Oh, wow!" Joel [Zimmerman, a.k.a deadmau5] is really ahead of the curve, and I really like what he does in the tech space. That's when I started getting into it. And I was already starting my run into this space, when boom, it happened.

It will be interesting to see how it evolves. I've been curious to see how blockchain can serve people and gets outside of its sort of techie, privileged bubble. NFTs are definitely a cool opportunity. And you know, people love merch, and I sort of see it as a new age of that even.

Yeah, for sure. I think it's going to get there. Right now, NFTs seem super high-end—and that's one of the things I'm trying to achieve with my drop, is make sure I have a number of items that are actually entry level. People that might be curious of NFT, and have a little bit of Bitcoin, or want to dip their toe into it, that there'll be something accessible for them.

I'm thinking more like, what's this next wave? Looking at it like merch, or something. Somebody can own my piece of art that's authenticated. I have fans I've met that are like, "I've been to 100 shows," so for somebody like that. And in my merch store, occasionally I would do prints from the photographer that's followed me around for a long time, Mark Owens, and offer something like that. It's interesting to stretch out that space. And I see this as a similar way, just in a digital medium.

You recently scheduled your Redux shows to 2022, which is crazy. What are you most looking forward to, about returning to shows IRL?

Oh man. Human connection. I miss it. It's been a challenge to make music in this black hole. I've been very spoiled in my career, even at the very beginning.  I'd make something and then I could go test it out at the club that night or the next night. To have that instant feedback is very inspiring creatively. It helped shape a lot of my early records.

Independent artists, and people in my space, we're not testing our music out out by pitching it to radio. I'm not writing radio records. Our space is in the nightclubs and at the festivals. And to just take that completely out of the equation, it's like, "Hold up. Does this even work anymore?" Fortunately, I get messages from fans like, "Oh, my gosh! I love this mix." And there's still some of that there, but nothing beats the real deal, in person, at a show.

Going back to the beginning, back in 2003, when you put out It's You It's Me, did you have any idea that you'd be where you are now?

[I had] Absolutely no inclination at all, no plan. I never had a clue. I was completely naïve, kind of dumb, young. If I would have tried to have planned any of this, I'm sure I would have screwed it up. There's no method to the madness.

I speak to youth groups from time to time, and they're always like, "Well, how'd you blow up?" And I'm like, "I have no idea. I can sit here and give you my two cents, but it's pointless because whatever I did is going to be completely different for you, if you're trying to go into this space." What I always tell them is I had zero expectations. I mean really, for me, it was like, if I could pay my rent in San Francisco, or even come really close and I'm buying Top Ramen, honestly, the world is my oyster. I am living.

To this day, I am still so grateful for everything that transpired. And not to say that I didn't work for it, I toured endlessly for the last 20 years, and just about killed myself out there on the road. Because I believed in the music and believed that somebody might be out there that likes it. I was always making an effort to connect with and build an audience. My endgame was just to be able to live, pay my rent, and take care of my family. 

And here you are now.

Now I'm sitting in this freaking ridiculous studio in Santa Monica, California. I went surfing this morning, and I have a pretty incredible life, all off of doing what I love. Honestly, as crappy as COVID-19 is, I'm not a guy that should be complaining. I don't have a complaint in the world. If you hear me complaining one day, just come up and whack me across the head or something.

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2022 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Dance Music
(L-R) Fred again.., Shygirl, Amelie Lens, Black Coffee, TSHA, PinkPantheress, Honey Dijon, David Guetta

Photo: (L-R) Frank Hoensch/Redferns, David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images, Pablo Gallardo Sanchez/Redferns, Michael Tullberg/Getty Images, Joseph Okpako/WireImage, David Wolff-Patrick/Getty Images, Pablo Gallardo/Redferns, Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV


2022 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Dance Music

Dance music was resurgent in 2022, bringing an explosion of energy from underground names and top-line stars alike.

GRAMMYs/Dec 23, 2022 - 04:58 pm

The dance/electronic genre runs wide and deep, encompassing a myriad of subgenres, artists, labels and fan cultures. By any definition, 2022 was a landmark year for the genre, as clubs and festivals returned more energized than ever and a wide spectrum of artists embraced dance music's spirit of collective release.

This year, Beyoncé and Drake turned to house music to inspire their respective albums, spotlighting several dance-music stars like Honey Dijon, Black Coffee, &ME and Rampa as collaborators. There was also a dizzying array of new music within the genre, including years-in-the-making albums from the likes of Flume and Bonobo and innumerable DJ sets loaded with unreleased tracks (or IDs, to EDM-heads).

The genre also thrived in the live sphere, with several dance festivals returning to their pre-pandemic status quo and many stars hitting the road for headline tours, including ODESZA and RÜFÜS DU SOL. In a genre that defies easy categorization, the outpouring of creativity was undeniable. Below, find eight trends that bubbled up in dance/electronic this year, setting the tone for 2023.

House Infused Pop

In a moment of cosmic alignment, two of music's biggest names found their 2022 muse in dance music. Beyoncé went all-in on house, disco and ballroom on her long awaited seventh studio album, which paid thrilling homage to dance music's Black and queer roots. In an all-star cast of collaborators, the singer found a kindred spirit in Chicago house veteran Honey Dijon, who brought her jacking energy to album cuts "Alien Superstar" and "Cozy."

Meanwhile, Drake's Honestly, Nevermind coasted breezy house and Baltimore club beats, with input from the likes of South African superstar Black Coffee, Keinemusik linchpins Rampa and &ME, and Gordo, the artist previously known as Carnage. Summer saw Drake take his own house pilgrimage, turning up at Black Coffee's Ibiza residency and a Keinemusik party in Saint-Tropez. 

As the fog lifted on two years of pandemic life, the back-to-back albums — which both debuted at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 album chart — pushed house music back into mainstream discourse, and put a shine on lesser-known artists doing the work. 

Artists Respected The Roots

While the work is far from done, this year saw dance music more consciously acknowledge its Black and queer foundations. After exploring the theme with Beyoncé, Honey Dijon delivered Black Girl Magic, a joyous house album that celebrates Black queer identity.

It was also a big year for forward-thinking Black artists in the UK, who foregrounded their lived experiences on some of the year's standout releases. Shygirl's Nymph and TSHA's Capricorn Sun were both supremely confident debut albums, while jungle DJ Nia Archives and pop-dance producer PinkPantheress also enjoyed breakout years; the former via electrifying DJ sets and her Forbidden Feelingz EP, and PinkPantheress with a string of releases including "Where you are," featuring Willow

Accepting the first-ever award for Best Electronic/Dance Act at London's MOBOs Awards, which honor "music of black origin," Nia Archives spoke to dance music's essence: "Jungle is music of Black origin and I'm proud to be flying the flag for my community and my scene." 

Women Took The Techno Reins

Like other dance subgenres, techno remained predominantly white and male in 2022. To redress this imbalance, some in the industry are pushing for top DJs to insist on an inclusion or diversity clause in their contracts, stipulating that promoters book a diverse lineup.

Despite this reality, a cohort of women made a strong claim to techno stages in 2022. Belgian talent Amelie Lens had a triumphant year as a producer, label boss and hard-hitting DJ, while Italy's Anfisa Letyago was a breakout performer at festivals like Movement, Sónar and EXIT and French DJ Anetha took her Mama Told Ya label to new heights. 

Following a star-making Boiler Room set in 2018, Palestinian DJ Sama' Abdulhadi made her Coachella debut this April. Three months later, bona-fide techno superstar Charlotte de Witte became the first woman and techno artist to close the Tomorrowland mainstage in her native Belgium. Meanwhile, at Berlin's techno temple Berghain, new residents Nene H and Sedef Adasï pushed against techno's strictures in long, wide-ranging sets. 

The UK Came Through

UK club music is always firing, but 2022 took it up a level with new iterations on UK bass music. In a year that electronic maestro Four Tet won his streaming royalty dispute with Domino Records, several of the producer's peers dropped consequential releases.

In April, Welsh duo Overmono distilled their fast-paced take on techno, house, breaks and UK garage on the five-track Cash Romantic EP, including the summer anthem "Gunk." The EP slotted neatly into Four Tet's orbit alongside fast-paced UK-centric club music from the likes of Brainfeeder recruit Ross From Friends and Vienna-born, Manchester-based salute. And up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, festival headlining duo Bicep perfected their own genre-blurring sound. 

Within this world — and arguably in dance music at large — no one blew up this year quite like Fred again… Respected as a producer for artists as diverse as Headie One and Ed Sheeran, Fred made his name as a solo artist during the pandemic with the first two volumes of his Actual Life album series, which set the template for his intimate night-stalking sound. 

In 2022, the producer's Boiler Room London set went viral — 11 million views on YouTube and counting — with its loved-up rollercoaster of Fred again.. originals and bootlegs spanning house, drum & bass, trance and pop. With Actual Life 3 (January 1 -  September 9 2022) now out, Fred again.. is riding into 2023 as the UK producer to beat. 

Tech-House Went Further Mainstream

When Australian producer Fisher released "Losing It" in 2018, he had no idea what a phenomenon it would spark. Originally a secret weapon in the DJ's sets, "Losing It" became Beatport's top-selling track that year and earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Dance Recording. It also cemented the tech-house subgenre — which evolved from its UK-centric roots in the 1990s to become a dominant club sound across Europe — as a mainstream force in a post-EDM world.

That trend continued in 2022, powered in part by Fisher's still-growing popularity and breakout hits like James Hype and Miggy Dela Rosa's "Ferrari," released on Universal's Island Records. 

After an ascendant 2021, Chicago-born DJ-producer John Summit dominated the year in tech-house, thanks to his prolific output and savvy use of social media. Together with friends like Chris Lake and Dom Dolla, Summit has muscled onto festival mainstages with a bumping, vocal-laced tech-house sound typified by his 2022 releases "La Danza," "In Chicago" and "Show Me." With a 2023 headline show locked at Colorado's famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre - a strived-for badge of honor for dance artists in the US - Summit is proving the big-ticket appeal of tech-house. 

EDM Nostalgia Lived On

A decade on from the explosion of EDM in the U.S., a few of that era's key players made notable returns in 2022.

Back in 2012, big room house hitmakers Swedish House Mafia shocked fans with the announcement of a farewell tour that kicked off just after they delivered their compilation album Until Now, featuring anthems like "Don't You Worry Child" and "Save The World." But 10 years later, the trio of Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello made their return with 2022's Paradise Again, which saw the trio evolve into a darker pop sound while still honoring past glories in their comeback shows. 

EDM nostalgia also fueled the 2022 team-up from deadmau5 and Kaskade as kx5, whose debut single, "Escape," could've been the biggest progressive house hit of 2012. In a full-circle moment, the duo capped off the year with a headline show for 46,000 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the former home of EDM massive Electric Daisy Carnival. According to Billboard Boxscore, the concert was the biggest ticketed global dance event of 2022 for a headline artist. 

Reaching further back, French electro-house trailblazers Justice marked the 15-year anniversary of their debut album, †, by sharing a previously unreleased demo version of its timeless single, "D.A.N.C.E." In dance music, even the recent past is ripe for reviving. 

TikTok Made Dance Hits

Just as TikTok helped to make and sustain pop hits in 2022, the addictive video-sharing app also played its part in dance music. While DJs flocked to TikTok to share tips, tricks, mash-ups, and videos from the booth, some of the genre's biggest successes were driven by the TikTok community.

Released in late 2021, Acraze's "Do It To It" became the definitive TikTok dance/electronic hit of the year. A chunky tech-house rework of girl group Cherish's 2006 single of the same name, the track went viral as a TikTok dance, featuring in over 3 million videos. Oliver Tree and Robin Schulz's aggressively catchy "Miss You" also blew up on the platform, powered by Tree's all-in persona. Meanwhile, Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal's garage-tinged house banger "B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All)" hit No. 1 in the UK after going viral on TikTok, turning two club-focused producers into overnight stars. 

Rave Was Recontextualized

Dance music is forever mining the past to inform the present, and this year was no different. Throughout 2022, a wide swathe of DJs and producers reached back to the sounds of '90s and early 2000s rave, Eurodance and hard dance to give their sets a jolt. 

The trend was particularly notable in techno, which in recent years has become more open to trance and breakbeat influences. Proponents of this throwback sound include the German artists DJ Heartstring and Marlon Hoffstadt, while Dutch DJ KI/KI powers her sets with decades-old hard dance for a new generation. 

At the more commercial end of the genre, DJ/producers David Guetta and MORTEN have reached back to the past to inform a sound they call "future rave," complete with the October launch of a dedicated Future Rave label. 

Whether looking to the past or striving for the next big sound, the dance/electronic genre was undeniable in 2022, with more highs to come. 

Catching Up With The Chainsmokers: Their Hopes For Another "Golden Age" Of Dance Music, A Latin Collab And Yes, Going To Space

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

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


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'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'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 (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

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

Photo: Steven Sebring


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, 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].

Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With

Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
2023 GRAMMYs

Graphic: The Recording Academy


Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2022 - 03:01 pm

Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.

Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.

Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."

Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business. 

As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.

Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"

In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.

Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt." 

There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.

Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"

Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.

After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon. 

"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"

Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.

In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."

Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall. 

Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"

When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.

Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production. 

Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.

Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"

Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."

Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar. 

Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List