Source Photos Courtesy of UFF Records, NarxFilms, and LatinDrill.com
Drill Music Is On The Rise Around The World. Can Latin Drill Take Over Next?
Latin drill was recently one of the most overlooked movements in Latin music. Now, everyone from J Balvin to Rauw Alejandro are exploring and expanding the emerging sound, launching the nascent subgenre from underground circles to mainstream audiences.
Earlier this year, Rauw Alejandro, one of Latin music's hottest new superstars to break onto the global Latin pop stratosphere, debuted Trap Cake, Vol. 2. Although the Puerto Rican artist regaled that the charting EP featured more of an underground vibe reminiscent of his earlier SoundCloud days, the release saw the singer/rapper return to harder sonic terrain, a notable difference from his 2021 pop-glimmering, breakthrough album, Vice Versa.
Among the nine-track EP stands the revved-up single "Gracias Por Nada," or "Thanks for Nothing," a snarling kiss-off that captures an equally brutal yet quickly emerging sound: Latin drill. Released in February, the power-chord-heavy track has since gone viral: The song's official music video counts more than 14 million YouTube views to date. Moreover, it reaffirmed the rising microgenre's entry into the mainstream arena.
Latin drill, the Latin trap counterpart bolstered by sinister verses stacked over ominous sliding basslines, was recently one of the most overlooked movements in Latin music. It is now permeating popular culture, with underground artists and superstars alike exploring and expanding the gritty art form.
Over the past year, a handful of international artists and producers have launched Latin drill from underground circles to mainstream audiences. Latin GRAMMY-nominated rapper Eladio Carrión delivered one of the most grueling Latin drill numbers to date last summer. Leading with dramatic, dissonant piano keys, "Tata (remix)" brings forth a coalition of drill, trap and reggaetón G.O.A.T.s working as one. Carrión, a Jester-turned-trap star, enlists two pioneers for the remix: reggaetón icon Daddy Yankee and Brooklyn drill pioneer Bobby Shmurda — his first major collaboration since his release from prison last February following a six-year sentence for conspiracy and weapons possession. The hard-hitting track also features Colombian reggaetón ambassador J Balvin, who raps on the original version.
In May, 2020 Latin GRAMMYs Best New Artist nominee Cazzu stepped into Latin drill territory with the premiere of her deep, booming track, "Jefa," the first single off her new album, Nena Trampa. The song comes equipped with gunshot sounds while the Ledesma native raps about reclaiming her status as the top Argentine trap villain.
The relentless rise of Latin drill comes as drill music, named one of the most important rap subgenres in the last decade, continues to dominate the rap scene and wider pop music landscape around the world. In April, GRAMMY-winning rapper Cardi B revisited her early drill sound on "Shake It," a "sample-driven drill posse cut," per Pitchfork, from Kay Flock and featuring Dougie B and Bory300. One month prior, in late March, Chicago rapper Lil Durk, who's associated with the rise of drill in the U.S. in the early 2010s, topped the Billboard 200 chart with his seventh album, 7220, which features the drill-powered "Ahhh Ha." That same week, rap superstar Nicki Minaj released "We Go Up," a collaboration with Fivio Foreign, the latter of whom, it is believed, is poised to take drill music mainstream.
Outside of American audiences, drill continues to expand around the world, with regional scenes cropping up in South Korea, Australia, Ghana, Kenya, and beyond.
Today, artists and industry leaders alike are taking notice of the Latin drill movement, which is staking a formidable presence stateside and across the world.
"[Latin drill] could be [the next big wave] if more artists keep making the drill sound,"' J Balvin told GRAMMY.com last October. "We are happy that we were one of the first ones that, let's say, elevated drill in Spanish," he said of the aforementioned "Tata (remix)." "Bobby [Shmurda] is one of the drill kings, and we did our homework of finding him. He was such a nice person. And also Daddy Yankee, he is the G.O.A.T. Eladio Carrión opened up the floor for us so it was really cool."
In 2021, rap newsletter Cabbages predicted the potential rise of the Latin drill wave in the U.S. charts, noting how English-language drill tracks like CJ's "Whoopty" had already broken through. "It stands to reason that Spanish-language drill will inevitably have its inaugural entry [on the Billboard Hot 100 chart] too this year," Gary Suarez wrote. "More and more Latin acts will continue to try their hand at it or otherwise make it their own."
With all this global momentum happening at once, can Latin drill become the next wave? The movement is already picking up speed worldwide.
Listen to GRAMMY.com’s official An Introduction To Latin Drill playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Pandora. Playlist powered by GRAMMY U.
From The Bronx To Bogotá: The Beginning Of A Global Movement
For decades, Spanish-language rap and reggaetón reigned over música urbana, streaming- and sales-wise, until Latin trap made its way in the mid-2010s. "There came a time when [reggaetón] started to decline, and artists picked up interest in the next thing. Latin trap became huge in the hands of Puerto Rican artists like Bad Bunny and Anuel AA," explains Catore, co-creator of the eponymous Latin Drill, a content-aggregating site à la WorldstarHipHop boasting a rapidly growing international social media fan base.
In 2016, Anuel AA's "Nunca Sapo," Bad Bunny's jaded opus "Soy Peor," and the raunchy "La Ocasión," the latter a star-studded track by De La Ghetto, Arcangel, Ozuna, Anuel AA, DJ Luian, and Mambo Kingz, solidified Latin trap as the top contender in the Latin pop canon. Yet just prior, N.Y. Dominican artists like Messiah and Lito Kirino were setting the framework for Latin trap, helping the genre launch to global acclaim.
That's where New York-dwelling Dominican trap and Latin drill come in, led by key players like Moreno ITF, Pachino Escobar, Kapuchino, and the rest of the rappers of Jalapeño Music Group; Chucky73 and his Sie7etr3 crew, including the likes of Fetti031 and Dglo73; and the UFF Records gang repping Nexiio, Davinci and Hotllywood — all laying the groundwork in neighborhoods like the Bronx and Harlem.
From Puerto Rico to Spanish Harlem and across the Atlantic, ascending Spanish-language rappers are now embodying the drill style, which originated in Chicago. "Aside from Chicago, when it comes to Latin music, I feel that the most authentic drill music is in New York City," Fabian Santos, founder of New York label UFF Records, or Until Forever Free, asserts.
"The movement is growing more and more," Catore says. "I believe that today we are in the era where reggaetón and Latin trap are in transition, and we are going to really start to see what real Latin drill is."
Read More: 5 Latinx Rappers To Know Now: Santa Fe Klan, Chucky73, J.I., Yoss Bones & BIA
More Than Just Spanish Rhymes
In the spirit of Latin culture, Latin drill's rising stars retain a tinge of revelry in some of their music and videos. Just take Chucky73 and Sie7etr3, a group that occasionally flaunts Nerf guns instead of calibers, acts jaunty while wearing ski masks, and features some jubilant perreo for good measure. Combine this with verses loaded with Dominican street slang referencing themes like hitmen culture, life in the streets, and their hood hustle, Chucky73's music testifies proudly that Latin drill has arrived, as evidenced in his hit song, "Mi Ciudad." (His new Reencarnación EP, which dropped last month, features the drill-heavy “4 por 4,” featuring Skinny Flex.)
"I started to make rap music when I was 12, but then I moved on to Latin drill. My influence was Chief Keef," explains Chucky73, who moved to NYC from the Dominican Republic when he was 8. "I come from a small block in the Bronx, and that's where everything started."
Just a few blocks away, another troupe of drilleros is wreaking havoc. Charged with menacing basslines and maniacal organ riffs, "Demons" by Dominican upstarts Nexiio and Davinci, or "Brujería" by Hotllywood, are recent examples of the Latin drill style pervading New York City.
"The way [some of my artists] connected was through prison," says UFF Records founder Santos, who manages Nexiio, Davinci and Hotllywood. "I don't want to talk about their criminal history, but they've taken their music as an outlet to be able to elevate themselves into a better space. They pour their heart into all their songs, whether it's about betrayals or just being out in the Bronx communities where a lot of things happen. New York is where the melting pot is, and where artists get influenced and start off. That's why Anuel AA used to come to Uptown, and a lot of other major artists picked up on it. It's not like they mean to take over drill music — they were influenced here, and they have a bigger platform."
It's arguable who made the first Latin drill track, and whether New York Dominicans were the first to invent it. Often regarded as Latin trap pioneers, Anuel AA and Ozuna jumped on the Latin drill sound via the 2021 Spanish-language remix of CJ's viral hit "Whoopty," giving the genre significantly wider exposure throughout the Latin music circuit. Earlier Latin drill is also accredited to Puerto Rican trap stars Jon Z and El Dominio for their 808Melo collaboration, "Los Chavos Cayendo."
Some, however, speculate whether the essence is preserved. "Lots of [Spanish-speaking] rappers are doing drill today, whether they pertain to the scene or not," points out Catore, who has Venezuelan roots and was reared in London and is now based in A Coruña, Spain. "They don't go around shooting people, or selling drugs, like Natti Natasha, who sings drill on a Jon Z remix."
Read More: 5 Women Essential To reggaetón: Ivy Queen, Natti Natasha, Karol G, Ms Nina & Mariah Angeliq
Still, even some of the most visible heads of the New York drill scene share Latin roots: CJ is Boricua and the late Pop Smoke, who took Brooklyn drill global, was half Panamanian. In fact, it's arguable that they helped catapult the genre fully toward Hispanophone territory.
"I dare to say that Pop Smoke helped create Latin drill," Catore claims. There is some truth to this statement, as Pop was the source of inspiration for many rising Latin acts today. All in all, it's clear New York artists are the first to solidify and mobilize the nascent genre.
Making Drill Their Own Latin Sound
The connective tissue bonding drill and Latin music may not be as culturally distant as one might think. Drill's origins and evolution — from the streets of Chicago to the U.K. to New York and beyond — reflect a shared lived experience between the subgenre's creators and the Latin artists adding their own spin to the sound today.
First coined by the late Chicago rapper Pacman, drill music emerged in the early 2010s in the South Side of Chi-Town and quickly propelled into the national mainstream in 2012 via genre pioneer Chief Keef's definitive debut single, "I Don't Like."
From the jump, the subgenre's bleak lyrics reflected the lives and experiences of those running the streets at their most dangerous hours, telling stories about retaliating against their enemies. In fact, the same year when drill music exploded, in 2012, Chicago became the murder capital of America, according to the FBI. "Everybody knows about the cases of people in Chicago dying from gunshots. It's usually people involved in that life, that culture, the culture of drill," Latin Drill site co-creator Catore says. "To drill someone is to take a knife and shank somebody, or take a gun and shoot somebody. It's slang for killing. It's drilling."
Along the lines of the original English-language version, Latin drill is steeped in nihilism, reflecting a grim outlook that mirrors the dark realities of those living them firsthand. "Latin drill is the shooter's version of their come-up — the hunger," Santos explains. "Historically, Latin trap has always been about hustling, making good money, and being the top dawg. A lot of people get that confused with Latin drill, [which] is talking about the violence around them — the mission."
New York Dominican rapper Davinci concurs. "Drill is about the person who does the dirty work; it's dirtier and more personal. We live by it," he says. "It's basically a warning, like, 'What would I do or be capable of?' That's why drill sounds darker."
"The drill is always gonna have a deeper sound. Trap is more hype," Chucky73 echoes. "Drill has a more thug vibe. It's more underground, and the lyrics are more violent."
While storytelling is essential to the genre, Catore says that it's not meant to glorify violence. "We want people to stop killing each other. We want to help save them," he asserts. "We also understand that music is art. And like a good Hollywood movie or a good action book, it might be about murder. So why can't we listen to someone sing or rap about murder? That's where we're open-minded."
Editor's Note: Following the killings of numerous drill rappers, police and government authorities in the U.S. and the U.K. have linked crime and gun violence to drill music in recent months. Artists leading Brooklyn's exploding drill scene are today fighting to show there's more to drill than violence and guns.
Read More: Rhyme & Punishment: How NPR's "Louder Than A Riot" Podcast Traces The Interconnected Rise Of Hip-Hop And Mass Incarceration
In the same vein, some U.S.-based Dominicans are chronicling a portion of their own brutal reality in rhymes: their struggle with their undocumented status. Some Latin drill artists rap about growing up Dominican, coming to New York, and battling with immigration, as heard on "Tírale" from Hotllywood, who's based in Corona, Queens.
"The way [my label] started was me wanting to help one artist who was incarcerated due to immigration laws. He was in the custody of ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] during that time," Santos recalls. "When he was released, I helped him get in the studio, letting him know the potential and opportunities if he took this music career seriously because this kid has a lot of talent."
Sonically, Latin drill expands on the roots of its American counterpart, often branching out into new fusions. In fact, artists and producers shaping the New York Latin drill scene are looking toward their roots to infuse the sound with their native rhythms. Davinci has lately been concocting a new iteration of the style he's calling "drillbow," which, as the portmanteau implies, combines drill with Dominican dembow. "Hotllywood and Davinci thought of the concept as a way to connect to their island, sharing the stories of their battles living in the U.S.," Santos says of the rising fusion sound.
The Next Chapter In A Growing Global Movement
With artists keeping it real to their own experiences — recounting their crimes, doing time, or slanging through tracks — and telling their true-life stories via this new beat, Latin drill is fast becoming a global movement, further boosted by streaming services, including a rapidly growing scene on SoundCloud, and social media outlets. "To be honest, I was going crazy to see my first million [streams]. I celebrated 73 in the hood, we came out and threw a little block party," Chucky73 remembers. "I was hype because I was able to make music. It just happened out of nowhere, I wasn't expecting it. I'm not even going to lie to you, I cried."
Davinci, who's gaining momentum on YouTube, still can't believe the Latin drill movement has reached these heights. "I didn't trust it until I saw this is literally what my life is about," he says. "For now, I'll leave it with God."
Santos is thrilled by the response his UFF Records artists are receiving in their communities. "I see people taking pictures with them, showing them love within their area, and listening to their music," he says. "One of my artists said he felt great when he went to the store and his music was playing without the owner knowing he was going to come by. That motivates them so much to go harder."
Then there are channels like Catore's Latin Drill site, co-founded by DJ Chirrix. The online hub is helping to generate the next international breakthrough in the movement. It has already spotlighted Colombian drill with Drizie Drizie, and even New Zealand drill as evinced in "Vida Loca" by newcomers Tanboymiguel and Lord Seez. To further expand the movement, they're forming a collective of producers to build their own beats for upcoming artists via Latin Drill Beats.
"I see two differences in drill: one in the culture and essence, and the other in the music. What I am most interested in is the music, but let's never forget its essence," Catore asserts. "If the music sounds good, and it has a drill beat, then let's say it's drill. It doesn't matter where the artist is from, and if what he raps about is fiction or true. In the end, the music is what you'll hear."
Santos sees a new direction for Latin drill in New York already forming. "It is being converted into more of a flow and the beat itself. People who listen closely will see what's going on, that it is a struggle," he says. "There's too much shit going on, too much violence. The New York Police Department hasn't been the friendliest, either. [Our artists] were living in chaos in New York. That's why we work together. We realize that this is bigger than just [the artists] and their platforms — we can take it to a whole 'nother level."
Latin Music's Next Era: How New Festivals & Big Billings Have Helped Bring reggaetón, New Corridos & More To The Masses
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.
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'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 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'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
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."
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 Bam" back 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
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.
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.
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist
Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, celebrate with this immersive playlist of every Latin Field nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
The Latin GRAMMYs may have just honored the genre's trailblazers in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, but the celebration will continue at the upcoming 65th GRAMMY Awards ceremony in February. There are five categories in the Latin Field of the 2023 GRAMMY nominations — and you can hear all of the nominees in one playlist.
In the Best Latin Pop Album category, are Christina Aguilera's Latin GRAMMY-winning AGUILERA will compete with Rubén Blades & Boca Livre's Pasieros, Camilo's De Adendro Pa Afuera, Fonseca's VIAJANTE, and Sebastián Yatra's Dharma+. Channeling their lively Latin roots while traversing pop landscapes, these albums all magnetically merge tradition and modernity.
Reggaeton, dancehall, hip hop, and funk coalesce in the nominated works for Best Música Urbana Album: Rauw Alejandro's Trap Cake, Vol. 2, Bad Bunny's Un Verano Sin Ti, Daddy Yankee's LEGENDADDY, Farruko's La 167, and Maluma's The Love & Sex Tape.
The genre-blending jubilation continues with the Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album category. This year's nominees are Cimafunk's El Alimento, Jorge Drexler's Tinta y Tiempo, Mon Laferte's 1940 Carmen, Gaby Moreno's Alegoría, Fito Paez's Los Años Salvajes, and Rosalía's MOTOMAMI.
For Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), 2021 winner Natalia Lafourcade's Un Canto por México - El Musical is up against Chiquis' Abeja Reina, Los Tigres Del Norte's La Reunión (Deluxe), Christian Nodal's EP #1 Forajido, and Marco Antonio Solís' Qué Ganas de Verte (Deluxe).
As for Best Tropical Latin Album, Marc Anthony — a two-time winner in the category — returns as a nominee with Pa'lla Voy, alongside pioneers Tito Nieves (nominated for Legendario), La Santa Cecilia (Quiero Verte Feliz), Víctor Manuelle (Lado A Lado B), Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Imágenes Latinas), and Carlos Vives (Cumbiana II).
Listen to all of the above albums in this comprehensive, 338-song playlist of the Latin music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Check it out on Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music — and we'll see you at Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!