meta-script5 Takeaways From Lewis Capaldi's Netflix Documentary 'How I'm Feeling Now' | GRAMMY.com
5 Takeaways From Lewis Capaldi's Netflix Documentary 'How I'm Feeling Now'
Lewis Capaldi

Photo: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

list

5 Takeaways From Lewis Capaldi's Netflix Documentary 'How I'm Feeling Now'

The singer’s new Netflix doc 'Lewis Capaldi: How I'm Feeling Now' traces the pop star's path to fame, offering intimate reflections on family, mental health, and his musical process — and how that all led to his upcoming album.

GRAMMYs/Apr 5, 2023 - 05:26 pm

From playing sets in pubs to selling out arenas, Lewis Capaldi’s career has grown on a massive scale in recent years — and the journey was all caught on camera.

Capaldi’s life forever changed thanks to his pained ballad "Someone You Loved," which was nominated Song Of The Year at the 2020 GRAMMYs and hit No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart in 2019. Four years after his breakout stardom, the singer is now poised to release his second album ​​Broken by Desire to be Heavenly Sent on May 19.

Before the album arrives, Capaldi gave an inside look into the process with a new Netflix documentary, Lewis Capaldi: How I'm Feeling. The intimate film takes viewers everywhere from the Scottish star’s childhood home to his late nights in the studio, with an emphasis on mental health struggles as his fame skyrocketed.

Balancing Capaldi's vulnerability with his wryness, the documentary has a lot to say about the acclaimed musician. As it hits Netflix on April 5, take a look at five takeaways from Lewis Capaldi: How I'm Feeling.

Lewis Is Proud Of His Scottish Heritage — And Outlook On Life

Early on in the documentary, Capaldi acknowledges his family and Scottish heritage during a drive through Whitburn, his hometown. He's come to love where he's from, though touring makes it impossible for him to stay at home for long.

"I do love the fact that I am a Scottish person, and I like the patter that people have," he said. "I do like the mindset of realists everyone just stays on that level of like, 'Let's give this a go and we'll probably f— it up, but we'll have a good time.'"

This lighthearted mentality is clear throughout the documentary, which highlights Capaldi's natural comedic talent. Even when Capaldi is struggling with imposter syndrome or anxiety, he manages to find hope in his art and loved ones. Director Jon Pearlman excellently captures Capaldi's personality and self-deprecating demeanor — and of course, all with his thick Scottish accent.

His Parents Give Him Tough Love

"It's s—," Capaldi's father, Mark, said, agreeing with the singer’s mother, Carol, after Capaldi asked for song feedback. "You asked me my opinion, so I'll give it to you."

The documentary often frames Capaldi's parents to be big on tough love, unflinchingly sharing their sarcasm or cutting honesty. But their care and pride for their son are heartwarming above all else. Mark drove Capaldi to gigs around town when Capaldi first picked up his guitar, and Carol frequently expresses worry about her son's rising fame: "I don’t want him to change. I don’t want us to change. It wouldn’t be worth it."

How I'm Feeling shows Capaldi returning home due to the pandemic, capturing his family dynamic on screen (along with clips of the star completing his everyday chores from feeding the dog to folding laundry). The documentary flips through Capaldi's family photo albums, portraying his early interests in music as well as sharing exclusive commentary on how the singer's parents helped him follow his passion.

His Single 'Bruises' Was A Career Turning Point Before 'Someone You Loved' Existed

"If only I could hold you, you'd keep my head from going under," Capaldi belts across a montage of old concert videos. Shown early on in the documentary, the tender lyric appears to foreshadow his future emotional struggles — but the song is also the impetus for his stardom.

His crushing 2017 single "Bruises," which Capaldi released independently, was boosted through Spotify's addition of the song to its popular New Music Friday playlist — which quickly helped him get signed to a branch of Universal Music Group in the same year.

"You see the smile on his face when the crowd sang back," his father said in the documentary. "We knew that's what he was going to do for the rest of his life."

The documentary portrays Capaldi's quick escalation to fame, but it also provides a look into more intimate songwriting sessions the musician has with fellow collaborators such as Dan Nigro, Amy Allen, Nick Atkinson, and Edd Holloway. From voice memos to iPad demos, it's evident Capaldi belongs in the studio and on stage.

He's Open About His Mental Health And Tourette's

How I’m Feeling zeroes in on the impact fame has had on Capaldi’s mental health, and details his anxiety pricking up after the global success of "Someone You Loved" — especially as he felt the pressure to craft another No. 1 hit.

Amid echoey vocals, shadowy crowds, and whining microphone feedback, the documentary captures the dizzying anxiety Capaldi felt — and sometimes still feels — when confronting his career. The singer opens up about his Tourette syndrome diagnosis, debilitating panic attacks, and fear of death.

"Is it worth it? Making you feel like this?" asks his concerned mother at one point in the documentary.

Yet, as How I’m Feeling shows, Capaldi has found ways to prioritize his well-being and still continue his musical career. He regularly attends therapy, takes his vitamins, and knows when to take time off; the documentary portrays how this re-energized approach to life allowed him to pour his full passion into Broken by Desire to be Heavenly Sent.

He Still Doesn't Understand How He’s Famous

"People started getting their phones out. Why are they all so interested in what we're doing?" Capaldi queried in a vertical video, recalling a casual night out on the town. "And then I remember: it's 'cause I'm f—ing famous."

Although he said the line with his signature wit, How I'm Feeling demonstrates how genuinely easy it is for Capaldi to forget about his celebrity status. On a more personal level, he still struggles to understand why people like him — even with billions of streams and millions of followers.

"I just don't get it, I don't get why people would turn up and see [me perform], but I'm eternally grateful," he said, laughing, "I love you, but I will never understand you."

In one part of the documentary, Capaldi recalls grabbing beers with Ed Sheeran and chatting about impostor syndrome. A little while later, the singer received an email from Sheeran’s close friend Elton John, who wrote a kind note of encouragement to remind Capaldi: “You write beautiful songs that resonate with millions.”

Even so, Capaldi modestly disregards the power of his "silly little songs," and How I’m Feeling hints that he may always be in that mindset, even if Broken by Desire to be Heavenly Sent proves to be another massive success. Whether he understands the fame or not, Capaldi’s story is a reminder that achieving your dreams may not always be easy — but if you stay true to yourself, you’ll find a way to keep your head above water.

British Singer Sam Fender On Getting A (Literal) Taste Of America And Why "Everyone Needs A F—ing Elton John"

17 Love Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "I Will Always Love You," "Drunk In Love" & More
(L-R) Usher and Alicia Keys during the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show.

Photo: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

list

17 Love Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "I Will Always Love You," "Drunk In Love" & More

Over the GRAMMYs' 66-year history, artists from Frank Sinatra to Ed Sheeran have taken home golden gramophones for their heartfelt tunes. Take a look at some of the love songs that have won GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Feb 14, 2024 - 09:42 pm

Editor's Note: This is an update to a story from 2017.

Without heart-bursting, world-shifting love songs, music wouldn't be the same. There are countless classic and chart-topping hits dedicated to love, and several of them have won GRAMMYs.

We're not looking at tunes that merely deal with shades of love or dwell in heartbreak. We're talking out-and-out, no-holds-barred musical expressions of affection — the kind of love that leaves you wobbly at the knees.

No matter how you're celebrating Valentine's Day (or not), take a look at 18 odes to that feel-good, mushy-gushy love that have taken home golden gramophones over the years.

Frank Sinatra, "Strangers In The Night"

Record Of The Year / Best Vocal Performance, Male, 1967

Ol' Blue Eyes offers but a glimmer of hope for the single crowd on Valentine's Day, gently ruminating about exchanging glances with a stranger and sharing love before the night is through.

Willie Nelson, "Always On My Mind"

Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, 1983

In this cover, Nelson sings to the woman in his life, lamenting over those small things he should have said and done, but never took the time. Don't find yourself in the same position this Valentine's Day.

Lionel Richie, "Truly"

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, 1983

"Truly" embodies true dedication to a loved one, and it's delivered with sincerity from the king of '80s romantic pop — who gave life to the timeless love-song classics "Endless Love," "Still" and "Three Times A Lady."

Roy Orbison, "Oh, Pretty Woman"

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, 1991

Orbison captures the essence of encountering a lovely woman for the first time, and offers helpful one-liners such as "No one could look as good as you" and "I couldn't help but see … you look as lovely as can be." Single men, take notes.

Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You"

Record Of The Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, 1994

Houston passionately delivers a message of love, remembrance and forgiveness on her version of this song, which was written by country sweetheart Dolly Parton and first nominated for a GRAMMY in 1982.

Celine Dion, "My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From Titanic)"  

Record Of The Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, 1999

This omnipresent theme song from the 1997 film Titanic was propelled to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 as the story of Jack and Rose (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and GRAMMY winner Kate Winslet) swept the country.

Shania Twain, "You're Still The One"

Best Female Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Song, 1999

Co-written with producer and then-husband Mutt Lange, Twain speaks of beating the odds with love and perseverance in lyrics such as, "I'm so glad we made it/Look how far we've come my baby," offering a fresh coat of optimism for couples of all ages.

Usher & Alicia Keys, "My Boo"

Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals, 2005

"There's always that one person that will always have your heart," sings Usher in this duet with Keys, taking the listener back to that special first love. The chemistry between the longtime friends makes this ode to “My Boo” even more heartfelt, and the love was still palpable even 20 years later when they performed it on the Super Bowl halftime show stage.

Bruno Mars, "Just The Way You Are"

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, 2011

Dating advice from Bruno Mars: If you think someone is beautiful, you should tell them every day. Whether or not it got Mars a date for Valentine's Day, it did get him a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Cee Lo Green & Melanie Fiona, "Fool For You" 

Best Traditional R&B Performance, 2012

It's a far cry from his previous GRAMMY-winning song, "F*** You," but "Fool For You" had us yearning for "that deep, that burning/ That amazing unconditional, inseparable love."

Justin Timberlake, "Pusher Love Girl" 

Best R&B Song, 2014

Timberlake is so high on the love drug he's "on the ceiling, baby." Timberlake co-wrote the track with James Fauntleroy, Jerome Harmon and Timbaland, and it's featured on his 2013 album The 20/20 Experience, which flew high to No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Beyoncé & Jay-Z, "Drunk In Love"

Best R&B Performance / Best R&B Song, 2015

While "Drunk In Love" wasn't the first love song that won Beyoncé and Jay-Z a GRAMMY — they won two GRAMMYs for "Crazy In Love" in 2004 — it is certainly the sexiest. This quintessential 2010s bop from one of music's most formidable couples captures why their alliance set the world's hearts aflame (and so did their steamy GRAMMYs performance of it).

Ed Sheeran, "Thinking Out Loud"

Song Of The Year / Best Pop Solo Performance, 2016

Along with his abundant talent, Sheeran's boy-next-door charm is what rocketed him to the top of the pop ranks. And with swooning lyrics and a waltzing melody, "Thinking Out Loud" is proof that he's a modern-day monarch of the love song.

Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, "Shallow"

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance / Best Song Written For Visual Media, 2019

A Star is Born's cachet has gone up and down with its various remakes, but the 2018 iteration was a smash hit. Not only is that thanks to moving performances from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, but particularly thanks to their impassioned, belt-along duet "Shallow."

H.E.R. & Daniel Caesar, "Best Part"

Best R&B Performance, 2019

"If life is a movie/ Know you're the best part." Who among us besotted hasn't felt their emotions so widescreen, so thunderous? Clearly, H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar have — and they poured that feeling into the GRAMMY-winning ballad "Best Part."

Kacey Musgraves, "Butterflies"

Best Country Solo Performance, 2019

As Musgraves' Album Of The Year-winning LP Golden Hour shows, the country-pop star can zoom in or out at will, capturing numberless truths about the human experience. With its starry-eyed lyrics and swirling production, "Butterflies" perfectly encapsulates the flutter in your stomach that love can often spark.

Dan + Shay & Justin Bieber, "10,000 Hours"

Best Country Duo/Group Performance, 2021

When country hook-meisters Dan + Shay teamed up with pop phenom Justin Bieber, their love song powers were unstoppable. With more than 1 billion Spotify streams alone, "10,000 Hours" has become far more than an ode to just their respective wives; it's an anthem for any lover.

Lovesick Or Sick Of Love: Listen To GRAMMY.com's Valentine's Day Playlist Featuring Taylor Swift, Doja Cat, Playboi Carti, Olivia Rodrigo, FKA Twigs & More

Britney Spears' Biggest Songs: 15 Of The Pop Icon's Most Beloved Tracks, From "Toxic" To "Hold Me Closer"
Britney Spears performs in 2016.

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

list

Britney Spears' Biggest Songs: 15 Of The Pop Icon's Most Beloved Tracks, From "Toxic" To "Hold Me Closer"

As Britney Spears celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of her all-time classics, "Toxic," GRAMMY.com rounds up 15 tracks that encapsulate the star's peak performances and iconic moments.

GRAMMYs/Jan 12, 2024 - 06:57 pm

Britney Spears recently posted a message on Instagram that asserted she'd never return to the music business. She later deleted it, which could be taken as a sign that she hasn't made this big decision with such finality. But it was certainly an alarming statement to her diehard fans eagerly awaiting new music.

It's fair to hold out hope that Spears will want to be a public entertainer and recording artist again in some ways — after all, she did just release a memoir, The Woman in Me, in October, and the book reveals a healing woman. And, of course, she scored a worldwide hit in 2022 with Elton John in "Hold Me Closer." 

Even if she never releases another piece of music, Spears already has quite the legacy. Between five No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, six No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, and a GRAMMY win, her mark on pop music is undeniable. Part of that impact is courtesy of "Toxic," the danceable smash that was released as a single in January 2004 (and won Spears her GRAMMY in 2005).

In honor of the 20th anniversary of "Toxic," GRAMMY.com surveyed the pop superstar's hits and deep cuts from 1998 to the present in order to break down some of the most essential tracks in Spears' catalog. Between beautiful ballads and brazen bops, let the reminiscing commence.

"...Baby, One More Time," ...Baby One More Time (1998)

Written and co-produced by powerhouse Swedish pop producer Max Martin — a frequent collaborator throughout Spears' career — the singer's debut single was rewarded with some of the highest honors of the music industry when she was just 17 years old.

"...Baby, One More Time" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards. It has since sold over 10 million copies, and to this day remains one of her defining hits. (And to think it almost wasn't hers: According to Yahoo! News Australia, the song was reportedly originally offered to the Backstreet Boys.)

The song's instantly meteoric success was undoubtedly catapulted by its memorable video, which sees Spears dance her way through private school halls in a (now iconic) skimpy uniform. Seeing it performed visually cemented her image as a young, belly-baring flirt with girl-next-door looks, approachable style and enviable dancing skills, an archetype that little girls everywhere wanted to emulate.

"Oops!... I Did It Again," Oops!... I Did It Again (2000)

Spears further played with her innocent image on "Oops!... I Did It Again," a sassy song that suggests suitors aren't exactly safe with their heart in her hands. It was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 43rd GRAMMYs.

"I think I did it again," she sings at the top of the track. "I made you believe we're more than just friends." Spawning another classic video and another trademark look (this time, a red catsuit), "Oops" emphasized Spears' further pivot into naughtiness and had thousands learning her choreography in a pre-YouTube era. 

Another Max Martin and Rami Yacoub production, "Oops" stuck at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, but the album of the same name debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and set first-week records for sales by a woman artist at the time with 1,319,913 copies sold.

"Lucky," Oops!... I Did It Again (2000)

"Lucky" is a peppy song with a sprinkle of sadness on top. Its titular character is a Hollywood girl who seems to have it all, but there's no one to share her success with, so she is lonely and cries at night. It was a poignant sentiment, given her fame at the time, and was re-examined by fans in recent years as she fought for freedom from her conservatorship overseen by her father, Jamie Spears.

While it didn't manage to break the top 20 of the Hot 100, "Lucky" has always been a fan favorite. The song did break through internationally, though, becoming a No. 1 hit in three European countries as well as on Europe's overall pop chart.

"Dear Diary," Oops!... I Did It Again (2000)

Spears has worked with a global roster of songwriters and producers over the years, but the Oops! ballad "Dear Diary" marked a special moment for the star: it was the first album cut that she co-wrote.

While Oops!... I Did It Again largely showed a maturing Spears, the innocence and sweetness of "Dear Diary" served as a reminder that she was still just a teenager in the beginning of her stardom. The track also seemingly gave her the confidence to co-write more of her songs, as she had a hand in writing almost half of 2001's Britney and almost all of 2003's In the Zone.

"I'm a Slave 4 U," Britney (2001)

Spears went rather gritty on the lead single to her third, self-titled album. While earlier singles may have had a sexy wink within their words, the lyrics of "I'm a Slave 4 U" took a deeper plunge into the erotic zone. "All you people look at me like I'm a little girl," she sings defensively. "Well, did you ever think it'd be okay for me to step into this world?"

Along with the racy lyrics, Spears' visual performances of the song — a music video depiction of a steamy basement club night and a VMA performance that included dancing with an Albino Burmese python around her neck — added more cultural moments to her repertoire. 

"Overprotected," Britney (2001)

Spears' massive fame made her an early paparazzi magnet and led her to be sheltered by her management, record label and family. These topics are addressed head-on over the soaring notes of "Overprotected."

"Say hello to the girl that I am/ You're gonna have to see through my perspective," she declares on the opening verse. "I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am/ And I don't wanna be so damn protected."

The anthem foreshadowed her future hit "Piece of Me" — and the struggle for independence she'd later fight for during her conservatorship — but ultimately showed that she isn't afraid to speak her mind and fight for what's hers.

"I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," Britney (2001)

After two bold statements with Britney's first two singles ("I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Overprotected"), Spears pumped the brakes on the notion of her growing up too fast in the ballad "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." The song appeared on her third album, Britney, and in the soundtrack for the road trip dramedy Crossroads.

"There is no need to protect me," she sings powerfully on the track, which appears to mirror her experience in real life at that moment in time. "It's time that I/ Learn to face up to this on my own/ I've seen so much more than you know now/ So don't tell me to shut my eyes." 

"Toxic," In the Zone (2003)

"Toxic" is an uptempo whirlwind of sampled Bollywood strings and Swedish pop drama crafted by the popular dance pop producers Bloodshy & Avant. Another single that took on a life of its own visually, the video served up another set of iconic looks: the deadly assassin, the sparkly nude bodysuit and the perky flight attendant.

"Toxic" remains Spears' biggest hit as of press time, now certified six-times platinum by the RIAA and the only song with more than one billion streams on Spotify. It also won Spears her one GRAMMY, for Best Dance Recording at the 47th GRAMMY Awards.

And 20 years after its release as a single, "Toxic" has had remarkable staying power on the pop charts. As of 2023, the song appeared on the Hot 100 in three different incarnations: the original track and the mash-ups "Toxic Pony" by Altégo and "Toxic Las Vegas" by Jamieson Shaw. 

"Everytime," In the Zone (2003)

By this era of Spears' discography, fans were more than used to autotune and other processed treatments on her singing — but "Everytime" is Spears in a more vulnerable and unplugged state. Co-written by Spears, the slow, melancholic ballad hit even harder because it was released after her public breakup with Justin Timberlake.

Fans hadn't heard anything quite as sad from Spears in her career as the pining lyrics of the chorus on "Everytime": "And every time I try to fly I fall/ Without my wings/ I feel so small/ I guess I need you, baby." The song became a fan favorite for the rawness of her vocal delivery, and was also a personal favorite for Spears during her Las Vegas concert residency.

"Womanizer," Circus (2008)

Spears' father began his role as her conservator in February 2008. Seven months later, she released "Womanizer," the lead single to her sixth album, Circus — which proved that no one was going to hold her down.

"You say I'm crazy," she sneers on the chorus of the engine-roaring uptempo track, which pokes fun at recent troubles with her ex-husband Kevin Federline. "I got your crazy!" she adds, sarcastically.

While the song's message focused on telling off a, well, womanizer, its commercial success showed Spears' new conservatorship meant nothing for her staying power. "Womanizer" was her first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 since "...Baby, One More Time" topped the chart in January 1999; it also earned Spears her seventh GRAMMY nomination, for Best Dance Recording at the 2010 GRAMMYs.

"If You Seek Amy," Circus (2008)

If the title to the sing-songy "If You Seek Amy" is said out loud, it sounds like a sexual proposition. And that's exactly what makes this Max Martin-produced track so enjoyable.

Despite everything she was experiencing in her personal life, it offered evidence that Spears still knew how to poke fun at her staying at the center of attention. It's a perfect time capsule to an era when she was most wanted by the paparazzi.

"Hold It Against Me," Femme Fatale (2011)

Spears' "Hold It Against Me" flips an old chauvinistic joke into girl power — another clever piece added to the singer's puzzle. After being objectified so much over the course of her career, this song was her bid to put an end to it.

"Hold It Against Me" continued Spears' late 2000s hot streak into the 2010s. It earned the singer her fourth No. 1 on the Hot 100, following the chart-topping success of "3," her cheeky ode to threesomes, in 2009. 

"Work B—," Britney Jean (2013)

Spears assumes a faux British accent for "Work B—," a bossy cut made for gyms or the club. "You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti? You want a Maserati?" she asks over an insistent beat. "You better work, b—… now get to work, b—!"

Shortly after the track was released in 2013, Spears told English talk show host Alan Carr that the song is a tribute to her gay male friends, with whom she uses the word b— playfully and affectionately as a term of endearment. It became both a gay club anthem and a top 20 hit on the Hot 100 chart, and the video revived interest in Spears' dancing chops.

"Slumber Party (feat. Tinashe), Glory (2016)

A slightly different sound for Spears compared to her pop and dance productions, "Slumber Party" features Tinashe with a lyrical cadence that is more in the R&B singer's realm. It's perhaps the Spears song with the most urban radio feel since "I'm a Slave 4 U."

Fans may also remember "Slumber Party" fondly for what was once a romantic reason: Spears' now ex-husband Sam Asghari was cast as the leading man in the lingerie-heavy music video; it's how they first met each other.

"Hold Me Closer" with Elton John, The Lockdown Sessions (2022)

What better way to celebrate a big feat than with a massive collaboration? Nine months after Spears' long-fought conservatorship was terminated, she dropped a team-up with none other than Sir Elton John.

The unexpected duo released "Hold Me Closer," a soaring duet that interpolates parts of John's beloved hits "Tiny Dancer," "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and "The One" into a singular modern mix. And though Spears is more of a background vocalist, her first release in six years marked quite the comeback: "Hold Me Closer" topped the Billboard Adult Top 40 and the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs charts, and reached No. 6 on the Hot 100.

As of press time, "Hold Me Closer" is the last song that Spears has released to date. While it's possible that there may not be any more recordings to follow, it's also safe to say she has surprised the world more than once before.

How Many GRAMMYs Has Britney Spears Won? 10 Questions About The "Hold Me Closer" Singer Answered

Charles Esten On How Procrastination, Serendipity And "Nashville" Resulted In 'Love Ain't Pretty'
Charles Esten

Photo: Kirsten Balani

interview

Charles Esten On How Procrastination, Serendipity And "Nashville" Resulted In 'Love Ain't Pretty'

For the first time in his career, Charles Esten is fully focused on music. But as the actor/singer details, his debut album, 'Love Ain't Pretty' is much more than another venture — it's a lifelong goal achieved.

GRAMMYs/Jan 3, 2024 - 10:40 pm

Like many of his peers, Charles Esten has known music is his calling since he was a kid. But at 58, he's just now getting the opportunity to do what his contemporaries are long past: release a debut album.

As fans of the beloved ABC/CMT series "Nashville" or the hit Netflix drama "Outer Banks" know, Esten first established himself in the acting world. But as his "Nashville" role revealed, the actor also had some strong singing chops, too — and it wasn't a coincidence.

Due Jan. 26, Love Ain't Pretty is a testament to both Esten's patience and his passion. Combining his soulful country sound and emotive songwriting, Love Ain't Pretty poignantly captures his years of loving and learning. And with a co-writing credit on all 14 tracks, the album is the purest representation of his artistry possible.

"Being the age I am, and the difference of what this album is to what maybe my first album would've been if I was 28, is the intentionality," he tells GRAMMY.com. "I can chase what's thoroughly me, and the facets of that. And in the end, that, I think, makes better music anyway."

As the title suggests, Love Ain't Pretty mostly focuses on finding the beauty in life. Along with several odes to his wife, Patty ("One Good Move," "Candlelight"), Esten delivers tales of self-reflection ("A Little Right Now") and simply enjoying the moment ("Willing To Try"), all with a grit that's equal parts inspiring and charming.

Perhaps the most fitting sentiment on the album is "Make You Happy" — not because of its lovestruck narrative, but because it captures Esten's goal with Love Ain't Pretty and beyond: "Wanna make you happy/ Wanna make you smile."

"I know that musical superstardom is not an option," he acknowledges. "I don't even seek it. So, what do I seek instead of perfection? Connection."

Below, Esten recounts his fateful journey to Love Ain't Pretty — from his first taste of stardom to finally fulfilling his lifelong dream.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

All the way back in third grade, our elementary school had a contest to write the school song. They said, "Find a Disney song and use the melody and then put new words to it." I did it to "It's a Small World." I probably wrote little doodles on my own [before that], but that was the first one with any bit of fame. 

I went back, like 10 years later, and they were singing that. They actually made it as part of all the assemblies and everything. That feeling, to hear people singing words that you thought of, I'm sure that was the beginning of this path.

Eventually, when I went to college, I was in a band. But, even before I was in a band, my grandmother passed in my sophomore year of college. And, I didn't get back in time to see her. She had helped raise me when I was little, after my parents' divorce, so it hit me hard. I somehow was able to put what she meant to me in a song, and that made a big impact in a lot of ways. Whereas that third grade little ditty made everybody laugh and smile and everything, this made my mother and my aunts and uncles [cry] in a warm, loving way. I could see it affecting them. 

I could [also] feel it help me process what I was going through. That was another bit of an aha moment, like, "Oh wow, writing a song can do that also."

Right after that, I started a band. That experience of hearing a band bring your song alive — it was so much more full, this experience, and hearing somebody else add a thing you hadn't thought of, that was another true revelation, the power of that. So I got hooked rather quickly. 

Honestly, I probably would've stayed in that world if my band had stayed in that world. They all made the decision to graduate and go be doctors and lawyers and stuff, as the song says. When that finished up, I didn't know what I was going to do next. But, having experienced that made it clear to me that I was not cut out for a desk job — even though I had an economics degree. 

I had some friends that had gone to L.A. and started becoming actors. I thought, "Maybe I'll give that a try." But the long and the short of it is, if you had asked me, "Will you continue in music?" I'd be like, "Absolutely. I'm going to go out there and I'm going to meet another bass player and a drummer and another band will come."

It didn't happen. I went to London and played Buddy Holly for two and a half years in the musical "Buddy." When I went back to L.A. after that, then the family started to come, and so the band just never happened. But I had a piano, had guitars — I never stopped writing or playing.

At one point, I had the thought, "Well, I might have missed the boat in terms of ever getting to be a performer myself, but I can write songs." And by this point, I was really listening to a whole lot of country, '90s country, 2000s and all.

So, I decided I was going to start writing in a more formalized way, in a more intentional way, instead of just whenever a song came to me. And, as soon as I sort of said that, things started happening.

I met my friend Jane Bach, who is a great Nashville songwriter. She was going back and forth between LA and Nashville at the time. She invited me to sing at the Bluebird [Cafe in Nashville], which I knew very well, and I said yes. And twice, I had to cancel because I got other work. And at a certain point, I literally said to my wife, "When am I going to get to go to Nashville? That'll never happen."

[That] maybe was two or three years before "Nashville." And then I get this script that says, "Nashville." Next thing I know, I'm here and I'm literally doing my first scene in the Bluebird.

I understand, very cleanly, that ["Nashville"] opened all these side doors that most people don't have access to. But, I also know that there's a chance they could have all been opened and I could not have been ready. 

When it finally [happened], for a lot of people, just looking at an actor who's playing a singer/songwriter, I get the feeling that it was a pleasant surprise — I like to think that there was a little more there than they expected. It was actually more authentically who I was than the actor.

I never really quite verbalized this, but the feeling [of landing "Nashville"] was one of — it'll make me emotional — completion. I felt like the show was an answer to so many unsolved things in my life. And that's, I think, why we haven't left. And it's also why the album meant so much to me.

It meant so much to me that I didn't just get here and do an album. I got here at 46. To be that old and not really know who you are as an artist — I never had to define myself. So, I didn't chase that immediately. I just wanted to make music in Music City and make as much as I could. 

I always felt behind, because all my contemporaries that had been here, very many of them were already incredibly famous and already had done so much. But you can't [focus on] the road not taken. 

I have to admit, there's some part of me that would be like, "What if you were putting out your first album at 28?" That's nothing I sort of worry about. I know that it wouldn't have been this. I wouldn't change anything. I have this wife and this family and this career that brought me here. It feels like this was the way it was meant to happen, as strange as it all is.

I felt more prepared than people might expect. And I had something that most people didn't have, which was, Deacon walked in places before I did. Deacon sang at the Bluebird before Charles did. Deacon was at the Grand Ole Opry before I was.

That began what I would call my 10,000 hours in this town. Between the number of hours I've been able to be on stage at these incredible venues, and play music with these incredible people, and all the singles I was able to put out over the last 10 years, I now feel like that, in some ways, I have as much of a catalog as people that have been here for those 30 years. But, it's still my first album, which I've held onto for something special, and I'm so grateful for the way it turned out. I couldn't be happier.

I knew that I wasn't emptying the whole toolbox to play Deacon. But, having said that, I'm so moved by how much playing that guy influenced my music and my songwriting. A song like "A Little Right Now," it roars at the top and rages a little bit, but in general, that is a Deacon song through and through. "I'm a farmer praying for rain/ I'm a gambler that needs an ace of spades/ I'm a sailor hoping for a gust of wind/ I'm a singer looking for that song/ I'm a prisoner that ain't got long/ I'm a dreamer waiting for my ship to come in/ But lately all my roads have been running out/ There ain't no silver linings in these clouds/ Help me, Lord, and show me how to find the kind of faith that I once found/ 'Cause I could sure use a little right now." When you watch the show, you'll go, "That's the Deacon-est thing I've ever heard."

There's other songs on this album as well. "Maybe I'm Alright" — Deacon's journey was from utterly broken to "maybe I'm alright." As I look at it, he informs this album.

I'm a procrastinator. That's why I released so many singles in 2016, that world record. [Editor's note: Esten released 54 original songs once a week for 54 straight weeks, earning a Guinness World Records title in 2018 for the "Most consecutive weeks to release an original digital single by a music act."] 

That was a mind hack — a life hack — to arbitrarily create deadlines. And, my God, did that work, because I just started putting it out. [After that,] I started thinking about an album, and I even made an early attempt at it, and then COVID hit. 

They felt like songs from a thousand years ago [after the lockdown]. I pretty much scrapped it and didn't use any of them, and said, "I've just got to do this again in a different way. It's a different me. It's a different world."

My wife is not a procrastinator. And I'll show her, sometimes there's an upside of procrastinating. It's like using a crockpot when there's a microwave right there — it stews in all the ingredients. 

Deacon's a major ingredient, but if you just put that major ingredient on it and cook it real quick, it's too pronounced. Stew it in there with all the other ones until it's a new flavor, a new thing in its entirety. And that's what happened.

It's also interesting that, being the age I am, and the difference of what this album was to what, maybe, my first album would've been if I was 28, is the intentionality in terms of radio success or chart success — or chasing something that might not be thoroughly you, but might be a little more popular than thoroughly you. There's no reason for it at my age, so I can chase what's thoroughly me, and the facets of that. And in the end, that, I think, makes better music anyway.

There's a video I put out for "Somewhere in the Sunshine." Already, the impact of that song is sort of blowing my mind. The video is full of quotes from people that commented on YouTube about who they lost, and how it's giving them a little moment of peace, and how it's blessing them. That's my radio play. That's my GRAMMY.

I try to always realize how blessed I am to be able to do this. It's so much more precious later in life. I think people sometimes meet me and I have an enthusiasm for it that is younger than my years. And, maybe [that's] just because I've been waiting at a distance so long and it finally came true. I might get jaded someday, but it hasn't happened yet.

There's still an outsider mentality. I also feel like an anomaly. All the great artist friends I have, I'm not like them. They've been on the radio, they've had cuts, they've had hits. And then, all the new ones starting off doing their first album, I'm not in their group either — they have a whole career and future ahead.

On the other hand, I feel warm and welcomed in all of those arenas, and in everyone in this town. It always has been unusual for me here. All the reasons I'm here, all the why's, all the how's — but I guess, in the end, that's how I fit, and that's how I belong.

I was blessed that I was able to take my time. I think, once you let go of the outcome, freedom is available. It's just really hard to let go of that outcome. But, as I said, I'm a different beast. What I am means I better let go of that outcome, because the odds of me getting a No. 1 smash off this, they're not great. But the odds of me moving somebody with this music? I think they're pretty good.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Country Music

New Year's Songs: 16 Tracks To Give You A Fresh Start In 2024, From The Beatles To Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift performs during night one of the Eras Tour in Kansas City in July 2023.

Photo: John Shearer/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

list

New Year's Songs: 16 Tracks To Give You A Fresh Start In 2024, From The Beatles To Taylor Swift

Whether you're looking to vibe with J Balvin or roar with Katy Perry, let these tracks welcome you to a prosperous and hopeful new year.

GRAMMYs/Dec 31, 2023 - 05:50 pm

The beginning of a new year often results in moments of reflection as well as anticipation about what lies ahead. And with the myriad of feelings that ensue upon New Year's Eve, music serves as a powerful source for both introspection and inspiration.

There are countless songs that give listeners a chance to reflect and resonate with the possibilities of what's yet to come. Whether it's the pulsingly hopeful beat of Jamie xx's "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)," the inspiring narrative of The Notorious B.I.G's "Juicy," or Elton John's pumped-up "I'm Still Standing," a good soundtrack is the perfect catalyst for starting a new year on the right note.

As you envision what the coming year has in store, enjoy this playlist from GRAMMY.com — curated not just to celebrate the moment the clock strikes 12, but to infuse the coming year with inspiration and cheer.

79.5 — "B.D.F.Q"

Inspired by singer Kate Mattison's experiences in Detroit, 79,5's "B.D.F.Q." is about perseverance in the face of a music industry marred by misogyny. Short for "B—, Don't F—ing Quit," "B.D.F.Q." amplifies a mood of independence and strength with the declaration, "They! Don't mean a thing/ Don't mean a thing, just do your thing!" While the message is timeless, "B.D.F.Q." will certainly amp you up for any challenges the new year presents.

The Beatles — "Here Comes The Sun"

Whether you spin the 1969 original or the reinvigorated 2019 mix, the Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun,"  remains a classic symbol of continuation and hope. A track from the Fab Four's iconic Abbey Road album, this George Harrison composition is celebrated for its uplifting melody and serene lyrics that playfully describe a new dawn and brighter days ahead.

Elton John — "I'm Still Standing"

Elton John delivered an upbeat ode to durability and the ability to bounce back with "I'm Still Standing," a 1983 track that resonates 40 years on. Between its catchy melody and John's energetic performance (particularly in the beach-set music video), the song conveys a triumphant message about overcoming challenges and emerging stronger.

"Hamilton" — "My Shot"

Of the many dynamic numbers in Lin-Manuel Miranda's renowned musical "Hamilton," "My Shot" is arguably the most inspirational and universal. A powerfully charged manifesto that embodies ambition and determination — delivered with an electrifying blend of hip-hop and theatrical flair — "My Shot" celebrates seizing opportunities and making a mark. It's a welcome New Year's song choice for those compelled to channel their inner strength and embrace new challenges in the year ahead.

J Balvin — "6 AM" feat. Farruko

This vibrant reggaeton track from J Balvin's 2013 album La Familia encapsulates the spirit of spontaneity. Its infectious beat and catchy lyrics manifest as a celebration of lively nights and the adventures that unfold in the early after hours — hence, the 6 a.m. title. This one's for the night owls, who may see the sun rise at the turn of the new year.

Jamie xx — "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" feat. Young Thug, Popcaan

"I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" by Jamie xx is as upbeat and optimistic as hip-hop tracks come. Featuring Young Thug and Popcaan, the 2015 track melds elements of dance and reggae for an infectious ode to good times ahead — an enduring NYE sentiment.

Jimmy Chamberlin Complex — "Life Begins Again"

The title track of their 2005 album, "Life Begins Again"  is an intricate and evocative composition that blends elements of jazz and rock with a bit of emo sentiment. The track showcases Jimmy Chamberlin's exceptional drumming prowess while promising that life is cyclical — every day can be the first of your life with the right attitude.

John Lennon — "Just Like Starting Over"

With themes of rekindling love and starting anew, John Lennon's "[Just Like] Starting Over" is a fitting tribute to fresh starts and the enduring power of renewal in all aspects of life. And as the final single released while he was alive, it's a bittersweet testament to Lennon's enduring legacy.

Katy Perry — "Roar"

Katy Perry's "Roar," from her 2013 album Prism, is a proud declaration of self-empowerment and finding one's voice. An electrifying track with a booming chorus and spirited lyrics, it embodies the journey from silence to strength. Its message of embracing one's true self and speaking out makes it an inspiring celebration of new beginnings.

Lisa LeBlanc — "Pourquoi faire aujourd'hui"

For those looking to give themselves a little break as the new year begins, Lisa LeBlanc's "Pourquoi faire aujourd'hui" may be the song for you. A single from her 2021 album Chiac Disco, the energetic, disco-inspired French language track features playful lyrics about procrastination, with its titular line asking, "Why do today what you could do tomorrow?" — starting the year off in laid-back fashion. If tu ne parles pas Français, LeBlanc's catchy dance beats are fuel for a joyful New Year's Eve atmosphere.

Lizzo — "Good As Hell"

Like many of Lizzo's songs, "Good as Hell" captures a vibrant, empowering spirit. It celebrates self-care and resilience in the face of adversity, blending a lively rhythm with Lizzo's dynamic vocals. Its uplifting lyrics and infectious energy encourage a sense of confidence and self-appreciation — a powerful anthem of positivity any time of the year.

Nina Simone — "Feeling Good"

A timeless classic first made famous by Nina Simone, "Feeling Good" is a powerful anthem of rejuvenation and hope. Simone's jazz-infused rendition was released in 1965; its resolute delivery captures a spirit of personal transformation and empowerment, offering an enduring sentiment going into the new year: "It's a new dawn/ It's a new day/ It's a new life for me, ooh/ And I'm feeling good."

Notorious B.I.G. — "Juicy"

Although The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy" is a personal account of the late rapper's rise to the top, the song encapsulates a spirit of triumph that can inspire anyone with a dream. From its bouncy beat to the iconic "If you don't know, now you know" hook, "Juicy" will have you reaching for the stars.

Otis Redding & Carla Thomas — "New Year's Resolution"

Memphis legends Otis Redding and Carla Thomas' aptly titled 1967 album King & Queen is notable for being the final studio release before Redding passed away that December. The album also spawned a NYE classic: "New Year's Resolution." With lyrics that explore the concept of ​​making resolutions and embracing change in the new year. While the song lacks Redding's trademark soulful wail, "New Year's Resolution" is temperate and contemplative — a reprieve from the let-it-all-out powerful Stax sound to ease your way into the new year.

Peter Cat Recording Co. — "Portrait of a Time"

Both modern and nostalgic, Peter Cat Recording Co.'s "Portrait of a Time" blends jazz, and indie rock for an eclectic and nostalgic, introspective jam. The song carries a reflective mood of contemplation and transition, with lyrics that encourage leaving "confusion and darkening clouds" in the past and hopping in the Lamborghini of life for a new wild ride.

Taylor Swift — "New Year's Day"

After all of the bold, empowered statements on Taylor Swift's 2017 album reputation, she closes the LP with a tender, piano-driven ballad that captures the quiet intimacy and hopeful sentiments of a new year. Aptly titled "New Year's Day," the song's reflective and heartfelt lyrics contemplate love and loyalty found in life's fleeting moments. Swift's delicate vocal delivery and the track's gentle melody evoke a sense of warmth and enduring connection, making it a poignant choice to embrace the new year with a sense of closeness.

TikTok's Musical Class Of 2023: 8 Artists Who Transformed Virality Into Stardom, From Tyla to FIFTY FIFTY