meta-scriptUnearthing 'Diamonds': Lil Peep Collaborator ILoveMakonnen Shares The Story Behind Their Long-Awaited Album | GRAMMY.com
Lil Peep & iLoveMakonnen Diamonds
iLoveMakonnen and Lil Peep

Photo: Richard Stilwell

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Unearthing 'Diamonds': Lil Peep Collaborator ILoveMakonnen Shares The Story Behind Their Long-Awaited Album

Six years after it was recorded, Lil Peep and ILoveMakonnen's highly anticipated — and previously leaked — album 'Diamonds' comes out Sept. 8. Makonnen spoke with GRAMMY.com about the road to their shared release.

GRAMMYs/Sep 8, 2023 - 01:19 pm

To ILoveMakonnen, diamonds are not just forever — they're for healing. 

"We wanted to be able to heal our broken hearts and heal our fans with this music," rapper and producer ILoveMakonnen tells GRAMMY.com. "That was the whole mission behind Diamonds, to let everybody know that they are a diamond and they're waiting to be found."

Diamonds, ILoveMakonnen's newly-released album with the late Lil Peep, was   recorded in the summer of 2017 and wrapped just months before 21-year-old Peep’s death from an accidental overdose. How the record came about, and why it took so long to be released, is a story of a sudden and intense friendship, internet leakers, lawsuits, and a long-delayed happy, if bittersweet, ending. 

Makonnen first became aware of Lil Peep towards the end of 2016. Makonnen was at that point best known for his 2014 hit song "Tuesday," which benefited from a viral Drake remix. But his association with Drake’s OVO label, which started in the wake of "Tuesday," had ended and he was searching for something new. 

"I was looking online and saw some of [Peep’s] videos, and I thought that he was really intriguing and cool," Makonnen remembers. "We had some mutual friends. People would tell us, 'oh, you should check out this guy.'"

Peep was at that point a popular, if still somewhat underground, emo rap star. (Just weeks later, he would be proclaimed "the future of emo" by Pitchfork.) It took Makonnen making a dramatic announcement for the two to finally connect.

"I came out as gay in 2017, in January, and Lil Peep was one of the first people to reach out to me and tell me, ‘Thank you. I love you. You're so brave for this. I always support you. I want to meet you.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I'm in L.A. right now. We should meet up.’"

The artists met at a mutual friend's house and "really hit it off,"Makonnen explains. "We became best friends as soon as we met. And then we got to start talking to each other more, and we would be on the phone all day."

The two already  had business ties — Makonnen's manager at the time  was business partner’s with Peep’s manager — so doing an album together seemed like the natural next step. 

They began sessions in July 2017 in Los Angeles, but getting work done proved difficult.

"Everybody in L.A. knows where we’re at and everybody’s pulling up to the studio and wants to get on the song," Makonnen recalls. "It’s just too much going on, to where me and Lil Peep can’t focus."

The duo decamped to somewhere quieter, and brought  a few trusted collaborators  to Eastcote Studios in London. 

Somewhere in the middle of this process, Peep came out as bisexual. Makonnen recalls that Peep felt two openly queer artists teaming up could make a huge impact on their young fanbases. 

"He said, ‘I feel like we can really make a change in the world by showing this because so many of us young fans and young people are dealing with all types of things,’" Makonnen remembers. "That was the start of everything that bonded us together."

The two artists were inseparable during the London sessions, staying in the same hotel and doing everything together.

"We really lived together like best friends, if not more. We were wearing each other’s clothes," Makonnen says. "It was truly special and fun. It just felt surreal. It felt like a dream. We were having so much fun and smiling and laughing the whole time." 

Throughout, Makonnen and Peep were dead-set on combining their styles. They typically began improvising melodies, while discussing what topics they wanted to talk about on each track. They addressed problems in their own lives, with hopes that fans would be able to relate.

There was a specific mission for the sound of the record as well. Peep had always loved Makonnen's songs with sad lyrics and happy-sounding music. That gave Makonnen an idea.

"I was like, ‘And your songs sound very sad!’" Makonnen says, laughing at the memory. "So I was like, we need to give that same emotion, but make it sound a little happier and friendlier so that the listener can have that sense of celebration, crying, transformation — where this music is hitting me and allowing me to let things go, but also to uplift the things in my life that have been bearing down."

As the record neared completion, Peep and Makonnen visualized what would come next: a joint tour, a merch line. Makonnen says he planned to perform some of the new tunes in a Vegas-style live act where he would play piano and a suit-clad Peep would sing. 

"I was telling Peep, you’re going to be like Frank Sinatra," Makonnen says.

Makonnen and Peep split after London, with plans to reconvene and mix the album after their respective tours wound down. That never happened, and after Peep’s death fans wondered about the fate of the album that he once proclaimed the best of the century. 

In spring 2020, after conflicting reports about whether the album would ever be released, it leaked to the internet. Makonnen recalls how it happened: People involved in the album got emails from someone claiming to be him, asking for its contents.

That wasn’t the end of the hacking. Many of Makonnen’s other unreleased songs — he claims about 500 in total — were stolen by hackers as well.

"After that happened, I literally had a nervous breakdown," he says. "I was shaking and sweating and got sick for three days. I felt doomed and destroyed. My mom had to really help talk me back up."

Following that debacle, Makonnen tried to put Diamonds out of his mind. "I didn’t even like listening to it," he says. "It just brings back too many memories."

But in early 2023, Peep’s mother Liza won back control of her son’s music following a lawsuit settlement with his record label. That cleared the way for the album to be finished, at long last. The entire Diamonds team reconvened in Los Angeles to mix the album.

The project is 22 songs long, reflecting pretty much all the finished material from the sessions. But that wasn’t Makonnen and Peep’s original vision.

"We had a lot of songs," Makonnen admits. "We maybe weren’t going to put out all of these songs if he was still alive and we were down to edit it. But since he passed and we didn’t get to that point, I felt it would be best to show all that we did. We had a lot of fun creating this stuff."

The release of Diamonds is bittersweet for iLoveMakonnen. On one hand, he’s still extremely proud of the music. On the other, he’s reminded of the loss of his best friend. 

"A lot of emotions I’ve had buried down in my subconscious and in my heart that I haven’t been able to express because I never felt like the time was right, I’m happy to be able to speak about now," he says.

"It’s a weird feeling in your throat. I’m happy, I want to laugh, but I feel like crying."

Listen To GRAMMY.com's 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Playlist: 50 Songs That Show The Genre's Evolution

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How Hip-Hop And R&B Crushed Their Competition: Can Rock Bounce Back?

Chart success, streaming, GRAMMYs and smashing guitars — how the R&B and hip-hop genres beat rock at its own game

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2018 - 03:20 am

There was a time in the not so distant past when hip-hop was likened to disco. A flash in the pan genre defined by its hyperbolic expression of sound and style, disco fizzled out in the early '80s once the fashion and sonic trends attached to it expired.

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Hip-hop was presumably following in its footsteps, especially when so many break records were layered with disco samples to create the early framework of hip-hop's sound — think the Sugarhill Gang's 1979 hit "Rapper's Delight" (GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, 2014), which sampled Chic's 1979 No. 1 smash, "Good Times."

But hip-hop persevered and brought with it an evolution of the R&B genre as well. Combined, the two genres became unstoppable, eclipsing a flimsy stigma of being confined to an "urban" box. Now, four and a half decades since hip-hop's inception, the genre has seemingly taken the music industry over along with R&B, beating rock at its own game. How did we get here?

Theoretically, the move has been gradual, though 2017 marked a quantifiable shift leaning in hip-hop and R&B's favor. First, there are the sales figures: Hip-hop and R&B accounted for 25 percent of music consumption in 2017, with rock trailing at 23 percent. Add to that an uptick in audio streaming in 2017 by 72 percent — with 29 percent of music streamed online being hip-hop and R&B combined, matching rock and pop, which also combined for 29 percent of music streamed online. The two previously gigantic leaders in major genres are now neck-and-neck with the "underdogs" of R&B and hip-hop.

But per Nielsen's 2017 year-end report, eight of the top 10 albums were, in fact, hip-hop or R&B albums, including Drake and Kendrick Lamar for More Life and DAMN., respectively. Meanwhile, Drake and Lamar held down the top two spots on the list of most popular artists based on total consumption (sales and streaming), while Bruno Mars, Eminem, Future, The Weeknd, and Lil Uzi Vert were also among the other artists that proved hip-hop and R&B were the most widely consumed collective genres this past year.

The 60th GRAMMY Awards further punctuated that claim, as artists like Jay-Z and SZA found homes in the General Four categories, with Mars — who earned Record, Album and Song Of The Year — and Lamar sweeping wins across the board.

Phrases like "the death of rock and roll" have been continually tossed around since this cycle of news arrived. The latest strike against rock came when Coachella announced that for the first time in its 19-year existence there wouldn't be a rock act headlining the festival. The three headliners for the 2018 installment will be Beyoncé, Eminem and The Weeknd.

"I think it speaks to the strength of the music and the strength of the fan base," explains Jeriel Johnson, Executive Director of the Recording Academy Washington, D.C. Chapter. "The fans dictate who shows up on those stages."

While the 2017 tallies may suggest that sales and streams have finally caught up, industry insiders have seen the trends shifting over the last 5 to 10 years.

"Now so, even more than ever, music can be created and put out so much more quickly so when something is happening, urban music is reflecting that really quickly."

"R&B and hip-hop have always had a huge influence and impact on our culture, regardless of the time period — from fashion to slang to our tastes in music [and] cars," says GRAMMY-nominated producer Harvey Mason Jr.

However, with rap artists growing into cross-cultural icons, hip-hop poured into rock and vice versa.

"I immediately think of artists like Run-DMC, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Kid Cudi. These are a few of the pioneers who helped lay down the foundation for artists like Post Malone, Lil Uzi, [the late] Lil Peep, and Lil Pump to become the new generation of artists to continue the push forward the borders of hip-hop," explains Matthew Bernal manager of media for Republic Records. "From their trend-setting fashion, genre-bending sounds and riot-like live performances, millennials grew up watching these icons and the influence is clear in their music today."

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Artists such as Rae Sremmurd, who released the groundbreaking "Black Beatles" with Gucci Mane in 2016, extended that aesthetic — the music video for the hit single showed the duo breaking TV sets with electric guitars.

"Post Malone's 'Rockstar,' which was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks last year, is a strong indication of how today's hip-hop artists view themselves: as rock stars," continues Bernal.

"Urban culture is the new rock," adds GRAMMY-winning producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. "[In] every era there's a change that takes place, and right now Migos, Kendrick Lamar — they're the new rock stars."

"I feel like it was bound to happen," says Nicole Johnson, industry relations at music streaming service Pandora. "Back in the day, rock and roll was started by an urban genre and urban people. But then it became 'sex, drugs, and rock and roll' and, now, isn't that what these hip-hop [artists] are now talking about? Here are rappers just living their best lives, being themselves, tattooing their faces if they feel like it, wearing dresses on the cover of their album if they feel like it. It's all about self-expression."

Johnson adds that Pandora's Next Big Sound has been driven by hip-hop and R&B as of late, leading to the service's launch of the weekly urban station, The Sauce. "There are now so many [sub]genres within hip-hop, of course, it's gonna take over.”

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But in the wake of hip-hop and R&B's takeover, so was the digital boom. Urban music jumped onboard streaming services early, with platforms like SoundCloud birthing its own scene, SoundCloud rap, which has given way to artists such as Chance The Rapper and Rico Nasty who have equally dominated the space as other hip-hop artists.

"I think R&B/hip-hop is benefitting from changes in technology," says Mason, underscoring how today's fast turnaround in music creation has placed hip-hop and R&B at a unique vantage point, especially when it comes to topical music. "R&B and hip-hop really seem to have their ear to the ground culturally and in society with everything our country is going through.

"It just seems to be such a transparent outlet for people with feelings and opinions, and now so, even more than ever, music can be created and put out so much more quickly so when something is happening, urban music is reflecting that really quickly."

So where will we go from here? Is rock really fading away? And, if so, can it come back? While the cyclical nature of music would reflect an inevitable return, perhaps rock will have to once again evolve the way hip-hop and R&B had to in order to rise up.

"It'll rebound in a different kind of way, I believe," says Jerkins. "Someone will come along and do it in a newer and cooler way. But right now? Hip-hop, R&B — that's pop. Because pop music is anything that's popular."

(Kathy Iandoli has penned pieces for Pitchfork, VICE, Maxim, O, Cosmopolitan, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and more. She co-authored the book Commissary Kitchen with Mobb Deep's late Albert "Prodigy" Johnson, and is a professor of music business at select universities throughout New York and New Jersey.)

Rapper Lil Peep in 2017

Lil Peep

Photo: Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

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Lil Peep, Alt-Rock/Hip-Hop Fusion Rapper, Dies At 21

Fans and fellow artists take to social media to mourn the young artist

GRAMMYs/Nov 17, 2017 - 12:28 am

American rapper, singer, and producer Lil Peep — née Gustav Åhr — died Nov. 16 prior to a tour appearance in Tucson, Ariz. A spokesperson for the Tucson Police Department has confirmed that evidence was found on the rapper's tour bus indicating the cause of death to be a drug overdose, according to The New York Times.

The SoundCloud rapper and rising alt-pop star was on tour in support of his debut album, Come Over When You're Sober, Pt. 1. He died just two weeks following his 21st birthday. 

Best known for his self-produced bedroom-recorded tracks such as "Crybaby" and "Hellboy," Lil Peep built a rabid online fanbase through his unique blend of emo-rock hooks and trap-inspired rapping. References to heavy drug use as self-medication to deal with severe depression were a staple of the young rapper's songwriting, and his soul-baring acknowledgement of his real-life trials and mood swings forged a powerful connection with a fanbase built almost entirely via SoundCloud and Instagram.

"I suffer from depression and some days I wake up and I’m like, 'F***, I wish I didn’t wake up,'" he said in an interview with Pitchfork. "That's the side of myself that I express through music. That's my channel for letting all that s*** out."

Lil Peep began his career in music after leaving high school early and earning his degree via online courses. He began releasing self-produced music on YouTube and SoundCloud, where he discovered an unexpectedly fervent fanbase, prompting him to release his first mixtape Lil Peep Part One in 2015.

Though ostensibly a rapper, Lil Peep drew acclaim from his fans and music critics alike for his refusal to be pinned down by the conventions of any one genre, often sampling artists such as Underoath, Brand New, the Postal Service, Oasis, and the Microphones to build the sonic bed for his Southern-rap inspired vocal deliveries. His lyrical content — touching equally on themes of relationships, revenge, angst, and self-harm — prompted Pitchfork to label him as an artist who was "reinventing heart-on-sleeve agony for a new generation."

Lil Peep was vocal on social media and in his songwriting about his close relationship with his mother. She has released a statement through a representative of First Access Entertainment, stating she remains "very, very proud of him and everything he was able to achieve in his short life," and that she is "truly grateful to the fans and the people who have supported and loved him."

CyHi The Prynce Gives The Scoop Behind 'No Dope On Sundays'

A composite image collage featuring images of Taylor Swift in (L-R) 2023, 2008 and 2012.
(L-R) Taylor Swift in 2023, 2008 and 2012.

Photos (L-R): Buda Mendes/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management, Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

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Songbook: An Era-By-Era Breakdown Of Taylor Swift's Journey From Country Starlet To Pop Phenomenon

Upon the arrival of Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department,' take a deep dive into her discography and see how each album helped her become the genre-shifting superstar she is today.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 09:32 pm

Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 19 to reflect the release of The Tortured Poets Department.

The world now knows Taylor Swift as a global pop superstar, but back in 2006, she was just a doe-eyed country prodigy. Since then, she's released 11 studio albums, re-recorded four as "Taylor's Version," and cultivated one of the most feverish fan bases in music. Oh, and she's also won 14 GRAMMY Awards, including four for Album Of The Year — the most ever won by an artist.

Swift has become one of music's most notable shapeshifters by refusing to limit herself to one genre, moving between country, pop, folk and beyond. A once-in-a-lifetime generational storyteller, one could argue that she is music's modern-day maverick, constantly evolving both her music and the culture around her.

Every album era has seen Swift reinvent herself over and over, which has helped pave the way for artists to explore other musical avenues. In turn, Swift hasn't just become one of the biggest artists of all time — she's changed pop music altogether.

To celebrate Taylor Swift's newest era with The Tortured Poets Department, GRAMMY.com looks back on all of her albums (Taylor's Versions not included) and how each era shaped her remarkable career.

Taylor Swift: Finding Her Place In Music

In a genre dominated by men, the odds were already stacked against Swift when she first broke into country music as a teenage female artist. The thing that differentiated her from other writers — and still does to this day — is her songwriting. She didn't want to be just "another girl singer" and knew writing her own songs would be what set her apart. 

Written throughout her adolescence, Taylor Swift was recorded at the end of 2005 and finalized by the time Swift finished her freshman year of high school. Serving as a snapshot of Swift's life and teenhood, she avoided songwriting stereotypes typically found in country music. Instead, she wanted to capture the years of her life while they still represented what she was going through, writing about what she was observing and experiencing, from love and friendship to feeling like an outsider. 

As a songwriter, Taylor Swift set the tone for what would be expected of her future recordings — all songs were written by her, some solely and others with one or two co-writers. One writer in particular, Liz Rose, applauded Swift's songwriting capabilities, stating that she was more of an "editor" for the songs because Swift already had such a distinct vision. 

The album's lead single, "Tim McGraw," an acoustic country ballad inspired by Swift knowing her relationship was going to end, represents an intricate part of Swift's songwriting process; meticulously picking apart her emotions to better understand them. With its follow-up, "Our Song" — which spent six consecutive weeks on the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart — she became the youngest person to solely write and sing a No. 1 country single; she also became the first female solo artist in country music to write or co-write every song on an album. 

Although Swift's eponymous debut is underappreciated now — even lacking its own set on Swift's Eras TourTaylor Swift's forthcoming rerecording is arguably the most anticipated by fans, who are eager to hear the songs with the singer's current and more refined vocals. Still, for fans who haven't properly explored Taylor Swift, it's easy to tie together Swift's earlier work to her current discography. 

On the track "A Place In This World," a song she wrote when she was just 13, Swift sings about not fitting in and trying to find her path. While her songwriting has developed and matured, feeling like an outsider and carving her own path is a theme she still writes about now, as seen on Midnights' "You're On Your Own, Kid." 

Even as a new country artist, critics claimed that she "mastered" the genre while subsequently ushering it to a new era — one that would soon see Swift dabble in country-pop. 

Fearless: Creating A Different Kind Of Fairytale

If Taylor Swift was the soundtrack to navigating the early stages of teenhood, Fearless is Swift's coming-of-age record. More than its predecessor, Fearless blurs the line between country and pop thanks to crossover hits like "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me," yet still keeps the confessional attributes known in country songwriting. 

Most of Fearless is Swift coming to terms with what she believed love to be. On the album's liner notes, Swift says Fearless is about "living in spite" of the things that scare you, like falling in love again despite being hurt before or walking away and letting go. The 2008 version of Taylor wanted to "believe in love stories and prince charmings and happily ever after," whereas in Swift's Fearless (Taylor's Version) liner notes, she looks back on the album as a diary where she was learning "tiny lessons" every time there was a "new crack in the facade of the fairytale ending she'd been shown in the movies." 

Much of Fearless also sees Swift being reflective and nostalgic about adolescence, like in "Never Grow Up" and "Fifteen." Still wistful and romantic, the album explores Swift's hopes for love, as heard in the album's lead single "Love Story," which was one instance where she was "dramatizing" observations instead of actually experiencing them herself. 

Unlike the slow-burn of Taylor Swift, Fearless went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and stayed there for eight consecutive weeks. It won Swift's first Album Of The Year GRAMMY in 2010, at the time making her the youngest person to win the accolade at age 20. To date, it has sold 7.2 million copies in America alone. It might not be the romantic tale Swift dreamed of growing up, but her sophomore album signalled that bigger things were to come.

Speak Now: Proving Her Songwriting Prowess

Everything that happened after the success of Fearless pushed Swift from country music's best-kept secret to a mainstream star. But this meant that she faced more publicity and criticism, from naysayers who nitpicked her songwriting and vocals to the infamous Kanye West incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

For the first time since becoming an artist, she was forced to reckon with the concept of celebrity and how turning into one — whether she wanted it or not — informed her own writing and perception of herself. No longer was she the girl writing songs like "Fifteen" in her bedroom — now she was working through becoming a highly publicized figure. Speak Now is the answer to those growing pains. 

Along with having more eyes on her, Swift also felt pressured to maintain her persona as a perfect young female role model amid a time when her peers like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato were attempting to rebrand to be more mature and sexier. During her NYU commencement speech in 2022, she reflected on this era of her life as one of intense fear that she could make a mistake and face lasting consequences, so the songs were masked in metaphors rather than directly addressing adult themes in her music. But that also resulted in some of her most poignant lyrics to date.

Read More: For The Record: How Taylor Swift's 'Speak Now' Changed Her Career — And Proved She'll Always Get The Last Word

Writing the entire album herself, Swift used Speak Now to prove her songwriting prowess to those who questioned her capabilities. Much like her previous two albums, Swift included songs that were both inspired by her own life and being a fly on the wall. The album's title track pulled from the saying, "Speak now or forever hold your peace," inspired by a friend's ex-boyfriend getting engaged; meanwhile, "Mean" was everything Swift wanted to say to a critic who was continuously harsh about her vocals.

Retrospective and reflective, Speak Now is an album about the speeches she could've, would've and should've said. From addressing the aforementioned VMA incident in the forgiving "Innocent" to a toxic relationship in "Dear John," Speak Now also hinted that her rose-colored glasses were cracked, but Swift (and her songwriting) was only becoming stronger because of it.

Red: Coming Into Her Own

Highly regarded as Swift's magnum opus, Red sees the singer shed the fairytale dresses and the girl-next-door persona to craft a body of work that has now been deemed as her first "adult" record. On Red, Swift focused on emotions evoked from a hot-and-cold relationship, one that forced her to experience "intense love, intense frustration, jealousy and confusion" — all feelings that she'd describe as "red." 

Unlike most of her previous writing that had been inspired by happy endings and fairytales, Red explores the lingering pain and loss that can embed itself within despite trying your hardest to let go. In her liner notes, she references Pablo Neruda's poem "Tonight I Can Write," stating that "Love is so short, forgetting is so long" is the overarching theme for the album. She plays with time — speeding it up in "Starlight," dabbling in the past in "All Too Well," and reframing it in "State of Grace" — to better understand her experiences. 

After releasing country-pop records, Red toed the line between genres more than ever before. Swift leaned further into the full pop territory by working with esteemed producers Max Martin and Shellback for the dubstep-leaning track "I Knew You Were Trouble," the punchy lead single "We Are Never Getting Back Together," and the bouncy anthem "22." But even when the pop power players weren't involved, her country stylings still leaned more pop across the album, as further evidenced with the racing deep cut "Holy Ground" and the echoing title track. 

The slight change of direction became polarizing for critics and fans alike. Following the more country-influenced Speak Now, some critics and fans found the pop songs on Red were too pop and the lyrics were too repetitive, possibly indicating that she might be selling out. If that wasn't enough, Red became an era where Swift's personal life went from speculation to tabloid fodder, with misogynistic headlines and diluting her work to just "writing about her exes." It's an era that would eventually inspire many tracks on Red's successor, 1989, like "Blank Space" and "Shake It Off."

Commercially, Red debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold 1.2 million copies in its first week, becoming the fastest-selling country album and making Swift the first female artist to have three consecutive albums spend six or more weeks at the top of the chart. The impact of Red extended beyond its own success, too. Often mentioned as a record that inspired a generation of artists from Troye Sivan to Conan Gray, Swift's confessional, soul-bearing authenticity set a new standard for straightforward pop music. 

1989: Reinventing Into A Pop Genius

The night Red lost the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year in 2014, Swift decided that her next album would be a full-on pop record. After years of identifying as a country artist and flirting with pop, Swift departed her roots to reinvent herself, no matter what her then-label or critics had to say. And in true Swiftian fashion, turning into a pop artist didn't just prove her genre-shapeshifting capabilities — it further solidified her as an artist who is at her best when she freely creates to her desires and refuses to adhere to anyone.

1989 was lauded by critics for its infectious synth-pop that was reminiscent of the 1980s, yet still had a contemporary sound. Swift opted to lean more into radio-friendly hits, which resulted in songs like "Style," "Wildest Dreams," "Blank Space," and "Shake It Off," all of which became singles. And where some might trade a hit or two at the expense of their artistic integrity, Swift didn't falter — instead, her lyrics were just as heartfelt and intimate as they were on prior albums.

After exploring pop-leaning sonics she first found with Red, Swift worked with Martin and Shellback again on most of 1989. This reinvention brought new (and very important) collaborators as well. Swift's now-frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff credits her as the first person to take a chance on him as a producer with "I Wish You Would" and "Out Of The Woods"; both tracks exemplified how future Antonoff-produced songs would sound on albums like reputation, Lover and Midnights.

At the time, 1989 became Swift's best-selling album to date. It sold nearly 1.3 million copies within release week in the U.S., debuting atop the Billboard 200 and reigning for 11 non-consecutive weeks. The album also earned Swift several awards — including her second Album Of The Year GRAMMY, which made her the first female artist to ever win the award twice. 

Following the release of 1989, Swift became a cultural juggernaut, and the album has had an omnipresence in music since. Swift didn't just normalize blending genres, but proved that you can create a sound that is uniquely yours by doing so. In turn, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and more pop stars have refused to conform or stick to what they've done prior. 

reputation: Killing The Old Taylor

For years, Swift was on a strict two-year cycle — she'd release an album one year, tour the next, and then release a new album the following year. But following the heightened scrutiny and highly publicized tabloid drama that followed the end of the 1989 era, Swift completely disappeared for a year. She stayed away from public appearances, didn't do any press, and missed the album schedule fans became accustomed to. It wasn't until summer 2017 when she returned from her media (and social media) blackout to unveil the fitting title for her new album: reputation.

Born as a response to the naysayers and name-callers, reputation follows Swift shedding her public image — which includes the pressure to be perfect, the drama, and the criticism — by declaring, "There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation." Leaning on the same tongue-in-cheek songwriting techniques she used while penning "Blank Space," Swift wrote from the mindset of how the public perceived her.

When Swift released the lead single "Look What You Made Me Do," a song she initially wrote as a poem about not trusting specific people, many assumed the album would center on vengeance and drama. Although Swift said that the album has its vindictive moments — even declaring that the "old Taylor" is dead on the bridge of "Look What You Made Me Do" — it's a vulnerable record for her. Swift described reputation as a bait-and-switch; at their core, the songs are about finding love in the darkest moments. 

Swift still remained in the pop lane with reputation, largely leaning on Antonoff and the Martin/Shellback team. The sound almost mirrored the scrutiny Swift faced in the years prior — booming electropop beats, maximalist production and pulsing synthesizers dominate, particularly on "End Game," "I Did Something Bad," and "Ready For It…?" But the "old Taylor" isn't entirely gone on songs like "Call It What You Want," "So It Goes…" and "New Year's Day," where she lets her guard down to write earnest love odes.

Even after Swift spent some time away from the spotlight, the public didn't immediately gravitate toward her return. And even despite matching the 1.2 million first-week sales of her previous releases, some concluded that the album was her first commercial failure when compared to 1989. With time, though, it became clear that the response to reputation became muddled with the public's overall perception of her at the time — some even claimed that Swift was ahead of her time with the album's overall sound.

For her 2023 TIME Person of the Year profile, Swift described reputation as a "goth-punk moment of female rage at being gaslit by an entire social structure." For years, she felt the pressure to be "America's Sweetheart" and to never step out of line. Writing reputation became a lifeline following the events that catalyzed it  — a way to shed the so-called snakeskin and make peace with however the public wanted to view her. 

Lover: Stepping Into The Daylight

After finding love amongst chaos with reputation, Swift was learning to deal with the anxiety and fear of losing her partner — became a major theme of another aptly titled album, Lover. Both sonically and visually, Lover was a complete change from reputation. After touring reputation, Swift found that her fans saw her as "a flesh-and-blood human being," inspiring her to be "brave enough to be vulnerable" because her fans were along with her. Stepping away from the dark and antagonistic themes around reputation encouraged Swift to step into the light and be playful with her work on Lover.

Swift also found a new sense of creativity within this new mindset, one where she aimed to still embed playful themes in her songwriting but with less snark than that of "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do." Leaning into Lover being a "love letter to love," Swift explored every aspect of it. Tracks like "Paper Rings" and "London Boy" exude a whimsical energy, even if they center on more serious themes like marriage and commitment. Other songs, including "Death By A Thousand Cuts" and "Cornelia Street," are Swift at her most vulnerable, reflecting on a love lost and grappling with the extreme worry that comes when you could potentially lose someone. 

Looking at Lover retrospectively, it's an album that almost symbolizes a bookend in her discography. She was playful yet poignant, picking apart her past lyrics and feelings and looking at them with the perspective of someone who was once on top of the world, hit rock bottom, and survived in spite of it. This evolution is mentioned throughout Lover, particularly in a direct callback to 2012's Red, "Daylight," which sees her describe her love as "golden" rather than "burning red." 

Lover also marked the first time Swift divulged into politics and societal issues, like campaigning against Donald Trump, releasing the Pride-infused "You Need To Calm Down," and feeling disillusioned by the political climate with "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince." Swift's documentary Miss Americana explores this change further, discussing how she regrets not being vocal about politics and issues prior, in addition to opening up about her body image issues and mental health struggles.

Lover became Swift's sixth No. 1 album in America, making her the first female artist to achieve the feat. But Lover was more than any accolades could reflect — it was Swift's transitional album in many ways, notably marking the first album that she owned entirely herself following leaving Big Machine Records for Republic Records in 2018.

folklore: Looking Beyond Her Personal Stories

After the pandemic started and Swift cancelled her Lover Fest, she spent the early stages of quarantine reading and watching a myriad of films. Without exactly setting out to create an album, she began dreaming of fictional stories and characters with various narrative arcs, allowing her imagination to run free. The result became folklore, 2020's surprise archetypal quarantine album.

Crafting a world with characters like the folklore love triangle between those in "betty" and "august," as well as Rebekah Harkness from "the last great american dynasty" (who once lived in Swift's Rhode Island mansion), was Swift's way of venturing outside her typical autobiographical style of writing. She'd see visceral images in her mind — from battleships to tree swings to mirrored disco balls — and turned them into stories, sometimes weaving in her own personal narrative throughout, or taking on a narrator role and speaking from the perspective of someone she had never met. 

She worked remotely with two producers — again working with her right-hand man Jack Antonoff, and first-time collaborator Aaron Dessner from The National. Some songs, like "peace," were recorded in just one take, capturing the essence and fragility in the song's story, whereas the lyrics for the sun-drenched "august" were penned on the spot as Swift was in her makeshift home studio in Los Angeles.

Another aspect that separated folklore from her previous work was the obvious decision not to create hits made for radio play, so much so that Dessner claimed that she made an anti-pop record at a time when radio wanted clear "bops." Sonically, it ventured into genres Swift hadn't explored much outside of a few folkier tracks on Lover. Rather than relying on mostly electronic elements, Swift, Antonoff and Dessner weaved in soft pianos, ethereal strings, and plucky guitars.

folklore's impact on the zeitgeist at a time where everyone was stuck at home helped shape people's quarantine experience. Fans rejoiced at having songs to comfort them during difficult times, and artists like Maya Hawke, Gracie Abrams, and Sabrina Carpenter credit folklore for inspiring them to create and be even more emotionally honest in their songwriting. After its release, folklore became the best-selling album of 2020 after selling 1.2 million records. At the 2021 GRAMMYs, folklore took home Album Of The Year, making her the fourth artist in history to win three times in the Category. 

evermore: Embracing Experimentation

It was exciting enough for Swifties to experience one surprise album drop from Swift, an artist who typically has an entire album campaign calculated. So when evermore was released just six months after folklore, fans were in shock. 

Like its (literally) folklorian sister, evermore was a surprise release at the end of 2020, marking the first time Swift didn't have distinct "eras" between albums. She felt like there was something "different" with folklore, stating in a social media post that making it was less like she was "departing" and more like she was "returning" to the next stage of her discography. In turn, the album served as a similar escape for Swift as folklore did.

Bridging together the same wistful and nostalgic themes as heard on its predecessor, evermore sees Swift venture even further into escapism. She explores more stories and characters, some based in fiction like "dorothea," and some real, like "marjorie," written in dedication to Swift's grandmother. 

Evermore follows folklore's inclusion of natural imagery and motifs, like landscapes, skies, ivy, and celestial elements. In contrast to the fairytale motifs and happy endings of Fearless, evermore saw Swift become fixated on "unhappy" endings — stories of failed marriages ("happiness"), lifeless relationships ("tolerate it"), and one-time flings ("'tis the damn season"). 

Sonically, evermore is a slight departure from its sister record; where folklore relies on more alt-leaning and indie-tinged sounds, evermore takes the sonics from all of Swift's past records — from pop to country to indie rock — and features all of them on one album. Country songs like "cowboy like me" and "no body, no crime" reaches back to Swift's earlier work in narrative building, seamlessly crafting a three-party story with ease. "Closure" is a "skittering" track that has the same energy as tracks like Lover's "I Forgot That You Existed," whereas the ballad "champagne problems" is thematically reminiscent of Swift's Speak Now track "Back To December" where she takes responsibility for her lover's heartache. 

Working mostly with Dessner on evermore, Swift was emboldened to continue creating and opted to embrace whatever came naturally to them rather than limiting themselves to a sound. Swift felt a "quiet conclusion" after finishing up evermore, describing that it was more about grappling with endings of all "sizes and shapes," and the record represented a chapter closing. Even so, its poetic lyricism and mystical storytelling cleverly foreshadowed what was to come with subsequent albums, particularly The Tortured Poets Department.

Midnights: Encapsulating Her Artistic Magic

After coming out of the folklorian woods following folklore and evermore, fans and critics alike were intrigued to see what direction Swift would take on her next studio album. On Midnights, Swift leaves behind indie folk sounds and returns to the pop production of 1989 and Lover.

Her most conceptual album to date, Midnights charts 13 sleepless nights and explores five themes, from self-hatred and revenge to "what if" fantasies, falling in love, and falling apart. They are the things that keep her up at night, like the self-critiquing in "Anti-Hero," her rise to fame in "You're on Your Own, Kid," and the anxiety of falling in love again in "Labyrinth." Similarly to Swift's cheeky songwriting style that sees her create caricatures of herself in songs like "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do," she doubles down on claims she's "calculated" on "Mastermind," a song about devising a plan for her and her lover. 

Although the album is a departure from the two pandemic sister albums, the overall creation process didn't differ too much. In addition to working alongside Antonoff (and bringing Dessner in for the bonus-track-filled 3am Edition), Swift's worldbuilding is still the throughline that connects Midnights and Swift's recent albums, whether she's dreaming of a Parisian escape in "Paris" or using war imagery as a metaphor for the struggle of love in "The Great War."

Read More: 5 Takeaways From Taylor Swift's New Album 'Midnights'

Following the success with folklore and evermore, Swift's intrigue was at a then-all-time high upon the release of Midnights. Along with breaking several streaming records — including becoming the first album to exceed 700 million global streams in a week — it was Swift's 11th No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, and was the highest-selling album of 2022 (and, remarkably, the second best-selling of 2023).

To say that Swift's celebrity has become otherworldly since the release of Midnights would be an understatement. Celebrating her genre-defying and varied discography through The Eras Tour has resulted in old songs having a resurgence, new inside jokes and Easter eggs within the fandom, and a plethora of new listeners being exposed to Swift's work. 

As a result, there has arguably never been more excitement for a Taylor Swift album than for The Tortured Poets Department — especially because the announcement came on the heels of her lucky 13th GRAMMY win in February. Midnights helped further solidify Swift's larger-than-life status at the finale of the 2024 GRAMMYs, too, as she became the only artist in history to win Album Of The Year four times. 

The Tortured Poets Department: A Grief-Stricken Poetic Odyssey

It’s been a while since Swift has penned a full-fledged breakup album. On The Tortured Poets Department, she navigates the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — after her long-term relationship ended. Taking a page from the release of folklore and evermore, she dropped a double album and announced The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology at 2 a.m. on release day. Throughout a total of 31 tracks, the prolific songwriter shelved the glittery pop radio-friendly tunes in favor of more subdued, synthy and heart-wrenching songs. 

On Instagram, Swift described the album as a collection of poetic songs that reflect the "events, opinions and sentiments from a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time," Swift pulled out the fountain and quill pens to craft songs about the "tortured poets" in her life — sometimes musing about lovers, sometimes taking aim at villains, and sometimes pointing the finger at herself. 

TTPD is also her most confessional album thus far. It pokes fun at so-called fans who overstep with her personal life ("But Daddy I Love Him"), says goodbye to a city that gave her a home ("So Long London"), and muses on how her own celebrity has stunted her growth ("Who's Afraid Of Little Old Me?"). To help explain this chapter of her life, Swift brings together a myriad of collaborators — from Stevie Nicks as fellow poetess, to duets with Florence Welch and Post Malone — and leans on real and fictional characters, like Clara Bow, Peter Pan ("Peter"), and Patti Smith.

In the same post, Swift declared that once she’s confessed all of her saddest stories, she’s able to find freedom. Yet The Tortured Poets Department (and its accompanying 15-track anthology) spends much time reflecting: she toys with her own lore, self-referencing past songs from albums like 1989 and poems from her reputation era. 

Fourteen years ago, Swift declared that she would never change, but she’ll never stay the same either. The Tortured Poets Department proves that in the throughline of Taylor Swift's many artistic eras is a commitment to exploration and a love of autobiographical lyricism.

All Things Taylor Swift

Chappell Roan at Coachella 2024 Weekend 1
Chappell Roan performs during Weekend 1 of Coachella 2024.

Photo: Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

interview

Chappell Roan's Big Year: The 'Midwest Princess' Examines How She Became A Pop "Feminomenon"

Just after Chappell Roan made her festival debut at Coachella, hear from the pop starlet about some of the defining moments of her career thus far — and how it all helped earn her a spot at one of music's biggest fests.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 07:49 pm

Before this year, Chappell Roan had never even been to Coachella. Now, not only can she say she's attended — she's performed in the desert, too. 

Roan played an evening set on the Gobi Stage on April 12, and is set to return for Weekend 2. Fans clad in everything from cowboy boots, Sandy Liang-inspired bows and, perhaps most importantly, jorts, gathered to celebrate their shared love of Roan's radiance, karmic kink and gay cowgirl doctrine.  

Throughout her performance, bubbles breezed through the air as Roan belted out her infectious (and aptly titled) track "Femininomenon," which speaks to lover girls forced to live in an online-dating hellscape. "Ladies, you know what I mean?/ And you know what you need and so does he/ But does it happen? No!" Following collective screams of pure joy, the already enlivened crowd roused to match Roan beat-for-beat, shouting back in perfect unison, "Well, what we really need is a femininomenon!" 

In an era of bedroom pop and sad-girl music, Roan has been hailed by both critics and fans for bringing fun back to pop music. Along with her staunch sense of self, Roan's penchant for explicit lyrics that are equally parts introspective and horny makes her dance-pop anthems all the more infectious. 

Roan's ambitiously experimental debut album, 2023's The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, cemented her status as one of the most exciting pop stars on the rise. While she only recently landed her first single on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Good Luck, Babe!," her rapidly growing fan base — and an opening slot on Olivia Rodrigo's sold-out GUTS World Tour — indicate that she's on her way to superstardom.

Perhaps part of Roan's magic is that it was all on her own terms. After parting ways with her first label, Atlantic Records, she built a loyal following as an independent artist before signing with Island Records last year. Even as a major label artist, she's determined to only do things her way; her indefatigable commitment to her craft — as well as writing her own rules when it comes to fashion and makeup — is precisely why her fans are so enraptured by both her music and persona. 

Her fearlessness was on full display during her first Coachella set, where the words emblazoned on her bodysuit read "Eat Me." She talks the talk, and walks the walk (in fabulous, knee-high boots, of course), matching her unabashed aesthetic with equally bold career moves; for one, the openers for her headlining tour are local drag queens.

With eyeliner winged to the heavens, near-perfect vocal stability and fiery curls ablaze, Roan's shimmering Coachella Weekend 1 performance proved that her stage presence is equally dynamic. And if she had any doubters, she had one thing to say to them: "B—, I know you're watching!" 

In between rehearsals for her Coachella debut, Roan took a look back on her journey to one of music's most coveted stages. Below, hear from Roan about five of the most impactful milestones in her career — so far. 

Releasing Her Debut Album, The Rise And Fall Of A Midwest Princess

I ended up signing [with Island Records in 2023] because this project honestly got too big to be independent anymore. I just wasn't willing to give up anything, any creative control or for any amount of money. 

Being an independent artist was really special because I proved to myself that I could do all these hard things that I had never done. I built it with an entire friend group and many, many years of work. So it wasn't just me, but it proved a lot to me.

It proved I can make it through hard circumstances — with no money. You truly can. You do not need a label to do a lot of what an artist's career requires. You don't need a label to put on your own show, or make a music video, or even write a song, or find creative people. You don't need that s—t. I mean, a label is just money, you know? You don't need a lot of money to do this. To make it grow is, I think, where it takes a lot of money. That's what was difficult.

Music allows me to express anything, even things that I've never experienced before. It allows me to express queerness, even if it was only daydreams at that point. It allows me to express parts of me that I'm not even ready to accept yet.

I don't give a f— if you don't  f— with the music. You don't have to come to the concert. That's the whole point of it. You don't have to like it. I think throughout the year, I'm like, "What can I get away with?" Because right now it's pretty tame for what it is like to be a gay artist. But I just want to push it to see how far can I go — with the most controversial outfits or things to rile people up. I'm not really afraid to do that.

Having a song [like "Casual] with the lyric, "Knee deep in the passenger seat/ And you're eating me out," and it's being considered to go to radio. That's kind of a big thing to get away with. 

It's not even that big of a thing. What's that song? Is it Flo Rida? That's like, "Can you blow my whistle, baby/ whistle baby." Okay, that's obviously about like a f—ing blowjob. [Laughs.] No one cares about that. To me, I'm like, Let's talk about eating out on the radio. I actually think it has to be bleeped, but still, if I can get away with it, that's cool.

Feeling Financial Freedom & Stability

Not making money at all just sucked. But I learned how to do my own makeup and bedazzle and sew a little bit. I think that the scrappiness came from [the idea that] it's scrappy if it's fun. 

I think that's what kept me going — because if this wasn't fun, I would not even be here. But it was scrappy and fun, and it was with my friends. It didn't feel dire. I was also just working at a coffee shop, and I was a nanny, and I was working at a donut shop. I was doing part time jobs all on the side too. So it was all just rough [in the beginning].

I have freedom because now [singing] is my full-time job. It provides for me now. As the project grows, I can do bigger shows and be like, I want outfit changes now, and I want more lights, and I want confetti. I can afford confetti now! 

It's about expanding the universe in a thoughtful way. And not just like throwing a s— ton of money at things to make things look expensive or wear all this designer s— for no reason. 

I just try to look at how we are starting to gain momentum financially and see how can I intentionally use that to, one, pay the team in a way where they're not bare bones anymore, and two, [ask ourselves] how can we honor this project and this album and the queer community? Can we pay drag queens more? Can we bring drag on the road? Now, financially, doors have opened where we can walk through them with love and intention. Just recklessly, throwing money at s— to see if it works. 

Opening Olivia Rodrigo's Arena Tour

Olivia [Rodrigo] just asked. It was official, we went through our management. But I was like, Oh my God

Preparing a 40-minute set is a different vibe than headlining, obviously. You are going out to an audience that is not there for you and doesn't necessarily care if you're there or not.

This is, like, my fourth or fifth artist I've opened for. But for an arena tour, I just needed to gather my nerves. I think that's the difference between any other show. Like, F—, there's 20,000 people out there right now. I've never performed in front of that many people. I don't know what this emotion is, and I just have to tame it right now.

Standing Up For Herself Creatively, Even When There's Pushback

I stand up for myself, I would say, every day. Sometimes, you get this opportunity, a huge opportunity with a lot of money on the table. [Yet,] I'm just like, That just doesn't make sense creatively. That doesn't align with my values. I'm not doing that. 

One huge creative decision was I stood up and pushed the entire headlining Midwest Princess tour back to the fall. The album was supposed to come out while we were on tour. I was like, "This is a horrible idea!" 

That caused a big ruckus, but it ended up being fine, and I was right. I'm usually right. [Laughs.] It's like a mother with her kid — a mother knows best. I feel like [that] when it comes to the integrity of my project.

I know how it is to not be able to afford a ticket or even f—ing food. A concert ticket, a lot of times, means multiple meals for someone. I get it, I couldn't afford some artists' tickets. That's why it's really important to me to try to keep them as low as I can and my merch as low as I can. 

There's pushback of ticket prices being low and we're playing rooms that are so expensive. The fee to even play them is so expensive. So, you have to raise the ticket prices to just even be able to afford to play the room. There's always an argument [with my team] there, every tour. I'm in control of stuff and if I'm saying this is how it's going to be —- it's just going to be that way.

Performing At Coachella For The First Time 

[After the first weekend of Coachella] I am feeling very relieved. I was so stressed about many things. How is the outfit going to work? Will the crowd really be engaged? It went so well, I have no qualms with anything. I loved every second of it.

It feels like I am partying with [my fans]. I am not performing to them; I’m performing with them. [I want people to remember] a really fun, freeing show. Very campy but very meaningful too. 

4 Ways Olivia Rodrigo's GUTS World Tour Shows A New Side Of The Pop Princess