meta-scriptSongbook: How Madonna Became The Queen Of Pop & Reinvention, From Her 'Boy Toy' Era To The Celebration Tour | GRAMMY.com
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(L-R) Madonna in 2006, 1990, 1985, and 2019

Photos (L-R): Bob Riha Jr/WireImage, Ron Davis/Getty Images, Paul Natkin/Getty Images, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for dcp

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Songbook: How Madonna Became The Queen Of Pop & Reinvention, From Her 'Boy Toy' Era To The Celebration Tour

As Madonna fans eagerly await the start of her highly anticipated The Celebration Tour, take a look back at the icon's four-decade legacy that changed pop music forever.

GRAMMYs/Jul 27, 2023 - 07:27 pm

Seconds after making her television debut on American Bandstand in early 1984, Madonna announced her plans to "rule the world."

Nearly 40 years later, she's done just that: Selling 300 million albums worldwide, Madonna is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Her 14 studio albums have spawned 12 No. 1s and 63 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and she earned a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. But just her nickname alone proves she achieved her goal: the Queen of Pop.

Madonna's legacy is more than her music, too. The seven-time GRAMMY-winner has empowered several generations to own their sexuality and call their own shots; she dared to be different and bending the rules on and off stage, particularly with the merging of sexual freedom and religion. Her fearlessness helped open doors for individuality in pop music and beyond, becoming a star that didn't just rule the world — she changed culture.

As Madonna's self-titled debut LP turns 40 on July 27, GRAMMY.com is revisiting the most groundbreaking, exhilarating, and gasp-worthy moments of her extraordinary career.

Listen to GRAMMY.com's official Songbook: An Essential Guide To Madonna playlist on Spotify above and on Amazon Music, Apple Music and Pandora.

The '80s Reign

"Everybody" and "Burning Up," the first two singles off Madonna's 1983 eponymous solo debut, were instantaneous dance hits but failed to crack the Hot 100. Rooted in disco, "Holiday" not only became Madonna's first Hot 100 entry at No. 16, but it also topped the Dance Club Songs chart her first of 50, a record no other artist holds to this day. It also spawned even bigger hits "Lucky Star" and "Borderline," which reached No. 4 and No. 10 on the Hot 100, respectively.

As "Borderline" climbed the charts, Madonna enlisted the legendary Nile Rogers to craft what would become the best-selling album of her career: Like a Virgin.

Selling over 21 million copies worldwide, 1984's Like a Virgin proved Madonna wasn't just another flash in the pan with a long string of hits, including "Material Girl," "Dress You Up," and her first chart-topper, "Like a Virgin." But her sexual assertiveness is what made the era truly iconic. The sepia-toned album cover featured the then 26-year-old wearing a corset wedding dress, accessorized with lace gloves and a hard-to-miss "Boy Toy" belt buckle.

"The photo was a statement of independence, if you wanna be a virgin, you are welcome. But if you wanna be a whore, it's your f—ing right to be so," Madonna reportedly said about the album's brow-raising imagery. Around this time, droves of "Madonna wannabes" copied her look, which incorporated jelly bracelets, rosaries, crucifixes, lace tights, and giant bow headbands — solidifying her as a fashion icon. (Earlier this year, Like a Virgin was added to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.")

Fresh off tying the knot with then-husband Sean Penn in 1986, Madonna's True Blue featured her first image makeover and veered away from the bubblegum-pop sound she was known for. Lead single "Live to Tell" displayed artistic growth as she seemingly confronts a painful past. ("I have a tale to tell/ Sometimes it gets so hard to hide it well," she sings in the ballad's opening verse.)

In addition, True Blue found Madonna experimenting with new musical styles, including classical ("Papa Don't Preach," which shined a light on teen pregnancy), Latin ("La Isla Bonita"), and doo-wop ("True Blue"). Still, dance-pop is at forefront of "Open Your Heart," as well as sexual innuendos in the accompanying video, which shows the singer performing as an exotic dancer at a peep show.

By the time 1989's Like a Prayer arrived, Madonna had earned the title of "First Lady of Pop,"  holding her own alongside male counterparts Michael Jackson and Prince. Leading up to the album's release, Madonna was battling a lot behind the scenes — she and Sean Penn filed for divorce two months prior, she reached the age her mother was when she died, and she was struggling with her Catholic upbringing.

In turn, the 11-track LP is considered the first of Madonna's projects to feature deeply personal lyrics and themes, particularly on tracks like "Till Death Do Us Part," "Promise to Try," "Oh Father," and "Keep It Together," the latter of which features Prince on guitar. On the flip side, "Cherish" and feminist anthem "Express Yourself" serve as bright spots on Like a Prayer.

The title track earned Madonna her seventh Hot 100 chart-topper, but it's most synonymous with its accompanying video. The clip depicts a number of controversial images, including Madonna singing in front of burning crosses, which cost the entertainer her Pepsi sponsorship contract (more on that later). "Like a Prayer" set the tone for Madonna's "Justify My Love" and "Erotica" videos, which caused their own controversies for their boundary-pushing imagery.

The Shock Factor

It's impossible to revisit Madonna's catalog without reliving some of the performer's most jaw-dropping moments. From going on a profanity-filled rant on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1994 to kissing Britney Spears and Christinia Aguilera at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, Madonna is no stranger to shocking the world.

Only a year into her extraordinary career, Madonna stole the show at MTV's inaugural Video Music Awards. Donning a bridal gown reminiscent to the one she wore on the Like a Virgin album cover, the then 26-year-old unintentionally exposed her underwear while reaching for one of her heels that fell off as she made her way down from a 17-foot wedding cake. After the performance, Madonna was told by her manager that her career was over — but instead, it ended up catapulting her into superstardom.

To close out the '80s decade, Madonna was named Pepsi's spokesperson, but her $5 million sponsorship was revoked when the "Like a Prayer" video premiered a couple months later. The groundbreaking visuals depict racism against an interracial couple, stigmata, and Madonna herself kissing a Black saint — but its most provocative scene appears midway when Madonna sings in front of Ku Klux Klan-style burning crosses. 

Unsurprisingly, it was largely seen as blasphemous by the Christian community, with the pope calling for Italy to boycott the singer. Though the controversial video cost Madonna her Pepsi deal, it paved the way for artists to merge religion with their art to make a bold statement — seemingly inspiring the videos Lady Gaga's "Judas," Lil Nas X's "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)," and Sam Smith and Kim Petras' "Unholy." (In the same vein, part of Madonna's 2006's Confessions Tour was condemned due to performing "Live to Tell" on a mirrored cross while wearing a crown of thorns, simulating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.)

Perhaps one of her most scandalous moments, though, belongs to the media frenzy and brilliance that was the "Justify My Love" video. Co-written with Lenny Kravitz, the song itself is raunchy enough to raise a few eyebrows, but still relatively tame by today's standards. "I want to run naked in a rainstorm/ Make love in a train cross-country," she coos over a Public Enemy-sampled drum beat.

Themes of nudity, sadomasochism, bisexuality, and androgyny run throughout the Jean-Baptiste Mondino-directed video, which Madonna defended as a "celebration of sex" after it was banned from MTV. Seizing the moment, Madonna released it as a video single, selling over a million copies at $9.98 — proof that Madonna could flip any potential career disaster into a shrewd business move.

Madonna: Truth or Dare premiered a mere six months later and received mostly positive reviews — though certain scenes sparked backlash, including Madonna performing fellatio on a glass bottle. The documentary chronicled the singer's 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour, but it's often hailed for championing the LGBTQIA+ community since it shows Madonna and her dancers attending a Pride parade and gay men casually discussing sex.

What followed next in Madonna's career was not for the faint-hearted: 1992's Erotica album examines every aspect of sexuality, from S&M and oral sex to the awareness of the AIDS epidemic. 

Madonna's alter-ego named Dita takes center stage on lead single "Erotica," one of her most distinctive yet forgotten singles. "My name is Dita/ I'll be your mistress tonight," she declares over a slinky groove with hip-hop and Middle Eastern influences. The racy track and its follow-up single "Deeper and Deeper" claimed the No. 3 and No. 7 spots on the Hot 100, respectively, but the remaining Erotica-era singles didn't chart as high. "Bad Girl," which also appeared in the 1993 film Body of Evidence, peaked at No. 36 while "Fever" and "Bye Bye Baby" completely missed the Hot 100.

Gems like "Rain," "Words," "Waiting," and "In This Life" get buried in the controversy that surrounded the LP, but its impact still reigns three decades later, inspiring more female artists to flaunt their sexuality unapologetically; Beyoncé's "Partition," Christina Aguilera's "Not Myself Tonight," and Rihanna's "S&M" serve as a prime examples.

The Blockbuster Hits

Madonna's acting chops weren't always well received by audiences, but her soundtrack hits came out swinging every time.

Originally recorded for 1985's Vision Quest film, "Crazy for You" marks Madonna's first time releasing a ballad as a single — flaunting her vocal abilities while appealing to more mature audiences. In addition to earning Madonna her second Hot 100 chart-topper, she picked up her first-ever GRAMMY nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

A couple months later, "Into the Groove" appeared in the comedy Desperately Seeking Susan, which co-stars Madonna in the titular role and marks her film debut. Backed by synthesizers and drum machines, the song itself showcases Madonna at the height of her popularity, making it that much more special to listen to. Ironically, though, the infectious track never saw the Hot 100; it was ineligible to chart due to her label's decision to not officially release it as a single, out of fear it could overshadow "Crazy For You."

While Madonna's performance in the screwball comedy Who's That Girl was panned by critics, she scored No. 1 and No. 2 hits with "Who's That Girl" and "Causing a Commotion," respectively.

Madonna's acting aspirations continued throughout the decade. Despite starring in back-to-back box office disaster bombs, including Shanghai Surprise, she tried her hand at acting again in 1990 with Dick Tracy. Not only was the Oscar-winning film the box office comeback Madonna needed, but it birthed "Vogue," one of the most iconic dance tunes to ever grace airwaves — despite never appearing in the film.

Topping the charts in over 30 countries, "Vogue" shined a light on a flamboyant style of dance stemming from Harlem's 1960s ballroom community led by Black and Latino gay men. From the spoken section (in which Madonna shouts out "Golden Age" Hollywood stars like Marlon Brando and Bette Davis) to the accompanying black-and-white video where Madonna debuts the now-legendary Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra, everything about "Vogue" is iconic and a cultural moment many artists can only dream of.

Madonna's film soundtrack success continued with 1992's A League of Their Own, 1996's Evita, and 1999's Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. All three films' soundtracks demonstrate Madonna's constant willingness to push herself beyond her own artistic boundaries. On the operatic "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "You Must Love Me" from Evita,  which earned her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination, Madonna explores musical theater as her voice reaches new heights. Meanwhile, the GRAMMY-winning "Beautiful Stranger" revisits 1960s psychedelic pop, hence the Austin Powers theme. Back by a live string arrangement, the melancholy "This Used to Be My Playground" off A League of Their Own is a testament to Madonna's many hats.

Though met with mixed reviews at the time of its early aughts release, "Die Another Day" is now considered quintessential Madonna and one of the highest charting James Bond songs in the U.S. At a whopping $6 million, its accompanying video remains the second most expensive, just behind Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson's 1995 "Scream" video.

The Reinvention Periods

By late 1994, Madonna dialed down her sexed-up image following the release of back-to-back sexually explicit projects, including the controversial coffee table Sex book that featured softcore pornographic images of Madonna herself — along with Big Daddy Kane, Vanilla Ice, Naomi Campbell, and other famous faces.

For Bedtime Stories, she tapped R&B hitmakers like Babyface and Dallas Austin as she explored themes of love and romance versus the sexual freedom heard on 1992's Erotica. Radio-friendly singles "Take a Bow" and "Secret" marked a new musical direction for Madonna that paid off: both showcased some of her finest vocal performances and received glowing reviews from music critics. 

But the entertainer's rebellious nature reappears on the criminally underrated "Human Nature" — an answer to the backlash she faced for her hyper-sexualized persona from two years earlier. "Did I say something wrong?/ Oops, I didn't know I couldn't talk about sex/ Did I stay too long?/ Oops, I didn't know I couldn't speak my mind," she sings on the song's bridge before declaring "I'm not sorry."

After enjoying the success of starring in Evita and becoming a first-time mother, 1998's Ray of Light marked Madonna's longest gap in between studio albums at the time — but the wait was well worth it.

Hailed as her magnum opus and her greatest reinvention, Ray of Light saw Madonna at her most creative due to motherhood and her spiritual awakening, as she experimented with techno-pop, electronica, trip hop, Middle Eastern sounds, and mysticism. With each song, the then 39-year-old transforms from Material Girl to Madonna the Artist, as evidenced on the title track, "Frozen," "Drowned World/Substitute for Love," "Nothing Really Matters," "Shanti/Ashtangi," and "The Power of Goodbye." She takes the theme of self-reflection a step further with songs like "Swim," "Mer Girl," and "Little Star," the latter of which is dedicated to her first-born child, Lourdes Leon.

Ray of Light boasts the biggest first-week sales by any female artist at the time of its release — an impressive feat given that the late '90s music scene was dominated by a sea of younger artists, including Backstreet Boys, Lauryn Hill, and Jay-Z. The 13-track LP earned Madonna three more GRAMMYs at the 1999 ceremony: Best Pop Album, as well as Best Dance Recording and Best Short Form Music Video for "Ray of Light."

With the arrival of 2000's Music, Madonna embarked on yet another transformation. In the new millennium, fans were introduced to Madonna the Cowgirl. While the title track sounded like a callback to her earlier dance hits like "Everybody," "Holiday" and "Into the Groove," follow-up single "Don't Tell Me" is notable as the pop icon's first time incorporating country stylings into her artistry.

The album's final single "What It Feels Like for a Girl," which calls out the double standards women face in society, only peaked at No. 23 on the Hot 100, but it remains a fan favorite and still holds its relevance today thanks to its feminist theme. Receiving four GRAMMY nominations across 2001 and 2002, Music's commercial success defied the music industry's limits on aging female entertainers — an issue Madonna is still confronting head-on today.

In 2003, following the 9/11 tragedy amid the Iraq war, Madonna felt moved to put out the politically driven American Life. It was a complete departure in both subject matter and sound, which leaned heavily toward "folktronica," a blend of folk and electronica music. "I'd like to express my extreme point of view/ I'm not a Christian and I'm not a Jew," she raps on the title track.

While Madonna's attempt to make a socially conscious record didn't produce the same payoff as other politically charged songs at the time (including Black Eyed Peas' "Where Is The Love?" and Green Day's "American Idiot"), the 11-track LP, if nothing else, displayed her willingness to take creative risks even two decades into her career.

The Dance Floor Classics

While Madonna got her start in New York City's club scene, her dance reign went into overdrive with the 1987 arrival of You Can Dance — which contains new track "Spotlight" plus a handful of remixed tracks off her first three studio albums. For You Can Dance, Madonna enlisted veteran DJs, including John "Jellybean" Benitez and Shep Pettibone. At a time when remixes were still uncharted territory, the club-ready LP remains the second best-selling remix album of all time and is considered the first album by a mainstream artist to be solely dedicated to the art of the remix.

While dance music lies at the core of Madonna's discography, her work shifted toward more of an adult-oriented sound after You Can Dance, beginning with 1989's Like a Prayer. After nearly two decades of musical experimentation, Madonna returned to her dance roots in a big way with 2005's Confessions on a Dance Floor

The album's lead single "Hung Up" — built around a prominent sample of ABBA's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" — smashed records when it skyrocketed to No. 1 in 41 countries. Its follow-up singles "Sorry," "Get Together," and "Jump" fared better internationally, but the LP's commercial success kicked off the 21st century's disco revival that later influenced the likes of Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia and Lizzo's "About Damn Time."

In 2007, Confessions on a Dance Floor won a GRAMMY for Best Electronic/Dance Album, and its accompanying Confessions Tour took home another GRAMMY for Best Long Form Music Video the following year.

With contributions from Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, and Nate "Danja" Hills, 2008's Hard Candy is one of Madonna's lowest-selling albums, despite housing the massive hit "4 Minutes" (a collaboration with Timberlake), which reached No. 3 on the Hot 100. "4 Minutes" also earned Madonna her 37th top 10 single, making her the artist with the most top 10 entries at the time. Other standout tracks from Hard Candy include "Give It 2 Me," "She's Not Me," "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You," and "Miles Away," the latter of which was inspired by her then-husband Guy Ritchie.

The Legacy Continues

Around the time when Madonna was crafting her 2011 directorial debut W.E., she was laying down the foundation for her twelfth studio album MDNA, which arrived the following year.

Out of the four singles released, "Give Me All Your Luvin'" (featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.) is the only song to enter the Hot 100, though "Girl Gone Wild" and "Turn Up the Radio" became her 42nd and 43rd No. 1 dance hits. The guitar-led ballad "Masterpiece," which also appears on W.E.'s soundtrack, won for Best Original Song at the 2012 Golden Globes. 

Despite not being released as a single, "Gang Bang" quickly emerged as a fan favorite while receiving criticism from those who said it glorified violence. Inspired by Quentin Tarantino's films, the aggressive song's lyrics depict a woman who murders an ex-lover: "And I'm going straight to hell/ And I got a lot of friends there/ And if I see that b— in hell/ I'm gonna shoot him in the head again/ 'Cause I want to see him die," she sneers on the bridge.

Madonna's next two LPs, 2015's Rebel Heart and 2019's Madame X, didn't generate any massive hits, though Rebel Heart's "Living for Love" and "B— I'm Madonna" are the most recognizable. The latter's accompanying video features cameos from Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus, to name a few. Both albums, however, spawned an additional six No. 1 dance hits for Madonna. With a whopping 50 No. 1s on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart, Madonna cemented her status as the dancing queen.

At the top of 2023, Madonna announced her upcoming Celebration Tour to commemorate her 40th anniversary since her debut. With 45 stops spanning from Detroit and Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Barcelona, the Celebration Tour was scheduled for a July 15 kickoff before getting postponed after the 64-year-old superstar's recent health scare.

As the tour name suggests, Madonna is ready to honor the hit-filled legacy she's built. "I am excited to explore as many songs as possible, in hopes to give my fans the show they have been waiting for," she said at the time of announcing the tour, which is her first dedicated to her greatest hits. When the megastar makes her glorious return to the stage later this year, she'll remind the world of her relentless spirit — the same one that made her a North Star for nearly every female entertainer on the charts today regardless of genre.

Madonna has supported gay rights, pushed sexual freedom, implemented religious imagery, and reshaped feminism at a time when it wasn't trendy to do so. All the while, she never has apologized for her "rebel heart" — solidifying her legacy as the true Queen of Pop.

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Backstreet Boys at the 1999 GRAMMYs
Backstreet Boys at the 1999 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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25 Years Of Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way": 10 Covers By Ed Sheeran, Lil Uzi Vert & More

To commemorate the anniversary of Backstreet Boys' biggest hit, take a look at 10 clever ways it's been covered and sampled — from Ed Sheeran's karaoke bit to a Weird Al special.

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 03:38 pm

When the Backstreet Boys released "I Want It That Way" on April 12, 1999, they likely had no idea how beloved their smash hit would still be a quarter-century later.

Written by the Swedish powerhouse team of Andreas Carlsson and Max Martin, "I Want It That Way" is undoubtedly BSB's signature hit, particularly thanks to its memorable undulating melody and its long-debated cryptic meaning. But perhaps the most surprising part of the song's legacy is how it has resonated across genres — from a TikTok cover by Korn to a hip-hop sampling by Lil Uzi Vert.

As the Backstreet Boys celebrate the 25th anniversary of "I Want It That Way," take a look at how the song has been diversely covered, lovingly lampooned and karaoke jammed by an array of voices in the business.

Weird Al Yankovic (2003)

When the king of parody songs selects one to skewer, you know it's an iconic song. Weird Al Yankovic paid tribute to the largeness of the Backstreet Boys classic when he used "I Want It That Way" as the basis of a song called "eBay" in 2003.

Yankovic's chorus replaces the original's with, "A used pink bathrobe/ A rare mint snow globe/ A Smurf TV tray/ I bought on eBay." The Backstreet Boys send up appears on Yankovic's album Poodle Hat, which won Best Comedy Album at the 2004 GRAMMYs.

One Direction (2013)

Three years One Direction formed on "The X Factor," the five lads — Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson — included a cover of "I Want It That Way" on their 2013 concert set lists, the young boy band paying homage to the ones that came before them. Though their English accents poked through at times, their version was loyal to the original, and got their crowds singing along.

"Glee" (2013)

Poking fun at the presumed rivalry between *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, a medley of the former's "Bye Bye Bye" and "I Want It That Way" was featured in Season 4, Episode 16 of "Glee." In the episode — aptly titled "Feud" — choir director Mr. Schuester (Matthew Morrison) and glee club heartthrob Finn (Cory Monteith) face off in an epic boy band battle, which ultimately proved the groups' respective music was more cohesive than divisive.

Brittany Howard and Jim James (2016)

The lead singers of Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket covering a boy band classic. It doesn't sound real, but Brittany Howard and Jim James did just that in 2016 when they recorded "I Want It That Way" for an animated short cartoon called "A Love Story."

Released by the fast food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, the clip was part of a creative campaign to showcase the company's focus on natural ingredients. Howard and James highlight the poignancy and versatility of the song by adding lush string arrangements and dramatic beats.

Backstreet Boys x Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (2018)

The 2018 live performance of "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots for "The Tonight Show" is arguably the sweetest rendition of the song — and not just because they're using a mini xylophone, baby tambourine and other toy classroom instruments. It's even more endearing than the previous collaborations between Fallon and Backstreet Boys: a barbershop singing version of Sisqo's "Thong Song" and a "Bawkstreet Boys" version of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," with everyone dressed like fluffy birds.

The 1975 (2020)

British rockers The 1975 performed a fairly faithful cover of "I Want It That Way," hitting all the high notes at several of their 2023 world concert tour stops. But it's not the first time frontman Matty Healy has hinted at the Backstreet Boys' influence on his band: he told Pitchfork in 2020 that "College Dropout-era Kanye West meets Backstreet Boys" was part of their veritable moodboard at the time when working on their own song called "Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)."

Lil Uzi Vert (2020)

In 2020, Lil Uzi Vert released a rap song called "That Way" that includes a refrain of "I want it that way" sung to the tune of the Backstreet original, but with an AutoTune twist. From there, the lyrics become quite a bit naughtier than anything the BSB guys have uttered in any song.

"I don't know how [the idea of] Backstreet Boys got involved in this song, I really don't," the song's producer Supah Mario told Splice at the time. "I think it was all Uzi. But it was a game changer."

The interpolation was so good, in fact, that Nick Carter even invited Lil Uzi Vert to collaborate: "Now you're gonna have to be featured on our next album bud," he tweeted upon the song's release.

Korn (2022)

Fans of Korn know that the nu metal band has a sense of humor, but few could've expected that Jonathan Davis and crew would post a TikTok of themselves singing "I Want It That Way" in 2022.

"I never wanna hear you say… 'Worst Is On Its Way,'" reads the caption on the post, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Korn's 2022 song of the same name.

Backstreet Boys responded on the app via a hilarious Duet video with Nick Carter. In the video, Carter — who sports fabulous metal eye makeup and a long silver wig — doesn't actually say or sing anything, he just drops his jaw in amazement.

Backstreet Boys x Downy (2022)

Downy hired the Backstreet Boys to poke fun at "I Want It That Way" with the now-viral "Tell Me Why" commercial in 2022. All five members — Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson — appear as a Backstreet Boys poster on the wall that comes to life, using the "tell me why" hook of their hit to engage a woman doing laundry in a conversation about washing her clothes.

As Saatchi group account director Jen Brotman told Muse at the time, the nostalgic ad also spawned some memories for the folks working on the ad campaign.

"The moment [BSB] stood in front of the camera, they rehearsed 'I Want It That Way' just to get the notes right, and we felt like we were getting serenaded on set," Brotman recalled. "We couldn't believe how emotional we all got — there may or may not have been tears in some eyes. The song has always been a karaoke favorite of the team, so we knew which 'tell me whys' we wanted them to hit, and we still can't get it out of our heads."

Ed Sheeran (2023)

When he fancies singing a bit of karaoke, Ed Sheeran loves leaning on "I Want It That Way," as the star showed at his favorite Nashville bar in July 2023. A patron caught him on camera and his happiness level is undeniable when belting out this enduring pop classic.

As Sheeran told CBS News a few months later, he grew up on the pop hits of everyone from Backstreet Boys to Britney Spears. But what he said about "I Want It That Way" specifically may be the best way to describe its long-lasting impact: "You can't be in a bar, a couple of beers in, and 'I Want It That Way' comes on and not be like, 'This is a good song.' You can't."

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Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift performs during "The Eras Tour"

Photo: Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

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Get Ready For Taylor Swift's ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Album Release: Everything You Need To Know

As we count down to Taylor Swift's 11th studio album release on April 19, feast on all the morsels GRAMMY.com has gathered about the Queen of Pop's upcoming "tortured poet" era.

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 03:19 pm

The dawn of Taylor Swift's "tortured poet" era is upon us. The reigning Queen of Pop is set to release her highly anticipated 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, on Friday, April 19. 

Ever since she announced the new album during the 2024 GRAMMYs — while accepting her lucky 13th GRAMMY Award for Best Pop Vocal Album for Midnights —- Swifties have been meticulously analyzing every detail of her existence for clues about the release of The Tortured Poets Department.

Fortunately, Swift has been serving a lot of information to snack on. After revealing the cover art in an Instagram post before accepting her record breaking fourth win for Album Of The Year, she didn't stop the feast. From the full track list to a five-stage breakup playlist — and, of course, all the bonus tracks and special editions — here's all the breadcrumbs GRAMMY.com collected in preparation for The Tortured Poets Department

All The Art Is Black And White

The cover art for The Tortured Poets Department displays a black-and-white inset photo of Swift in repose on a stack of white pillows, with the album's title in uppercase white letters above her. The photography accompanying the album, including back covers and special editions, captures Swift in reflective solitude: standing before a body of water wearing an oversized white button-up, and in a pensive self-embrace against a stark black backdrop.

The photography for the album was shot by Swift's photographer since 2020, Beth Garrabrant, who also shot the covers of Swift's folklore, evermore, Fearless (Taylor's Version), Red (Taylor's Version), Midnights, Speak Now (Taylor's Version), 1989 (Taylor's Version). She's known for using a medium-format film photography that evokes an emotional closeness to her subjects — especially fitting for an album titled The Tortured Poets Department.

The Album Features Two Notable Collaborations

On GRAMMY night, alongside the album announcement, Swift posted the complete track list on her Instagram. The post included a photo of the album's back cover, showing a close-up of Swift with her hand on her forehead, overlaid with the text "I love you, it's ruining my life" in all-caps. 

The 16-track release has been split into four sides and also features collaborations with Post Malone on Side A opener "Fortnight" as well as Florence + The Machine on Side B's "Florida!!!" 

Check out the full track list:

**Side A**
“Fortnight” (feat. Post Malone)
“The Tortured Poets Department”
“My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys”
“Down Bad”

**Side B**
“So Long, London”
“But Daddy I Love Him”
“Fresh Out the Slammer”
“Florida!!!” (feat. Florence + the Machine)

**Side C**
“Guilty As Sin?”
“Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?”
“I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)”
“loml”

**Side D**
“I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”
“The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived”
“The Alchemy”
“Clara Bow”


Bonus Tracks:

“The Manuscript”

“The Black Dog”

"The Albatross"

The Album Title Hints At Another Ex 

Mere moments after Swift dropped The Tortured Poets Department album name, the internet was ablaze with viral speculation that the title is derived from a play on ex Joe Alwyn's group chat, "The Tortured Man Club" with Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott. 

Alwyn and Mescal revealed their "club name" during an interview with Variety in December 2022 and it didn't take long for fans to connect the dots. Upon unearthing the tie-in, Swifties rushed to share memes and comment on the original interview across various social channels.

There Are Three Bonus Tracks (So Far)

Swift has revealed at least three bonus tracks for different editions of the album, each marked with its own "file name." The initial track list release, referred to as "The Manuscript," includes a bonus track sharing this name.  

On Feb. 23, Swift posted a slideshow on Instagram to promote a special edition named "The Albatross." It featured the bonus tracks and revealed the back cover, which presented a track list alongside a contemplative close-up of Swift overlaid with the question, "Am I allowed to cry?" 

Then, on March 3, she introduced the bonus track “The Black Dog” through a similar post that showcased new cover art, with the album's reverse side portraying Swift and the haunting text, "Old habits die screaming." 

Lyrics Have Already Been Shared

Unlike her previous album campaigns, Swift hasn't unveiled any music ahead of The Tortured Poets Department’s release — but she has dropped plenty of hints at the subject matter to come. Handwritten lyrics first appeared in the album announcement post, in a stack of papers inside a folder tabbed with a monogram of the album's name.

"And so I enter into evidence/ My tarnished coat of arms/ My muses, acquired like bruises/ My talismans and charms/ The tick, tick, tick of love bombs/ My veins of pitch black ink," is written above the sign-off, "All's fair in love and poetry… Sincerely, The Chairman of The Tortured Poets Department."

Then, in an Instagram story posted on April 8 — the date of the total solar eclipse — Swift shared an image of a typewriter loaded with a sheet of paper stamped with the words, "Crowd goes wild at her fingertips/ Half moonshine, Full eclipse." 

Swift Created Five Playlists To Mirror The Stages Of A Breakup

Gearing up for the release, Swift dropped a 5-part playlist series on Apple Music on April 5 featuring previously released work arranged in playlists that reflect the five stages of grief. The playlist for "Denial: I Love You, It’s Ruining My Life Songs," features hits including Midnight's "Lavender Haze," and Lover's "Cruel Summer" and "False God." 

The other playlists run through the emotional gamut with titles like "Anger: You Don’t Get to Tell Me About Sad Songs," the midpoint "Bargaining: Am I Allowed to Cry? Songs," "Depression: Old Habits Die Screaming Songs," and finally "Acceptance: I Can Do It With a Broken Heart Songs." Each one takes listeners on a Taylor Swift escapade through love won and lost, representing what many believe to be a musical voyage through Swift's stages of grief following the end of her relationship with ex Joe Alwyn. 

Each playlist also includes a description from Swift. For "Denial," it says, "This is a list of songs about getting so caught up in the idea of something that you have a hard time seeing the red flags, possibly resulting in moments of denial and maybe a little bit of delusion. Results may vary.”

As April 19 nears closer, take a deep dive into everything Swift has unleashed so far — and get ready for a lot more divulging once The Tortured Poets Department arrives.

All Things Taylor Swift

Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa performs at the 2024 GRAMMYs

Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Dua Lipa's New Song "Illusion" Is Here: Listen & Watch The Video

Dua Lipa's 'Radical Optimism' era is in full swing — and now, we have a new song, "Illusion," with an aquatic-themed video. Check out the new banger, and its aqueous video, below.

GRAMMYs/Apr 11, 2024 - 10:00 pm

Now that we've absorbed "Houdini" and "Training Season," it's time for a third scoop of pop goodness from Dua Lipa.

On April 11, the three-time GRAMMY winner released "Illusion," the third single from her hotly anticipated new album, Radical Optimism, due out May 3. The percolating, endlessly catchy track arrived with a video where Lipa dances on a pool deck in Barcelona, with swimmers and surfers joining the party — a playful homage to the shark-infested waters of the album's cover.

Lipa first kicked off her Radical Optimism era in November with "Houdini," which she performed alongside the debut of "Training Season" in a head-spinning show opener at the 2024 GRAMMYs. The album follows her GRAMMY-winning second LP, 2020's Future Nostalgia.

"[Releasing the album] feels good. It feels, for lack of a better word, radically optimistic," Lipa told Billboard in March, when she also explained the inspiration for the shark fin cover art. "Throughout the whole record, there's this idea of chaos happening around and me trying to push through it in a way that feels authentic and honest to me."

Now, adding "Illusion" to the mix, Lipa has made it very clear the only way she knows how to cope with chaos is to dance — and Radical Optimism will continue the party that Future Nostalgia ignited. 

Check out the video for "Illusion" above, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more news about Dua Lipa and Radical Optimism!

Everything We Know About Dua Lipa's New Album Radical Optimism

Benson Boone Press Photo 2024
Benson Boone

Photo: Jonathan Weiner

interview

Benson Boone Declares "Beautiful Things" Is No Fluke: "I've Tapped Into How I'll Write For The Rest Of My Life"

On his debut album, 'Fireworks and Rollerblades,' Benson Boone doubles down on the anthemic sound and cathartic narrative of his breakout smash — and promises this is truly just the beginning.

GRAMMYs/Apr 8, 2024 - 08:52 pm

If there's one way to describe Benson Boone's breakthrough year, look to the title of his debut album, Fireworks and Rollerblades.

While the name was borrowed from a lyric on the LP, Boone sees it as a metaphor for his life: "I feel like things have taken off for me like a firework tied to a rollerblade, all very quickly."

He's not wrong. In the three months since the pop singer/songwriter released the album's lead single, the booming ballad "Beautiful Things," Boone has held a comfortable position in the top five of the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at No. 2 as of press time), held a five-week reign on Billboard's Global 200 chart, topped charts in multiple countries, and amassed nearly half a billion streams on Spotify alone. The song has helped Boone become one of the biggest breakout stars of 2024 so far, but his talent is something many have been seeing for the past few years.

Building a career off of penning raw lyrics strung together with memorable hooks and thrashing piano riffs, the Washington native first made waves on social media and during Season 19 of "American Idol" in 2021, where judge Lionel Richie pointed out his natural talent: "You know, there's some folks who need to practice, and there's some folks who are just gifted at it." That same quality caught the ear of Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds, who promptly signed the rising star to his Warner Records imprint Night Street Records right around the time Boone morphed into a TikTok superstar.

His powerful voice and penchant for vulnerability is what's had fans enthralled from the start, whether with early hit "Ghost Town" (a raw mediation on love with lyrics like,"Maybe you'd be happier with someone else/ Maybe loving me's the reason you can't love yourself") or the unflinching tracks on Fireworks and Rollerblades like the "Beautiful Things" follow-up "Slow it Down" ("I get nervous, oh, I'm anxious/ Maybe loving you is dangerous"). But for Boone, he simply doesn't know how to write any other way: "Nobody is going to relate to your lyrics if they're not real."

Just before releasing Fireworks & Rollerblades — and just after kicking off his sold-out tour of the same name — Boone spoke to GRAMMY.com about his success, debut album and the fine art of capturing authentic emotions in his work.

It's rare in today's zeitgeist to have a relatively new artist achieve the success you've seen recently. But now that you have the following, it becomes about following it up. So after the astronomical success of "Beautiful Things," does that make releasing your debut album stressful or stress free?

I definitely understand feeling the pressure for this album. But "Beautiful Things" was its own moment, and we worked very hard to get it to where that went — and I know that doesn't always happen, and I'm not expecting that. But I'm just doing my best to get the album to as many people as I can regardless of whether it doesn't stream at all or it does great.

I'm truly so proud of these songs, and I've made something I love and that I'm passionate about. So I'm just excited to get my first album out.

How do you usually write a song? Do you have one surefire way?

I think the last couple of months I've kind of tapped into how I'll probably write for most of the rest of my life. It's just me and the piano, usually late at night when I can't sleep. I'll sit there and start playing chords and singing random melodies. That's how it starts, and I'll take it down to the studio to beat it up and hopefully get a song [out of it].

Tony Bennett once said, "if you steal from one person, you're just a thief. But if you steal from everyone, that's research." When you were first getting started, who were your musical inspirations?

Growing up I listened to a lot of Billy Joel, Sam Smith, Adele, Stevie Wonder, and Queen; these are artists who use their voice as the main instrument for their songs. I think I took a lot of aspects from that into my own music and that's kind of how I operate. So when I write, I let my voice lead where the song goes. I think that's what I naturally picked up listening to those artists.

Many of your songs have deep emotion at their core. For example, on Fireworks and Rollerblades, you have a song called "Cry" and the lyrics go, "Cry cry cry/ Go ahead and ruin someone else's life." These are heavy sentiments. Does a weight come off your chest when you write these lyrics?

I think every song is very different; some of them are sad and some aren't. But I do like to pull inspiration from whatever I'm feeling at the time. So whatever I'm going through, that's when I want to write a song; when I'm feeling those emotions the strongest.

No matter what situation I'm in, I always feel better writing something in the middle of whatever emotion I'm feeling. So it does help me. It's therapeutic.

Have you ever written a lyric and then wound up deleting or rewriting it because you thought it was too personal or too revealing?

Honestly, no. I never want something to come out about someone else that they wouldn't want out, so I would never name drop somebody or say something personal about someone else. But for me, I'm not scared to be personal; being vulnerable is the most important thing in songwriting.

When you're finally performing a song you've written however long after, what's it like to hear people sing these emotional lyrics back to you? Do they still have that power for you, or have you worked through them in the interim and they lose that grip?

I think depending on the song, they never lose their grip. A song like "In the Stars," I'll always remember why I wrote that and I'll always think of that. But when I'm performing live, I'm not trying to get everyone to think of my experience because I understand that everybody has their own experience they can relate to. It's not always my grandma, it's not always my girlfriend, it's not always my parents or experiences. It's the audience's experiences, friends, significant others. So when I perform, I don't always think of something I've written a song about but rather giving them something that they can take and grip onto instead.

Speaking of, can you take me back to the late night awhile back when you wrote "Beautiful Things"? How was that particular one born?

Well, I had just moved to LA, and all I had in my house were a mattress and a piano. There were two nights I could not sleep hardly at all and I went downstairs that first night and wrote its verse and medley. But I couldn't really figure out a chorus, so I went back to bed.

The next night I came up with a completely new song and idea, and wrote a chorus but couldn't think of any verses. The next day I happened to have a session with two people I love very much, Jack LaFrantz and Evan Blair, and I showed them the verses idea and we sat there and couldn't figure out where we wanted to take the chorus. So separately I showed them my other chorus idea, and Jack said, "Why don't we make it the same song and make this the chorus?" And that's kind of how the structure of "Beautiful Things" came, but we worked on it for a long time.

Once it came together, we were like "This song is insane and it has so much potential." I've never had a song written like that, ever."

Where did the name of the album, Fireworks and Rollerblades, come from? Do you have a typical way of thinking of titles?

Each one is different, but that title came from a lyric from one of the songs called "Hello Love." It goes: "I can try to blame you but my mind ain't safe/ Like two fireworks tied to a rollerblade." It always stuck out to me and in the session I wrote that, I said, "Dude, if this is part of an album, we should name it Fireworks and Rollerblades, imagine how sick that would be." Everybody was super hyped on the idea, and it actually happened. I loved the lyric and that sentiment.

It's also similar to my life: I feel like things have taken off for me like a firework tied to a rollerblade, all very quickly. And rollerblading is something I love, so it all made sense. I'm so happy with that title.

Let's talk about the single "Slow It Down," an ironic title considering it went viral immediately out of the gate.

I think a lot of people I talked to were like, "Oh the pressure's on for this song!" after "Beautiful Things." But I love "Slow It Down," and writing it was so natural. Some people were listening to me write it and it came together so organically.

It's another very personal song for me. I'm trying my hardest to do my best, and that's all I can do. I can't force people to like or listen to that song. I'm just hoping that it resonates.

How do you know when you're finished with something? Can you easily step away?

I try not to think of deadlines. I'm very particular about how a song sounds, especially its production and how the vocals are treated. Every sound matters to me. Some songs come together a lot faster. But if it's not a simple production, sometimes they take a while and I have to rethink parts and then go sit with the producer and have them do this and this. Some of them take weeks, some of them take months, some of them take days. Each song is so incredibly different.

For Fireworks and Rollerblades, some tracks took a lot longer than I thought, especially "Beautiful Things" actually. It's always a rollercoaster trying to finish a song and the last 10 percent is the hardest part. But it paid off, and I'm so glad.

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