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Maroon 5's 'Songs About Jane' Turns 20: How Their Early Simplicity Paid Off In Dividends — And What It Can Teach All Musicians
By playing it straight on their funky, soulful, downbeat debut, 'Songs About Jane,' Maroon 5 charted the course for the rest of their career and allowed them to go as big as they want. What can all of us learn from an album like this?
Is less truly more? Perhaps it depends on the context. But in the case of Maroon 5's debut album, the answer is certainly yes.
When considering this impossibly broad question, why zero in on this particular band? Because 2000s pop/rock — the milieu that made them — is a perfect sandbox for it. That landscape was full of albums that kept it simple, using a stripped-down palette to communicate maximum information. The turn of the millennium gave us Coldplay's Parachutes; 2001 brought Train's Drops of Jupiter; 2004, Death Cab for Cutie's Plans and Keane's Hopes and Fears; two years after that, John Mayer made a classy, soulful pivot into Continuum. So on and so forth.
Closer to the top of the decade, we got Maroon 5's 2002 debut, Songs About Jane, which sold more than 10 million copies and helped earn the band a GRAMMY for Best New Artist in 2003. Like the Pandora's box on its cover, the band's future flowed from it. Singer Adam Levine went on to serve as a coach on "The Voice" for nearly a decade; the band collaborated with the likes of Christina Aguilera, Kendrick Lamar and Cardi B; and by 2019, Maroon 5 had logged so many hits that they headlined their own Super Bowl halftime show.
But arguably none of it would have happened without this very simple album, which arrived 20 years ago on June 25.
Across a more than two-decade career, Maroon 5 have planted their flag as some of the most effective hookwriters in the business (even if "Moves Like Jagger" or "One More Night" aren't your thing, try to get them out of your head). And Songs About Jane contains all their melodic abilities with a minimum of varnish.
This is clear as soon as the album begins. The punchy, staccato offbeats in opener "Harder to Breathe" perfectly frame Levine's bluesy melody. His bittersweet, minor-key vocal line in "This Love" rides scratchy, funk-influenced guitars, creating the perfect balance between heartfelt and hip-swiveling. And the subtly droning, building, insistent progression of "She Will Be Loved" opens into a sunshower of a chorus.
And those moments keep coming fast and hard — through the bubblegum pop of "Must Get Out," to the fraught "Through With You," to the all the way to the bumping, acoustic-guitar-inflected closer "Sweetest Goodbye." This simple presentation — we are a white-soul band, and here are our songs — earned Maroon 5 accolades to die for, from the GRAMMYs to the Billboard charts. And arguably because of it, Songs About Jane endures.
Maroon 5 didn't exactly stay in the creative lane of Songs About Jane, but that's no slight. Like all of their aforementioned peers (Coldplay especially), the group got bigger and bolder on subsequent albums: 2007's funky It Won't Be Soon Before Long, 2010's sleek Hands All Over, all the way to 2021's vulnerable Jordi. (The latter featured guest spots from a hoard of superstars, including Megan Thee Stallion, Blackbear, H.E.R., and the late Nipsey Hussle.)
These are all albums of merit, and they offer something to all sorts of contingents of Maroon 5's fan base. But Songs About Jane remains a favorite because it displayed all their strengths in an accessible, unfussy package. So, enjoy the constantly expanding and developing sounds of Maroon 5 and other 2000s favorites. Along with it, give a toast to simplicity — which was deeply in fashion in the production world of that time, and aged spectacularly as a result.
Because thanks to songcraft, attitude, and being in the right place at the right time — among other things — Maroon 5 all but guaranteed they will be loved.
Maroon 5 Auction To Benefit GRAMMY Foundation
Auction offers pairs of tickets to GRAMMY-winning band's Southern California dates on Oct. 4 and Oct. 6
The GRAMMY Foundation will auction 80 pairs of tickets to Maroon 5's upcoming performances with Kelly Clarkson and Rozzi Crane on Oct. 4 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine, Calif., and Oct. 6 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The auction for both concerts is open now and ends Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. PST.
Proceeds will benefit the GRAMMY Foundation, which cultivates the understanding, appreciation and advancement of the impact of music on American culture through music education programs, scholarships and grants.
Ladies Antebellum And Gaga, Jeff Beck, David Frost, John Legend Win Three GRAMMYs Each
Arcade Fire wins Album Of The Year; Esperanza Spalding wins Best New Artist
(To view a list of 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards winners, click here.)
The evening began with a tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, but by the time the last of the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards was handed out on Feb. 13, several other singers and bands looked something like royalty. Foremost among them was Lady Antebellum, who walked away with three trophies while the group members earned two more each for songwriting categories.
Lady Antebellum at the GRAMMYs
During a show memorable for its range of fully fueled performances, the country superstars sang a pitch-perfect medley of tunes that ended with a quiet rendition of the song that launched them, "Need You Now," and shortly afterward collected the Song Of The Year GRAMMY for it (along with co-writer Josh Kear, with whom they also took Best Country Song). But there was plenty more to come for the trio. They also took home the GRAMMY for Best Country Album for Need You Now. Accepting that award, lead singer Charles Kelley said, "This song has completely flipped our world upside down." By the time Lady Antebellum stood up to collect a trophy for Record Of The Year for "Need You Now," they were in disbelief, and possibly discombobulated: "Oh my gosh, we're so stunned we started walking the wrong direction," said singer Hillary Scott breathlessly.
Also racking up awards was Lady Gaga, who claimed three: Best Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video for "Bad Romance." Never one to miss the chance to make an entrance, she hatched herself onstage from a giant opaque egg. That was a riff on her new single, "Born This Way," and perhaps her bared shoulders, which sprouted a pair of pointy elbows, were too. Her dancers and outfit gave off a Cleopatra vibe, but Gaga can't be stopped from seeming ultra-modern, and her performance of "Born This Way" reflected that; it was a warp-speed whirlwind.
Lady Gaga at the GRAMMYs
In keeping with that same modernist — or maybe futurist — spirit, she accepted her award for Best Pop Vocal Album in black body armor. But Gaga also proved she can be an old-fashioned girl with a soft side. In an emotional acceptance speech for that award, she surprised the audience by thanking Whitney Houston: "I imagined she was singing…because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar. Whitney, I imagined you."
Leading the nominees with 10 nods revolving around Recovery, an album that detailed his struggles with addiction but also reestablished him as a rap force to be reckoned with, Eminem took home trophies for Best Rap Album — a triumph over rivals including Jay-Z, Drake and B.o.B — and Best Rap Solo Performance for "Not Afraid." Onstage, his swagger proved undiminished.
A flame-haired Rihanna opened Eminem's performance with a searching rendition of their duet "Love The Way You Lie," but it was Slim Shady who came out blazing, spitting the lyrics to that song before raging into "I Need A Doctor" with Dr. Dre and singer Skylar Grey; Adam Levine from Maroon 5 handled piano duty.
Closing the show and likely lifting the Sunday-night spirits of indie kids everywhere was the Canadian collective Arcade Fire, who won the Album Of The Year GRAMMY for The Suburbs and, before the night's final performance, turned in a frothy and fierce rendition of the rocking "Month Of May."
Arcade Fire at the GRAMMYs
Other multiple winners for the evening included classical music producer David Frost, legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck and R&B artist John Legend, who each earned three awards. Among those who won two each were alternative rock band the Black Keys, jazz giant Herbie Hancock, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, urban/alternative group the Roots, Keith Urban, and gospel singer BeBe Winans.
And in a bit of surprise, jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist over teen phenom Justin Bieber, as well Canadian rapper Drake, and adventurist rock outfits Florence & The Machine and Mumford & Sons.
Esperanza Spalding at the GRAMMYs
The show also featured a few firsts, including a first-time ever GRAMMY performance by Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger, who helped pay tribute to fallen R&B singer Solomon Burke.
But if there was also a constant, it was the annual, high-profile celebration of music that the GRAMMYs represent, and the 53rd GRAMMYs fit the bill once again, with performances, pairings and awards presentations that were full of pleasant musical surprises.
Pop Shines With 55th GRAMMY Nominations
This year's GRAMMY nominations are an eclectic, all-inclusive ensemble of nominees perfectly reflecting the wide variety of musical genres, tastes and trends that The Recording Academy celebrates.
Pop made a strong impact in the coveted General Field categories with nominations for Kelly Clarkson (Record Of The Year for "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You"), Taylor Swift (Record Of The Year for her pop-tinged "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together") and Carly Rea Jepsen (Song Of The Year for "Call Me Maybe").
The nominations also marked a milestone for Fun., who received six nominations, including Record and Song Of The Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "We Are Young" featuring Janelle Monáe, and Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album for Some Nights. The Brooklyn, N.Y., trio also received a Best New Artist nomination.
"It feels good, very good," lead singer Nate Ruess said backstage at "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!!" in Nashville on Dec. 5.
"American Idol" alum Clarkson is among the top female nominees with three nominations, including Best Pop Vocal Album for Stronger. Pink received a deserving nod in the Best Pop Vocal Album category for The Truth About Love, which hopefully opens the door to a performance during February's GRAMMY Awards telecast. (Side note: Pink's album features "Just Give Me A Reason," a duet with Ruess.)
It was a big night for British superstar Ed Sheeran, who grabbed a Song Of The Year nomination for "The A Team." Sheeran was overjoyed with the honor, tweeting, "I can't describe how happy I am."
GRAMMY winners Maroon 5 had a strong night with nominations for Overexposed, the group's self-proclaimed "most diverse and poppiest album yet," in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album categories.
RedFoo and Sky Blu of LMFAO scooped up a Best Pop Duo/Group Performance nomination for their dance-pop confection "Sexy And I Know It," a deserving nomination for the world's most colorful party rockers.
Following a successful year for her GRAMMY-winning album 21, Adele's momentum is still going strong. The proud new mom picked up a nomination for her live performance of "Set Fire To The Rain" in the Best Pop Solo Performance category. Adele was nominated alongside Clarkson, Rihanna ("Where Have You Been"), Katy Perry ("Wide Awake"), and Jepsen, the latter of whom was quick to tweet that she was "over the moon excited" with the honor.
With exciting pop newcomers and veteran pop artists nominated in the General and Pop Fields, the GRAMMY Awards telecast on Feb. 10 will without a doubt be Music's Biggest Night and a terrific night for pop.
'2016 GRAMMY Nominees' album now available
Collection features 21 hits from Alabama Shakes, Kendrick Lamar, Little Big Town, Maroon 5, Chris Stapleton, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and more
The 2016 GRAMMY Nominees album is now in stores and available via digital retailers. Released by The Recording Academy's GRAMMY Recordings and Republic Records, the 22nd installment of the best-selling series features 21 chart-topping hits from a diverse array of this year's GRAMMY-nominated artists and songwriters. A portion of the proceeds from album sales will benefit the year-round efforts of the GRAMMY Foundation and MusiCares.
The album includes artists and songs in the Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, and Best Country Solo Performance categories. Artists featured on the collection include Alabama Shakes, Cam, D'Angelo And The Vanguard, Florence & The Machine, Wiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, Little Big Town, Maroon 5, Mark Ronson, Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, and Lee Ann Womack, as well as Best New Artist nominees Courtney Barnett, James Bay, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly, and Meghan Trainor.
"The 2016 GRAMMY Nominees album represents some of the finest songs and talented artists that make up this year's remarkable nominees," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "We thank Republic Records for collaborating with us on this project, which also provides much needed support for the invaluable programs and initiatives our charities produce year-round. We look forward to another successful GRAMMY compilation."
"It's an honor to partner with the Recording Academy for the 2016 GRAMMY Nominees album," says Republic Records Founder/President Avery Lipman. "It's a very special project that captures the year through showcasing its biggest and best songs and simultaneously benefits some very important causes."