meta-script15 Must-Hear Albums In May 2024: Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Sia, Zayn & More | GRAMMY.com
A graphic with showing (Clockwise from bottom left): Kamasi Washington, Mdou Moctar, Billie Wilish, Arooj Aftab, Zayn, Twenty-One Pilots, Dua Lipa
(Clockwise from bottom left): Kamasi Washington, Mdou Moctar, Billie Wilish, Arooj Aftab, Zayn, Twenty-One Pilots, Dua Lipa.

Photos: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella; Ebru Yildiz; Kelia Anne MacClusky; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images; Ashley-Osborn; Kevin Winter/Getty Images For The Recording Academy

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15 Must-Hear Albums In May 2024: Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Sia, Zayn & More

A fresh crop of spring releases is on the way in May from much-loved pop, rock, and alternative artists. From Dua Lipa's 'Radical Optimism,' to Sia's return on 'Reasonable Woman,' read on for 15 thrilling May releases.

GRAMMYs/May 1, 2024 - 02:18 pm

As a month that welcomes rising temperatures and blooming flowers, May will also bring a flurry of new albums. In its first week, Dua Lipa will put forth her third LP and inject the world with a good dose of Radical Optimism. She will be joined by Sia and her tenth album, Reasonable Woman, and by R&B newcomer 4Batz, who will debut with the mixtape U Made Me St4r.

On May 17, it's Billie Eilish's turn to drop the much-awaited Hit Me Hard and Soft, as well as the return of Cage the Elephant with Neon Pill, and former One Direction member Zayn experimenting with new sounds on Room Under the Stairs.

Later on, Twenty One Pilots drop their final concept album, Clancy, and Sam Tompkins and Tems will both make their studio album debuts with hi my name is insecure and Born in the Wild, respectively. The month will close off with Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab's Night Reign, but before that, there's plenty of other releases to explore.

GRAMMY.com compiled a list with 15 must-listen albums dropping in May 2024 so that you can take a stroll at this month's burgeoning, diverse garden.

Dua Lipa - Radical Optimism

Release date: May 3

"A couple years ago, a friend introduced me to the term 'radical optimism'," said Dua Lipa in a press statement about her upcoming third album, out May 3. "It struck me — the idea of going through chaos gracefully and feeling like you can weather any storm."

This perspective on life inspired the British-Albanian singer both personally and musically. Radical Optimism comes brimming with the "pure joy and happiness of having clarity in situations that once seemed impossible to face." With 11 tracks and production by Danny L Harle and Kevin Parker, the record spins psychedelia and Britpop into a "tribute to UK rave culture," as Lipa described it in an interview for Rolling Stone.

Read more: Dua Lipa Danced The Night Away with "Training Season" & "Houdini" | 2024 GRAMMYs Performance

A preview of the sounds she will approach in the successor of 2020's Future Nostalgia can be seen through singles "Houdini," "Training Session," and "Illusion." Starting June, Lipa will perform a string of concerts in Europe and headline Glastonbury Festival in the U.K.

Kamasi Washington - Fearless Movement

Release date: May 3

It's been six years since jazz virtuoso Kamasi Washington released his latest album, 2016's Heaven and Earth. Hence, his return is highly anticipated: Fearless Movement will come out on May 3, and is described in a press release as Washington's first "dance album." 

"It's not literal," he explained. "Dance is movement and expression, and in a way it's the same thing as music — expressing your spirit through your body. That's what this album is pushing."

Fearless Movement was also inspired by the here-and-now, and the changes that Washington went through since the birth of his first child. "Being a father means the horizon of your life all of a sudden shows up," he shared. "My mortality became more apparent to me, but also my immortality — realizing that my daughter is going to live on and see things that I'm never going to see. I had to become comfortable with this, and that affected the music that I was making."

Washington's daughter also earned songwriting credits in "Asha The First," after coming up with a melody while playing on the piano. In addition to her, the LP also features appearances from André 3000 on the flute, Terrace Martin, Thundercat, Patrice Quinn, George Clinton, BJ The Chicago Kid, and more.

Soon after the release, Washington will kick off a North American tour throughout June, and then head over to Europe and the U.K. in October and November.

Charlotte Day Wilson - Cyan Blue

Release date: May 3

Following her acclaimed 2021 debut LP, Alpha, Canadian multihyphenate Charlotte Day Wilson dives into Cyan Blue for her sophomore release. "You passed through me like a light, but part of you would always remain," she shared about the record on Instagram. "Imprinted, stacked, a palimpsest of love and pain that left me with a world of blue. These are the stories and the palette I was given to paint them with."

Read more: Press Play At Home: Watch Charlotte Day Wilson Perform A Lithe Version Of "I Can Only Whisper"

Day Wilson has a gift for turning intimate reflections into timeless artwork, and this album sees her experimenting with a more carefree approach. "Before, I was extremely intentional about creating music with a strong foundation, a bed of artistic integrity…" she shared in a press release. "But that was a bit stifling, like, ‘Let me just make a great piece of art that will stand the test of time, no pressure.' Now, I think I'm getting out of this frozen state of needing everything to be perfect. I'm more interested in capturing feelings in the moment as they happen and leaving them in that moment."

Cyan Blue will feature 13 tracks, including singles "I Don't Love You" and "Canopy." For those lucky to experience Day Wilson's inimitable voice live, she will be touring North America from May through July.

Mdou Moctar - Funeral for Justice

Release date: May 3

"This album is really different for me," shares Mdou Moctar, the band's namesake, singer, and guitarist, in a press release about their upcoming release, Funeral for Justice. "Now the problems of terrorist violence are more serious in Africa. When the U.S. and Europe came here, they said they're going to help us, but what we see is really different. They never help us to find a solution."

Funeral For Justice doesn't hold back on examining the struggles of Niger and of the Tuareg people (of which Moctar, guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane and drummer Souleymane Ibrahim belong.) Recorded during the two years that the band spent touring after the release of 2021's acclaimed Afrique Victime, it is described as "louder, faster, and more wild," with fiery guitar solos and "passionately political" lyrics that permeate nine meteoric tracks.

"Mdou Moctar has been a strong anti-colonial band ever since I've been a part of it," adds bassist and producer Mikey Coltun. "France came in, f****d up the country, then said ‘you're free.' And they're not." So far, the band shared lead single "Funeral for Justice" and the mesmerizing "Imouhar" — an elegy to their Tamasheq language, which is at risk of dying out. "People here are just using French," said Moctar. "They're starting to forget their own language. We feel like in a hundred years no one will speak good Tamasheq, and that's so scary for us." 

After performing at Coachella in April, the band is set to tour the U.S. in June and Europe and the U.K. in August. The run includes several festival appearances, like Bonnaroo, Green River, and Glastonbury.

4Batz - U Made Me A St4r 

Release date: May 3

Viral R&B and hip hop singer 4Batz initially announced his debut mixtape, U Made Me A St4r, for April, but the release was postponed for a month. "Been making some of the best s**t of my life the last couple weeks," he shared on Instagram. "So ima push the mixtape to 5.3.24 so it can be perfect for yall." 

The contrast between 4Batz's tough appearance and high-pitched love songs propelled him to the stars. He garnered the attention of artists like Kanye West, Robin Thicke, and Drake — who ultimately signed him to his record label OVO in order to release this mixtape. Drake also featured on a remix of 4Batz's 2023 hit, "act ii: date @ 8."

Although there's not much info on the tracklist or any upcoming activities, the Dallas-born singer is excited by the mystery: "I'm really in love with this EP," he told Billboard in a recent interview. This EP's gon' break the f**kin' internet, world, all this s**t."

Sia - Reasonable Woman

Release date: May 3

Since the release of lead single "Gimme Love" in September 2023, fans have been eagerly awaiting for Australian superstar Sia's new album. Titled Reasonable Woman and set to drop on May 3, this is her 10th studio release overall, and her first proper pop solo LP since 2016's This Is Acting.

Anticipation only grew as Sia shared a number of lofty singles in past months, including the Kylie Minogue collaboration "Dance Alone," "Incredible" featuring Labrinth, and the recent "Fame Won't Love You," with Paris Hilton. Through the LP's 15 tracks, the singer collaborated further with Chaka Khan, Tierra Whack, Missy Elliott, Kaliii and Jimmy Jolliff.

Behind the scenes, Reasonable Woman also held a star-studded list of producers, engineers, and writers, such as Greg Kurstin, Jesse Shatkin, Benny Blanco, Bülow, Cashmere Cat, Mark "Spike" Stent, Rosalía and more.

Billie Eilish - Hit Me Hard and Soft

Release date: May 17

In April, when a series of billboards and posters with lyric snippets and Billie Eilish's signature "blosh" logo appeared in major global cities, fans knew that her anticipated third LP would be announced soon. A few days later, the GRAMMY and Oscar-winning artist shared a video teaser for Hit Me Hard and Soft, set to release on May 17.

Eilish took it to Instagram to disclose her excitement, and that she is "not doing singles i wanna give it to you all at once." As usual, the record was written by herself and brother, producer, and musical collaborator Finneas O'Connell. According to a press release, Hit Me Hard and Soft includes ten tracks, and "does exactly as the title suggests; hits you hard and soft both lyrically and sonically, while bending genres and defying trends along the way." The album launch also focuses on sustainability by using "the most sustainable practices available" with a page on her website dedicated to ecological production details. 

In an interview with Apple Music's Zane Lowe, the musician teased title track "Hit Me Hard and Soft" and b-side "Chihiro," which references the main character in Studio Ghibli's 2001 animation, Spirited Away. "I feel like every time you put anything out, it feels like your nudes leaked a little bit, and I think this [album], specifically, is like that," Eilish added. "Something that Finneas and I said to a couple of people when we were starting to play it for people was that we kind of made the album that if somebody had said, you know, ‘I want you to make an album, and no one is gonna hear it'... We pretty much, with exceptions, made that album. We made an album without really any — or much — thought of other people."

Of Montreal - Lady on the Cusp

Release date: May 17

Lady on the Cusp is the 19th album from of Montreal, the band project of multi-instrumentalist and singer Kevin Barnes. Inspired by a relocation from Athens, GA — where Barnes lived for nearly three decades — to Vermont together with his partner, songwriter Christina Schneider (aka Locate S,1), Lady is shaped by his reflections on that experience.

According to a press statement, the album is a "reintroduction" to of Montreal, comprising 10 "funny and sad, sexy and brooding, playful and serious" tracks. This carefree approach can be seen on lead single "Yung Hearts Bleed Free," which was influenced by Leos Carax's 1984 film Boy Meets Girl and by Bootsy's Rubber Band, as well as on the laid back "Rude Girl on Rotation."

Two weeks after dropping the album, of Montreal will embark on a major tour across the U.S., starting in Athens, GA, and wrapping it up on July 2 in Asheville, NC.

Cage the Elephant - Neon Pill

Release date: May 17

After winning Best Rock Album at the 2020 GRAMMYs for Social Cues, Cage the Elephant went through a rough patch. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, lead vocalist Matt Shultz weathered a mental health crisis, and the band lost several close family members and friends, including Matt and Brad Shultz's father.

Five years later, the alt-rock sextet is ready to reemerge with their sixth studio album, Neon Pill, out May 17. "To me, Neon Pill is the first record where we were consistently uninfluenced, and I mean that in a positive way," said Matt in a statement. "Everything is undoubtedly expressed through having settled into finding our own voice. We've always drawn inspiration from artists we love, and at times we've even emulated some of them to a certain degree. With this album, having gone through so much, life had almost forced us into becoming more and more comfortable with ourselves… We just found a uniqueness in simply existing."

Produced by John Hill, the record spans 12 tracks that "alchemized a season of tragedy and turbulence" into a whirlwind of riffs and emotions. A preview of Neon Pill can be seen through the title track and singles "Out Loud" and "Good Time." To celebrate their return, the band will tour North America throughout the summer, including performances at Bonnaroo, Hangout Music Festival, and Oceans Calling.

Zayn - Room Under the Stairs

Release date: May 17

For his fourth full-length album, Room Under the Stairs, British singer and One Direction alum Zayn enlisted an unforeseen co-producer: Dave Cobb. Known for his work with Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, Bruce Springsteen, and Lady Gaga, Cobb is responsible for aiding Zayn to step into a new musical direction.

Swiping his signature moody R&B, Zayn dives into country and adult contemporary for the upcoming release, as can be seen in debuted singles "What I Am" and "Alienated." In an interview for the Call Her Daddy podcast last year, the singer shared, "I'm doing a record I don't think people are really gonna expect. It's a different sound for me. And it's got some more narrative going on, like real-life experiences and stuff. My daughter's mentioned in there a couple of times".

"I think the intention behind this album fully is for the listener to get more insight on me personally as a human being," Zayn explained in a teaser video. The 15-track collection follows up 2021's Nobody Is Listening, and was written over the course of several years at Zayn's home in rural Pennsylvania. "That's why it's raw," he added. "It's just me writing this. I didn't want anybody else to be in between me and the music and the music and the people listening to it."

Twenty One Pilots - Clancy

Release date: May 17

On May 17, 2015, Twenty One Pilots released their breakthrough LP, Blurryface. The record also marked the beginning of an intricate concept album series — which is due to come to a conclusion almost a decade later, on May 17 of this year.

Titled Clancy, the final piece of the puzzle states that "a new chapter begins," while making several references to the GRAMMY-winning duo's past works. On lead single "Overcompensate," for example, they mirror the outro of "Levitate" and rehash lyrics from "Bandito," both tracks off their 2018 LP, Trench. Clancy was produced by frontman Tyler Joseph and Paul Meany, and contains 13 tracks.

Most recently, TOP shared the single "Next Semester," alongside dates for an extensive world tour that will cross North America, Australia, New Zealand, The U.K., and Europe.

Sam Tompkins - hi, my name is insecure

Release date: May 24

"I really like being in the company of my friends," shared rising British singer Sam Tompkins in a press statement. "But if you take me out of my comfort zone, and have me hang out at a party or an event or whatever, I just go inside myself and I find any excuse to get out of it."

That statement helps explain why Tompkins titled his anticipated debut album hi, my name is insecure, set to drop on May 24. Despite a genuine talent to produce stirring songs, the Brighton native still struggles with social anxiety and depression — themes that appear often in his lyrics, and contribute to his global resonance.

Tompkins is "championing authenticity without taking himself too seriously," and that might be why his work is so relevant. A tracklist for the LP has yet to be revealed, but Tompkins's sensitive writing can be seen in a slew of singles, including "phones in heaven," "someone else," and "see me."

Tems - Born in the Wild

Release date: TBA 

Nigerian singer Tems earned the eyes and the ears of international media with her Afrobeats-infused R&B. First raising attention with her feature in Wizkid's 2020 single "Essence," she later built up a devoted fandom through two EPs: 2020's For Broken Ears and 2021's If Orange Was a Place. In 2022, she was credited as a featured artist in Future's "Wait For U," which led her to win a GRAMMY for Best Melodic Rap Performance.

This month, Tems will finally release her long-awaited debut album, Born in the Wild. The official announcement came with a teaser video for the title track, disclosed one day after her Coachella set in April. "It's all over the news, all over the news, I know this/ Under the sun, struggling to find my focus/ When I was young, younger then/ I was always running away," she sings, reflecting on her childhood in Lagos. "I grew up in the wilderness/ Didn't know much about openness." 

Born in the Wild follows Tems' 2023 singles, "Me & U" and "Not an Angel." The singer has yet to reveal further info about the record, as well as a definite release date.

Kameron Marlowe - Keepin' the Lights On

Release date: May 31

Powerhouse country singer Kameron Marlowe is gearing up to release his sophomore effort, Keepin' the Lights On, at the end of May. "The namesake of the album came from a conversation with my dad over the holidays about how he's always thanking the man upstairs for keeping it all together, especially when times get tough," he shared in a statement.

"For me, this record is a reminder of hard work, dedication and keeping the promises that we make," he continued. Featuring 16 tracks, including previously released singles "Quit You," "Strangers" with Ella Langley, and "Tennessee Don't Mind," Marlowe stated that the LP "explores everything from loss to love, depression to joy, and overcoming the voices in your head telling you you're not good enough."

"It's still crazy to me that people are listening to a small town boy from Kannapolis, North Carolina, but here I am releasing my second album. I can't wait for y'all to hear it," he added. Marlowe is currently on his Strangers 2024 North American tour, where he plays some of his new tracks. 

Arooj Aftab - Night Reign

Release date: May 31

Just like the night, Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab's voice is deep and mysterious. Unsurprisingly, the night is also her "biggest source of inspiration," as she shared in a recent press release about her upcoming record, Night Reign, out May 31. 

Following 2021's Vulture Prince (from which single "Mohabbat" won Best Global Music Performance at the 2022 GRAMMYs), the album is a nine-song compilation about how "some nights are for falling in love, some are for solitude and introspection, some are to be annoyed at a forced social gathering — and so go the stories of Night Reign." The list of collaborators include the soulful Cautious Clay, musical ensemble Chocolate Genius, jazz artist James Francies, and more.

Aftab shared the single "Raat Ki Rani" as a preview of the album, and announced a North America, U.K., and Europe tour throughout the rest of the year. She will also support Khruangbin for a run of fall shows in Washington, DC, St. Louis, MO, and New Orleans, LA.

Inside Neil Young & Crazy Horse's 'F##IN' UP': Where All Nine Songs Came From

Mdou Moctar
Mdou Moctar

Photo: Nelson Espinal

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15 Essential Afrorock Songs: From The Funkees To Mdou Moctar

Explore the vibrant history of Afrorock, featuring artists BLO, War-Head Constriction, The Lijadu Sisters, and more that trace Africa's rich musical evolution from the '60s to today.

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2024 - 01:21 pm

Music is a cosmopolitan darling. In a world that speaks the language of travel and tourism, generations of sounds meet, influencing each other in a continuous exchange.

When seventeen African countries gained independence from colonial forces in 1960, the culture and entertainment landscape transformed significantly over the next four decades. Genres like highlife, jùjú, ethio-jazz, Raï, Congolese rumba, marabi, and fuji — which reigned before the '60s — gave way to hybrids such as Afrobeat and Afrorock in the late '60s and early '70s. These new styles blended American funk, jazz, rock and psychedelic elements into distinctly African creations.

In Zambia, Zamrock exploded on the music scene in the early '70s as a political statement, influenced by the heavy rock of Jimi Hendrix and smooth funk of James Brown. Bands like WITCH and Paul Ngozi embraced Western sounds while staying true to their roots by singing in Bemba and Nyanja accordingly.

In Nigeria, rock cults like the Fractions, War-Head Constriction, The Hykkers, Ofo and the Black Company, Ofege, The Lijadu Sisters, and BLO emerged in the wee hours of the Nigerian Civil War, swinging their electric guitars and mixing indigenous material with their newfound sounds. When the Nigeria-Biafran War became full-blown, some of these bands were employed to perform by the army, while some laid low in hotels, singing to anyone who cared to listen.

But while Afrobeat, pioneered by multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti, has gained global recognition and acclaim over the decades as the continent's signature sound, Afrorock has not enjoyed the same achievement. In celebration of the diverse music coming from Africa, here are some classic songs that have defined the Afrorock style over the years.

Monomono — "Kenimania" (1972)

Monomono (Yoruba for "lightning") was one of the first Afrorock bands to emerge from Nigeria. Led by Joni Haastrup on vocals and keyboard, Babá Ken Okulolo on bass and Danjuma "Jimi Lee'' Adamu on the guitars, the group was influenced largely by British rock and Fela Kuti (the album cover literally offers "thanks to brother Fela, for the little hint that did a good job.") 

"Kenimania" appeared as a pure instrumental on their popular 1972 LP Give The Beggar A Chance, and vibrates with polyrhythmic drums, and a strained sax riff over a recurring "Hey!" on the track. 

BLO — "Chant to Mother Earth" (1973)

The Nigerian trio BLO, short for Berkeley Ike Jones, Laolu Akins Akintobi and Odumosu Gbenga Mike, is often hailed as "the first psych-rock band" from Africa and creators of Nigeria's inaugural psychedelic rock record. What sets BLO apart is their unique sound,  which combines a Hendrix-esque rock style with a sleepy, nostalgic texture. 

One of their standout tracks, "Chant to Mother Earth" from their 1973 album Chapter One, encapsulates this blend. It's a spiritual and earthy ballad that serves both as a song and an invocation, and it remains one of the trio's enduring hits.

Edzayawa — "Darkness" (1973)

The Ghanaian band Edzawaya developed a distinctive sound rooted in a 6/8 rhythm and heavily influenced by the music of the Ewe people from southeastern Ghana and western Togo, according to Soundway Records. Their only album, Projection One — delivered in 1973 — features "Darkness," a track that blends funk rock with deep percussive elements, part of their unique style. After recording this album under the guidance of Nigerian music legend Fela Kuti and producer Odium Iruoje in Lagos, the band quickly rose to prominence before disbanding in 1975.  

War-Head Constriction — "Graceful Bird" (1973)

"Graceful Bird" is a powerful single by the Nigerian band War-Head Constriction, featuring members Etim Bassey, Femi Lasode, and Martin Amenechi. Formed during the Nigerian Civil War, their music captures the intense period of their emergence. 

Released under Afrodisia as a single, the track is known for its heavy metal influences, characterized by "long, snarling guitar solos and piles of distortion" according to Pitchfork. The lyrics are a testimony to the harsh turmoil of war and loss. "You just laughed when you saw us cry / Coming to do the slaying / Women fall from grace to grass / Now it's your turn to fade / No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no."

The Funkees — "Breakthrough" (1974)

If BLO pioneered Afrorock, The Funkees evolved it, embedding the spirit of their era in their lyrics. Their upbeat music, particularly popular among the rebellious Biafran youth during the Nigerian Civil War, broke through national borders and resonated with the diaspora. "Breakthrough" from their 1974 album Slipping Into Darkness, is a lyrical exploration of mental liberation. The song's influence continues to echo in modern music, with samples by Kendrick Lamar in "Worldwide Steppers" (2022) and Madlib in "Brothers and Sisters" (2010) cementing its status as a significant work.

Akofa Akoussah — "La Lem" (1976)

In 1966, Julie Akofa Akoussah gained significant exposure on the Togolese music scene when she shared the stage with her compatriot Bella Bellow at the first Negro Arts Festival in Dakar, Senegal.

A decade later, her 1976 eponymous album, Akofa Akoussah, transcended both musical genres and national boundaries. Her music captivated audiences in Ghana and Benin and caught the attention of renowned artists such as Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango, and Aycha Koné. "La Lem", a standout track from the album, features a haunting guitar intro that persists throughout the song, complementing its deeply soulful lyrics. 

The Lijadu Sisters — "Life's Gone Down Low" (1976)

Growing up in Ibadan, Nigeria in the '50s, Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu listened to a lot of records from Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Cliff Richard and Ella Fitzgerald. Far from limiting themselves to a particular style, the duo also drew influences from western jazz, rock, funk and soul, crafting a diverse and experimental sound. 

"Life's Gone Down Low" from their Danger album, is a testament to this eclectic style. The song, which gained popular recognition due to an uncredited sample by the rapper Nas on "Life's Gone Low", features an insistent electric guitar hovering over the chorus "Life's gone down / Down / Down / Down / Down."

Amanaz — "Khala My Friend" (1975)

Amanaz, an acronym for Ask Me About Nice Artistes In Zambia, were a force to reckon with in the Zamrock scene of Zambia. Formed in Kitwe in 1973, the five-piece band featured the compelling vocals of lead singer Keith Kabwe and the acid guitars of John Kanyepa and Isaac Mpofu. 

The track "Khala My Friend," from the 1975 album Africa, remains a staple in bars and outdoor events across Zambia today. A fusion of rock, funk, and traditional Zambian music, the song is an expression of camaraderie and longing. It has not only become a definitive record of the Zamrock subgenre, but has also gained worldwide acclaim from music critics and enthusiasts alike.

Fadoul — "Bsslama Hbibti" ('70s)

Fadoul, a Moroccan three-piece band, gained notoriety when "Bsslama Hbibti'' was  featured in the first compilation by German record label Habibi Funk, which showcased funk, soul and jazz tracks from the 1970s across Sudan, Libya, Morocco and Egypt. While the exact year this gem was recorded is debatable, "Bsslama Hbibti'' is a vibrant mix of funk with some shiny elements of rock that features raw drum beats, fierce guitar riffs, and Fadoul's intense, impassioned lyrics. 

Tinariwen — "Matadjem Yinmixan" (2007)

Malian band Tinariwen has become a cornerstone of desert rock, earning a GRAMMY for Best World Music in 2012 and influencing bands including Kel Assouf and Imarhan. Becoming the Fela Kuti of their genre, their music resonates with a distinctive, gritty essence.  

"Matadjem Yinmixan" ("Why All This Hate Between You?") from their 2007 album Cler Achel, offers pointed criticism of the terrorist groups in the Sahara region which have even captured the band's own members. On the track, the electric chomp of the guitar intertwines with a buoyant beat as a chorus of voices heightens the lyrical tension.

Vaudou Game feat. Roger Damawuzan — "Pas Contente" (2014)

Vaudou Game is the collaboration of Togolese singer and guitarist Peter Solo and a quintet of instrumentalists from Lyon, France. Their well-known hit "Pas Contente" ("I'm Not Happy") has been touted as a funk ballad, it stands out for its dreamy psychedelic rock guitar echoing throughout the track.

Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band — "Wasso" (2015)

From Burkina Faso, Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band is led by Mamadou Sanou, an activist that bridges traditional Manding music with modern Burkinabe funk.

Influenced by the diverse style of Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, and Moussa Doumba, the band recorded "Wasso" at the renowned Ouaga Jungle Studios in 2015. The track exemplifies the band's raw and unrefined sound, blending Mandingue guitar, the native harp donso n'goni, dub, and afrobeat into a cohesive funk rock texture. 

Imarhan — "Tahabort" (2016)

The desert rock sextet Imarhan is one of the promising avant-garde bands to come out of Northern Africa. Not only do they combine influences as diverse as Algerian Rai music, American jazz, Burkinabe funk, and global pop, they also find solace in ancestral Tamashek poetry.

Off their eponymous album, "Taharbot" stands out as a fast-paced number that skillfully weaves together restless elements of raï and funk. There is a combination of a robust bass, reverb guitar loops, complex polyrhythms, and a sweet spot in the riveting riff. 

BCUC — "The Journey with Mr. Van Der Merwe" (2016)

Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC), formed in Soweto in 2003, uniquely integrates all of South Africa's official languages into their music.  The seven-piece act draws from indigenous and modern music, combining ritual songs, fireside chants, church hymns, and rap with a rock and roll spirit. 

"The Journey with Mr. Van Der Merwe" from their 2016 The Healing album, is a long spell of different sounds anchored by the presence of a strong electric bass guitar. The song serves as a critique of the exploitation of South Africa's rural poor by the urban elite, and incorporates a traditional South African call-and-response that develops into a dub style mid-song.

Mdou Moctar — "Chismiten" (2021)

From their 2021 album Afrique Victime, "Chismiten" rises amid the politically charged and anti-colonial themes of Mdou Moctar's recent work. 

Produced by Michael "Mikey" Coltun, "Chismiten" earned the Tuareg musician and his band attention for challenging conventional definitions of rock music. With its upbeat and danceable sound and strained guitar riffs, Mdou Moctar sings about tişmiten, a Tamasheq word for jealousy. "The song is about how people in a relationship lose their sense of self, they become jealous and envious of others," Mdou explained on Remove.  

Three New Categories Added For The 2024 GRAMMYs: Best African Music Performance, Best Alternative Jazz Album & Best Pop Dance Recording

Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023.
Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023

Photo: Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

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The Environmental Impact Of Touring: How Scientists, Musicians & Nonprofits Are Trying To Shrink Concerts' Carbon Footprint

"It’s not just [about] a single tour, it’s every tour," singer Brittany Howard says of efforts to make concerts more sustainable. From the nonprofit that partnered with Billie Eilish, to an MIT initiative, the music industry aims to curb climate change.

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2024 - 01:30 pm

Beloved by fans around the globe, yet increasingly unaffordable for many artists, concert tours are central to the world of entertainment and local economies. After the pandemic-era global shuttering of concert venues large and small, tours are back, and bigger than ever.  

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is smashing records, selling more than four million tickets and earning more than $1 billion. But that tour made headlines for another reason: as reported in Business Insider and other outlets, for a six-month period in 2023, Swift’s two jets spent a combined 166 hours in the air between concerts, shuttling at most a total of 28 passengers. 

Against that backdrop, heightened concerns about the global environmental cost of concert touring have led a number of prominent artists to launch initiatives. Those efforts seek both to mitigate the negative effects of touring and communicate messages about sustainability to concertgoers. 

A 2023 study sponsored by Texas-based electricity provider Payless Power found that the carbon footprint of many touring bands was massive. In 2022, concert tours in five genres — country, classic rock, hip-hop/rap, metal and pop — were responsible for CO2 emissions totaling nearly 45,000 metric tons. A so-called greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide contributes to climate change by radiative forcing; increased levels of CO2 also contribute to health problems.  

No serious discussion of climate issues suggests a worldwide halt to live music touring, but there exists much room for improvement. Both on their own and with the help of dedicated nonprofit organizations, many artists are taking positive steps toward mitigating the deleterious effects that touring exerts upon the environment.  

Smart tour planning is one way to lessen an artist’s carbon footprint. Ed Sheeran’s 2022 European run minimized flights between concert venues, making that leg of his tour the year's most environmentally efficient. Total carbon dioxide emissions (from flights and driving) on Sheeran’s tour came to less than 150 metric tons. In contrast, Dua Lipa’s tour during the same period generated 12 times as much — more than 1800 metric tons — of CO2 

In July, singer/songwriter and four-time GRAMMY nominee Jewel will embark on her first major tour in several years, alongside GRAMMY winner Melissa Etheridge. During the planning stage for the 28-city tour, Jewel suggested an idea that could reduce the tour’s carbon footprint.

"I always thought it was so silly and so wasteful — and so carbon footprint-negative — to have separate trucks, separate lighting, separate crews, separate hotel rooms, separate costs," Jewel says. She pitched the idea of sharing a backing band with Etheridge. "I’ve been trying to do this for 25 years," Jewel says with a laugh. "Melissa is the first person who took me up on it!" 

The changes will not only reduce the tour’s carbon footprint, but they’ll also lessen the cost of taking the shows on the road. Acknowledging that there are many opportunities to meet the challenges of touring’s negative impact upon the environment, Jewel emphasizes that “you have to find [solutions] that work for you.”

Sheeran and Jewel aren’t the only popular artists trying to make a difference. A number of high profile artists have become actively involved in creating the momentum for positive change. Those artists believe that their work on sustainability issues goes hand in hand with their role as public figures. Their efforts take two primary forms: making changes themselves, andadvocating for action among their fans.  

The Climate Machine 

Norhan Bayomi is an Egypt-born environmental scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a key member of the Environmental Solutions Initiative, a program launched to address sustainable climate action. She’s also a recording artist in the trance genre, working under the name Nourey 

The ESI collaborates with industry heavyweights Live Nation, Warner Music Group and others as well with touring/recording acts like Coldplay to examine the carbon footprint of the music industry. A key component of the ESI is the Climate Machine, a collaborative research group that seeks to help the live music industry reduce carbon emissions. "As a research institution, we bring technologies and analytics to understand, in the best way possible, the actual impact of the music industry upon climate change," says John Fernández, Director of the ESI.  

"I’m very interested in exploring ways that we can bridge between environmental science, climate change and music fans," Bayomi says. She explains that the tools at the ESI’s disposal include "virtual reality, augmented reality and generative AI," media forms that can communicate messages to music fans and concertgoers. Fernández says that those endeavors are aimed at "enlisting, enabling and inspiring people to get engaged in climate change." 

The Environmental Solutions Initiative cites Coldplay as a high-profile success. The band and its management issued an "Emissions Update" document in June 2024, outlining its success at achieving their goal of reducing direct carbon emissions from show production, freight, band and crew travel. The established target was a 50 percent cut in emissions compared to Coldplay’s previous tour; the final result was a 59 percent reduction between their 2022-23 tour and 2016-17 tour.  

A significant part of that reduction came as a result of a renewable-energy based battery system that powers audio and lights. The emissions data in the update was reviewed and independently validated by MIT’s Fernández.  

Change Is Reverberating 

Guitarist Adam Gardner is a founding member of Massachusetts-based indie rockers Guster, but he's more than just a singer in a rock band. Gardner is also the co-founder of REVERB, one of the organizations at the forefront of developing and implementing climate-focused sustainability initiatives.  

Founded in 2004 by Gardner and his wife, environmental activist Lauren Sullivan, REVERB  began with a goal of making touring more sustainable; over the years its focus has expanded to promote industry-wide changes. Today, the organization promotes sustainability throughout the industry  in partnership with music artists, concert venues and festivals.  

REVERB initiatives have included efforts to eliminate single-use plastics at the California Roots Music & Arts Festival, clean energy projects in cooperation with Willie Nelson and Billie Eilish, and efforts with other major artists. Gardner has seen sustainability efforts grow over two decades 

"It’s really amazing to see the [change] with artists, with venues, with fans," Gardner says. "Today, people are not just giving lip service to sustainable efforts; they really want to do things that are real and measurable."  

The Music Decarbonization Project is one tangible example of REVERB’s successes. "Diesel power is one of the dirtiest sources of power," Gardner explains. "And it’s an industry standard to power festival stages with diesel generators." Working with Willie Nelson, the organization helped switch the power sources at his annual Luck Reunion to clean energy. At last year’s festival, Nelson’s headlining stage drew 100 percent of its power from solar-powered batteries. "We set up a temporary solar farm," Gardner says, "and the main stage didn’t have to use any diesel power."  

Billie Eilish was another early supporter of the initiative. "She helped us launch the program," Gardner says. Eilish’s set at Lollapallooza 2023 drew power from solar batteries, too.  

With such high-profile successes as a backdrop, Gardner believes that REVERB is poised to do even more to foster sustainable concerts and touring. "Our role now," he says, "isn’t just, ‘Hey, think about this stuff.’ It’s more how do we push farther, faster?"  

Adam Gardner believes that musicians are uniquely positioned to help make a difference where issues of sustainability are concerned. "When you’re a musician, you’re connecting with fans heart-to-heart. That’s what moves people. And that’s where the good stuff happens."  

Small-scale, individual changes can make a difference — especially when they’re coordinated and amplified among other concertgoers. Gardner provides real-world examples. "Instead of buying a plastic bottle, I brought my reusable and filled it up. Maybe I carpooled to the show." Conceding that such steps might seem like drops of water in a giant pool, he emphasizes the power of scale. "When you actually multiply [those things for] just one summer tour, it adds up," he says. "And it reminds people, ‘You’re not alone in this; you’re part of a community that’s taking action."  

Gardner understands that REVERB’s arguments have to be framed the right way to reach concertgoers. "Look," he admits, "It’s a concert. We’re not here to be a buzzkill. Our [aim] now is making sure people don’t lose hope." He says that REVERB and its partners seek to demonstrate that, with collective action and cultural change, there is reason for optimism.  

"There’s a wonderful feedback loop between hope and action," Gardner says with a smile. "You can’t really have one without the other."  

Sustainable Partnerships 

Tanner Watt is Director of Partnerships at REVERB; he works directly with touring artists to develop, coordinate and implement initiatives that bring together his organization’s objectives and the specific personal concerns of the artists. "I get to come up with all the fun, big ideas," he says with a wide smile.  

Watt acknowledges that like every concertgoer, each touring artist has a certain level of responsibility where sustainability is concerned. "And everyone can be doing something," he says, noting a number of straightforward actions that artists can put in place while on tour. "They can eliminate single-use waste. They can donate hotel toiletries that [would otherwise] hit the landfill."  

Watt stresses that artists can lead by example. "Nobody wants to listen to an artist telling them what to do if they’re not doing it themselves," he says. "But we believe that everybody cares about something." He suggests that if an artist has cultivated a following, "Why not use [that platform] to be that change you want to see in the world?"  

Each artist has his or her own specific areas of concern, but Watt says that there’s a base level of "greening" that takes place on every REVERB-affiliated tour. Where things go from there is up to the artist, in coordination with REVERB. Watt mentions Billie Eilish and her tour’s sustainability commitment. "The Venn diagram of food security, community health, access to healthy food, and the impact on the planet is a big cause for her," he says. "So there’s plant-based catering for her entire crew, across the entire tour." 

Speaking to Billboard, Eilish's mother Maggie Baird said championing sustainability starts with artists. "If artists are interested, it does really start with them telling their teams that they care and that it’s foremost in their thoughts." In the same conversation, Eilish called the battle for sustainability "a never-ending f–king fight."  

Watt acknowledges that with so many challenges, it’s important for a concerned artist to focus on the issues that move them the most, and where they can make the biggest difference. "Jack Johnson is a great example," he says. While Johnson is a vocal advocate for many environmental issues, on tour he focuses on two (in Watt’s words) "cause umbrellas": single-use plastics solutions and sustainable community food systems. Each show on the tour hosts tables representing local nonprofit organizations, presenting concertgoers with real-world, human-scale solutions to those specific challenges.  

Four-time GRAMMY winner Brittany Howard is another passionate REVERB partner. "Knowing that I wanted to make my tours more sustainable was a start," she tells GRAMMY.com, "but working with REVERB really helped me bring it to life on the road. REVERB has helped us with guidelines and a green rider to keep our stage, greenrooms and buses more sustainable." 

After listing several other specific ways that her tour supports sustainability, Howard notes, "By supporting these efforts, I am helping ensure future generations have access to clean water, fish, and all that I love about the outdoors." A dollar from every ticket sold to a Brittany Howard concert goes toward support of REVERB’s Music Decarbonization project. "I’m also excited to see industry-wide efforts that are reducing the carbon pollution of live music," Howard continues. "Because it’s not just [about] a single tour, it’s every tour." 

There’s a popular aphorism: "You can’t manage what you can’t measure." From its start, REVERB has sought not only to promote change, but to measure its success. "As long as I’ve been at REVERB, we’ve issued impact reports," says Tanner Watt. "We include data points, and give the report to the artists so they understand what we’ve done together." He admits that some successes are more tangible than others, but that it’s helpful to focus on the ones that can be quantified. "We’re very excited that our artists share those with their fans."  

Watt is clear-eyed at the challenges that remain. "Even the word ‘sustainable’ can be misleading," he concedes, suggesting that the only truly sustainable tour is the one that doesn’t happen. "But if folks don’t step it up and change the way we do business in every industry — not just ours — we’re going to get to a place where we’re forced to make sacrifices that aren’t painless." Getting that message across is REVERB’s aim. "We can’t stop the world," Watt says. "So we find ways to approach these things positively."  

Watt says that the fans at concerts featuring Jack Johnson and the Dave Matthews Band — both longtime REVERB partners — are already on board with many of the sustainability-focused initiatives which those artists promote. "But there are lots of artists — and lots of fan bases — out there that aren’t messaged to, or have been mis-messaged to," he says. "I’m really excited to find more ways to expand our reach to them, beyond mainstream pop music. Because these are conversations that are meaningful for everyone, regardless of political affiliation or other beliefs."  

Reimagining The Planet’s Future 

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Adam Met does more than front AJR, the indie pop trio he founded in 2005 with brothers Jack and Ryan. Met has a PhD in sustainable development and is a climate activist; he's also the founder/Executive Director of Planet Reimagined, a nonprofit that promotes sustainability and activism through its work with businesses, other organizations and musicians.  

"I’ve spent years traveling around the world, seeing the direct impact of climate change," Met says. He cites two recent and stark examples. "When we pulled up to a venue in San Francisco, the band had to wear gas masks going from the bus into the venue, because of forest fires," he says. AJR’s road crew had to contend with a flash flood in Athens, Greece that washed out their hotel. "And in Rome, some of our crew members fainted because of the heat."  

Encouraged by representatives from the United Nations, Met launched Planet Reimagined. Met’s approach focuses on tailored, city-specific actions to empower fans and amplify diverse voices in the climate movement. Through social media and live shows, Met strives to galvanize climate activism among AJR fans. And the methods he has developed can be implemented by other touring artists.  

Met points out that one of the most climate-unfriendly parts of the entire concert tour enterprise is fans traveling to and from the concerts. And that’s something over which the artist has little or no control. What they can do, he says, is try to educate and influence. Working closely with Ticketmaster and other stakeholders, Met’s nonprofit initiated a study — conducted from July to December 2023, with results published in April 2024 — to explore the energy that happens at concerts. "In sociology," he explains, "that energy is called collective effervescence." The study’s goal is to find ways to channel that energy toward advocacy and action.  

Polling a quarter million concertgoers across musical genres, the study collected data on attitudes about climate change. "Seventy-three percent of fans who attend concerts believe that climate change is real, and that we need to be doing more about it," Met says. "Seventy-eight percent have already taken some sort of action in their lives." He believes that if his organization can activate even a fraction of the estimated 250 million people annually who attend concerts around the globe, "that’s the ballgame."  

Met’s goal is to do more than, say, get concertgoers to switch from plastic to paper drinking straws. "At scale those things make a difference. But people want to see actions where there’s a track record," he says; a return on investment.  

AJR will be putting a plan into action on the second half of their upcoming arena tour. Part of the initiative is encouraging concertgoers to register to vote, and then actually vote. Beyond that, Met has specific actions in mind. "At every single stop, we’re putting together materials around specific policies that are being debated at the local level," he explains. "We give people a script right there, so they can call their elected representative and say, ‘I want you to vote [a certain way on this issue].’"  

He believes the initiative will lead to thousands of people contacting – and hopefully influencing – their representatives. With regard to sustainability issues, Met is convinced that "the most impact that you can have as an artist is when you give fans ways to pick up the mantle themselves." 

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Twenty One Pilots performing in 2022
Twenty One Pilots perform at GPWeek Festival in 2022.

Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images

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Twenty One Pilots' Road To 'Clancy': How The New Album Wraps Up A Decade-Long Lore

Three years after 'Scaled and Icy,' Twenty One Pilots' seventh studio album is here. Dig into the rock duo's journey to 'Clancy,' and how it further showcases their knack for vivid world-building.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 07:28 pm

Long before Twenty One Pilots developed a cult following, the Columbus, Ohio natives were determined to not be put into a box. From their first EP, 2009's Johnny Boy, they've blended elements of emo, rap, alt-pop, electronica, incorporating hardcore and hip-hop into their shows. "No one knew where to put us," drummer Josh Dun told USA Today in 2014. "But we've approached live shows as a way to build something from nothing."

In the decade since, the band's sheer determination and eclectic onstage personality have made them one of the biggest rock groups of their generation. They're equally as spontaneous and intriguing in their music, building an entire world through dynamic soundscapes and visuals — and their new album, Clancy, ties all of it together.  

As the band revealed in a press release upon announcing the album in March, Clancy "marks the final chapter in an ambitious multi-album narrative" that began with Blurryface in 2015. But it certainly doesn't feel like an ending; Clancy further expands on the theatrical style and eclectic sound they've showcased from the start, offering both a resolution and an evolution.

While the makings of the signature Twenty One Pilots aesthetic began with its original formation as a trio — lead singer Tyler Joseph and his friends Nick Thomas and Chris Salih — it truly took shape when Dun replaced Thomas and Salih in 2011. Dun and Joseph had a common goal to re-formulate the way songs and shows were crafted; the drummer utilized samples and backing tapes at their gigs, helping the band dive deeper into their alternative style by fusing everything from reggae to pop together.

As a newly formed duo, Twenty One Pilots issued their album Regional at Best in 2011 — their last release before they signed to a major label (though, as they told Huffpost in 2013, they since consider the record a "glorified mixtape"). After significant social media buzz and selling out a show at Newport Music Hall in Columbus, the duo was courted by a dozen record labels, which set the stage for their big break.

"We went from no one in the industry caring to all of the sudden it was the hot thing for every label, independent and major, to be interested in some way," Joseph told Columbus Monthly in 2012 upon signing to Fueled by Ramen, which the singer said they were drawn to because they were able to retain "creative control" — a factor that would become increasingly more important with each release. 

Their 2013 album Vessel — which featured a combination of new and re-recorded songs from Regional At Best —spawned the band's first charting single, "Holding On to You," a rap-meets-pop track that oscillates from sensitive indie ballad to energetic anthem. Not only had they begun making a mark commercially, but it seemed to be the album that Twenty One Pilots felt they were hitting their stride creatively, too: "I know some people might not like this, but I kind of view Vessel as our first record," Joseph told Kerrang!at the time.

Though the character "Clancy" first came about with 2018's Trench, Twenty One Pilots actually introduced the world that Clancy would eventually live in with 2015's Blurryface, which focused on a titular character who embodies depression and anxiety. "It's a guy who kind of represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around me, are insecure about," Joseph said of his alter-ego in a 2015 interview with MTV.

To convey the "feeling of suffocation" caused by insecurities from what he creates, Joseph began wearing black paint on his neck and hands in music videos and on stage to represent the "Blurryface" character. As Joseph told the Recording Academy in 2015, the "common thread" of all of the songs on Blurryface was that Joseph's alter-ego would be defeated, and each song wrestled with the dichotomy between darkness and optimism.

While Vessel kickstarted the band's commercial success, Blurryface saw their popularity explode and resulted in the band's best-selling single, the eerie rap-rock anthem "Stressed Out." The commercial success of Blurryface helped their hot streak continue into 2016 with the release of "Heathens." While the song served as the first single from the Suicide Squad soundtrack, its haunting production fits right into the world the pair had begun building with Blurryface. Their acclaim continued to grow, with Twenty One Pilots earning their first GRAMMY in 2017 for "Stressed Out" in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance Category — and, in line with their affinity for stunts, dropping their pants as they accepted their award.

Ahead of the release of their 2018 concept album Trench, the lore surrounding "Clancy" really began. Twenty One Pilots began leaving clues for fans on a website known as DMAORG, which featured black-and-white images and letters from "Clancy," who ultimately became the protagonist of the album. Twenty One Pilots fans (often referred to as the"Skeleton Clique") began clamoring to deduce puzzling clues and posting their theories about the narrative's endgame online.

With Trench, they found more characters and a deeper narrative. The overall album depicts "a world where nine dictatorial bishops keep the inhabitants (Tyler included) of a fictional place named Dema from escaping its controlling clutches, with the help of the Banditos — a rebel organization (featuring Josh)." On a larger scale, the album grapples with mental illness, suicide and an expansion on Joseph's insecurities from Blurryface

But Trench isn't one cohesive story; rather, it's a series of songs with clues embedded within. For instance, in "Morph," the character Nico is introduced, who is also the subject of "Nico and The Niners." From there, fans gleaned that Nico was one of nine bishops controlling the citizens of Dema, and those nine bishops were represented by each of the songs on Blurryface. The bombastic "Pet Cheetah" references that the house has vultures on the roof which alludes to it — and Joseph's home — being Dema. 

As with Blurryface, visuals became an integral part of the album cycle. This time, they used them to illustrate life in the dystopian Dema, which personifies depression through the trilogy of music videos for "Levitate," "Nico and The Niners" and "Jumpsuit." While Joseph's black-painted neck and hands signaled the Blurryface era, dark green clothing marked with yellow tape signaled the Trench era. During this time, the "Clancy" character remained shrouded in mystery — though through videos and letters shared by the band, fans theorized that it is an opposing force to "Blurryface."

By the time Twenty One Pilots' 2021 album, Scaled and Icy, came around, fans quickly noticed that it paid homage to "Clancy" as an anagram for "Clancy is dead," while also acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic as a shortened phrase for "scaled back and isolated." While Twenty One Pilots could have leaned into the harrowing events of lockdown, they instead chose to focus on what has driven the band itself, the power of imagination — something that has been behind much of the band's work since Blurryface.

With the album came three singles — the propulsive "Shy Away," the heartwrenching banger "Choker" and the funk-pop-tinged "Saturday — which were recorded when the duo was working virtually during the pandemic. Unlike the past two projects which grappled with this doomed slant, Scaled and Icy pivoted toward a sunnier sound, signaling a shift in the narrative. But it didn't mean the dark world of Blurryface and Trench were completely in the past; upon Scaled and Icy's release, Joseph revealed to Apple Music that there would be "one more record" and "an explanation and book end" before moving onto another story.

Three years following the release of Scaled and Icy, fans began receiving letters from the "Sacred Municipality of Dema" — a reference to the fictional city featured on Trench, signaling what appeared to be a new era diving deeper into the band's lore. Since the previous record featured an anagram about "Clancy" in its title, it seemed natural that the next album would be named after the character. 

"'Clancy' is our protagonist in this story we've been telling, stretched out over the last several records. 'Clancy' is the type of character who, for a long time, didn't know if he was a leader or not, didn't want to take that responsibility," Joseph told BBC Radio earlier this year.

As the singer had hinted in the Scaled and Icy era, Clancy brings fans back to the darker narrative that began with Blurryfacet. After Joseph's character escapes Dema a handful of times, joins a rebellion, then is captured again, he finally has the same abilities as the bishops and aims to free the people of Dema. The album attempts to answer a few conceptual questions along the way.

Clancy's blistering first single, "Overcompensate" is inherently hopeful, and answers the long-lingering question fans have been wondering: Who is "Clancy"? According to the psych-funk number, it's been Joseph all along ("If you can't see, I am Clancy/ Prodigal son, done running, come up with Josh Dun.") As Joseph further explained to BBC Radio, "[With] 'Overcompensate', there's a bit of a confidence and swagger in it that the character needed to embody in order to take on the new role in the story we've been telling, and Clancy is gonna rise up as that person."

But much of the album focuses less on the literal lore, instead tackling the overarching themes of its counterparts: Joseph's struggles with mental health. Despite the darker, anxious nature of the album's lyrics, the majority of Clancy has a self-assured breeziness to it, jumping off of the upbeat Scaled and Icy sound. 

On the ballad-like closer, "Paladin Strait" — named after a fictional body of water off the coast of Dema —Twenty One Pilots really digs into the narrative of "Clancy" the character in a literal way again. What's revealed is the final battle between "Clancy" and "Blurryface" with no apparent winner — alluding to the idea that there is not necessarily a triumph over depression. In the final line, the band offers a callback to a lyric from Blurryface: "So few, so proud, so emotional/ Hello, Clancy."

While the ending may remain ambiguous, it may not be a coincidence that Twenty One Pilots postponed Clancy's release date by a week (from May 17 to May 24) in order to finish filming music videos for each of the tracks, all of which were unveiled upon the album's release. So, there's still hope that fans will find out definitively what happened to "Clancy" — or maybe it means his story isn't completely finished. 

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Billie Eilish Songbook Hero
(L-R) Billie Eilish in 2018, 2020 and 2023.

(L-R) Scott Legato/Getty Images for Live Nation, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Global Citizen

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Songbook: A Guide To Billie Eilish's Musical Ventures & Artistic Ingenuity

On the heels of Billie Eilish's new album 'HIT ME HARD AND SOFT,' take a deep dive into the albums, visuals and performances that have shaped her award-winning, generation-defining artistry.

GRAMMYs/May 21, 2024 - 06:18 pm

Being a once-in-a-generation artist isn't an easy crown to wear, but Billie Eilish has made it look effortlessly badass. The singer's unabashed honesty and equally raw vocal talent led her to becoming one of the industry's most decorated Gen Z artists before she even reached her twenties.

Eilish first caught our ears in 2016 when the then-13-year-old uploaded "ocean eyes" to SoundCloud. The tender ballad — written and produced by her brother and steadfast collaborator, FINNEAS — was shared with Eilish's dance teacher with the intention of using it as a choreography track. The intimate song transformed the budding artist into an overnight sensation that led to an Interscope record deal that year.

From there, Eilish released her stunning 2017 debut EP, Don't Smile at Me. The trajectory continued at a whirlwind pace with 2019's debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? and her 2021 follow-up, Happier Than Ever, both of which topped the Billboard 200 chart. The albums' successes made her an award show darling, and in 2020, she became only the second artist and first woman to win all four General Field Categories (Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, and Best New Artist) at just 18 years old. As of press time, Eilish has nine GRAMMY Awards and 25 nominations. And at her current age of 22, she's still only just getting started.

The singer may have emerged onto the scene with a subdued voice, but what a red herring that was. Eilish has been a force to be reckoned with from the start, and this edition of Songbook celebrates each chapter of her shape-shifting career thus far, including her recently launched HIT ME HARD AND SOFT era. 

Below, dive into Eilish's music highlights — from her personal projects to soundtrack masterpieces — that have laid the foundation for her growing longevity.

The Melancholic Songstress

Don't Smile at Me (2017)

Don't Smile at Me is a perfectly blunt way to sum up teen angst. With signature songs like the teary "ocean eyes" and the equally earnest ballad "idontwannabeyouanymore," the eight-track project showcased Eilish's propensity for transforming moodiness into art. 

The EP navigated themes of depression and heartbreak, which were funneled through lyrics seemingly ripped out of Eilish's diary. That refreshing intimacy is what makes her such a revered artist, and Don't Smile at Me provided just a glimpse into what her sound would grow into.

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (2019)

Depression can often feel like one is drowning in a bottomless pool, and Eilish doubled down on that heaviness with her debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? The lyrics were pulled from Eilish's nightmares and bouts with depression, and with the help of her brother FINNEAS' production and co-writing pen, it all came to life like a wicked horror film. 

If the album is a night terror, then "bad guy" is the sleep paralysis demon smirking in the bedroom corner. It might be the poppiest of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP's singles (it even spawned a remix featuring one of Eilish's idols, Justin Bieber), but the balance of the zany electro and claims of being the "Make-your-girlfriend-mad type/ Might-seduce-your-dad type" shows this flavor of pop is not the bubblegum kind. Other highlights — The Office samples dotted throughout, the eerie taunts of "you should see me in a crown" and "bury a friend," and even an ASMR-worthy Invisalign intro — made the album a thrilling exploration of Eilish's unconventional artistry.

Happier Than Ever (2021)

After WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? saw Eilish in a living nightmare, Happier Than Ever found her confronting those demons — and as a result, feeling and sounding much lighter. Sporting a Marilyn Monroe-esque blonde bob at the time (a complete 180 from her black and electric lime-colored locks), the album presented an even more vulnerable artist. Eilish's overnight success not only came with a tireless music industry demanding more hits from her, but also stalkers, toxic relationships and social media-fueled misogyny — and she addressed all of it on Happier Than Ever.

"Things I once enjoyed just keep me employed now," she grieves on the "Getting Older" opener, coming to terms with the reality of being a pop star. The vulnerability continues with songs like "Not My Responsibility," a response to people constantly dissecting and sexualizing her body; the trip-hop "NDA," which finds Eilish pleading for privacy; and the boisterous title track that sees Eilish belting for the first time. Happier Than Ever wasn't the typical coming-of-age moment that we're used to. But it was born out of an ugly truth, which is an admirable endeavor for an artist who hadn't even reached her twenties. 

HIT ME HARD AND SOFT (2024)

HIT ME HARD AND SOFT almost plays like a "Best of Billie" album, highlighting her award-winning sonic tropes and guiding them into new, expansive territories. She heavily plays on the concept of her third album's title, with both tender ballads and heart-pounding uptempos. 

She also celebrates the menacing teen version of the Billie Eilish many were first introduced to on WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Only this time, she's even more confident in her artistry; her vocals are the strongest they've ever been, as heard on "BIRDS OF A FEATHER" and "THE GREATEST." There's a beautiful maturity that envelopes HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, making it even more exciting to see how else she'll experiment with this album era.

The Big-Screen Auteur

13 Reasons Why (2017)

Eilish's music is as cinematic as it's poetic, so it's not surprising that she's established herself as a soundtrack queen. Her first foray was for Netflix's hit series "13 Reasons Why," which aired just before Eilish's debut EP release, making it the perfect pairing. The singer contributed the flippant song "Bored" to the series' first season, showcasing the ballad brilliance that was to come from the rising star.

Roma (2018)

Water plays a big part in the critically acclaimed Roma — a feature that's also frequent in Eilish's own music videos, and she further heightened that inspiration for the film's soundtrack highlight, "When I Was Older." With her voice sounding submerged under water, the singer and FINNEAS create a chilling atmosphere that reflects the characters' turmoil. Roma ended up becoming an Oscar-winning film, a not-so-subtle foreshadowing of what would happen to Eilish's own career soon after.

No Time To Die (2020)

The James Bond theme songs often have a somber tone, so it made sense for Eilish to join the likes of Adele and Sam Smith as a contributor. "No Time To Die" is as beautiful as it is haunting, with the singer's voice bellowing with the sweeping orchestra. The song owned awards season, scoring a GRAMMY for Best Song Written For Visual Media and Best Original Song trophies from the Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards and more.

Euphoria (2021)

Both Eilish and Rosalía make achingly tender music, and the Spanish singer led Eilish to new, atmospheric heights with Euphoria's "Lo Vas a Olvidar." The song was first previewed in the trailer for Jules' special episode, then was later played in a vulnerable scene where the character reveals how much her girlfriend Rue's relapsing affected her. The pained lyrics ("Tell me if you still miss me / Tell me if you still don't forgive me / What will you do with all this poison?") reflects Jules' heartache. "Lo Vas a Olvidar" marked the first time Eilish sang in Spanish, making her harmonies with Rosalía even more elegiac.

Turning Red (2022)

Under Eilish's edgy demeanor is a pure pop fan, so it was fitting that she teamed up with Pixar to contribute three songs to their Turning Red film. The singer and FINNEAS wrote "Nobody Like U," "U Know What's Up" and "1 True Love," all songs performed by a fictional boy band, 4*Town, a nod to boy bands of the late '90s and early aughts. 

Eilish had made playful songs in the past, but these tunes traded her signature cynical undertone for more nostalgic fun, further revealing her pop versatility. "Writing the songs has literally been the most fun we've had writing," Eilish shared during a Disney press run. "Mei and her friends' passion for 4*Town, it really resonated with me just because I was the same. It's so accurate of how it feels when you're that kind of fan."

Barbie (2023)

Last summer's Barbie was a mammoth at the box office and the charts, partly thanks to Eilish's soundtrack contribution. Reverting back to her teary-eyed ballads, "What Was I Made For?" summarizes the film's central theme of navigating life as a woman in a misogynistic world. 

The beautifully painful tune resonated in and outside of the film, earning an Academy Award for Best Original Song and two GRAMMY Awards for Song of the Year and Best Song Written for Visual Media in 2024. The accolades marked another history-defining moment for Eilish: "What Was I Made For?" became just the tenth song in history to win both an Academy Award for Best Original Song and a GRAMMY for Song Of The Year.

The Poignant Performer

Tours

The bombastic production in Eilish's music practically begs for an audience, so it's bound to be electrifying whenever she hits the stage. She began small in 2017 with the 11-show dont smile at me tour — her first headlining trek — but quickly expanded to arenas. 

She truly hit her stride with 2022's Happier Than Ever, The World Tour. Keeping the staging minimal while sporting her signature baggy looks, she let her vocals (and some electrifying strobe lights) command the attention. Her energy never falters throughout the nearly two-hour long show and neither does the audience, who lovingly shout every single lyric. And it won't be long before she brings HIT ME HARD AND SOFT to the stage — the tour (her seventh) kicks off Sept. 29 in Québec, Canada.

Award Shows

Eilish's fan base goes far beyond the hyper teenagers who flood her concerts. The singer's award show performances also reveal how much her peers admire her. 

With nine GRAMMY wins under her belt, Eilish's GRAMMY performances over the years have helped prove why she's earned them. Following her stage debut in 2020, she returned the following year to perform the Record Of The Year-winning "everything I wanted" as fellow nominees Black Pumas and Harry Styles cheered her on in the crowd. The singer's thunderous "Happier Than Ever" performance received equally roaring applause. 

Eilish reminded of her vocal prowess and ethereal stage presence at both the GRAMMYs and Oscars this year, delivering delicate renditions of "What Was I Made For?" with just FINNEAS and a piano for each show. As those performances displayed, relatability and heightened emotion — as seen with other award show performances, like the cinematic version of "No Time To Die" at the 2022 Oscars and the fiery "all the good girls go to hell" at the 2019 American Music Awards — are what make Eilish's performances so unforgettable.

Concert Film

Eilish transported the vulnerability and intimacy of Happier Than Ever to the silver screen for 2021's GRAMMY-nominated Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles concert film. As its title suggests, the film sees Eilish (a native Angeleno) paying homage to her hometown with a performance at the Hollywood Bowl — even performing alongside the Los Angeles Children's Chorus, which she grew up singing in. 

But the concert film also addresses the pressures of fame like Happier Than Ever the album did. There's a stark contrast between the Eilish on stage, who is seemingly comforted by the lack of an audience inside the Hollywood Bowl, and an animated version of the star, who drives past Happier Than Ever billboards before arriving at a premiere with an overwhelming number of fans and flashing cameras. The film is more than a tribute to her hometown — it shows Eilish coming to terms with her own stardom.

Festivals

As Eilish's star status has ascended, so has her name on festival lineups. Just like her own tours, she gives it her all for these performances, many of which become career-defining moments. 

She first emerged on the scene at SXSW in 2017 and appeared at one of Lollapalooza's smaller stages the following year. But the budding star quickly rose among the ranks, securing bigger stages at festivals like Tyler the Creator's Camp Flog Knaw and Reading & Leeds. She officially graduated in the festival sphere in 2022 when she headlined Coachella and Glastonbury, making her the youngest headliner in the latter's festival history; she's since headlined Coachella, several iterations of Lollapalooza, and even recently became the latest Fortnite Festival headliner. 

Eilish had another full-circle moment at Coachella 2024, when Lana Del Rey — one of Eilish's biggest influences — brought her out as a surprise guest. The pair performed Eilish's "ocean eyes" and Lana's "Video Games," a fitting pairing as fans have often drawn comparisons between the two tracks. "This is the voice of a generation!" Del Rey exclaimed to the crowd following the duets. She might be onto something.

The Visionary

"When The Party's Over" (2018)

Music videos play an integral role in Eilish's artistry, helping to set a visual stage for her narrative lyrics, with many of her videos connecting with each other. The video for the somber piano ballad "when the party's over" wasn't her first, but it officially exhibited the shock factor that she's now known for. 

Arriving a few months before WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, the video shows the then blue-haired singer drinking a cup of black goo, which soon pours from her tear ducts, a visual that was inspired by a drawing gifted by a fan. The video was released a week before Halloween, making it a ghoulish holiday treat for Eilish fans.

"Bury A Friend" (2019)

The singer brought her debut album's nightmarish themes to life for "bury a friend." The video — reminiscent of films and series like The Exorcist, American Horror Story: Asylum and The Haunting of Hill House — accentuates the song's spookiness with dead eyes and needles pierced into Eilish's back. As she told Rolling Stone at the time, it's a visual representation of "honing in on people's fears," a concept that has remained in Eilish's visuals to this day; she continues to face her own fear of water, as seen on HIT ME HARD AND SOFT's submerged album cover.

"Bad Guy" (2019)

"bad guy" may be the singer's most colorful music video to date, but don't let that fool you. Eilish's signature edgy tropes still remain intact — from her bloody nose, to decapitated heads in plastic bags, to the dimly lit crimson bedroom amplifying the trap-inspired switch at the song's end. In between those scenes, though, she pops out her Invisalign before going on a mini-cart joyride, proving that her personality can be just as goofy as it is moody. 

"All The Good Girls Go To Hell" (2019)

The "all the good girls go to hell" video picks up from where "bury a friend" left off, suggesting that Eilish's music isn't just meant to be listened to as standalone singles. Rather, there's intentional connective tissue that is revealed in her videos. 

The syringes injected into Eilish's back gave her 25-foot-long white wings; she dramatically falls from the sky and into a black tar pit. She walks through a grim town while leaving a trail of oil behind her, causing fires to ignite with each step. A big advocate for climate change awareness, Eilish used "all the good girls go to hell" visual to show that her creative vision can spread important messages, too. 

"Happier Than Ever" (2021)

The title track of Eilish's sophomore album, Happier Than Ever, instantly became a fan favorite due to its contrasting two parts, beginning tender and soulful before lashing out into an alternative rock banger. The singer maintained the thrilling transition for the self-directed video, which showcases her knack for visual storytelling. 

The video starts off with Eilish in a vintage-looking room before the lights begin to flicker. She then opens a door that fills the room with water, mimicking the track's flood of emotions. With a powerful song and video like this, she's clearly taken some cinematic tips from her film experiences.

"What Was I Made For?" (2023)

Barbie soundtrack highlight "What Was I Made For?" is a tender hug for women everywhere, including Eilish herself. The singer directed the accompanying video, which shows her donning a '50s-inspired Barbie look as she reflects on the past. 

Sitting at a school desk, she hangs up miniature versions of her own outfits, including looks from videos like "Bellyache" and "bad guy" and the Gucci get-up she wore for her history-making night at the 2020 GRAMMYs. The video was a cleansing of sorts, as Eilish closed a chapter of her career before entering a new one with this year's HIT ME HARD AND SOFT. Though her first video for her third album era — the '90s VHS-inspired "LUNCH" — showed more of her playful side, Eilish has certainly proven that she has plenty more tricks up her sleeve.

All Things Billie Eilish