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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Sufjan Stevens & Making "Mystery Of Love"

Sufjan Stevens

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Sufjan Stevens & Making "Mystery Of Love"

A primer on the folk musician, his first-ever GRAMMY nomination and what it was like working with director Luca Guadagnino on the 'Call Me By Your Name' soundtrack

GRAMMYs/Feb 10, 2019 - 01:47 am

Notoriously reclusive and yet unflinchingly candid, Sufjan Stevens has always been a bit of a music industry enigma. The 43-year-old singer-songwriter is now known for his whispering folk music and explorations into electronica, but his career began back in 1995 when he started writing music while attending college. A few years later, he created the independent record label Asthmatic Kitty with a group of friends in Michigan and released his debut solo album. Things only sped up from there.

"Like many of the GRAMMY nominees who came before him, Stevens has an extensive body of work that he’s been crafting over two decades. He rolled out eight solo albums, 13 EPs, three compilation albums, two mixtapes, one collaborative album, one live album, a few scores, and over a dozen standalone singles. Despite this, his first-ever GRAMMY nomination comes as a surprise—not because many believe it’s long-overdue, but because it's for his first-ever commission for a feature film.

While plenty of Stevens' songs have soundtracked films before—perhaps most notably was the use of his 2005 hit "Chicago" in "Little Miss Sunshine"—and he’s technically written classical compositions for independent films like "ROUND-UP" and "THE BQE," the work he penned for "Call Me By Your Name" was an unlikely first in his career. That's why Stevens' nomination for Best Song Written for Visual Media with "Mystery of Love," one of two original songs he wrote and recorded specifically for "Call Me By Your Name," is so thrilling.

Starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, "Call Me By Your Name" presents a gay coming-of-age story between two men with a tough age divide standing between them. The film is earnest and ripe, and "Mystery of Love" mirrors the film’s complex emotions eloquently. Stevens whisper-sings calmly over the soft plucking of acoustic guitar and warm piano notes, making "Mystery of Love" a familiar Sufjan Stevens song in that it’s a forlorn love song. But over a scene of the two characters hiking outdoors, the song feels enormous, illuminating both the natural beauty around them the unsaid emotions that pool behind their eyes.

Director Luca Guadagnino knew it may be tough to convince Stevens to contribute given he notoriously rejects film commission offers. So when Guadagnino reached out in 2016 before even shooting the film, he did so carefully. Initially, he asked Stevens to contribute a few songs, provide a voiceover for one of the characters, and appear in the movie as a bard. Stevens turned down the majority of the offering, telling Guadagnino, “I’ll write you some songs, but that’s all I think you need from me.” It turns out he was right—and Guadagnino admitted as much to him.

"I've always been resistant to work in film,” Stevens told Deadline. "But Luca is an exception, because he's one of those rare directors who uses music and sound so fiercely and with such mastery that you cannot imagine the films without the music."

According to the film’s music supervisor, Robin Urdang—who is nominated alongside Guadagnino for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media for the "Call Me By Your Name" soundtrack—the process was simple. A conference call with Stevens took place to discuss the details of what music they were looking for and what the film was about. He read the book by André Aciman and then the script by James Ivory. Then, only a few weeks later, two demos of songs that Guadagnino loved were delivered to her inbox. "Mystery of Love" had been written.

"The first time I heard it, I thought it was emotive, introspective, and just very simple in a beautiful way. It was pure,” says Urdang. "When I saw it in the scene, I just melted and, needless to say, got teary-eyed. I don’t think any other songwriter or song would have been as compelling and perfect as this song. Both of his songs, 'Mystery of Love’ and ‘Visions of Gideon,’ were like putting in the last two pieces of a gorgeous puzzle. I’m not sure how else to describe it.”

Sufjan Stevens performing "The Mystery Of Love" at the 2018 Academy Awards
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

"We were in my living room [the first time we heard it]. It was me, Walter, Armie and Timothée. And I remember it was blissfulness and emotion,” Guadagnino told Billboard. “We were doing a movie that was a piece of life, of our lives, intertwined. And then we heard this music, and the depths of our commitment to the movie, I think, grew significantly more. And we became enveloped into this magic. We kept listening to the songs for like an afternoon.”

Stevens told The Wrap wanted his contributions to feel “aesthetically and emotionally like independent works that could live on their own.” Penning the songs while on tour behind his album Carrie & Lowell helped. The distance kept him willfully ignorant of the film's inner workings while keeping him burrowed in reflections about love and loss onstage. That’s why “Mystery of Love” manages to juggle both.

"Luca designed this project around a more general aesthetic affiliation with me and my music, and what it means to him,” Stevens told the Los Angeles Times. “He wasn’t just thinking about specific content, he was thinking about all of my songs. When I saw a first screening, he said, ‘I just want you to know that a lot of this project is an homage to your work and to you.’ I don't know, maybe he says things like that to everybody. But it struck me that there was an essence to my repertoire that was inspiring or influencing him. I don’t think I'm his muse — Lord knows it’s Tilda Swinton.”

"Since the film’s release, Stevens' music got swept up in a whirlwind of praise. In January of 2018, "Mystery of Love" debuted at number 47 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart, marking his first and only appearance on the chart. Suddenly, the song was nominated for an Oscar. He performed it live at the Academy Awards with St. Vincent, Moses Sumney, Chris Thile and others backing him up. The following day, the song’s on-demand audio streams increased by 60 percent. A musician known for leading a private life off-record was suddenly appearing everywhere: Deadline, Vanity Fair, Variety. Sufjan Stevens had entered a new level of fame despite already being an indie rock staple for years.

"I’m just so moved that the film's love story spoke to so many people and I’m super happy for Sufjan's involvement,” adds Urdang. “Without it, [this movie] would not have been the same."

Watch the 61st GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10 on CBS.

Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

Seattle's Museum Of Pop Culture To Host Pearl Jam Exhibit

Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

2019 Music Festival Preview: Noise Pop, Coachella, Ultra & More

Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17.