meta-scriptMeet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Arooj Aftab On Her Latest Album 'Vulture Prince,' The Multiplicity Of Pakistani Musics And Why We Should Listen With Nuance & Care | GRAMMY.com
Arooj Aftab in a press photo for 'Vulture Prince'
Arooj Aftab

Photo: Vishesh Sharma

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Arooj Aftab On Her Latest Album 'Vulture Prince,' The Multiplicity Of Pakistani Musics And Why We Should Listen With Nuance & Care

Pakistan-raised singer/songwriter and composer Arooj Aftab is up for Best New Artist and Best Global Music Performance at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. She welcomes a light shone on an underserved music community — and wants us to approach it more thoughtfully.

GRAMMYs/Mar 7, 2022 - 06:57 pm

When your breakout album deals with familial death in a largely non-Western musical style, your press cycle is bound to be… er, interesting. Arooj Aftab's certainly has been. As per the grief element — her 2021 album, Vulture Prince, is dedicated to her late brother — she's dealt with interviewers both compassionate and rude.

"There was a live radio interview where the interviewer was just like, 'How did he die?' And I was like, 'Oh my god. What the f***?'" Aftab recalls to GRAMMY.com. "That's not cool, and I feel like people should know that. But people don't know s***. There's a very 'getting the story' kind of attitude, which leaves you in a place that's very devoid of grace or care."

Then, there's the music itself — an enchanting and therapeutic intertwining of post-minimalism, chamber music and folk idioms, with some words drawn from Asian poets like Rumi, Mirza Ghalib and Hafeez Hoshiarpur. For overworked music writers, the complex nature of Aftab’s sourcing presents all kinds of opportunities for faceplants.

"It's very difficult to do this, it has taken a lot of time and energy as a musician, so it's not a f***ing cover," she told Pitchfork in 2021, referring to indelicate and/or inaccurate characterizations of her work. "I'm taking something that's really old and pulling it into the now."

Read More: Meet This Year's Best New Artist Nominees | 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show

The craft and care she put into Vulture Prince paid off in ways she could have never suspected: For one, Aftab is nominated for Best New Artist and Best Global Music Performance ("Mohabbat") at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards show on April 3.

And while the intense attention has been somewhat challenging for the Pakistan-raised, Brooklyn-based artist, she's gratified that a light is being shone on her musical community.

Read on for an in-depth interview with Aftab about the multiplicity of Pakistani musics, the healing essence of her work, and why we should listen and write about music in a more nuanced way.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

I imagine this press cycle is a deluge — it dwarfs those of past years. 

It's been like this all year, which is a good problem to have. It's been kind of insane since the album came out, so by now, I'm so press-ready.

Is being a "different" kind of GRAMMY nominee a double-edged sword? Is there a potential to feel otherized?

This nomination for Best New Artist has made me feel very validated. I feel like people in post-minimalist or classical or jazz circles have been a little bit otherized by the GRAMMYs, which has always kind of nodded toward the mainstream, mostly — that whole listening audience. Being nominated as Best New Artist has shattered that — for me, at least — and I don't feel otherized anymore.

I feel like I'm next to these artists that are listened to quite widely — and rightfully so. But there are also a whole lot of people who listen to our style of music, so that's good.

Do you feel like it's a net positive — as though this exposure might get new people to go check out Vijay Iyer and the rest?

I just feel like there are so many people who check him out. It's competitive, and I feel like that representation isn't often there.

That said, what people might miss is that you're actually a big fan of pop music.

[Laughs.] Yeah, true.

Is there a certain artfulness in making something that appeals to as many people as humanly possible?

There is, yeah. There absolutely has to be. Pop is very intelligent, but it's also historically been very formulaic, and some people don't like it. But I think there's always a meeting in the middle of sorts that can happen, right?

What are you checking out from that sphere?

I used to work at Genius up until [last fall], so I was very, very in the know all the time. And now, I don't know anything! I'm like, "Who are the new TikTok rappers? No idea!"

I like Mariah the Scientist; I like Saweetie. I'm digging Alicia Keys' record that just came out. It's so good. It's like, "Thank god!" I haven't heard something that isn't a jingle from her in a while. It's like old Alicia, and it's super nice.

Grief plays a big role in Vulture Prince. Is it irritating or healing having to revisit traumatic events over and over in interviews with strangers?

It's good and bad because it's kind of cathartic. When you're forced to talk about things repeatedly, then you force yourself to process them more. 

But in the journalism world, there are so many different types. People are so rude, and then other people are really sensitive, you know what I mean? Being up and down on that spectrum this year with so much press around Vulture Prince has been a little bit challenging, but hopefully, I've been very graceful and very patient and very good. I think. [Laughs.]

What did people say that was rude?

There was a live radio interview where the interviewer was just like [Blithely] "How did he die?" And I was like, "Oh my god. What the f***?" That's not cool, and I feel like people should know that. But people don't know s***. There's a very "getting the story" kind of attitude, which leaves you in a place that's very devoid of grace or care.

Then, I imagine there are people who get you to open up, and then they act like they're your best friend.

Yeah, I appreciate that more, I feel, than the sort of blunt behavior.

I do some writing for MusiCares, so I'm preoccupied with how music can or can't help in a pragmatic sense. What's your take on all that?

I think music is very, very powerful in the sense that a lot of musicians started playing or exploring music to kind of self-help.

Even when you're a teen and listening to death metal, it's already all there. It's saved a lot of lives and helped carry a lot of emotions through. So, it does predominantly serve that purpose, I think. 

If you're a listener or creator of music, I think the underlying factor there is definitely the theme of healing. Or, if not healing, then processing. Music can really pull on whatever emotional string you're flowing with at the time.

Remember that Billie Holiday song "Gloomy Sunday," where they had to go back in and write in a hopeful last versebecause too many people were committing suicide to it the way it was? That s*** was wild. In the last verse, where she's like "I was only dreaming!" — they went back and wrote that because otherwise, it was too gloomy, I guess.

I'm interested in how certain languages can channel emotions others can't. What do you feel you can communicate with Urdu? 

I think a lot of the time, yes — the language itself is one, but also the syllables and vowels and stuff for vocalists is quite a geeky thing we consider. And that's what also stretches the musicality of your singing.

Portuguese is one of those languages that really sounds good to music, to me, because it already has that rhythmic and sing-songy vibe. But Urdu as a language is deeply poetic and has a lot of analogies. Things are said directly, but very indirectly, also, with beautiful references to things.

It's inherently poetic, and that's really fun for me, because I don't like to have a lot of lyrics. I don't like to have a lot of verses. I like a simple, minimalist approach to even words and the delivery of lines. I don't like showing off a lot of vocal agility or whatever. I enjoy a post-minimal space with vocals and music itself, and for them all to come together.

Urdu can say a lot without saying too much, and that's why I like it.

Another interview with you I read that cracked me up — regarding turning poetry into music — was along the lines of "I'm not doing f***ing cover songs!"

I think it's changing now because I do yell at people quite often. I would like people to stop thinking so bluntly about music in this very black-or-white way. I encourage deeper listening of people, and that's where that falls.

These aren't renditions. These aren't covers. If you actually look at the music, the music that's surrounding this poetry hasn't existed before in any version or in anyone else's attempt of it. It strays a lot from the melodic compositions that anyone's made.

Just because the name's the same and you recognize the poetry doesn't mean that they have a strong kinship to what came before it. It has a lot of respect for those who came before those things and a lot of respect for the tradition it originates from, but it's not the same thing.

Can you talk about ghazals a bit? The same article defined it as an "art form [that] meditates on the intense longing caused by separation from God."

It's kind of hard to describe exactly what a ghazal is, because not a lot of people have thought about it. It's not really written or defined on the internet or in literature. It's very open in that sense — or, that's what I've seen from not really having studied Pakistani or South Asian classical music, so I don't really know.

I think a ghazal is actually the style in which a song is performed rather than its lyrical content. To me, a ghazal is a ballad, like "This song has been performed in the style of a ballad." And then, usually, what you're singing about is about love, breakups, loss, departure, or waiting for your lover — et cetera, et cetera. That's what my understanding is of that style in its entirety.

So it's not necessarily spiritual in intent?

It doesn't have to be. It's never explicitly said. To a regular person, it sounds like it's just about love and waiting for love, or this departure of a lover. I guess in more Muslim-leaning cultures, it takes on a spiritual connotation — it can very easily go that way.

The majority of Western listeners probably aren't familiar with the multiplicity of Pakistani musical forms. For someone in good faith who wants to learn about it, is there a way to summarize it and put yourself on the map with a "You are here" sticker?

There's super-traditional Hindustani classical… there's so much, it's insane. It's so hard. There's Northern classical music, and then there's all this folk music from different regions of the country. Then, there are these semi-classical categories, which are, like, ghazal, and maybe Thumri, which is a more free style that complements a certain dance form. 

And of course, with all these different forms, there is poetry that complements each one. So, it's kind of vast in that way. But, you know, it's all modal, and modal shares a lot with jazz.

If you think about that connection and then think of a post-jazz, post-modern, very post-everything, almost chamber, highly experimental but structured formation, with a lot of influence of American guitar folk like James Taylor or Crosby, Stills and Nash — if you add Terry Riley, or an American minimalist piano composer like John Cage or Julius Eastman — if you start entering that realm while thinking of modal music, then you land somewhere here where I am.

I also really enjoy and have an ear toward what's happening harmonically with pop structures. And then, here we are.

How did your background as a jazz student inform how your music comes out?

I didn't really study anything else, so my core is all jazz.

Really! How did you connect those poles?

I was like, "I have to go to Berklee. I'm going." And when you go to Berklee, you come out a jazz musician. That's just what happens!

How are you feeling with the GRAMMYs coming up? Is it a little surreal? 

It's all crazy. Is this what you guys do? Let everybody know a month and a half in advance, and then it's a madhouse? All the stylists, everyone's just crazy around this week that's about to happen so soon!

It's really surreal. I'm over the moon but also mortified. [Laughs.] It's very scary, but also very exciting. I'll cross my fingers and feel very grateful, keep doing what I'm doing and see what happens.

Vijay Iyer On His New Trio Album Uneasy, American Identity & Teaching Black American Music In The 21st Century

Photo of Sexyy Red performing onstage during at the 2024 Rolling Loud Festival in Los Angeles. She is wearing a blue bikini top with white stars, red and white shorts, white sunglasses, and bright red hair.
Sexyy Reds perform onstage at the 2024 Rolling Loud Festival in Los Angeles

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

list

New Music Friday: Listen To New Albums & Songs From Sexyy Red, Charlie Puth, Vince Staples, Aaron Carter & More

Don't slide into your Memorial Day weekend without stocking your New Music Friday playlist with fresh tunes. Here are new albums and songs from Willie Nelson, Maya Hawke, Arooj Aftab, Trueno, and many more.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 02:11 pm

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, which means we're inching closer to another music-filled summer. Less than halfway through 2024, we've received a veritable bounty of new music from Green Day, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Kacey Musgraves, Zayn … the list goes on and on.

Clearly, no matter which musical world you inhabit, 2024 has had something for you — and the slate of today's releases continues that streak. Pull up your favorite streaming service — or dust off your record player — and check out this slate of new music that's fresh out of the oven.

Sexyy Red — In Sexyy We Trust

The #MakeAmericaSexyyAgain train is unstoppable. Amid numberless recent accolades — including five nominations at the 2024 BET Awards, including Best Female Hip Hop Artist and Best New Artist — Sexyy Red has dropped a new EP, In Sexyy We Trust. By the sound of "Awesome Jawsome," we all live in Sexyy's lascivious, irresistible universe: "Give me that awesome jawsome, suck it, baby, use your teeth / Shake your dreads between my legs, do it for a G." (Take that under advisement.) And with more than 8.3 million YouTube views for her "Get it Sexyy" music video, legions are clamoring for her second official release without a doubt.

Charlie Puth — "Hero"

"You smokеd, then ate seven bars of chocolate / We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist." So recounted the one and only Taylor Swift in the title track to her new album, The Tortured Poets Department, which rocketed Puth's name even further into the public consciousness. This shine partly inspired Puth to release "Hero": "I want to thank @taylorswift for letting me know musically that I just couldn't keep this on my hard drive any longer," he stated on Instagram. "It's one of the hardest songs I've ever had to write, but I wrote it in hopes that you've gone through something similar in your life, and that it can fill in the BLANK for you like it did for me," he continued. Leave it to a hero to shake that loose for Puth.

Vince Staples — Dark Times

If you're currently rounding a difficult corner in your life, Vince Staples' latest album is a trusty companion. Take the first single "Shame on the Devil," where he licks his wounds amid thick isolation and friction with loved ones. "It's me mastering some things I've tried before that I wasn't great at in the beginning," he said in a statement. "It's a testament to musical growth, song structure — all the good stuff." By the sound of this haunted yet resolute single, Dark Times could materialize as Staples' most realized album to date — and most hard-won victory to boot.

Willie Nelson — The Border

By some counts, Willie Nelson has released more than 150 albums — try and let that soak in. The Red Headed Stranger tends to crank out a Buddy Cannon-produced album or two per year in his autumn years, each with a slight conceptual tilt: bluegrass, family matters, tributes to Harlan Howard or the Great American Songbook. The earthy, muted The Border is another helping of the good stuff — this time homing in on songwriters like Rodney Crowell ("The Border"), Shawn Camp ("Made in Texas") and Mike Reid ("Nobody Knows Me Like You.") Elsewhere, Nelson-Cannon originals like "What If I'm Out of My Mind" and "How Much Does It Cost" fold it all into the 12-time GRAMMY winner's manifold musical universe.

Listen: Listen To GRAMMY.com's Outlaw Country Playlist: 32 Songs From Honky Tonk Heroes Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard & More

Maya Hawke — Chaos Angel

"What the Chaos Angel is to me," Maya Hawke explained in a recent Instagram video, "is an angel that was raised in heaven to believe they're the angel of love, then sent down to do loving duties." Needless to say, the wicked world had different plans. Chaos Angel, the third album by Maya Hawke, out via Mom+Pop Records, is fitting: Smoldering tracks like "Dark" and "Missing Out" plumb themes of betrayal and bedlam masterfully.

Arooj Aftab — Night Reign

Arooj Aftab landed on the scene with the exquisitely blue Vulture Prince, which bridged modern jazz and folk idioms with what she calls "heritage material" from Pakistan and South Asia. The album's pandemic-era success threatened to box her in, though; Aftab is a funny, well-rounded cat who's crazy about pop music, too. Crucially, the guest-stuffed Night Reign shows many more sides of this GRAMMY-winning artist, whose most transcendent work seems still ahead of us. By the strength of songs like "Raat Ki Rani" and "Whiskey," this Reign is for the long haul.

Explore More: Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad Ismaily On New Album Love In Exile, Improvisation Versus Co-Construction And The Primacy Of The Pulse

Aaron Carter — The Recovery Album

By all means, we should have Aaron Carter alive, healthy and, yes, recovered. But the beloved singer unexpectedly died in November 2022. (He accidentally drowned in his bathtub after taking sedatives and inhaling a spray cleaner.) Still, the 2000s-era teen star, who gave us "I Want Candy," "Aaron's Party (Come Get It)" and "That's How I Beat Shaq," left us with a poignant, posthumous statement in The Recovery Album: "Tomorrow is a new day / Tryin' to shake the pain away / 'Cause I'm still in recovery," he sings in the title track. Carter, who was open about his struggles with addiction, substance abuse and mental health, is also in the news for a rough ride of a documentary, Fallen Idols: Nick and Aaron Carter. But if you'd rather focus on Carter the artist, The Recovery Album shows that his considerable talent remains undimmed.

DIIV — Frog in Boiling Water

The idiom of a frog in boiling water is a familiar one, but it's never quite unfolded in music like this — and DIIV, one of rock's most impressionistic acts, is the band for the job. In a press statement, the group, led by Zachary Cole Smith, called Frog in Boiling Water a reflection of "a slow, sick, and overwhelmingly banal collapse of society under end-stage capitalism." To wit, tracks like "Brown Paper Bag," "Raining on Your Pillow" and "Soul-net" sound like dying in a beautiful way. "Everyone Out," another album highlight, provides a clear, critical directive.

Shenseea — Never Gets Late Here

To hear Jamaican leading light Shenseea tell it, she's been boxed in as a "dancehall artiste," but she's so much more than that. "By next year I want to be international," she said back in 2018. "An international pop star." Her second album, Never Gets Late Here, might be that final boost to the big time she's chasin. Throughout the sticky-sweet album, the genre traverser tries on disco vibes ("Flava" with Voi Leray), an Afrobeats tint ("Work Me Out" with Wizkid), and a bona fide, swing-for-the-rafters anthem in the power ballad "Stars." "Everyone is looking at everything I'm going through," she recently told Revolt, "which is special because they can see the fight I'm getting, but still see me pushing and persevering."

Trueno — EL ÚLTIMO BAILE

Argentine phenom Trueno — a rapper, singer and songwriter of equal fire — has been on a sharp rise ever since his debut, 2020's Atrevido. This time, he's especially leaning into his rap skills as he pays homage to his beloved hip-hop. And, as he explained to Rolling Stone, he's been diligently crafting this artistic culmination. "We also don't want to rush anything. We're working day and night on it," he said of EL ÚLTIMO BAILE. "I'm an artist who's all about albums and big projects, so I'm immersed in this." We're about to be, too.

Yola — My Way

Yola has been nominated for six GRAMMYs to date; this impressive feat has thickened the momentum behind her latest batch of music. For her new My Way EP, the British singer/songwriter tapped GRAMMY-nominated producer Sean Douglas, who's worked with everyone from Lizzo to Madonna to Sia. Not that this synthesist of progressive R&B, synth pop, electronica, and more needs a reintroduction. But if you're not already on board with this musically keen, lyrically conscious artist, songs like "Future Enemies" should lure you there.

2025 GRAMMYs To Take Place Sunday, Feb. 2, Live In Los Angeles; GRAMMY Awards Nominations To Be Announced Friday, Nov. 8, 2024

Coi Leray

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career

With two GRAMMY nominations in two different Categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs, Coi Leray is already proving to be a versatile artist. But as she promises, she's building a brand much bigger than her music.

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2024 - 03:00 pm

Even after a flight and an hours-long photo shoot, Coi Leray exudes brightness and warmth as she discusses her monumental year. She carries a vibrant energy that matches her music — all of which is reminiscent of hip-hop's beginnings and bright future

Leray brought that vitality to "A GRAMMY to 50 Years of Hip Hop," where she held her own among genre legends with a dynamic performance of her smash hit, "Players." Exactly one month prior to the Dec. 10 event, Leray added another milestone to her booming career: her first GRAMMY nominations.

"Players" earned Leray a nod for Best Rap Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs, where she's also nominated in the new Best Pop Dance Recording Category, for her collaboration with David Guetta and Anne-Marie, "Baby Don't Hurt Me."

"One of the biggest things and accomplishments for me as a artist is for people to know me and admire my versatility," Coi told the Recording Academy. "To be nominated for two of my voices — my melodic, my rap, my singing — it's a dream come true. I wouldn't want it no other way." 

Her versatility expands outside of her music, too. From her signature braided hairstyle to launching her own beauty and haircare products, the New Jersey-raised rapper is also building a name for herself in the fashion and beauty industries. What's more, Leray has entered the philanthropic space as well, with plans to launch her mental-health-focused Camp Courage World Foundation later this year. 

Even just a few years into her career, Leray is steadfast in leaving a multi-faceted legacy for herself — one that takes inspiration from icons like Beyoncé and J.Lo, but feels uniquely hers. And while she sees herself in every business venture, the rapper vows for one thing to remain true: she'll always be having fun. 

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Leray sat down with GRAMMY.com to discuss what she learned in 2023 — and how her breakthrough year was the perfect setup for a long career. 

Congratulations on a wonderful year — from receiving your first GRAMMY nominations for "Players" and "Baby Don't Hurt Me" to opening up for Beyoncé at the Renaissance World Tour in Los Angeles. How would you describe 2023 for you?

This year was the icing on the cake to what my future entails. You know with "Players" being nonstop on the radio, getting nominated to all these big award shows, performing on Beyoncé's stage, and getting a written letter from Beyoncé. 

She told me that she's been watching me grow. It shows how hard I have been working. Most importantly, it shows them what to look forward to in the future. I feel like I'm one of those artists that is going to be here for a very, very long time.

As you described, "Players" has maintained a chart-topping position since its release. The single has a sweeter meaning to it because you are paying homage to the rappers, such as The Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, who have come before you.  The group has even publicly thanked you for re-introducing them to the younger generation. 

I wanted to ask about your decision to pay homage to them, because we exist in an era where a majority of songs have samples, but few artists go out of their way to pay respect to the pioneering artists.

I feel like it is my job to educate the youth as much as possible.

I'll be 27 in May. As I get older, I remember when I was 16, 13, 10, 18, 21. Everything that you hear now is inspired by so many great artists, such as Busta Rhymes and The Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five; those icons in hip-hop made a huge statement. What's derived from Busta's creativity, his flows, his music videos and everything — a lot of kids have to understand the music they hear today and the videos they see are inspired by him and that's where it came from.

I remember the moment where I sat down and listened to Sade. She has one of the most beautiful tones in the music industry, and one of my biggest inspirations. When I go to the studio, I try to master my tone, my melodies, and my voice.  Sade helped me grow, and [I] realize how big she is to hip-hop, the industry, and music in general.

All the icons study music. The way in which you spoke about developing your melodies and voice speaks to that, and shows your dedication to the craft. Another icon that you have spoken of in high regard and worked with is Pharrell Williams. 

He's not only an icon in music, but fashion as well. You sat front row at his debut collection for Louis Vuittion and have become a regular attendee for other notable luxury fashion houses. Are you carving out your own path as an entertainer who has one foot in music and the other in fashion?

I have always been into fashion. I have been building my brand. To me, it's bigger than being an artist. It helps me build my brand. 

I've been building my relationship with YSL. When I landed my Fendi by Marc Jacobs campaign, I was on the frontpage of Fendi's website, alongside Kendall Jenner. I have done Fashion weeks and been dressed by amazing designers, like Jeremy Scott at Moschino, Alexander Wang, AREA, Diesel, and more.

As I continue to elevate and and my music continues to grow, "TWINNEM" ended up on the charts, the success of "Players" and to land with Pharrell, then sit front row at Louis Vuitton; it just shows how much I have been progressing. 

It's also a reminder that through all the hate and negativity that I am going through, even my personal tribulations, it's those moments that make me realize, "Yo! You are a star!" and this is happening in real life. Whether it's next week, next month, you're elevating.

The weekend where I sat front row at Louis Vuitton, I was in the studio with Pharrell. We made four records. I learned so much in my 24 hours with him. I built the most amazing relationship. Pharrell is a mastermind not only when it comes to not only fashion, but when it comes to music. 

2024 GRAMMYs: Meet The Nominees

In previous interviews, you referred to yourself as a "walking brand." As of late, you have garnered partnerships with brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Tommy Hilfiger, Ray-Ban, and more. In your interview with Angie Martinez, you mentioned the possibility of a haircare line. I would like to hear more about the business components of your brand and how you are building an empire, adjacent to the music industry?

I have always had braids since I was a kid. When I did my first song, "Huddy," and throughout the beginning of my career, I always wore braids. I always had my baby hairs out.

It was important to me when I signed my deal to make sure that I'm good in the long run. So I sat down and thought about, what is going to help me be a better person? 

Create longevity. Create an asset. 

As much as I did my baby hairs, I ended up inventing a baby hair brush. I'm just getting my first mold. It's been a process because I want this brush to be perfect, and it's crazy because once it's complete, I want to go add something else. It's a learning process, and it feels so good to be able to financially invest into myself, grow my brand, continue to learn, have errors, make mistakes at this age and in my career.

I got my first top 10, but I never got a top five. I'm aiming bigger and everything is on God's timing. With my branding, my music and my YouTube series, "Cooking with Coi Leray," my skincare products, and my nail line products that's coming, it's all going to come in perfect timing because everything's on God's timing.

It brings me joy to hear a young woman artist, especially a Black woman, discuss their plans on building their legacy and ensuring longevity for the duration of their career. I saw this in your decision to have Trendsetter Studios, your creative agency, direct the music video for "Players." Could you walk me through the decision making process to start your agency?

I started Trendsetter Studios because I have always been into content. I've always been the creator behind everything I do. They say that I'm big on TikTok and a lot of these platforms, which I am, and I take pride in it because I'm good at what I do.

I'm great at making content. I'm great in front of the camera. I love the camera. When I signed my deal, I invested in a lot of equipment because I knew this is something. When I want to do a video, I want to be able to just grab the camera whenever I want to. Be able to create my own thing.

There's so many music videos up that Trendsetter Studios produced. I'm very grateful for my team. We're still learning. We're still growing. 

It's still in development. The goal and the key is longevity, having access and being able to build, do what you want, when you want, and how you want it.

**When you look at the projects you have worked on in 2023, such as "Self-Love" on  Spiderman: Across The Spider-Verse soundtrack and your sophomore album, Coi. What are some lessons that you've learned from those projects that you're going to apply in 2024?**

I learned to have fun. This [past] year, I kind of got wrapped up in it. It's hard to not get wrapped up in the political stuff or the numbers or the fans. I don't pay attention to the negative comments and stuff like that. But, it was at a point where I was paying attention to what someone else wanted versus myself.

I realized, in 2024, I'm only catering to what I want to do. I'm going to live in my truth. I'm going to keep growing as a young lady, as a young woman. Do what I want to do, and keep making great music, and just have fun, not get too wrapped up in the other stuff.

I want to have fun. Life is about having fun, and I'm at an age where I need to have fun. In 2024, we're having fun, and I feel like everybody's gonna feel that in my music, in my videos, in my vlogs, and whatever it is I'm doing, they're gonna feel that energy, and I'm gonna make sure of that, because that's the goal.

It seems to be a trend that icons release self-titled albums. 2023 was the 10-year anniversary of Beyoncé's self-titled album. When you look back at Coi, an album that will always be synonymous with you, where do you place that album in your legacy as an artist? 

It's gonna be here forever. It's gonna be one of those records where people are gonna go back and they're going to be like "Yo, what the hell?!"and I know that because it's such an amazing body of work. 

I write through experience, so as I go through new experiences, as I learn new things in the studio or work with more amazing creatives — creatives in all aspects, whether they're producers, engineers, songwriters, videographers, directors, creative directors, labels. As I'm working with all those people. I'm learning and every single time I just end up scoring better.

My next body of work is always my best body of work, but that doesn't mean take away the greatness from that work. It just means that I've been elevating in every single way. Coi is one of those projects where I elevated it, it has amazing music just like Trendsetter.

The more I create and the bigger I get, the more people will go back, listen, and really appreciate the body of work for what it is.  

You have not only achieved success domestically, but internationally with high placements on the Global and K-Pop charts, as well as participating in Paris and Milan fashion weeks. You have crossed over to being a well-known performer across the world. You're a girl from Jersey who has received global recognition. How does that feel for you? 

Recognition is dope. When you go over to places like Australia and Paris, they treat you like a major star. The love over there is immaculate. I get really inspired overseas. There's so many great things.

For example, Paris has so many great music video directors. Their music videos are insane. I had to go out there to really understand that.

It made me want to be the voice that when I come to America, "I'm like, I want to use more videographers so people can see how amazing they are too." It's a blessing to be able to travel.

You mentioned a desire to work with music video directors in Paris and abroad. You have already worked with international talents such as David Guetta and TOMORROW X TOGETHER. It seems you are pivoting yourself as an entertainer who uses music to bridge the gap between these cultures. 

Well, David Guetta is an incredible artist.

He is a mastermind when it comes to the studio, and I want to continue to work with David. We have an incredible relationship, and amazing chemistry in the studio. He's one of the first DJs to bring hip-hop and EDM together. That's another life experience for me that I'm going to remember forever.

You know, being a young Black queen in the music industry and being able to have so much versatility, it allows me to collaborate with so many great artists. David Guetta, he's a mastermind. That's another way to educate the young kids on David Guetta too. I know he's already a major, but they don't know the history.

Some people might not know the history, and I feel like it's important. David Guetta getting nominated with me — I'm getting nominated with my rap song and the pop electronic recording record. It's just a dream come true, I'm telling you. 

**In your music video for "Wasted" with Taylor Hill from Blue Moon, you showed a side of you that is different from your previous works. The video displayed a tender and vulnerable side of you. Can we expect to see more of that from you in 2024?** 

I can admit that I haven't done my best at showing that side. I was under my rock a little bit, but I promised to myself that in 2024 I am going to show more of my process, bring people into my world, my fans, and I think I owe it to my fans 1000%. I think that they want to know Coi Leray outside of Instagram, The Shade Room, social media, and blogs.

I want them to also understand who I am as a woman, as a person. Music is important, but relationships are important. Just as much to me, and I admire that.

Read More: Women In Hip-Hop: 7 Trailblazers Whose Behind-The-Scenes Efforts Define The Culture

Icons not only inspire us through music, but the way they invest in their community. In 2023, you organized a Thanksgiving Giveback in your hometown. What led you to start doing philanthropy efforts? I think people will always want to root for the girl who made it big and paid it forward.

That's why I started my Camp Courage World Foundation. I'm super excited to launch that at the top of 2024.

It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. I finally thought of an amazing name for it and I'm excited. We're focusing on mental health because I feel like that's something that I've dealt with my entire life, my childhood, growing up and now, and there's so many things that I do that I'm pretty sure that these girls would want to know and learn.

For example, just reading books and waking up every day, praying, finding my spirituality and sticking through it, staying consistent, going to church, even if they're not physical, online every Sunday, speaking to my pastors, my life coach, getting therapists, whatever it is that's going to make me better, that doesn't have me relate to anything that can self harm myself mentally, physically, financially, emotionally.

I'm excited for that launch because that's also going to be the next step in a big part of my career that I feel is one of the most important things. 

Having major records is cute. That's fire. Everybody wants a number one record, but with that number one record, you want to be able to give back and inspire because, at that point, what are you doing it for?

Since your debut, conversations about your body, your image, and your contributions to hip-hop have been a point of contention in the cultural zeitgeist. It seems you have decided to take control of the narrative in the media and the press. Whether it is through the development of your brands or the creation of your talent agency, do you feel as if you are on a path of reclamation? 

I'm taking control of it. I should be able to tell it. It's my life.  

I was sitting down talking to my people. I had told them. I said, "Yo. 2024. The future is so bright that the only thing that can stop me is me."

A lot of people don't know what I go through outside of this stuff. I go through a lot, you know what I mean? But going through what I went through, it taught me a lot about myself. 

I realized this year was all about self-awareness, and it prepped me for 2024. Like I said, I'm the only one that can get in my way. 

It's about just staying focused, staying level-headed, staying consistent. And staying prayed up. 

25 Artists To Watch In 2024: Chappell Roan, VCHA, Teezo Touchdown & More

GRAMMY nominee Coco Jones
Coco Jones

Photo: Courtesy Coco Jones

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coco Jones On Her Breakthrough Year, Turning Rejection Into Purpose & Learning From Babyface

Coco Jones is nominated across five categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs, including Best New Artist and Best R&B Album for her EP, 'What I Didn't Tell You.' The first-time nominee discussed her hit, "ICU," working with legends and the power of representation.

GRAMMYs/Jan 8, 2024 - 02:23 pm

Coco Jones is feeling more inspired than ever following a year of exciting surprises and breakthroughs. In 2023, the 25-year-old budding star celebrated her first Billboard Hot 100 entry thanks to her platinum-selling "ICU" single, embarked on her first headlining tour, and earned her first GRAMMY nominations.

"Being a GRAMMY-nominated artist changes everything. It's such a different creative mindset when the world says, 'You're good, we like what you do,'" Jones tells GRAMMY.com. "It's like a gold star. It makes you want to work harder, it makes you wanna continue to impress, and it makes you impressed with yourself, too."

Jones is nominated across five categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs: Her 2022 EP What I Didn't Tell You is up for Best R&B Album and its "ICU" will compete for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song. Her feature on Babyface's "Simple" has received a nod for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Jones is also up for the coveted golden gramophone for Best New Artist.

In recent years, her vocal prowess has received praise from SZA, Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé, but anyone who's even remotely familiar with Jones' story knows that her newfound success is anything but overnight. Jones first found success at age 14, when she starred in the 2012 Disney movie musical Let It Shine. The Tennessee native faced colorism early on, which she addressed in a 2020 YouTube video that went viral.

"I always wanted that representation that my dreams were possible growing up," she shares. "I definitely was not based in reality of what the entertainment industry is. It's tough and it's challenging and sometimes it isn't fair and that is not what I was prepared for as a kid."

During the pandemic, Jones secured a spot in "Bel-Air" (Peacock's reimagining of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air") as the spoiled yet beloved Hilary Banks, but she never let go of her love of  music. Following her 2014 departure from Hollywood Records, Jones released music independently, including the ominous "Hollyweird" and "Depressed"; when Def Jam approached her in the summer of 2021, she was ready for her close-up.

Fast forward to present, and Jones is gearing up for one of the most pivotal nights of her blossoming career. But perhaps the most precious thing she's collected along the way is self-assurance. "I'm learning that I have to believe in my creative choices and that I shouldn't second guess what I feel because it does well," she says with a laugh.

Of her recent success, Jones says the back-to-back accolades shocked her, but like a true artist, she's already thinking ahead and manifesting an exciting first for 2024: "I want my debut album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart."

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Jones discusses the power of representation for dark-skinned Black women, why her mother is her biggest inspiration, and how joining forces with Babyface created momentum in her career.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

After finding out that you received five GRAMMY nominations, you posted an Instagram video showing you and your mother reveling in the excitement of it all. Tell me more about that moment and your mother's role in this journey.

I'm one of four children and my mom owned multiple businesses, but she made us all feel loved and supported while also being a boss. Watching her navigate the entertainment industry — which she had no prior experience with — was very inspiring. She took every challenge head-on and still managed to make time with all of her kids. 

She's always been a visionary, so I think for her, it's like, This is exactly what we worked for. The end goal is to be award-winning, to be show-stopping, to be classic, to be timeless. That's what she saw for me even when I was a little girl on stage singing Aretha Franklin.

There were times when it was hard for me to see what she saw in me, especially when you're dealing with the rejection that is the music industry. But she always knows the right thing to say to keep me going and to keep my faith. So, when it wasn't like how it is now, she was the entire team. She did anything she could to help me progress.

You retweeted a meet-and-greet with a fan, who donned your merch from 2018, which seemed to take you by surprise. It seems like your 2023 breakthrough was a win for not just yourself, but for those early supporters as well.

I would definitely say it's a win for my fans and my supporters, but also for young Black women who look like me and have big dreams and just want to see what they are dreaming about is possible. I know that I inspire so many young Black women — they tell me almost every day that seeing me win helps them believe in themselves winning.

My goal is to continue to break those barriers down for young Black women so that it's not such a surprise when we succeed.

In a 2022 interview, you said you wanted to experience the highs of being an entertainer and being on stage "even if it meant a lot of lows." Many creatives feel that way. Do you have any advice for struggling artists who feel like no one's paying attention?

You can make it this thing where you feel like you're running out of time, or you can make it feel like you're adjusting to time. Time is whatever you decide it is.

There were so many obstacles I didn't understand, but hindsight is 20/20. I needed the lessons that I learned, I needed the self-reliance, I needed the optimism and the faith. So, I think it was all very growing but still tough not knowing what was going to happen, not knowing if I was going to have that life-changing job, that life-changing song. 

I'm just grateful to God for protecting me through all the confusion and for not giving up. I had enough support around me and enough doors to open even though they felt far and few between to keep me sustained and pursuing this dream, even though I was pursuing it without any guarantees.

What I Didn't Tell You isn't the first EP you released, but it's the one that made you a first-time GRAMMY nominee. What was different this time around?

I was very supported; when Def Jam approached me, they seemed so understanding of my vision that I couldn't help but feel like we were already a team. They helped me put the pieces together. Before this, I was just on my own or it was me and my mom, so I felt more supported with this EP release. My label understands me and what I want to be, and there's no pushback against who I am and what I can naturally do. It's all about enhancing. 

As part of R&B's new class, what do you want to bring to the genre?

More uptempo! I want to be able to sing my heart out but make a bop that you wanna dance to. I love how Whitney Houston would do that with some of her songs like "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and "How Will I Know."

Your breakthrough single, "ICU," is up for Best R&B Song, but what lesser-known song off What I Didn't Tell You (Deluxe) would you nominate in the same category if you could?

"Fallin'" because it's a sensual song, and I feel like it sits in a really cool, pretty place in my voice. It also tells a good story of the chaos that my life is while also starting to fall for somebody.

In 2022, you joined forces with R&B legend Babyface for his collaborative Girls Night Out project. Your "Simple" duet with him is nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Do you think collaborating with Babyface acted as a precursor for the incredible year you had?

When I learned Babyface wanted me on his album, I was beside myself. He was really one of the first legends to give me that stamp of approval. I definitely think the recognition I got from him was like a turning point in what was next for my life. The world started to notice around that time. 

When I interviewed Babyface soon after the release of Girls Night Out, he talked about doing his homework to better understand the differences in today's R&B. That was surprising to hear, because he's clearly an expert at writing hit songs but not above learning from others. What did you learn from his mentorship?

I just learned that you can be a legend and you can still be open to ideas, open to new talents, and open to suggestions. Just stay open to what’s new, who's new, and why they're doing well, and that's what will keep you legendary. 

I'm a big fan of studying music, so I will continue to be a student. Creating music and studying music are two different things to me. I study it and then I feel creative, so I think it's about separating them because sometimes if you're creating while studying, you just end up repeating exactly what somebody's doing and that doesn't feel authentic. It's more about getting inspired and then creating.

My love for music and being a creative is what keeps me going because it's not always fun, it's not always easy. Sometimes it's about business, sometimes it's about pushing past your exhaustion. I don't think I would do that, not for this long, if I didn't love the payoff of being a creative. 

How will you celebrate if you win a GRAMMY?

I haven't thought about how I'm gonna celebrate. I think my favorite type of celebrations are intimate. They're with people who are in the mud with me — my family, my team. I would probably just want to have a great dinner and think about how far we've come and what's next.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

Collage image featuring photos of the presenters for the 2024 GRAMMY nominations

news

How To Watch The 2024 GRAMMY Nominations: St. Vincent, Jeff Tweedy, Muni Long, Kim Petras, Jon Bon Jovi, "Weird Al" Yankovic & More To Announce The Nominees; Streaming Live Friday, Nov. 10

The nominations for the 2024 GRAMMYs will be announced on Friday, Nov 10, starting at 7:45 a.m. PT / 10:45 a.m. ET. Watch it live on live.GRAMMY.com and YouTube.

GRAMMYs/Oct 30, 2023 - 02:00 pm

It's that time again: The 2024 GRAMMYs is just a few months out — airing live Sunday, Feb. 4, from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. Which means nominations for the 2024 GRAMMYs are just around the corner. On Friday, Nov 10, starting at 7:45 a.m. PT / 10:45 a.m. ET, nominations for the 2024 GRAMMYs will be announced via a livestream event airing live on live.GRAMMY.com. The nominations will also stream live on the Recording Academy's YouTube channel

The 2024 GRAMMYs nominations livestream event will feature a diverse cast of some of the leading voices in music today, including St. Vincent, Jeff Tweedy, Muni Long, Kim Petras, 2024 MusiCares Person Of The Year Jon Bon Jovi, and many others, who will be announcing the 2024 GRAMMY nominees across all 94 categories. Plus, the livestream event will also feature an exclusive GRAMMY Nominations Pre-Show and Wrap-Up Show, which will both feature exclusive videos and conversations about the biggest stories and trends to come out of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations.

City National Bank is the Official Bank of the GRAMMYs and proud sponsor of the 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards Nominations.

See below for a full guide to the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations livestream event happening next week:

Read More: How To Watch The 2024 GRAMMYs Live: GRAMMY Nominations Announcement, Air Date, Red Carpet, Streaming Channel & More

How Can I Watch The 2024 GRAMMY Nominations? 

The nominations livestream event will stream live on live.GRAMMY.com and the Recording Academy's YouTube channel.

When Are The 2024 GRAMMY Nominations Announced?

The 2024 GRAMMYs nominations will be announced Friday, Nov 10. The day kicks off with an exclusive GRAMMY Nominations Pre-Show, starting at 7:45 a.m. PT / 10:45 a.m. ET. Hosted by Emmy-winning TV host and “GMA3” contributor Rocsi Diaz, the GRAMMY Nominations Pre-Show will give music fans an inside look at the various initiatives and campaigns that the Recording Academy, the organization behind the annual GRAMMY Awards, supports on a year-long basis on its mission to recognize excellence in the recording arts and sciences and cultivate the well-being of the music community.

Afterward, starting at 8 a.m. PT / 11 a.m. ET, the GRAMMY nominations livestream event begins. The livestream event will begin with a special presentation announcing the nominees in the General Field categories, aka the Big Six, as well as select categories. On live.GRAMMY.com, exclusive videos announcing the nominees across multiple categories will stream as a multi-screen livestream event that users can control, providing a dynamic, expansive online experience for music fans of all genres. The nomination videos will also stream live on YouTube. The full list of 2024 GRAMMYs nominees will then be published on live.GRAMMY.com and GRAMMY.com immediately following the livestream event.

After the nominations are announced, stay tuned for an exclusive GRAMMY Nominations Wrap-Up Show. Co-hosted by "Entertainment Tonight" correspondents Cassie DiLaura and Denny Directo, the Wrap-Up Show will break down all the notable news and top stories from the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations. The GRAMMY Nominations Wrap-Up Show will stream live on live.GRAMMY.com as well as the Recording Academy's YouTube channel, X profile, Twitch channel, TikTok page, Instagram profile, and Facebook page.

Watch the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations livestream event and make sure to use #GRAMMYs to join the conversation on social media as it unfolds live on Friday, Nov. 10.

The schedule for the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations livestream event is as follows:

GRAMMY Nominations Pre-Show
7:45 a.m. PT / 10:45 a.m. ET

Nominations Livestream Event
8 a.m. PT / 11 a.m. ET 

Nominations Livestream Event Ends & Full Nominations Revealed
8:25 a.m. PT / 11:25 a.m. ET 

GRAMMY Nominations Wrap-Up Show
8:25 a.m. PT / 11:25 a.m. ET

^All times are approximate and subject to change.

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

Who's Announcing The 2024 GRAMMY Nominations?

Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. will be joined by GRAMMY winners Arooj Aftab, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Jimmy Jam, Jon Bon Jovi, Samara Joy, Muni Long, Cheryl Pawelski, Kim Petras, Judith Sherman, St. Vincent, Jeff Tweedy, and "Weird Al" Yankovic, along with "CBS Mornings" co-hosts Gayle King, Nate Burleson, and Tony Dokoupil, to announce all the nominees for the 2024 GRAMMYs. 

When Are The 2024 GRAMMYs?

The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, will air live on Sunday, Feb. 4, at 8-11:30 p.m. ET/5-8:30 p.m. PT from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. Music's Biggest Night will air live on the CBS Television Network and stream on Paramount+. 

Mark your calendars now for the 2024 GRAMMY nominations happening Friday, Nov 10.

With additional reporting by Morgan Enos.

2024 GRAMMYs: 4 Things To Know About The New Categories & Changes