meta-scriptMegan Moroney's Big Year: The "Tennessee Orange" Country Star Details The Most Meaningful Moments Of Her "Crazy" Career | GRAMMY.com
Megan Moroney Press Photo 2023
Megan Moroney

Photo: David McClister

interview

Megan Moroney's Big Year: The "Tennessee Orange" Country Star Details The Most Meaningful Moments Of Her "Crazy" Career

With her second headlining tour underway, Megan Moroney reminisces about her whirlwind breakout year, including an Opry debut and a No. 1 smash.

GRAMMYs/Oct 5, 2023 - 02:48 pm

Just last summer, Megan Moroney had never even played a show. Fourteen months later, she's headlining a sold-out tour.

The country singer/songwriter kicked off The Lucky Tour on Sept. 20 in New York City, with 22 dates sprinkled throughout the fall until wrapping in her native Georgia on Dec. 10. Though her first headlining tour was in April, The Lucky Tour is an indication of where her stardom is headed — bigger and busier.

"My whole life is completely different now," Moroney says. "Everything is happening, and I'm on the road 24/7. Last year, I would put out a song and I'd play shows a couple weeks at a time and then have some time off, but we're planning so far ahead now. It's a lot of work, but it's what I want to do."

Moroney's rapidly growing success was first fueled by the lovestruck, college football-themed hit "Tennessee Orange," but she's kept the momentum going with her debut album, Lucky. While her country-pop stylings are right in line with the genre's mainstream stars, Moroney's witty, strong-willed songwriting  and husky voice feel like the makings of a superstar.

Moroney's staying power has already been proven from what she's achieved in 2023: "Tennessee Orange" hit No. 1 on the Country Aircheck/Mediabase Country Airplay chart in June, won Moroney her first award in April (CMT Breakthrough Female Video Of The Year), and earned her both New Artist Of The Year and Song Of The Year nominations for the 2023 CMA Awards, to name a few.

But even for a girl who went from never touring to having a No. 1 song in just over a year, Moroney insists that she hasn't lost sight of her purpose.

"I try to just take things a day at a time. I have random goals, but I try not to put too much pressure on myself for specific goals," Moroney adds. "It's how I got to 'Tennessee Orange' — if I just keep my head down and keep working hard, good things will happen."

Before Moroney appears at the GRAMMY Museum for a SPOTLIGHT series event on Oct. 10, hear from the singer about six of her most memorable career milestones she's reached — so far.

Making Her Grand Ole Opry Debut — February 11, 2023

I was in the studio, we were tracking "Kansas Anymore." And I look over, and Jamey Johnson walks in. I figured he was maybe recording and just coming to say hi, because our tour with him had ended not too long before that. And he's like, "Hey, I got somebody on FaceTime."

He had Deana Carter on the phone, and Deana was like, "How would you like to make your Grand Ole Opry debut?" Obviously I completely freaked out.

Then the day of, I had my family come in. It was just a very overwhelming feeling. I remember during soundcheck, when I stepped into the circle, I just started crying. And I was like, Why am I crying? [Laughs.] Like, I knew it was a really big deal, but I definitely didn't plan on crying. 

And that's why, when I made my debut, I tried not to talk too much. I was like, "And this is my song." Because I knew if I talked too much, I would just cry, and I was like, I don't want to do that at the Opry.

I had played bigger venues before, but there's just something about playing the Opry the first time where I was so nervous. Right before I get on stage, Vince Gill introduced himself to me, and I was like, Oh, perfect. He's watching, so don't screw up!

I played "Hair Salon" and "Tennessee Orange." It was great. I noticed a lot of people came there just for me — I can always tell, too, because everyone has Tennessee stuff on. And it was very cool to have my family there. And a bunch of my friends also showed up. 

I think they said there was a standing ovation, but I was offstage at that point. I didn't get to see it, but heard about it. [Laughs.]

Winning Her First Award — April 2, 2023

I was terrified. Public speaking is scary to start with, but also being on television, I was so nervous. And I remember my publicist being like, "You know if you do win, you need to at least sort of have an idea of what you're going to say." And I was just like, "I'm not going to prepare a speech, I'm not gonna win."

I just remember walking off stage and I was like, Did I just speak English? I completely blacked out. I had no idea what I said. I called my mom and I was like, "Hopefully I did not embarrass myself." But obviously, it was very cool to win an award for the music video.

The CMTs were the first award show that I attended as an artist. [At] the CMA Awards in November, I was just a host on the red carpet, interviewing other artists. I fortunately got a ticket to the CMA Awards, but I was like, you know, in the back. 

It was just crazy. Shania Twain is sitting near me, Megan Thee Stallion is in front of me — I'm just like, What? I was already like, This is crazy, I don't need to win. I'm having a great time. I don't know how to give a speech, I'm not well-spoken. Like, I literally write songs about my boyfriend — now I have to go give a speech? [Laughs.]

It's just crazy and hard to believe that it's happening. It feels great, obviously, because I feel like Nashville has been supportive and they see the work that I'm doing and they look at it for what it is and how I wanted it to be received. Making a fan base is one thing, but to also have the support of Nashville, like, "We see what you're doing, and we're recognizing it," it's really cool.

Releasing Her Debut Album — May 5, 2023

The night album came out was the first night of the Brooks & Dunn tour.

We were in Kansas City and I had my team there, and some of my Columbia [Records] people showed up from New York to surprise me. It was so crazy to finally have it out because it had been on my phone for so long. You spend so many hours and put your heart into these songs, and then it comes out, and you're like, Okay, now what?

One [reaction] that meant a lot to me was Olivia Rodrigo DMing me and saying that she loves the songs. I had posted her "vampire" song on my story, and I tagged her, and she responded and was like, "Oh my gosh, your songwriting is so inspiring!" That was really cool, definitely a standout moment of my album coming out.

Overall — I also try not to look at negative things — my fans, they've been receiving it the way that I hoped they would. Like, no one took "Sleep On My Side" too seriously, and "I'm Not Pretty" is not supposed to be a bitchy song; it's supposed to be more of a confident anthem.

"Girl In The Mirror," I've been able to see at live shows [that] that one is having the most impact on my fans. And I think it does have the most important message of all the songs on the whole record. Girls bring signs to my shows that say "You made me love the girl in the mirror." There's little girls that are, like, 7 years old with shirts that say, "You can't love the boy more than the girl in the mirror." It's hitting all age groups. 

I think [with] music, you have to say something, or what's the point? It doesn't matter what you're trying to say, but it needs to do something for people. That song definitely helped me writing it, and I've seen it help my fans. One of my favorite moments in the live show is everyone singing it with me — and I don't ask them to sing it with me. Everyone's just screaming it. I have songs like that from other artists that I feel that way about, so it's cool to have fans connect with that song.

Playing CMA Fest With Her Brother — June 11, 2023

Last year, I got to play CMA Fest for the first time, and I played it with my brother because, honestly, he did it for free. [Laughs.] We were on one of the smallest stages, if not the smallest, in the Music City Center. It's basically the stage that people only showed up because they wanted air conditioning, because it was one of the only indoor stages.

Then this year, when CMA Fest came around again, I got to play the Riverfront Stage and Nissan Stadium, and I invited my brother back. Last year, we were like, "We're gonna make this tradition, because that was fun." And then this year, I found out I was playing the stadium, and I was like, "Well, we said it was a tradition. You've never played a stadium and neither have I, but we're going to do this together." So my brother and I played Nissan Stadium together — we did "I'm Not Pretty" and "Tennessee Orange."

He was playing guitar and singing harmonies. Him and my dad kind of taught me how to play guitar. So we grew up playing together, but now he's an attorney, so he has, like, a legit job and can't just quit to tour with me, even though I would love that. 

The whole thing was special. He texted me a couple of days after when he was back home, and he was like, "Did we really just play in a stadium?" 

I've been used to touring and playing in front of people. So I was definitely nervous, but it was manageable. But for him, I'm like, "You have a normal job. I don't know how you just went out in front of that many people and just played."

That's up there as the most meaningful moments of this year. Just to watch the videos and see my face and his face in Nissan stadium. I'm like, What is this? We used to post videos of us on Instagram together in our living room, and I just never would have thought that we would be in a stadium together.

Earning A No. 1 Song With "Tennessee Orange" — June 20, 2023

When I wrote this song, I was happy with it. I was like, This is different than anything I've written because it's kind of a love song and I'm not good at writing those. But I was [also] like, I wrote this song that I can relate to, but like I don't even know if people in like, California, or someone that doesn't care about [college] football are even going to understand..

When the fall came around and it was about to be football season, and an opportunity with Spotify came, we were like, Well, we've got this football song. I definitely didn't write it and was like, This is gonna be the one. 

When I announced that it was coming out, which was probably like two weeks before, I started promoting it on TikTok. When I posted the initial video, people were making it a trend to show their significant other and they were like, "I met somebody" [with] cute pictures behind the sound. And I teased the bridge and everyone was making TikToks to that. So it was blowing up before the song actually came out. 

The night it went No. 1 was actually the last day of the Brooks & Dunn tour, so it was really just an exciting day in general. We really did not know if it was gonna go No. 1 — I had to mentally prepare myself to not be No. 1, because I didn't want to upset myself too much. The radio team was honest in the fact that there's huge songs that we're competing against. 

We really didn't know for sure until 3 a.m. when it actually was official. I was exhausted because we'd been on this run. So at midnight, I went to sleep, and I was like, "Y'all wake me up at 3 if it goes number one. If I don't get woken up, I'm just gonna not talk to anyone tomorrow." [Laughs.] 

My team and my band came in my room on the bus with orange wigs on, and they scared the life out of me. Then the next day, we went to Broadway to celebrate. I got to hear an artist singing my song on Broadway for the first time — that was really cool, because I remember moving to Nashville and being like, "Wow, if someone is playing a cover of your song on Broadway, you've made it."

I got on stage with her — I was a little intoxicated. [Laughs.] I posted a TikTok video of it. That was a fun day.

Headlining A Sold-Out Tour — Sept. 20 to December 10, 2023

We're literally going from New York to California and everywhere in between. The more headlining shows I play, I feel like the crazier and more passionate my fans get. They show up in handmade merch, and they'll dress like me. So I feel like the fall tour will be even more crazy, because it seems to just be getting crazier.

I love opening because you can make new fans, but when everyone is there for you, it's definitely a different sense of comfortability. My first headlining show was in Georgia, it was in Statesboro. So my family got to be there too. And "Girl In The Mirror" came out a couple of hours before that, and they sang "Girl In The Mirror" back to me. It was the first time I heard them chanting my name. I was just like, This is absurd.

One part of the show that I think I'll always have on my headliners is where I play a couple of songs where it's just me and a guitar. And I like doing that because when I'm writing a song, it's usually just me and a guitar. So I like to recreate that environment for my fans.

One show that really sticks out is a show that I played recently at the Iowa State Fair. I think there were 6,000 people there for me. They were singing every single song — like, the least-streamed song on the album is "Sad Songs For Sad People," and they screamed every word of that. 

To have that many people who care about my music will always beat every other moment, because [I know] what I'm doing is connecting with people. It makes me want to keep creating the same kind of music that does that for people.

Alana Springsteen Isn't Just Living Her Teenage Dream. She's Speaking To An Entire Generation.

Clipse perform onstage during the BET Hip Hop Awards 2022 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on September 30, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia
Clipse perform in 2022

Photo: Terence Rushin/Getty Images

news

Everything We Know About Clipse's First Album In 15 Years: Pusha T And No Malice Rise Again

While there's no title or release date for the new Clipse album, brothers Pusha T and No Malice have teased the essence of the project.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2024 - 06:02 pm

Legendary Virginia Beach rap duo Clipse have mostly been on ice since 2009's Til the Casket Drops — and that decade and a half off ends now.

The duo of brothers and rap phenoms Pusha T and No Malice (formerly known as Malice) are back with a new, John Legend-featuring song, "Birds Don't Sing," from a reunion project whose title has yet to be disclosed.

It's bracing to hear purveyors of witty, sneakily profound coke raps get real about the deaths of their parents: "Lost in emotion, mama's youngest/ Tryna navigate life without my compass," King Push raps at the outset. "Some experience death and feel numbness/ But not me, I felt it all and couldn't function.

It only gets realer from there: "You told me that you loved me, it was all in your tone/ 'I love my two sons' was the code to your phone," No Malice raps in his verse. If "Birds Don't Sing" is any indication, Clipse's first album in forever will be illuminating indeed.

We don't know much about the "Grindin'" hitmakers' reunion album, other than what Pusha T and No Malice revealed in a wide-ranging Vulture interview. But for hip-hop fans, the breadcrumbs they dropped are enticing indeed.

Read more: For The Record: How Clipse's Lord Willin' Established Virginia's Foothold In Rap

It Will Reflect The Clipse's Maturation

Pusha T is vocal about hating the Pharrell-produced Til The Casket Drops, which has always left their story hanging. They seem to be all in on this LP — one that's designed on their own terms.

"I think the album shows the supreme maturation of a rap duo," said Push. "I think this is where you get the difference between taste and filler. This music is curated. This is a high taste-level piece of work.

"You can only have that level of taste when you have the fundamentals down to a science," he continued. "I think it's been definitely missing. Then there's the competitive aspect." Added No Malice: "This is smart basketball. It's fundamentals."

Pharrell Williams Produced The Entire Album

Despite Pusha T's reservations about Til The Casket Drops, Pharrell Williams has been an integral part of the Clipse's operation since the beginning — and he returns to produce the new project.

"Pharrell producing everything is also an ode to the type of music and the type of albums we want to make," he added. "We still want to make full bodies of work. These are movies, man. These aren't just songs. This isn't just a collection of joints we went in and banged out."

Maturation Doesn't Mean Abandoning Coke Raps

As Pusha T points out in the interview — yes, they rap about selling coke, but to reduce it to that is to miss the point entirely.

"There's no way that you can listen to that level of storytelling and experience and just walk away just saying 'That's coke rap.'" No Malice says. "If you just want to say that it's just crack rap, then you can't even assess what's really being said or what's going on."

Indeed, what the Clipse staked their claim on isn't off the table. In fact, it's lined up and ready. 

Get Ready For A Bona Fide Clipse Era

As Pusha T stresses, this Clipse revisitation will come from multiple directions: "Appearances, touring, and a rap album of the year" are coming down the pike.

As more information about the forthcoming Clipse album flows in, keep GRAMMY.com bookmarked so you know the details — as these fraternal MCs join forces once more.

5 Takeaways From Pusha T's New Album It's Almost Dry

Ice Spice performs at the Sahara Tent during the 2024 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 13, 2024 in Indio, California.
Ice Spice

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer

list

New Music Friday: Listen To New Songs From Ice Spice, Ariana Grande, Post Malone, Coldplay & More

As we slip into summer, get the season started by listening to these new songs, albums and collaborations from Gracie Abrams, Kygo, The Joy and more that dropped on June 21.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2024 - 05:52 pm

The first New Music Friday of the summer delivers us fresh jams packed with exciting collaborations and debuts.

This week features releases from big name, genre-crossing collaborations, including Ariana Grande's remix of "the boy is mine" with Brandy and Monica, and Post Malone teaming up with Blake Shelton on their new track "Pour Me a Drink." As you build your new summer playlist, make sure you don't miss out on these ten must-hear tunes.  

Ice Spice — "Phat Butt"

After a massive year with the release of her EP Like..? and four nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs, Ice Spice is ready to level up once again with her newest single, "Phat Butt." With self-assured lyricism on top of a classic drill beat that is true to her sound, the track serves as the second single to be released from her debut album, Y2K!. "Phat Butt" comes as both a message to those who lacked belief in Ice Spice’s music career, but also as a quintessential summer anthem.

In the self-directed music video, the rapper is shown performing in front of a wall of graffiti with grainy video filters, emphasizing the Y2K feel. Ice Spice is set to take on her Y2K World Tour next month and it's no doubt that this "Phat Butt" will be a highlight on her setlist.

Explore More: The Rise Of Ice Spice: How The "Barbie World" Rapper Turned Viral Moments Into A Full-On Franchise 

Ariana Grande, Brandy, & Monica — "the boy is mine (remix)"

When asking different groups who sings the song "the boy is mine," you're likely to get two answers. Some will say pop star Ariana Grande, while others will think of the original 1998 R&B hit by Brandy and Monica, which won the GRAMMY for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1999. Doubling down on the shared name of the track and bridging the generational gap among music lovers, Grande, Brandy, and Monica have come together for a fresh remix of "the boy is mine," and the internet couldn't be more ecstatic. 

"My deepest and sincerest thank you to Brandy and Monica, not only for joining me for this moment, but for your generosity, your kindness, and for the countless ways in which you have inspired me," said Grande in an Instagram post announcing the collaboration. "This is in celebration of you both and the impact that you have had on every vocalist, vocal producer, musician, artist that is creating today."

Read More: 5 Takeaways From Ariana Grande's New Album Eternal Sunshine 

Post Malone & Blake Shelton — "Pour Me a Drink"

Post Malone has been dipping his toes into the country genre for some time now and fans have been anxiously awaiting his promised western era post Cowboy Carter.

Malone and Shelton first ignited excitement with a sneak peek of their song, "Pour Me a Drink" at the CMA Fest earlier this month. Since Posty announced the official release on Instagram, fans have eagerly awaited its arrival on streaming services. The track serves as a tantalizing preview of Post Malone's upcoming country album, F-1 Trillion, coming August 16. 

Read More: Post Malone's Country Roots: 8 Key Moments In Covers and Collaborations 

Coldplay — "feelslikeimfallinginlove"

Coldplay has been generating excitement as they embark on their next chapter, with the release of their latest single, "feelslikeimfallinginlove." Over the past few weeks, they've been feeding fans with sneak peeks on social media and performing the song live on their world tour.

The track sets the stage for the release of Coldplay's highly anticipated tenth studio album, Moon Music, set to land in early October. True to their brand, this song is geared to uplift your spirits, making it the perfect anthem for carefree summer car rides with the windows down.

Read More: How Coldplay's Parachutes Ushered In A New Wave Of Mild-Mannered Guitar Bands 

Kygo — 'Kygo'

Ten years into his career, Norwegian DJ Kygo is dropping his self-titled album, Kygo, which he teased last week with the single "Me Before You" featuring Plested. The song, backed by a thumping mid-tempo instrumental, vividly narrates the transformative experience of being deeply influenced by someone in a relationship and not wanting to return to who you were before. The 18-track project features diverse and vibrant collaborations with unexpected guests like the Jonas Brothers and Ava Max.

Maren Morris & Julia Michaels — "cut!"

Maren Morris and Julia Michaels, GRAMMY-winners both independently renowned for their iconic music collaborations, are now joining forces to release their electrifying new track, "cut!" The duo has been working together for a few years, with Michaels' co-writing Morris' "Circles Around Town," which received a nomination for Best Country Song at the 2023 GRAMMYs. So, while this collaboration might not come as a surprise, it is still certainly a welcomed one. 

After a two-year hiatus from releasing music, pop enthusiasts have been eagerly anticipating Morris' return to the spotlight. "Can't wait to cathartically scream f*ck at the top of our lungs together," Morris said in an Instagram post announcing the track.

Learn More: Behind Julia Michaels' Hits: From Working With Britney & Bieber To Writing For Wish 

Gracie Abrams — 'The Secret of Us'

Building on the success of her debut album, Good Riddance, and the skyrocketing momentum of her career after opening The Eras Tour, California-native Gracie Abrams has unveiled her much-anticipated sophomore album, The Secret of Us.

The album includes the track, "Close to You," which was released ahead of the album drop as the full realization of a 20-second snippet that Abrams posted on Instagram back in 2018. After sitting on the track for six years and relentless pleas from fans, the pop artist finally delivered the full song — a mesmerizing blend of Abrams’ vocal prowess and heartfelt lyricism.  

Learn More: How Making Good Riddance Helped Gracie Abrams Surrender To Change And Lean Into The Present 

6LACK — "F**k The Rap Game"

6LACK is rebranding himself and making sure everyone knows. The release of his newest track, "F*** The Rap Game" addresses the phenomenon of getting caught up in the glitz and glamor of the entertainment business, tying in the importance of staying true to one's roots. The Atlanta-raised artist is currently on tour with rapper Russ, with whom he recently released the single "Workin On Me,” another nod to 6LACK's ongoing mission of self-reflection and deep introspection.

“A better me equals a better you equals a better us. That’s been the formula of my life. I can’t thrive unless I’m around people who are constantly trying to better themselves as individuals,” 6LACK said in an interview with GRAMMY.com last year. “It took a second of me really looking at myself in the mirror, being honest and saying: I am not doing as much work on myself as I claim to be doing and want to be doing on myself.”

Read More: 6lack On His Comeback Album SIHAL: "I’m Playing A Different Game" 

The Joy — 'The Joy'

Months after their buzzworthy performance with Doja Cat at Coachella, South African quintet The Joy has released their self-titled album through Transgressive Records. The album was recorded live, in real time, at Church Studios in London and features no instruments or overdubs — just pure, raw vocals that capture the group's authentic sound.

The Joy came together through a serendipitous twist of fate. Years back, five boys arrived early to their school choir practice and decided to have an impromptu jam session. Realizing their undeniable musical chemistry, The Joy was born, quickly garnering global acclaim. "They are, like, my favorite group," Jennifer Hudson exclaimed on her talk show. 

Surfaces — 'good morning'

Known for their feel-good tunes that took over TikTok in 2019, Surfaces presents their sixth album, Good Morning. In tracks like, “Real Estate,” the band chronicles the idea of exploring one’s mind and thoughts, above all other features, backed by a tropical lo-fi instrumental, as well as a steady thump of a bass, and trilling trumpets. 

“’Real Estate’ is about the infatuation with that place in someone’s mind that you can’t get enough of,” Surfaces explained in a press statement. “It’s a familiar place to call home that feels safe and deserves all the love in the world. We wanted to capture the bliss of finding that space and reveling in it.” 

Lauren Watkins — 'The Heartbroken Record'

Lauren Watkins has a packed summer schedule, which includes opening for country artist Morgan Wallen and releasing her second studio album, The Heartbroken Record. This project draws inspiration from music industry veterans like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, while also infusing influences from contemporary artists like Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert. Each track from the album underscores stories of love and loss, woven together by the overarching theme of heartbreak. 

"I didn't want to just put an album out — I wanted it to be purposeful," Watkins said in a press statement. "It's the past several years of my life, and that was just so much heartbreak and dramatic girl-feelings, but I think in a really deep and relatable way… and it just needs to get off my chest."

Why 2024 Is The Year Women In Country Music Will Finally Have Their Moment 

Prince performing in 2004
Prince performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 2004

Photo: Kevin Kane/WireImage via Getty Images

list

7 Legendary Prince Performances You Can Watch Online In Honor Of 'Purple Rain'

Fans of the Purple One, unite: it's time to celebrate 40 years of 'Purple Rain.' Crank up these classic Prince performances in tribute to that epochal album, and beyond.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2024 - 02:35 pm

Have we really been living in a Princeless world for eight years? It doesn't feel like it. With every passing year, Planet Earth feels more of the magnitude of the Purple One's unbelievable accomplishments. Which includes the sheer body of work he left behind: his rumored mountain of unreleased material aside, have you heard all 39 of the albums he did release?

Yes, Prince Rogers Nelson was an impressive triple threat, and we'll likely never see his like again. In pop and rock history, some were wizards in the studio, but lacked charisma onstage, or vice versa: Prince was equally as mindblowing in both frameworks.

His iconic, GRAMMY Hall of Fame-inducted 1984 album Purple Rain — a soundtrack to the equally classic film — turns 40 on June 25. Of course, crank up that album's highlights — like "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry," and the immortal title track — and spin out from there to his other classics, like Dirty Mind, 1999, and Sign o' the Times.

To get a full dose of Prince, though, you've got to raid YouTube for performance footage of the seven-time GRAMMY winner through the years. Here are seven clips you've got to see.

Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland (1984)

Feast your eyes on Prince, the year Purple Rain came out. With guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardist Dr. Fink, drummer Bobby Z., flanking him, even suboptimal YouTube resolution can't smother the magic and beauty. Check out this killing performance of Purple Rain's "I Would Die 4 U," where Prince's moves burn up the stage, with Sheila E. as much a percussion juggernaut as ever.

Read More: Living Legends: Sheila E. On Prince, Playing Salsa And Marching To The Beat Of Her Own Drum

Carrier Dome, Syracuse, New York (1985)

"Little Red Corvette," from 1982's 1999, has always been one of Prince's most magical pop songs — maybe the most magical? This performance in central New York state borders on definitive; bathed in violet and maroon, caped and cutting a rug, a 26-year-old Prince comes across as a force of divine talent.

Paisley Park, Minnesota (1999)

"I always laugh when people say he is doing a cover of this song… It's his song!" goes one YouTube commenter. That's absolutely right. Although "Nothing Compares 2 U" become an iconic hit through Sinead O'Connor's lens, it's bracing to hear the song's author nail its emotional thrust — as far fewer people have heard the original studio recording, on 1985's The Family — the sole album by the Prince-conceived and -led band of the same name.

Watch: Black Sounds Beautiful: Five Years After His Death, Prince’s Genius Remains Uncontainable

The Aladdin, Las Vegas (2002)

Let it be known that while Prince could shred with the best of them, he could equally hold down the pocket. This Vegas performance of "1+1+1=3," from 2001's The Rainbow Children, is a supremely funky workout — which also shows Prince's command as a bandleader, on top of the seeming dozens of other major musical roles he'd mastered by then.

Read More: Bobby Z. On Prince And The Revolution: Live & Why The Purple One Was Deeply Human

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction (2004)

Words can't describe Prince's universe-destroying solo over the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," in front of an all-star band of classic rockers including Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and George Harrison's son, Dhani. At song's end, Prince's guitar wails for a few more rounds, he tosses his Telecaster into the pit, and he struts offstage. We'll never see his like again.

Super Bowl Halftime Show (2007)

If you're the type of Super Bowl devotee who skips the Halftime Show, please — make time for Prince. When he digs into the trusty "Let's Go Crazy," it's hard not to follow suit. With fireworks blazing, and the Love Symbol brightly illumined, Prince arguably outshined the football game — as he tumbled through inspired cover after cover, by CCR, Dylan, and more. Naturally, he crescendoed with "Purple Rain," augmented by the drummers of the Marching 100.

Read More: Behind Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Edition: A Fresh Look At Prince & The New Power Generation’s Creative Process

Coachella (2008)

At Coachella 2008, Prince offered a bounty of karaoke-style yet intriguing covers — of the B-52's ("Rock Lobster"), Sarah McLachlan ("Angel"), Santana ("Batuka"), and more. Chief among them was his eight-minute take on Radiohead's (in)famous first hit, "Creep," with a few quixotic twists, including flipping the personal pronoun I to a very Prince-like U.

"U wish U were special, / So do I," he yelps in the pre-chorus. Oh, Prince: to quote the radio-edited, de-vulgarized chorus of "Creep," you were so very special.

8 Ways Musicology Returned Prince To His Glory Days

Wilco in 2004
Wilco performing on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in 2004

Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

list

Wilco's 'A Ghost Is Born' Turns 20: A Track-By-Track Retrospective

Wilco's 2004 classic 'A Ghost is Born' has accrued a dark reputation — for reasons deserved and undeserved. A more complete picture emerges when surveying the tracklisting, with insight from drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2024 - 02:25 pm

"That always confused me, when they were like, 'This is the most experimental album ever!'" says Mikael Jorgensen, Wilco's keyboardist of two decades, with a chuckle. "I mean, what's your reference point here? Have you not listened to Whitehouse, or any music that's reviewed in The Wire?"

Jorgensen's talking about 2004's A Ghost is Born — Wilco's jagged, spectral follow-up to their masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and his first album as part of the group. (For the attendant tour, guitarists Pat Sansone and Nels Cline would join, and cement their lineup that remains to this day.)

Indeed, critics and fans have always discussed A Ghost is Born with hushed tones — characterizing it as the experimental peak of the ex-"alt country" outfit. Some of its dark reputation is deserved, albeit tiresome to recapitulate: frontman Jeff Tweedy was at the nadir of his opiate addiction — a rough patch that he survived, and has discussed publicly, repeatedly, at length.

Plus, certain moments on A Ghost is Born undoubtedly represent their avant-garde apogee. It's the only Wilco album with Tweedy as the lead guitarist, which alone makes it singular; Cline is a masterful player, but Tweedy's skronky, untechnical, Lennon-meets-Shakey attack was captivating in its own way.

Tweedy is arguably responsible for A Ghost is Born's most extreme moments. He was famously painting pictures of his panic attacks and migraines — the former in the guitar crescendo of "At Least That's What You Said," the latter in the atonal, 12-minute coda of "Less Than You Think."

In short, A Ghost is Born is considerably out there. But to solely paint it with that broad brush would do it a disservice: the album also features some of Wilco's gentlest, prettiest material — as well as mellow gems like "Hummingbird," a skipping stone of a piano-led pop song.

A Ghost is Born was met with critical acclaim upon release on June 22, 2024, and even won Wilco their only GRAMMY to date — for Best Alternative Music Album. (At press time, they've been nominated for seven.) To ring in its 20th anniversary, here's a track-by-track breakdown of the album.

"At Least That's What You Said"

When you consider the enveloping, sound-effects-laden Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it's still bracing to hear A Ghost is Born stir to life like a sleeping beast — just a little bit of electric guitar and piano rumbling around.

Eventually, Tweedy's near-silent, mumbled confessional erupts into a twisted, serrated, sparks-emitting Tweedy solo. (Seriously: we celebrate his songwriting, his wit, his authorial voice, and so much more: give the man his flowers as an electric guitarist.)

Read more: Jeff Tweedy & Cheryl Pawelski Sit Down For "Up Close & Personal" Chat: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Writing One Song & More

"Hell is Chrome"

"'Hell is Chrome' — that was really powerful in the studio, to record that," drummer Glenn Kotche tells GRAMMY.com. (A Ghost is Born was his second album with Wilco; he had joined for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.)

That power was the quiet kind: "Hell is Chrome" is an eerie, spare, piano-led lament; each twist of Tweedy's tenor is goosebumps-inducing. And, accordingly, that howling first note of his guitar solo hits like a blast of a freezing draft.

"Spiders (Kidsmoke)"

"Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is another recording where I feel like you can hear my condition pretty clearly," Tweedy wrote in his 2018 memoir, Let's Go (So We Can Get Back).

As he explains, the mother of all migraines was squeezing his skull; they had to strip the composition to basics just so he could get through it. "This allowed me to just recite the lyrics and punctuate them with guitar skronks and scribbles to get through the song," he recalled, "without having to concentrate past my headache too much."

A spiky motorik jam reminiscent of Can or Neu!, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is Wilco's first great extended guitar workout — which, with the arrival of Nels Cline, would gather good company.

"Muzzle of Bees"

The hushed "Muzzle of Bees" tumbles forth so naturally, so patiently, that you wouldn't know it was one of the hardest to record.

"That was a tough nut to crack, for reasons that are still unclear," Jorgensen says with a laugh. "We did take after take, and version after version, and it kept changing, and the arrangement kept moving."

Whatever extra effort was required paid off: "Muzzle of Bees" is enchanting — with images of a random-painted highway, and treebanks playing catch with the sun. And the instrumentation sounds lush yet hardly there at all — like a treebranch scraping your window.

"Hummingbird"

Critics love to compare "Hummingbird" to the works of Randy Newman, which isn't that far off — a character study shot through traditionalist pop.

The vivid details — "a fixed bayonet through the great Southwest," "the deep chrome canyons of the loudest Manhattans" will take you away, but it's the elegaic chorus that resonates most: "Remember to remember me/ Standing still in your past/ Floating fast like a hummingbird." And with that, a sweet, aching fiddle solo brings it home.

Read More: Jeff Tweedy's Blurred Emotions: Wilco’s Leader On Cruel Country & Songwriting As Discovery

"Handshake Drugs"

Few songs capture aimless, urban wandering like "Handshake Drugs," a choogling, circuitous highlight; it feels like two parallel and inverted arrows, facing forward and backward.

Lyrically, Tweedy shows his mastery of conversational, sneakly profound, ouroboros-like bars: "It's OK for you to say what you want from me/ I believe that's the only way for me to be/ Exactly what you want me to be." A cracked Midwestern-ness that typifies Wilco. 

"Wishful Thinking"

One of the out-and-out prettiest songs on the album, "Wishful Thinking" should get more love in the Ghost discourse.

"Fill up your mind with all it can know/ Don't forget that your body will let it all go," a devastated-sounding Tweedy sings in the verse. And the chorus simmers down to a heartbeat-like pulse: "Open your arms as far as they will go/ We take off your dress."

"Company in My Back"

A little more lightweight than other Ghost songs — but variety and dynamics are what make the extreme moments pop. The meaning of "Company in My Back" is elusive, but that earworm of an arpeggio, along with Kotche's sparkling hammered dulcimer, make it fit the album like a glove.

"I've always had a particular fondness for 'Company in My Back,'" Jorgensen says, before directing readers to the half-speed, instrumental outtake: "That was just such a wonderful, hot, mysterious universe of sound." 

"I'm A Wheel"

Wilco get a battery in their back for "I'm a Wheel," a snotty blast of post-punk that points to gonzo future rockers like "Random Name Generator." Come for Tweedy rhyming "nein" with "nine," stay for "I invented a sister/ Populated with knives." With all he was going through, it's good to hear him having fun.

Read more: 28 Essential Songs By Wilco

"Theologians"

Tweedy returns to the instrumental palette of "Hummingbird" to ponder matters of the soul. Before concluding "Illiterati lumen fidei/ God is with us every day/ That illiterate light/ Is with us every night."

When "Theologians" blasts off, it feels like the thesis of the album: "No one's ever gonna take my life from me/ I lay it down/ A ghost is born/ A ghost is born/ A ghost of the born."

"I thought I was going to die," Tweedy wrote in his memoir. "I mean that in all seriousness… Every song we recorded seemed likely to be my last. Every note felt final." Yet "Theologians" pulses with life — and resolve.

"Less Than You Think"

Most talk about "Less Than You Think" naturally zeroes in on that alien, mechanical drone, which subsumes most of its runtime.

"Even I don't want to listen to it every time I play through the album," Tweedy once said. "But the times I do calm myself down and pay attention to it, I think it's valuable and moving and cathartic. I wouldn't have put it on the record if I didn't think it was great."

Partly why it hits so hard is that the preceding music is so magnificent — a devastated, naked ballad with Kotche's hammered dulcimer sparkling overhead.

"I wanted to make an album about identity, and within that is the idea of a higher power, the idea of randomness, and that anything can happen, and that we can't control it," Tweedy said in the same interview. Which is exactly what "Less Than You Think" communicates. 

"The Late Greats"

Wilco being Wilco, A Ghost is Born doesn't crumple into a heap: it finds a ray of hopeful light. The tumbling rocker "The Late Greats" turns over rock history to examine the underside:

"The best band will never get signed/ The K-Settes starring Butcher's Blind," Tweedy sings. "They never even played a show/ You can't hear 'em on the radio." And, as he concludes before the triumphal little finale: "The best song will never get sung/ The best laugh never leaves your lungs."

Looking back, "It's kind of hard to quantify," Jorgensen says. "Is it a rock record? Yeah. Is it a folk-rock record? Yeah, I guess. Is it an experimental album? There's certainly a component of that. It is all these things, but not one thing.

"So, I guess I identify with that part of it," he concludes. "It's a constellation." Indeed, across A Ghost is Born, there's a star for everyone: for its 20th anniversary, dust off the album, lie awake, and count them.

Songbook: A Guide To Wilco's Discography, From Alt-Country To Boundary-Shattering Experiments