meta-scriptMegan Thee Stallion Says The Nationwide Black Lives Matter Protests Are "Part Two Of The Civil Rights Movement" | GRAMMY.com
Megan Thee Stallion performs on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2019

Megan Thee Stallion performs on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2019

Photo: Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images

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Megan Thee Stallion Says The Nationwide Black Lives Matter Protests Are "Part Two Of The Civil Rights Movement"

In a new cover interview with NME, the breakout rapper also discusses the pressures of being a strong Black woman and the unexpected success of her 2020 single, "Savage"

GRAMMYs/Jul 4, 2020 - 12:07 am

Breakout rapper Megan Thee Stallion has called the nationwide protests in the U.S. and the growing Black Lives Matter movement around the world "part two of the civil rights movement." 

In a new interview for a digital cover feature with British music website NME, Megan discussed her role as a celebrity when speaking out against the injustices of the world and how she's learned to use her platform to effect change, as seen on her social media channels. Over the past few weeks, Megan has remained vocal about the heated sociopolitical state of the U.S. She's recently taken to social media to demand justice for George Floyd and has called for the arrest of the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor.

"Sometimes being a public figure," she told NME, "you don't wanna say the wrong thing because you don't want to be insensitive to people or get too opinionated. But I will always say what I feel. I don't speak on things that I don't know about, and I won't speak on things I don't believe in."  

In the interview, she goes on to discuss the pressures of being a strong Black woman and the stereotypes surrounding it.

"Let me tell you, Black women are strong," Megan, who cites her late mother, grandmother and all the other "really good examples of women in my life" as role models, told NME. "We can be going through whatever and still put on a good face. I know there were times that my mother might have been going through things but I never knew, because she wanted me to feel safe and okay."  

Read: Megan Thee Stallion Is The Latest Rap Star On The Rise

Megan also tells NME about the unexpected breakout success of her 2020 single, "Savage," which went viral on TikTok and later secured a remix featuring Beyoncé; the remix, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the U.S., helped raise funds for COVID-19 relief efforts in the singers' hometown of Houston. 

Megan also talked about her recent performance at the virtual 2020 BET Awards, her newfound life as a role model to her fans, and her current and upcoming projects, which include a gig as a judge on HBO's new voguing reality competition TV series, "Legendary." 

From Aretha Franklin To Public Enemy, Here's How Artists Have Amplified Social Justice Movements Through Music

Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion performing in 2024

Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images

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Everything We Know About Megan Thee Stallion's New Album 'Megan': Cover, Release Date & More

Three-time GRAMMY winner Megan Thee Stallion is about to unleash her follow-up to 2022's 'Traumazine,' simply titled 'Megan.' Here's all the details we know about the album so far.

GRAMMYs/Jun 5, 2024 - 08:46 pm

In 2022, Megan Thee Stallion gave fans her most visceral self-inventory to date with Traumazine. Now, we're poised to learn even more about Megan.

That's the apt title of the firebrand rapper's next album, announced during the first of Atlanta stops on her Hot Girl Summer Tour on June 2. Speaking to Women's Health last spring, she declared Megan — whose title hadn't been revealed at the time — to be her most realized work to date. As she explained, the motif of Megan is an ancient and nigh-universal one: the snake.

"I was inspired to create this album about rebirth because I feel I am becoming a new person physically and mentally," she stated, amid descriptions of her heightened wellness practices. "[Snakes are] feared, misunderstood, respected, healing." And in a teaser, she poignantly proclaimed "Just as a snake sheds it skin, we must shed our past, over and over again."

We're still early in the rollout process — but regardless, here's what GRAMMY.com could dredge up about Megan as of press time.

It's Her First Independent Release

In 2023, Megan Thee Stallion exited 1501 Certified Entertainment, her formal label — the culmination of a hairy legal dispute.

While her distribution deal with 300 Entertainment, owned by Warner Music Group, remains, Megan will be released under the rapper's own independent music and entertainment company, Hot Girl Productions.

She's Dropped Three Serpentine Singles

True to her snake motif, Megan Thee Stallion has released three slithering bangers from Megan.

In November 2023, she unleashed "Cobra," whose video co-starred one hellacious asp; in "Hiss," she basically is the asp, threatening to sink her fangs into those who mess with her.

In the former, Meg broods over her late parents and faces down depression: "Never thought a b— like me would hit rock bottom." In the latter, she goes on the offensive: "B—es swear they G but the G must stand for Goofy/ When the f— did all the gangster n—as turn to groupies?"

She followed these up with the Gwen Stefani-sampling "Boa," which further turns up the heat: "B—, your time up / Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock."

As Megan explained to L'OFFICIEL of her recent musical approach, "This is music I would like if I wasn't Megan Thee Stallion. I don't want to say I'm tapping into other genres. I'm just tapping into other sounds. But it's still very much Megan Thee Stallion. It won't feel like I went so left. It'll feel true to me. You'll almost be like, 'I wouldn't have thought she would've rapped over that, but this sounds great.'"

If "Cobra," "Hiss" and "Boa" are any indication, this snake is about to rattle us.

The Album Arrives June 28

Megan Thee Stallion hasn't released the full tracklisting for Megan yet — but she did confirm the whole shebang is out June 28, onstage during her ongoing Hot Girl Summer Tour. So, it's only a matter of weeks until the album slinks into our speakers.

The Cover Is Eye-Popping

On the cover of Megan, the rapper emerges nude from a Monarch butterfly chrysalis, hanging from a potted indoor tree in a fancy room. Framing the image is a transparent, serifed, monumental M.

As killer as her recent offerings have been, clearly Megan is going to bite — in the best way.

Everything We Know About Halsey's New Album: Listen To New Song "The End"

Photo of Romy performing during the C6 Fest at Parque Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in May 2024. Romy is singing with her eyes closed in a blue and pink shirt.
Romy performs in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images 

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15 LGBTQIA+ Artists Performing At 2024 Summer Festivals

From Renée Rapp, Chappell Roan and Ethel Cain, to Megan Thee Stallion and Conan Gray, 2024 summer festivals are stacked with a rainbow of amazing queer artists to see.

GRAMMYs/Jun 5, 2024 - 01:27 pm

Festival season is well underway, both stateside and abroad, with NYC’s Gov Ball, Chicago’s Lollapalooza, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, and the UK’s Glastonbury Festival offering an array of acts across multiple stages.

In honor of Pride Month, we’ve rounded up a bunch of LGBTQIA+ artists gracing this summer’s festival circuit  — as well as a few Pride-specific festivals —  that you won’t want to miss. Whether you’re in the mood to dance the night away, cry on your best friend’s shoulder, or just vibe out, there are established and rising artists to suit festival-goers with a variety of musical tastes.

Chappell Roan

After opening for Olivia Rodrigo on her GUTS tour, Midwest Princess Chappell Roan took the world by storm with her live-streamed Coachella performance during the desert festival’s first weekend, coming back just as strong in the second weekend. She also performed on NPR's Tiny Desk series, and her latest single “Good Luck, Babe!” slingshotted her even further into super-stardom. You’d be foolish to miss your chance to catch her on this year’s festival circuit. This time next year, she’ll probably be headlining.  

Where to see Chappell Roan: 

The Governor’s Ball  

Queens, New York  

Performing Sunday, June 9 

Kentuckiana Pride Festival  

Louisville, Kentucky 

June 15 

Bonnaroo  

Manchester, Tennessee  

Performing Sunday, June 16 

Lollapalooza  

Chicago, Illinois 

Performing Thursday, Aug. 1 

Hinterland Music Festival 

Saint Charles, Iowa 

Performing Sunday, Aug. 4 

Osheaga Music & Arts Festival 

Montréal, Canada 

Performing Saturday, Aug. 3 

Outside Lands  

San Francisco, California 

Aug. 9 – Aug. 11 

Performance date TBD 

All Things Go 

Columbia, Maryland 

Performing Sunday, Sept. 29 

Renée Rapp 

“Mean Girl” Reneé Rapp has had a banner year promoting her 2023 debut album, Snow Angel, the follow-up to her 2022 EP Everything to Everyone, reprising her Broadway role of Regina George in the movie adaptation of the "Mean Girls" musical, collaborating with Megan thee Stallion, and coming out as a lesbian. Snow Angel found the singer exercising her range both vocally and emotionally, and her live performances show off those impressive vocals even more. Luckily, you have a few chances to catch her at a festival this summer. 

Where to see Renée Rapp: 

The Governor’s Ball  

Queens, New York  

Performing Sunday, June 9 

Bonnaroo  

Manchester, Tennessee  

Performing Saturday, June 15 

Lollapalooza  

Chicago, Illinois 

Performing Friday Aug. 2 

Osheaga Music & Arts Festival 

Montréal, Canada 

Performing Saturday, Aug. 3 

All Things Go 

Columbia, Maryland 

Performing Sunday, Sep. 29 

Blondshell 

Previously performing under the moniker BAUM, Sabrina Teitelbaum has found her niche as Blondshell, writing unflinchingly honest and relatable lyrics about the human condition and belting them out over noisy guitars. Blondshell burst on the scene in 2022 with a '90s-inspired sound, reminiscent of the shoegaze bands of grunge’s golden era. Her self-titled 2023 debut album explores themes of failed relationships and shame, sobriety, unrequited love for a woman, and even a little murder, all with levity and vulnerability most 20-somethings can relate to. 

Aside from the obvious perks of the loud guitars during her live set, you might also be lucky enough to catch a cool cover–she’s known to perform Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” at shows, and she just released a cover of the Talking Heads’ “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” for the A24 tribute album, Everyone’s Getting Involved.  

Where to see Blondshell: 

The Governor’s Ball  

Queens, New York  

Performing Friday, June 7 

Day In Day Out 

Seattle, Washington  

Performing Sunday, July 13 

Lollapalooza  

Chicago, Illinois 

Performing Thursday, Aug. 1 

Hinterland Music Festival 

Saint Charles, Iowa 

Performing Saturday, Aug. 3  

All Things Go 

Columbia, Maryland 

Performing Sunday, Sep. 29 

G Flip 

Maybe you always knew who G Flip was. Maybe you were introduced to the nonbinary Aussie artist when they made headlines for their relationship with reality TV star Chrishell Stause. Or maybe you became a fan when you heard their incredible, sapphic-twisted cover of Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer” for triple-J’s Like a Version series (which even got Taylor’s stamp of approval).   

However you found G Flip, you probably became a little obsessed instantly, marveling at their ability to croon and play the drums simultaneously without missing a beat. The energy G brought to their in-studio performance at triple-J is indicative of the energy you’ll see on the stage when they play a couple of festivals this summer.  

Where to see G Flip: 

The Governor’s Ball  

Queens, New York  

Performing Sunday, June 9 

Nashville Pride 

Nashville, Tennessee 

Performing Sunday, June 23 

Backlot Bash 

Chicago, Illinois 

June 30 

Spin Off Adelaide 

Adelaide, Australia 

July 19 

Romy

Romy might be better known as part of British indie trio the xx, but her career as a solo artist is just as worthy of recognition. Making feel-good dance music about queer love, the 2024 GRAMMYs first time nominee has the unique ability to transport you to a world where everything is okay and there’s no better place to be than moving in tandem with the people around you. For a true one-with-the-crowd festival experience, jumping around to Romy’s electro-pop is the perfect option. 

Where to see Romy: 

Osheaga Music & Arts Festival 

Montréal, Canada 

Performing Friday, Aug. 2 

Lollapalooza  

Performing Saturday, Aug. 3 

Outside Lands  

San Francisco, California 

Aug. 9 – Aug. 11 

Performance date TBD 

Ethel Cain

Ethel Cain is a force to be reckoned with. Despite the unconventional nature of her music  — which explores themes of religion and conceptual stories about abuse — she’s made a place for herself in the mainstream with singles like “Crush” and “American Teenager" (the latter track nabbed a spot on President Barack Obama’s end-of-year playlist in 2022).   

More than just a great storyteller, she’s an easy to admire artist who is outspoken about human rights. Plus, her performances always feel intimate, even when they’re on festival stages in front of a huge crowd. 

 Bonnaroo  

Manchester, Tennessee  

Performing Saturday, June 15 

Lollapalooza  

Chicago, Illinois 

Performing Saturday, Aug. 3 

Hinterland Music Festival 

Saint Charles, Iowa 

Performing Sunday, Aug. 4 

Thing Festival 

Carnation, Washington 

Aug. 9 – Aug. 11 

Performing Saturday, Aug. 10 

 All Things Go 

Columbia, Maryland 

Performing Saturday, Sep. 28 

Ryan Beatty

Singer/songwriter Ryan Beatty may be your favorite artist’s favorite artist. He became a bit of a teen sensation in the early aughts for his YouTube covers of popular songs, later gaining wider recognition for his Brockhampton collaborations. His solo career has since taken off, making him a reference point for other singer/songwriters — especially following his 2023 album, Calico 

His knack for songwriting even led him to working on a number of tracks on Beyoncé’s COWBOY CARTER album. Ryan’s songs are tender and full of yearning, brimming with raw and real emotion–it’s best to bring some tissues when you catch one of his sets. 

Where to see Ryan Beatty: 

The Governor’s Ball  

Queens, New York  

Performing Friday, June 7 

Bonnaroo  

Manchester, Tennessee  

Performing Saturday, June 15 

Lollapalooza  

Chicago, Illinois 

Performing Friday, Aug. 2 

Outside Lands  

San Francisco, California 

Aug. 9 – Aug. 11 

Performance date TBD 

The Japanese House 

Amber Bain, or the artist known as the Japanese House, shied away from publicity at the beginning of her career. Hand-picked by Matty Healy of The 1975 to make music under his label, Dirty Hit, Bain's haunting melodies and painfully relatable lyrics resonated with listeners and critics — even when they didn’t know who was singing and producing the tracks they were falling for.   

Now, she’s proud to take all the credit for her hard work and talent. The Japanese House’s latest effort, In the End It Always Does, is packed with resonant tracks about growing up, longing, existentialism, and even a sweet, sad ode to man’s best friend — her dog, Joni Jones, is named for Joni Mitchell — all of which sound incredible live. 

Where to see The Japanese House: 

Bonnaroo  

Manchester, Tennessee  

Performing Friday, June 14 

Lollapalooza  

Chicago, Illinois 

Performing Thursday, Aug. 1 

Osheaga Music & Arts Festival 

Montréal, Canada 

Performing Friday, Aug. 2 

Outside Lands  

San Francisco, California 

Aug. 9 – Aug. 11 

Performance date TBD 

 MUNA 

When MUNA calls themselves “the greatest band in the world,” they aren’t lying. The L.A.-based queer pop trio toured for nearly all of 2023, including playing as an opening act for select dates of Taylor Swift’s record-breaking Eras tour. Their fanbase blew up since signing to Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records in 2021 and releasing their third album, led by the hit single “Silk Chiffon.”   

MUNA has built on that momentum by perfecting their live show, as evidenced by two stellar sold out tour-closing shows at Los Angeles' Greek Theater. While they’re taking a break from touring to work on their next record, MUNA are making a few festival stops this summer, including in singer Katie Gavin’s hometown of Chicago.  

L.A. Pride in the Park 

Los Angeles, California 

Saturday, June 8 

Summerfest 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 

June 20 – 22, June 27 – 29, July 4 – 6 

Performing Friday, June 27 

Pitchfork Music Festival 

Chicago, Illinois 

July 19 – July 21 

Performing Sunday, July 21 

Newport Folk Festival 

Newport, Rhode Island 

July 26 – July 28 

Performing Friday, July 26 

Ashnikko 

Ashnikko doesn’t fit into any box, and no two songs sound the same. The blue-haired phenom’s catalog spans from upbeat hyperpop-rap infusions about hard work, reimagined cheers from Bring It On with horror influences, and emo-tinged ballads about how scary it feels to be safely in love. With such a diverse range, you couldn’t possibly be bored watching her perform, especially since her live sets usually boast great visual effects and choreography.  

Where to see Ashnikko: 

Outloud Festival  

Los Angeles, California 

June 1 – June 2 

Performing Sunday, June 2 

Bonnaroo  

Manchester, Tennessee  

Performing Sunday, June 16 

Open’er Festival 

Gdynia, Poland 

July 3 – July 6 

Performing Wednesday, July 3 

Arlo Parks

GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Arlo Parks is the mellow you need in your hectic festival schedule. The 24-year-old is wise beyond her years, as reflected in the gorgeous lyrics about falling in love all over her 2023 album, My Soft Machine: On “Devotion,” she sings, “Your touch embroiders me/I'm wide open,” on “Pegasus,” which features Phoebe Bridgers, she muses, “Never felt luckier than I do right now/Tell me you love me, let me have it.”  

Arlo also released her debut poetry book, The Magic Border, last year, offering her lyrical talent in an even more raw form of expression. While her music is soft and dreamy, she doesn’t shy away from hard and fast guitars on a bunch of tracks, making live performances more exhilarating than you might expect.  

Where to see Arlo Parks: 

Glastonbury Festival 

Pilton, England 

June 26 – June 30 

Performing Wednesday, June 26 

Mad Cool Festival 

Madrid, Spain 

July 10 – July 13 

Performing Saturday, July 13 

Osheaga Music & Arts Festival 

Montréal, Canada 

Performing Friday, Aug. 2 

Thing Festival 

Carnation, Washington 

Performing Saturday, Aug. 10 

Palehound

Indie band Palehound got a shoutout from the New York Times for their 2023 single, “Independence Day,” a hopeful, if not deluded, breakup song with plucky guitar and a fun-to-chant chorus about “living life like writing a first draft.” Despite having a pretty major reach, Palehound, made up of El Kempner (they/them) Zoë Brecher, and Larz Brogan, is still a fairly DIY band, which makes them all the more fun to listen to, especially live.  

NICE, a fest  

Somerville, Massachusetts  

July 25 – 28 

Performing Saturday, July 28 

Hinterland Music Festival 

Saint Charles, Iowa 

Performing Sunday, Aug. 4 

End of the Road Festival 

Larmer Tree Gardens, United Kingdom 

Aug. 29 – Sept. 1 

Performing Saturday, Aug. 31 

Megan thee Stallion 

Despite people trying to keep her down, Megan Thee Stallion continues to rise and conquer, putting the work above everything else. As an independent artist, this feat is even more impressive, but the total creative control she benefits from has allowed for exciting opportunities of self-expression that align with all the things that make Meg one-of-a-kind.  

Her 2024 video for “BOA” let the self-proclaimed anime nerd tap into her geek side, rich with references to her favorite animated shows and video games. And if you’ve seen any of her tour outfits lately–you know that you don’t wanna miss the chance to catch her at a festival this summer.  

Where to see Megan Thee Stallion: 

Bonnaroo  

Manchester, Tennessee  

Performing Sunday, June 16 

Broccoli City Festival 

Washington, D.C. 

July 27 – July 28 

Performing Saturday, July 27

Doechii 

Self-proclaimed “Swamp Princess” Doechii is one of the most exciting new artists of her time, seamlessly blending house influences and smooth R&B vocals with hip-hop beats and clever raps. She’s not afraid to have fun, either, especially when it comes to self-expression in her stylistic choices. Her surrealist music videos have garnered her praise and comparisons to legends like Missy Elliott, but despite all the influences, Doechii is truly one of a kind.  

Where to see Doechii: 

Outloud Festival  

Los Angeles, California 

Performing Saturday, June 1 

The Governor’s Ball  

Queens, New York  

Performing Saturday, June 8 

Tinashe

Tinashe has been around for years, but she’s having a renaissance at the moment thanks to her new single “Nasty,” a sexy bop for the summer which has inspired viral dance trends on TikTok. The multi-talented singer is also a hell of a dancer herself, and her live shows give her the perfect opportunity to show off her moves. If you get the chance to catch her at a festival this summer, don’t pass it up.  

Where to see Tinashe:  

Nashville Pride 

Nashville, Tennessee 

Performing Saturday, June 22 

Open’er Festival 

Gdynia, Poland 

Performing Wednesday, July 3 

Underscores

No music festival bill is complete without a dubstep-adjacent artist, and Underscores is here to fill the gap with her Skrillex-inspired beats. A self-taught producer and vocalist, Underscores started playing around with making beats and loops as a kid, graduating to GarageBand before releasing music at just 13 years old.  

Now 24, she’s been officially releasing music for over a decade, showing off her wide range of influences in eclectic tracks that have hints of bedroom pop, hyperpop, emo, metal, and of course, dubstep. While her production is unique and stellar, her topical and tongue-in-cheek lyrics are not to be overlooked, either.  

Where to see Underscores: 

The Governor’s Ball  

Queens, New York  

Performing Friday, June 7 

Conan Gray

After rising to fame on TikTok in 2020 with his soft and sad unrequited love anthem, “Heather,” Conan Gray has kept the momentum going by not being afraid to try new things. His latest album, Found Heaven, is full of '80s new wave inspired synth pop, offering him a new slate to show off some powerhouse vocals. It also features production and writing assistance from powerhouse producer/songwriter Max Martin, elevating Conan’s sound to new levels that are good for more than just TikTok soundbites.  

Where to see Conan Gray: 

 Lollapalooza  

Chicago, Illinois 

Performing Sunday, Aug. 4 

Music Festivals 2024 Guide: Lineups & Dates For Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo & Much More 

PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices

Shaboozey Press Photo 2024
Shaboozey

Photo: Daniel Prakopcyk

interview

Shaboozey On His New Album, Beyoncé & Why He'll Never Be A "Stereotypical" Artist

After Beyoncé introduced Shaboozey to a global audience via 'COWBOY CARTER,' his genre-shattering third album arrives on the wings of his own international smash, "A Bar Song (Tipsy)" and makes a declaration: 'Where I've Been, Isn't Where I'm Going.'

GRAMMYs/May 31, 2024 - 03:40 pm

The last two months have been monumental for Shaboozey. On March 29, Beyoncé fans around the world embraced his two guest collaborations on her COWBOY CARTER album, "SPAGHETTII" and "SWEET HONEY BUCKIIN'" — and they were instantly interested in what else the Nigerian-American singer had to offer. According to his label, EMPIRE, Spotify listens of Shaboozey's music (including his first two albums, 2018's Lady Wrangler and 2022's Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die) rose by 1000 percent after COWBOY CARTER dropped.

Six weeks later, his growing fandom sent his breakthrough single, "A Bar Song (Tipsy)," to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country chart — ironically, dethroning Queen Bey's "Texas Hold 'Em" in the process. The song instantly proved to have crossover appeal, also peaking at No. 3 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart, along with reaching the top spot on pop charts in Australia, Canada, Norway, and Sweden.

With his third album, Where I've Been, Isn't Where I'm Going, the man born Collins Chibueze is eager for audiences new and old to get a deeper look into his ever-evolving artistry, which he's been honing for more than a decade. He leans into country and the soundtrack of the open road on "Highway" and "Vegas," while also tapping into his talent as an MC on "Drink Don't Need No Mix" with Texas rapper BigXthaPlug. He displays a softer side, too, with tracks like "My Fault," an apologetic and pleading country ballad performed with Noah Cyrus, and "Steal Her From Me," which finds Shaboozey smoldering with his own Southern slow jam.

Shaboozey's massive global recognition may be fresh, but he's here to remind listeners that he's not a new artist. In a candid interview with GRAMMY.com, the singer discusses how he's put in a decade of hard work in order to appear to be an overnight success.

You've topped the country charts as well as pop charts around the world. Do you think we are witnessing a more welcoming era in country music right now?

I think it's definitely a lot more welcoming. All these genres of music now, just because of the internet age and the access to information — like, now I can go watch Tubi, which has thousands of Western movies, and then Spotify, I can jump from listening to a Townes Van Zandt album or a Leonard Cohen album, and then I can go play Future, you know what I mean?

And then I can jump from them, and go listen to The Marías, who are friends of mine. I can listen to some indie rock music, and then I can listen to some Fred again.. or something like that. So having all that at your fingertips, I think, it's allowed for some interesting combinations in all genres of music.

I think we're the generation of paint splatter! I do think it is very welcoming. As artists we are able to connect. We can have our own micro communities. There's not just one way to connect with people now, there are so many other ways. It's different out there now, it's really different.

You're releasing your second album with EMPIRE — how has the company helped you to develop?

EMPIRE has been super awesome. I was signed to Republic for a while, for a year or two, and I saw some article where it talked about Universal partnering with EMPIRE to handle some distribution stuff. I remember talking to my manager at the time, and being like, "We should go there!"

Major labels can get pretty cluttered. Sometimes they just don't have the bandwidth to develop acts that aren't going to take off in a couple weeks or a month or a quarter. They have these quarterlies they have to meet.

So for an artist like me, who is — a lot of people like to describe me as disruptive. It's weird to describe yourself as that. I'm just being me, and people are like, "That's disruptive." But for someone like me, who's like that, it's very important for me to be innovative and push things, and change the way people consume.

I never came in the game wanting to be stereotypical, or just your usual artist. I came in just trying to be like, Man, I love art. I love being creative and that's what I am. Sometimes that's hard to package to everyone. It's like, what is it? For major labels, sometimes, they love to be like, this is pop, this is country, this is just that.

And so for EMPIRE to bring me into what they had going on, and to stick with me within these three or four years I've been with them, knowing that there has been a lot of ups and downs. There've been a lot of [times] that we thought were going to do something that [we] didn't. Because it's a process with artistry, it doesn't happen overnight. They say it takes 10 years to have an overnight success, and it's true.

Your new album flows so well. Was it written to be taken in as one complete piece?

I'm a lover of a concept album. I love film, I love stories, I love payoffs. I love the hero's journey, they call it.

There is a way to tell a story in a three-act structure. And within those structures you have your rising action, you have your hero's call to action. They lead the world, you have your climax, and then you have, was the hero changed? Did they get the thing they were looking for at the end of it?

I'm a huge fan of film, huge on concepts, world building. I want something to feel immersive, so arrangement is big to me.

But before, I used to be super picky about [ensuring that] everything needs to connect, and I had to learn to let that go and just know that that's a part of me as an artist. As I create, I'm telling these stories naturally, so I stopped being too hard on myself about things needing to connect because that would cripple me at certain points. But now, again, I'm just learning how to let it go, and let it come naturally. It's cool to see that people are still saying with this project that there's still a concept there. And I'm like, oh, there is still a concept there. There is still a story.

My last project [Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die] was super inspired by western films. Old western films, like, spaghetti westerns, and the whole nature of outlaw, just like period piece western culture. So I was huge on everything needing to feel like it was period. It needed to feel like this 1800s western, and this Black outlaw and his gang.

Obviously, I wanted the [visual] content to reflect that. And then you're realizing…  Wait, every video shoot I'm having to rent western wardrobe and chaps? It's a lot to do all the time, you know? It was a commitment… and I don't wear that everyday, so it wasn't really 100 percent being authentically myself in that moment. It was like, I'm creating a character and this character is separate from me.

That's hard to do all the time. Especially when it's a period piece in the 1800s and you're in 2024. So at some point I was like, hey, I want this project to be more like, I can put something on in my closet and go shoot some content, versus having to find a western town, or a world or environment that fits the 1800s.

Do you think that Beyoncé was inspired by that album?

I definitely think so. I think that's what was cool about her project, and her entry into country. I saw a lot of similarities between the things that inspired us.

What I love about country is, I really love the old stuff that really does play into the old West, the Wild West — and I saw that Beyoncé, she would talk about little things like that, too. Like the outlaws, hangmen and six shooters, and stuff like that. So you can see that she's really inspired by that stuff as well. I was told by her team that she would definitely watch a lot of old Western films through the process of doing her project.

How has the Beyhive treated you since you appeared on COWBOY CARTER?

I love that community. Seriously, that community, they've been extremely supportive from what I've seen, because Beyoncé's message has been about shining light on people that may have been overlooked. So they definitely carry out the mission of supporting the people that Beyoncé supports. They've been amazing.

I would like to say that early on with "Bar Song," they were definitely pre-saving it, they were sharing it as much as they could on Twitter, and there were a lot of posts that I was making that were getting high viewership. You could tell that there were a lot of impressions before the "Bar Song" came out. So they're great.

Did you ever think you'd be on an album with Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton?

I hoped for those things when I was creating my album. I wanted to see more hip-hop artists collaborating with people like that. I was always like, man, if I was given a $10 million budget to make a project, I'd get Willie Nelson or Hank Williams Jr. or someone like that to jump on it. I want to see something like that.

As someone whose parents grew up in Nigeria, what do you think of the global breakthrough of Nigerian artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid?

It's amazing to see. Afrobeat is definitely universal now, global like that. I think Wizkid was one of the pioneers of getting that music across the water in such a way. Burna Boy, too — if you check out his aesthetic, it's influenced by a lot of different things. He's not just wearing traditional Nigerian garments, he's wearing designer stuff, and he's got the jewelry pieces and Cartier. It's presented in a way that that style of music wasn't really represented [before] in that sense.

I lived in Nigeria for a year or two, and when I was there, there was no wifi or the internet. Now I go back and my cousins are on Netflix and on Instagram and all these places. So yeah, everything is spreading out. But as far as Afrobeat, I mean, that music is incredible, the production. It's so infectious when you hear it, but it's cool to see people of Nigerian descent, me as well, having our reach everywhere.

Davido, he reached out to me a couple days ago, he's like, "I need you to get on this record." There's a lot of Nigerian artists now that are hitting me up, and are like, "Hey, will you jump on this, will you jump on that?" I'm hearing some of those guys are trying to get into country music. It's cool to kind of have my own Burna Boy moment right now!

The new album sounds like you really worked on developing your voice as an instrument, with more singing than rapping. Is that a fair assumption?

Yeah. Being from Virginia, we didn't have those outlets to kind of hone in on. I didn't have a vocal coach, or a songwriting program, or anything like that. We kind of had to figure it out on our own.

I think that's why you have so many artists that come from Virginia where they're all very eclectic, they all have this kind of rawness to them. Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Pharrell, even Tommy Richman. He's got that song going crazy viral too. You know the song, the "Million Dollar Baby" song. It's a guy singing falsetto [like] Bee Gees over a hip-hop beat. I'm like, where did you learn to structure a song like this?

This album was that project for me. My manager here [told me] it's working, because I'm learning how to arrange music and write songs that have a broader appeal, but I didn't know that at the time. We were just having fun, just learning how to do it with whatever resources we had. It can get kind of funky.

I think my first project was very funky, and then this one was [made after] 10 years of being in it. You start to figure it out a little bit more.

Beyond Country: All The Genres Beyoncé Explores On 'Cowboy Carter'

Atarashii Gakko!, Ikura of Yoasobi, Hiroa Fukuda and Moeka Shiotsuka of Hitsuji Bungaku, King Gnu
(Clockwise from upper left): Atarashii Gakko!, Ikura of Yoasobi, Hiroa Fukuda and Moeka Shiotsuka of Hitsuji Bungaku, King Gnu

Photos: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Dana Jacobs/Getty Images, Justin Shin/Getty Images, Gene Wang/Getty Images

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10 Neo J-Pop Artists Breaking The Mold In 2024: Fujii Kaze, Kenshi Yonezu & Others

Japan’s domestic pop market has incredible depth and growing Western interest. From Vocaloid acts to anime-centric productions and a plethora of genre-bending releases, the country's musicians and solo artists are breaking ground and making noise.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2024 - 01:38 pm

At this year’s Coachella, Japan’s music industry made a statement: out with the old, in with the new. Where previous years hosted legacy acts like Utada Hikaru and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, up-and-coming hitmakers YOASOBI and cult favorites Atarashii Gakkou! played to sizable crowds in 2024. They represent just the tip of the iceberg for Japanese musicians touring stateside: J-R&B star Fujii Kaze will tour the country this month, and numerous acts have seen exposure abroad thanks to anime soundtrack work and streaming playlists such as Spotify’s Gatcha Pop.

Anime, by far the country’s biggest cultural export, is a major factor in Japan’s music industry, with songs composed for animated films, TV, and streaming projects — and to a lesser extent video games — making up a growing number of the country’s most dominant pop hits. "Anison," or anime songs, have become extremely prestigious commissions for the country’s pop musicians, especially for younger artists who have seen anime gain traction both in Japan and internationally. 

That younger generation is now taking control of the charts, and making inroads into international markets by leaning into what makes their music and culture unique. For musicians like Kenshi Yonezu, vocal synthesizer software Vocaloid allowed them to develop their own musical voice on their own terms. The most famous Vocaloid artist, Hatsune Miku, also played Coachella this year as a video-projected anime avatar. There’s also remarkable freedom to play with genre in J-pop. Acts freely swap between sounds —from alternative rock to funky city pop, or R&B to electro-pop — in the span of a few songs. 

These factors have made Japan’s domestic pop market one of the most interesting to watch in the world. It’s gotten to the point where top English-language artists aren’t seeing the success they used to in the country, largely because the Japanese public has shifted its attention toward Korean and domestic artists. For Westerners, Japan can seem like another world, and this is especially true for its music scene. 

To bridge the gap, GRAMMY.com has created a primer to 10 of Japan’s most interesting new acts. Who knows, you might just see them stateside soon. 

Ado

Japan isn’t exactly a happy country. Social pressure is high, the economy has been stagnant for years even before its current monetary crisis and its brutal work culture is not exactly the envy of the world. Young people often feel as though they have nothing to look forward to but misery, so when someone comes along and says it’s okay to tell the adults in your life to f— off, it resonates.

This is essentially how 22-year-old singer Ado (born 2002) became the voice of Gen Z. Late in 2020 amid the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, she burst onto the J-pop scene with "Useewa," a rock-centric track composed by Vocaloid producer Syudou whose title translates, roughly, to "Shut the f— up." Detailing the angst of having to grin and bear the conformity of adulthood and the satisfaction of rejecting it, the song clearly struck a chord with young people in Japan. The song’s brash lyrics also sparked a moral panic from parents and the media over its anti-conformist message.

Ado’s charismatic, fiery vocal delivery, coupled with a nasty anime visual, really sells the whole package, making it a rage-filled counterpart to YOASOBI’s similarly disaffected "Yoru ni Kakeru." 

"Usseewa" topped the Billboard Japan Hot 100, the Oricon Digital Singles and Streaming charts, and the Spotify Viral 50 Japan. The video reached 100 million views on YouTube within 150 days of release. Ado has since earned more hits, furthering her wild persona with the even louder and wilder "Show." She also earned a starring role as a singer in One Piece Film: Red, the most recent theatrical installment of the biggest manga franchise in the world. 

Atarashii Gakko! 

There’s a saying in Japan about the risks of refusing to conform to society’s expectations: "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." When it comes to finding success on the international music market, however, the opposite seems to be true. The world loves Japan when it’s at its zaniest and most distinctive, and artists that lean into this are often able to build a following abroad.

Case in point: A rapping girl group wearing vintage-inspired sailor-suit school uniforms called Atarashii Gakko! (translation: New School). The group just played Coachella and, prior, performed on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." To be sure, a lot of the foursome’s appeal is in the visual department. The group’s wild, Beastie Boys-esque video for "Tokyo Calling" pairs their sukeban girl gang-style outfits with a plethora of retro visual references: kaiju films like Godzilla, Super Sentai, even Bollywood-style dance. Musically, they’re just as mixed up, having taken on ‘80s city pop in "Otonablue" as well as adding to Japan’s legacy of unique hip-hop on "NAI NAI NAI." 

The group’s ethos since forming in 2015 has been to shine a new path for Japan’s youth by embracing individuality and nonconformity, and it’s paid dividends so far. Their new album, AG! Calling, is set for release June 7.

Creepy Nuts

There’s a lot of bizarre, potentially conflicting elements in Creepy Nuts’ hit song "Bling-Bang-Bang-Born." There’s the sound-effect-bubble title, the anarchic rapping of vocalist R-Shitei, and producer DJ Matsunaga’s use of a Jersey Club beat (a trend with forward-thinking East Asian pop acts). There’s also the fact that it was composed for an anime about…wizards with muscles

In any case, the theme song for the TV anime "Mashle: Magic and Muscles" has pulled some chart magic of its own, topping the Billboard Japan Hot 100 for eight weeks straight earlier this year, largely thanks to the viral "BBBB dance" challenge. The duo have also taken the song worldwide, reaching No. 8 on Billboard U.S.’s Global 200 and performing the song on Global Spin. If you want to find the biggest J-Pop hit of this exact moment, look no further. 

Fujii Kaze

Raised in small-town Okayama prefecture in the western reaches of Japan, Fujii Kaze is being positioned as the next big artist to emerge from the country. He toured Asia in 2023 and will come to America this May; he also launched the Japanese version of Tiny Desk Concerts earlier this year. He’s also been working with international talent, such as Kendrick Lamar and 21 Savage producer DJ Dahi on the piano-driven hip-hop track "Workin’ Hard."

The video for "Matsuri," in which Fujii (the artist lists his surname first) traipses around a Japanese garden and parties with foreigners at a traditional mansion, feels almost like a tourist advertisement for the country, projecting an image of refined, effortless Japanese cool. Recent song "Hana," produced by Charli XCX and Utada Hikaru collaborator A. G. Cook, feels even more like a play for the international market with a ‘70s California soft rock backing track and a visual that puts Fujii on a journey through the desert.

Herein lies the secret to Fujii Kaze’s appeal: he’s hot and cool at the same time. His success is predicated not just on good looks and buttery croon, but on a smooth, easygoing persona that feels native and international at the same time. "Matsuri," with its chill yet glamorous R&B production and can’t-be-bothered lyrics ("there’s no reason to suffer / no need to be disappointed / I really couldn’t care less") exemplifies his laid-back mentality. He’s also, notably, shunned the anime market, preferring to put his songs in basketball promos and telecoms commercials – anime is cool enough for Megan Thee Stallion but not for Fujii, it seems. 

Hitsujibungaku

Just as grunge reignited America’s love of rock music in the ‘90s, Japan also embraced guitar-oriented, pop-rock in the same decade thanks to bands like B’z, Number Girl, Southern All-Stars, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, and Visual Kei groups like L’Arc-en-Ciel and X Japan. As the U.S. began to embrace hip-hop and dance-pop in the 2000s, rock and metal persisted in the Japanese mainstream. New bands continue to perform at "live house" venues in hip areas like Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood, while groups playing niche styles like math rock, shoegaze, and metalcore have found support. CHAI, tricot, Alexandros, Otoboke Beaver, and Official Hige Dandism are just a few bands that have emerged from this milieu in recent years to success at home and abroad.

Tokyo-based trio Hitsujibungaku offers a good starting point of where Japan’s rock scene is going. The majority-female group found success on the anime song circuit last year, delivering the end credits track for mega-popular TV anime "Jujutsu Kaisen." "More than words" which became the lead single for their recent album 12 hugs like butterflies, immediately stuck out for its shuffling, nostalgic melody, and evocative, fuzzy layering of guitar tone influenced by shoegaze. 

Kenshi Yonezu

More than most mega-successful J-pop artists, Kenshi Yonezu owes his success to the Vocaloid and internet music communities in which he forged his artistry. Raised in rural Tokushima, he began his career as a teenager in the late 2000s, uploading music to the video site Nico Nico Douga under the name Hachi, and soon found his most successful tracks were the ones that used Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku. Like many artists in the digital age, Yonezu’s early work was entirely DIY, as thanks to Vocaloid he was able to produce, write, and even design artwork for his music all on his own.

Eventually, Yonezu signed to a major label and began to split time between his Vocaloid tracks as Hachi and music made under his own name. His album Bootleg won Album Of THe Year at the Japan Record Awards in 2018, and he became known for tender, uptempo ballads like "Uchiage Hanabi" and "Lemon" (the latter of which still reigns as the most-viewed video by a Japanese musician on YouTube with over 800 million views). 

Two high profile anime commissions have driven Yonezu’s star beyond Japan. In 2022, he produced the opening theme for the highly-anticipated adaptation of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s acclaimed manga Chainsaw Man. "Kick Back" departed from Yonezu’s biggest hits by leaning into the show’s action premise with drum and bass beats and an aggressive guitar melody. Buoyed by the anime’s success, "Kick Back" topped the Oricon and Billboard Japan singles charts and even charted in the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., where it became the first Japanese-language song to be certified gold by the RIAA. 

Then in 2023, he produced and sang "Spinning Globe," the end credits theme for Hayao Miyazaki’s first film in a decade, The Boy and the Heron. It was the first time the anime auteur, who usually uses older pop music or score from usual composer Joe Hisaishi, had chosen a contemporary pop artist to write for him. 

King Gnu

King Gnu aren’t afraid to mix it up. They gained acclaim in Japan by pursuing a pop rock sound that’s one part city pop, one part hip-hop. Tracks like "Hakujutsu" and "Kasa" pair sick riffs and boogie basslines with turntable scratching and delicate, yet powerful vocals from Daiki Tsuneta and Satoru Iguchi.

Last year they scored a major hit with "Specialz," which was used as an opening theme for popular anime "Jujutsu Kaisen." Setting the mood for the show’s bleak second season with metallic techno drums and brawny guitar riffs, the menacing song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100 and currently has over 166 million Spotify streams. Tsuneta also leads the collective millennium parade, who lean toward electronic music and scored a hit with "U," from the Mamoru Hosoda musical anime BELLE

MAISONdes

Conceptual projects are much more common in the Japanese pop landscape than one might expect. Case in point: MAISONdes. While not a band or a collective, MAISONdes is an imaginary apartment building where lonely hearts find solace in song. The virtual building is accessible through a website, and each song produced for the project is assigned a room number and created by a randomly-paired team of producers and vocalists that changes with each track. Participants have included chart star Aimer and VTubers such as KAF and Hoshimachi Suisei. 

Too complicated? Too weird? At least the music is good, focused on high-energy electro pop reminiscent of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, idol pop, and the Vocaloid, anisong, and netlabel acts of recent decades. As such, the most high-profile MAISONdes tracks have been those produced for anime and promotional campaigns. They’ve done all the opening and ending themes for the recent TV anime reboot of classic comedy manga "Urusei Yatsura," and their most recent track, "Popcorn" was a collab with Sanrio celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hello Kitty, one of the original kawaii culture icons. The hyperactive song gained a million views on YouTube within three days of being posted. 

Vaundy

City pop — the ‘70s and ‘80s musical movement that blended American funk and AOR with disco and synthpop — looms large in the J-pop landscape. Although its revival has somewhat peaked following the pandemic, that hasn’t stopped guys like Vaundy from channeling the sound into their own music.

His breakout hit "Tokyo Flash" paired the grooves of the city pop era with a more down-to-earth arrangement with simpler production. Further attempts to modernize the sound have also found success: "Todome no Ichigeki," written for the popular anime "Spy x Family," featured a grand, orchestral instrumental and a guest verse from rapper Cory Wong. With romantic lyrics reminiscent of City Pop king Tatsuro Yamashita, it’s a true return to the retro style. 

Of course, like most J-pop musicians, Vaundy isn’t a stylistic purist. He’s also applied his confident vocal style to several brisk rock tracks, resulting in chart success. His heavy metal jam for the Chainsaw Man TV anime soundtrack, "CHAINSAW BLOOD," peaked at 13 on the Billboard Japan Hot 100, while the poppier "Kaijuu no Hana Uta" went to No. 2 after he performed the song on the "2022 Kohaku Uta Gassen" New Year’s Eve show. 

YOASOBI

Inarguably the focal point of contemporary J-pop, no other act has defined the current era in Japan more than YOASOBI. The duo of Ayase and Ikura burst onto the scene in 2019 with the song "Yoru ni Kakeru," based on a short story posted on the site Monogatary. Pairing an upbeat instrumental with bleak, literary lyrics about death and suicide, it’s the most unlikely of pop hits. Released in late 2019, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip Japan a few months before the rest of the world. "Yoru ni Kakeru" became a massive, award-winning smash. Billboard Japan named it the first song in its chart history to pass 1 billion streams, and Oricon named it the most-streamed song of the Reiwa era just last month. 

Read more: From Tokyo To Coachella: YOASOBI's Journey To Validate J-Pop And Vocaloid As Art Forms

Since then the band have become major hitmakers and fixtures of the anison production line, writing theme tracks for hit anime like "Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury" and "Frieren: Journey’s End." They scored another era-defining hit with "Idol," their opening song for the controversial 2023 showbiz satire "Oshi no Ko." Responding to the anime’s twisted tale of a mysterious J-pop idol with dark secrets, the duo paired a bombastic instrumental with lyrics that perfectly capture the cardinal rule of stardom: tell all and reveal nothing. 

The song became such a cultural phenomenon in Japan that YOASOBI performed it at last year’s "Kohaku Uta Gassen" New Year’s TV special flanked by dozens of J-Pop and K-Pop idols, including members of NewJeans, LE SSERAFIM, and Nogizaka46. 

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