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Poll: Let Us Know What You Think About The Best Progressive R&B Album Category Name Change

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Poll: Let Us Know What You Think About The Best Progressive R&B Album Category Name Change

Last week, the Recording Academy announced several category name changes, including for Best Urban Contemporary Album, has been renamed to Best Progressive R&B Album

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2020 - 09:58 pm

Last week, on June 10, the Recording Academy announced updates to the GRAMMY Awards guidelines, including name changes and updates for several categories. One of the four name changes, Best Urban Contemporary Album has been renamed to Best Progressive R&B Album, and we want to know what you think about it.

The changes were approved by the board in May and came from ongoing conversations with the Recording Academy's members. The aforementioned category was updated to offer "a more accurate definition to describe the merit or characteristics of music compositions or performances themselves within the genre of R&B. This category is intended to highlight albums that include the more progressive elements of R&B and may include samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance, and electronic music. It may also incorporate production elements found in pop, euro-pop, country, rock, folk and alternative."

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"I'm excited to announce our latest changes, as we're constantly evaluating our Awards process and evolving it to ensure the GRAMMY Awards are inclusive and reflect the current state of the music industry," Harvey Mason Jr., Chair & Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy, explained. "The Academy accepts proposals for rule changes from members of the music community throughout the year that are carefully reviewed and, if accepted, ultimately ratified at our annual Board meeting, a process that we are proud to have continued in this challenging year."

The removal of the umbrella term "urban" from the category comes several days after Warner Music and Republic Records (both under Universal Music Group) revealed they would no longer use the term. The newly established Black Music Coalition of U.K. music executives, inspired by the emerging #TheShowMustBePaused movement in the U.S., called for the removal of the term "urban" from music industry language in an open letter pushing for "a legacy of lasting change."

"Urban contemporary" was coined by Black New York radio DJ Frankie Crocker in 1974 to encompass the broad mix of music by Black artists he played—R&B, funk, disco, hip-hop and more—and to attract advertising dollars from white businesses.

At the 2020 GRAMMYs earlier this year, Lizzo's Cuz I Love You (Deluxe) won Best Urban Contemporary Album. Two of the album's singles, "Truth Hurts" and "Jerome" also won, for Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Traditional R&B Performance, respectively.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Adele Urges That Beyoncé's "Monumental" 'Lemonade' Should've Won Album Of The Year In 2017
Adele at the 2017 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Phil McCarten/CBS via Getty Images

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GRAMMY Rewind: Adele Urges That Beyoncé's "Monumental" 'Lemonade' Should've Won Album Of The Year In 2017

Before Adele and Beyoncé find out who will win Album Of The Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs, revisit the emotional moment when Adele pleaded for Beyoncé's album 'Lemonade' to take home the golden gramophone instead of her own '25' in 2017.

GRAMMYs/Feb 3, 2023 - 06:00 pm

The 2017 GRAMMYs were a massive night for Adele, who swept all five categories for which she was nominated. But when she was crowned the Album Of The Year winner, the "Hello" singer couldn't help but argue that Beyoncé deserved it.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, revisit the emotional moment between Adele and Beyoncé as the British star claimed her Album Of The Year GRAMMY for 25. After thanking her collaborators for their encouragement to release 25 and calling the win "full-circle," Adele choked up as she acknowledged Beyoncé's Lemonade that was also nominated in the category.

"I can't possibly accept this award. And I'm very humbled, and I'm very grateful and gracious, but my artist of my life is Beyoncé," Adele said as she held back tears. "This album was so monumental, and so well-thought-out and so beautiful and soul-bearing…and all us artists here, we f—ing adore you."

The heartfelt acknowledgement had the crowd roaring, but most poignantly brought Beyoncé to tears as she mouthed "I love you" to Adele. (Lemonade did get some GRAMMY love that night, winning Best Urban Contemporary Album and lead single "Formation" won Best Music Video.)

There could be another powerful Adele/Beyoncé moment at the 2023 GRAMMYs, as the two are once again nominated for Album Of The Year, as well as Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year.

Press play on the video above to watch Adele's tearful acceptance speech. Keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of GRAMMY Rewind, and make sure to tune into CBS on Feb. 5 to watch the 2023 GRAMMYs.

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A Timeline Of Beyoncé's GRAMMY Moments, From Her First Win With Destiny's Child to Making History With 'Renaissance'
(L-R): Beyoncé in 2004, 2008, 2013, 2017, 2021

Photos {L-R): Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images, Kevin Mazur/WireImage, Jason Merritt/Getty Images, Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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A Timeline Of Beyoncé's GRAMMY Moments, From Her First Win With Destiny's Child to Making History With 'Renaissance'

If Beyoncé wins four of the nine GRAMMYs she's nominated for at the 2023 GRAMMYs, she'll become the artist with the most GRAMMYs ever. Before the big night, take a look at her record-breaking 22-year history at the GRAMMY Awards.

GRAMMYs/Jan 31, 2023 - 04:00 pm

Two years after making GRAMMY history, Beyoncé could do it again at the 2023 GRAMMYs. She is currently tied with her husband, Jay-Z, for having the most nominations ever — 88 in total — and just four wins on Feb. 5 will make her the artist with the most GRAMMYs of all time.

While the 2023 GRAMMYs could potentially be her most memorable, Beyoncé has created an extensive history of GRAMMY moments. She has delivered epic live performances on her own and alongside icons like Prince and Tina Turner, and she's taken home six GRAMMYs in one night. And even if she doesn't win four awards on Feb. 5, Beyoncé already claims the title of most GRAMMYs won by a woman.

Starting from her first nominations with Destiny's Child in 2000, take a trip through Beyoncé's most memorable and impactful moments at Music's Biggest Night.

2000 — 42nd GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal and Best Rhythm & Blues Song ("Bills, Bills, Bills") with Destiny's Child

Beyoncé's first red carpet appearance at the GRAMMYs was with fellow Destiny's Child members Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin (who was only part of the group for six months). The iteration of the group that was there that day was not the same group that received two nominations for "Bills, Bills, Bills" — that distinction goes to Beyoncé, Rowland, LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson

Beyoncé, Luckett and Rowland co-wrote the track with producer Kevin "She'kspeare" Briggs and Xscape singer Kandi Burruss, the latter of whom coincidentally won the GRAMMY for Best Rhythm & Blues Song that year for co-writing TLC's "No Scrubs" with Tameka "Tiny" Cottle.

2001 — 43rd GRAMMY Awards

Destiny's Child

Photo: Steve Granitz / Contributor / Getty Images

Wins: Best R&B Song ("Say My Name"), Best R&B Performance By A Duo or Group With Vocal ("Say My Name")

Nominations: Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year ("Say My Name"), Best Song Written For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media ("Independent Women Part I" From Charlie's Angels)

The first GRAMMY red carpet as a trio with Roland and Williams, the group wore matching silky gowns on the red carpet and "Survivor"-era green outfits backstage, all designed by Beyoncé's mother, Tina Knowles. 

Destiny's Child took home their first GRAMMYs that night, for Best R&B Performance By A Duo or Group With Vocal and Best R&B Song for "Say My Name," which was also nominated for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. 

Beyoncé also earned a Best Song Written For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media nomination for Destiny's Child's contribution to the 2000 film Charlie's Angels, "Independent Women Part I," which she co-wrote.

2002 — 44th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal ("Survivor")

Nominations: Best R&B Album (Survivor)

Performance: "Quisiera Ser" with Alejandro Sanz

Destiny's Child's first performance at the GRAMMYs was to duet with Latin star Alejandro Sanz on "Quisiera Ser." They provided supporting vocals and Beyoncé added some English lyrics to his Spanish song. 

The group's own international hit "Survivor," an anthem about thriving as the trio, won a GRAMMY for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, and the Survivor album was nominated for Best R&B Album.

2004 — 46th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance ("Dangerously In Love 2"), Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals ("The Closer I Get To You") with Luther Vandross, Best R&B Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Crazy In Love"), Best Contemporary R&B Album (Dangerously In Love)

Nominations: Record Of The Year ("Crazy In Love")

Performance: "Purple Rain," "Baby I'm a Star," "Let's Go Crazy" and "Crazy In Love" with Prince

After dazzling in a gold Tina Knowles dress on the red carpet, Beyoncé opened the show alongside Prince with a medley of his hits "Purple Rain," "Let's Go Crazy" and "Baby I'm a Star," with a dash of her own "Crazy In Love." 

She accepted her first five GRAMMYs as a solo artist, including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Dangerously In Love 2" — which she also performed — Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals for "The Closer I Get To You" with Luther Vandross, Best Contemporary R&B Album for Dangerously In Love and two wins for "Crazy In Love" (Best R&B Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration). 

2005 — 47th GRAMMY Awards

Nomination: Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals ("Lose My Breath")

Destiny's Child celebrated another global smash earning a GRAMMY nomination with "Lose My Breath." The lead single from Destiny Fulfilled — their final studio album — received a nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals. 

Beyoncé and Rowland co-produced "Lose My Breath" with hitmakers Rodney Jerkins (who also helmed "Say My Name" and "Cater 2 U" from Destiny Fulfilled), and Sean Garrett, who later co-produced Bey solo singles including "Check On It," "Get Me Bodied," "Ring The Alarm" and "Upgrade U" with Swizz Beatz.

2006 — 48th GRAMMY Awards

Win: Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals ("So Amazing") with Stevie Wonder

Nominations: Best Contemporary R&B Album (Destiny Fulfilled), Best Female R&B Vocal Performance ("Wishing On A Star"), Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals ("Cater 2 U"), Best R&B Song ("Cater 2 U"), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Soldier")

Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder won a GRAMMY for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals for "So Amazing," a cover of the song Luther Vandross wrote for Dionne Warwick in 1983 and recorded himself three years later. Bey also received a solo nomination for her cover of Rose Royce's "Wishing On A Star" on her Live at Wembley album. 

Meanwhile, Destiny's Child closed out their time as a group with four more nominations, bringing their career total to 14. Although the group had announced in June 2005 that they would be disbanding to pursue solo ventures, they assembled on the GRAMMY stage one last time — igniting eruptive applause — to present the golden gramophone for Song Of The Year, which went to U2 for "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own."

2007 — 49th GRAMMY Awards

Win: Best Contemporary R&B Album (B'Day)

Nominations: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance ("Ring The Alarm"), Best R&B Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Deja Vu")

Performance: "Listen" 

Beyoncé performed "Listen," her original song that she also sang as the lead role of Deena Jones in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls.

She went home a GRAMMY winner again that night, as her second album, B'Day, was victorious as Best Contemporary R&B Album. Two of the album's singles earned nominations as well: "Ring The Alarm" for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and "Deja Vu" for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

2008 — 50th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Compilation Soundtrack (Dreamgirls

Nominations: Record Of The Year ("Irreplaceable"), Best Pop Collaboration ("Beautiful Liar") with Shakira

Performance: "Proud Mary" with Tina Turner

Continuing her streak of performing live with legends at the GRAMMYs, Beyoncé joined Tina Turner onstage to sing a fierce rendition of "Proud Mary" and achieve one of her personal bucket-list moments. 

"She's my hero and my icon," she said of Turner at an after party. "It was crazy. I went in the room [after] and I just bawled because I couldn't believe it.”

Dreamgirls won Best Compilation Soundtrack that night, while "Irreplaceable" was nominated for Record Of The Year and "Beautiful Liar," her collaboration with Colombian star Shakira from B'Day, received a nomination for Best Pop Collaboration.

2009 — 51st GRAMMY Awards

Nomination: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance ("Me, Myself & I")

A top 10 hit that was co-produced by Beyoncé and Scott Storch, "Me, Myself & I" touts the benefits of self-care, of being one's "own best friend" and not taking the blame in the face of a partner's infidelity. The relatable song was nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

2010 — 52nd GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Song Of The Year, Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance ("Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"), Best Female Pop Vocal Performance ("Halo"), Best Contemporary R&B Album (I Am… Sasha Fierce), Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance ("At Last" from Cadillac Records: Music From The Motion Picture)

Nominations: Record Of The Year ("Halo"), Album Of The Year (I Am... Sasha Fierce), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Ego"), Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media ("Once In A Lifetime" from Cadillac Records: Music From The Motion Picture)

Performance: "If I Were a Boy" 

Backed by an army of male dancers, Beyoncé's live performance of "If I Were a Boy" included an even more unexpected moment. At the song's climax, she switched to the chorus from "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morrissette, the 1996 GRAMMY winner for Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

Bey won an impressive six GRAMMYs in 2010, including three for "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)." She also earned a nomination for her portrayal of Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, as Beyoncé's version of "At Last" won Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.

2011 — 53rd GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Female Pop Vocal Performance ("Halo (Live)"), Album Of The Year (The Fame Monster), Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals ("Telephone") with Lady Gaga

Several of Beyoncé's GRAMMY nominations have been for live songs as well as songs with other artists. At the 2011 GRAMMYs, she celebrated nominations for both: "Halo (Live)," which appears on the live album I Am… Yours: An Intimate Performance at Wynn Las Vegas, was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and her collaboration with Lady Gaga, "Telephone," earned Beyoncé two nominations. 

2012 — 54th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Party") and Best Longform Music Video (I Am… World Tour)

"Party," a duet with André 3000 from OutKast, is a highlight from Beyoncé's 4 album for its infectious chorus and the sheer rarity of scoring a verse from Three Stacks. The GRAMMYs recognized this dream team with a nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Bey also received her first-ever nomination in the Best Longform Music Video category for I Am…World Tour. The film includes her singing "If I Were a Boy" with a few measures of "You Oughta Know," just like she did in her 2010 GRAMMYs performance.

2013 — 55th GRAMMY Awards

Win: Best Traditional R&B Performance ("Love On Top")

Beyoncé's 17th GRAMMY win occurred in the Premiere Ceremony for the 2013 GRAMMYs, which she and husband Jay-Z did not attend. So when Jimmy Jam announced that Beyoncé had won Best Traditional R&B Performance for "Love On Top," he jokingly offered to drop off the GRAMMY along with the awards Jay-Z won at the ceremony.

"They live in the same place, it's all good," Jam smiled. "Economical!"

2014 — 56th GRAMMY Awards

Beyoncé and Jay-Z

Photo: Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images


Nomination: Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Part II (On The Run)") with Jay-Z

Performance: "Drunk In Love" with Jay-Z

Smoke billowed across the stage as Beyoncé opened the 2014 GRAMMYs with an intimate live performance of "Drunk In Love," joined by her husband Jay-Z for what may just be the sexiest performance of their careers.

Although "Drunk In Love" wasn't nominated until the following year, the couple did celebrate a nomination in 2014 for "Part II (On The Run)," from Jay's album Magna Carta Holy Grail. Backstage, Bey's long white Michael Costello gown got cameras clicking and slayed style watchers, a standout among all of her GRAMMY fits.

2015 — 57th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best R&B Performance ("Drunk In Love"), Best R&B Song ("Drunk In Love"), Best Surround Sound Album (Beyoncé)

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Beyoncé), Best Contemporary Album (Beyoncé), Best Music Film (Beyoncé and Jay-Z: On The Run Tour)

Performance: "Take My Hand, Precious Lord"

After the previous year's racy performance of "Drunk In Love" that opened the show, Beyoncé took a markedly more pious approach with her musical number in 2015. Backed by an all-male choir, she sang "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," a gospel classic written by Thomas A. Dorsey in 1932. In a now-deleted behind-the-scenes video posted on her website, she explained that the performance was meant as a statement around police brutality and civil unrest in the wake of the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, among others.

"My grandparents marched with Dr. King, and my father was part of the first generation of Black men that attended an all-white school," Beyoncé said. "My father has grown up with a lot of trauma from those experiences. I feel like now I can sing for his pain, I can sing for my grandparents' pain. I can sing for some of the families that have lost their sons."

During her three wins, fans saw her show some rare PDA with Jay-Z. The pair shared a kiss when they won Best R&B Performance for "Drunk In Love."

Two days after the 2015 GRAMMYs, Beyoncé also took part in a star-studded salute to Stevie Wonder for the CBS special "Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life — An All-Star Grammy Salute," which aired on Feb. 15, 2015. She sang a medley of "Fingertips," "Master Blaster" and "Higher Ground" alongside Ed Sheeran and Gary Clark Jr.

2016 — 58th GRAMMY Awards

In a year when she didn't have eligible work in the running, Beyoncé still made international waves when she appeared at the GRAMMYs in a white wedding-like gown. She wasn't there to get married, though — she presented the award for Record Of The Year to Bruno Mars for his hit song "Uptown Funk."

"Let's go, Beyoncé, let's do it!" Mars playfully yelled from the audience, just before she said his name.

2017 — 59th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Contemporary Urban Album (Lemonade), Best Music Video ("Formation")

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Lemonade), Best Music Film (Lemonade), Record Of The Year ("Formation"), Song Of The Year ("Formation"), Best Pop Solo Performance ("Hold Up"), Best Rock Performance ("Don't Hurt Yourself"), Best Rap/Sung Performance ("Freedom") 

Performance: "Love Drought" and "Sandcastles"

Beyoncé dressed like a goddess while pregnant with twins Rumi and Sir Carter to perform "Love Drought" and "Sandcastles," songs from her multi-nominated (and GRAMMY-winning) album and music film Lemonade. Her kids were at the forefront of her mind during her acceptance speech for Best Contemporary Urban Album.

"It's important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror — first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the GRAMMYs — and see themselves," she said.

Later, in an unexpected — and instantly viral — moment, Adele dedicated her acceptance speech for Album Of The Year to effusively praising Beyoncé and the Lemonade album, which was also nominated in the category.

"You are our light!" Adele exclaimed, calling Lemonade her album of the year.

2018 — 60th GRAMMY Awards

Nomination: Best Rap/Sung Performance ("Family Feud")

It was all in the family when Beyoncé, Jay-Z and their then 6-year-old daughter Blue Ivy Carter sat together at the GRAMMYs in 2018 — though Blue's parents were ironically nominated for a song called "Family Feud" from Jay's 4:44 album. In a clip that went viral, a camera caught Blue seemingly motioning for them to stop clapping. The world fell in love with her commanding presence at that very moment.

2019 — 61st GRAMMY Awards

Win: Best Urban Contemporary Album (Everything Is Love)

Nominations: Best R&B Performance ("Summer"), Best Music Video ("Apes<em></em>*")

Beyoncé's 2019 win and nominations were given for her collaborations with Jay-Z in their Everything Is Love album. The Carters won Best Urban Contemporary Album with the nine-song album, which they co-produced with Leon Michels and Cool & Dre. They also were nominated for Best R&B Performance for "Summer" as well as Best Music Video for "Apes<em></em>*," a bold piece which they filmed in front of the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Great Sphinx of Tanis and other seminal works displayed in Paris' Louvre.

2020 — 62nd GRAMMY Awards

Win: Best Music Film (Homecoming)

Nominations: Best Pop Solo Performance ("Spirit"), Best Song Written for Visual Media ("Spirit"), Best Pop Vocal Album (The Lion King: The Gift

Homecoming offers an intimate look at the best onstage and behind-the-scenes moments from Beyoncé's massive headline sets at Coachella in 2018. Performed over two consecutive weekends, her show at the Southern California desert festival pays homage to the great Southern bands from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). There's also a brief but thrilling Destiny's Child reunion, as well as plenty of Easter eggs for Southern rap fans in the form of instrumental and lyrical riffs and snippets weaved into her hits. 

Two additional nominations recognized her work for The Lion King: The Gift. She voiced Nala in the film.

2021 — 63rd GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best R&B Performance ("Black Parade"), Best Music Video ("Brown Skin Girl"), Best Rap Performance ("Savage") and Best Rap Song ("Savage") with Megan Thee Stallion

Nominations: Record Of The Year ("Savage") and Record Of The Year ("Savage") with Megan Thee Stallion, Best R&B Song and Song Of The Year ("Black Parade"), Best Music Film (Black Is King)

Beyoncé's Best R&B Performance win made her the performing artist with the most career GRAMMY wins in history. (She's tied with producer Quincy Jones, and Georg Solti, who has more wins, was a conductor and not a performer.) She also became the woman with the most GRAMMY wins that night.

During her acceptance speech, she shared that she's worked hard since she was 9 years old and congratulated her daughter — also 9 at the time — for scoring her first GRAMMY. Blue stars in the video for "Brown Skin Girl," the Best Music Video winner.

"It has been such a difficult time so I wanted to uplift, encourage, and celebrate all of the beautiful Black queens and kings that continue to inspire me and inspire the whole world," Beyoncé added about her Black Is King project. 

Bey also appeared onstage with fellow Houstonian Megan Thee Stallion, who couldn't contain her excitement about sharing the stage — and two GRAMMYs — with her hometown hero. "I love her work ethic, I love the way she is, I love the way she carry herself," Megan said. "My momma will always be like, 'Megan, what would Beyoncé do?' And I'm always like, 'You know what? What would Beyoncé do, but let me make it a little ratchet.'"

2023 — 65th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Record Of The Year ("Break My Soul"), Song Of The Year ("Break My Soul"), Best Dance/Electronic Music Album (Renaissance), Best Traditional R&B Performance ("Plastic Off The Sofa"), Best Song Written For Visual Media ("Be Alive" from King Richard), Album Of The Year (Renaissance), Best Dance/Electronic Music Recording ("Break My Soul"), Best R&B Performance ("Virgo's Groove"), Best R&B Song ("Cuff It")

Beyoncé could make even more GRAMMY history in 2023. If she wins four awards out of her nine nominations, she will become the artist with the most GRAMMYs of all time with 32, which would surpass the late Georg Solti's record 31. Tune in on Feb. 5 to see if Queen Bey breaks yet another GRAMMY record!

2023 GRAMMYs Performers Announced: Bad Bunny, Lizzo, Sam Smith, Steve Lacy, Mary J. Blige & More Confirmed

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: GAYLE On The Real-Life Pain Behind "abcdefu," Nashville Beginnings And Taylor Swift
GAYLE

Photo: Acacia Evans

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: GAYLE On The Real-Life Pain Behind "abcdefu," Nashville Beginnings And Taylor Swift

GAYLE’s very first label release became a viral smash and landed her a GRAMMY nomination for Song Of The Year. Now, the teenage star is ready for her next chapter, including a debut album and tour with Taylor Swift.

GRAMMYs/Jan 16, 2023 - 05:00 pm

If you've had an issue with an ex in the past 18 months, GAYLE has probably provided some catharsis for you.

Born Taylor Gayle Rutherford, she's the singer behind 'abcdefu,' a kiss-off anthem that offers both deep emotion and inherent irreverence. And just as much as the song offered release for many listeners, it did for GAYLE herself, too.

The pop smash was based on a real-life relationship and subsequent heartbreak GAYLE would later refer to as toxic — making the breakup tune a powerful call for independence as well as an outright display of both anger and the strength of moving on. 

"abcdefu" was also a depiction of teenage angst, as GAYLE was just 16 when she co-wrote the song as a fledgling artist in Nashville. Two years later, the song helped the now 18-year-old GAYLE earn her first GRAMMY nomination, and a coveted one at that: Song Of The Year. 

The nomination comes on the heels of monumental commercial success for the young singer, with her hit going triple platinum, topping Billboard’s Global 200 chart and garnering more than a billion streams. Along the way, she’s released her first two EPS (the aptly-titled A Study of the Human Experience, Volumes One and Two). And just recently, Taylor Swift invited her to open several dates on the superstar’s highly anticipated (and Ticketmaster-breaking) Eras Tour, which kicks off in March.

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, GAYLE gets candid about the song that changed her life, the creative community in Nashville and what’s next. 

Tell me about the genesis of "abcdefu" — where were you when it came together?

We were in Nashville, Tennessee. It was me and [co-writer] Dave Pittenger, along with Sara Davis, who I [have been] writing with since I was 12 and she was 15. Me and Sara were two young girls in Nashville who thought, We can curse in our songs and our moms won’t get mad at us? This is cool

We’d write songs in my bedroom, but after a couple years of writing with each other, we started teaming up with producers and writing with guitars and pianos. We started writing with Dave, who had a lot of success with country music and less so pop, so we’d just write songs on a guitar. 

Normally I come in with a vision, because I feel it’s your job as an artist to lead writers where you want to go. But it was in the middle of COVID, and this was my first in-person write in a long time. I said, "I have to be honest, I have no ideas. I really hate being that person." Dave laughed and he said, "Well, I have a bunch." Thank God for him. 

For his first idea, he looked at us, looked back down and looked at us again and was like, "ABCD F— Off!" and me and Sara just burst out laughing. I had never heard that phrase.

The song centers on a breakup where you want nothing to do with your ex. Was there a real inspiration behind that?

My actual ex and my best friend hated each other; they had beef the whole entire time [my ex and I dated]. They never really hung out and I kept them very separated. I was also in a very self-deprecating place the whole entire relationship. 

So you had all of this bottled-up energy you brought into the song?

I had written a million songs about this person, but I was really angry at him and was angry at the people who enabled him and his behavior. One of the reasons why he treats people improperly is because he was treated improperly. So I was mad at him and everyone who enabled him.

Did he actually have a dog?

He does have a dog! It’s a Shih-Poo.

Does this person know the song is about him, and have you heard from him?

I have not heard from him. I blocked him in February 2021, after hitting a point where I said, "I have to be done." It was a very specific moment in time, and I hope he has a happy life. I just want to be as far away from him as possible. I also don’t get any validation from him thinking anything I’m doing is impressive, even if he looked at the charts. 

When did you realize your life was going to change thanks to the success of "abcdefu?"

The first moment I knew something was happening was when it started to hit the Shazam charts in other countries, like Poland or South Korea. That meant it was playing in random places and people were wondering what the song was. I think it was in the top five in Mexico, and it was weird to be in Nashville and know that it was playing somewhere else in a random coffeeshop.

[When a song is rising like that,] whenever it does one thing you hope it does another thing. If it gets on a playlist, you hope it goes higher up on that playlist. So for a while I was playing that game. 

I remember the day it hit the Spotify playlist Today’s Top Hits. I was on tour with the band Winnetka Bowling League as their opener in small clubs. We were just jumping up and down backstage, so excited that it would reach that. But when it hit the radio, I knew that things were going to be different.

You’re also 18 years old experiencing all of this, but at the same time have been working at it for a while. Can you tell me about growing up with these dreams and creative goals, which you’re now experiencing the materialization of?

It’s interesting; why you get into music at 10 is a very different reason why you stay in it at 18. I’m very aware that I’m living my dreams and getting to do all the things I wanted to do as a kid, but at the same time, it’s very real, and there are difficulties that come with those things that I guess I didn’t always expect. [My success] has changed my life and benefited me in so many ways, but it also gave me new difficulties that I have to deal with. 

After this past year, what I’m grateful for is that nobody can make me do something I don’t want to do. The music that I’m making, and the things that I’m doing, I really love and stand behind. I’m trying to appreciate things that happen in the moment and not be too scared for my future as well. I know I have time. 

I just happened to put out my first song through a label that did what it did, and that is amazing. Now I want to build a career that I can stick with. So it’s very exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Sometimes it’s hard to breathe, but I’m very hopeful for the next year. 

You’ve said in the past that you feel kind of like an underdog in the sense that you’re a pop artist coming from Nashville, which is so known for its country scene. Can you elaborate on that?

It’s interesting because there is a lot of pop music in Nashville, and now more than ever, the lines are being blurred on genres. But one thing I really appreciate about the city is how the community really loves you if you’re developing and have nothing. I’ve never felt like I had more of a family than when I was up-and-coming here. I came to Nashville when I was 12, and found people I felt so connected to because we had this unexplainable and undying love and passion for music — [and we] couldn’t help but be a crazy person and move here. 

Also, Nashville for a 12 year old is very different than LA for a 12 year old. In LA, people would always tell me who I was — "You’re this, you’re that." But any meeting I ever had in Nashville was, "Tell me who you are." I needed to find out who I was there in order to work in other places. It’s a community of writers who want to collaborate with each other, and that’s something really beautiful about the Nashville scene. 

You’re now about to join Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour as an opener, one of the most culturally significant tours in many years. What does that mean to you, both personally and as an artist?

She’s been in the music industry for 15 years, so I was 3 when she got her start. As a young, female pop songwriter in Nashville, it means the absolute world that she’d believe in me enough to put me on that tour. 

She’s been such an inspiration my entire time in Nashville, especially since I started out in country music and moved over to pop. I didn’t even know that was a possibility until I saw Taylor do that very successfully. I don’t know if my mom would have even moved me to Nashville if she didn’t see Taylor Swift’s parents do it first. 

Has she ever given you advice?

It’s never been straightforward advice, but more about just the struggles beginning in music. When I met her, I genuinely was just so happy to have the opportunity to thank her for everything she’s done in the Nashville scene, and the writing community there as an iconic representative. 

I barely know what I’m doing and I feel no guarantees about my future. I’m trying to work on having a stable career. I’ve been in the music industry for a year and I’m making my first album. So it’s like, "I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m really scared and tired" and she’s like "It’s okay, baby." She is the biggest star in the world, and [she understands] that is a double-edged sword. 

She knows what it's like to be a young, up-and-coming woman in the industry with social media; it’s an exciting and terrifying time where the highs are really high and the lows are really low. For her to just take me under her wing in any way with belief, hope and inspiration and kindness [is amazing]. Because when all is said and done, [she sees] I’m just a teenage girl who really loves music. 

A Look At The Nominees For Song Of The Year At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

Jeff Coffin On His GRAMMY-Nominated Album 'Between Dreaming And Joy,' Constant Education, Playing With Dave Matthews & Béla Fleck
Jeff Coffin

Photo: Rodrigo Simas

interview

Jeff Coffin On His GRAMMY-Nominated Album 'Between Dreaming And Joy,' Constant Education, Playing With Dave Matthews & Béla Fleck

Jeff Coffin’s legacies with Dave Matthews Band and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones are more than enough to hang his hat on. But his solo career is a kaleidoscope of ideas, connected to musical traditions from all over the world.

GRAMMYs/Jan 12, 2023 - 07:21 pm

Hanging out with Jeff Coffin is a bit like listening to his music. Engulfed in a whirlwind of musical references, you’re never lost. Music seems dizzyingly limitless when he describes it, like the fractals in the cartoon eye on his new album's self-drawn cover.

For a three-time GRAMMY winner with bona fides in two household-name bands, Dave Matthews Band and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones — Coffin has zero airs and a whole lot of music knowledge. 

Our conversation left me to check out Albert Ayler's rip-your-heart-out gospel album Goin' Home, Van Morrison's country-breezy Tupelo Honey and Charles Mingus' warped masterpiece Oh Yeah

Understanding Coffin’s background enhances the listening experience of his inspired latest release, 2022's Between Dreaming and Joy, which is nominated for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Read More: 2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

Featuring "Middle Eastern frame drums, Brazilian percussion, Moroccan vocals, a turntable artist, multiple horns, an ice cream truck, a Hungarian tárogató and an African ngoni" — as well as modern greats like guitarist Robben Ford, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Chester Thompson — the album feels jubilant and companionable.

It’s surprising to learn the album was recorded completely remotely. 

"It was crafted in a way that I've really never crafted a record before," Coffin tells GRAMMY.com in its New York Chapter Office, ahead of DMB's sold-out Madison Square Garden gig. So, to him, this GRAMMY nomination is extra sweet: "it's a recognition of the process, but also a recognition of the work. Not just in this record, but the 19 others before it."

If you're familiar with Fleck and/or Matthews but not so much Coffin and his musical universe, let Between Dreaming and Joy act as a gateway to all 19 — with the Mu'tet, in co-billed LPs, all of it. And read on for an in-depth interview with the musician, clinician and searcher.

Jeff Coffin

Jeff Coffin. Photo: Rodrigo Simas

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Congratulations on your nomination for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs. What role has the Recording Academy played in your career over the decades?

You know, when I was in the Flecktones, we were nominated a number of times; I won three GRAMMYs with Béla. It's always kind of been interwoven with the things that I've done. 

The Flecktones were a hard band to pin down. We won for Best Pop Instrumental Album [for 2008's Jingle All the Way; we were nominated [that same year] for Best Country Instrumental Performance [for "Sleigh Ride"].

It's interesting; I remember the first time we were nominated was for Left of Cool [at the 1999 GRAMMYs]. I remember it being my first time there, and just being like, "Wow, this is unbelievable." We didn't win, and I remember thinking that I wasn't disappointed: Oh, it's OK, it's not a big deal that we didn't win. It reaffirmed that this is not why I do what I do.

You know, it's funny. [With Dave Matthews Band], it's a machine. We have like 90 people on the road with us, of course, and the band is really all about the music. We've talked about it a lot: how the music has got to come first.

Elaborate.

I think that music is a service industry. I think that first, we serve the music. Then, we serve the other musicians we're playing with, and then we serve the audience. So, we're at least fourth on the list. But by serving those others, we get served.

I talk to my students about this all the time: how important it is to recognize that circle. I think about management, and I'm thinking, Well, they're just thinking dollars and butts in seats. Which I understand: that's part of it. But I feel a disconnect sometimes in the way they approach things, as opposed to the way we approach things.

So, for me, with awards and accolades and things like that: I've had my fair share, and I'm very honored and grateful for that. But that's not why I do it. I'm not like, I'm going to do this record and submit it for a GRAMMY.

Read More: Béla Fleck Has Always Been Told He's The Best. But To Him, There Is No Best.

At this point, you've won three GRAMMYs. How does it feel to earn another nomination for Between Dreaming and Joy?

It's big for me. It really is. There was a ton of work put into it during the pandemic. Most of the record was remote, although you'd never know listening to it. It was crafted in a way that I've really never crafted a record before. So, it's a recognition of the process, but also a recognition of the work. Not just in this record, but the 19 others before it.

I've got six others in the can that I'm working on, that are basically ready to go. It was a very prolific time for me during the lockdown. So, this material on the record was culled from a lot of other stuff I had recorded also. 

I wrote about 30 or 34 new tunes, and they were all over the place from the standpoint of genre or style. So, when I put this together, I had to decide which tunes I was going to put into this pot. There are a couple that I was on the fence about initially, but I'm really glad they're on there because it kind of diverges, and then comes back into a particular space.

So, yeah, I'm just thrilled about it, and the GRAMMY Foundation <a href="https://grammymuseum.org/national-reach/grant-program/">now the [GRAMMY Museum Foundation] has been part of that. I love what they do educationally; I want to be more involved with that, because I do a lot of education work outside of touring. I've done 325-plus clinics over the years, and I've been teaching at Vanderbilt now for eight years.

Tell me more about your teaching style, and how it's in dialogue with the other parts of your career.

I've looked at people that have kind of been DIY, like Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer, Bobby Shew, these kinds of people. I don't try to do exactly what they did, because that's how they see things. But I've been able to kind of muddle out a career [incorporating] certain aspects of what they do.

The books that I've written are all for my students; they have nothing to do with the things that I'm working on, because I've already done it. So, the method books, the etude books — I have something called The Road Book, which is all the things you do before you leave the driveway. These are for students that are just getting out there and doing this stuff, to help them along the way.

I really respect what [The Recording Academy] has done educationally around the country and the world. I think it's awesome, and really makes a big difference. You know, music is an essential part of education on every level — not just in higher education, but deep in the schools. A lot of those programs are being cut, and it's categorically unfair.

Let's talk a little more about Between Dreaming and Joy. You mentioned that you pulled these songs from disparate sources. So what was the throughline, or thesis? What made these songs swim together in the same tank?

When I was with Béla, one of the things I remember him talking about was the sequence of a record, and talking about how it really makes or breaks a record. It's really the flow, now that I think about it. 

I put a lot of effort into putting sequences together. The middle tune, "Spinning Plates," is just me — all me, all horns. I think there's percussion on there, and it's sort of the place where you would flip the record over. It's a breath between the first and second section of the record. I did it that way on purpose.

It's kind of the spirit of the tunes that [make them] work. "Vinnie the Crow" wouldn't have worked in any other place except for opening the record.

It's very strident. It has that swagger in it.

Yeah, and it has the only co-writer on the whole record: a drummer named Alex Clayton, who was living in Nashville and a Belmont student. He's turned me on to some really great s—. He was the first person who ever told me about Anderson .Paak and Donald Glover. He's really got his ear in these different places. 

He's a very, very dear friend. We were just hanging out and were like, "Let's write a tune." He had a groove, so I put some stuff down, and just kind of went from there.

But coming back to the sequence: I want it to be a journey. I don't want it to be the same tune written seven or eight different times. I wanted to touch on the different influences and interests I had musically, but not be so removed from the other tunes that it doesn't connect.

Because there's a bunch of stuff that I also wrote that's very global music-oriented. There's this one tune written off this traditional Peruvian folk melody that wouldn't have fit on this record. It's this really elaborate thing. I've got Brazilian percussion on it. There's some Afrobeat stuff that I did with Chester Thompson. 

There's a lot of pretty esoteric stuff, too. [Turns to publicist Lydia Liebman, Dave Liebman's daughter] Stuff your pops would be way more into than this kind of thing.

Jeff Coffin

Jeff Coffin. Photo: Rodrigo Simas

I remember something Béla said to me years ago: "I'll never be an Indian musician. I'll never be an African musician. But I can bring those elements into what I do, and have them inspire the music that I make." 

And it's the same with Dave Matthews. He's from South Africa, and he went back in his early teens and grew up there for a number of years. His music is very influenced by that music — by those dances, by that structure of music, and there's a hybrid of things that are going on there. So, to me, using the term "jam band" for a group like that doesn't do it justice at all. I don't have any idea what you'd call it.

I love when they asked Miles about his music. They said it was jazz, but they said, "What should we call it?" He said, "Call it music." I'm totally down with that, and that's how I look at it. It's just music.

It's coming from different places I'm influenced by. Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, et cetera, et cetera: they're all the same spirit. That's what I'm looking for in the music that I make, the players I play with, the way I'm putting something together. I like art that is mysterious — that I don't totally understand.

We first spoke for an article about Yusef Lateef. Given the sheer range of ethnic instruments you play on Between Dreaming and Joy, it seems like you're in his lineage. Can you talk about your ongoing process of learning new instruments and weaving them into your work — choosing what's appropriate and what isn't?

Here's the thing, too: I know a lot of people who play a lot of different instruments. Michael League was playing Moroccan frame drums, but everybody knows Michael from playing bass with Snarky Puppy. And the ngoni on "When Birds Sing" was played by a Moroccan woman named Sarah Ariche, who also sang. The title is kind about her, also: what she's doing is this angelic vocal stuff.

I'm really interested in a lot of different sounds. Some of this is also coming from people like Roland Kirk. This gets into a whole other tangent, but the idea of string theory is that everything is a vibration; therefore, everything is sound.

I have the tárogató I bought from Charles Lloyd; my bass flute is Yusef Lateef's. I feel like I'm just the curator of these instruments, because I'm always like, "This is Yusef Lateef's bass flute." I don't ever say, "This is my bass flute." [Same with] the tárogató. There's kind of a spirit imbued in the instruments.

You're calling out a spirit, even when the musician is alive and well — in Lloyd's case.

Right, yeah. I bought Yusef's main tenor and bass flute after he passed. The first time I played the tenor, I recorded it; I was like, I want to hear what happens the first time. And this tune came out. I called it "Yusef." And as I tell people, he left the tune in the horn. It's a very powerful tune. My hands were off of it.

For those who might know Dave or Béla but not be familiar with your solo work, with the Mutet or otherwise: how do you conceptualize it in relation to these household names? What's the nature of that isthmus between these two massive entities?

Let me take a step back. 

So, people ask about my influences. My main influences are people like Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Ornette. Then there are the people I played with all these years, having spent 14 years with Béla, Victor Wooten and Roy Wooten — Future Man. And now, 14 years with Dave, [bassist] Stefan [Lessard], [trumpeter] Rashawn [Ross], [violinist] Boyd [Tinsley] when he was in the band, [drummer] Carter Beauford, [guitarist] Tim Reynolds, and now [keyboardist] Buddy Strong. 

I mean, we are creating every single night for three hours a night — playing some of the same music, but recreating it nightly also. So, there are no more profound influences on me than those players: the people that I play with at home, that I've had in my bands, where we're digging deep in a way that is proactive.

So, when I'm listening, I'm active in that process, but I'm not participatory in that process — in the sense that I'm not making music when I'm listening to a Coltrane record or whatever. But when I'm making music, I'm participatory; even if I'm being silent, I'm still part of what's going on. To me, that changes everything.

Jeff Coffin

Jeff Coffin. Photo: Rodrigo Simas

Can you connect this to your experiences with Matthews and the Flecktones?

I remember that when I first started playing with Béla, I was like, "I don't know any of your music; your audience knows the music better than I do." Which was the same thing when I joined Matthews: "The audience" — they still do, actually — "knows all the words."

With the Flecktones, one of things that was an epiphany for me was that I would look out and see people dancing. We'd be playing in 13 or 17 or some crazy s—, or moving time signatures throughout the piece.

But what it made me realize is that it's all on up or down. It doesn't even matter. Like, even on the Matthews stuff, there's a tune called "Rapunzel." I remember the first time we heard it, when I was with Béla because we were doing the opening dates. 

We couldn't figure out the time signature. You have four great musicians who are listening to this and just going, "What is going on?" It's in five, but if you listen to it, you would not know that it's in five, unless you're really tuning in and going, "OK, I've got to figure this out," or watching somebody's foot, given the way Carter's playing polyrhythmically over it.

But, again, we joke about this: everything's in one. Just one-one-one-one-one-one. If the pulse is there, than it's going to feel good. It's going to make a mixed meter not feel like a mixed meter, because it's going to be all pulse. 

That's why I love African music so much; it's all pulse. You can feel it in six; you can feel it in two; you can feel it in three. You can also put different groupings; you can do sevens over the top. It all works, as long as the pulse is there.

It seems that you've conceptualized your solo work as an ongoing investigation of your influences.

I think that's a great way to put it: an ongoing investigation of my influences. Not only my immediate musical influences, but my historic musical influences also, and trying to see it from above. Not just the immediacy of it, but the things that are in the periphery also.

I'm kind of going, I wonder what would happen if I did this, and drop this in there. I wonder what the sound of bass flute and bass trumpet is. The tárogató was on the new Dave record also, and it's a Hungarian instrument, It's a wooden soprano, basically. It's like an English horn.

Sometimes, I'll also give myself parameters to work within. I was doing a livestream every Friday all the way through the pandemic. There were nights when I would be like, I'm going to start writing a song at six o'clock because my livestream is at seven. I'm going to get it done within an hour, play it for them on the livestream, and maybe play along.

I tried to bring them into my process of doing what I was doing. It was really fun. It was really, really challenging. And I didn't have any idea what the f— I was doing. 

So, it's really just about exploring and trying things. There's an element of randomness to it, but also an element of focus and "Let's try this and see what happens." I've always been really into pedals, envelope filters and harmonizers. Doing double-horn stuff. I've got this triplicate flute with one mouthpiece. I've got singing bowls and bells and gongs. I'm a total bell freak. Anything I can get my hands on that I can make music from, I'm going to try it.

Jeff Coffin

Jeff Coffin. Photo: Rodrigo Simas

You've mentioned, like, 15 musical traditions and 150 instruments in this interview. Do you ever feel like you're still getting started in learning about all the music the world has to offer?

I do, actually, yeah. I feel more creative than I've ever felt in my life. 

But here's the thing, too: I play for a different reason now than I used to. I think that's partially because I'm able to articulate my own feelings better — not only verbally, but musically. When I was younger, I was playing from a different emotional place. Today, some of the reasons for playing are the same; some are very different. But I feel like I can make decisions based on experience.

I'm still wrong a lot, by the way, which is really interesting to me. I'll listen to a couple of tracks with some people, and I'll think: OK, I know the one that I like. I'll say, "What do you guys think?" and they'll both pick the other one. I'll be like, Oh, OK, great. Let's use that one. Good thing that wasn't up to me.

A year and a half ago, I went down to New Orleans and did a record with [drummer] Johnny Vidacovich, [saxophonist] Tony Dagradi and [drummer] James Singleton [of jazz quartet Astral Project]; Helen Gillet was on the cello on one tune. It's very, very different than this record. It's open and free.

I'm trying to mix it myself, and I've been working on it for a while. I think it sounds pretty good. But I'm not a mixing engineer, and those guys are wizards. So, I'm sitting around with some people, and I'm like, "Look, man, I want your brutally honest feedback. If it doesn't sound good, I want to know, because I'm trying to mix it."

I still second-guess myself on certain things, which I think is great, because I think that's how we learn also. You've got to keep making mistakes, because after a while, you find those successes in there. I think it's Vic Wooten who says something along these lines: "The only reason you don't succeed is because you eventually stop trying."

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