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2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Pop
Pop's reach became even wider this year, with newcomers, superstars and global acts all delivering some of the year's biggest hits and memorable moments
It seems there's never a dull moment in pop music. But in 2021, the genre's rising stars and longtime greats all came out swinging, always giving fans something to be excited about.
Taylor Swift and her unofficial protege, Olivia Rodrigo, made for two of the biggest stories of the year: Swift began releasing her rerecorded albums, and Rodrigo had the world listening after she dropped her global phenomenon "driver's license."
Pop expanded its palette this year, too, with K-pop experiencing its biggest year yet and Nigeria proving that its Afropop stars have some serious promise.
On top of all of that, fans finally received some of pop's most-anticipated albums in 2021, making for a year that was truly monumental and memorable. Take a look at eight of the genre's most prominent trends below.
Teenage Angst Took Over
From the moment 2021 began, there was no denying it was going to be the year of Olivia Rodrigo. With the runaway chart and streaming successes of her two biggest hits so far — the teenage heartbreak ballad "driver's license" and the angsty, Paramore-sampling "good 4 u," which both debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 — the 18-year-old was at the helm of young stars who weren't afraid to get raw and real in 2021.
A sense of vulnerability was the through-line of pop's new wave this year, and it clearly resonated. In addition to Rodrigo's triumphs, Australian breakout The Kid LAROI landed a Top 10 hit with the gut-wrenching acoustic track "Without You" as well as a Hot 100 and pop radio No. 1 with the Justin Bieber-assisted bop "Stay." And if the honest lyrics of his hit singles aren't enough indication, just look at the title of its parent album: F--- Love.
Tate McRae, another 18-year-old, also hit a sweet spot with her peers with her anti-sympathetic breakup song, "you broke me first." The song has amassed more than one billion streams worldwide, also reaching No. 1 on pop radio.
Of course, Gen Z first got in their feelings thanks to Billie Eilish, and she continued to carry her torch in 2021 with the release of her second album, Happier Than Ever. Though the album's jazz-influenced, downtempo nature was a departure from the trap-led sound of her debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, it lyrically stayed right in line with the trenchant honesty that made her a star — and, seemingly, opened the floodgates for her teen successors.
"Taylor's Versions" Caused a Frenzy
Nearly two years after Taylor Swift announced that she'd be re-recording her first six albums in order to regain artistic and financial control, the first two albums arrived in 2021. And boy, did Swifties have a field day.
The country starlet turned pop superstar knew exactly what her loyal legion of followers would want, releasing remakes of fan favorites Fearless and Red this year. Upon the April release of Fearless (Taylor's Version), the album had the biggest opening day for an album on Spotify in 2021, garnering 50 million global streams on its first day and subsequently debuting atop the Billboard 200.
Yet, it was Red (Taylor's Version) that became a phenomenon, becoming the most-streamed album in a day from a female artist on Spotify with nearly 91 million global first-day streams (breaking the record she previously set with 2020's Folklore). The album's immediate draw owed partial thanks to a 10-minute version of her beloved power ballad "All Too Well," which took on a life of its own. Along with becoming a short film that Swift debuted in New York City and earning the singer her eighth No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, it also blew up the Twittersphere with scathing (yet amusing) tweets about the song's supposed subject, actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
Among Red (Taylor's Version)'s many other feats, the 10-minute, 13-second version of "All Too Well" also became the longest song to top the Hot 100. With four re-records still left to release, who knows what kind of records Swift will break next?
Black Women Took The Genre By Storm
While 2021 wasn't necessarily a breakout year for Doja Cat or Normani, it was the year that both stars came into their own — and, ultimately, reinvented the pop star ideal.
After teasing her pop sensibility with her 2020 smash "Say So," Doja Cat struck pop gold again with the SZA-featuring "Kiss Me More." The disco-tinged hit was just one of the many A-list collaborations on Doja's hailed album Planet Her, which has accumulated more than 3 billion streams since its June release and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
On the opposite end, Normani — who got her start in pop girl group Fifth Harmony and saw her first two solo hits (2018's "Love Lies" and 2019's "Dancing With a Stranger") take over pop radio — reminded listeners of her versatility in 2021. Following an empowered team-up with Megan Thee Stallion for the Birds of Prey soundtrack, Normani recruited Cardi B to help bring out her R&B side on the sexy slow jam "Wild Side," which earned the 25-year-old singer her first hit on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (in the top 5, no less).
Two artists who did have breakout years were Beyoncé protegee Chloë and German singer/songwriter Zoe Wees. Chloë, one half of R&B duo Chloe x Halle, released her debut solo single "Have Mercy" to critical acclaim, putting on showstopping performances of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards and the American Music Awards. Wees closed out the AMAs with a powerful rendition of her poignant song, "Girls Like Us," the follow-up to her viral hit "Control."
Artists Loudly Proclaimed Their Sexuality
As acceptance becomes more prominent within mainstream music, stars are latching on to the new era of being open about however they identify.
Though Lil Nas X came out as gay in 2019, his sonic proclamation came in controversial form with "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)." The video for the flamenco-dripped track — whose title references the 2017 gay romance film Call Me By Your Name — depicted biblical and Satanic scenes in racy fashion. Despite resulting in backlash from religious groups, the song and video's bold statement served as an impactful one for the LGBTQ+ community — as Lil Nas put it himself, pushing for "more acceptance, more open-mindedness amongst humanity as a whole."
Demi Lovato (who announced they are non-binary in May) featured a song about their sexual fluidity on their seventh album, Dancing With the Devil, released in April. The wavy "The Kind of Lover I Am" declares "Doesn't matter, you're a woman or a man/ That's the kind of lover I am" on its rolling chorus.
Bringing back one of pop's first sexual fluidity anthems, Fletcher interpolated Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" for her own single "Girls Girls Girls," which marked "the freedom and the celebration I've been craving my whole life," she said in a press release. One month later, she teamed up with Hayley Kiyoko (who has been dubbed "Lesbian Jesus" by her fans) for "Cherry," a flirty sapphic jam.
K-Pop's English Infusion Blew Up
Thanks to the likes of BTS and BLACKPINK — and now countless other groups — K-pop has made its way into the U.S. pop market in a major way in recent years. As it has continued to boom, more and more artists are releasing songs that are completely in English — and the genre is arguably bigger than ever.
Less than a year after BTS first dabbled in English-language singles with 2020's smash "Dynamite," they delivered the biggest hit of their career with the smooth sensation "Butter." The song debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for 10 non-consecutive weeks — a streak initially broken up by their third English-language hit, "Permission to Dance."
BLACKPINK saw two of its members go solo in 2021, Lisa and Rosé, who each issued English-language singles of their own. Lisa's "Money" and Rosé's "On The Ground" both landed on the Hot 100, respectively garnering more than 375 million and 255 million YouTube views alone.
Several other acts released notable English-language tracks, with SEVENTEEN and TWICE each putting out their first: "2 MINUS 1" features SEVENTEEN members Joshua and Vernon, and "The Feels" became TWICE's first top 20 hit on the Billboard Global 200, where it reached No. 12.
Read More: 5 K-Pop Songwriters & Producers Who Defined 2021: SUMIN, Teddy Park, ADORA, RM & SUGA
Pop Became More Global Than Ever Before
South Korea isn't the only far-flung country having a moment. In fact, Nigeria is arguably one of the most fruitful geographical founts of music — particularly thanks to the recent Afropop explosion.
Wizkid — who first saw global success with his Drake collaboration, "One Dance," in 2016 — earned his first Billboard Hot 100 hit as a lead artist with the R&B-tinged single "Essence." The song features fellow Nigerian singer Tems, making history as the first Nigerian song to break the Hot 100 top 10. The sultry track caught the attention of Justin Bieber, who hopped on a remix and declared it the "song of the summer."
Bieber also enlisted Nigerian star Burna Boy for his widely praised LP, Justice, one of the singer/rapper's many pop-driven appearances in 2021, including Sia, Jon Bellion and John Legend.
Two other rising Nigerian acts, Joeboy and Fireboy DML, saw their Afropop takes resonate this year, too. Joeboy's "Alcohol" inspired a viral TikTok craze, and the success of Fireboy's "Peru" landed a remix with Ed Sheeran in December.
Elsewhere, Latin still proves to have a profound impact in the pop world. Puerto Rican newcomer Rauw Alejandro's irresistibly catchy "Todo De Ti" made its way to mainstream radio, as did Maluma's global hit "Hawái," the latter thanks to a remix with The Weeknd. And Pop queens Christina Aguilera and Selena Gomez also honored their Latin roots: Aguilera dropped two singles, "Pas Mis Muchachas" and "Somos Nada"; Gomez released her first Spanish-language project, Revelación.
In the streaming world, Bad Bunny — Spotify's most-streamed artist for the second year in a row — and BTS (No. 3 on Spotify's year-end tally) proved that Latin and K-pop are equal contenders to pop powerhouses like Taylor Swift and Bieber, who were No. 2 and 5, respectively.
Superstars Joined Forces
Sure, every year sees star-studded collaborations. But with artists having unprecedented downtime in 2020 and into 2021, some iconic pairings were born.
Ariana Grande and The Weeknd — no strangers to working together — scored their first Hot 100 No. 1 with a remix of The Weeknd's "Save Your Tears." Another Grande collaborator, Lizzo, teamed up with Cardi B for her latest single, "Rumors."
One of the most unexpected (and brilliant) partnerships came from Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, who joined forces for the '70s funk-inspired duo Silk Sonic. The pair dropped their silky debut single, "Leave the Door Open," just one week after announcing their joint project in February, and unveiled An Evening With Silk Sonic in November.
Veterans recruited some of pop's newer voices, too. Australian icon Kylie Minogue dueted with British electropop star Years & Years on "A Second to Midnight," a track from her reissue album, Disco: Guest List Edition. She also featured Dua Lipa on the album on a song titled "Real Groove."
Lipa co-starred with another legend, Elton John, on the chart-topping (and "Rocket Man"-sampling) hit "Cold Heart (PNAU Remix)." The single was part of John's jam-packed collaborative album, The Lockdown Sessions, which also featured Charlie Puth, Stevie Nicks and Stevie Wonder, among many others.
Long-Awaited Albums Arrived
Silk Sonic appeased those eagerly waiting for Bruno Mars to follow up his 2016 Album Of The Year-winning LP, 24K Magic, as the duo’s material featured plenty of signature Bruno power hooks and slinky melodies. But those still longing for a solo Bruno Mars record may have at least been satisfied by the other 2021 arrivals.
Six years in the making, Adele’s 30 finally landed in November — and, unsurprisingly, became the top-selling album of the year in just its first three days. The LP has now sold more than 1 million copies, and spawned the singer’s fifth Hot 100 No. 1 with the poignant lead single, “Easy on Me.” Beyond accolades, 30 sees Adele at her most vulnerable — as she's said herself, it centers around her divorce from entrepreneur Simon Konecki — which resulted in her most raw and powerful work yet.
Considering Ed Sheeran’s extensive touring schedule that had the singer/songwriter on the road until the end of August 2019, it was almost hard to believe it had been four years since his last album. Surely some Sheerios felt the agony, but it was worth the wait: =, Sheeran's fourth studio album, offered 14 new tracks that expand on the star's signature talents, from heartfelt falsetto to boot-stomping melodies.
In what felt like the day that may never come, Kanye West delivered his tenth album, Donda, in August. The project had seen multiple postponements since its originally scheduled release of July 2020, but perhaps that's because the final product has a whopping 27 songs. While the album leans more into West's hip-hop roots, its impressive roster of guest stars — from The Weeknd to Watch the Throne cohort JAY-Z — offered any kind of Kanye fan something to enjoy.
After such a whirlwind year, one big question stands out as we enter 2022: what's next?
2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Latin Music
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The Evolution Of The Queer Anthem: From Judy Garland To Lady Gaga & Lil Nas X
Music is a creative tool of liberation, with queer communities finding meaning — overt or otherwise — in songs by a myriad of artists. GRAMMY.com unpacks the long history of queer anthems, from a 1920s cabaret to the top of the charts.
When a young Judy Garland sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in 1939, dreaming of a more exciting, joyous and colorful life elsewhere, few might have known that her words would go on to inspire generations of queer people who found a glimmer of freedom where "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."
For decades, if not longer, music has continued to serve as a creative tool of liberation, with queer communities finding meaning — overt or otherwise — in songs either written directly for them or appropriated from the work of (seemingly) straight artists. Often with time, but occasionally immediately, such music becomes a queer anthem. While pride in one’s identity has often been a central theme, these anthems have also tackled the communal trauma — from the HIV/AIDS epidemic to discrimination that continues to this day.
As the messages and musical styles have adapted with the times, what’s most powerful in the evolution of queer anthems is just how much more openly gay they have become. An increasing number of artists are able to unabashedly express their identity, including in genres that have been traditionally reticent or hostile to minorities. Tracing the history of the queer anthem provides an opportunity to see how far the LGBTQ+ community has come, and how creative expression can be used to fight for rights that are still being threatened.
Press play on the Spotify playlist below, or visit Apple Music, Pandora or Amazon Music for an accompanying playlist of queer anthems.
In Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary, music writer Sasha Geffen explores the history of queer anthems past and present.
"I think it's important to honor these ancestors in the queer narrative and point to how things don't always go from worse to better," Geffen tells GRAMMY.com. "Right now in our current historical moment, where we're seeing a lot of closing in and that can be really scary, but there has always kind of been this pulsing and there has always been the survival."
A Global Musical Movement
In fact, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" wasn’t even the first gay anthem. One of the earliest is the 1920 German cabaret number "Das lila Lied" ("The Lavender Song"), a clear product of the relative sexual freedom of the Weimar Republic. Written around the time of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld hosting the First International Conference for Sexual Reform, the song recognized the struggles queer people faced while also declaring, "and still most of us are proud/ to be cut from different cloth!"
In Europe, musicals provided sly opportunities to explore queer themes, notably the work of English playwright Noël Coward, whose hidden sexuality was expressed in unrequited love songs such as "Mad About the Boy'' and "If Love Were All." In the United States, Black women defined many of these early queer anthems, notably Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday, with "Prove It on Me Blues" and "Easy Living," respectively. As Geffen says, their music was "playful and raunchy and it sold."
Holiday and Rainey, along with her prodigy, Bessie Smith, were all bisexual — an identity that along with their race and gender threatened their professional careers. They faced not only social ostracization, but also legal threats due to their sexuality. Yet these pioneers still expressed their emotions openly, as Ma Rainey sings on "Prove It on Me Blues": "I went out last night with a crowd of my friends'/It must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men/ Wear my clothes just like a fan/ Talk to the gals just like any old man."
The war years and social conservative of the 1950s didn’t see many lasting gay anthems, as white, male musicians appropriated and made famous the rebellious rock and roll sound of Black musicians. This was clear in songs like Little Richard’s "Tutti Frutti" (with clear sexual undertones) and "Hound Dog" by Big Mamma Thornton, who wore men’s clothes and has been appreciated for representing Black queerness.
Through the sexual revolution of the mid-20th century, Black women continued to produce some of the most boundary-pushing music. Nina Simone switched the gender preference in her bubbly version of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" — from Lana Turner to… Liberace — and Diana Ross delivered a sultry take on "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough," showing the depths someone is willing to go for their paramour.
Yet it’s impossible to include just one song by the disco diva in a compendium of queer anthems, overt or implied. The inspiration for 1980’s "I’m Coming Out" actually came out of a New York gay bar: Famed songwriter Nile Rodgers went to the bathroom and noticed a group of Ross impersonators. As Rodgers told Billboard in 2011, "I ran outside and called Bernard [Edwards, his frequent collaborator] and told him about it and said, ‘What if we recognize Diana Ross’ really cool alignment with her fan base in the gay community?’ So we sat down and wrote, ‘I’m Coming Out.’"
During this period of second-wave feminism, songs of female empowerment were also adapted by the queer community, such as Lesley Gore’s "You Don’t Own Me" (Gore herself came out as a lesbian in 2005). Some male acts embraced all that defied social norms, whether around identity or sexuality (although some of their depictions of race and gender can be questioned): "Lola" by the Kinks, "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed and "Rebel Rebel" by David Bowie, whose glam rock pushed against boundaries in terms of gender presentation.
More so than any genre before it, the arrival of disco in the 1970s provided a soundtrack for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, it could be said it was the first genre made for and by queer folks was disco, with high-rotation tracks like Donna Summer’s "I Feel Love," Chaka Khan’s "I’m Every Woman" or even ABBA’s "Dancing Queen." But arguably the most powerful queer anthem was Gloria Gaynor’s "I Will Survive," an unabashed tribute to overcoming against all odds that can still be heard blasting from Pride floats today.
In maybe a less nuanced but equally impactful sense during this time, the Village People also played with gay sexual fantasies in both their appearance and music, notably with their songs "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A." While the camp was turned up to 11, the Village People’s influence in bringing queer life to the mainstream cannot be underestimated.
Openly queer artists also began asserting themselves more than ever by the 1980s and the rise of synth pop, finding fans among straight and queer communities, often in a "you know if you know way," according to Geffen. The sound coming from British groups like Culture Club ("Do You Really Want to Hurt Me"), Soft Cell ("Tainted Love") or Bronski Beat ("Smalltown Boy") was inextricable from queerness; an uptempo beat and thematic undercurrent ran through many of the era's biggest pop songs. These artists were "talking about an experience that was very specific to the queer community — this idea of figuring out who you are and leaving home and not knowing where you're gonna be ending up and just trusting something out there might be better than what you've got," Geffen notes.
Also during the 1980s, queer anthems also began to proliferate beyond English-language music, proving that a desire to express queerness through music was universal. This was notably seen in Canadian-French artist Mylène Farmer’s "Libertine" and "Sans contrefaçon" about embracing androgyny. And in the Spanish-speaking world, there was Alaska y Dinarama's "¿A quién le importa?" which translates to "who cares?"
Anthems Rocked By Trauma
But this relative opening in terms of gay acceptance in popular culture was quickly shaken by the HIV/AIDS crisis, when queer anthems took on an even stronger political role. Whether it be Queen’s "I Want to Break Free" or "Somebody to Love," Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s "Relax" or Sylvester’s "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," these anthems were unabashed about expressing romantic feelings and sexual desire, as well as fighting back against violence, silence and stereotyping.
Known for his falsetto voice, Sylvester was one of the leading voices in San Francisco’s growing queer community before passing away from AIDS-related complications in 1988. His song "Stars" is one of Geffen’s favorite queer anthems, particularly for how he conveyed both the joy and hardship of the queer experience.
"He had such a powerful voice and powerful control over the subtleties of using it," Geffen continues. "There was this kind of melancholy that I can hear coming through sometimes of celebrating the world that you're in, this kind of sub-world inside the world where these forms of relationships are possible."
Read more: 'Spiceworld' At 25: How The Spice Girls' Feminine Enthusiasm & Camp Became A Beacon For Queer Youth
Female artists — many of whom were open allies of the queer community — also addressed the devastation of the epidemic. TLC’s "Waterfalls" (a cautionary tale with a hopeful note to "believe in yourself") and Cyndi Lauper’s "True Colors," a torch song to light the way in the darkest of times. Although, this relationship of seemingly straight artists to the queer community was not without faults. Madonna became a queer icon for her string of hits before kicking off the 1990s with "Vogue," a track that brought queer ballroom culture to a mainstream audience. While Madonna was clearly celebrating this art form, and giving a certain amount of recognition to those who created it, she was also making money off the talent and creativity of underrecognized queer communities of color.
Outside of mainstream music, the 1990s saw queer female artists asserting their identity, accompanied by the riot grrrl movement and Lilith Fair. These ranged from the Indigo Girls’ reflective "Closer to Fine" to k.d. lang’s yearnful "Constant Craving" to Bikini Kill’s "Rebel Girl," "the queen of my world."
The Sound Of A New Millennium
The turn of the millennium heralded the beginning of a more assertive acceptance, with anthems coming from sometimes unexpected sources: Christina Aguilera’s "Beautiful," P!nk’s "Raise Your Glass,'' Robyn’s "Dancing on My Own" or Macklemore's "Same Love." With the political fight for marriage equality quickly gaining ground in the U.S., pop artists began responding with overtly pro-LGBTQAI+ messages in their music: Lady Gaga kicked off the 2010s with "Born This Way," with the theme that there is nothing abnormal about being queer.
More recently, anthems have shed any need to hide their queerness through hidden messages or innuendos. Proudly queer artists are creating music clearly for their communities, and beyond: think Janelle Monae’s ode to female pleasure "Pynk," Perfume Genius’ searing "Queen" or Hayley Kiyoko’s "Girls Like Girls," whose title says it all (and was followed up with the more cheerful anthem "for the girls").
Perhaps most notably, genres that have been slower to embrace LGBTQAI+ artists have also had their share of anthems. Rap in particular has embraced queer artists from Cupcakke ("LGBT") to Frank Ocean ("Channel") to Leikeli47’s ("Attitude") to anything by Mykki Blanco. This also has been true in country: See Katie Pruitt’s "Loving Her," Kacey Musgraves’ "Follow Your Arrow'' or Orville Peck and his interpretation of "Smalltown Boy." This honoring of queer history and pioneers defines many modern queer anthems, perhaps most strongly in Beyoncé’s Renaissance.
Read more: How Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" Made An Important Statement About Acceptance — For Society And Herself
While her whole discography is full of bangers that have entered the queer pantheon, her latest release Renaissance is an ode to the queer and Black tradition of disco and house. Tracks like "COZY," an embrace of being "comfortable in my skin," quickly entered into heavy rotation at clubs around the world. Beyoncé has centered queer artists like Big Freedia, the queen of New Orleans bounce who wrote a powerful anthem in 2020’s "Chasing Rainbows" featuring Kesha (who herself named an album Rainbow and released "We R Who We R" after a series of suicides of gay teens across the U.S.).
Most significantly, songs about the queer experience are now defining the careers of many artists and garnering them unprecedented large audiences. This is the case for MUNA with "Silk Chiffon," King Princess with "1950" Troy Sivan with "Bloom'' or even Sam Smith and Kim Petras with "Unholy." This last sexy jam bought Petras unprecedented acclaim after years in the music industry and made her the first openly trans person to win a GRAMMY Award.
This trend might be most clearly seen in the rise of Little Nas X, who grew up mastering the language and codes of the internet before breaking through and quite quickly coming out. Geffen highlights how he uses shock to garner attention and push back against the homophobic haters, like giving Satan a lap dance in the music video "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)."
"I think of Little Nas X as a troll who trolled his way to the top," says Geffen," knowing what people will respond to positively and what will piss people off."
Contrasting this increase in openly queer anthems and depictions of queer people in media is a sharp political reality: anti-trans laws proliferate in many states and lawmakers attempt to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people, threatening many of the forward momentum in queer liberation.
Read more: The Rise Of The Queer Pop Star In The 2010s
This moment in social and political history highlights the importance of an anthem, which serves as a form of celebration and signaling of allegiance, as well as a salve against repression and motivation to continue the fight.
Of course, this list of queer anthems is far from exhaustive. Artists as diverse as the B-52s, Eurythmics, the Pet Shop Boys, Elton John, Cher, George Michael, RuPaul, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, the Smiths, Kylie Minogue, Brandi Carlile, Carley Rae Jepsen, Sufjan Stevens, SOPHIE, Taylor Swift and many, many others have released music that has deeply impacted the queer community.
And really, any song can be a queer anthem if it speaks to someone on a personal level, providing a sense of connection and belonging. As Geffen notes, the magic occurs when a piece of music creates a moment of collective celebration or momentary bliss.
"There's nothing else quite like that feeling of the physical release of having a song run through you when it's also running through tons of other people who are in the crowd with you," they said, highlighting the power of that anxiety of whether you fit in dissolving away: "It opens a window into what's possible, in a world beyond the one we're in right now."
Queer Christian Artists Keep The Faith: How LGBTQ+ Musicians Are Redefining Praise Music
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Listen To GRAMMY.com's LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2023 Playlist Featuring Demi Lovato, Sam Smith, Kim Petras, Frank Ocean, Omar Apollo & More
Celebrate LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2023 with a 50-song playlist that spans genres and generations, honoring trailblazing artists and allies including George Michael, Miley Cyrus, Orville Peck, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande and many more.
In the past year, artists in the LGBTQIA+ community have continued to create change and make history — specifically, GRAMMY history. Last November, Liniker became the first trans artist to win a Latin GRAMMY Award when she took home Best MPB Album for Indigo Borboleta Anil; three months later, Sam Smith and Kim Petras became the first nonbinary and trans artists, respectively, to win the GRAMMY Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their sinful collab "Unholy."
Just those two feats alone prove that the LGBTQIA+ community is making more and more of an impact every year. So this Pride Month, GRAMMY.com celebrates those strides with a playlist of hits and timeless classics that are driving conversations around equality and fairness for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Below, take a listen to 50 songs by artists across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum — including "Unholy" and Liniker's "Baby 95" — on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
Photo: Don Arnold/Getty Images
9 Artist-Hosted Podcasts You Should Check Out Now: Sam Smith, David Guetta, Norah Jones & More
From Dua Lipa to Joe Budden, some of music's biggest names have added "podcast host" to their impressive resumes. Grab your headphones and take a listen to nine of the most insightful and creative shows led by artists.
As podcasts have become increasingly popular among listeners, they've also become a preferred playground for music makers to express themselves — and in turn, show a new side of their artistry.
Whether it's hours-long interviews courtesy of early adopter Questlove, breezy conversations with a musical accompaniment by Norah Jones, or a vital history lesson from Sam Smith, podcasts are allowing artists to further connect with their fans. And though there's already a disparate array of musician-led shows out there, it's seemingly just the beginning of a new podcast wave.
Below, get to know nine of the most interesting artist-hosted podcasts available.
Norah Jones is Playing Along
A relatively new addition to the podcast sphere, Norah Jones is Playing Along is exactly what it sounds like. Hosted by the "Come Away With Me" crooner, the show features Jones jamming on a piano with a cadre of her musician friends and colleagues. The show's guest list is similarly varied, with recent episodes including memorable conversations with indie folk artist Andrew Bird, country singer-songwriter Lukas Nelson and jazz virtuoso and Robert Glasper all of whom took viewers on a musical journey through their catalogs and beyond.
Broken Record with Rick Rubin and Malcolm Gladwell
Known as music's wise sage, legendary music producer Rick Rubin showcases his zen energy and insatiable passion for music on this informative podcast, which he hosts alongside journalist-author Malcolm Gladwell, New York Times editor Bruce Headlam and producer Justin Richmond. Much like Rubin's list of collaborators — which has ranged from everyone including Johnny Cash, Adele and Rage Against the Machine — the show zig-zags between insightful interviews with a range of music's most accomplished names, including Giles Martin, Feist, Usher, The Edge, Aaron Dessner, and Babyface.
Dua Lipa: At Your Service
Aside from her GRAMMY-winning music career, pop icon Dua Lipa has a bubbling entrepreneurial streak in the form of Service 95, a multi-platform lifestyle brand which includes a newsletter and special events. It also produces the popular podcast At Your Service, on which Lipa interviews a diverse range of personalities including musicians (collaborators Charli XCX and Elton John), cultural luminaries (Dita Von Teese) and activists (Brandon Wolf) for laidback conversations about their respective careers.
Amid his roles as a founding member of the Roots, bandleader on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," a prolific filmmaker and a best-selling author, Questlove adds podcast host to his rich cultural tapestry with Questlove Supreme. The show prides itself on loose, intimate and in-depth conversations with a who's who of music's luminaires, whether a multi-hour, emotional chat with Mariah Carey, an insightful conversation with trumpet legend Herb Alpert, or icons ranging from the late Wayne Shorter to Bruce Springsteen and manager Shep Gordon.
Table Manners with Jessie and Lennie Ware
British songstress Jessie Ware teams up with her mother, Lennie, on this effervescent podcast, which showcases the "Free Yourself" singer munching on a delicious home cooked meal while having a conversation that's equally scrumptious. Whether the two are having pink salmon with Pink, eggplant pie with Shania Twain or spinach pie and florentines with Kim Petras, it all makes for an extremely listenable (and hunger-inducing) spin on the medium.
Flea's This Little Light
Earlier this year, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Flea launched the interview series This Little Light, which zeroes in on the importance of music education. In short order, the podcast has already boasted heavy-hitter guests, including Cynthia Erivo, Patti Smith and Margo Price. "I wanted to do This Little Light to benefit my music school, the Silverlake Conservatory of Music," he said in a statement upon its release. "The idea behind it being music education, falling in love with music and embarking on a musical journey for your life. Everybody's path is so different, and it's fascinating to learn how every musician came to music and developed their study of it over time."
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David Guetta: The Podcast
A departure from every other podcast on this list, dance music king and David Guetta strays from the interview format and lets the music do the talking. Guetta hosts this weekly hour-long podcast doubles as a playlist, which features a selection of songs handpicked by Guetta himself. Typically opening with a remix from Guetta himself (he recently featured his spin on Kim Petras' and Sam Smith's GRAMMY-winning hit "Unholy,") the show then explores a variety of electronic tracks from a disparate list of artists, including tracks from dance music mavens Olivier Giacomotto, Idris Elba and Robin Shulz.
The Joe Budden Podcast
Still going strong eight years after its launch, The Joe Budden Podcast is hosted by the eponymous rapper and his friends as they talk through matters of hip-hop and their own lives, with recent topics focusing on everything from Cher's love life to the Met Gala. Each episode — which regularly hovers around the three-hour mark — is like being a fly on the wall to Budden and friends. Of course, there's celebrity interviews along the way, with headline-making chats with the likes of Akon and N.O.R.E.
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7 Incredible Sets From AfroNation Miami: WizKid, Uncle Waffles, Black Sherif & More
At the inaugural AfroNation Miami, stars of the Nigerian Afrobeats movement joined by Caribbean artists, South African amapiano DJs and MCs, all of whom kept the sweltering crowds grooving until late into the night.
If the inaugural AfroNation Miami could be described in one word, it’s hot — in all its meanings.
With thousands of tourists descending on Miami for Memorial Day weekend, many of them celebrating Urban Beach Week, it should be a no-brainer to have a festival focused on Black artists and music from around the world. The thing is, Florida gets pretty balmy in the summer — in the 80s and 90s every day — and the high-humidity heat during the two-day fest felt almost unbearable at times. But artists and fans alike didn’t let the climate ruin their good time.
An incredible selection of talent from across the African diaspora played to an approximately 20,000-strong crowd at LoanDepot Park, usually home of the Miami Marlins. Stars of the Nigerian Afrobeats movement including Burna Boy, Asake, and WizKid gave pulse-pounding performances, joined by Caribbean artists such as Jamaican dancehall talent Mavado and Panamanian reggaetonista Sech. Just outside on the stadium plaza, an entire stage of South African amapiano DJs and MCs kept the sweltering crowds grooving until late into the night.
There were a few snags common to festivals. Some artists, like WizKid, showed up late to their sets. Others, like Beenie Man, dropped out entirely, only to be replaced by the charismatic up-and-comer Shenseea. But more often than not, the international crowd was granted a formidable festival experience, anchored by extraordinary sets from some of the best Black artists in the world. Read on to discover seven of the most jaw-dropping sets from AfroNation Miami.
Asake Bares All-In Enrapturing Performance
Not even clothes could contain Asake’s exuberance — the Nigerian Afrobeats rookie basically undressed himself slowly during his half-hour performance. First he threw away his neon green wraparound shades. Then he ditched his Louis Vuitton jean jacket on the stage floor. His chunky silver sneakers came off at one point, and he finished the rest of the set walking around in his socks. His ear monitor fell out during one of his many twirling dance moves and had to be replaced later by a stagehand.
Eventually, that left his white tank top, which he’d been using to wipe away sweat for the whole performance. That came off at the climax of the show, when the singer stepped over the barrier to commune with the crowd. As a security guard supported him he leaned back in a crucifix pose, letting fans tug at his shirt until he finally tossed it into the throng.
Asake has come a long way in a very short time. The 28-year-old dropped his first album just last year and has been making the media rounds in the states, appearing on "Jimmy Fallon" and "Good Morning America." He’s a star on the rise, representing the new wave of Afrobeats, its embrace of continent-spanning sounds like amapiano (which he namechecks in the title of one of his biggest songs), and its potential to go even more global than it already is.
His stage presence signifies his world-conquering potential. He doesn’t interact with the crowd like Ckay or Burna Boy. He dances and sings, in a deep, sonorous voice, as if possessed by some spirit, staring into the middle distance, concentrating on nothing but leaving it all on the stage. It’s almost as if he was in a trance, and the moment he walked off after performing "Mr. Money," it felt as though everyone present had all snapped out of one as well, hypnotized by this one-of-a-kind talent.
Black Sherif Spits From The Streets
Although he played to a sparse crowd early Saturday, Ghanaian rapper Black Sherif didn’t let that stop him from giving a blistering performance. Fans holding signs thanking him for songs such as "Second Sermon" had camped out in front of the stage, and he didn’t disappoint them, delivering a passionate sermon from the streets.
As a proponent of the gritty Ghanaian offshoot of UK drill known as asakaa, Black Sherif was one of the few hip-hop-oriented acts on a bill dominated by pop and Afrobeats stars. He told stories of darkness and heartbreak with incredible focus and intensity, almost shouting his lyrics at the crowd in a raspy voice. Songs such as "45" feature lyrics in English and Sherif’s native language of Twi, and to his credit, his delivery was flawless through the entire set. He didn’t skip a single word, which is more than can be said for many American rappers.
The drama of Black Sherif’s passionate performance climaxed with his final song, the hit "Kwaku the Traveler," weaving a tragic tale of falling from and grinding his way back to success. About 30 seconds in, the DJ let the beat drop out, leaving the rapper to finish the song with a captivating a capella.
Burna Boy Withstands The Heat For Fuego Saturday Closing Set
Drenched in sweat, even Burna Boy eventually needed a break from the heat. After eight songs straight of passionate performance, he finally turned to a stagehand and declared "I’m gonna need some water."
The fiery performance was the climax of AfroNation’s Saturday lineup, and Damini Ogulu did not disappoint. Backed by a full band even larger than Asake’s, with backup singers, dancers, a brass section, and a drumline playing African percussion instruments, the global superstar dripped with charisma as well as perspiration. His million-watt smile shone brighter than any of the lights in the LoanDepot Park stands as he strutted around the stage and blazed through solo renditions of his biggest hits, including "Secret," as well as tracks from his recent album Love Damini such as the Ed Sheeran collab "For My Hand."
With pyrotechnics, smoke machines, and a stadium full of adoring fans at his disposal, the king of Afrobeats put on an incredible spectacle in Miami, with the most iconic moment coming at the end as the entire ballpark sang the chorus of "It’s Plenty" a capella. But an even more iconic moment may have been after performing his Dave collab "Location" when he recovered a Haitian flag, waved it around, and wrapped it around his neck like a bandanna. Out of all the flags being waved in the audience, this is the one that matters most in Miami with its huge Haitian diaspora population. And when Africa’s biggest star bore it proudly, the crowd erupted.
Ckay Celebrates Love And Money On The Main Stage
Before he went onstage at AfroNation Miami, Ckay’s DJ declared him "Africa’s number one boyfriend." It was easy to see why: Not only did he perform some of his most romantic songs, but the Nigerian singer spent much of the show making eyes at the crowd. And making heart symbols with his hands. And peace signs.
It seems the fans loved him back. The phones all came out upon hearing the opening strains of closer "Love Nwatiti" (a massive international hit and the first No. 1 on Billboard’s Afrobeats chart) and the crowd roared with approval upon hearing the sweet guitar melody on "Emiliana." "This is my first time doing this song in Miami, I want you to make some noise!" he declared.
The show wasn’t all about romance, however. Penultimate song "Hallelujah" is an ode to cash money, and Ckay displayed his clout by bringing out featured rapper Blaqbonez to perform his verse. "If you wanna make some money this year say ‘Ohhhhh,’" the singer said to the crowd before jumping into the amapiano-influenced track. Money and talent — maybe he would make a good boyfriend.
Major League DJz Offer A Scorching Set Of South African Sounds
More than anyone else at AfroNation, Major League DJz showed the world-conquering potential of amapiano.
Closing the stage on Sunday night, the duo ran through a scorching set of amapiano favorites, even slipping in an immaculate remix of Beyoncé’s "CUFF IT" while a succession of MCs pumped up the crowd. Shifting the vibe at will — from intense, futuristic rave and trance-indebted synth tracks to lighter tunes with soulful piano and organ chords, and always with eruptions of log drum bass and skillfully-deployed delays, filters, and other effects — they kept the crowd enraptured and in thrall to the power of ‘piano. So deeply in command of the audience were they that a guest appearance midway through the set threatened to derail it entirely. Atlanta rapper Kali took the stage to perform her song "Area Codes," and the trap-influenced track felt like a wrench thrown into the Majors’ finely-tuned amapiano machine.
Kali wasn’t the only guest appearance, as by the end of the set, it felt as though the entire Piano People collective had come on stage. Over a dozen people stood behind, in front of, and even on top of the decks, celebrating their success and lending their collective energy to give the performance a feeling of unstoppability. The MCs hyped up the crowd, the dancers (including the previous night’s headliner Uncle Waffles) danced, and the rest basked in the vibes of the by-then-bursting crowd. This is how Africa raves, and the rest of the world would be smart to follow along.
DJ Uncle Waffles Brings Impeccable Femme Energy To Piano People Stage
While the stars of Afrobeats took the stage inside on the LoanDepot Park field, outside the stadium the Piano People stage had the feel of a block party. Focusing on the ascendant South African dance genre of amapiano, the stage brought some of the scene’s biggest talents to Miami.
It was Saturday night headliner Uncle Waffles, also the only female artist to headline either stage, that offered the purest take on what makes the genre exciting. Looking like a Matrix character in a black jumpsuit and neon-green hair, the South Africa-via-eSwatini DJ put up a powerful mix of amapiano tracks, including her own massive hit "Tanzania." The pulse of the log drum bass and the steamy rhythms felt right at home in the swampy humidity.
While many of the loudest, most energetic voices at the stage were MCs such as Focalistic and Musa Keys, Waffles, despite primarily DJing, quietly behind the decks. She would often start a track and jump to the front of the stage to join her dance troupe, themselves dressed in cheerleader-style outfits, in thrilling, coordinated dance routines. The energy and enthusiasm onstage and in the crowd manifested itself the most in these moments.
WizKid Shows He's The Star Of The Show
WizKid knows he’s a star (he was calling himself "Starboy" long before The Weeknd) and at his festival-closing set on Sunday night, he delivered a star experience, taking the stage from atop a massive stair-shaped backdrop designed to let him descend from high above the rest of us.
Wearing sequined black pants, a leather fedora, and shades that never left his eyes, Wizzy strutted back and forth on the stage like a proud lion, performing the biggest hits from his massive catalog. Some guests came out, such as Buju for "Mood," while the artist let the crowd sing-along to Drake’s verse on "Come Closer." The instrumentals seemed to switch between a DJ and a live band, both of them obscured by the stage setup.
At other sets such as Burna Boy and Asake, the band was a major feature; here there was nothing to distract the crowd from Big Wiz. He absorbed their love like a sponge, and may have caught some thrown underwear from the crowd too.
Much was made by the artist of the global nature of the crowd. Wizzy started out his set by shouting out all the Caribbeans, from Jamaica to Trinidad and certainly Haiti, present in the audience, before moving on to Africa. "I see your flags, I see you repping for your country right now," he said. "This is a sexy ass crowd tonight, baby!"
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