meta-scriptPost Malone Goes Country for “America The Beautiful” at Super Bowl LVIII | GRAMMY.com
Post Malone Performs at Super Bowl LVIII
Post Malone Performs at Super Bowl LVIII.

Photo:  Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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Post Malone Goes Country for “America The Beautiful” at Super Bowl LVIII

Post Malone kicked off Super Bowl LVIII with the annual performance of "America The Beautiful." Watch below.

GRAMMYs/Feb 12, 2024 - 12:21 am

Post Malone opened Super Bowl Sunday LVIII in Las Vegas with a tender performance of “America The Beautiful.”

Clad in a bolo tie and brown suede, the 10-time GRAMMY nominee self-accompanied on acoustic guitar for the patriotic number, crooning, “O beautiful for spacious skies / For amber waves of grain / For purple mountain majesty / Above the fruited plain / America, America / God shed his grace on thee / And crown thy good with brotherhood / From sea to shinin’ sea.” 

Days before his big moment at Allegiant Stadium, the rapper admitted he found the opportunity more than a little “nerve-wracking.” 

“I’m very nervous, but excited. I’m excited,” he said during Apple Music’s official pre-game press conference. “It’s just fun and super epic to be able to go out there and sing a song so many beautiful artists [sang] before on this stage, and I’m just gonna do my best. Just do my best and give it what I’ve got.”

“America The Beautiful” has been included in the Super Bowl pre-show dating back to 1974, when it was first performed by country singer Charley Pride. Other artists who’ve belted out the American standard by Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward in years past include Babyface, Jhené Aiko, Chloe x Halle, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, and Ray Charles among others.

Posty’s patriotic number comes less than a week after Taylor Swift revealed the rapper would be featured on opening track “Fortnight” off her upcoming eleventh studio album The Tortured Poets Department, which she announced during her acceptance speech for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs. Swift, of course, was also in the stands to cheer on her boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, after flying back to the U.S. from four sold-out shows in Tokyo, Japan.

Prior to Malone’s performance, Andra Day belted out “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as "The Black National Anthem," penned by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson, before the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs rushed the field at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium.

Taylor Swift performing during her Eras Tour with a guitar
Taylor Swift performs during her Eras Tour

Photo: Don Arnold/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

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Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' Is A Post-Mortem Autopsy In Song: 5 Takeaways From Her New Album

"There is nothing to avenge, no scores to settle once wounds have healed," Taylor Swift wrote of her new album. From grapplings with fame to ultra-personal reflections on love lost, her latest set of fountain and quill pen songs marks the end of an era.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 05:38 pm

"All’s fair in love and poetry," Taylor Swift declared when she announced her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, at the 66th GRAMMY Awards

Taken from the proverb "All’s fair in love and war," the pop phenom gave us a fair warning: there’s no limit to what she’ll go through to achieve her ends. 

On the freshly released The Tortured Poets Department, Taylor Swift has a few things to get off her chest — so much that it required a surprise second record, The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology, adding an additional 15 songs. The sprawling album is a masterclass in songwriting and so personal that it's analogous to performing a post mortem autopsy; The musical shapeshifter is here to exhume the tortured poets of her past and make peace with them. 

In an Instagram post, Swift called the record an anthology that reflects "events, opinions and sentiments from a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time - one that was both sensational and sorrowful in equal measure." With the release of Tortured Poets, "there is nothing to avenge, no scores to settle once wounds have healed…our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page." 

Describing Swift’s work as a collection of tracks about boys and break-ups has always felt underbaked and disingenuous, but much of The Tortured Poets Department is just that. In true Swiftian fashion, she plays on preconceived theories, opting to toy with the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — after a break-up, bringing listeners along on a peregrination exploring the depths of her relationships and personal growth. 

Analyzing her feelings to craft songs is muscle memory at this point, but with every release Taylor Swift somehow does so with a refreshed and reimagined perspective. The stories she shares with her fans in TTPD might’ve made her feel like she died, but she’s a revenant no longer tortured by the whims and words of other poets.

With The Tortured Poets Department open for business, read on for five key points to consider when listening to Taylor Swift’s new album.

It's Much More Than A Break-Up Record

Although the record orbits around a break-up, The Tortured Poets Department demonstrates Swift's ability to shapeshift as a songwriter. A song about a break-up is layered, typically forcing Swift to unveil her own flaws while wearing her broken heart on her sleeve.

The fifth track on a Taylor Swift album is typically the most emotionally cutting, and "So Long London" is no exception. On the standout track, Swift views the loss of her lover and the breakdown of her relationship to Joe Alwyn through the lens of the city they once shared together. It’s a cathartic release for Swift who point-blank notes the pain they inflicted upon her and how, in turn, they ended up just as heartbroken as she is. 

The high-spirited "Down Bad" and subdued "The Smallest Man in The World" are two sides of the same coin. The former is hopeful that a love could be reignited, whereas the latter sees Swift at her grittiest, pointing the finger at her former lover. "Smallest" poses a series of questions, accusing her ex of being a spy who only wanted to get intel on her.

On piano ode "loml," Swift looks back at the "get-love-quick" schemes she first wrote about in "Why She Disappeared," a poem for reputation. The poem originally considered the death of her reputation and how its aftermath made her stronger while she was simultaneously nursing a new relationship. 

The track has a similar energy to fan favorite "All Too Well," but is even more accusatory — seemingly unlocking another level of her songwriting prowess as she teeters between seething rage and mourning with lines about picking through a "braid of lies" spewed by a partner who "claimed he was a lion" but is really a coward. While Swift is honest about never feeling a loss so deeply, she maturely accepts that the effort she put into keeping the relationship afloat was all she could do. It’s distinctly different from the battles she bravely fought in "The Great War," "Daylight" and "long story short."

She's Grappling With Fame & Owning Her Choices

That Taylor Swift struggles with her own celebrity and the public's perception is nothing new. On reputation’s album prologue, she stated, "We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them they have chosen to show us." 

On The Tortured Poets Department, Swift has never been more honest about her feelings towards those who claim to know better than she does. On "But Daddy I Love Him," she doubles down on these frustrations, taking aim at self-righteous "vipers" and "judgmental creeps" who condemn her choice of a lover. Swift holds nothing back, declaring "I'll tell you something about my good name/It's mine alone to disgrace."

Swift stated that her life sometimes feels like a public autopsy with people psychoanalyzing her every thought and feeling. Following the release of Midnights and her larger-than-life Eras Tour, Swift’s been in her "glittering prime" despite experiencing her long-term relationship ending and the media hysteria around it would make anyone feel the opposite. "I Can Do It With A Broken Heart" confirms fans' theories that the GRAMMY winner was indeed putting on a brave face.  

On "Clara Bow" — a song named for the silent film actress whose public life was so scrutinized that she admitted herself into a sanatorium — Swift sings "Beauty is a beast that roars/Down on all fours/Demanding, 'More.'" Again, Swift plays with the double-edged sword of fame, comparing herself to a performing circus animal — something she sings about in "Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me?" 

Taylor Swift Gets By With A Little Help From Her Friends

Swift has always looked up to and honored the greats in her music and art, and Tortured Poets is no exception. She recruits rock icon and songwriter Stevie Nicks to help build TTPD’s world, and Nicks penned a poem featured in Swift’s physical album. Written in Texas, the poem is "For T and me..." and tells the tale of two ill-fated lovers. (Swift also namedrops Nicks in "Clara Bow," touching on the comparisons made between Clara, Nicks and herself.)

There are two additional guest appearances on TTPD: Post Malone appears on "Fortnight" and Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine is featured on "Florida!!!" (a surprisingly toned-down lead single). Swift particularly shines when paired with Welch, and the soaring "Florida!!!" sees their intertwined vocals creating a sound as infectious as the "drug" they sing about.

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan inspired Swift on "cardigan" ("Tried to change the ending/Peter losing Wendy") but now the Lost Boy gets his own track on The Anthology’s "Peter." The ever-inquisitive Swift pleads, "You said you were gonna grow up/Then you were gonna come find me" and confronts this man who wouldn’t grow up. She even puts herself in the shoes of Wendy who waited for Peter Pan to return but has grown tired of waiting.

TTPS Is All Quill And Fountain Pen Songs

A few years ago, Taylor Swift categorized her songwriting according to three writing devices: glitter gel pens for fun tracks, fountain pens for songs using modern imagery and lyrics, and quill pens for tracks with flowery, figurative language. Although devoid of the glittery gel pen songs that comprise many of Swift's hits, TTPD and its accompanying anthology are steeped in fountain and quill writing. 

Most of The Tortured Poets Department are fountain pen tracks — thanks to 2024 Producer Of The Year Jack Antonoff’s sleek pop production and synth use. Tracks like "Fresh Out The Slammer" and "My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys" are sharp, snappy, tongue-in-cheek tales of love affairs about to begin and coming to an end with the same sonic exuberance of past Swift & Antonoff songs, like "Out of the Woods" and "Getaway Car."

Tracks on The Anthology, mostly produced by Aaron Dessner, are stripped-back, folk-tinged quill songs brimming with sorrow and harrowing thematics and dives even deeper into her chaotic psyche. "The Prophecy" sees Swift beg to change a prophecy that has been laid out ahead of her — likely stemming from the pressure of being a global superstar when all she wants is to be loved.

This Is The End Of An Era (Or A Chapter)

To her occasional disdain, Swift's highly personal songwriting has created a global obsession with her inner life.  Although she's tired of the "public autopsy," Tortured Poets offers her time to reflect on the "events, opinions, and sentiments" over a time that was equal parts transient and transformative. 

From her growth from the country-twanged teen singer on her self-titled debut to woman who is fearless in her pursuit of happiness, love, and peace, Swift has transformed time and time again. By viewing her work in eras — or, in this case, a chapter in a book of her life — it’s clear that Swift sees this current chapter of her life coming to a close, turning the last page and no longer longing to look back. 

One could argue that Swift is an unreliable narrator, only ever presenting her side of the story. But she says that while considering the pain described on TTPS, many now-healed wounds turned out to be self-inflicted. With these stories immortalized, Taylor Swift has spoken her saddest story and is now "free of it." The tortured poets and poems will no longer take up space in this next chapter of her life.

Songbook: An Era-By-Era Breakdown Of Taylor Swift's Journey From Country Starlet To Pop Phenomenon

All Things Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift performs during "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at the National Stadium on March 02, 2024 in Singapore.

Photo: Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

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Taylor Swift’s New Album 'The Tortured Poets Department' Is Here: The Tracklisting, Guests, Easter Eggs & More

Just over two months after Taylor Swift announced 'The Tortured Poets Department' at the 2024 GRAMMYs, the sprawling, bracingly personal album is here. Before you open the department door, arm yourself with the following knowledge.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 05:20 pm

We’ll be wandering through this Department for the foreseeable future.

Not only has Taylor Swift unleashed an absolute maelstrom with her 16-song new album, The Tortured Poets Department; she’s dropped a whopping 15 additional tracks via its expanded version, The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.

Clearly, there’s an absolute treasure trove here — for Swifties and the merely Swift-curious alike. A mostly downbeat and discursive affair, The Tortured Poets Department feels like the shadow cast by the gilded, giddy, exhilarating Eras Tour, which isn’t over yet. (Which makes all the sense in the world, as she was simultaneously chipping away at the album while crisscrossing the globe.)

If you’re reading this, you’re probably bracing yourself for this long, solemn, darkly funny journey. Don’t go alone: here’s a brief breakdown of what you should know going in. (And keep checking GRAMMY.com, as there’s plenty more Taylor and Tortured Poets coming your way.)

The Tracklisting

As previously reported, here’s the standard tracklist for The Tortured Poets Department:

Side A
"Fortnight" (feat.
Post Malone)
"The Tortured Poets Department"
"My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys"
"Down Bad"

**Side B**
"So Long, London"
"But Daddy I Love Him"
"Fresh Out the Slammer"
"Florida!!!" (feat.
Florence + the Machine)

**Side C**
"Guilty As Sin?"
"Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?"
"I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)"
"Loml"

**Side D**
"I Can Do It With a Broken Heart"
"The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived"
"The Alchemy"
"Clara Bow"

The Expanded Tracklisting

Aside from The Black Dog Edition, The Albatross Edition, The Bolter Edition, and The Manuscript Edition — which consist of the standard edition of the album with its titular bonus track — here are the additional tracks that complete The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.

"The Black Dog"

"Imgonnagetyouback"

"The Albatross"

"Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus"

"How Did It End?"

"So High School"

"I Hate It Here"
"thanK you aIMee"

"I Look In People’s Windows"

"The Prophecy"
"Cassandra"
"Peter"
"The Bolter"
"Robin"

"The Manuscript"

The Guests

Physical copies of The Tortured Poets Department feature an original poem by the one and only Stevie Nicks.

Titled "For T and me…," the poem starts off with "He was in love with her / Or at least she thought so / She was brokenhearted / Maybe he was too." It goes on to trace a doomed relationship — one party being "way too hot to handle" and the other "way too high to try."

Elsewhere, Post Malone lends a haunting vocal to opener and lead single "Fortnight," and Florence + the Machine elevate "Florida!!!".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiqoZyauhdA

The lion’s share of the album was produced by Jack Antonoff; Aaron Dessner handled a handful of tunes on the standard edition and the majority of The Anthology.

The Easter Eggs

Where do we begin? For starters, most of the songs seem to be directed at ex Matty Healy of the 1975, but Joe Alwyn and Travis Kelce seem to pop up here and there as well.

In the title track, Swift describes embracing the "cyclone" of a relationship with a partner akin to a "tattooed golden retriever." And they’d be remiss to compare themselves to Patti Smith or Dylan Thomas or any other famously tortured poet of the 20th century: "We’re modern idiots… we’re two idiots."

Elsewhere, Lucy Dacus of boygenius — and Antonoff himself — pop up ("But you tell Lucy you’d kill yourself if I ever leave / And I had said that to Jack about you / So I felt seen").

Far be it from us to speculate on exact subjects, but there are shades of depression ("You sacrificed us to the gods of your bluest days"), a betrothal that wasn’t to be ("You swore that you loved me but where were the clues? / I died on the altar waiting for the proof") and the racket of fame ("The circus life made me mean").

As usual, Swift has dumped puzzle pieces on the carpet — daring her ardent, global fanbase to start at the edges and work their way to the center. But never to this degree, across such an ocean of material.

Tortured poets — and those who fall in love with them — assemble!

Songbook: An Era-By-Era Breakdown Of Taylor Swift’s Journey From Country Starlet To Pop Phenomenon

All Things Taylor Swift

Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.
Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

feature

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

On 'COWBOY CARTER,' Beyoncé is free. Her eighth studio album is an unbridled exploration of musical genres — from country to opera and R&B — that celebrates the fluidity of music and her Texas roots.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 08:50 pm

"Genres are a funny little concept, aren't they? In theory, they have a simple definition that's easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined."

With those words, spoken on "SPAGHETTII" by Linda Martell — the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music and the first to play the Grand Ole Opry solo — Beyoncé provides a proxy response to her original call on Instagram 10 days before COWBOY CARTER was released: "This ain’t a Country album. This is a “Beyoncé” album." 

She delivered on that promise with intent. Through a mix of homage and innovation, Beyoncé's latest is a 27-track testament to her boundless musicality and draws  from a rich aural palette. In addition to its country leanings, COWBOY CARTER includes everything from the soulful depths of gospel to the intricate layers of opera. 

Beyoncé's stance is clear: she's not here to fit into a box. From the heartfelt tribute in "BLACKBIIRD" to the genre-blurring tracks like "YA YA," Beyoncé uses her platform to elevate the conversation around genre, culture, and history. She doesn't claim country music; she illuminates its roots and wings, celebrating the Black artists who've shaped its essence.

The collective album proves no genre was created or remains in isolation. It's a concept stoked in the words of the opening track, "AMERIICAN REQUIEM" when Beyonce reflects, "Nothing really ends / For things to stay the same they have to change again." For country, and all popular genres of music to exist they have to evolve. No sound ever stays the same.

COWBOY CARTER's narrative arc, from "AMERICAN REQUIEM" to "AMEN," is a journey through American music's heart and soul, paying tribute to its origins while charting a path forward. This album isn't just an exploration of musical heritage; it's an act of freedom and a declaration of the multifaceted influence of Black culture on American pop culture.

Here's a closer look at some of some of the musical genres touched on in act ii, the second release of an anticipated trilogy by Beyoncé, the most GRAMMY-winning artist of all-time: 

Country 

Before COWBOY CARTER was even released, Beyoncé sparked critical discussion over the role of herself and all Black artists in country music. Yet COWBOY CARTER doesn't stake a claim on country music. Rather, it spotlights the genre through collaborations with legends and modern icons, while championing the message that country music, like all popular American music and culture, has always been built on the labor and love of Black lives. 

It's a reckoning acknowledged not only by Beyoncé's personal connection to country music growing up in Texas, but the role Black artists have played in country music rooted in gospel, blues, and folk music. 

Enter The World Of Beyoncé

Country legends, Dolly Parton ("DOLLY P", "JOLENE," and "TYRANT"), Willie Nelson ("SMOKE HOUR" and "SMOKE HOUR II"), and Martell ("SPAGHETTII and "THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW") serve mainly as spoken-word collaborators, becoming MCs for Queen Bey. Some of the most prolific country music legends receiving her in a space where she has been made to feel unwelcome in music (most notably with the racism surrounding her 2016 CMA performance of "Daddy Lessons" with the Dixie Chicks) provides a prolific release of industry levies. Martell, a woman who trod the dark country road before Bey, finally getting her much-deserved dues appears as an almost pre-ordained and poetic act of justice. 

"BLACKBIIRD," a version of the Beatles' civil rights era song of encouragement and hope for the struggle of Black women is led softly by Beyoncé, backed by a quartet of Black female contemporary country songbirds: Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts. 

Beyoncé holds space for others, using the power of her star to shine a light on those around her. These inclusions rebuke nay-sayers who quipped pre-release that she was stealing attention from other Black country artists. It also flies in the faces that shunned and discriminated against her, serving as an example of how to do better. The reality that Beyoncé wasn't stealing a spotlight, but building a stage for fellow artists, is a case study in how success for one begets success for others. 

Read more: 8 Country Crossover Artists You Should Know: Ray Charles, The Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper & More

Gospel, Blues, & Folk (American Roots)

As is Beyoncé's way, she mounts a case for country music with evidence to back up her testimony. She meanders a course through a sequence of styles that serve as the genre's foundation: gospel, blues, and folk music.

"AMERIICAN REQUIEM" and "AMEN" bookend the album with gospel-inspired lyrics and choir vocals. The opener sets up a reflective sermon buoyed by  the sounds of a reverberating church organ, while the closer, with its introspective lyrics, pleads for mercy and redemption. The main verse on "AMEN", "This house was built with blood and bone/ The statues they made were beautiful/ But they were lies of stone," is complemented by a blend of piano, and choral harmonies. 

Hymnal references are interlaced throughout the album, particularly in songs like "II HANDS II HEAVEN" and in the lyrical nuances on "JUST FOR FUN." In the later track, Beyoncé's voice soars with gratitude in a powerful delivery of the lines, "Time heals everything / I don't need anything / Hallelujah, I pray to her." 

The gospel-inspired, blues-based "16 CARRIAGES" reflects the rich history of country songs borrowing from the blues while simultaneously calling back to songs sung by field laborers in the colonial American South. "Sixteen dollars, workin' all day/ Ain't got time to waste, I got art to make" serves as the exhausted plea of an artist working tirelessly long hours in dedication to a better life. 

Rhiannon Giddens, a celebrated musician-scholar, two-time GRAMMY winner, and Pulitzer Prize recipient, infuses "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" with her profound understanding of American folk, country, and blues. She plays the viola and banjo, the latter tracing its origins to Sub-Saharan West Africa and the lutes of ancient Egypt. Through her skilled plucking and bending of the strings, Giddens bridges the rich musical heritage of Africa and the South with the soul of country, blues, and folk music.

Pop, Funk, Soul & Rock 'n' Roll 

All in, Beyoncé is a pop star who is wrestling with labels placed on her 27-year career in COWBOY CARTER. Fittingly, she brings in two other pop artists known for swimming in the brackish water between country and pop, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. Her intentional inclusion of two artists who have blurred genres without much cross-examination begs the question, Why should Beyoncé's sound be segregated to a different realm? 

On "YA YA" Linda Martell returns as the listener's sonic sentinel, introducing the track like a lesson plan: "This particular tune stretches across a range of genres. And that’s what makes it a unique listening experience." The tune sinks into the strummed chords of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" before leaping into a fiery dance track that features reimagined lyrics from the Beach Boys, with soulful vocal flourishes and breaks that show the throughline connection between '60s era rock, funk, and pop music.

Robert Randolph lends his hands on "16 CARRIAGES" with a funk-infused grapple on his pedal-steel guitar. It's a style he honed through his early years touring and recording with his family band and later in his career as an in-demand collaborator working with names including the Allman Brothers, and Norah Jones

The lesson is solidified as the album transitions into an interlude on "OH LOUISIANA," featuring a sped-up sample of a classic track by Chuck Berry. This moment emphasizes the pop superstar's nod to civil rights era music history, spotlighting a controversial artist celebrated for his pioneering contributions to rock 'n' roll. (It's a part of music history Beyoncé knows well, after starring as Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, a veiled biopic of the legendary Chicago label Chess Records.)

Classical & Opera

Opera was missing from many listeners' Beyoncé Bingo card, but didn't surprise those that know her background. Beyoncé was trained for over a decade starting at an early age by her voice teacher David Lee Brewer, a retired opera singer who once lived with the Knowles family. 

COWBOY CARTER gives sing-along fans a 101 opera class with "DAUGHTER." In Italian, Beyoncé sings passages from the 1783 Italian opera "Caro Mio Ben," composed by Giuseppe Tommaso Giovanni Giordani. The aria is a classic piece of vocal training that fittingly shows off her full range — taking us back to the earliest days of her vocal teachings.

Hip-Hop & R&B

Midway through the album on "SPAGHETTII" Beyoncé announces, "I ain't no regular singer, now come get everythin' you came for," landing right where expectations have confined her: in the throes of a romping beat, experimenting with sounds that blend hip-hop with R&B and soul. The track notably highlights the talent of Nigerian American singer/rapper Shaboozey, who also shows up to the rodeo on "SWEET HONEY BUCKIN'" brandishing his unique mix of hip-hop, folk-pop, and country music. 

Beyoncé worked with longtime collaborator Raphael Saadiq on this album, a career legend in the R&B industry, who lends his mark to several tracks on which he wrote, produced, and played multiple instruments. Beyoncé also utilizes the Louisiana songwriter Willie Jones on "JUST FOR FUN," an artist who draws on a contemporary blend of country, Southern rap, and R&B in the hymnal ballad. 

The violin-heavy "TYRANT" and "SPAGHETTII" both underscore hip-hop's long love affair with the classical string instrument (See: Common's "Be," and Wu Tang Clan's "Reunited" as the tip of that particular iceberg) with a blend of soulful R&B lyrics paired with beat-based instrumentalization. 

In a world quick to draw lines and label sounds, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER stands as a vibrant mosaic of musical influence and innovation. Ultimately, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER isn't seeking anyone's acceptance. As a Texan once told she didn't belong, her critical response claps back at this exclusion.  It's also a reminder that in the hands of a true artist, music is limitless.

Run The World: Why Beyoncé Is One Of The Most Influential Women In Music History

Noah Kahan Press Photo 2023
Noah Kahan

Photo: Aysia Marotta

interview

Noah Kahan's Big Year: How The "Stick Season" Singer Became A Folk-Pop Hero

On the heels of announcing an arena and stadium tour for 2024, Noah Kahan revisits some of the biggest moments that have led to it, from going viral with "Stick Season" to collaborating with Post Malone.

GRAMMYs/Oct 9, 2023 - 05:30 pm

In July 2019, Noah Kahan made a promise to his fans via Twitter: "I prolly won't sell out Madison square garden, or even all the shows on my tour but I'll keep writing songs for you all for as long as you'll have me."

Four years later, he's made good on his word about continuing to write songs. But he's also proved himself wrong; not only has the Vermont-born star sold out his entire 2023 tour, but 2024 will see him play a sold-out Madison Square Garden — twice.

While Kahan himself asserts that he's always had a "very dedicated" fan base — whether from his days of posting to SoundCloud and YouTube or since he signed with Republic Records in 2017 – he admits he still finds it hard to process the level to which it's grown. "It's f—ing unbelievable," he says. "It feels so fake that it's almost like, the more time I spend thinking about it, the more abstract it becomes."

His humility is a large part of his appeal (as well as his sense of humor, both on Twitter and on stage), which carries into his folk-pop music. It's matched with extreme vulnerability, as Kahan has been open about his struggles with mental health. Even one of his biggest hits has revealing lyrics: "So I thought that if I piled something good on all my bad/ That I could cancel out the darkness I inherited from Dad," he sings the second verse of "Stick Season."

"Stick Season" became Kahan's breakout song in 2022, first making waves on social media — catching the attention of stars like Zach Bryan and Maisie Peters — and earning him his first radio hit. Its namesake album earned Kahan top 5 spots on Billboard's Top Alternative Albums, Top Rock Albums and Top Rock & Alternative Albums charts in October 2022, but it was the 2023 deluxe edition that really showed his trajectory: all 18 tracks debuted on Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Charts, making him one of only five artists to ever land 18 songs on the chart in one week. 

Kahan's disbelief in his success is only going to continue into the new year, as his 2024 tour will also include L.A.'s Hollywood Bowl and two nights at Boston's Fenway Park. At this rate, he's seemingly on his way to Taylor Swift-level stardom — though, as he jokes, three-hour shows will never be in the cards: "From a physical health standpoint, this is as big as it can get."

In the midst of his Stick Season Tour, Kahan reminisced on the wild ride he's been on for the past 18 months. Below, he details seven of his most career-defining moments to date. 

Watching "Stick Season" Blow Up

I wrote the song in 2020 and I posted the first verse and the chorus [on social media] the next morning. It was kind of an awkward time, because I had another album coming out right after that video was posted [2021's I Was / I Am] , and I had to promote that, and people were like, "What about that other song?" I'd be at shows and people would be like, "Play 'Stick Season'!"

I started to play it live, which is really what stoked the fire in terms of us realizing that it could be a big song. I played it in Syracuse, New York — and we hadn't posted any snippets besides what I would do on my Instagram Lives, or I'd perform it here and there on social media. Everyone in the room knew every single word to it. That was the song that got the biggest reaction all night, and it was a song that wasn't even out yet. That definitely opened my eyes to the desire for that song to be out in the world. 

A lot of my set at the time was more pop-leaning, and this song is definitely more folk-leaning. I could really see the desire for sing-along folk anthems after that performance. [I remember] talking to my team and being like, "I think this song is gonna be around for a long time."

It gave confidence to something that I had been trying to do for a long time, even subconsciously. I think I was always making folk music, and I would always gravitate toward those songs, but a part of me would be like, This isn't who you are, you make pop. So I would stay away from it. 

It took this one song — and playing it the way that I wanted to, and having people really respond — it opened my eyes to the audience that I didn't realize was there. It also opened my eyes to that confidence in myself that really comes through in this kind of songwriting. It let me look at folk music and storytelling as a bigger focus in my life instead of something that I did for fun or in the privacy of my home.

Seeing The Success Of Stick Season

When I was a kid, I would write my name on a blank CD, and I'd put it next to my Green Day CD, and I would pretend that we were the same. For a second it feels real, but it's really not.

Seeing my name on the charts and in conversations with all of these incredible famous artists, it kind of gave me the same feeling where I felt like, This just can't be real — I must be back in my childhood bedroom writing my band name on blank CDs. Because this doesn't happen to people making folk music, really. I was just kind of stunned into disbelief to the point where it took people reminding me that it was happening to actually process it.

I was in love with everything about the process of making this album, and honestly, that was enough for me. I felt so fulfilled. The organic nature of how it all came together felt so real to me, and it felt so important to me. And doing it in Vermont, and having the record be about Vermont and New England — it really felt like the album I've been waiting to make my whole life. 

I think my fans could see how much it meant to me, and it meant the same to them. We kind of shared this real emotional attachment to this album together. 

It just felt like a huge change in the way my life was gonna be. It meant that I could make music that fulfilled me that would fulfill others. I guess you could say it reinvigorated my faith in music in a lot of ways.

The chart success, and the radio play, and the co-signs from other really great artists and songwriters was incredible and overwhelming. I still haven't really processed it all. 

It definitely changed my life and put me into a place where I'm selling out shows, and there's lots of people that want me to work with them. It feels so nice, because it all came from following my heart — in the least cliché way.

Playing Boston Calling

It started to feel monumental when I got there. It's, like, three minutes away from my house, which is crazy. So I took a van from my house and I started walking around the festival, and it felt like I was Justin Bieber — people were chasing me around the festival and screaming.

It was one of the first times I've played in Boston since the deluxe [version of Stick Season] came out, and it was the second festival of the tour, so we were not expecting this crazy reaction. We get on stage and the crowd is just a sea of people. It looked like the crowd for a headliner, and it was only, like, 6 p.m.

We had a really good performance — objectively, we kind of crushed it — and all the fans were losing their minds, and then later, I went on stage with the Lumineers, which was so insane. It just felt like this moment of this hometown crowd really coming out in full force, showing their support and showing the world that I had this kind of fan base. I felt like I was kind of stepping out into a new world in a lot of ways when I got on stage. 

Singing "Homesick" was pretty incredible. It has a line about the Boston [Marathon] bombers, and we were literally right next to Watertown where the Boston bombers were caught. And hearing like 40,000 New Englanders sing "I'm mean because I grew up in New England" was incredible — it made me tear up watching videos the next day. Seeing all those people connect over this common understanding of who we are, and that region, all at once was really, really special. It was just such a Boston moment.

Ever since then, it was kind of just crazy show after crazy show. And every hometown show has been so unbelievable. It was kind of the start of the madness.

Headlining Red Rocks

A show that felt particularly special was Red Rocks. Having gone from being an opener there to a headliner in a little less than a year was really special for me. The growth was so evident.

The crowds at Red Rocks are in this trance of community and love — it felt like the crowd was connecting with each other, and watching that happen was really incredible. Every single person there had a smile on their face. I think that everybody there had an amazing time, and that made me so happy. 

Another thing that I've loved about all the shows, but Red Rocks in particular, is that some of these songs are filled with painful feelings and thoughts, and things that, for me, required a lot of vulnerability. And when the crowd is singing every single word, it just means that a whole crowd of — in Red Rocks' case, 9,900 people — are just being vulnerable, and yelling it out loud. 

That's the greatest gift a musician can ever get — watching people express themselves and free themselves from any kind of shame at a show. That's what I try to do with my music, and I feel like I saw thousands of people shedding their guilt, their fear and their shame, and singing the lyrics. 

We were playing the song "Maine," and there's a line that's like, "If there were cameras in the traffic lights, they'd make me a star," and I remember looking up at the crowd — that line is really about knowing that you have something special, but not knowing if anyone can ever see it. 

I remember singing that song and that line, and I looked up to the crowd — 9,,000 people, that's four times bigger than everyone in my hometown — screaming that line back to me, and I cried. I couldn't believe where I was in my life. 

And I still can't, but there are moments that I get numb to all of it and there are moments when the absurdity of it all slaps me in the face. That was definitely a moment where I felt just shocked by where I had gotten to, and how things have grown.

Launching The Busyhead Project

The Busyhead Project is an endeavor to raise a million dollars for mental health awareness, and these organizations that are doing so much for fighting the stigma and supporting people who suffer around North America. We wanted to start this organization because I have spent a lot of my career thinking and about my own journey with mental health, but I always felt like I was not doing enough, or just kind of providing lip service. 

I never wanted to feel like I was accessorizing it or commodifying it. So I wanted to do something that felt boots-on-the-ground, tangible, [and] would make a real difference. We set out with a goal to raise a million dollars [for these organizations], and we're getting really close. [Editor's note: As of press time, The Busyhead Project has raised $977,055.]

I think it just comes down to putting your money where your mouth is. Like, I'm playing bigger venues and I sell merch — I'm starting to make money, and part of my philosophy on wealth and making money is that you're supposed to use it to help other people. 

I don't need a lot for myself. I live on a diet of sunflower seeds and bananas — I'm literally eating both of them right now — so I wanted to give back as much as I can. It's really that simple; trying to raise money for people that really need it, and organizations that are doing miraculous work. We're definitely not going to stop at a million — I hope not, because that would be kind of lame. [Laughs.] If we can raise more money, we should raise it. 

When I was a kid, I would look up "Artists with depression" or "Artists on medication." I didn't find a lot of 'em, but when I did find somebody, it would feel like I was, like, saved by God or something. That became like religion to me, to see that someone who was in the music industry was also struggling with what I was really struggling with as a kid. I want to provide that for some kid making music out there.

Breaking Onto The Hot 100 (And Collaborating With Post Malone) With "Dial Drunk"

The chart is kind of, like, the one thing from movies about the music industry that signify when the band is doing well — like The Rocker, or Rockstar, where it's like, "Oh my god, the music's on the charts!" And they're doing a montage where the chart spins, and they're on a magazine cover, you know what I mean? And what's always followed by that is a horrible downward spiral, so I think when I saw the song charting well, I was like, Oh God, this is where my career starts to go bad. 

But I was really excited, and it was super cool — and, again, one of those things that's hard to actually understand from a human level. 

It was also really nice because I always feel like the last thing I did is the best thing I did, so after "Stick Season" was a big success, I was like, I have to have another song! And I was touring so much, and I was on Zoloft, so I was feeling emotionally kind of numbed-down. Writing this song was kind of a wake-me-up from what was going on. 

It was kind of a personal victory in a lot of ways — I challenged myself to make something new, and I did, and then it had this massive success. It felt like I can get through anything and do this again if I have to. It reminded me that what was happening in my career wasn't lightning in a bottle, but a real reflection of an audience being hungry for my music.

So then when Post Malone started recording his verse in the song, I felt like I was in a fever dream. I felt like it was gonna elevate my career to a new place, and I think it did.

He's always been an inspiration to me in the way he approaches music. I literally just reached out to him on DMs randomly one day, I was like, "Bro, I think you might like this song, we should do it together." He responded two months later, like, "Yeah, I f—ing love it!" It felt really natural.

We sat cross-legged and drank beers at the show in Massachusetts that I went out with him [to perform "Dial Drunk"]. It was so Post Malone — we talked about adult diapers and The Dewey Cox Story. He was just so funny and fun to be around. 

Announcing An Arena & Stadium Tour For 2024

They had been talked about for a while when we were starting the tour in the spring, but they never felt real — I always kind of think, That'll happen later. At the point that I'm doing those shows, I'll feel like I belong in those rooms.

Having these shows scheduled is truly surreal. I just don't know how we're gonna sell that many tickets. [Laughs.] I think I'll believe it when I'm in the room — like, Madison Square Garden, to me, has always felt like just where Paul McCartney goes, and I can't believe that I get to be having my name on the marquee.

I told my managers on the phone when they booked Fenway, "I'm actually going to retire after this." [Laughs.] There's really no way to describe what that means to someone from New England. 

As someone who grew up loving the Red Sox, going to Fenway Park all the time with my friends — getting drunk and stealing somebody's seats, and screaming at the opposing players over the dugout — that place has meant so much to me and so many people in my life. And the fact that I'm going to be one of not many people that have headlined that venue is just the craziest f—ing thing in the entire world. It feels like there's no other higher peak than playing songs about New England in the mecca of New England.

There was, like, a limit to my dreams when I was a kid — what I could do for a living and how big it could be. I'm trying to have my 8-year-old self be proud of me. I don't think he could even imagine where I'd be now. 

I'm so proud of the people I work with, I'm so proud of myself, because I have really worked hard for this, and I've sacrificed a lot of things in my life to make music happen. To get to this place, it just feels like all those hard decisions were worth it. 

I'm grateful for all the people that have supported me, and the people that have taken time out of their day to believe in my music when I couldn't believe in it. I'm just happy to feel like I belong here.

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