meta-scriptFor Questlove, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Is Crucial For Rap's Legacy | GRAMMY.com
For Questlove, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Is Crucial For Rap's Legacy
Questlove

Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Netflix

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For Questlove, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Is Crucial For Rap's Legacy

When Questlove worked on the Hip-Hop 50 revue at the 2023 GRAMMYs, the experience was so stressful that he lost two teeth. But he didn't balk at the opportunity to co-produce a two-hour special; the task was too important.

GRAMMYs/Dec 7, 2023 - 05:45 pm

Today, Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is correctly viewed as a watershed not just for hip-hop, but all of music. But when Questlove's father overheard him playing it, it didn't even sound like music to him.

"He happened to pass my room while 'Night of the Living Baseheads' came on and he had a look of disgust and dismay, like he caught me watching porn," the artist born Ahmir Thompson tells GRAMMY.com. "He literally was like, 'Dude, when you were three, I was playing you Charlie Parker records, and I was playing you real singers and real arrangers, and this is what you call music? All those years I wasted on private school and jazz classes. This is what you like?'

"I couldn't explain to him: 'Dad, you don't understand. Your entire boring-ass record collection downstairs is now being redefined in this very album. Everything you've ever played is in this record,'" he says. "If my dad — who was relatively cool and hip, but just getting older — couldn't understand it, then I know there's a world of people out there that are really just like, whatever."

That nagging reality has powered him ever since — whether he's co-leading three-time GRAMMY winners the Roots, authoring books and liner notes, or directing Oscar-winning films.

And that path led straight to Questlove's role as a executive producer for "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop," which will air Sunday, Dec. 10, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. ET and 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network, and stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

Questlove makes no bones about it: working on that 12-minute Hip-Hop 50 revue at the 2023 GRAMMYs was taxing. So taxing, in fact, that he lost two teeth due to the psychological pressure. But he soldiered on, and the result is an inspiring rush of a two-hour special.

"The thing that really motivated me — Look, man, roll up your sleeves and run through this mud — was like, if there ever was going to be a hip-hop time capsule, a lot of the participants in this show are somewhere between the ages of 20 and 60, and everybody's still kind of in their prime," he says.

"So that way,” Questlove continues, “in 2030, 2040, 2050, when our great, great, great, great grandkids are born and they want to look up someone, this'll probably be one of the top five things they look up. And I wanted to be a part of that."

Read on for a rangey interview with Questlove about his role in "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years of Hip-Hop," in all its dimensions.

Explore More Of "A GRAMMY Salute to 50 Years of Hip-Hop"

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What can you tell me about your involvement in "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?

I could be the guy that complains and complains and complains and complains: Man, I wish somebody would dah, dah, dah. Man, somebody needs to dah, dah, dah. And then the universe the whole time is poking you in the stomach like a dog. You think you're going to be drumming for life — like, that's your job.

So I went through this period where I just hated the lay of the land. And now people are like, "Well, the door is open if you want to come and see if you could change it." And for me, it was just important to.

And at first, I was really skeptical about this because even when I was an artist, my peers all the time would — I say in air quotes jokingly, but it's like, man, I know they're serious — they would just call me a suit. Whenever someone's called a suit in a sitcom or it is like, that's always the bad guy. Or especially for me that's known for all this artistry.

But for me, it's like, I can either just sit on the sidelines and watch this thing slowly kind of go in a direction that I don't want it to go. And often with the history of Black music in America, we're innovating this stuff, but we're really not behind the scenes in power positions to control it or to decide what direction it is. And it's a lot of heartbreaking and hard work.

After the success of the thing that we did in March — that 12-minute revue thing — I'll be honest with you. For 12 minutes that was like going through damn near, and I'm not even using hyperbolic statements by saying, coming out within an inch of my life.

When that moment was literally over and I was on the airplane landing back in New York, two of my teeth fell out. That's the level of stress I was [under]. Imagine landing in JFK and I got to rush to "The Tonight Show," but then it's like, Oh, wait, what's happening? Oh God, no! My teeth are falling out! And going to emergency surgery. My whole takeaway was like: Never again.

So of course when they hit me in July, "Hey, remember that 12 minute thing you did? You want to do the two-hour version of it?" I was like, "Hell no." And of course I hell noed for three weeks and it's like, "All right, I'll do it, but I'll just be a name on it. I ain't doing nothing." And then it went from that to like, "All right, what do you need me to do?"

What I will say is it's a two-hour show in which you got to figure out how to tell [the story of] hip-hop's 50-year totality — its origins, its peak period, its first moments of breaking new ground, the moment it went global around the world. You got to figure out a way to tell this story in two-hour interstitials and be all-inclusive. 

It was just as stressful, even up until four hours ago. I'll just basically say that my teeth didn't fall out, thank God. And it was worth everything, because it's really a beautiful moment.

Sorry for that 12-hour answer, but that's just how my life rolls.

It was a great answer. What was your specific role behind the scenes?

Oh, I'm a producer. Jesse Collins called a group of us in to help facilitate: me, LL [Cool J], Fatima Robinson, Dionne Harmon, Brittany Brazil. There's a group of nine of us who were producers.

So, [part of] my actual division of labor thing was finding people to help facilitate music. This is a genre in which maybe the first six years of the art form, there was no such thing as an instrumental. "Or, "Hey, J.Period, can you recreate 'Check Out My Melody' by Eric B. & Rakim with no vocals in it?"

Finding the right people to do the music, sometimes I'd have to do it myself. And a lot of people in hip-hop have been super burnt. Super burnt. And I mean, that's putting it lightly.

And so you're giving these impassioned, Jerry Maguire, help-me-help-you speeches. The amount of times I was like, "Look, I really want you to reconsider your answer. This is our legacy we're talking about."

I'm using terms that a lot of these people, frankly, are hearing for the first time, Because like I've said in past interviews, hip-hop started as outlaw music. No one thought it was going to be a thing. So there's a whole generation that had to lay out the red carpet, just so that the next generation could benefit from it while we disposed of them.

But then that next generation gets disposed of, and then here comes my generation. And then the next thing, you wake up and it's like, "Oh, we're not relevant anymore," and dah, dah, dah.

And I'm trying to convince people, "Wait, you don't understand. Now we have a seat at the table. Now we get to control. All that we talked about, we need to control our destiny, and this is our culture." And there was a lot of that. And some people [were like], "All right, I'll do it for you." [To which I said,] "No, no, don't do it for me. Do it for the culture."

But then there were also people like, "Man, never again. F— all that." And there was also, "Hey, why wasn't I asked?" and all that stuff.  So in these two hours, you're going to see eight to nine segments in which we try to wisely cover every base.

This is the "Lyricist" section, and this is the "Down South" section. And ["Ladies First"] is all about the ladies. And this is for those that passed away. And this is for the club bangers. And this is for music outside of America. And this is for the left-of-center alternative hip-hop.

Yes, we wanted to include everybody, but this is network television. And at that, you only get eight to 12 minutes at a time. So that's even hard. "Hey, why can't I do my chorus and my verse?" "Look, man, you got 32 seconds." If you've ever seen those "Tom and Jerry" cartoons where they're juggling plates in a kitchen — like 30 at a time — I don't recommend that to anybody.

But we got through it. I want everyone to feel proud of where hip-hop has come, because to be nine years old and to get on punishment for hip-hop — you know what I mean? I come from that generation. You've got to pay a price to live this culture.

And now it's established. So that's why I got involved. So there was a lot I had to do. A lot of calls, a lot of begging, a lot of arrangements, a lot of talking to people about clearing their samples, to call up publishing companies: "Look, it's just a four-second segment. It's just one drum roll. Can you please overlook it just for the sake of it?"

The amount of times I had to give those speeches. So yeah, that's what I had to do.

Jesus.

And that's just me. It's nine of us. So there's lighting directions, and choreography, and wardrobe, and dealing with clearance — like FCC, and, "They can't say that." And, "All right, which one of us is going to try to call Snoop to ask him that sort of thing?"

And the amount of Zooms that we were on at five in the morning in the Maldives or halfway around the world.

There must be some component of this process where you recognize that there could never be a perfect two-hour special. There could never be a perfect 200-hour special. There must be something freeing about realizing that nothing can be comprehensive when you're dealing with a cultural ocean like this.

[At one point], I had to take a hip-hop break. And the first thing that I did a week later, after recuperating, was I went on YouTube and I just watched every award show I remember watching — like prime Soul Train Awards back in '87, '88, '89, the years that Michael Jackson was killing the GRAMMYs.

Award shows were so magical to me, when I was a kid. There was a period just between five to maybe 15 or 16 in which I religiously watched that stuff, and you just take it for granted.

When Herbie Hancock did Rockit back in 1983 with all those mechanical break dancers, I wonder the work and the headaches that it took to make that happen. The drummer from Guns N' Roses [was] missing while they had to do "Patience" at the American Music Awards — and Don Henley, of all people, was just on the sidelines like, "Does anyone know how to drum?"

I was in the audience during the whole Chris Brown-Rihanna controversy of [2009]. I was literally at the GRAMMYs. There were like 40 minutes left, and I watched the producer run up the aisles.

Because the thing was, that was the year they decided, "You know what? This is going to be the first year in which we're going to ask artists to double down on stuff. So we're going to have Rihanna sing three songs, and we're going to have Chris do two songs. We're going to have Justin Timberlake. And then, suddenly, their absence now means that there's five major gaps open.

And they had 40 minutes left before they went to go live and I'm watching the producer make an announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, something just happened. We can't get into it."

The level of viralness now on Instagram or Twitter is expected, but back then it was like, Oh, I wonder what happened? And they're just running up the aisles to Stevie Wonder, "Yo, can you [mimics rapid-fire, inaudible chatter]?"

And I'm looking at him, pondering: What the hell are they asking him? And then Stevie's getting up and doing it, and then, "Jonas Brothers, can you duh, duh, duh? Boyz II Men. Where's Al Green? Is Al Green here?" So literally, I'm watching them solve a headache in real time. And with 20 minutes left, backstage rehearsing, and we were really none the wiser.

I've seen that a few times. My very first GRAMMYs was when Luciano Pavarotti got sick and someone just randomly asked, "Hey, does anyone out there know the lyrics to 'Ave Maria'?" Aretha Franklin raised her hand, and we were all like, 'Wait, we mean the Italian version, like that 'Ave Maria.'" And she's like, "I do know the version."

We underestimated if Aretha Franklin from Detroit, Michigan knew how to sing something in Italian. And within a half hour she was on that stage and she killed that s—.

So it made me literally recapitulate every award show I ever watched.Now I'm watching with the analytical eye: I wonder what headaches it took to put that together? So, it changed me as a spectator and a participant.

I have a friend who's been a dedicated hip-hop fan his entire life. We were talking about the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. He questioned the entire enterprise, arguing that it's an arbitrary number that doesn't mean much to true rap fans. What does the 50th anniversary of hip-hop mean to you, personally?

Well, to me, it's important. There's an interlude that I put on the Things Fall Apart record. The album starts with an argument from [the 1990 film] Mo' Better Blues in which Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes' jazz musician characters are arguing about just the disposability of the art form.

And it ends with a quote from Harry Allen saying that the thing about hip-hop is that most people think that it's disposable: Let me get what I can out this thing, and I'll throw them out the window. And on top of that, people don't even see it as art. And that really hit me in the gut, because I see the beauty of it.

This is kind of why I got into the game of: first it was with liner notes, and then with social media doing these mammoth history posts. And then it's like, Alright, well, let me write some books, because I'm afraid that no one's doing this level of critical thinking about this particular thing.

I know that the disdain and the dismissiveness that I got from some of hip-hop's participants does sort of stem from a place of ego being bruised. And it's righteous. It's righteous anger. But I also knew that if I sat on the sidelines, then it's like when I have grandkids and they Google this, and if it was a half-assed job, then that's my fault. And I definitely don't want to be the guy that talks, talks, complains, complains, without being a part of it.

So yeah, for the amount of people that prematurely died before the age of 30, and for the startling volume of people that have recently passed away in the last three years because of health issues, cardiac arrest, strokes, a lot of us are dying… You and I are talking right now, right when Norman Lear has passed away at the age of 101.

I just read that in The New York Times.

Dude, can you imagine "Tupac Shakur Dead at 103"? Can you imagine that for hip-hop?

It's a survival tool, because for a lot of us, that was the way out of poverty. It was vital for me. I couldn't just sit back and not watch one person behind the wheel. I have to be the designated driver. So, that's why it's important to celebrate that number.

And a big part of my convincing them was like when they were going to pass, like, "Nah, dog, I'm cool. I got a gig that night," I was like, "Dude, we're not going to do this for the 51st or the 52nd. And frankly, will we be here?" I will be 92 years old if it makes it to the 75th. You know what I mean?

The only person that got in my face was Latifah like, "Excuse me, I will be here for the 75th and I will be for the 100th. You don't know when I'm leaving." So I was like, "More power to you, Dana. All right, good. Queen Latifah will be here for the 100th."

What I'm gathering from what you're saying is that no matter what, it's important to have an organization of this prestige canonize this cultural force.

Oh, absolutely. And I know that oftentimes we play the game of public appearances for the gaze of the establishment. I don't want to get into that thing either: making performative celebrations just so that the mainstream can celebrate us.

I have to say that when you watch it, it really doesn't come off as compromised. This thing really looks good. That was the one thing that we laughed at in the group chat, like, "Man, we just went through Apocalypse Now, and are we all saying it was worth it?"

There are at least three people in my production thread that were sort of like, "Uh-huh, never again. I will never again subject myself." And one of them is dead serious. One of them started doing something the opposite, like, "Nah, I'm just doing classical music from now on. There's no stress there." But it was worth it. It was worth it to me.

Questlove

*Questlove in 2023. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images*

It looks to be a classy, expansive special. I'm excited for it to air.

The best part about it? So if you remember, to me, the star of the 12-minute version that we did at the GRAMMYs in March, was Jay-Z.

It was one of the things where it's like, "Hey, do we even ask Jay-Z?" And that's the one guy we decided ourselves, "Well, let's pass on him because number one, he's already performing with DJ Khaled, so we'll pass on him."

Jay-Z actually wound up being the star of that because he was a fan mouthing it in the audience, which to me was almost like better than us just doing a song with Jay-Z on stage. But the audience is the absolute star.

To see Chuck D smile — I've never seen Chuck D smile. As all these acts are coming out and Chuck D's like, singing [Sly and the Family Stone's] "Everyday People," like Boston fans sing "Sweet Caroline" at Red Sox games. Who knew that Chuck D was so jovial about things? But that's with everyone in the audience watching, supporting each other.

So that to me is also an important thing because as audience members on stage, they're ripping it, but as audience members, they're supporting each other. And that, I think is the most important part, because a lot of my take was like, "Wow, I didn't know that dah, dah, dah was so supportive." Or, "Man, Nelly actually knows every Public Enemy lyric. Who knew?" There are a lot of "Who knew?" moments that will shock people for this show.

I'm so glad you brought that up. That was one of my favorite moments during the Hip-Hop 50 performance at the 2022 GRAMMYs. Jay-Z is a billionaire twice over and a global cultural figure, but we see him in the audience, grinning ear-to-ear like a little boy, doing finger guns in the air.

He's getting his life back. And it's important. Especially now, I'm all about joy. And it's not even just like this particular hip-hop figure celebrating his music.

When Chance the Rapper comes out, again, I'm like, "Wow, [Cee] Knowledge from Digable Planets knows Chance?" And then I was like, "Well, they got kids, so of course I'm sure their kids play around the house." I'm doing all this analytical things like, "Wait, how do they know this song? And this is past their age range."

And that to me is the most telling part of this whole thing, to watch generational people get out of their actual zone and to find out that they're fans of — when GloRilla comes out, to watch [Digable Planets' Ladybug] Mecca mouth the lyrics. I was just like, "Oh, wow, OK."

That kind of puts to bed that stereotype that we only listen to the music in our realm. So, yeah, man — to me, that was the magic part of it all.

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Songbook: The Ultimate Guide To Rihanna's Reign, From Her Record-Breaking Hits To Unforgettable Collabs
(L-R) Rihanna in 2023, 2006 and 2010.

Photos: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Greetsia Tent/WireImage, Kevin Mazur/WireImage

feature

Songbook: The Ultimate Guide To Rihanna's Reign, From Her Record-Breaking Hits To Unforgettable Collabs

As the world eagerly awaits Rihanna's musical comeback, GRAMMY.com takes a deep dive into the superstar's catalog and celebrates her evolution from teen idol to beloved icon.

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2024 - 06:37 pm

A chance meeting changed Rihanna's life.

The singer was just 15 years old when she met producer Evan Rogers, who was vacationing with his wife in Barbados. Rogers recognized Rihanna's potential, and invited her to an audition in his hotel suite. 

Shortly after her 16th birthday, Rihanna left her home country for the U.S. to record a demo, which included her breakthrough hit "Pon de Replay." The demo found its way into Jay-Z's hands, and Hov signed the teen artist to Def Jam and the label expedited her 2005 debut album, aptly titled Music of the Sun.

"When I left Barbados, I didn't look back," Rihanna told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. "I wanted to do what I had to do [to succeed], even if it meant moving to America." 

Twenty years later, Rihanna is a renowned entertainer-turned-mogul. She has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, garnered over 12 billion Spotify streams, achieved 14 Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers, and won nine GRAMMY Awards. Even her business ventures have been a massive success, as her Fenty Beauty brand is worth $2.8 billion.

Though it's been close to a decade since Rihanna's last studio album, 2016's ANTI, she reminded the world of her reign with her 2023 Super Bowl halftime show — which also marked her first time taking the stage in five years. Performing hit after hit while unveiling a baby bump, her 13-minute set became one of the most-watched halftime shows of all time with over 121 million viewers. 

In honor of Rihanna's 36th birthday on Feb. 20, GRAMMY.com is revisiting the monstrous hits, ambitious projects, brow-raising visuals, and iconic collabs that propelled her to international stardom — and why it's all put her in a league of her own.

A New Island Girl In Town

True to her Carribean heritage, Rihanna's dancehall-inspired debut single "Pon de Replay" earned the then 17-year-old Barbados native her first entry on the Hot 100 at an impressive No. 2. Her official introduction to the world also hit No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart; she boasts 33 on the tally, second behind only the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna.

Follow-up single "If It's Lovin' That You Want" stalled at No. 36 on the Hot 100, but still whetted fans' appetite — as did her debut album, Music of the Sun, which is mostly comprised of dance-pop and dancehall tracks with hints of R&B (like "Willing to Wait"). Plus, her reimagining of Dawn Penn's 1994 reggae classic "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)" is still so fun to listen to after all these years.

A mere eight months later, Rihanna's sophomore effort, 2006's A Girl Like Me, arrived to an eager audience. Defying the sophomore slump, she celebrated her first No. 1 with the ubiquitous lead single "SOS," which famously samples Soft Cell's 1981 hit, "Tainted Love." While A Girl Like Me is filled with high-energy, danceable tracks (including the nostalgic "Break It Off" with Sean Paul), Rihanna's second single was the melodramatic ballad "Unfaithful." 

Penned by then-labelmate Ne-Yo, "Unfaithful" peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100. More importantly, it showed a different side to Rihanna, proving that she could channel deep emotion when the performance calls for it. It also marked Rihanna's first time veering away from her "girl next door" image, as the song's subject matter deals with infidelity.

A Girl Like Me contains many fan favorites, from the laid-back "We Ride" to standouts "Dem Haters" and "Kisses Don't Lie." The latter is a reggae-rock hybrid that sounds like a catalyst for some of Rihanna's edgier tunes like "Breakin' Dishes" from 2007's Good Girl Gone Bad era. Touching ballads"Final Goodbye" and "A Million Miles Away" showcase her voice beautifully, foreshadowing later big-vocal numbers like "Love on the Brain."

An Icon In The Making

Rihanna was a familiar face by 2007, but with the arrival of her third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad, she graduated from cookie-cutter pop star to bonafide icon.

Produced by Tricky Stewart, the LP's juggernaut lead single "Umbrella" featuring Jay-Z skyrocketed to No. 1 in 17 countries. Between striking images of Rihanna's silver-painted silhouette in the accompanying video and the now-iconic "ella-ella, eh, eh, eh" hook, "Umbrella" thrust the then 19-year-old into another stratosphere. Her confident delivery also commanded attention in a way fans and critics hadn't heard before.

The transformative era also birthed the gritty "Shut Up and Drive," on which Rihanna channels her inner rock star. The next two singles cracked the top 10: an affectionate duet with Ne-Yo,  "Hate That I Love You," which showed off Rihanna's softer side, and the party-starting, Michael Jackson-sampling "Don't Stop the Music," which cemented her place in the digital era. 

The melancholy "Rehab" is a clever metaphor for lost love, co-written by Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. Despite being Good Girl Gone Bad's lowest-charting single, Timberlake heralded the song as "the bridge for her to be accepted as an adult in the music industry."

Good Girl Gone Bad remains Rihanna's best-selling album and marks her greatest reinvention as she adopted a more rebellious sound. She also won her first GRAMMY in 2008 (Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Umbrella") and scored four other nominations, including Record Of The Year. The album's reissue spawned two more No. 1s: "Take a Bow" and "Disturbia," the latter of which acts like a prelude to Rated R, which saw Rihanna exploring darker themes.

Nine months before the release of 2009's Rated R, Rihanna was assaulted by then-boyfriend Chris Brown. On the deeply personal album, she translated her pain into art. Through lead single "Russian Roulette" and bitingly catchy anthems "Stupid in Love," "Fire Bomb," "Photographs," "Cold Case Love," and "The Last Song," Rihanna explored her angst and confusion.

But to focus solely on the domestic violence incident undermines Rihanna's artistic vision. 

Following three multi-platinum albums in a three-year span, Rihanna's rebranding as a rebel at heart reached its apex. The singer had grown in leaps and bounds while taking musical risks, even penning nine of Rated R's 13 tracks (she had no writing credits on Good Girl Gone Bad).

The road to Rihanna's most badass anthems — including "Bitch Better Have My Money" — can be traced back to Rated R. Case in point: Her bravado is loud and clear on "Hard," "Wait Your Turn," and "G4L." On "Rockstar 101," which features legendary rocker Slash, Rihanna declares her power: "Six inch walker/ Big sh— talker/ I never play the victim/ I'd rather be a stalker."

Badgal RiRi returned to her dancehall roots on her fifth No. 1 "Rude Boy," which offsets the album's harrowing motif. Final single "Te Amo" didn't chart, but garnered a great deal of attention as the Latin-infused Stargate production depicts Rihanna being enticed by a female love interest. 

Rated R showcased Rihanna's undeniable star power, and allowed her to shed her good-girl image once and for all.

A Partygoer's Dream

Following the career-pivoting Rated R, 2010's Loud offered a welcome return to the West Indian artist's earlier sound. The album feels like one big celebration of life, as evidenced by Rihanna's fire-engine red hair and No. 1 singles "Only Girl (In the World)" and "What's My Name?" (the latter of which was Rih's first collaboration with Drake).

Best described as "Don't Stop the Music" 2.0, the effervescent "Only Girl" marked her eminent return to the dance floor and took home a GRAMMY for Best Dance Recording in 2011. While "What's My Name?" may not outshine Rih and Drizzy's other collabs — including 2011's "Take Care" or 2016's "Work" — the second she sings, "Hey, boy, I really wanna see if you can go downtown with a girl like me," it's impossible not to whine your waist to the riddim.

Easily one of Rihanna's most overlooked hits, "Cheers (Drink to That)" is built around an unexpected sample of Avril Lavigne's 2002 hit "I'm With You," but it works surprisingly well as a party anthem. That same carefree spirit can be heard in the feminist track "Raining Men," which features Nicki Minaj — their first of two collabs, as they joined forces again for "Fly," the final single off the rapper's iconic Pink Friday album. 

A playful ode to sadomasochism and bondage, "S&M" contains some of Rihanna's most provocative lyrics: "Sticks and stones may break my bones/ But chains and whips excite me," she declares on the chorus. 

Banned in 11 countries upon its release, the accompanying video features Rihanna tied up in pink rope, dancing with a blowup doll, and donning a Playboy bunny-esque costume as damning newsreels about herself flash across the screen. But Rihanna's love of kink made her an even bigger star: "S&M" produced a remix with Britney Spears and earned Rihanna her 10th No. 1 single. With this feat, she became the youngest artist to attain the most chart-toppers in a five-year span.

On "Man Down," Rihanna's patois is in full effect as she takes listeners through a gripping tale about murdering her abuser. "What started out as a simple altercation/ Turned into a real sticky situation," she laments in the opening verse, amplified by siren noises in the background. There's something so satisfying about Rihanna's Bajan accent as she unfurls "Rum-pum-pum-pum" repeatedly over an intensifying reggae beat that would make Sister Nancy and Bob Marley proud.

Nominated for Album Of The Year at the 2021 GRAMMYs, Loud is Rihanna's second most commercially successful LP — and for good reason. It was especially refreshing to see Rihanna emerge from one of the darkest periods of her life as exuberant as ever.

An Unapologetic Queen

Sonically and thematically, Talk That Talk doesn't break new ground, but Rih's DGAF attitude is front and center with plenty of sexual innuendos: Songs like "S&M" and "Rude Boy" seem pretty tame next to "Cockiness (Love It)," which features longtime friend-turned-boyfriend A$AP Rocky on its remix. "Suck my cockiness/ Lick my persuasion/ Eat my poison/ And swallow your pride down, down," she commands in the tantalizing chorus.

At just over a minute long, "Birthday Cake" leaves nothing to the imagination ("It's not even my birthday, but he wanna lick the icing off"). Rihanna controversially released a full-length version in the form of a remix with Chris Brown.

On an album that mostly sees Rihanna singing about her sexual fantasies, "We All Want Love" pulls back the curtain as it reveals her desire for true love: "And some say love ain't worth the buck/ But I'll give my last dime/ To have what I've only been dreaming about." 

Her longing continues in "Where Have You Been," which flaunts Rihanna's versatility, flipping Geoff Mack's 1959 country song "I've Been Everywhere" into an infectious EDM banger. Lead single "We Found Love" is undeniably the biggest hit to stem from the Talk That Talk era, spending 10 consecutive weeks atop the Hot 100. 

Boosting Calvin Harris' career, "We Found Love" presents one juxtaposition after the other: dark yet gleaming, euphoric yet sobering, fraught yet hopeful. Rihanna relies on more than just evocative lyrics to tell her story; accompanying synthesizers and alarm bells help to paint a picture as well. Met with controversy, its intense visuals portraying a drug-fueled, toxic relationship — and featuringwhat many speculated was a Chris Brown look-alike — earned RiRi a GRAMMY for Best Long Form Music Video in 2013.

Seven years into an already extraordinary career, 2012's Unapologetic became Rihanna's first album to debut at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. Its lead single "Diamonds" resonated in an equally major way, giving Rih her 12th No. 1 on the Hot 100.

Written by Sia, the power ballad kicked off another exciting era for the Barbadian singer, who unleashes an impassioned vocal performance. One of Rihanna's most precious offerings to date, "Diamonds" emerged as a self-love mantra due to its uplifting "Shine bright like a diamond" chant.

Vocally, Rihanna's strength lies in her ability to evoke raw emotion à la "Stay." Featuring Mikky Ekko, the stripped-down, slow-burning piano ballad narrowly missed the top spot on the Hot 100 but gave Rihanna her 24th top 10 hit, surpassing Whitney Houston's record of 23 in 2013.

Her swagger is boisterous in "Phresh Out the Runway," "Jump," and strip club anthem "Pour It Up," but "Nobody's Business" really drives home the album's theme of being unbothered. Her decision to join forces with Chris Brown yet again perplexed fans and critics alike, though the track itself is an irresistible production that features a genius interpolation of Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel."

Further down the track list, "Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary" is as autobiographical as it gets, and further taps into Rihanna's emotionally vulnerable side. "Mr. Jesus, I'd love to be a queen/ But I'm from the left side of an island/ Never thought this many people would even know my name," she pleads in the seven-minute two-parter.

Unapologetic spawned fewer hit singles compared to Rihanna's previous efforts. Its win for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2014 GRAMMYs, however, proved that Rihanna's reign wasn't letting up anytime soon.

While recording her then-forthcoming album, ANTI, Rihanna delivered what is arguably the single most unapologetic moment of her career: "Bitch Better Have My Money." The backstory is almost inconceivable given Rihanna's awe-inspiring billionaire status, but in 2009, Rihanna faced bankruptcy due to her accountants mishandling her funds — and thus "Bitch" was born six years later in 2015.

With lyrics like "Your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car" over a cryptic-sounding trap beat and an accompanying video depicting kidnapping and torturing her debtors, "Bitch" is not for the faint-hearted. The one-off single is so quintessentially Rihanna that it notably kicked off her Super Bowl halftime show.

An In-Demand Collaborator

While bestowing hit after hit on her own, Rihanna generously lent her distinct voice to some of her biggest peers. 2008 marks one of the earliest instances of her Midas touch: She flirts with funk in Maroon 5's underappreciated "If I Never See Your Face Again" before hopping on T.I.'s "Live Your Life," which shot straight to No. 1 on the Hot 100.

In 2009, Rihanna joined Jay-Z and Kanye West for the militant "Run This Town," sounding defiant as ever in the intro. She was called upon again for West's horn-laden "All of the Lights," flying solo on the hook followed by a star-studded choir that included Alicia Keys, John Legend, Fergie, and Elton John. Both larger-than-life productions won GRAMMYs for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

In between joining forces with Hov and Ye, Rihanna assisted Eminem in "Love the Way You Lie," which struck a nerve with many for its gut-wrenching lyrics shedding a light on abusive relationships. (Rih recorded an equally moving sequel for her Loud album.) Three years later, the two confronted their inner demons in "The Monster," and their musical chemistry scored a GRAMMY in 2015 for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

Amid smash collabs, Rihanna and Coldplay's intricate "Princess of China" number gets lost in the shuffle, but it speaks to her charm as it's the band's first album (2011's Mylo Xyloto) to feature another artist. Another overlooked jam, her sultry "Can't Remember to Forget You" duet with Shakira sees both stars trade lines about struggling to let go of an undeserving lover.

On paper, a collaboration between Rihanna, Kanye West, and Sir Paul McCartney may seem strange, but the unlikely trio is further proof that opposites attract. Their "FourFiveSeconds" is a pop-folk hybrid with a universal message about carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It's yet another example of Rihanna's willingness to push past her comfort zone to create something unique.

A year later, Rihanna got listeners on their feet by way of the Taylor Swift-penned "This Is What You Came For" with Calvin Harris. Understated compared to the duo's previous megahits ("We Found Love" and "Where Have You Been"), Harris' signature DJing style and Rih's ethereal vocals are a perfect match.

In 2017, Rih, DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller dropped the song of the summer with "Wild Thoughts," which heavily borrows from Carlos Santana's 1999 GRAMMY-winning "Maria Maria." It may be DJ Khaled's song, but RiRi owns it from the very moment she utters, "I don't know if you could take it/ Know you wanna see me nakey, nakey, naked." The bop reached No. 2 on the Hot 100.

She spits bars in Kendrick Lamar's "Loyalty" and "Lemon" with N.E.R.D., the latter of which comes close to rivaling your favorite rappers' verses: "You can catch me, Rih, in the new La Ferrar'/ And the truck behind me got arms/ Yeah, longer than LeBron/ Just waitin' for my thumb like The Fonz."

No matter what genre Rihanna touches or what artist she links up with, she brings her full self to each session whilst completely immersing herself into the music — taking on different personas to make the collab well worth it.

An Artist Fully Realized

With 13 No. 1s and twice as many top 10 hits under her belt, Rihanna set out to create timeless music instead of chasing a radio-friendly formula with her 2016 magnum opus, ANTI.

But that shift began with 2015's criminally underrated "American Oxygen." Her most political statement at the time, the goosebump-inducing lyrics detail Rihanna's journey as an immigrant, foreshadowing her then soon-to-be massive Fenty Beauty success. "We sweat for a nickel and a dime/ Turn it into an empire," she sings in the chorus.

Released four years after Unapologetic — her longest gap between albums at the time — ANTI illustrated Rihanna's greater desire for quality over quantity. "I needed the music to match my growth," she told Vogue in 2016 about the making of ANTI. "I didn't want to get caught up with anything the world liked, anything the radio liked, anything that I liked, that I've already heard. I just wanted it to be me."

The black-and-white, red paint-splattered album cover signals a rebirth, featuring a real-life image of Rihanna as a child. ANTI lives up to its name in its first 40 seconds, via opening track "Consideration." The minute she declares, "I got to do things my own way, darling," it's apparent that ANTI is not your average Rihanna album.

Lead single "Work" is the closest to pre-ANTI Rihanna on an album that defies expectations. But the dancehall masterpiece is one of a kind for Rih's refusal to water down the Jamaican patois (different from her native language of Bajan Creole) — proving that she is fully aware of her impact as one of the biggest Caribbean-born artists to make it in the U.S.

Many non-understanding listeners described it as "gibberish" at the time. Yet, the general public didn't seem to mind: About a month after its release, "Work" became Rihanna's 14th and longest-running chart-topper on the Hot 100. Weeks later, ANTI became her second LP to top the Billboard 200 chart. Subsequently, Rihanna held the No. 1 spots on the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 simultaneously, her second time achieving such an impressive feat.

Read More: How Rihanna's "Work" Reinvigorated Dancehall

ANTI is full of pleasant surprises that show off her artistry. Rihanna comes out of left field with the Prince-inspired "Kiss It Better," the album's second single, which sees the superstar falling back on addictive sex that "feels like crack" to justify a destructive relationship. "Same Ol' Mistakes" is a cover of psychedelic rock band Tame Impala's "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" — her first time remaking another artist's song for her own album since "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)" on Music of the Sun. The Western-themed "Desperado" lends itself particularly well to covers by country artists, while the Dido-sampling "Never Ending" conveys the uncertainty she feels about entering a new relationship.

Elsewhere on ANTI, Rihanna drunk dials an ex ("Higher"), compares smoking weed to her lover ("James Joint"), and chastises a guy for getting emotionally attached after their fling ("Needed Me"). The latter song contains one of Rihanna's most empowering lyrics: "Didn't they tell you that I was a savage?/ F— ya white horse and ya carriage," she asserts in the pre-chorus.

Her voice sounds stronger than ever on "Love on the Brain," a doo-wop ballad resembling Etta James. But Rihanna makes it her own thanks to the bluntness of lines like "It beats me black and blue but it f— me so good."

The deep cuts on ANTI aren't merely fillers, and even rival some of the album's biggest hits. For instance, "Sex with Me" is featured on the deluxe edition as a bonus track, but managed to crack the Hot 100 at No. 83 and reach No. 8 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Furthermore, the deluxe edition consists of 16 tracks, half of which topped the Dance Club Songs chart — smashing the record (previously held by Katy Perry's Teenage Dream) for the most No. 1s from a single album.

Accolades aside, ANTI is proof that magic happens when an artist of Rihanna's caliber follows their own instincts in pursuit of creating a body of work — one that can outlast them and continue to inspire generations to come.

Ever since ANTI, Rihanna's devoted fanbase has been begging for a new album, with Rih playfully trolling them with responses like "I lost it" and Instagram captions that read, "Me listening to R9 by myself and refusing to release it."

Her much-awaited return to music came at the tail end of 2022. The hitmaker twice contributed to the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack: "Born Again" and "Lift Me Up," the latter of which helped Rihanna score her first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in 2022 and 2023, respectively. With the glorious "Lift Me Up," she found herself in the top 10 for the first time since 2017's "Wild Thoughts."

While the world is still anticipating her ninth studio album, Rihanna — now a mom of two boys — continues to make her own rules and move at her own pace. But as she's proven time and time again, it's always worth the wait.

The Rihanna Essentials: 15 Singles To Celebrate The Singer's Endless Pop Reign

17 Love Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "I Will Always Love You," "Drunk In Love" & More
(L-R) Usher and Alicia Keys during the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show.

Photo: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

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17 Love Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "I Will Always Love You," "Drunk In Love" & More

Over the GRAMMYs' 66-year history, artists from Frank Sinatra to Ed Sheeran have taken home golden gramophones for their heartfelt tunes. Take a look at some of the love songs that have won GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Feb 14, 2024 - 09:42 pm

Editor's Note: This is an update to a story from 2017.

Without heart-bursting, world-shifting love songs, music wouldn't be the same. There are countless classic and chart-topping hits dedicated to love, and several of them have won GRAMMYs.

We're not looking at tunes that merely deal with shades of love or dwell in heartbreak. We're talking out-and-out, no-holds-barred musical expressions of affection — the kind of love that leaves you wobbly at the knees.

No matter how you're celebrating Valentine's Day (or not), take a look at 18 odes to that feel-good, mushy-gushy love that have taken home golden gramophones over the years.

Frank Sinatra, "Strangers In The Night"

Record Of The Year / Best Vocal Performance, Male, 1967

Ol' Blue Eyes offers but a glimmer of hope for the single crowd on Valentine's Day, gently ruminating about exchanging glances with a stranger and sharing love before the night is through.

Willie Nelson, "Always On My Mind"

Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, 1983

In this cover, Nelson sings to the woman in his life, lamenting over those small things he should have said and done, but never took the time. Don't find yourself in the same position this Valentine's Day.

Lionel Richie, "Truly"

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, 1983

"Truly" embodies true dedication to a loved one, and it's delivered with sincerity from the king of '80s romantic pop — who gave life to the timeless love-song classics "Endless Love," "Still" and "Three Times A Lady."

Roy Orbison, "Oh, Pretty Woman"

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, 1991

Orbison captures the essence of encountering a lovely woman for the first time, and offers helpful one-liners such as "No one could look as good as you" and "I couldn't help but see … you look as lovely as can be." Single men, take notes.

Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You"

Record Of The Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, 1994

Houston passionately delivers a message of love, remembrance and forgiveness on her version of this song, which was written by country sweetheart Dolly Parton and first nominated for a GRAMMY in 1982.

Celine Dion, "My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From Titanic)"  

Record Of The Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, 1999

This omnipresent theme song from the 1997 film Titanic was propelled to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 as the story of Jack and Rose (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and GRAMMY winner Kate Winslet) swept the country.

Shania Twain, "You're Still The One"

Best Female Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Song, 1999

Co-written with producer and then-husband Mutt Lange, Twain speaks of beating the odds with love and perseverance in lyrics such as, "I'm so glad we made it/Look how far we've come my baby," offering a fresh coat of optimism for couples of all ages.

Usher & Alicia Keys, "My Boo"

Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals, 2005

"There's always that one person that will always have your heart," sings Usher in this duet with Keys, taking the listener back to that special first love. The chemistry between the longtime friends makes this ode to “My Boo” even more heartfelt, and the love was still palpable even 20 years later when they performed it on the Super Bowl halftime show stage.

Bruno Mars, "Just The Way You Are"

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, 2011

Dating advice from Bruno Mars: If you think someone is beautiful, you should tell them every day. Whether or not it got Mars a date for Valentine's Day, it did get him a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Cee Lo Green & Melanie Fiona, "Fool For You" 

Best Traditional R&B Performance, 2012

It's a far cry from his previous GRAMMY-winning song, "F*** You," but "Fool For You" had us yearning for "that deep, that burning/ That amazing unconditional, inseparable love."

Justin Timberlake, "Pusher Love Girl" 

Best R&B Song, 2014

Timberlake is so high on the love drug he's "on the ceiling, baby." Timberlake co-wrote the track with James Fauntleroy, Jerome Harmon and Timbaland, and it's featured on his 2013 album The 20/20 Experience, which flew high to No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Beyoncé & Jay-Z, "Drunk In Love"

Best R&B Performance / Best R&B Song, 2015

While "Drunk In Love" wasn't the first love song that won Beyoncé and Jay-Z a GRAMMY — they won two GRAMMYs for "Crazy In Love" in 2004 — it is certainly the sexiest. This quintessential 2010s bop from one of music's most formidable couples captures why their alliance set the world's hearts aflame (and so did their steamy GRAMMYs performance of it).

Ed Sheeran, "Thinking Out Loud"

Song Of The Year / Best Pop Solo Performance, 2016

Along with his abundant talent, Sheeran's boy-next-door charm is what rocketed him to the top of the pop ranks. And with swooning lyrics and a waltzing melody, "Thinking Out Loud" is proof that he's a modern-day monarch of the love song.

Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, "Shallow"

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance / Best Song Written For Visual Media, 2019

A Star is Born's cachet has gone up and down with its various remakes, but the 2018 iteration was a smash hit. Not only is that thanks to moving performances from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, but particularly thanks to their impassioned, belt-along duet "Shallow."

H.E.R. & Daniel Caesar, "Best Part"

Best R&B Performance, 2019

"If life is a movie/ Know you're the best part." Who among us besotted hasn't felt their emotions so widescreen, so thunderous? Clearly, H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar have — and they poured that feeling into the GRAMMY-winning ballad "Best Part."

Kacey Musgraves, "Butterflies"

Best Country Solo Performance, 2019

As Musgraves' Album Of The Year-winning LP Golden Hour shows, the country-pop star can zoom in or out at will, capturing numberless truths about the human experience. With its starry-eyed lyrics and swirling production, "Butterflies" perfectly encapsulates the flutter in your stomach that love can often spark.

Dan + Shay & Justin Bieber, "10,000 Hours"

Best Country Duo/Group Performance, 2021

When country hook-meisters Dan + Shay teamed up with pop phenom Justin Bieber, their love song powers were unstoppable. With more than 1 billion Spotify streams alone, "10,000 Hours" has become far more than an ode to just their respective wives; it's an anthem for any lover.

Lovesick Or Sick Of Love: Listen To GRAMMY.com's Valentine's Day Playlist Featuring Taylor Swift, Doja Cat, Playboi Carti, Olivia Rodrigo, FKA Twigs & More

Everything We Know About Beyoncé’s New Album, ‘Act II’: Two New Singles, A Shift To Country & More
Beyoncé at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy 

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Everything We Know About Beyoncé’s New Album, ‘Act II’: Two New Singles, A Shift To Country & More

Beyoncé released two new singles and announced a forthcoming new album after teasing the new music during a Verizon 5G commercial during the 2024 Super Bowl. Here's everything we know about the 'act ii' album dropping March 29.

GRAMMYs/Feb 12, 2024 - 05:23 am

“OK, they ready: drop the new music.” With those seven words, Beyoncé announced new music during a commercial for Verizon 5G during the 2024 Super Bowl.

As the Beyhive clamored frantically to discover what, exactly, their queen was teasing, the answer soon became clear as the superstar unveiled two new tracks titled “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES.”

But that’s not all! The two new songs not only follow Beyoncé’s seventh album, Renaissance, and her mega-successful concert tour of the same name, but also build on the single “MY HOUSE” from last year. The dual ditties appear to be components of a larger project, potentially marking the next phase of Beyoncé's ongoing Renaissance.

Below, GRAMMY.com rounded up everything there is to know about Queen Bey’s surprise drop and what cards she may have up her sleeve.

Beyoncé’s Long-Awaited Country Era Is Upon Us

While Beyonce’s Super Bowl LVIII commercial paid homage to 2016’s Lemonade, introduced the world to the possibilities of "Beyonc-AI" and even sent her to space, the surprise singles signal a new direction for the living legend into bonafide country territory. 

“TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” is a twangy, two-stepping joint addictively tailor-made for a night of line dancing and lassoing, with Bey singing, “This ain’t Texas, ain’t no hold ‘em / So lay your cards down, down, down, down / So park your Lexus and throw your keys up / Stick around, ‘round, ‘round, ‘round, round” before she flirts, “And I’ll be damned if I can’t slow dance with you / Come pour some sugar on me honey, too / It’s a real live boogie and a real live hoe-down / Don’t be a b–ch, come take it to the floor now.”

Meanwhile, “16 CARRIAGES” balances out the yee-haw groove of its jauntier sibling by turning out a slow-burning power ballad as Bey spins a tale of lost innocence and grinding away in the name of a better life. “Sixteen carriages drivin’ away while I / Watch them ride with my dreams away to the / Summer sunset on a holy night on a / Lone back road, all the / Tears I fight,” she rhapsodizes over sparse acoustic guitar before slide guitar and pounding percussion crash over her gentle vocals like a wave.

It All Started with a Super Bowl Ad

Beyoncé started all this ruckus with an epic Super Bowl commercial for Verizon. The ad began with the two-time halftime show headliner filming a music video for her 2023 one-off “My House.” Clad in a red sequined ensemble and surrounded by faceless backup dancers in the same shade of scarlet, Bey bursts from a giant house (also red) as she pronounces, “Who they came to see? Me! Who rep like me, don't make me get up out of my seat. OK!”

From there, Beyoncé hatches a plan with Tony Hale to break both the internet and the service provider’s 5G with a number of viral stunts — including starting her own “Hold Up”-inspired lemonade stand (baseball bat and yellow gown included), climbing to the top the Sphere in Las Vegas, starring in a Bey-ified Barbie redux titled "Bar-Bey"and announcing her uncontested run as “Beyoncé of the United States.” You’ve got our vote, BOTUS!

This One’s For the “Daddy Lessons” Fans

Of course, it’s a known fact that Beyoncé can sing, well, literally anything, but the sonic shift is particularly gratifying for fans of her zydeco-tinged cut “Daddy Lessons” from 2016 or the even more countrified version she recorded with Dixie Chicks after performing the Lemonade fan-favorite with the group at the 2016 CMA Awards.

The Songs Herald the Arrival of Act II

The two tracks aren’t just a one-off, either. The landing page of Beyoncé’s official website updated once the songs were released into the world, promising, “act ii…3.29.” The promise of a second act most likely refers to the megastar’s GRAMMY-winning album Renaissance, which has been billed as “Act I” since its release in the summer of 2022. 

Many fans suspected a full visual album might be the second act of the house-inspired era, but it appears that much like Beyoncé herself, the Renaissance won’t be limited to a single genre.

Could Visuals (Finally) Be on Their Way?

Along with the pair of singles, Beyoncé dropped a teaser for “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” on social media. In the clip, the superstar drives an old-fashioned yellow taxi with a Texas license plate reading “HOLD EM.” Opting not to write a caption, the post left the Beyhive buzzing at the possibility that a visual component might accompany act ii in some form or another. Though given that fans are still eagerly waiting for any sign of OG Renaissance visuals, don’t hold us (or Queen Bey) to this hypothesis.

On a completely unrelated and entirely speculative note, the last time Beyoncé was spotted driving a bright yellow vehicle through the desert, it was the same one Uma Thurman drove in "Kill Bill" for the iconic “Telephone” music video with Lady Gaga. Take that tidbit from the P—y Wagon for what you will, Honey Bee…

The Clues Were in Plain Sight at the GRAMMYs

Beyoncé at the 2024 GRAMMYs in a western-inspired custom Louis Vuitton look. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Turns out Beyoncé’s been dropping hints for a while! At the 2024 GRAMMYs, the superstar wore a western-inspired outfit — a variation of the closing look from the fall 2024 Louis Vuitton menswear collection —  to support her husband Jay-Z, who was awarded with this year’s Dr. Dre Global Impact Award. During his off-the-cuff speech, the Roc Nation mogul recognized his wife’s success as the most-awarded artist in GRAMMY history while having yet to win Album of the Year as Bey looked on from underneath her spotless white cowboy hat. We should’ve known!

Usher Electrifies Las Vegas with Triumphant Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show: 6 Best Moments

How The 2024 GRAMMYs Saw The Return Of Music Heroes & Birthed New Icons
Victoria Monét backstage at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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How The 2024 GRAMMYs Saw The Return Of Music Heroes & Birthed New Icons

Between an emotional first-time performance from Joni Mitchell and a slew of major first-time winners like Karol G and Victoria Monét, the 2024 GRAMMYs were unforgettably special. Revisit all of the ways both legends and rising stars were honored.

GRAMMYs/Feb 9, 2024 - 09:02 pm

After Dua Lipa kicked off the 2024 GRAMMYs with an awe-inspiring medley of her two new songs, country star Luke Combs followed with a performance that spawned one of the most memorable moments of the night — and one that exemplified the magic of the 66th GRAMMY Awards.

Combs was joined by Tracy Chapman, whose return to the stage marked her first public performance in 15 years. The two teamed up for her GRAMMY-winning hit "Fast Car," which earned another GRAMMY nomination this year thanks to Combs' true-to-form cover that was up for Best Country Solo Performance. The audience went wild upon seeing a resplendent, smiling Chapman strum her guitar, and it was evident that Combs felt the same excitement singing along beside her.

Chapman and Combs' duet was a powerful display of what the 2024 GRAMMYs offered: veteran musicians being honored and new stars being born.

Another celebrated musician who made a triumphant return was Joni Mitchell. Though the folk icon had won 10 GRAMMYs to date — including one for Best Folk Album at this year's Premiere Ceremony — she had never performed on the GRAMMYs stage until the 2024 GRAMMYs. Backed by a band that included Brandi Carlile, Allison Russell, Blake Mills, Jacob Collier, and other accomplished musicians, the 80-year-old singer/songwriter delivered a stirring (and tear-inducing) rendition of her classic song "Both Sides Now," singing from an ornate chair that added an element of regality.

Later in the show, Billy Joel, the legendary rock star who began his GRAMMY career in 1979 when "Just the Way You Are" won Record and Song Of The Year, used the evening to publicly debut his first single in 17 years, "Turn the Lights Back On." (He also closed out the show with his 1980 classic, "You May Be Right.") It was the latest event in Joel's long history at the show; past performances range from a 1994 rendition of "River of Dreams" to a 2022 duet of "New York State of Mind" with Tony Bennett. The crooner, who died in 2023, was featured in the telecast's In Memoriam section, where Stevie Wonder dueted with archival footage of Bennett. And Annie Lennox, currently in semi-retirement, paid tribute to Sinéad O'Connor, singing "Nothing Compares 2 You" and calling for peace.

Career-peak stars also furthered their own legends, none more so than Taylor Swift. The pop star made history at the 2024 GRAMMYs, claiming the record for most Album Of The Year wins by a single artist. The historic moment also marked another icon's return, as Celine Dion made an ovation-prompting surprise appearance to present the award. (Earlier in the night, Swift also won Best Pop Vocal Album for Midnights, announcing a new album in her acceptance speech. To date, Swift has 14 GRAMMYs and 52 nominations.)

24-time GRAMMY winner Jay-Z expanded his dominance by taking home the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, which he accepted alongside daughter Blue Ivy. And just before Miley Cyrus took the stage to perform "Flowers," the smash single helped the pop star earn her first-ever GRAMMY, which also later nabbed Record Of The Year.

Alongside the longtime and current legends, brand-new talents emerged as well. Victoria Monét took home two GRAMMYs before triumphing in the Best New Artist category, delivering a tearful speech in which she looked back on 15 years working her way up through the industry. Last year's Best New Artist winner, Samara Joy, continued to show her promise in the jazz world, as she won Best Jazz Performance for "Tight"; she's now 3 for 3, after also taking home Best Jazz Vocal Album for Linger Awhile last year.

First-time nominee Tyla became a first-time winner — and surprised everyone, including herself — when the South African starlet won the first-ever Best African Music Performance GRAMMY for her hit "Water." boygenius, Karol G and Lainey Wilson were among the many other first-time GRAMMY winners that capped off major years with a golden gramophone (or three, in boygenius' case).

All throughout GRAMMY Week 2024, rising and emerging artists were even more of a theme in the lead-up to the show. GRAMMY House 2024 hosted performances from future stars, including Teezo Touchdown and Tiana Major9 at the Beats and Blooms Emerging Artist Showcase and Blaqbonez and Romy at the #GRAMMYsNextGen Party.

Gatherings such as A Celebration of Women in the Mix, Academy Proud: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ Voices, and the Growing Wild Independent Music Community Panel showcased traditionally marginalized voices and communities, while Halle Bailey delivered a GRAMMY U Masterclass for aspiring artists. And Clive Davis hosted his Pre-2024 GRAMMYs Gala, where stars new and old mingled ahead of the main event. 

From established, veteran artists to aspiring up-and-comers, the 2024 GRAMMYs were a night of gold and glory that honored the breadth of talent and creativity throughout the music industry, perfectly exemplifying the Recording Academy's goal to "honor music's past while investing in its future." If this year's proceedings were any indication, the future of the music industry is bright indeed. 

10 Must-See Moments From The 2024 GRAMMYs: Taylor Swift Makes History, Billy Joel & Tracy Chapman Return, Boygenius Manifest Childhood Dreams