meta-scriptRemembering Sinéad O’Connor: 5 Essential Tracks By The Iconoclastic Singer/Songwriter | GRAMMY.com
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Sinéad O'Connor performs in 2014

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Remembering Sinéad O’Connor: 5 Essential Tracks By The Iconoclastic Singer/Songwriter

Sinéad O’Connor passed away on July 26 at age 56. The Irish musician had a voice like no other, which she used to speak against injustice.

GRAMMYs/Jul 27, 2023 - 02:12 pm

Few had a voice that compared to the eight-time GRAMMY nominee Sinead O’Connor. An artist and an activist, O’Connor wrote with conviction and pathos, packing a punch with both poetry and politics. Her voice was her main instrument and lifelong weapon — one she wielded well in a whisper or a wail. 

Born Sinéad Marie Bernadette O’Connor in Glenageary, County Dublin, Ireland on Dec. 8 1966, the singer passed away on July 26, 2023. She was only 56. 

"The Recording Academy mourns with the music community today as we learn of the passing of Sinéad O’Connor," said Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. "Revered by audiences around the globe, her music has left an indelible mark on our culture that will continue to inspire. Our thoughts are with her loved ones at this difficult time." 

Tributes on social media arrived throughout the day. Everyone from heads of state to fellow GRAMMY winners and nominees paid their respects. Bryan Adams wrote: "RIP Sinead O’Connor. I loved working with you making photos, doing gigs in Ireland together, and chats, all my love to your family." Tori Amos called O’Connor "a force of nature and a brilliant songwriter and performer whose talent we will not see the like of again. Such passion, such intense presence & a beautiful soul, who battled her own personal demons courageously." Billy Bragg added that she was "braver than brave," and  Yusuf/Cat Stevens called her a "tender soul." 

O'Connor's 1987 debut record, The Lion & The Cobra, received critical acclaim and achieved gold certification in the U.S., the U.K. and the Netherlands. Over the course of a three and a half-decade career, the songwriter released 10 studio albums (her last, I’m not Bossy, I’m the Boss, came in 2014) that demonstrated her broad influences and desire to constantly explore new genres, from jazz to pop. One of these forgotten side roads traveled from the mid-2000s was her first reggae album (Throw Down Your Arms), produced by Sly & Robbie.  

The oft-misunderstood artist was a non-conformist and was ok with that. Fame was not always her friend and caused much anxiety; later, she lived behind a veil after converting to Islam in 2018. O’Connor had a troubled upbringing marked by trauma and tragedy, much of which she detailed for the first time in her candid 2021 memoir Rememberings. Just last year, the songwriter lost her son to suicide. The grief of this no doubt constantly consumed her. 

To some, O’Connor is remembered as much for her action as her albums — specifically tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II (that once hung on her mother’s wall) following her October 1992 "Saturday Night Live" performance to raise awareness about sexual abuse within the Irish Catholic church. This act got her black balled for life by NBC, but she never regretted this fit of rebellion nor any other public stance she took on causes and issues she championed. 

Her songs were a gift that will keep on giving for generations to come. To get a sample of the beauty and the passion of this artist gone far too soon, here are five essential Sinéad O’Connor tracks. 

"Mandinka" (1987)  

The second single off O’Connor’s debut The Lion And The Cobra, "Mandinka" (named for a West African ethnic group) resonated most. In Rememberings, O’Connor wrote that watching "Roots’" — a TV miniseries aired in the late 1970s based on Alex Haley’s book of the same name —  inspired this song. 

"Mandinka" became a college radio hit and was nominated for a GRAMMY Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female. The then 20-year-old performed "Mandinka" at the 31st GRAMMY Awards, sporting Public Enemy’s symbol on her shaven head in solidarity with the hip-hop artists who boycotted the ceremony that year in protest of the inaugural Best Rap Performance award not being included in the telecast.  

"Drink Before the War" (1987)

One of O’Connor’s earliest demos (she wrote it as a teenager), the song showcases the incredible range — and rage — that the singer was capable of.

"Drink Before the War" was written about the headmaster at O'Connor's Catholic reform school who tried his best to whip the creativity out of her. As this song shows, it just furhter fueled her muse and her ire.   

"Nothing Compares 2 You" (1990)

O’Connor took this song Prince-penned and made this pop lush, string-laced ballad her own. Her voice builds gradually like a steam engine before reaching a climax in the chorus, when the singer shows the full range of her instrument. 

"Nothing Compares 2 You" became an MTV staple, which helped the song climb to the top spot on the U.S. Billboard charts and hit No. 1 in the UK. This single received three GRAMMY nominations as well as her first — and only — golden gramophone for Best Alternative Music Performance. Famously, O'Connor did not attend the ceremony to accept the award, and instead penned an open letter detailing her reasoning.

"Black Boys on Mopeds" (1990)

From its opening lines, O’Connor wastes no time telling listeners what the song is about. 

Referencing the Chinese government’s handling of the student protests that occurred in Tiananmen Square the previous year, the singer lashes out at Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government for its brutality, singing in reference to police racism on the homefront: "it’s strange she should be offended when the same orders are given by her." 

Backed by the simple strums of an acoustic guitar, O’Connor's biting chorus further reveals this inherent hypocrisy: "England’s not the mythical land of Madame George & roses, it’s the home of police who kill Black boys on mopeds." 

"No Man’s Woman" (2000) 

From her 2000 release Faith & Courage, this anthem with a bouncy beat was inspired by the birth of O’Connor’s daughter. After more than a dozen years working in a male-dominated record industry — and after being blackballed and ostracized by many throughout the late 1990s following her "SNL" stunt — O’Connor returned with this empowering song that shows both her feminist and spiritual side. 

Remembering Tony Bennett's Monumental Musical Legacy: "The Classiest Singer, Man, And Performer You Will Ever See"

Elliott Smith performing in 2000
Elliott Smith performing in 2000

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Why Elliott Smith's 'Roman Candle' Is A Watershed For Lo-Fi Indie Folk

Elliott Smith would make albums with more meat on the bone than the raw, handmade 1994 debut 'Roman Candle' — but quietly, it's a landmark release for crackly, intimate indie folk.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 06:48 pm

Elliott Smith released five studio albums within his lifetime, and each is a worthy gateway. Bristling, sometimes harrowing folk? 1995's Elliott Smith. Sgt. Pepper's-scaled splendor? 2000's Figure 8, with 1998's XO as his Revolver. Want to split the difference? 1997's Either/Or.

Then, there's his raw, undiluted 1994 debut — released on Cavity Search, before he was even on Kill Rock Stars. That's Roman Candle, which turns 30 on July 14.

Like everything pre-XO, "studio album" is pretty much a misnomer; Roman Candle was recorded in the basement of the Victorian-style Portland house he shared with JJ Gonson, the manager of his then-band Heatmiser. Which — as Gonson admitted in the 2004 book Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing — "was not a pretty place."

"Lots of people had moved through that house, and the basement was piled high with abandoned stuff," he continued. "So he sort of carved out a little niche, set up a stool and a mic stand, and meticulously recorded the whole thing, going back and punching in tiny changes, sometimes a single word or chord."

While the homemade result is, arguably, Smith's least realized work, it has plenty of charm and intrigue on its own merits, especially in highlights like the shadowy title track and sweet-and-sour yet gorgeous "Condor Ave," which belongs on any list of his very best songs.

Even better, Roman Candle lays the blueprint for everything he'd accomplish in its wake — and stands tall as a watershed for lo-fi folk. Here are three reasons why.

The Sonics

Eventually, this voracious absorber of the rock canon would begin tinkering with tack pianos and mellotrons. But as early as Roman Candle, his core sound was cemented: panned, close-miked, harmonically complex acoustic guitars; double-tracked vocals; a hushed and spectral delivery.

Somewhat uncannily, cruddy equipment seemed to flatter Smith's aesthetic the best. "The wonderful breathy sound on Roman Candle is largely due to the quality of the mic, or lack of it," Gonson said in the book, characterizing his mic setup as "a little Radio Shack thing — the kind you used to get bundled with a tape recorder."

Part of his hushed approach may have been logistical. "He also sang quietly, perhaps so as not to be heard by all the people always coming and going upstairs, so you can hear every breath and string squeak." (A 2010 remaster by Larry Crane sanded down those harsh edges, in the hope that "the music would become more inviting and the sound would serve the songs better.)

The late Smith spawned a thousand imitators, all who learned that murmuring balladry into a tape recorder isn't a shortcut to magic — the easy way or hard way. (Celebrated artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Sufjan Stevens successfully assimilated his influence into their creative bank.)

But partly due to the blueprint of Roman Candle — a link in a chain with '80s lo-fi and the rest — this aesthetic proved desirable.

The Specificity

Many rookie songwriters throw out concrete details (highway numbers and pharmaceuticals, anyone?) as a shortcut to profundity. Smith's details always served the song, and the story.

"She took the Oldsmobile out past Condor Avenue," begins that titular song. "And she locked the car and slipped past into rhythmic quietude." This evocation of a totally unremarkable Portland street places the drama that ensues firmly in time and space.

"Drive All Over Town" conjures atmosphere from the get-go, too: "Two-dollar color pictures from a photo booth/ Dirty, stepped-on, lying out on the floor of their room." You can almost smell that image.

The Vulnerability

When Kill Rock Stars' Slim Moon first popped "Roman Candle" into a tour van's dashboard, he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "It completely blew my mind," he later said. "I have never heard music as heartwrenchingly, gut-checkingly honest, intimate, and wise — before or since."

That was another one of Smith's superpowers: even as he tiptoed to the precipice of self-pity here and there, he never, ever BSed the listener.

"I want to hurt him/ I want to give him pain," he seethes in the chorus of "Roman Candle, about his allegedly abusive stepfather. "I'm a roman candle/ My head is full of flames." A searing sensation, as if you and Smith share a nervous system.

He'd pull off that magic trick again and again throughout his brilliant, troubled career — and it all started on Roman Candle.

He's Gonna Make It All OK: An Oral History Of Elliott Smith's Darkly Beautiful Self-Titled Album

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Eminem performs at Michigan Central Station in June 2024.

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New Music Friday: Listen To New Releases From Katy Perry, Eminem, Nelly Furtado & More

As temperatures rise, chill out with these fresh tracks, albums, and collaborations from Nelly Furtado, One OK Rock, Uncle Kraker, and more, all released the week of July 12.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 03:43 pm

As summer rolls on, more tracks from artists across all genres continue to drop, and we couldn't be more excited. With album releases from John Summit, HARDY, OneRepublic, and Cat Burns to fresh singles from collaborations including Alesso and Nate Smith, July 12 brings a handful of new music to enjoy.

As you stroll through the weekend, make sure to check out these nine musical projects:

Katy Perry — "Woman's World"

Serving as the lead single from 143, her first studio album since 2020, Katy Perry releases "Woman's World," a new pop track celebrating girl power and womanhood. Perry wrote the track alongside songwriter Chloe Angelides and producers Dr. Luke, Vaughn Oliver, Rocco Did It Again!, and Aaron Joseph.


Initially teasing the track through social media, the song drew attention from pop fans globally. The lead single from 143 marks both a comeback and a new era for the American Idol judge. "I set out to create a bold, exuberant, celebratory dance-pop album with the symbolic 143 numerical expression of love as a throughline message," Perry explains in a press statement.

Eminem — 'The Death of Slim Shady (Coup De Grâce)'

Guess who's back? Eminem returns with his twelfth studio album, The Death of Slim Shady (Coup De Grâce). The album appears to be his last project before retiring his notorious alter ego, Slim Shady.

A standout track on the album is "Guilty Conscience 2," a sequel to the 1999 collaboration with Dr. Dre. Leading up to the album release, Eminem dropped two singles, "Houdini" and "Tobey," featuring Big Sean and BabyTron. The album is both a blast from the past and a revived representation of the renowned Detroit-raised rapper.

Nelly Furtado — "Corazón"

Premiering the song at her Machaca Fest set, Nelly Furtado returns to music with "Corazón," the lead single off her new album 7. The track is an upbeat dance song with lyrics in both Spanish and English, along with drums and flutes that bring it to life. The track was two years in the making, according to Furtado on Instagram.

"The essence of the song is that we're just out here living and trying to do our best," Furtado told Vogue. "Even when we make mistakes, it's coming from the heart. When it comes from the heart, it's never a mistake."

7 is set to captivate both loyal fans and new listeners. Centered around the vibrant theme of community, Furtado felt an irresistible pull toward creating new music, inspired by the diverse communities around her. The spirited energy of the DJ community that breathes new life into her pop classics to this day and the passionate online community yearning for her return, spurred by her collaborations with Dom Dolla and Tove Lo and SG Lewis, have both played a crucial role in Furtado's renewed artistic journey.

Clairo — 'Charm'

Amidst the viral resurgence of her 2019 track "Bags" on TikTok, indie sensation Clairo unveils her eagerly anticipated third studio album, Charm. Co-produced with GRAMMY-nominated Leon Michels of El Michels Affair, this enchanting project underscores a striking blend of musical artistry and innovation.

"I want afterglowing, and when I call a car / Send me eyes with the knowing that I could pull it off," she sings in "Sexy To Someone," the lead single from the album. Putting introspective lyricism at the forefront of all her projects without sacrificing quality instrumentals, this album is no exception.

Alesso & Nate Smith — "I Like It"

In this genre-crossing collaboration, electronic artist Alesso joins forces with country singer Nate Smith on their new single, "I Like It." Though an unexpected blend of styles, the song blends elements from both artists' sounds, seamlessly combining country and dance as they proudly declare, they "like it like that."

With Alesso's electrifying instrumentals perfectly complementing Smith's spirited country vocals, the track captures the essence of summer in a song and is set to make waves throughout the season.

One OK Rock — "Delusion:All"

Featured as the official theme song for the upcoming movie "Kingdom IV: Return of the Great General", Japanese rock band One Ok Rock releases "Delusion:All." The upbeat, cinematic track is the band's latest contribution to the "Kingdom" movie soundtrack series, following their 2019 song "Wasted Nights." 

"It's been a while since we wrote 'Wasted Nights' for the first series of 'Kingdom,' and we are very honored to be a part of the movie again," said vocalist Taka in a press statement. "We tried to reflect "the various conflicts going on in the world today and the modern society" in the song, while making it blend into the worldview of 'Kingdom.'"

Cat Burns — 'early twenties'

A love letter to her community and a deep dive into the intricacies of adulthood, Cat Burns presents her debut album, Early Twenties. Accompanying the album is a captivating short film directed by Libby Burke Wilde. The film tells the individual narratives of each character, touching on themes of mental health, relationships, and personal identity, mirroring the album's essence. 

With this well-rounded creative project, Burns showcases her full artistic prowess, making these releases a testament to her pioneering creative vision.

Uncle Kracker — 'Coffee & Beer'

Making a triumphant return to music after 12 years, Uncle Kracker breaks down the boundaries between genres once again with his latest album, Coffee & Beer. The 13-track album intertwines country, pop, and rock, offering a musical journey that ranges from high-spirited anthems to laid-back, mellow tracks. 

"I wanted to give my fans a soundtrack to summer and what's better than the balance of first coffee…then beer? Coffee & Beer is going to be a fun one. Cheers," Uncle Kracker said in a press statement.

Meridian Brothers — 'Mi Latinoamérica Sufre'

Drawing inspiration from the golden era of '70s Congolese rumba, Ghanaian highlife, and Nigerian afrobeat, the Meridian Brothers unveil Mi Latinoamérica Sufre. This concept album integrates the electric guitar into tropical Latin music in an innovative fashion. The album showcases a dynamic tapestry of sounds, blending cumbia, champeta, soukous, Brazilian tropicalia, and psychedelic rock, making it an exciting sonic journey.

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(From left) Lismar, S.Pri Noir, Ivorian Doll, Odumodublvck

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10 Artists Changing The Face Of Drill: Ivorian Doll, Bobby Tootact & More

While Cash Cobain and Ice Spice bring drill music even further into the mainstream, a new generation of artists are evolving the sound of the genre. From S.Pri Noir and 163Margs, to Lismar and Jay Hound, these 10 acts should be added to your playlist.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 02:12 pm

Originating in the early 2010s on the southside of Chicago, the hip-hop subgenre drill has transcended borders to become a global phenomenon. 

Characterized by a menacing and dark energy, drill music sets itself apart from traditional rap and hip-hop through its violent, aggressive lyrics and undertones. Drill music incorporates slower, heavier beats that often blend distorted 808 basslines, dark synths, and trap-style hi-hats. 

The gritty, lawless sound pioneered by artists like King Louie, Chief Keef, G Herbo and GRAMMY-award winner Lil Durk remains at the core of the drill, and their influence is spreading into more mainstream acts. Artists such as Cash Cobain — whose melodic, sultry "Attitude" exemplifies sample drill and landed him at No. 25 on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs — and Ice Spice, whose bold and perky lyrics contrast drill beats. As a whole, these artists are proving that drill is more than just graphic and horrid lyrical stories; it can be fun and even make you feel like a baddie.  

Variations on drill music can be heard in regions such as South America, Africa, and Europe.  The controversial but incredibly popular UK drill, which was born in the south London neighborhood of Brixton, draws many aesthetic influences from Chicago drill while maintaining its own stylistic differences. Where Chicago drill is heavily influenced by trap music, UK drill can be seen as a type of British gangsta rap, or "road rap." Young UK artists like Digga D and Central Cee have taken over the genre, both scoring entries on the Billboard chart, and with Central landing features with Drake and Lil Baby.    

A new generation of drill rappers are continuing to evolve the sound of the genre by combining drill beats and lyrics with a wide range of influences. Read on to learn about 10 budding drill artists whose innovative sounds and diverse perspectives are evolving the global drill landscape. 

Kenzo B

When it comes to vocal adaptability, attention to detail, and charisma — Kenzo B has got it. The Bronx-born rapper has quickly risen in prominence in New York's drill music scene following  2022 singles "Bump It" and "The Realest," both of which showcased her raw energy and talent. 

The self-proclaimed "Queen of Bronx drill" continues to refine her rapid-fire rhymes while maintaining a fierce competitiveness, setting her apart in the male-dominated drill space. In April, Kenzo B teamed up with Harlem rapper Bianca Bonnie to drop their ultra-femme anthem "What You Talkin Bout?"

Wolfacejoeyy

Known for his sexy drill singalongs, Wolfacejoeyy is one of the most exciting rising rappers from NYC’s "forgotten borough," Staten Island. The 21-year-old seamlessly weaves hooky, charismatic rhymes into signature Staten-style instrumentals. On songs like the viral "cake" and "wya," Joeyy taps into an alter ego that teeters between hopeless romantic and relentless f—boy, backed with dynamic hats and a heavy bass.

His highly-anticipated 13-track debut album Valentino, dropped last month and includes a feature from R&B singer Reuben Aziz and production from "Power" actor Michael Rainey Jr., who raps as WhereIs22.

S.Pri Noir

Born to a Senegalese mother and father from Guinea-Bissau, S.Pri Noir is based in France. Despite rapping in French, hip-hop artist S.Pri Noir's music is slowly transcending borders — grabbing the attention of audiences worldwide. 

S.Pri Noir’s 2018 debut album Masque Blanc reached No. 18 on the Top Albums chart in France. Earlier this month, he delivered a thrilling freestyle on "On The Radar Radio," channeling his inner Cash Cobain. After a recent Instagram post, fans are speculating a potential collaboration between the two artists will drop soon.

S.Pri Noir represents the next big market in drill: Africa. Many budding artists in the genre, especially from Europe, are second or third-generation African immigrants.   

Ivorian Doll

German British rapper Ivorian Doll is making a name for herself in the UK drill scene. Boldly claiming the title "Queen of Drill," she's carving out a unique niche with explosive lyrics, drill-infused tension, and undeniable pop appeal. Each of her anthems is a potent cocktail of drama and attitude, highlighting her razor-sharp signature style that's firmly anchored in unfiltered, hard-hitting lyricism.

The 26-year-old rapper debuted in 2018 as part of a duo, dropping the infectious drill track "The Situation." Since embarking on her solo journey, she's continued to captivate audiences with standout releases like "Queen of Drill," "Daily Duppy" and the buzz-worthy song "Rumour." Her ascent in the drill scene exemplifies a fresh voice bringing new energy to the genre, blending cultural influences with raw talent and unapologetic star quality.

Bobby Tootact

Harlem rapper Bobby Tootact is known for remixing popular Afro-Caribbean songs  — from Afrobeats bangers such as Wizkid’s "Joro" to dancehall like Teejay’s "Drift" — into drill tracks with overtly rough lyrics. On 2023's "Real Facts" (produced by go-to mixer Lowkeymali‬), Bobby raps about gun violence while sampling Wizkid’s popular Afrobeats dance track "Ojuelegba."

As the child of Senegalese immigrants, Bobby's music reflects a fusion of his cultural heritage and his upbringing in Harlem. This combination allows him to create a distinctive musical identity that resonates with fans of multiple genres while merging two completely different musical worlds. 

163Margs

Blending gritty lyrics with infectious beats, Nottingham's very own 163Margs has struck a chord with listeners craving traditional UK drill music from a young artist. Margs, who debuted in 2023, has already collaborated with UK heavyweights like Digga D, Bandokay, and Blanco. His debut single "Hide and Seek" propelled him into the spotlight, showcasing his raw talent and captivating flow. 

At first listen, his 2024 single, "Barbies" can be confused as an ode to beautiful women, with lyrics like: "All of them Barbie pretty." Listeners later realize the song is actually about guns and street life. "The opps are wet and there's no disagreement / Ayy / fill up the wap / put teeth in."

Odumodublvck

Nigerian rapper and singer Odumodublvck is crafting a lane for himself with an alluring Afro-grime and Afro-drill sound. As a member of the hip-hop collective Anti World Gangstars, Odumodublvck creates high-energy music which features catchy, repetitive lyrics in Pidgin English and his Native Nigerian language (Igbo). 

His latest project, EZIOKWU, dropped in October 2023 and includes collaborations with acclaimed artists like Fireboy DML, Wale, and Amaarae — further cementing his position as a rising star in the evolving Nigerian music landscape.

Jay Hound

Jay Hound is an upcoming drill artist hailing from a section of Manhattan's Upper West Side neighborhood and catapulted into the spotlight via his 2023 single "UKRAINE." 

A collaboration with his Sweepers labelmate Jay5ive, the track features deep and vibrating bass, and garnered over seven million views on YouTube and nearly 30 million streams on Spotify. He even released an Afro-drill version of the song, which deconstructs the grittiness of the original drill track for a more light and playful dance sound. 

Lismar

Dominican singer/songwriter Lismar is dominating the Dominican urban music scene with her contemporary hip-hop and drill rap. Gaining recognition on the Puerto Rican platform Freestyle Mania, Lismar's creativity and distinctive sound of which infuses both Latin and hip-hop music has earned her a growing fan base and a deal with Roc Nation.

In her new released tracks "Delincuente Con Traje" and "BZRP Music Session #60," she captivates listeners with her powerful flow and impactful lyrics that translate to "I look calm / but I was raised on the corner" and "If they close the door / I knock down the window." The rapper dropped her latest single "Mi Primer Concierto," a softer record that seamlessly integrates her Dominican heritage with rap.

Dee Billz

New York-based rapper, Dee Billz, combines bold and unapologetic lyrics while also toying with a Jersey club sound in his 2023 breakout hit "Thootie." The single took the internet by storm and racked up more than a million views across TikTok and YouTube.  

Last year, the drill artist collaborated with fellow New Yorker rapper’s Kyle Richh, Jenn Carter, and Tata to release "Stomp Stomp," a single that reimagines Soulja Boy's "Crank That" in a drill style. 

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Four members of Destiny's Child in 2000
Destiny's Child

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5 Reasons Why 'The Writing's On The Wall' Is Destiny's Child's Defining Album

From its embrace of experimental R&B production and memorable music videos, to its GRAMMY-winning empowering songs, 'The Writing’s On the Wall' remains a touchstone for fans of Destiny's Child.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 02:07 pm

In 1997, all-female R&B groups were thriving: TLC already had seven Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, En Vogue had numerous platinum singles, and Xscape reached No. 1 more than once. Soon, a quartet of teenagers would burst upon the scene and leave an indelible impact.

While Destiny’s Child are now canonical in the world of '90s and early aughts R&B, the group initially experienced spotty success. Their 1997 debut single, "No, No, No (Part 2)" peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and was certified platinum. Yet their eponymous album, released in February 1998, only hit No. 67. Their follow up single, "With Me," also failed to set the charts ablaze. 

Destiny’s Child's underwhelming chart performances could’ve easily derailed the budding group. Fortunately, the four ambitious girls from Texas had other plans. 

Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson, and Le Toya Luckett were determined not to become one hit wonders, and quickly went back into the studio to record their sophomore album. Released on July 14, 1999, The Writing’s On the Wall became Destiny’s Child’s highest selling album and spawned some of their most iconic songs — one of which led to the group's first GRAMMY win. Not only did the album establish Destiny's Child as a household name, but it fine tuned the R&B girl group concept to perfection.

"We had no idea that The Writing's on the Wall would be as big a record as it was. Especially worldwide," Beyoncé said in a 2006 Guardian interview.

In celebration of the iconic album's 25th anniversary, read on for five reasons why The Writing’s On the Wall is the defining album of Destiny’s Child’s career.

Its Members Took Creative Control

On their debut album, Destiny’s Child tapped into the neo soul trend popularized by the likes of D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Maxwell — artists in their early-to-mid twenties with a maturity the teen quartet didn’t yet have. The references and creative direction clashed with the reality of the group members being so young.

"It was a neo-soul record and we were 15 years old. It was way too mature for us," Beyoncé tol the Guardian.

Heading back into the studio, the girls made sure to eradicate any misalignments and put more of themselves into their sophomore album. In an interview with MTV, the members said The Writing’s On the Wall had a fresher, more youthful vibe because "it comes from us." The quartet's fingerprints are all over the 16 track album: Each member co-wrote at least 50 percent of the album. 

"Even at the time, Beyoncé would produce a lot of their background vocals, and she was a leader even at a young age," Xscape's Kandi Burruss said in a Vice interview, reflecting on her work as a songwriter and producer on The Writing's On the Wall. This heightened presence enabled the group to develop lyrics that boldly reflected their opinions and youthful energy. In turn, The Writing's On the Wall netted a run of iconic hit singles.

Read more: Destiny's Child's Debut Album At 25: How A Neo-Soul Album From Teens Spawned R&B Legends

It Pushed R&B Forward 

Like its predecessor, The Writing’s On the Wall is very much an R&B album. However, Beyoncé's father Mathew Knowles — who still managed the group at the time — brought in producers who weren’t afraid to experiment. The result was a more commercial album that fused classic R&B with pop influences, creating a sound that was simultaneously contemporary and timeless.

Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs and Burrus (who would go on to co-write and produce TLC’s "No Scrubs") contributed to five of the album's tracks, shaping its overall sound and differentiating it from Destiny’s Child. The duo kept a few elements from the group’s debut effort, including the sing-rapping heard on "Bug A Boo" and "Hey Ladies." With syncopated beats, thumping basslines, and their knack for writing catchy hooks, Briggs and Burrus created R&B records with the perfect blend of chart-friendly accessibility.

On the Missy Elliott produced "Confessions," synthesizers, drum machines, and electronic garbling were layered to create a lush, futuristic backdrop. Further subverting the classic R&B ballad, Elliott paired what sounds like a cabasa to match Beyonce’s cadence throughout the verses which gives her laidback vocals an almost robotic feel. In addition to producing, Elliott’s velvety vocals also appear quite prominently on the chorus, adding to the track’s sonic tapestry.

GRAMMY-winner Rodney Jerkins was tapped to produce "Say My Name." The original beat Jerkins used was two-step garage, a subgenre of UK garage. No one else liked the sound, so he completely revamped the track into the GRAMMY-winning anthem we know today. Jerkins melded funk-inspired guitar and a call and response approach, then modernized them with a shimmery, polished production. This helped "Say My Name" become the group’s most listened to song on Spotify with over 840 million streams. Jerkins has even gone on record to say this is his favorite song he’s produced to date.

Read more: "Say My Name" 20 Years Later: Why The Destiny's Child Staple Is Still On Everyone's Lips

Its Music Videos Praised Black Culture

"For me, it is about amplifying the beauty in all of us," Beyoncé said in a 2019 interview with Elle when asked about the importance of representation. Even before her solo work, the importance of spotlighting Black culture was evident in Destiny's Child's music videos.

In "Bills, Bills, Bills," we see the group play the role of hair stylists in a salon which is an obvious nod to Beyoncé's mother’s longstanding relationship with all things hair. Near the end of "Bug a Boo," the members change into their version of majorette costumes and dance in front of a marching band. Majorettes and marching bands have a vibrant legacy within HBCUs; almost 20 years after this video premiered, Beyoncé revisited this very concept for her 2018 Coachella performance. 

It Delivered Mainstream Success 

The Writing’s On the Wall was a hit across the charts. The group earned their first No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 with "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Say My Name." Promotions for the latter also reinvigorated album sales and helped shift another 157,000 copies (an impressive 15 percent increase from their first-week sales). The fourth and final single, "Jumpin’, Jumpin’" was released during the summer of 2000 and became one of the most played songs on the radio that year.

Songs from the album were nominated at both the 42nd and 43rd GRAMMY Awards. Destiny’s Child took home their first golden gramophone at the 2001 GRAMMYs, winning Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "Say My Name." The single also won Best R&B Song and  was nominated for Record Of The Year. 

With 14 nominations, Destiny’s Child remain the most nominated girl group in GRAMMY history. With worldwide sales of 13 million, The Writing’s On the Wall is also the fourth best-selling girl group album of all time.

It Expanded The Concept Of "Girl Power"

The Writing’s On the Wall was much more than catchy, radio-friendly tunes. Lyrically and in production, the album reintroduced Destiny’s Child as the architects for their own lives. The tongue-in-cheek Godfather-inspired intro tees up each song with a commandment for their partners and, at times, for themselves.

Often misconstrued as a gold digger anthem,"Bills, Bills, Bills" empowers a woman to confront a lover who's financially taking advantage of her. This is a far cry from the theme of a young woman focused on finding love — a common theme on Destiny's Child —  and puts their confidence on full display. "So Good" is a sassy, uplifting anthem which explicitly addresses haters with pointed lyrics like "For all the people ‘round us that have been negative/Look at us now/See how we live." Destiny's Child was sending a clear message: they’re going to be fine regardless of what others say. 

And when the group became tabloid fodder due to unexpected lineup changes, "So Good" took on a new meaning for persevering through hard times. While there are some songs with morally questionable lyrics — we’re looking at you ‘"Confessions" — the consistent message of embracing one’s self-worth and independence is clear. 

More Girl Group Sounds & History

ENHYPHEN
ENHYPEN

Photo: BELIFT LAB

interview

ENHYPEN And JVKE "Say Yes" To Cross-Cultural Collabs & Exploring New Genres

The K-pop group and American songwriter/multi-instrumentalist were big fans of each other — so much so that they bridged continents to create music. ENHYPEN and JVKE discuss creating "XO (Only If You Say Yes)," and innovating by staying true to yourself.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 02:05 pm

During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Jacob Lawson decided to use his time at home to share songs on TikTok. Trained in piano, guitar, and drums, the Providence, Rhode Island-based teen's creativity and knack for whimsical hooks resonated with millions. By 2021, Lawson was better known as JVKE — the singer and songwriter behind viral hits "Upside Down," "golden hour," and many more.

At the same time, on the other side of the world, in Seoul, South Korea, 23 K-pop trainees competed against each other on the survival show "I-Land." The seven victors went on to form boyband ENHYPEN — comprised of four Koreans (Heeseung, Sunoo, Sunghoon, and Jungwon), one Korean Australian (Jake), one Korean American (Jay), and one Japanese member (Ni-Ki). Despite the lack of in-person events in 2020, the group quickly became a coveted name, topping Korean charts with every release and sweeping a handful of awards.

Fast-forward to 2024, and these parallel lives have crossed paths with each other: ENHYPEN covered JVKE’s songs on social media, JVKE saw it and was impressed by their talents. Soon enough, they were working together.

While differences abound — JVKE is under global label AWAL and does everything from home, for example, while ENHYPEN went through years of dutiful training under label BELIFT LAB — their connection was immediate. The Gen Z artists share the same wavelength of thoughts and, above all, bonded over their love for a universal connector: music.

The result is ENHYPEN’s latest single, "XO (Only If You Say Yes)," off their sophomore studio album, Romance : Untold. Crafted by JVKE, who also features in its English version, the summery track represents a new musical and conceptual direction for ENHYPEN. So far, most of their work explored darker sounds and vampiric leanings, but now they show a sweeter side, ready to embrace all the facets of love.

Over Zoom, JVKE met ENHYPEN once more to talk about working together, being creative in the age of TikTok, and the future of music. ENHYPEN will also be featured in HYBE: We Believe In Music, A GRAMMY Museum Exhibit, which opens in Los Angeles on Aug. 2.

How did your collaboration come to life? Who contacted whom first?

JVKE: I remember the first time I saw Sunoo singing "Golden Hour," and that was probably my first time seeing them and interacting a bit. 

I dug a little deeper, got to hear their music and see all sorts of stuff from them, and then with Heeseung singing "This Is What Falling in Love Feels Like" — that cover is amazing. I tried to reach out through [X/]Twitter, like, How can I get in contact with these guys? And, yeah, from there we got to connect, and we made some cool stuff happen.

Did you know anything about K-pop before meeting ENHYPEN?

JVKE: When I first saw ENHYPEN, just the mesh of them as a group, you see the pictures and how all of them are styled together. But watching them dance in combination with the music, really opened my eyes to what K-pop could be, because I hadn't really seen much of it. 

Seeing these guys, I feel like it takes music to a whole different level of performance. I think these guys are even greater than musicians, they are also just performers, state of the art. They are amazing.

Learn more: Watch K-Pop Powerhouses ENHYPEN Bring Their Bouncy "ParadoXXX Invasion" To Life On The GRAMMY Museum Stage | Global Spin Live

ENHYPEN, what do you think of JVKE's music? And what were your thoughts when you learned you would be working together?

Jake: We all knew his songs way before we met him, and we were all big fans. We used to listen to all of his music before we met him, and when we heard that we got a chance to work with him, when we heard the demo for the title song, we knew that it was going to be such an amazing collaboration. We were very excited, even from the start. 

But I think our first impression when we actually met him in person is that he's very tall. [Laughs.] And we just connected straight away. We come from two different parts of the world, and we are both doing different styles of music, but in this collaboration you can see that we were able to connect through music, and [that’s] wonderful.

Read more: JVKE's "Golden" Year: How The Singer's World Turned "Upside Down" With TikTok, Collaborating With Charlie Puth & More

Is there anything specific that you learned while working together? Or something new that you didn't expect?

Jungwon: I was really surprised that he is the same age as Heeseung.

Heeseung: I also didn’t know.

He could be part of ENHYPEN.

JVKE: That's what I want. I'm signing up. I'm doing my audition now. [Laughs.]

JVKE, what was your main takeaway from ENHYPEN’s music and from their new album, 'Romance : Untold?'

JVKE: With stuff that I had heard from before, this [album] is definitely a new take on their sound. I think they're creatively evolving, and to get to be a part of that has just been so much fun. I just can't wait for people to hear what we got on the way.

ENHYPEN, what did you think of the new genres that you are exploring in this album?

Heeseung: When we first heard the demo [for "XO"], we all thought that it was a really great song. And the thing about this song is that it reflects all the creativity that JVKE has.

Jake: This song is very new to us, but I feel like one of our goals when we're working on a new album is to always try something different. This title song is such a big step for us, and I think it's a really good comeback.

JVKE, your songs are very romantic. Did that help to create "XO" and make it fit into their 'Romance : Untold' album concept?

JVKE: For sure. It was really cool to work on the song with the guys, and I think that you will definitely be able to tell the parts that I'm really — you know, I tend to write a lot of love songs. That's just how I am.

ENHYPEN, this is the first time you dive into a full-on romantic concept. What do you think of this evolution in your music, and of this theme?

Sunghoon: In this album, we tried to set a scene where our fans could have this heart-fluttering feeling after listening to [it]. We really put a lot of thought towards our fans, Engene. We showed a darker side in previous albums, but this time it's summer, and it's been a long while since we released a studio album, so we wanted to show a different side. I think that's going to draw attention from a wider audience.

JVKE, you found a lot of success through TikTok. What do you think of the platform as a creative medium? And how is it shaping the way music is created?

JVKE: I think it just made it easier to access potential fans, the public, or people who may have never heard your music before, and that gives any creative person a shot. If you can just put some music online, you don't have to have any sort of thing going for you. If the video is a great video, and the music's great, it'll reach people. I love that. I love that's the world that we live in, that there's not really a barrier to entry anymore. And I think that allows creativity to really ramp up, like, we don't have to move really slow with just a few artists. There's a lot of new artists coming out, pushing out new sounds and creativity. I love that so much.

How has this collaboration inspired you further on your own work?

JVKE: Even the song that we did together, it was a creative stretch for me. I hadn't really done much stuff like this, so it gets me excited to see what people are going to think of it. I'm always trying to do new things and seeing how [mine and ENHYPEN’s] worlds came together definitely inspired a lot of cool stuff. Even when we were in the room together working on stuff, it was very inspiring for me, so I think that inspiration is going to ride for a while.

ENHYPEN, how has this collaboration inspired you and future things you want to try as a group?

Ni-Ki: "XO" is a style that we have never tried before, and every time you try out new things, it can be challenging at times, and have a bit of pressure. But through this collaboration, we learned that we can try various different things going forward, and we can actually pull off these different styles.

Sunoo: What Ni-Ki said is so correct. Doing this collaboration with JVKE is definitely opening a lot of new styles for us in the future, and I think it's going to be great.

What do you think that is necessary to craft a hit song these days?

Jake: A really catchy hook. And like JVKE mentioned, Tiktok and that sort of short videos are very popular right now, and I think having a catchy melody is what gets people’s attention. That's what young people, like us, like these days. 

JVKE: I agree 100%. You gotta have the hook. And now when I'm in the studio trying to make music, getting the production behind it innovative and creative, or just stripping it back, I find that fully committing to an idea, even if it's a little bit crazy, even if it's not what people would expect from you, is the best part about it. And I think Gen Z is always looking for something new and fresh, because the attention span is so quick. So, right now, it's good to keep people on their toes.

What are some "rules" or common techniques in music writing and producing that you don't agree with, and that you like to do your own way?

Jungwon: One of the things that caught my attention was the fact that we usually record in the studio, but we learned that JVKE made all of his work from his home. That was a big surprise, because although he did it [that way], everything is good quality.

JVKE: Thanks, guys. I agree. Definitely, there's certain points when I really need to take my time and get it exactly how I want it, but you know, I think you can always work with whatever you have. And I like that for up-and-coming songwriters. Just by having a computer, you can do pretty much everything on there, and sometimes that's what helps people to figure out their sound. You just do what you can and, over time, you can add in more high quality elements and use some better equipment. So, I love that you don't have to have too much. You can work with whatever you have.

Aside from "XO," do any of you have a favorite track in this album? Why?

Heeseung: I like "XO," especially the English version is really good, and outside of that it would be "Paranormal."

Jay: I think for me it’s "XO" English version too, because JVKE featured as a vocalist.

Jake: Obviously, "XO" is my favorite song on the tracklist, but I really like "Brought The Heat Back" too.

What do you envision for the future of K-pop and of music in general?

Jake: That's a good question. I think even from this collaboration we're doing right now with JVKE, you can tell that K-pop isn't determined by language or anything like that. I feel like it's already gone global, and that's going to continue in the future as well. I think music can bring the world together. I know that in some places in the world, there's people that don't know much about K-pop or Korea in general, and you know, a couple years back, when I was living in Australia, K-pop really helped me learn about Korean culture. I think we're doing that for other people around the world as well. As an artist, part of K-pop is to always show the world what it is and what Korea and its culture are.

Heeseung: What's important is that we put in the creative element to make something new out of existing genres. There are many great musicians out there, and I think if they continue to share what they have, we'll be able to advance music further. Recently, I had the chance to experience a [songwriting] camp, so I got to meet many different musicians and make different songs. If we had more of these kinds of opportunities going forward, that would be great.

Jay: We had a lot of dark and deep concepts or title tracks for a while, so this kind of collaboration with JVKE kind of breaks [that]. I think a lot of musicians breaking their own line and challenging themselves will make the future of K-pop.

Learn more: What's Next For K-Pop? A Roundtable Unpacks The Genre's Past, Present And Future

JVKE, do you have any thoughts?

JVKE: I agree with all the stuff that the guys were saying, like, taking in all of the different inspirations. I think if songwriters continue to just be themselves and write what they want to write, we'll continue to get new and innovative music. I don't think we'll ever run out of new ways to create music. And so, I always try to encourage other songwriters to just keep writing what's coming to you. You don't have to put it in a box. 

Even with ["XO"], I wasn't trying to put it in a perfect box, it just was what it was. Sometimes a song just has to be allowed to be what it is, and then you can put it in a box if you need to, but never compromise the art. The art comes first. And as long as people do that, the future will continue to have amazing music.

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