Photo: Thurstan Redding
How Rina Sawayama Turned Her Therapy Sessions Into 'Hold The Girl'
While making her second album, the pop shapeshifter dug deep into her past in a search for closure. Along the way, she rediscovered a long-lost feeling: pure joy.
Rina Sawayama shares a birthday with Madonna. It’s "quite a vibe," she tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom from London, noting their shared "Leo energy." Like the icon, Sawayama is vibrant, artistically fearless, a pop chameleon pre-destined for stardom. But whereas Madge celebrates her birthdays with lavish bashes in international locales, Sawayama’s ideal day is a little more low-key: an intimate gathering at home with some friends, over dinner and a movie.
Life leading up to Sawayama’s 30th birthday two years ago should have given her reason to go all out if she wanted. She had just released her debut album, SAWAYAMA, an all-acclaimed collection of songs discussing topics such as capitalism, intergenerational trauma, and making one’s own family, all over an equally wide-ranging soundboard of nu-metal, dance, pop, and R&B. An international tour had been mapped out. But a month before the album’s release, the pandemic hit.
Stuck inside with little to do between Zoom calls, Sawayama struggled to adjust. As a result, she added more intensive therapy to her regimen to address resurfaced traumas. From those sessions, Sawayama molded her second album, Hold The Girl, which arrives Sept. 16 via Dirty Hit.
Like its predecessor, the LP is a blender of maximalist sounds and styles, this time bridging industrial, rap-rock, and stadium-sized trance with pop, indie, and even country music. Here, Sawayama is more introspective, her rawness and vulnerability an attempt to make peace with her past. The title track is both haunting and uplifting as she vows to protect the young past-self she "left…spinning on the carousel." On the darker and more frantic "Frankenstein," she begs someone to "put me together, make me better."
Beyond its individual songs, Hold The Girl's beauty lies in its overall arc: an emotionally intense trek through stretches of sorrow and then engulfing rage to finally reach the peak of light and healing. For Sawayama, the latter part has been long overdue: "I think it was in my thirties that I truly felt this moment of relief from depression," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I was able to look at little things like leaves or trees…It was a childlike joy that I was able to feel."
Sawayama spoke with GRAMMY.com about creating Hold The Girl, an album about "holding your inner child and allowing the child to feel loved and thrive and feel pure joy — something that I felt [throughout] my entire twenties and late teens I wasn't able to do."
Since you started touring again, how did it feel being in this overlapping space where you're still performing your last album from two years ago for the first time while finalizing your new one?
It made me feel really sad because I wanted to perform it so many more times. I wanted to perform it to more audiences, to different states, even Europe.
I feel sad because there's just no space in the next tour set to perform most of the songs. I think we're gonna pick up three or four songs. I feel a little sentimental about it but, you know, we gotta move forward.
What motivated you to start working on Hold The Girl?
I didn't want to! I was completely uninspired. But time was passing and I was having a chat with my label and my management and they're like, Look, if you work on it now, then by the time everything opens up, there'll be a new record and then there'll be momentum. And I was like, Oh, God, I dunno. I don't feel ready to move on. I think people were feeling so unmotivated in general throughout lockdown because we had no release. There was nothing to be excited for.
I actually read, on recommendation of a songwriter friend, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and she talks about how you get through your creative blocks. That in conjunction with seeing artists like Charli XCX and Taylor Swift releasing lockdown albums was really inspiring because I was like, you have to think of another way. I really was digging my heels in. I just didn't want to write. I just wanted to sit at home and be sad, basically.
So how did you overcome those blocks?
When I don’t know how to do something, I always look to books to find out how to do it. And there are so many books on creative blocks. When I was really young, I read The Artist’s Way because I didn't know how to write songs. But yeah, Big Magic, I read Tunesmith, which was also a really good book.
Listening to podcasts about creating, and just speaking with friends who are in the industry being like, "How do you feel?" And them being like, "Yeah, I feel the same way, too" was really encouraging because I didn't feel like I was being stupid by not wanting to write. It was books and just kind of necessity: I had to.
As a person who is also in therapy, since therapy plays a role in the album, listening to this album was both an arrow to the chest and a hug.
Oh, wow. That's so amazing. Thank you for saying that. That's so heartbreaking but amazing. I feel seen.
I felt seen! So I have an idea of what it means to hold the girl, but I’d really like to hear in your words what it means.
It’s addressing the things that I went through when I was a child and a teenager up until now, turning 30 and finally feeling like an adult. I have perspective towards my younger self. I felt like I had given myself away in the sense that I've done so much people-pleasing in my life. And it's led to people taking advantage of me or some really precarious situations. It really left some scars.
During therapy, what was amazing is this idea of, now that you're an adult, you're able to see your younger self as a child slightly separate from you. It's this beautiful moment where you're able to hold your inner-child and give them the love that they didn't have when you were younger, whether it was the parenting you needed, or the general support that you needed, or the friendship you needed.
That was the therapeutic process that I went through, and what I really wanted to trace narratively with this record. It starts off by being like, this is what's wrong, and then it goes into this moment of chaos, a real self-punching moment where you are letting yourself be swallowed in the chaos of it and emotional turmoil, which is like the middle of the album after forgiveness. Then it kind of ends in the euphoria.
Can you tell me about the catharsis of recording that stretch from "Holy" to "Frankenstein"? Those are screaming and crying records to me.
It was really fun. So it starts with "Holy," which — I went to a Church of England school and I think that was very impactful to me. There was a church attached to our school and we were allowed to perform there, so that was one of my first experiences with music and performance. At the same time, it was a girl's school and it was very savage. There were so many things that happened that were not okay and probably quite traumatic. I wanted it to be a crying-in-the-club kind of song.
So it goes from that to "Your Age," on which…I can look back and think generally how badly behaved adults were and how unchecked so much behavior was when we were younger. Just thinking about the ‘90s and 2000s and the behavior that so many people were able to get away with — think about Britney Spears and what happened there, and the #MeToo movement.
"Imagining" is this chaos. We were having so much fun with the sound and making it very industrial and very frantic — I love the idea of thrashing around in a club, which is what I used to do when I was 15. Then it ends with "Frankenstein," which is about expecting your partner or those close to you to put you back together, and realizing the only person that can do that is you.
I had so much fun doing that section of the record. I love writing pop, but I also really love the bold sounds. So in terms of sonics, there’s a marriage of those two vibes.
Exactly, you're known for mixing sounds from R&B and pop to dance and metal. With songs like "This Hell" and "Send My Love to John," you've invited country music to the party. What drew you to the genre and what made it right for this moment?
Kasey Musgraves. I didn't know about Kasey until she won Record Of The Year at the GRAMMYs. I've never heard music so pure since the Carpenters; I had never heard a voice so crystal clear. It was so to-the-point and refined in terms of the songwriting and production. I was completely enamored with that record for, like, two years. Then I went down a route of listening to country singers like Dolly Parton. I listened to Trio, which is by the band [Parton] had with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris; it's just amazing, the harmonics and just the simplicity of the songwriting.
I think at the same time, being locked down inside the house, I had dreams of writing the record in Nashville, because at that point I'd been so obsessed with the country style of writing. I just wanted to be authentically writing with those people. And I couldn't, obviously. In my head I had this vision of wanting to be in a place that I didn't have any cultural connection to, and that’s country.
You've previously talked about challenging yourself to turn really difficult topics from your therapy sessions into pop songs. Do you view these songs as extensions of your therapy? Do they provide any closure once those experiences are immortalized into song?
It's definitely provided closure, and I'm so grateful that I get to have these two ways of dealing with my trauma, which is doing therapy and also having amazing collaborators that I get to write with and be open about my experiences — and for them not to be like, "this is heavy, this is weird." All of them were like, "Alright, let's go."
I always strongly recommend therapy. I think if we learn anything during the lockdown it’s that you have to be comfortable just sitting there with yourself. I think therapy is the first step in that.
Given that the album is so deeply personal, what would you say is your favorite or most resonating lyric on it?
I think some of the most simple ones resonate the most. "Blue sky is always there behind the rain," which is in "To Be Alive," is a common meditation mantra. The lyrics just really distill everything, all the therapeutic process and amazing quotes, into one. I also love the lyric "Flowers still look pretty when they're dying," which is the last line of the record. It's haunting at the same time as validating. I really wanted to end on that nuanced lyrical vibe.
Is it too early to ask what's next? Maybe the better question is, what are you looking forward to most once the record's out?
Having these kinds of conversations with people who really resonate with it on a very, I want to say different level, because I can tell when people resonate with it on that kind of level—when they feel seen. The great thing about therapy is that you don't feel alone when you start doing it. You realize that there are other people who feel similarly to you. I can't wait to meet my fans and chat to them about how they've resonated with the record because this one, compared to the last one, is definitely more hard-hitting. It comes from a much deeper place.
Having talks like this is definitely what I'm looking forward to, and also to be able to do that in shows through singing it back to people. That will be really amazing.
Photo: Laura Harvey Photography
Head In The Clouds 2023 L.A.: See Social Media Reactions From The Celebration Of The Asian Diaspora
Below, witness some of the explosive photos and videos from Head In The Clouds Music & Arts Festival 2023, which turned Pasadena’s Brookside at the Rose Bowl into a musical AAPI epicenter.
That’s a wrap for the Los Angeles edition of Head in the Clouds Fest 2023, a takeover of Pasadena’s Brookside at the Rose Bowl for a stunning celebration of all things AAPI.
Organized by production house 88Rising, Head in the Clouds T previously popped off at Queens’ Forest Hills Stadium in May. On Aug. 5 and 6, numerous talents of AAPI heritage brought the heat — from Hong Kong pop phenom Jackson Wang to genre-toggling synthesist Rina Sawayama to South Korean rap sensation DPR Live.
As you can see below, the lineup did not disappoint: the energy feedback between the performers and audience was downright kinetic. Overall, Head in the Clouds 2023 was proof positive that music of the AAPI diaspora isn’t just alive and well; it’s pointing an arrow to music’s future.
Check out some social media reactions from Head in the Clouds — and we’ll see you at the 2024 iteration!
Photo: Pooneh Ghana for Bonnaroo 2023
10 Amazing Sets From Bonnaroo 2023: Paramore, Kendrick Lamar, Rina Sawayama & More
The four-day festival in Manchester, Tennessee was completely sold out this year, drawing more than 80,000 people. Relive the excitement with these 10 incredible sets from Bonnaroo 2023.
Following a few rocky years, Bonnaroo 2023 made a triumphant comeback to Great Stage Park (affectionately dubbed "The Farm") under glorious skies. The Manchester, Tennessee festival was completely sold out this year, drawing more than 80,000 people for four days of music, laughter, food, and plenty of sun.
From the Midnight and their showstopping saxophonist, to Amber Mark’s masterful lyricism and Three 6 Mafia's guests (which included a surprise cameo by country star Jelly Roll), to young musician Ben Goldsmith’s country-inspired tunes and Hayley Williams joining Foo Fighters to perform "My Hero." And if all-day music wasn’t enough, Bonnaroo 2023 featured numerous food vendors and relaxing areas, and even a place to get married.
While at times the lines were long, the sun was hot, and getting from one remote area to another proved difficult, rousing sets by headliners and larger-than-life moments at the smaller tents made everything worth it. Here are 10 of the most exciting sets from Bonnaroo 2023.
Suki Waterhouse Shines Despite Difficulties
Suki Waterhouse ⎹ Dusana Risovic for Bonnaroo 2023
After a severely delayed set due to technical difficulties, Thursday’s performance at That Tent saw English actress-turned-singer Suki Waterhouse playing through much of her debut album, I Can’t Let Go.
Drenched in pink light with an enveloping fog, Waterhouse’s cinematic performance and comforting vocals could draw anyone into the tent. She flitted through "Moves," "Bulls— on the Internet," "My Mind" and TikTok favorite "Good Looking" with a robust collection of layered drums and guitar for support.
Big Freedia Fires Everybody Up
Big Freedia ⎹ Charles Reagan for Bonnaroo 2023
Across the park, Big Freedia treated audiences to an extra-special taste of New Orleans bounce. The 1:45 a.m. set time after a sweltering day did not deter the amped-up audience, many of whom likely attended Thursday’s Pride Parade — also helmed by Big Freedia.
"I just want to wish everyone happy Pride," Big Freedia, donning an outfit made of rainbow feathers, said to momentous cheers. "We about to turn up, we about to celebrate!"
Folks from the audience jumped on stage for a 2 a.m. twerk contest, dancing along with Big Freedia as she performed "Azz Everywhere" and "Rock Around the Clock." It was a lot of energy to be had for the wee morning hours, but if there’s anything the Bonnaroo crowd does better than others, it’s the late nights.
Black Midi Brings The Noise
Translating a distinctively chaotic discography into a sensical live set isn’t an easy task. Compound that with a fickle festival audience in the hot sun, and sometimes it can be downright impossible. Yet, Black Midi's experimental arrangements seemed to delight the audience relatively quickly on Saturday.
With songs that took a slower cadence ("Still") and others that were characterized by sharp tonal shifts and dramatic tempo changes ("Eat Men Eat!", "953"), the bulk of the excitement came in not knowing what to expect next. It was the kind of organized mayhem that invited people to start chucking inflatable dinosaurs, rubber chickens, bananas, toilet paper, anything they had in hand.
The charm in Black Midi’s music, at least on that stage, was that it didn’t take itself too seriously. In translating their mind-melting, seemingly random studio style to the Bonnaroo stage, Black Midi taught us, song after song, that some shows just have to be some degree of chaos.
Rina Sawayama Cycles Through Every Genre
Rina Sawayama ⎹ Cora Wagoner for Bonnaroo 2023
To see Rina Sawayama live is a gift. The rising pop (and rock, and country) artist shined on Friday at the Which Stage, moving with elegance through choreographed dance routines. Her performances included a two-dancer ensemble and various spur-of-the moment outfit and character changes.
There’s a transporting magic wrought by Rina’s one hour set; every song she performed felt like an individual production with a story to tell, beginning with the fearlessly reflective "Hold The Girl" and ending with the rousing "This Hell" (featuring a surprise cameo by MUNA, who had just finished playing the What Stage).
For a set that started with hard rock, cycled through bubblegum pop, and ended with country, it felt every bit as extraordinary and arresting as she is. Rina Sawayama doesn’t demand your attention — she’s not begging for it. She simply acquires it whether you like it or not.
Paris Jackson Conjures Pixies And Nirvana
Paris Jackson ⎹ Gary Miller/WireImage
Paris Jackson may have just one album under her belt, but that didn’t stop the 25-year-old singer/songwriter from packing sets on Saturday and Sunday at two different stages. The crowd clearly couldn’t get enough of their Nirvana-inspired music as they overflowed the Toyota Music Den on Saturday to listen to acoustic versions of her new tracks, and then This Tent on Sunday for the full-instrumental versions of those songs.
Highlights of both sets included her lighthearted guitar tuning interlude — a seemingly out-of-place folk song her bandmate plays as she tunes her guitar in her earpiece — and "bandaid," the title track off of her forthcoming new album.
"Most of my songs are about heartbreak," Jackson told GRAMMY.com during a backstage chat. "This is the most raw and vulnerable I’ve ever been in my lyrics, but it’s still vague enough for people to make it about what they want it to be about."
Though a departure from her old sound— which leaned more towards indie folk, watching her perform "bandaid" and her other two singles "Just You" and "Lighthouse" felt like we were watching her come into her own. The depth of the songwriting felt right at home amongst the covers of Blind Melon’s "No Rain" and Pearl Jam’s "Even Flow."
Kendrick Lamar Performs On His Birthday
Kendrick Lamar ⎹ Roger Ho for Bonnaroo 2023
The first of the weekend’s headliners to perform, Kendrick Lamar, spent his 36th birthday eve putting on a theatrical performance that blended cuts from last year’s Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers ("Count Me Out") with back catalog material ("A.D.H.D.", "Backseat Freestyle").
After a modest, humble response to the audience singing him "Happy Birthday" at the stroke of midnight, Lamar leaned into the melodrama, as he rapped alongside a group of suit-wearing doppelgängers dancing with uncanny, uniform movements. For his second-to-last act, Lamar brought out his cousin Baby Keem, who brought vigorous rhymes to the stage for "family ties". And even though Kendrick’s set ended 20 minutes early with "Savior," its high energy and dramatic visuals were the cherry on top to an already exhilarating Friday evening.
The Band Camino Brings Their Music Back Home
The Band Camino ⎹ Nathan Zucker for Bonnaroo 2023
Tennessee’s own The Band Camino were slated to appear at two canceled Bonnaroos in a row, and by this year's festival the Memphis band were visibly happy to be there. They revived their song "California" just for Bonnaroo, and played the ever-popular "2/14" alongside some of their newer singles, "What Am I Missing" and "Last Man in the World" — the latter of which was a huge hit with the crowd.
Speaking to GRAMMY.com backstage, vocalists Spencer Stewart and Jeffery Jordan discussed the song’s provenance: "We were trying to write something that was verbally heavy-hitting, that paints a really good picture about what it feels like to be with this very special person. It feels like everyone else is gone and you’re just left with this one person left; you’re the last people in the world."
Lil Nas X Rides ’Til He Can’t No More
Lil Nas X ⎹ Pooneh Ghana for Bonnaroo 2023
The main stage at Bonnaroo is always a grand marvel, and Lil Nas X gave the Bonnaroo audience nothing short of that, drawing an enormous crowd on Saturday just after nightfall. Bobbing and weaving across a stage he shared with giant costumed animals, a six-person dance ensemble, and swirling rock formations, it’s obvious the rapper has an insatiable desire to entertain and magnetize.
As expected, songs like "Old Town Road" and "What I Want" proved their staying power as fans from all walks of life sung along unabashedly, celebrating Nas X's Black queer joy.
"It's f—ing Pride month, y'all better make some noise for this gay ass s—!", Lil Nas X yelled, prompting applause from both the audience and his dancers, who were just as integral a part of the show as he was. The GRAMMY-winning performer gave each of his dancers gave the audience a chance to hype up the crowd, too, showcasing their dancing abilities to songs by J. Balvin, Lola Brooke, and Beyonce.
With dance arrangements full of vogueing, ass shaking, and straight-up boogie, the Nas X show was a spectacle to behold, and kept the crowd whipped up in a frenzy until the very last notes of GRAMMY nominated "Industry Baby."
Paramore Dabbles In Nostalgia
Hayley Williams and Zac Farrow of Paramore ⎹ Pooneh Ghana for Bonnaroo 2023
"Does anybody here tonight feel like cashing in on a little nostalgia? Anyone here feel like taking a trip down memory lane?" yelled Hayley Williams of Paramore. The four-piece formed just 70 miles north in Franklin, Tennessee in 2004, and led the audience right back to 2007’s Riot!, where a young Hayley Williams boldly sang "Once a whore you’re nothing more/I’m sorry that’ll never change" ("Misery Business").
She doesn’t sing that lyric live anymore because of its misogynist tone, but their setlist resembled something of a greatest hits record. The band powered through standouts for those who had been supporting "since day one" ("All I Wanted", "Last Hope"), and incredible renditions of their newer songs, like "Rose-Colored Boy", performed with samples of Whitney Houston’s "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" intermixed.
In a raw and potent performance before a thousands-strong audience — it was the band’s second appearance at the festival — Paramore proved that they will remaina treat to see live for years to come.
Pixies Prove They're Larger Than The That Tent
Being the gold-standard of alt rock is just what the Pixies are all about, and their Sunday evening performance at the That Tent seemed intent on showing everyone that.
The That Tent was spilling out from every corner, uncomfortably so, as the reclusive ‘80s stalwarts rocked and rolled through through favorites from albums past— including "Here Comes Your Man" and "Where is My Mind" — and songs from their newest project, Doggrel — "Who's More Sorry Now?" and "Get Simulated."
It was 23 songs in just an hour’s time. And in true Pixies fashion, they did this all without a setlist, coursing seamlessly from song to song without a plan, solely from the heart. As the band closed with a Neil Young cover ("Winterlong") to raucous applause, everyone was reminded that, much like the festival, you don’t always need a plan to have a good time.
Photos (L-R, clockwise): Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ACM, Terry Wyatt/Getty Images
Listen To GRAMMY.com's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More
Who run the world? Harness positive energy during Women's History Month with this immersive playlist honoring Beyoncé, Rina Sawayama, Kim Petras, and more female musicians.
In the words of recent GRAMMY winner Lizzo, it's bad b— o'clock. To kick off Women's History Month, GRAMMY.com is celebrating with an extensive playlist spotlighting women's divine musical artistry. Perpetually shaping, reinvigorating, and expanding genres, women's creative passion drives the music industry forward.
This March, get ready to unlock self-love with Miley Cyrus' candid "Flowers," or hit the dancefloor with the rapturous Beyoncé's "I'm That Girl." Whether you're searching for the charisma of Doja Cat's "Woman" or confidence of Rihanna's "B— Better Have My Money," this playlist stuns with diverse songs honoring women's fearlessness and innovation.
Women dominate the music charts throughout the year, but this month, dive into their glorious energy by pressing play on our curated Women's History Month playlist, featuring everyone from Dua Lipa to Missy Elliott to Madonna to Kali Uchis.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.