meta-scriptRole Model On Playing Lolla For The First Time, Omar Apollo & New Music And Tour Dates | GRAMMY.com

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Role Model On Playing Lolla For The First Time, Omar Apollo & New Music And Tour Dates

"I'm extremely happy with the music I've been making, and I just want it out, like, now," the singer-songwriter tells the Recording Academy

GRAMMYs/Aug 8, 2019 - 10:18 pm

Tucker Pillsbury, who is better known as singer-songwriter Role Model, is just getting started. He recently released his debut EP, Arizona In The Summer, but already he's playing enormous festivals, like Lollapalooza 2019. 

The 21-year-old performer stopped by to chat with the Recording Academy before his debut Lolla set, where he talked about his mentality going into playing to live audiences (he doesn't like to overthink things), feeling impatient to release new music and more.

"I'm not good at planning stuff ahead like that. I just can't overthink it," he said of his mindset going into playing live. "Me and my band members, we don't do any of the huddle stuff or anything. We just get on stage. We try not to plan too much. We just see how it goes."

But just because he's playing doesn't mean he hasn't had time to see some of his friends hit the Lolla stage. "I just saw my best friend Omar Apollo perform on the Bud Light stage, which was insane," Pillsbury tells us. "I had goosebumps the whole time. I [also] saw Maggie Rogers. She's amazing. Tierra Whack, love her. Big fan."

Finally, Pillsbury filled us in on what he's got coming up: "I have another single coming out soon. I'll be performing it today," he said. "And then a project and a tour that hasn't been announced. We're announcing the tour next week. And hopefully a project right before. 

"It's been stressful," he continued. "You've been sitting on these songs for a year and making songs that you think are much better. It's hard because you've been listening to them for so long that you're sick of it, but no one's heard it. So it's mad stressful. But I'm extremely happy with the music I've been making, and I just want it out, like, now. I just want to show people what I've been working on."

Meet Us Behind The Scenes At Lollapalooza 2019

Omar Apollo Embraces Heartbreak On 'God Said No'
Omar Apollo

Photo: Aitor Laspiur

interview

Omar Apollo Embraces Heartbreak And Enters His "Zaddy" Era On 'God Said No'

Alongside producer Teo Halm, Omar Apollo discusses creating 'God Said No' in London, the role of poetry in the writing process, and eventually finding comfort in the record's "proof of pain."

GRAMMYs/Jun 27, 2024 - 01:21 pm

"Honestly, I feel like a zaddy," Omar Apollo says with a roguish grin, "because I'm 6'5" so, like, you can run up in my arms and stay there, you know what I mean?"

As a bonafide R&B sensation and one of the internet’s favorite boyfriends, Apollo is likely used to the labels, attention and online swooning that come with modern fame. But in this instance, there’s a valid reason for asking about his particular brand of "zaddyhood": he’s been turned into a Bratz doll.

In the middle of June, the popular toy company blasted  a video to its nearly 5 million social media followers showing off the singer as a real-life Bratz Boy — the plastic version draped in a long fur coat (shirtless, naturally), with a blinged-out cross necklace and matching silver earrings as he belts out his 2023 single "3 Boys" from a smoke-covered stage.

The video, which was captioned "Zaddy coded," promptly went viral, helped along by an amused Apollo reposting the clip to his own Instagram Story. "It was so funny," he adds. "And it's so accurate; that's literally how my shows go. It made me look so glamorous, I loved it."

The unexpected viral moment came with rather auspicious timing, considering Apollo is prepping for the release of his hotly anticipated sophomore album. God Said No arrives June 28 via Warner Records.

In fact, the star is so busy with the roll-out that, on the afternoon of our interview, he’s FaceTiming from the back of a car. The day prior, he’d filmed the music video for "Done With You," the album’s next single. Now he’s headed to the airport to jet off to Paris, where he’ll be photographed front row at the LOEWE SS25 men’s runway show in between Sabrina Carpenter and Mustafa — the latter of whom is one of the few collaborators featured on God Said No

Apollo’s trusted co-writer and producer, Teo Halm, is also joining the conversation from his home studio in L.A. In between amassing credits for Beyoncé (The Lion King: The Gift), Rosalía and J Balvin (the Latin GRAMMY-winning "Con Altura"), SZA ("Notice Me" and "Open Arms" featuring Travis Scott) and others, the 25-year-old virtuoso behind the boards had teamed up with Apollo on multiple occasions. Notably, the two collabed on "Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me At All)," which helped Apollo score his nomination for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs

In the wake of that triumph, Apollo doubled down on their creative chemistry by asking Halm to executive produce God Said No. (The producer is also quick to second his pal’s magnetic mystique: "Don't get it twisted, he's zaddy, for sure.") 

Apollo bares his soul like never before across the album’s 14 tracks,  as he processes the bitter end of a two-year relationship with an unnamed paramour. The resulting portrait of heartbreak is a new level of emotional exposure for a singer already known for his unguarded vulnerability and naked candor. (He commissioned artist Doron Langberg to paint a revealing portrait of him for the cover of his 2023 EP Live For Me, and unapologetically included a painting of his erect penis as the back cover of the vinyl release.) 

On lead single "Spite," he’s pulled between longing and resentment in the wake of the break-up over a bouncing guitar riff. Second single "Dispose of Me" finds Apollo heartsick and feeling abandoned as he laments, "It don’t matter if it’s 25 years, 25 months/ It don’t matter if it’s 25 days, it was real love/ We got too much history/ So don’t just dispose of me." 

Elsewhere, the singer offers the stunning admission that "I would’ve married you" on album cut "Life’s Unfair." Then, on the very next song — the bumping, braggadocious "Against Me" — Apollo grapples with the reality that he’s been permanently altered by the love affair while on the prowl for a rebound. "I cannot act like I’m average/ You know that I am the baddest bitch," he proclaims on the opening verse, only to later admit, "I’ve changed so much, but have you heard?/ I can’t move how I used to."

More Omar Apollo News & Videos

Given the personal subject matter filling God Said No — not to mention the amount of acclaim he earned with Ivory — it would be understandable if Apollo felt a degree of pressure or anxiety when it came to crafting his sophomore studio set. But according to the singer, that was entirely not the case.

"I feel like I wouldn’t be able to make art if I felt pressure," he says. "Why would I be nervous about going back and making more music? If anything, I'm more excited and my mind is opened up in a whole other way and I've learned so much."

In order to throw his entire focus into the album’s creation, Apollo invited Halm to join him in London. The duo set up shop in the famous Abbey Road Studios, where the singer often spent 12- to 13-hour days attempting to exorcize his heartbreak fueled by a steady stream of Aperol spritzes and cigarettes.

The change of scenery infused the music with new sonic possibilities, like the kinetic synths and pulsating bass line that set flight to "Less of You." Apollo and Halm agree that the single was directly inspired by London’s unique energy.

"It's so funny because we were out there in London, but we weren't poppin' out at all," the Halm says. "Our London scene was really just, like, studio, food. Omar was a frickin' beast. He was hitting the gym every day…. But it was more like feeding off the culture on a day-to-day basis. Like, literally just on the walk to the studio or something as simple as getting a little coffee. I don't think that song would've happened in L.A."

Poetry played a surprisingly vital role in the album’s creation as well, with Apollo littering the studio with collections by "all of the greats," including the likes of Ocean Vuong, Victoria Chang, Philip Larkin, Alan Ginsberg, Mary Oliver and more.

"Could you imagine making films, but never watching a film?" the singer posits, turning his appreciation for the written art form into a metaphor about cinema. "Imagine if I never saw [films by] the greats, the beauty of words and language, and how it's manipulated and how it flows. So I was so inspired." 

Perhaps a natural result of consuming so much poetic prose, Apollo was also led to experiment with his own writing style. While on a day trip with his parents to the Palace of Versailles, he wrote a poem that ultimately became the soaring album highlight "Plane Trees," which sends the singer’s voice to new, shiver-inducing heights. 

"I'd been telling Teo that I wanted to challenge myself vocally and do a power ballad," he says. "But it wasn't coming and we had attempted those songs before. And I was exhausted with writing about love; I was so sick of it. I was like, Argh, I don't want to write anymore songs with this person in my mind." 

Instead, the GRAMMY nominee sat on the palace grounds with his parents, listening to his mom tell stories about her childhood spent in Mexico. He challenged himself to write about the majestic plane tree they were sitting under in order to capture the special moment. 

Back at the studio, Apollo’s dad asked Halm to simply "make a beat" and, soon enough, the singer was setting his poem to music. (Later, Mustafa’s hushed coda perfected the song’s denouement as the final piece of the puzzle.) And if Apollo’s dad is at least partially responsible for how "Plane Trees" turned out, his mom can take some credit for a different song on the album — that’s her voice, recorded beneath the same plane tree, on the outro of delicate closer "Glow." 

Both the artist and the producer ward off any lingering expectations that a happy ending will arrive by the time "Glow" fades to black, however. "The music that we make walks a tightrope of balancing beauty and tragedy," Halm says. "It's always got this optimism in it, but it's never just, like, one-stop shop happy. It's always got this inevitable pain that just life has. 

"You know, even if maybe there wasn't peace in the end for Omar, or if that wasn't his full journey with getting through that pain, I think a lot of people are dealing with broken hearts who it really is going to help," the producer continues. "I can only just hope that the music imparts leaving people with hope."

 Apollo agrees that God Said No contains a "hopeful thread," even if his perspective on the project remains achingly visceral. Did making the album help heal his broken heart? "No," he says with a sad smile on his face. "But it is proof of pain. And it’s a beautiful thing that is immortalized now, forever. 

"One day, I can look back at it and be like, Wow, what a beautiful thing I experienced. But yeah, no, it didn't help me," he says with a laugh. 

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Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction on stage at Lollapalooza 2003.
Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction at Lollapalooza 2003.

Photo: J. Shearer/WireImage/GettyImages

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'Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza' Recounts How An Alt Rock Fest Laid The Blueprint For Bonnaroo & More

A new three-part documentary on Paramount+ traces the origin of Lollapalooza from its early days as a traveling alt-rock showcase initially conceived as a farewell tour for Jane's Addiction, to the three-day Chicago-based festival that exists today.

GRAMMYs/May 22, 2024 - 09:27 pm

Few music festivals have had the cultural impact of Lollapalooza. 

Conceived in 1991 as a farewell tour for Jane's Addiction by lead singer Perry Farrell, the festival quickly became a traveling showcase for alt-rock and counterculture. Its eclectic lineups, which also included punk, metal, and hip-hop acts, helped define a generation's musical tastes. 

A new, three-episode documentary, "Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza," takes an in-depth look at the festival's journey over three decades. From its early days of bringing together alt acts including Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, Pearl Jam, and the Beastie Boys, Lollapalooza has evolved into what it is today: a three-day festival based in Chicago's Grant Park since 2005. The festival remains an enduring celebration of alternative music.

"Lolla" explores how Lollapalooza defied expectations by both embracing and helping shape the emerging youth culture of the '90s — a rebellious, introspective shift from the flashy excess of the '80s. The docuseries highlights the festival's influence through a trove of archival footage and exclusive interviews with Lollapalooza co-founders, show promoters, bookers, MTV hosts. Of course, "Lolla" features a who's who of '90s-era rockers — including Farrell himself, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, Donita Sparks from L7, Ice-T

To watch "Lolla" is to open a time capsule for alternative culture, one where the stage becomes a symbol of generational change. Read on for five takeaways from the documentary, which is now streaming on Paramount+. 

The Reading Festival Served As Inspiration

For their farewell tour, Jane's Addiction decided to emulate the UK Reading Festival's approach to curating live music and alternative acts in a multi-day, open-air forum (where bands like the Buzzcocks and Pixies played to crowds of 40,000). 

Jane's Addiction had been scheduled to play the 1990 Reading Festival, but Farrell partied too much the night before after a club gig and lost his voice, and the band had to cancel. Drummer Stephen Perkins and future Lollapalooza co-founder Marc Geiger decided to check out the event anyway, which planted the seed for the future tour. 

"Reading was a cornucopia of artists, and scenes, and curation, and it was such a vibe," recalled Geiger in an interview scene from the doc. "I remember saying, 'Perry, we have to do it.'"

Farrell was game after missing his chance to see Reading first-hand. So Lollapalooza co-founders Geiger, Don Muller and Ted Gardner, who was also Jane's Addiction band manager, got to work emulating the Reading model. In addition to live music, Farrell wanted something "completely subversive" with booths to engage festival goers with everything from henna tattoos and art galleries, to nonprofit and political organizations like Greenpeace, PETA, the Surfrider Foundation, and even voter registration for the Rock The Vote campaign. The result was art and activism combined with commerce.

Lolla Was Born From The Death Of Jane's Addiction

Although Jane's Addiction had a big buzz with their third album, Ritual de lo Habitual, the band was on the edge of  dissolution. "We really couldn't stand each other," admitted Farrell. Ready for his next act, Farrell saw the opportunity to end on a high note with Jane's Addiction. "The best work we did, we left on the stage at Lolla," he said in the doc. 

In the early '90s, alternative acts were not selling out massive venues. Organizers were on edge, hoping fans would buy tickets and show up to not one, but 28 U.S. tour dates featuring the seven-act lineup for the first-ever Lollapalooza.

What nobody expected was the watershed success. The first show saw fans sweat it out to see their favorite acts in Phoenix, on a day with temperatures well over 100 degrees. Nine Inch Nails' equipment melted in the heat, leading the band to destroy their failing gear before walking off the stage. 

Despite initial hiccups, the tour wasn't hindered. Lollapalooza's first year sold out in a majority of venues holding 15-18,000 people, driven largely by word-of-mouth and favorable coverage by MTV.  

"I think everybody knew and ultimately felt, 'wow, I'm sort of lucky to be here — I'm part of something,'" recalled Geiger in the doc. "It was bigger than anything these artists or fans had seen at that time."

Lollapalooza '92 further mixed genres on the main stage — like gangsta rap (Ice Cube), grunge (Pearl Jam) and shoegaze (Lush) — while greatly expanding the line-up on a side stage upon which Farrell and Perkins introduced their new band Porno For Pyros, alongside many other acts. Lollapalooza's model was born. 

Early Years Embraced Racial Inclusivity, But Lagged Gender-Wise

Right from the start, Lollapalooza organizers mixed up the bill beyond white artists that traditionally headlined rock concerts long before and after Jimi Hendrix performed at Woodstock and Monterey Pop. Part of why Lollapalooza thrived is the inclusion of bands like Ice-T's Body Count, Fishbone, and Living Colour — favorite headliners during the early tours.

Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello credited Living Colour with helping build "the alternative arc" and opening doors for Rage. "Without Living Colour, Rage Against The Machine doesn't get a record deal. Ever," Morello said. 

A big moment came near the end of the '91 tour when Ice-T and Farrell squared off to cover Sly and the Family Stone's "Don't Call Me ******, Whitey" in which they tersely trade verses, then end up tangoing across the stage. It was a provocative performance that grabbed headlines and the audience's attention months after the high profile police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. In '92, Soundgarden showed solidarity with Body Count by performing their controversial track "Cop Killer" with their guitarist Ernie C onstage in Miami. 

While Lolla embraced racial diversity, the early line-ups were male-dominated. Lone female act Siouxsie and the Banshees were a favorite in '91 and later Lollapalooza main stage artists, like Sonic Youth, Babes In Toyland, Lush, and the Breeders — which had more if not all female members — were outnumbered by their male counterparts.

Read more: 6 Female-Fronted Acts Reviving Rock: Wet Leg, Larkin Poe, Gretel Hänlyn & More

Donita Sparks noted that L7 got booked in '94 only after they fired off a bluntly worded fax to the organizers. "We got the offer," Sparks said, "but we had to push the issue. And we had to fight for it. 'Cause that's how much we wanted to be on Lollapalooza, and more importantly, that's how much we felt we deserved to be on Lollapalooza.

Female artists would eventually receive their Lolla dues, with Billie Eilish, Lorde, HAIM, Miley Cyrus and Karol G performing as festival headliners, and artists like Lady Gaga starting out as side stage artists before exploding in popularity and returning to headline the fest a few short years later. 

It Became A Victim Of Its Own Success

Lollapalooza from years '91 to '93 were the purest in terms of alt-rock acts, but as the event drew a wider range of talent and demand, it began to suffer a bit of an identity crisis. After all, it's hard to be a beacon for the underground scene once that culture is above ground.

By Lolla '94, attendance set records and alt-rock had hit the mainstream while grunge peaked and critics bemoaned its growing conventional status. Former second stage booker John Rubeli revealed that Nirvana turned down a $6 million offer to headline the '94 tour because of frontman Kurt Cobain's fear of selling out. Cobain's suicide a few short weeks later changed the scene. 

In '95, the festival returned with more indie bands on the mainstage, but some were eclipsed by bigger artists like Coolio, who drew a bigger crowd to the parking lot side stage. Increased popularity drove commercial sponsorship, and the event became more expensive. Ticket sales dropped. Then in '96, Farrell quit his involvement with the festival for a year in protest over the booking of Metallica, whose aggressive music and audience he felt were out of step with his vision.

"I felt disrespected," Farrell said. "I'm not putting this thing together to make the most money. I'm putting this thing together to make the most joy."

Upon his return in 1997, Farrell's inclusion of electronic acts like the Orbital and the Prodigy were, to some ears, ahead of the curve. The festival then went on a six-year hiatus. 

Lollapalooza returned on shaky legs for its 2003 tour, which included Audioslave, Incubus, the Donnas, and the reunion of Jane's Addiction. But it was truly reborn in 2005 as a three-day event in Chicago through concert promoters C3 Presents (who co-executive produced the "Lolla" doc).  Admittedly, some of the 21st century headliners like Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Journey, and Paul McCartney would never have fit the '90s festival bill. 

Times have changed and, today, the festival has embraced its conventional success while retaining its original genre-spanning reach with the Killers, Melanie Martinez, Skrillex, and Tyler, the Creator included on this summer's lineup.

Lolla Was A Model For Coachella, Bonnaroo, And Beyond

Prior to the arrival of Lollapalooza, rock festivals were usually single weekend events that took place in a fixed location, like Woodstock in '69, Steve Wozniak's US Festival in '82 and '83, and European festivals like Reading. "I just think it's the first American, truly eclectic concert series since Woodstock," said Ice-T. "And even Woodstock wasn't as eclectic because Woodstock was pretty much all rock."

Lollapalooza's successful tour format inspired other popular tours and live events, especially in the mid-'90s. During the festival's break during the late '90s and early 00's, niche festivals like Ozzfest, Vans Warped Tour, and Lilith Fair stole the show. These festivals not only continued Lollapalooza's legacy by bringing diverse genres to cities across the country, but transformed the live music scene into a cultural phenomenon. 

While epic, genre-spanning weekend festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo have been raging since the early aughts, Lollapalooza first proved that a seemingly radical idea could grow and thrive. Incorporating a mix of rock, hip-hop, electronic, and alternative acts, inclusivity and mobility became a festival blueprint. Today, Lollapalooza is tapping into international audiences and local music scenes with versions of the festival in Argentina, Berlin, Stockholm, Paris, and even Mumbai. 

Lollapalooza's success proves that the media and music industry often don't realize the size and passion of certain scenes and subcultures until they're brought together in the right setting. By uniting diverse musical acts and their fans, Lollapalooza highlights eclectic talent but also shows just how much people crave that representation and diversity.

Music Festivals 2024 Guide: Lineups & Dates For Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo & Much More

Danna Paola
Danna Paola

Photo: Rafael Arroyo

interview

How Danna Paola Created 'CHILDSTAR' By Deconstructing Herself

"'CHILDSTAR' is the first album in my entire career where every inch, detail, and decision are curated and made by me," Danna Paola tells GRAMMY.com. "I made an album for myself and that little Danna who has always wanted to do this."

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 12:00 am

Danna Paola feels comfortable coexisting with her shadows. 

The Mexican singer, model and actress first appeared on television at age five, and has spent recent years dwelling on memories of her youth. Now 28, Danna is dismantling the myths and taboos around her artistic persona.

This process resulted in CHILDSTAR, which arrives April 11. Danna's seventh LP is her most authentic production and one where she makes peace with her childhood.

Accomplishing this freedom took her two years of therapy, the singer confesses to GRAMMY.com. "I deconstructed myself and my beliefs and unlearned many things to learn new ones. The pandemic also opened Pandora's box. That's where everything came out."

Through that self-discovery process, Danna knew she had to break with a constant that had accompanied her for two decades: acting. The last character she portrayed was Lucrecia in the Netflix series "Elite," a popular role that led her to reignite her music career after an eight-year hiatus. Beginning to live authentically, without the vices that fictional characters can leave behind, was the crucial step that led the Latin GRAMMY-nominated singer to CHILDSTAR.

CHILDSTAR follows a lengthy depression and a break from her management team, which Danna has described as controlling. On the new album, she embraces indulgence — singing about female pleasure for the first time in her career — and draws inspiration from her after-hour encounters. CHILDSTAR's darkly powerful electronic rhythms and synth-pop, tell a tale about a weekend of partying, alcohol, and sex to create the perfect escape from "your demons, your life, and your reality." 

Ahead of her album release, Danna Paola discussed the processes that led her to break with her past, how her boyfriend was instrumental to her return to the studio, the synthesizer that inspired the album's sound, and the gift that Omar Apollo left for her. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about the process that led you to co-produce for the first time.

This album is made with a lot of love, many hours, but above all, a lot of freedom. It's a very energetic and aggressive album, liberating.

It was a journey of introspection, empowerment, and self-confidence. Beyond being a sad story, the complete meaning of the album is not to talk and throw shade at my childhood. [It's about what] I have discovered since that first therapy session to find and make peace with my past, and that instead of being a place of embarrassment for me, it empowered me.

CHILDSTAR is the first album in my entire career where every inch, detail, and decision are curated and made by me. That's something that I am very proud of. I made an album for myself and that little Danna who has always wanted to do this. 

It is energetic, super intense, and sexual. Electronic music, funk, dance, synth-pop, and R&B lead me to drain all these emotions. The choice of each song, and the details and creating them from start to finish, [has] been very cathartic.

In "The Fall," you sing, "You don't know me, you don't know s–– about me. I'm not a shooting star." Was it painful to relive the memories of being a child star?

Yes. I grew up in 2000s television. Back then, creating a child's image came from a lot of machismo: being the perfect girl, the girl who doesn't speak badly, the girl who smiles for everything, and whose characters are all good. She can't do bed scenes, can't talk about sex. 

With this project, I embrace that [version of] Danna. I told that girl that everything would be fine. It's OK if you make mistakes, and it is OK to fall in love. Falling in love terrified me because I've been on different projects… every six or eight months; the longest a project lasted for me was a year. I made relationships with people and friends, [but] people always left my life. I built a pretty lonely life; I almost did not spend time with my family. I poured my life into work.

I had this distortion of reality where Danna Paola was the superheroine, and I forgot who Danna was. That's why I stopped acting; creating characters and being in someone else's skin was moving me further and further away from discovering myself as a human being in the ordinary course of life, of creating myself based on situations, emotions, and relationships. 

In therapy, of course, I understood that. I made peace, and today, I am discovering many beautiful things about myself as a child that were precious, happy, and full of love. Of course, I don't blame my parents because they did their best. Nobody teaches you how to be a child star from age five.

The album led you to shine a light on your darkest sides. What did you discover about yourself and Danna as a person and artist?

I was terrified to take risks, to speak, or to create. [To me] creating a project takes a long time, at least with music. I discovered that, for me, [making music] is a spiritual act. It is an everyday practice. It is to continue to discover and continue to learn. It's falling in love again with my profession and giving the industry another chance.

I also learned that our capacity for reinvention is infinite so we can start over. Today, I also begin to be a little more human. However, I don't aspire to be an example for anyone. I want to share my experiences and the lessons I have learned so I can move forward, continue to love what I do, and not lose myself. I used to say that I wouldn't make it to 27. That was in my head.

I'm making a wonderful balance between my personal life and my work. I'm also building my family at home with my boyfriend [artist Alex Hoyer], my two little dogs, my friends, and my chosen family. It's making peace and creating the life of my dreams.

Do you like who you are now?

I love it. I continue to polish many things about my personality. I work hard to be a better human being. Life is about learning and transforming yourself. I can release another album in a couple of years; I may release another this year. I don’t want to stop making music. [I want to] continue transforming myself through my art. 

In the first two tracks, "The Fall" and "Blackout," you repeat that people don't know you. How would you describe the Danna of this record? 

She's a woman who is very sure of who she is, and nobody has given anything to me. I'm in love with my project, my music, and my life, and I'm enjoying it a lot.

I struggle a lot with fame, but today, I present myself as a liberated woman in a good headspace. I don't pretend to be perfect or an example for anyone. Quite the opposite; all I do is share experiences, lessons, and music.

I'm an artist in every sense of the word. I'm a creative, honest person and have a lot of love to give, and I love receiving it, too. That should be mutual. It's an energetic practice that when one really does things with love, the universe always rewards it.

In songs like "Atari" and "Platonik," you openly sing about female sexual pleasure. Is it the first time in your career that you sing about your sexuality? 

Yes. This album is very sexual. There's a taboo when it comes to women talking about sex. In reggaeton, there are thousands of ways in which we can talk about sexuality. In my case, I had always considered it forbidden. 

It's what I told you about the kid [actress] who doesn't [about sex], who's a virgin until marriage. There is no richer pleasure than sex and the sexual pleasure you can have as a woman. There's liberation, to feel good about yourself, with your body, and also the sexual education that I can also share with generations.

This liberation with my femininity is something that I also discovered: The pleasure of being a woman and having many experiences in my life that have led me today to enjoy who I am, to have a happy sex life, and to share it through my music.

In "Platonik," you discuss sexualizing a platonic relationship with a woman and sing "I can't help what I think in my bed." Why was exploring that relationship important to you?

I had a platonic love with a girl at a stage of my life. I kept this to myself; it was a personal experience that opened the conversation to a beautiful story.

I wrote this song with [producer and songwriter] Manu Lara. We made it in half an hour. This song has something unique because, besides talking about a personal experience that is also super sexual, it talks about universal love.

That's why I say that CHILDSTAR is an album of many stories that have marked my life and beyond, talking about only the childhood stage, which is what everyone speculates, but that's not the case.

You’re flirting more with synth-pop in this album. What caught your attention about this genre?

It comes from this aggressive part of saying, here I am. For me, electronic music connects and drains emotions. Every time I've been out partying, electronic music has been liberating for me, and when I put it together with pop and these lyrics, it has become a new way to enjoy the genre.

While creating CHILDSTAR in Los Angeles, I fell in love with a Jupiter [synth] we found at Guitar Center. That synthesizer is in every song. The inspiration [to use the instrument] comes from John Carpenter's synth album [Lost Themes III: Alive After Death]. In it, I discovered synthesizers had a way of incorporating sound design and darkness into the album. 

[Synth-pop is] the expression of that need to bring out the energy I had stuck through music. It’s an emotional purpose, the connection I have with electronic music.

Your boyfriend, Alex, was instrumental in making "XT4S1S" when you didn’t want to enter a recording studio. How was reconnecting with music with help from your romantic partner?

"XT4S1S" is the song that, to both of us, as a couple and as producers, connected us on a hefty level.

I was super blocked. It took me several years to get out of my depression hole. We returned one day from [La Marquesa park] here in Mexico, and started chatting. Alex opened his laptop and started pulling out a beat.

I started throwing melodies, and [shortly] we had the chorus. It brought me back to life. I started crying with excitement because I finally felt again these desires and this emotion that you feel when you create a song, and you can’t stop moving forward and keep creating.

I remember we recorded my vocals on a voice note and sent it to [the production software] Logic. Then, it took us four months to produce this song because it was a lot of discovery, in this case, for me as a producer.

Alex is a great musician, artist, a genius — and I don’t say that because he’s my boyfriend. Artistically, there’s a fascinating world inside his head that I have learned a lot from. 

The track "Amanecer," which features Omar Apollo, breaks dramatically with the story you tell in the album. Why did you end that party cycle with a more folksy, chill song?

"Amanecer" is a track that has us all in love. It was the last song I recorded for the album. 

I wrote it to my ex. On my birthday, he called me — I was already with Alex — and it was super weird. I always feared running into him on the street, seeing him with someone else, and feeling something. And it was the exact opposite. I had already healed internally, and that wound had stopped hurting. I stopped feeling all the emotions I had gone through in K.O., [the album nominated for Best Vocal Pop Album at the 2021 Latin GRAMMYs].

This song talks about knowing how to make peace and understanding how to let go. It’s the dawn of the album. It’s perfect to release all the drama, and all the intensity, and aggressiveness that is the entire album itself.

[The song invites you] to hug yourself and say everything will be fine. There is always an opportunity to start over. 

It also has a beautiful story. Manu [Lara] taught Omar Apollo the instrumental parts of the song, and he made some melodies. At the moment of receiving them, [Omar] agreed we would make a song together, [but] it was almost impossible to record together.

[Instead, Omar] told me "You can use the melodies I made" and left me the last part of "Amanecer." He left us with that magical essence.

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YOASOBI kneel in a pose for a portrait
YOASOBI

Photo: Kato Shumpei

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From Tokyo To Coachella: YOASOBI's Journey To Validate J-Pop And Vocaloid As Art Forms

YOASOBI, blending J-pop and Vocaloid with narrative-driven songs, is capturing a global audience through their performances at major festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, marking a significant moment for Japanese music on the international stage.

GRAMMYs/Apr 9, 2024 - 04:37 pm

For decades, Japanese music has been one of the hardest to access as a foreigner. Even with the popularization of cultural exports like anime and the emergence of streaming platforms, it is still considered a niche, and fans often have to dig deep in order to find albums, translations, or any kind of content at all.

"There weren’t many opportunities for Japanese music to go out into the world until now," says YOASOBI’s producer and songwriter, Ayase, over a Sunday morning Zoom from Tokyo. "If we were to break into the mainstream, I think there’s a lot more work to do. Being a part of Coachella is one of them."

The duo, composed of Ayase, 30, and vocalist Ikura, 23, is gearing up for their first performance at the mighty Californian festival next weekend, plus two sold out headline shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In August, they are set to play at Lollapalooza in Chicago, IL. 

"Performing at festivals like Coachella was one of our goals when we put our live team together, so I believe that it will be a place for us to grow further,” says Ikura, who lived in Chicago as a kid and considers these opportunities a "full circle" moment.

Read more: 10 Must-See Artists At Coachella 2024: Skepta, The Last Dinner Party, Mdou Moctar, Cimafunk & More

Formed in 2019, YOASOBI found overnight success with their debut single "Yoru ni Kakeru," a bright-sounding but harrowing tale that topped Billboard’s Japan Hot 100 chart for six non-consecutive weeks. They continued to rise further, recording five EPs (three in Japanese, two in English), the opening theme to Netflix’s anime series "Beastars," 2021’s "Kaibutsu," and their magnum opus so far: "Idol."

Released in 2023, "Idol" became a massive hit, placing No.1 at Billboard's Japan Hot 100 chart for 22 weeks and counting — an all-time record break. It was also the nineteenth best-selling song of 2023 worldwide, according to the IFPI. With these accolades, it’s easy to understand why the duo is fully booked, but what makes their music so enticing to global audiences? 

Listening to YOASOBI is like entering a rabbit hole. First, you get hypnotized by the glistening synths, bursting like fireworks, and the rock riffs taking melodies to full-speed. Then, you discover their adage is "novel into music," and all songs are based on fictional stories written by various authors. There’s also the animated music videos, each with a different style, giving their sounds another layer for interpretation. And finally, there are Ayase’s and Ikura’s (under the name Lilas Ikuta) own solo careers — treasure troves ready to be unearthed.

"I don't know, to be honest," says Ayase when asked about their growing popularity. "I guess the fact that a lot of Japanese [exports] have been prevalent around the world had to do with it. But also, maybe it's because people are experiencing this combination of music with storytelling that is interesting to them." Ikura agrees, adding that YOASOBI allows fans to "enjoy this bigger world that we are part of in a more three-dimensional way."

The experience is similar to how they create their music: mining, collecting, mixing, and transforming different threads into a new fabric. From fictional stories, Ayase transmutes his feelings into beats on his laptop with Logic Pro, then inputs melodies and lyrics through Vocaloid softwares like Hatsune Miku. Ikura listens to the Vocaloid demos, and then adds her own feelings and flair into the interpretations. For English-language tracks, they work with translator Konnie Aoki, who is "very mindful of phonetic sounds," and Ikura listens to the Japanese versions up until it’s time to record, so that she can have "the right emotions set."

It’s such a natural process for them that Ayase is surprised to know that there are still people who don’t consider Vocaloid as "real" music. “Those people probably don’t know what music is,” he says with a laugh. “Do they think that instrumental music, where there's no human singing, isn’t real music? There’s really great Vocaloid music out there, and it’s basically [voices] created through synthesizing softwares. It's very different from AI, which is auto-generated music. Vocaloid is humans creating music using these softwares. That's the only difference from a human singing a song.”

To Ikura, who maintains her burgeoning solo career in tandem with YOASOBI’s busy schedule, Vocaloid allowed her to broaden her talents. "It is my first time singing songs that somebody else wrote, so it was an opportunity to challenge myself with things that I wouldn't necessarily write, or sing in a tone or voice that I wouldn't come up with myself." She says that these experiences influence her solo works all the time, in a "synergy" that allows her to "have more colors to work with in my palette."

"I started producing music through Vocaloids,” adds Ayase. “And it truly broadened my ideas and imagination when it comes to creating music. It allows creators to come up with melodies that a human singer may not come up with. It's a fascinating culture. The possibility I feel is infinite, and it really makes the impossible possible, in a way.”

Read more: It Goes To 11: How One Piece Of Technology Makes YOASOBI's Musical Vision Come To Life

Endless possibilities are also a big allure in AI technologies, but Ayase doesn’t see this as a threat. With the right boundaries, it’s just a tool — like Vocaloid, Logic Pro, and the internet — that can be used positively. "However, as a creator myself, I really hope that creative works come out of the imagination and ideas of the human mind. In that sense, [AI] may not be 100% a positive thing for us," he shares.

But that’s something for the future. Now, YOASOBI is focusing on their very real, very tangible events ahead. "Finally, we have this opportunity where people around the world are discovering our music. So, performing at festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, or doing our solo shows, I think it's important that we communicate with the audiences and maximize this opportunity as much as possible," says Ikura.

And it’s not just YOASOBI getting all the attention: according to data and research company Luminate, J-pop in general is on the rise. "I’m very proud, as a Japanese person, for that situation. For us, it’s really about taking it one step at a time," says Ayase. “Our ultimate wish is to have our music or reach as many people around the world as possible, and so we will continue to work hard every day."

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