Photo: Miranda McDonald
Shawn Mendes Wants You To Analyze His Music: "It's All About Being Vulnerable And Making People Feel Seen"
With his new single, "When You're Gone," Shawn Mendes gets raw and real about his split with Camila Cabello. The upbeat track is the pop star's most lyrically transparent breakup song to date — and that's exactly how he intended it.
Since Shawn Mendes dropped his first single, 2014's "Life Of The Party," vulnerability has always been part of his image. That came to a head with the anthemic 2018 hit "In My Blood" (which earned the singer/songwriter a Song Of The Year nomination at the 2019 GRAMMYs), and continued on his 2020 album, Wonder. While his latest release is no different, it may be his most candid yet.
Titled "When You're Gone," the pop-rock track details a looming heartbreak in raw form. "I know what we're supposed to do/ It's hard for me to let go of you/ So I'm just tryna hold on," Mendes sings in the first pre-chorus.
Breakup songs aren't necessarily new territory for Mendes, but this one is particularly autobiographical: The single comes four months after he and Camila Cabello announced their split. With its predecessor, the melancholy piano ballad "It'll Be Okay," also addressing the November 2021 breakup, Mendes' music has perhaps become more scrutinized than ever before — but to him, that's a good thing.
"I want [my music] to be put under a microscope," he tells GRAMMY.com. "That's the whole entire point of making music, in my opinion, is to have people get closer to the song and the meaning."
Mendes sat down with GRAMMY.com to detail how "When You're Gone" came together, his inspiration for being so vulnerable (hint: Justin Bieber is involved), and why he wants fans to examine every word he writes.
One of the first teasers that you posted of "When You're Gone" was of you signing it as a piano ballad. What made you decide to turn it into an upbeat track instead of something more stripped back?
I don't really know. I think it was the nature of what the song had to be, not what we wanted it to be. It started off on the piano, and then when we heard what it could be with drums at that tempo, it just felt like it had to be that. I can't imagine it another way.
Your sound keeps getting bigger and bigger with each album — Wonder felt like a step up from Shawn Mendes, and "When You're Gone" feels like an elevated version of the instrumentation that you brought on both of those albums. How do you approach making music that sonically tops what you've done before, or at least expands on it?
That's a really amazing question. A huge part of that is working with people who are inspired. There's a lot of people who are great, but there's not a lot of people who are inspired, and inspired people create magic. You can have all the productions, techniques and all the best sounds, but if you don't have an inspired sense in the room that day, it's gonna sound different.
For me, it's never about trying to top things sonically by adding more — it's always about trying to top the magic. There can be three instruments in the song, and it can give you the same feeling.
One of my first thoughts when I heard "When You're Gone" was, "I wonder what fans are going to say about this." Because no matter the actual inspiration for a song, fans love to dissect its meaning. Is that something that goes through your head when you're writing songs? Or have you gotten pretty comfortable with knowing that your music might be put under a microscope?
I want it to be put under a microscope. I want people to think about what it means, and think about how it affects them, and how it relates to them. That's the whole entire point of making music, in my opinion, is to have people get closer to the song and the meaning.
I figured that releasing a single as vulnerable as "In My Blood" a few years ago, and seeing the response to that, might have helped you get more comfortable with releasing super personal songs.
I think what makes me feel like I have to be open in my music is the way people reacted after "In My Blood." I was expecting judgment and critique after that song, and all I got was love and tears. And people were telling me how that song was speaking their truth as well.
Every single song [I've written] after that one, the number one rule is, this has to be true. This has to be real. This has to be authentic. And that's kind of how I go about it.
So "In My Blood" set a bar for you, in a way.
Yeah, in a lot of ways, it's set the bar of authenticity. It doesn't always have to be as deep — there's no box, but it always has to be as authentic.
That's what the song is — people know what you're going through, and you're kind of addressing it head on with these lyrics. I feel like people are going to be really appreciative of you just kind of being like, "This is my side. This is my story."
Yes and no. The thing about music, the thing about people is, we're not so one-sided. We're not constantly feeling one way for months and months and months. We're constantly changing. So yeah, that's my reality some days, and some days it's not. I just hope that people who are going through similar things can connect with that.
Going back to what we were talking about with your music being under a microscope, you talked about that in your Wonder track with Justin Bieber, "Monster." I know you've talked about the advice that he's given you about dealing with fame — how have you seen his advice come into play in the last few years?
He's just been a real steady friend for me for a couple of years. He's also just hyper-focused on truth and authenticity. And I think that comes across. I just follow his lead, and follow anyone's lead who is living that way, you know?
So is "When You're Gone" a teaser for what's to come on a new album, or more of a standalone song to get you and fans hyped for your upcoming tour?
It's just a song that I really loved, so I decided it's time to put it out. But all of those things also!
I mean, I can only imagine this song live — this is gonna go off.
I was playing in Austin a couple weeks ago. We played the song before it came out, and it was like it's already been out for years.
You said in a previous interview, "The beautiful thing about fame is that it allows you to have a voice to get messages across and to that need to be heard." What do you feel like your message is, going into this next chapter?
It's just allowing people to feel seen, and to feel heard — to feel like they're not alone, and supported. There's so much judgment and so much divisiveness between everybody, that I just want everyone to just, like, take a big deep breath, and be like, "We're all just human, trying to do our best."
That's what I crave and try to do with the way I am, the way I talk, the way I go on social media, the music I write. It's just all about being vulnerable and making people feel seen.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Caity Krone
How Ilsey Transformed From Hit Songwriter To Artist On 'From The Valley': "I Have The Freedom To Say What I Want"
After writing hits for superstars like Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé, Los Angeles-born singer/songwriter Ilsey is embracing change on her soul-stirring debut album, 'From The Valley.'
Ilsey is cruising down the path to self-discovery. For the past decade, the Los Angeles-born songwriter had a major presence behind the scenes, penning hits for the likes of Beyoncé and Shawn Mendes. Now, she's the one on the mic, ready to share her journey.
From The Valley details the emotional weight of a crumbling relationship and finding the courage to build yourself back up. Lead single "No California" pays homage to the breezy Laurel Canyon rockers Ilsey grew up listening to, the folk-inspired "On Wrong Side" with Justin Vernon has poetic layers of interpretation, and the somber "Overcome" mourns a failed love.
"The [album] title was very specific with the double meaning. It's this emotional valley, but then I'm also from the actual valley in LA. This album is almost a road trip of self-discovery, where you have to leave where you are to figure out who you are. And then you end up exactly where it's supposed to be — you end up home," Ilsey explains. "That's been my process of moving through heartache and figuring out who I am as a person. You have to have these valleys in your life. Without them, there's no way to appreciate the peaks."
Born Ilsey Juber, the singer grew up in a musical family in Los Angeles, where her father Laurence Juber (who also plays on this album) was the lead guitarist for Paul McCartney and Wings. "My dad was playing guitar in the room when my mom was giving birth to me," Ilsey recalls with a chuckle.
The singer's parents introduced her to the Beatles, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Motown. She began playing the drums at age 11 — she credits that to her Hanson obsession — and began writing songs on her acoustic guitar at 15. Around 2012, Ilsey "tripped and fell" into songwriting professionally after signing a Sony publishing deal with her then-band. When the band broke up, she went to the publisher for advice on next steps.
"They set up a couple of sessions for me with some producers. I went in there thinking it was going to be for me. Then all of a sudden, I got this call: 'Rihanna has one of your songs on hold,'" Ilsey recalls. "I'm a big believer that when something is working, you can't really ignore that. It seemed really obvious that that was the path to take at that moment."
While Rihanna didn't end up using the song, it was the gateway for Ilsey to kickstart her songwriting journey; some of her most notable credits include Miley Cyrus' "Midnight Sky," Panic! at the Disco's "High Hopes," Camila Cabello's "She Loves Control," Christina Aguilera's "Accelerate," and Beyoncé's "All Night." Even as From The Valley came together, Ilsey continued working with stars, including Lil Nas X, Kacey Musgraves, The 1975 and 6lack — but her debut album is her biggest dream come true yet.
Ahead of her album release, Ilsey spoke to GRAMMY.com about creating From The Valley, taking a chance on her artistry and the stories behind some of her biggest co-written hits.
When did the first thought of making your own album spark?
I met BJ Burton, who is the producer of the album. He was introduced to me through Mark Ronson, who I loved and have collaborated with for a long time. He had worked on a Miley [Cyrus] song that Miley and I had written, and had done some production on it. It turned out that he was moving to LA the next week. So he said, "We should get together and try some stuff."
I had been waiting to find the right collaborators and the people who could realize the sound that was inside of me. That was BJ. So we wrote a couple more songs, and then eventually I let him in on the fact that we were making [an album]. That was really the moment where it was like, "Oh, this is the thing that I've been looking for."
What was your process of shaping your own musical identity like?
All the songs were written for the album, with the exception of one [her cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold"]. But it was really a matter of wanting to intentionally do something that is me, and for myself. Whereas, when I'm writing songs with other people, I'm there to serve the artist. I'm there to help them realize what it is that they're trying to say.
With this, I had this very clear intention of writing the songs for myself. I'm gonna have the freedom to say what I want to say. It was pretty easy to separate the two, because I knew that I wanted this album to really express who I was.
What was that feeling like, emotionally?
I think there's a certain amount of hiding that you're able to do as a songwriter for other people. The vulnerability of stepping out in front and being the person who's actually singing the songs was definitely scary for me because I think we all have struggled with identity. That's one of the reasons I'm so grateful this is happening now and not when I was younger — I had to build that confidence over time to really feel like I deserve to be in front, and that people would actually want to hear my voice. So there was a lot of vulnerability in it, but also a lot of excitement because I've dreamt of doing this my whole life.
I'm glad you mentioned that because as we get older, we learn more about ourselves. I think if you released it when you were in your mid or early 20s, maybe you would still have some questions as to who you are and what you want to express musically. But now that you've had all this experience with songwriting, you have more of a fully realized vision of what you wanted to do.
Absolutely. The growth I have had as a songwriter and working with all these amazing people I learned so much from has really helped me to be a more fully realized version of a songwriter. Having all this experience is like training. I'm writing the songs I really want to write and I'm able to sing them in the way I want to sing them because I know my voice better now. It's all the things that lead you to become the most authentic version of yourself.
That's the beauty of music. I read that you also went to Minnesota and Wisconsin to record the album. Did you record the bulk of it there?
It was half and half because it was during the pandemic. So we had to find these windows where the world was a little more open. It actually ended up being really cool that we could put it down for a second, and then come back to it and have a whole different perspective on it. But we did a bunch in LA, and then more during the pandemic.
Did that change of scenery inspire some of the music as well?
Yeah, just working with Justin Vernon [of Bon Iver] and being at his place out in Wisconsin, which is gorgeous. It's almost farmland and gives you perspective on where you're from, too.
So much of this album is about California. When you leave California, you have a different view of it. So that helped as well. But also musically, it's why I like coming to Nashville, London and all these places. You have a different energy, you're in touch with the place that you're in, and it leads you to other places that you wouldn't normally go to.
I would love to know your experience working with Justin and BJ because I think it's important for artists to challenge each other. You all could push each other's limits in a positive way.
With BJ, we definitely challenge each other. He'll push back sometimes even when it makes me uncomfortable, in the sense that I'm pretty sure I know exactly what I want. But he's like, "Well, what if we did it like this?"
You're right, it's so important to have those people who are going to get you moving forward because you'd have to be uncomfortable in order to make anything great. BJ tends to be a lot more like that.
And when Justin and I write together, there's something really magical that happens that I've never really experienced on this level where we almost tap into the same creative energy or channel. We're able to freestyle and make it super open and easy and then we'll sort of interpret what the other person is doing through our own mind. There's something very special about working with him. I think probably a lot of people will say that. Also, our voices together felt so natural and comfortable. That helped too because when you're able to sing the idea, you really hear it for what it is.
Let's get into some of the music. When I was listening to "On Wrong Side" with Justin Vernon, it took me to another realm. There's so many layers of interpretation.
It's so funny because as time goes on, I find those other layers too. So it sort of morphs and becomes a different thing for me. It was the first song we ever did together and it was the thing that established our creative relationship. We wrote it within 20 minutes of meeting each other and the song only took about 20 minutes to write.
At first, it felt like when you're on the wrong side of a heartbreak, you're able to look at the situation and then you see the other person is being on the wrong side. It's that process of trying to figure out if there is anyone to blame in this or not. But as time went on, I started looking at it as it's also about being on the wrong side of history and being the person who's wrong in a situation. So it became a lot of different things for me, but that's the beauty of music too. Even with my own songs, the meaning can change over time. It's really up to interpretation.
My favorite is "Yellow Roses." This song is so poetic, just discussing that yearning for love that doesn't necessarily want you and hiding from the truth of what's actually going on.
This was a really central one for me on the album because it got to the heart of what the heartbreak was for me. Every rose has a different meaning and yellow is the color of friendship. When I discovered that I was like, "This is the perfect metaphor."
When you fall in love with somebody that's not able to give you the thing that you're looking for, or you fall in love with the idea of somebody, there's so much heartache in that. Then you also have to face the fact that you're going to the wrong place for it. That one was the most painful to write because it really showed me why I was heartbroken and showed me where that came from. I think everybody experiences that feeling at some point.
"No California" reminds me of '70s-era Stevie Nicks. You're riding in your car with your hair blowing in the wind, wanting to ultimately run away from whatever issues are at home. Again, it's going back to that theme of self-discovery.
I think you hit the nail on the head. When you're going through something, everything around you reminds you of that person or that thing. So you want to run away. But that really comes back to the central theme of the album: wherever you go, there you are. Because you change the location or because you change the circumstances, you're still going to have to go through the thing that you're going through.
"Heart of Gold" is the sole cover on the album. How did you initially discover the song?
That's a really good question. I can't remember the first time I heard it, because I've loved it for so long. But probably in high school at some point.
It became this sort of touchstone that I kept coming back to when I was making this album. I went out to Wisconsin one time and I threw the idea out there to do a cover of it. I expected people to be like, "Yeah, I don't know about that." But everyone wanted to do it. So it came together really easily and naturally.
I really wanted to do a different take on the song. Because I think it's important if you do a cover to make it your own. I think it turned out pretty cool.
Now let's go through your songwriting journey. How did "Nothing Breaks Like A Heart" with Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson come about?
It was amazing. That was the song that started our relationships. It was the first time we ever wrote together. Me and Mark and [session musician] Tommy Brenneck were all jamming one day, and we got this seed of an idea. We were like, "I think we have something special here." Then Mark sent it over to Miley. She said, "I'll be there tomorrow."
So we all met up at Shangri La. Miley and I dove into it and finished the idea. Then she recorded it right there. That one came out pretty easily.
She and I have talked about at certain points the fact that it almost felt like a foreshadowing for her. There's a line about a house burning down and then her house burned down that year. It was crazy how it all ended up manifesting in certain ways. But that really started Miley and I's relationship and it was awesome.
I think the power of a good, strong writer is versatility. You started with "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" and then worked together on Miley's Plastic Hearts album. Those have two totally different sounds.
I tip my hat to her ability to move through genres and transform herself into whatever it is that she's trying to say at that moment. She definitely has very clear ideas of what she wants to do and who she is. That's one of the things I admire most about her. It's been really special to work with an artist that wants to experiment so much and has so many different sides of themselves.
Speaking of artistic expression, you co-wrote Beyoncé's "All Night" from Lemonade.
That really came out of years of collaborating with Diplo and getting to do different things with him. He had started this idea with some other writers like Theron Thomas from R. City and a few other people on there. She loved the idea but then wanted to lyrically point it in a slightly different direction.
There's some songs where you do a little bit and there's some songs where you do a lot. I was really fortunate to be brought in to help on it, because I look at that album and my mind is always blown by how incredible it is and her artistry. She has such a clear idea of what she wants to say. It was really cool to interpret somebody's feelings like that.
Shawn Mendes' "Mercy" is such a passionate song. What was it like working with him?
Shawn's an amazing writer. Even back then — I think he was 16 or 17 at the time. At that point, he was so clear about who he was as an artist. We all played guitar on it, we all sang on it.
One of the coolest experiences of that song for me, was when we started recording the vocals. He started singing, and there was a moment where he said, "Can we take the key down?" Because he felt like it was a little bit too high for him. But there was so much pain in his voice in the best way. And I was like, "Absolutely not, we can't do that."
That was really one of those special moments where you're pushing yourself a little bit. I think he's talked about how that helped push himself to sing in an uncomfortable place. A lot of people want to stay where it's safe. That one was a risk for him.
It's a risk that paid off. Are there other songwriting highlights that you wanted to mention?
I feel so fortunate to have gotten to work with all the artists that I've worked with. I think all of them are so special. I made this album with Lykke Li and that was my favorite.
2018's So Sad, So Sexy, right?
Yeah. Working with her was so incredible because I've been a fan for so long. So I walked into it and I was like, "I don't know if I can do this because I don't want to change it or make it anything else." She was so generous creatively and let me into her world. So that was really special and was a turning point for me in my career.
That album is underrated to me. She's an otherworldly artist.
I felt so lucky to get to work with her. It was cool to be able to work on Mark's album [2019 Late Night Feelings] when she sang and wrote [the title track] with us because that put the two worlds together. Working with him was and is incredible.
That was also a really important moment for me as a songwriter, to get to work with somebody I looked up to for so long, come into their world and see how they operate. It's really cool to get to make music with your mentors.
Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV Entertainment
10 Artists Who Are Outspoken About Mental Health: Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes & More
From Ed Sheeran to Janet Jackson, take a look at some of the major music stars who have shared their struggles with mental health — and helped fans feel supported and seen in the process.
Sharing mental health issues with close family or specialized medical professionals can be challenging enough. Add in the pressures of fame and being in the public eye, and any struggles are exponentially more difficult to cope with.
In recent years, though, mental health has become a much more widely discussed topic in celebrity culture. Several artists have used their music and their platform to open up about their own struggles with depression, anxiety and the like, from Bruce Springsteen to Selena Gomez.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, GRAMMY.com highlights the inspirational impact of music superstars who speak out about what they're going through, and how they manage their challenges. These 10 performers are making change through their courage and candor.
Ed Sheeran takes fans behind the curtain of his personal life and struggles with mental health in Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All. The four-episode docuseries, which is now streaming on Disney+, details the pain of losing his best friend Jamal Edwards and his wife Cherry Seaborn receiving a cancer diagnosis while she was pregnant with their daughter Jupiter.
"What I think is really great about the documentary is the themes that it explores, everyone goes through," Sheeran said at the New York City premiere on May 2, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "Everyone goes through grief. Everyone goes through ups and downs of their mental health."
Sheeran dives deeper into his struggles — and is more vulnerable than ever before — on his latest album Subtract, which arrived on May 5. "Running from the light/ Engulfed in darkness/ Sharing my eyes/ Wondering why I'm stuck on the borderline," he sings on album cut "Borderline," which touches on battling suicide thoughts.
Like Sheeran, Scottish singer Lewis Capaldi also gave fans an incredibly upfront look at his mental health challenges in a documentary, How I'm Feeling Now. The new Netflix release details his experience with anxiety and Tourette's syndrome, taking viewers to physical therapy with Capaldi and discussing how his medication both helps and hurts the quality of his life.
Capaldi's second album, Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent (due May 19) will further explore his anxieties and vulnerability. While he has admitted it wasn't easy to be so raw in his music and on screen, Capaldi wants to make a difference in other people's lives. "If people notice things that are concurrent with what's going on in their life, then it's all been worth it," he told Variety.
While Billie Eilish's music has been raw and real from the start, her music has become increasingly more vulnerable throughout the years. Whether in her music or in interviews, the star has opened up about dealing with body dysmorphia, depression and thoughts of self-harm — hoping to inspire fans to speak up when they are hurting, and to know that it gets better.
"It doesn't make you weak to ask for help," she asserts in a 2019 video for Ad Council's Seize The Awkward campaign, which features stars discussing mental health.
"Kids use my songs as a hug," she told Rolling Stone earlier that year. "Songs about being depressed or suicidal or completely just against-yourself — some adults think that's bad, but I feel that seeing that someone else feels just as horrible as you do is a comfort. It's a good feeling."
As one of the most-followed stars on social media, Selena Gomez has often used her formidable presence to discuss her mental health and connect with others. In 2022, the singer launched a startup called Wondermind, which is focused on "mental fitness" and helping users maintain strong mental health.
Just a few months later, Gomez further chronicled her own mental health journey in an Apple TV+ documentary, Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me, which shows extremes she's suffered with her depression and bipolar disorder. She has said she was initially hesitant to share the film, but ultimately reflected on how many others could be helped if she did.
"Because I have the platform I have, it's kind of like I'm sacrificing myself a little bit for a greater purpose," she explained in a 2022 cover story with Rolling Stone. "I don't want that to sound dramatic, but I almost wasn't going to put this out. God's honest truth, a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure I could do it."
In 2019, Shawn Mendes first publicly addressed his struggles with anxiety in the dynamic — and GRAMMY-nominated — hit "In My Blood." Three years later, the singer postponed his 2022 tour in order to focus on his mental health, opening up an important conversation to his legion of fans.
"The process was very difficult," he said in a February interview with Wall Street Journal. "A lot of doing therapy, a lot of trying to understand how I was feeling and what was making me feel that way. And then doing the work to help myself and heal. And also leaning on people in my life to help a little bit.
"It's been a lot of work, but I think the last year and a half has been the most eye-opening and growing and beautiful and just healing process of my life," he continued. "And it just really made me see how culture is really starting to get to a place where mental health is really becoming a priority."
Even an artist as successful and celebrated as Bruce Springsteen has faced depression. In his 2016 autobiography Born to Run, the 20-time GRAMMY winner cites a difficult relationship with his father and a history of mental illness in the family, sharing that he has sought treatment throughout his life.
"I was crushed between 60 and 62, good for a year, and out again from 63 to 64," he wrote in the book. In that time, he released his 2012 album, Wrecking Ball, which featured a raw track called "This Depression." "Baby, I've been down, but never this down I've been lost, but never this lost," he sings on the opening verse.
As his wife, Patti Scialfa, told Vanity Fair in 2016, "He approached the book the way he would approach writing a song…A lot of his work comes from him trying to overcome that part of himself."
The physical and emotional abuse suffered by the famous Jackson family is well-documented in books, documentaries and TV dramatizations. But it's only been in recent years that Janet Jackson has talked about her own depression, which she has referred to as "intense." Her son Aissa has helped her heal from mental health challenges that have followed her all of her life.
"In my 40s, like millions of women in the world, I still heard voices inside my head berating me, voices questioning my value," she wrote in a 2020 ESSENCE cover story. "Happiness was elusive. A reunion with old friends might make me happy. A call from a colleague might make me happy. But because sometimes I saw my failed relationships as my fault, I easily fell into despair."
After seeing global success with her debut single, "Ex's & Oh's," Elle King experienced the woes of sudden fame as well as a crumbling marriage. Her second album, 2018's Shake the Spirit, documented her struggles with self-doubt, medicinal drinking and PTSD.
"There's two ways out," she told PEOPLE in 2018, describing her marriage as "destructive," physically abusive and leading her to addiction. "You can take the bad way out or you can get help. I got help because I knew that I have felt good in my life and I knew I could get there again."
Certain public situations can trigger crippling anxiety attacks for Brendon Urie, who has been open about mental health concerns throughout his career. He can perform in front of thousands of fans, but he's revealed that being in the grocery store or stuck in an elevator for too long with other people are among some of his most uncomfortable scenarios in his life.
"You would never tell on the surface, but inside it's so painful I can't even describe," the former Panic! At The Disco frontman — who disbanded the group earlier this year to focus on his family — said in a 2016 interview with Kerrang.
Rapper Big Sean and his mother released a series of educational videos during Mental Health Awareness Month in 2021 — two years after the Detroit-born star started talking about his own long-held depression and anxiety publicly.
"I was just keeping it real because I was tired of not keeping it real," he said in an interview with ESSENCE in 2021. "I was tired of pretending I was a machine and everything was cool and being politically correct or whatever. I just was like, I'm a just say how I feel."
Like many of his peers, he hopes that his honesty will help others. "Whatever they can apply to their life and better themselves and maybe it just even starts a whole journey in a different direction as far as upgrading and taking care of themselves and bossing up themselves," he added. "Whatever they're trying to do, I hope it helps them get to that place."
Photos (L-R, clockwise): GAB Archive/Redferns, Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images, Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
The Evolution Of The Girl Group: How TLC, BLACKPINK, The Shirelles & More Have Elevated Female Expression
From the Supremes to the Spice Girls, take a deep dive into the history of girl groups — and how their songs, performance and vocal power changed pop culture.
For more than eight decades, girl groups have harmonized their way into the collective consciousness, bringing female empowerment to the forefront — and changing culture along the way.
Of course, girl groups have come in many forms: there's the family-friendly Andrew Sisters, the funk rock-infused Labelle, and the R&B-leaning Destiny's Child. As the construct of the girl group has evolved, so has their cultural impact — while acts like the Supremes helped push popular music in a more diverse direction in America, J-Pop and K-Pop groups have helped girl groups be viewed through a global lens in recent years.
What has tied all of these groups together is their infectious and inspirational records, which have encouraged women to express themselves and feel empowered in doing so. Groups like the Spice Girls and the Shangri-Las, for instance, have helped women express all sides of themselves, reminding the world that there is joy and beauty in contrast.
As Women's History Month nears its end, GRAMMY.com celebrates all of the powerful women who have been part of the girl group evolution. (To narrow the field, we characterize a girl group as acts with a minimum of three members and a focus on vocal performance; hence why you won't see bands like the Go-Gos or the Chicks on this list.)
Below, take a look at how girl groups have changed in both construct and impact for nearly 90 years — and counting — and listen to GRAMMY.com's official Girl Groups playlist on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
Though women have no doubt sung together since the beginning of time, the formal concept of the girl group came sometime in the '20s or '30s, with the rise in popularity of tightly harmonizing family acts like the Boswell Sisters and the Hamilton Sisters (the latter of whom would become Three X Sisters). The groups really started to see a rise in popularity around the beginning of WWII — perhaps because the entrance of more women into the workforce opened peoples' minds to the idea of the pop girl group, or perhaps because the soldiers overseas sought comfort and mild excitement via the groups' smooth sounds and attractive looks.
The Andrews Sisters, who officially formed in 1937 as a Boswell Sisters tribute act, would become the most popular of the sister acts, riding tracks like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,""Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)" and "Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out The Barrel)" straight to the top of the charts. They're considered one of the most successful girl groups of all time, selling an estimated 80 million records and counting. Other girl groups followed the Andrews' act, including the Dinning Sisters, who released "They Just Chopped Down The Old Apple Tree" as an answer to their rivals' hit.
The Andrews Sisters continued to be popular well into the '50s, inspiring similar close harmony acts like the Chordettes, who found success with tracks like "Mr. Sandman" and "Lollipop," and the Lennon Sisters, who became a mainstay on "The Lawrence Welk Show."
Around the middle of the decade, girl groups started pulling a bit more from the doo-wop movement, with songs like the Bobbettes "Mr Lee" helping pave the way for a wave of all-Black girl groups to come. The Chantels — who had come up together singing in a choir — quickly followed with "Maybe," which solidified the genre's style with a blend of rock, pop, doo-wop that would act as a sonic template for years to come.
In 1961, the Shirelles found quick success with tracks like "Tonight's The Night" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," which became the first girl group cut to go to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. The group would have five more hit singles throughout the decade, and inspired acts like the Marvelettes, whose "Please Mr. Postman" would become the first No. 1 single for Motown Records.
Keen to seize on that success, Motown invested heavily in creating more girl groups, crafting trios and quartets out of various singers that they might have previously eyed for solo work or even passed on signing. That kind of business-minded molding is what yielded Martha and the Vandellas, the Velvelettes, and a little act called the Supremes, who would go on to become the most successful American vocal group of all time, according to CNN. The success of the Motown acts — the majority of whom were all Black — was also a sign of American culture's increasing acceptance of the integration of popular music.
Having seen the success that Motown had in consciously crafting its girl groups, other producers and small, independent labels sought to capture some of that lightning in a bottle for themselves. The Philles label cashed in on the sound of the Crystals and the Ronettes, while Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller signed the Shangri-Las and the Dixie Cups to their Red Bird label. Tracks like the Shangri-Las' "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" offered a surprisingly real perspective on teen girl crushes, while "Leader Of The Pack" helped bring female perspective to a subgenre of songs about macabre teenage tragedies previously dominated by all-male acts like Jan And Dean and Wayne Cochran And The C.C. Riders.
First formed in the '60s as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Labelle pushed the genre out of the sock hop and into the nightclub, becoming one of the premiere girl groups of the '70s. Their funky, rock-infused singles were unlike anything girl group aficionados had heard before, and in 1974, the group captured America's heart with "Lady Marmalade," a slightly suggestive song that broke out of the discos and into the collective consciousness. Other acts originally formed in the '60s found similar success, like the Three Degrees, who had a number of hits, including the sunny and soothing "When Will I See You Again."
Sister Sledge also capitalized on the disco boom, crafting lasting hits like "We Are Family" and "He's The Greatest Dancer." The Pointer Sisters went through a rainbow of genres, including R&B (1973's funky "Yes We Can Can") and country (1974's "Fairytale," which won a GRAMMY for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1975), before finding their biggest success at the beginning of the next decade with tracks like the sultry "Slow Hand" and the more frantic "I'm So Excited."
Girl groups went through a bit of a lull in the '80s, as the culture trended toward hair metal and hip-hop. Some acts still managed to break through, capturing listeners' hearts with dance-friendly cuts imbued with Latin freestyle flair. Full of synths and syncopated percussion, freestyle burst out of clubs and parties in New York and Philadelphia, finding a particular hold amongst Hispanic and Italian-American audiences.
Miami's Exposé was one of the decade's biggest freestyle acts, blending girl group harmonies with synthetic sounds for hits like "Point Of No Return" and "Seasons Change." Two New York groups, Sweet Sensation and The Cover Girls, had freestyle success that bridged the '80s and '90s. Sweet Sensation's "Never Let You Go" tore up the dance charts, and while the Cover Girls' "Show Me" and "Because Of You" weren't quite as popular, they still hold a special place in the hearts of freestyle fans.
Girl groups roared back in a big way in the '90s, thanks in part to the emergency of new jack swing and a renewed interest in R&B's smooth vocal stylings. En Vogue was one of the first groups to go big in the '90s, with debut single "Hold On" first hitting the Billboard charts in 1990. Their biggest tracks came later in the decade, with the powerful "Free Your Mind" and "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" showcasing the quartet's vocal range and character.
Two groups from Atlanta also came to prominence around the same time as En Vogue. First was the street-savvy quartet Xscape, who harnessed the sounds of 1993 with tracks like "Just Kickin' It."
TLC had a more dynamic arc, first bursting into the collective consciousness with the new jack swing-infused "Ooooooohh… On The TLC Tip," which featured three top 10 singles, including "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg." The group's baggy pants and hip-hop aesthetic pushed girl group boundaries, in part because its members actually acknowledged their sexual desires, as well as the need for everyone to have safe sex. Later in the decade, TLC would rise to even higher heights with tracks like "Waterfalls" and the GRAMMY-winning "No Scrubs," the latter of which was actually co-written by two members of Xscape.
Destiny's Child initially emerged from Houston in the late '90s as a quartet, though they'd later lose some members and gain new ones, ending up as a trio. While it was hard to ignore the sheer star power of Beyonce, the threesome did generally function as a group, producing a string of danceable earworms, including "No, No, No," and "Bills, Bills, Bills." By the time they disbanded in 2006, Destiny's Child sold tens of millions of records and earned three GRAMMY Awards (and a total of nine nominations).
Out west, Wilson Phillips' Chyna Phillips, Wendy Wilson and Carnie Wilson were channeling the sounds of their respective parents, who had been members of the Beach Boys and the Mamas & The Papas. Their songs featured vocal harmonies and were largely about emotional longing, pushing back against the dance and funk that ruled much of the radio dial throughout the '90s.
Girl groups were also gaining major traction in the U.K during the '90s, spurred by a boy band boom in the country around the same time. Two groups — All Saints and the Spice Girls — were actually assembled by managers, something that didn't help allay naysayers' concern that much of pop music at the time was wholly manufactured. (Another U.K. mainstay, Ireland's B*Witched, came together organically.)
Regardless, both All Saints and the Spice Girls found commercial success, with the latter becoming absolutely massive not just because of catchy pop romps like "Wannabe," but because of the quintet's singular personas and the strength of their "girl power" messaging. The Spice Girls even starred in their own movie, "Spice World," which came out at the height of Spice-mania in 1997 and drew instant comparisons to the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night."
Girl groups continued to reign in the early part of the 2000s. A number of 2000s girl groups formed on television as part of reality programming, with U.K. sensation Girls Aloud forming on the ITV show "Popstars: The Rivals" and Danity Kane both forming and developing over three seasons of Sean Puffy Combs' "Making The Band." TV acted as a great launching pad for these pop acts, as fans were often emotionally invested in the group's success from watching the show so when a new single dropped, they were quick to get on board.
Girls Aloud and Danity Kane — as well as their peers, like Dream, 3LW, and Blacque — made pop music that was sexy, confident, and larger than life, with expensive-looking music videos to match. The songs also often crossed over from pop to urban radio.
Another of the most successful (and sexiest) girl groups of the 2000s also formed in a fairly roundabout way. The Pussycat Dolls found success with tracks like "Don't Cha" and "Buttons," but the actual origin of the Pussycat Dolls name and brand came almost 15 years earlier when an L.A. based choreographer named Robin Antin launched a burlesque troupe. After her club events and dancers became more and more popular (even posing for Playboy), she was urged by Interscope Records' Jimmy Iovine to attach the name to a pop group.
Antin recruited five singers who could hold a tune and looked the part, including Nicole Scherzinger — who initially got her start in Eden's Crush, another group formed on a TV show, the U.S. iteration of "Popstars" — and the Pussycat Dolls quickly strutted onto radio dials and Billboard charts with their catchy multi-tracked (and often risqué) hits.
Girl groups were also getting huge around the globe in the '00s, with Spain's Las Ketchup producing the insanely catchy pop ditty conveniently named "The Ketchup Song," Sweden's Play crossed over to commercial success in the American market, and the U.K.'s Atomic Kitten formed purely as a songwriting vehicle for Orchestral Maneuvers In the Dark's Andy McCluskey and Stuart Kershaw. Members of the latter would come and go throughout its career, but songs like "Whole Again" (which was also recorded by Play) have stood the test of time.
Though modern K-pop culture had begun in South Korea in the late '90s, it started to really pick up steam in the '00s, with both boy bands and girl groups benefiting from the surging Hallyu or Korean wave. One of those, Wonder Girls, found quick success in the late '00s with genre-spanning tracks like "Tell Me" and "Nobody," thanks in part to the pop act's ability to perform English versions of their songs while on tour with the Jonas Brothers.
Two of the 2010s biggest girl groups also came from televised reality competition shows. Little Mix, a quartet, was formed on the U.K.'s "The X Factor" and came to redefine the girl group era in Britain, selling more than 60 million records and topping the charts with high octane singles like "Cannonball" and "Shout Out To My Ex."
Stateside, Fifth Harmony was birthed on "The X Factor," where all five members had competed individually the season before but failed to advance. But after producers brought them back to compete as a group, Fifth Harmony was born, with viewers picking the name and ultimately helping them take third place in the competition.
The quintet emerged from the show signed to judge Simon Cowell's record label, Syco, and like so many great girl groups before it, embarked on a tour of malls and talk shows before eventually releasing a pop record tinged with both hip-hop and R&B. Fans latched on to songs like "I'm In Love With A Monster" and "Work From Home," the trap-laced monster hit that has garnered billions of hits on YouTube since its release.
The K-pop wave also continued in the 2010s, with groups like Girls Generation and Twice, both of whom broke the mold of a traditional girl group by having eight and nine members, respectively. At the same time, a J-Pop act, AKB48, rose to popularity, with a structure girl groups hadn't seen before — it has 80 members in total, with the group being divided into different "teams" that members are elected into by rabid fans. All three acts were literally and figuratively massive, selling tens of millions of highly produced bubblegum pop LPs and larger than life dance singles.
The success of K-pop girl groups shot to a new level when BLACKPINK entered the scene in 2016, forming after its members joined a girl group academy and underwent what amounts to girl group boot camp. The result is a fine-tuned musical machine that's produced pop hit after pop hit — including "Boombayah" and "DDU DU DDU DU" — as well as music videos that have been viewed billions of times online.
Spurred by the devotion of their fans (known as the BLINKs), BLACKPINK has also managed to rack up an impressive roster of accolades. They were the first Asian act to headline Coachella, the first female K-Pop artists on the cover of Billboard, and have amassed the most subscribers of any musical act on YouTube. But they're not the only female K-Pop act helping girl groups stay alive: Groups like Mamamoo and Red Velvet released hit after hit in the 2010s, and 2NE1 captured hearts everywhere with tracks like "Lonely" and "I Am The Best." In 2012, 2NE1 set out on what many consider to be the first world tour by a K-pop girl group, visiting 11 cities in seven countries.
A British girl group whose members pull from their individual cultures to create a unique, hip-hop influenced sound, Flo was also influenced by artists like Ciara and Amy Winehouse. Though they've only been together for a few years, their unique retro sound became almost instantly popular in the UK, with debut single "Cardboard Box" racking up almost a million views on YouTube within days of its release in early 2022. Other hit singles, like "Immature" and "Summertime" have followed.
Another thoroughly modern girl group, Boys World, was formed after managers found videos of five different women singing online and then contacted them to see if they wanted to team up. They said yes, launched a TikTok account, and moved into a house together in Los Angeles. Their thoroughly online approach to becoming a girl group has captivated audiences, along with their empowering anthems.
The K-Pop wave has continued to surge as well, with BLACKPINK headlining Coachella in 2023 and the quickly rising NewJeans earning the distinction of being the very first female Korean act to play Lollapalooza later this summer. Like so many girl groups before them, both acts continue to break boundaries and impact the culture at large, proving that the genre is as vital as ever.
While they may not be as abundant as in decades past, the girl group movement certainly hasn't shuttered. And with a diverse array of women still captivating audiences around the globe, girl groups will likely continue to spice up your life for years to come.