Photo courtesy of Father/Daughter Records
Sir Babygirl On Her Brand Of Surrealist Pop, Covering Kesha & "Being A Little Elf Playing Flute In The F**kin' Forest"
The Brooklyn performer talks to the Recording Academy about her busy 2019, the bonus songs on 'BICONIC' and the struggles and emotional triumphs of learning to become a queer pop diva on her own terms
There's a lot that goes into being a D.I.Y. pop prince(ss), and Kelsie Hogue would know. The 27-year-old Brooklyn resident and New Hampshire native writes, performs and produces cartoonishly exuberant bubblegum pop under the name Sir Babygirl. After studying musical theatre in college, spending time as an absurdist stand-up comic and playing in numerous rock bands in her early 20s, Hogue developed an unusually multifaceted understanding of creative expression. All of those disciplines, and her love for both Britney Spears and My Chemical Romance, can be heard leaping and bounding throughout her debut album, Crush On Me, which was released back in February of this year via San Francisco indie Father/Daughter Records.
In the time since its release, Sir Babygirl has been covered in nearly every major music publication, lauded as a must-see act at this year’s SXSW, featured as a main stage act at L.A. Pride, and sold out both of the headlining shows she played in New York. However, with no major label backing or external income source, Hogue's journey to pop stardom is being entirely carried out on a D.I.Y. budget. "I want to be able to make it to the big leagues and I believe that I can because I have what I call a healthy delusion," she says with a confident chuckle while calling from her home in Brooklyn. "I'm basically trying to instill what I imagine pop stars do within a budget in my control."
Flamboyant costumes, backup dancers, colorful makeup and unparalleled energy are all central to the Sir Babygirl performance, and Hogue recently completed the first leg of her first-ever headlining tour—which was just her and her tour manager Flynn Hannon out on the road together. "I've done some headlining dates but that was the first tour so I have nothing to compare it to and it’s a very isolating industry so I don’t really know what other people's first tours are like," she says. "So I have absolutely nothing to go off of, which is essentially how this industry works: you have nothing to go off of every step of the way and you're just stabbing in the dark and hoping that your gut is the superior gut."
On Nov. 8, Sir Babygirl will be releasing Crush On Me: BICONIC Edition, a remastered version of the record that also features a cover of Kesha's "Praying" and a bombastic acoustic rendition of her song "Pink Lite." In advance of that, we talked to the generously transparent Hogue about her busy 2019, the bonus songs on BICONIC, and the struggles and emotional triumphs of learning to become a queer pop diva on her own terms. Our conversation has been condensed for clarity.
A lot has happened with Sir Babygirl in 2019. What are some of your most memorable moments since Crush On Me came out back in February?
I made Rolling Stone print, that’s fking insane to me. I got to play L.A. Pride, the main stage, which was crazy. I sold out both headlining shows I did in New York. There's just been some really cool milestones that are kind of shocking when I actually say them out loud. Because when you’re inside of it you’re just trying to fucking hussle to fking get the job done. I think what’s so cool about the fact that I've been able to tour is that that’s been the most concrete, like, "Okay, we're all present here, there are real human beings in the room showing up for me. It's not just likes on an Instagram post. I'm living, breathing with these people.
I was so taken aback at the support that I got on this tour. The size of the rooms changed every night. I had some packed rooms I had some fkin’ ten people in a room, but the dedication and the energy was so intense at every show. At one of my smallest shows in Raleigh, there were probably like 15 people there but almost everyone that was there at the end came up to me and was like, "We drove two hours to see you. We've been waiting for this for months." And it was random queers in the South who were from little towns that nothing ever comes through.
So it's very exciting to be able to have these rooms where it is really the queer people are centered but there's also straight people there supporting. That's my whole point: I'm trying to be accessible. I'm not trying to create an underground closed-off space where it's just the queerest of the queer people. I don’t believe in queer elitism or separatism; I'm really into inclusivity and accessiblity and so I just want anyone to be able to, at the end of the day, come and shed a little bit of their snakeskin from the day that they had to use to protect themselves and be able to relax into it and have a fking good time.
Beyond being a space for queer people to congregate, your live performance is a pretty spectacular thing to witness. For someone who hasn’t seen you, describe what a Sir Babygirl show consists of.
Well, rule number one is that it's never the same. I am a student of the element of surprise and I call it controlled chaos. It’s not like GG Allin where you go and you're literally not safe. I want it to be exciting, not scary. You don't know what’s gonna happen next but whatever happens next is gonna be a fun surprise, not "I'm gonna kill you." [Laughs.] I do a lot of live banter where I'm very, very interactive with the audience. But I think I really work to gain trust with that.
So at my shows I feel like I lose my mind on stage to allow other people permission to lose their minds in the audience. There’s a lot of different D.I.Y. costume changes, you might see a strap, you might see a guest DJ. I like to bring on my friends to DJ for me who have no DJ experience and just let them go off on my Ableton. I love to have dancers that aren't actually dancers. . .So it’s kind of a big circus, it’s a fking gay circus and I’m the carnival barker and I’m just kind of gonna dominate you for 45 minutes and you're gonna love it. Or you're gonna hate it and that’s fking cool, too, at least I got a reaction out of you.
You mentioned the strap, which I see all of the time on your social media posts. When and why did you start bringing that on as part of your costume? Does it represent something to you or relate to your music in any way, or is it merely for the shock value or the silliness?
The thing is, to me it’s not shocking. I’m kind of trying to play a little game with you all. This is my whole big comparison. Britney Spears 2001 VMAs walks on with a Python, a very phallic symbol; she’s gyrating with it. What is so different and shocking compared to that and me wearing a harness around my pelvis that intimates the fact that I’m going to fk someone? It’s just that it’s gay and hence "subculture," hence "not the norm." And my kind of mission is to just fkin' bring that queerness into the mainstream and just normalize it.
And also yeah the humor is intended where it’s like, yeah it’s fking funny. I'm wearing this fking strap. Because there is this level of intimacy that I really have with the audience where I want to poke fun at in that literal way where it’s like, "Yes, you are in the bedroom with me. We are in the bedroom together." And not in sexual way but you’re seeing me in this really intimate, vulnerable space, but at the same time the strap is so cool because it’s intimate but it's fking power. Because it's like, "I’m gonna fk you."
I know you have a pretty rich history and a background in musical theatre, so you've been performing on stages for a long time. But I'm wondering what you've learned about yourself as a performer since you started touring regularly as a pop musician?
The level of stamina it takes to be a pop artist is, to me, unparalleled. I had respect for pop artists, obviously a deep reverence, which is why I got into it. But I could truly spend days and fill novels about it: I am shocked at the level of stamina it takes, the level of health you need to be in. It’s very expensive to be healthy and to be in the level of shape that you need to be. And I don’t mean shape as in fit, I mean shape as in functioning health. So I think that's been a big thing for me. I deal with a lot of chronic health issues and it is a trip.
I feel like I have really good vocal health, I started taking vocal lessons when I was 14. So I have been studying the voice for 13 years and I would say that it is my strongest instrument and I play a lot of instruments and have been playing instruments since I was nine, and it is the most challenging, vulnerable, easy to damage instrument that exists. It's the only instrument that can be past the point of repair. And we’re in this industry where we don’t really take vocals seriously as an instrument. We kind of act like it's this accidental thing like, "Oh, someone can just randomly belt and you should be able to do that like the Energizer Bunny every single day."
There's a lot of things that take stamina. Like knowing how to deal with sound dudes, and knowing how to give a good set when the sound isn't working. The thing with tours is that it’s not a question of if everything is gonna go wrong, it's just what level of grace can you bring to the chaos? Its just kind of moving chaos. Like I said, I love controlled chaos and tour is uncontrolled chaos, and I am trying to bring this circus around the U.S. essentially and maintain my composure.
One of the new songs on Crush On Me: BICONIC Edition is your acoustic rendition of "Pink Lite." What I like about that song is even though it’s a very stripped-down version of the track, it actually sounds like you're singing harder and louder than you do on the full version of the song. Do you want your acoustic songs to be bangers as well?
I've gotten a lot of comments that are deeply flattering in a very funny way where people will be at my show and be like, "Oh, I literally thought you were kind of a robot voice on the internet, I didn’t think that that was actually your real voice." And I’ve even gotten people at live shows before thinking I was lip-syncing and then I start ad-libbing and they realize that I’m not. I wanted to do the most stripped version possible to be like, yeah that's my voice, that’s how I sound.
I'm very proud of my instrument and I've worked really fking hard. I worship vocals and I'm just so inspired by so many female vocalists that came before me and so to me, I just wanted to share that kind of passion and have people really hear the nuances of my voice with all the production stripped away.
Another song on the reissue is your cover of Kesha's "Praying," which is an incredibly powerful and vulnerable song. What sort of relationship do you have with that song and why did you want to bring it into the Sir Babygirl universe?
I think we're at a point where it should be pretty implicit that if you are someone who has been socialized as a girl—slash anyone—a lot of people have been assaulted, have been raped, have been sexually abused. It’s just a rampant systemic reality and I didn't really want to make it a big part of the campaign, I did not want to have to talk in interviews about my own trauma, I don't always love that marginalized people are there to be a spigot for their flowing trauma. But at the same point it just kind of got to this point where I was feeling so consistently retraumatized by experiences being in the music industry, and I have always related to Kesha.
I experienced my sexual trauma when I was 19 and I wasn't able to even come to terms with approaching it until I was 25. And "Praying" came along when I was just starting to accept my trauma and I honestly there’s not a song I can relate to more. The way that she writes it, it’s just like holy sht. I can’t be really poetic or articulate about it, it just floored me when I heard it. I listened to it on loop and cried and was like, "Holy sht." That feeling of "I'm not alone" and someone specifically in the industry I want to be in has gone through this fking insane, horrific pain, and is going to experience it for the rest of their fking life.
I’ve always played that song at shows in and out and just in my room and it just got to this point where I was, like, “Fk it." I really want to do my own spin on it, it’s really cathartic for me to do. And I just wanted to put it out there that yeah, this album is deeply informed by my trauma and my recovery. But that's not the point of the album, it just exists. And so I kind of wanted to make it a clean, clear statement like yeah, the trauma exists. It’s there, I don’t want to talk about it all the time, but I want it to be understood and I want you to understand that this is a part of me. I don’t need to tell you the details of it for you to take it seriously, for you to believe it.
I saw you perform that at South By Southwest and it was very moving to watch. What I find most striking about it is that it's a very serious song and you perform it in a very sobering way, but the songs in between that are very playful, theatrical and sometimes humorous. Do you think by playing the song has opened up a different creative side of you that maybe you weren't tapping into?
I think I just wanted to carve out a little more nuance for myself. It's very hard for me to be fully serious, like ever. I would say humor is my biggest defense mechanism and biggest survival mechanism and it’s also a great thing and I love it and it does so much for me. I did want to give myself permission to take up that kind of space because I’m really afraid to. And maybe it doesn’t look like this from the outside but I can get very self-conscious about being really big and being huge on stage and being a clown is easy but being like, “No, you’re gonna fking stand here and listen to me go off about a serious fking thing," is so scary to me.
So yeah I like that challenge and right now I'm in the process of doing a lot of writing again and I'm just trying to not be so clever. Just understand that that’s just gonna exist cause I’m a little fkin' imp, I’m always gonna be a little elf playing flute in the fkin' forest pulling tricks on people. But that’s my whole thing, I just like the dichotomy. Let me be funny and sad. Just let it all be a joke and all be fking dead serious, and that’s what I'm really trying to get people to latch onto. They don't cancel each other out, it just deepens the world.
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: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
9 Times Queer Artists Made History At The GRAMMYs: From Elton John's Collab With BSB To Kim & Sam's "Unholy" Union
In celebration of Pride Month, GRAMMY.com has collected nine of the most meaningful and thrilling performances by queer artists from the ceremony’s history, which helped uplift the global LGBTIQA+ community.
The 60-plus years of the GRAMMY Awards encompasses some of the most awe-inspiring and breathtaking moments in music history — and it should be noted that queer performers have produced some of the most dazzling highlights. From Elton John’s 1999 GRAMMY Legend Award to Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ 2023 performance of "Unholy," there is no shortage of iconic queer moments in GRAMMY history.
But more than merely honoring and showcasing queer artists, the ceremony is also the only major award to have moved beyond the outdated gender binary in its categories, an important step in ensuring that every artist feels welcomed. And as queer stars continue to deliver stunning performances in addition to award wins on Music's Biggest Night, young artists have meaningful representation and inspiration.
In celebration of Pride Month, GRAMMY.com has collected nine of the most meaningful and thrilling performances by queer artists from the ceremony’s history. These moments commemorate some of the most impressive artists of the last few decades and helped uplift members of the LGBTIQA+ community around the world.
Elton John & The Backstreet Boys - "Philadelphia Freedom" (2000)
When one LGBTIQA+ icon writes a song that honors another queer trailblazer, it’s bound to make for a special moment on stage.
Performed at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards — the same night the Rocket Man was honored as MusiCares Person Of The Year, and a year after taking home the Legend Award — Elton John performed the bright and swinging "Philadelphia Freedom." With backing from the Backstreet Boys, the performance filled the room with sunshine.
The song was inspired by John’s close friend, tennis icon Billie Jean King. His piano flanked by the five Boys, John delivers a rollicking take on the number one hit, the mythic megastar in top form from every swaggery vocal growl to each thumping piano chord.
Melissa Etheridge & Joss Stone - "Piece Of My Heart" (2005)
Melissa Etheridge has always been an incredibly vulnerable artist, but when she walked onto the stage during the 47th GRAMMY Awards, her head bald due to chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, her legend of raw strength reached a new level.
A loving grin plastered on her face and chopping out an explosive guitar riff, Etheridge didn’t waste a second, joining soul pop star Joss Stone for a tribute to queer icon Janis Joplin. Every syllable of "Piece of My Heart" coming out of Etheridge’s mouth shines sharply like a rough-cut gem, but her explosive howl as the song comes to its climax is the stuff of legend.
The fact that Etheridge made it through her cancer treatment and can still rock stages to this day is only further testament to just how powerful this moment of defiance turned out to be.
Lady Gaga - "Born This Way" (2011)
While the conversation surrounding Lady Gaga’s early ‘10s award ceremony run will always center on her extravagant and boundary-pushing attire and stagecraft, she made sure to put her queer advocacy at full volume during her take on "Born This Way."
Sure, she entered the 53rd GRAMMY Awards in an egg and took time in her performance to play a snippet of Bach made famous in "The Phantom of the Opera" on a keyboard topped with mannequin heads. But in the very next moment, she ensured that the whole track slowed to a righteous halt to deliver a core message: "No matter gay, straight or bi/lesbian, transgender life/ I’m on the right track/ I was born to survive."
The white latex and space egg are important, but Lady Gaga wants to make sure you understand that the art is all in support of a message of inclusion, that stripped down to our strangest basics we’re all human.
Frank Ocean - "Forrest Gump" (2013)
Frank Ocean has proven to be one of the most mercurial stars in R&B, releasing just two studio albums since 2011 despite some of the most rabid anticipation in the music world. His changed plans, canceled performances, and vague updates only fuel that fire — but it’s performances like "Forrest Gump" that encapsulate that whole fandom experience.
The 55th Grammy Awards were a big night for Ocean, with six nominations and two golden gramophones coming his way, but his tender, raw love song was perhaps the most memorable of a night full of impressive tributes and star power. Homosexual love songs don’t get televised too often, and that’s what "Forrest Gump" is: pure, unabashed and straightforward; a young, mesmerizing vocalist and songwriter laid bare, playing a keyboard and backed by a video screen. There’s nothing to distract from his voice and his words: "You run my mind, boy/ Running on my mind, boy/ Forrest Gump."
Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert, Madonna & Queen Latifah - "Same Love/Open Your Heart" (2014)
There may not be a bigger performance of queer love in awards history than Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ elaborate staging of "Same Love" from the 56th GRAMMYs. Their performance of the anthem included lesbian vocalist Mary Lambert and queer icon Madonna — oh, and Queen Latifah literally overseeing marriage ceremonies for 33 couples of varying sexual identities and orientations, when same-sex marriage hadn’t yet been federally recognized.
Macklemore and Lewis won big at the ceremony, thanks in large part to inescapable upbeat hip-hop like "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us." But instead of getting everyone in the room with some easy fun, the duo opted for "Same Love" — a track in support of marriage equality and a protest to a tendency towards homophobia in the genre. Together, they provided a powerful statement of acceptance and love that surely opened eyes for audiences around the world.
Kesha, Camilla Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, Andra Day, and Bebe Rexha - "Praying" (2018)
The whole world was changing for Kesha on the runup to the 60th GRAMMY Awards. After years of struggle against her alleged abuser and an attempt to fully reclaim her career and life, she had not only taken powerful steps in that direction — she was doing so on Music's Biggest Night.
Her new album, Rainbow, had netted two nominations, and she was asked to perform. She opted for "Praying" (co-written by Ryan Lewis), a paean to the power of change and hope, even in the darkest hours. Surrounded by a cadre of powerful women and clad in white and embroidery of blooming flowers, Kesha’s performance shows a moment of new life and transformation, an inspirational moment that continues to grow with promise of even more new music.
Janelle Monáe - "Make Me Feel" (2019)
Janelle Monáe’s performance at the 61st GRAMMY Awards felt like a celebration of her quest to share her truest self. During a performance of the sensual, stylized, sci-fi epic take on "Make Me Feel," Monáe incorporated snippets of other Dirty Computer highlights into the breakdown — including the line "let the vagina have a monologue" from "Pynk" (probably the first time that request had been made on the GRAMMYs stage).
Her black-and-white clad synchronized backup dancers gave shades of Robert Palmer, but Prince (another Black icon comfortable in gender-fluidity) was the true touchstone. But that’s in no way to say that Monáe is anything but an unparalleled icon of her own, whether on the guitar, in her dance steps, or on the mic.
Lil Nas X - "Dead Right Now"/"Montero (Call Me By Your Name)"/"Industry Baby" (2022)
After years of controversy and criticism (notably from talking heads and members of the public who had or would not listen to his music), Lil Nas X’s performance at the 65th GRAMMY Awards had a real sense of catharsis.
Not that the Georgia-born rapper necessarily needed it — he’s proven plenty capable of pushing back and insisting on his identity on the daily, in social media and interviews. Still, the wide range of styles (both musical and visual) and performance versatility on display that evening felt special. His interstellar take on "Dead Right Now" proved he was capable of rising above all the noise; the hip-swiveling dazzle of "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" showed he was unafraid to show his sensual side; and the stomp-along "Industry Baby" (complete with an appearance from Jack Harlow) demonstrated that Lil Nas X is just flat-out one of the most exciting vocal talents in hip-hop.
Kim Petras and Sam Smith - "Unholy" (2023)
Trans representation on the GRAMMYs stage took a big step forward at the most recent ceremony, thanks to Kim Petras. Not only did the German-born pop star become the first openly trans woman to win a GRAMMY Award, but her blistering performance of "Unholy" with Sam Smith likely ignited more than a little bit of inspiration, intensity, and passion in the viewing audience.
Cast in a red glow, the duo embraced the fires of lust, Petras playing the fiery cage dancer to Smith’s devilish ringmaster. Every second of the performance dripped with sweat and sex, refusing to bow to any expectation or censure, Petras humping a corner of the cage as Smith gyrated around a cane. The smoking hot fever dream more than earned the FCC complaints and the zealous fans who went on to devour more of Smith and Petras’ music.
Photo: Vincent Haycock
Kesha Reveals The 10 Most Important Songs Of Her Career, From "Tik Tok" To "Eat The Acid"
The pop hitmaker looks back on the singles and deep cuts that spawned some of the funniest memories as well as personal growth — and how it all led to her fifth studio album, 'Gag Order.'
Upon listening to Kesha's new album, Gag Order, one thing is abundantly and immediately clear: She's not the same girl the world met in 2009.
While Gag Order is less upbeat than Kesha's previous albums, it's the most introspective and vulnerable she's been as a songwriter. But all makes sense; this is a girl who has been through very public trauma and health struggles, who has finally broken through and found hope on the other side. Even still, she hasn't lost sight of the girl who once brushed her teeth with a bottle of Jack.
"There are three albums I know in the history of my life that I have put every fiber of my f—ing being into — Animal, Rainbow, and now Gag Order," Kesha tells GRAMMY.com. "I'm incredibly proud of what [Gag Order] is, and who I've become through the process of it."
She refers to Gag Order as an "emotional exorcism," which is an undeniably accurate description of the album's dark, yet cathartic narrative. It feels like the deliverance Kesha has been building up to since 2017's Rainbow, and the older, wiser sister to the quirky character in 2010's Animal. And though Gag Order may have a different sound, Kesha is adamant that every stage of her career has played a role in getting her to this point — even if it has been an "emotional roller coaster."
To celebrate Gag Order's release, Kesha looked back at her entire discography and selected 10 songs that feel the most important to her story — whether they involved funny moments, career highlights, a special creation process, or a favorite live moment. Read the singer's picks below, and learn why songs like "Blow," "Praying" and "Happy" are crucial to the fabric of Kesha.
"Tik Tok," Animal (2009)
I was on a long plane ride from L.A. to London. It was the first time I got the upgrade to business class, and I remember thinking like, Oh my god, does this mean I made it?
Right behind me, there were these two kids, and they were being so annoying the whole trip — for like 13 hours, screaming and singing. And I remember turning to the person next to me, who was my manager at the time, and I was like, "Oh my god, these kids are so..." and then they started singing "Tik Tok," and I was like, "...cute."
I just started laughing. And I thought to myself, Well, I'm listening to two 5-year-olds sing about brushing their teeth with a bottle of Jack, so I love them now.
I went from playing a club in L.A. called the Echo to about 20 people, and "Tik Tok" came out, and my next gig was Lollapalooza, and there was a sea of people at the stage. And I was really confused. I thought maybe they had shown up for the wrong stage. And then when I started playing, everyone was singing "Tik Tok" to me, and it was so overwhelmingly exciting. That was another moment where I was like, "Oh, this is about to change the trajectory of what my life's gonna look like now."
And then "The Simpsons" redid the intro to [the show], but with "Tik Tok" — and I think at that point, they'd never done that before. I'm not sure if they have done it again. But I just remember being like, "I think I did something that is hitting the zeitgeist in a particular way that I had not bargained for."
"Blow," Cannibal (2010)
It's such a fun song, and I remember making the video for that with James Van Der Beek. And it was such a funny memory, because in the original idea for the video, we were supposed to kiss, but instead, we both decided it would be infinitely weirder to, like, eat cheese.
It was random, and he is the nicest guy in the world. Obviously incredibly talented, but so kind and so cool. It was such a wonderful experience working with him because he was really on board with making it as weird as we think it is. I was really pleased with how weird that video came out.
Playing that song live is one of my favorite experiences, because it's [the part of] my live show where I get to assault the world with glitter. I always have my trusted glitter backpack that I've had since 2008. I had a custom-built glitter backpack, which was the bane of the existence of the people I toured with because it would explode all of the time. Everyone had glitter everywhere to the point where they were getting upset. They were like, "I found the f—ing glitter in my belly button!" and I was like, "I don't know what to tell you about that, I'm really sorry."
"Cannibal," Cannibal (2010)
I was just so pleased with my pen game on that one. Also, I wrote that with my mom, so it was just really funny writing this kind of dark, deranged song with your mom about eating people. I came from her, so she's as deranged as I am. That, like, sums up our relationship.
When I play it live, I've strapped my dancers to a S&M, like, kink cross, and pulled their heart out, and then proceeded to cover my face with fake blood — like, indulge in the cannibalistic routine of eating one of my dancers. My favorite moments of every show I've ever played is the glitter assault and the cannibalism routine.
It's been really cool watching people on TikTok kind of reconnect with that song. I feel like it had this major resurgence like a year or two ago where everyone was doing moves to it. I always appreciate the "Cannibal" love.
"Bastards," Rainbow (2017)
I was walking into my old house, and I had this, like, overwhelming urge to pick up the guitar. I sat on my bed and wrote that song really quickly, by myself. That song was so f—ing special to me. I knew I wanted it to open the album.
The Rainbow album was when I made the switch to step over into strength and power. I love when that flip happens in the process of making an album, because there's usually self reflection, a little bit of self doubt, feeling sorry for myself, sadness, and then the moment that switches into the fuck you territory is when things really get good.
I am like any human. I don't like reading negative things about myself. But at some point, it turns from beating myself up and hating myself into this self defiance in who I am. And if you don't like me, then f— you. All my haters should know that they fuel some of my best songs.
Playing that song live, I love it when all my fans put their phone lights up and sing with me. Because it feels like this anthem of existence and pride in who you are, and really, not only surviving, but celebrating who you are, and not allowing other people's opinions to get the best of you. I really love playing it, because it's, like, an ocean of lights, and that kind of feels like you're swimming in this ocean of love.
"Praying," Rainbow (2017)
"Praying" is, pretty indescribably, one of the highlights of my career. That was such a defiant song, and it's the most eloquent, graceful, beautiful song that I've ever heard. There's so much emotion to it, but at the soul of that song, it's standing in me knowing exactly who I am and what I stand for.
I will forever and eternally be grateful to that song. I feel like that was a cosmic interpretation from the universe that was gifted to me and the co-writers of that song. It was just the perfect combination for, in my mind, the best, most graceful f— you song that's ever existed. And I'm not like a megalomaniac narcissist, but I feel like having some distance from it, I can really see that now.
"Praying" set a new bar for me. "Praying" became the song that I try to beat every time I write a song, because I was so impressed with what me and the other writers did.
Coming from a music family, it's like our lineage. And as a songwriter, I feel like I can make my ancestors proud with certain moments in my career. And "Praying" was definitely one of them.
"Raising Hell," High Road (2020)
That song was so much fun. That was kind of a reclaiming of my joy in a time where I didn't feel very entitled to have joy. I felt like the joy was not mine for the taking, and this was me stealing it back without permission.*
I'm a good person, with a love for, like, the bad and fun side of life. I think that I wanted to celebrate that instead of shaming myself, because I feel like everybody needs some level of badness to really enjoy life.
"Raising Hell" was a moment for me, especially making the video. That was so cathartic, because I got to celebrate the song, but I also got to make this amazing narrative video with Luke Guilford, where I got to be the character I've always dreamt of being — a cross between, like, an evangelical preacher, a murderer and a bandit.
There was a scene that got cut out when I'm dragging my a—— of a husband's dead body across the ground. I was actually dragging like 100 pounds in this tarp, and I remember just gutterally screaming for three minutes. We wanted to include it in the video, but it just seemed so psychotic that everybody else was like, "We can't have three minutes of you screaming." And I was like, "But why not?" [Laughs]
I'm gonna remember that scene forever, because it was so cathartic to drag a dead body across the room screaming. I don't know what [it was] about it, but it forever will be one of my favorite moments in my career.
"Eat The Acid," Gag Order (2023)
That's a direct quote from my mom. She said, "Don't ever eat the acid, you don't want to be changed like it changed me." She told me that when I was really young, and I still to this day have never eaten acid. That's the irony of the whole album, because that was the catalyst for my new album.
The night before I wrote that song, I was just having all of this anxiety, and really feeling destabilized in this collective trauma that was the past couple years for the entirety of the world. I had this spiritual awakening, ego death, psycho magic — that's what I call that night. And I had this full visual experience and conversation with what I now look at as the source energy.
I truly felt like that was a psychotic breakdown, but then I talked to my therapist, and she said, "No, congratulations, that's a spiritual awakening." So I just decided, on this album, to lean into it, and really go into what that experience was. I wanted the song and the album to sound like how I was feeling.
I really wanted to end the song with confidence and power. It's this journey of disassembling to reassemble, and breaking down the illusion to create a new beginning — a rebirth. And by the end, kind of the final statement I'm making is, Now all I'm going to focus on, I realize now, is to be happy. All of the external validation, and these things that I always thought I wanted, they look differently than how I had expected. My focus, instead of obtaining fame, fortune houses, cars, boyfriends, online love, or anything material, is more learning to love myself and come to peace with my past and opening up a blank slate for my future."
"Eat The Acid" is the first song I wrote for the album. It was kind of an undeniable moment where I thought, this was really different, and I don't know if anybody is going to like this. But this is what being an artist is, and if I get the great pleasure of being an artist this lifetime, it would be a disservice to myself, and anybody that spends the time listening to my music, to not be completely honest with where I'm at. Because every album and every song is like a tiny chapter in the book of who I am. It's going to be what survives long after I'm dead.
"Hate Me Harder," Gag Order (2023)
That was the pivoting moment of the album in finding my strength. That was one of the first songs I wrote at this little mini writing camp with Justin Tranter at his mountain home. There were eight writers sitting around in his basement. We're all sitting on the ground, and I just remember telling them, "I really want this strong anthem, about how I have endured so much hate in my career at this point. I'm so happy to be at a point where it almost fuels me."
Sitting in a room full of eight people screaming "Hate me harder," I was envisioning doing that [with] an arena of my fans. It feels so powerful and so strong.
"Only Love Can Save Us Now," Gag Order (2023)
The song that opened up the album was "Eat the Acid," and the song that anchored the album was "Only Love." Because throughout the emotional roller coaster that I was going through while making [Gag Order], I kept going back to the mantra of "only love can save us now." That's my mantra for the state of affairs in the world, that's my mantra for all of my interpersonal relationships — to try to lead with love, even though you're in the midst of all these other emotions. So it's the anchor, and it's really the heart of the album.
We were sitting at Shangri La, Rick Rubin's studio in a chapel, and I just had been so intensely on the emotional side of things on this album, so I went in one day and we banged this song out so fast. I kind of addressed everything that's going on in the world in this really concise idea that there's pain, and then there's the render. So the verses are pain and anger, and then the choruses are surrender and hope.
I remember texting Rick Rubin saying, "Oh my gosh. I think my new song is gonna make you poop." And he said, "Yay!" [Laughs] And then I said, "Did you poop?" And he said, "Yes!" I'm pretty sure that meant he liked it.
"Happy," Gag Order (2023)
"Happy" is my rebirth. "Happy" is the blank slate. "Happy" is me walking out of the wreckage of who I've been and what I've gone through.
Happiness is my purpose now, whereas before it may have been tied to validation and material things — accomplishments and numbers, and stats, and cars, and clothes, and brands. "Happy" is now what I try to embody in every single thing I do, in every breath I take, in every sentence I say. Not only do I want to be happy, but I wish that for everybody else because I feel like there would be a lot less pain and violence in the world if we were all happy. So that's kind of me opening up to my future.
I could see myself never putting out an album again, or putting out an album in six months. I have no idea where I'm headed. All I know is that in everything I do, I want to not only be happy, and lead with happiness and love.
I think that was what the experience of Gag Order was — realizing I have no control, so I might as well do this emotional exorcism, so I can truly be reborn. So I'm kind of just open to the universe to see where it takes me. And I'm really excited to see where that is, whereas before I felt like I had to be held to a standard of who I was. Now, I feel like I don't have to be held to any standards, it's all an illusion. I'm wildly curious what the universe has in store for me next, and I have no f—ing idea what that is.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.