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Stars To Join For Aretha Franklin Tribute

Special GRAMMY tribute to the Queen of Soul to feature Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, and Florence Welch

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)

As a "valentine" and "get-well card" to Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award and GRAMMY Legend Award recipient Aretha Franklin, four-time GRAMMY winner Yolanda Adams, four-time GRAMMY winner and Latin GRAMMY winner Christina Aguilera, GRAMMY winner and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, country superstar Martina McBride, and current nominee Florence Welch will join together on the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards in celebration of the 18-time GRAMMY winner and current nominee's music and ongoing legacy. Franklin underwent surgery on Dec. 2, 2010, for an undisclosed ailment. She has since said she is in excellent health.

The special segment will feature individual and collective performances of some of the Queen of Soul's classic hits and will add to the stellar lineup for Music's Biggest Night.

Current nominee Esperanza Spalding will also perform in a special number with members of the GRAMMY Jazz Ensembles and GRAMMY Camp. Two-time GRAMMY and three-time Latin GRAMMY winner Marc Anthony, GRAMMY and Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx, current nominee Jewel, seven-time GRAMMY winner and current nominee John Mayer, actor Pauley Perrette, and actor/singer Donnie Wahlberg have been added as presenters to the music industry's premier event.

Adams, Aguilera, Hudson, McBride, Spalding, and Welch join previously announced performers and nominees Arcade Fire, Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, Miranda Lambert, Muse, and Katy Perry, and Barbra Streisand in a rare performance; nominees Justin Bieber and Usher, with Jaden Smith; nominees B.o.B, Bruno Mars, and Janelle Monáe; nominees Drake and Rihanna; nominee Cee Lo Green, with Gwyneth Paltrow and the Jim Henson Company Puppets; and Mick Jagger with Raphael Saadiq.

Previously announced presenters include current three-time GRAMMY nominee Dierks Bentley, pop singer/actor Miley Cyrus, singer/actor Selena Gomez, two-time Emmy winner Neil Patrick Harris, nine-time GRAMMY winner and current nominee Norah Jones, three-time GRAMMY winner Kris Kristofferson (who will introduce Streisand's performance), six-time GRAMMY winner and current nominee John Legend, two-time GRAMMY winner and actor LL Cool J, current nominee Nicki Minaj, nominees Paramore, actor Seth Rogen, and current nominee Blake Shelton.

First-time nominees Spalding and Welch each have one nomination: both are up for Best New Artist.

Arcade Fire, Bieber, B.o.B, Jagger, Lambert, Mars, Monáe, Muse, Paltrow, and Smith will be performing on the GRAMMY telecast for the first time, and all five Album Of The Year nominees are set to perform on Music's Biggest Night: Arcade Fire, Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, and Perry.

Additionally, the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards Pre-Telecast Ceremony will take place from 1–4 p.m. PT at the Los Angeles Convention Center and will be streamed live internationally on GRAMMY.com and YouTube beginning at 1 p.m. PT. Well-attended by nominees and industry VIPs, current GRAMMY nominees Bobby McFerrin and Spalding will co-host the star-studded ceremony, which will feature performances by current nominees including Afro-Colombian hip-hop trio and Latin GRAMMY winners ChocQuibTown; blues musician and five-time GRAMMY winner Buddy Guy; singer/songwriter and GRAMMY winner Cyndi Lauper; American roots musician Maria Muldaur; contemporary blues artist Kenny Wayne Shepherd; trombone and trumpet player Trombone Shorty; legendary gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples; jazz musician Kirk Whalum; and R&B singer/songwriter and GRAMMY winner Betty Wright.

Presenting the first GRAMMY Awards of the night in approximately 98 categories will be current nominees, including performance artist Laurie Anderson, pop singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, electronic/dance music artist and remixer BT, actor/comedian Kathy Griffin, and Latin Jazz musician Wayne Wallace. The live stream of the Pre-Telecast will remain on GRAMMY.com as video on demand for 30 days following the event.

The 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by John Cossette Productions and AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich and John Cossette are executive producers, Louis J. Horvitz is director, and David Wild and Ken Ehrlich are the writers.
 
The 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards will take place live on Sunday, Feb. 13 at Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be broadcast in high definition and 5.1 surround sound on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The show also will be supported on radio worldwide via Westwood One, and covered online at GRAMMY.com and CBS.com, and onYouTube. For GRAMMY coverage, updates and breaking news, please visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook


 

Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.
Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

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Beyond Country: All The Genres Beyoncé Explores On 'Cowboy Carter'

On 'COWBOY CARTER,' Beyoncé is free. Her eighth studio album is an unbridled exploration of musical genres — from country to opera and R&B — that celebrates the fluidity of music and her Texas roots.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 08:50 pm

"Genres are a funny little concept, aren't they? In theory, they have a simple definition that's easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined."

With those words, spoken on "SPAGHETTII" by Linda Martell — the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music and the first to play the Grand Ole Opry solo — Beyoncé provides a proxy response to her original call on Instagram 10 days before COWBOY CARTER was released: "This ain’t a Country album. This is a “Beyoncé” album." 

She delivered on that promise with intent. Through a mix of homage and innovation, Beyoncé's latest is a 27-track testament to her boundless musicality and draws  from a rich aural palette. In addition to its country leanings, COWBOY CARTER includes everything from the soulful depths of gospel to the intricate layers of opera. 

Beyoncé's stance is clear: she's not here to fit into a box. From the heartfelt tribute in "BLACKBIIRD" to the genre-blurring tracks like "YA YA," Beyoncé uses her platform to elevate the conversation around genre, culture, and history. She doesn't claim country music; she illuminates its roots and wings, celebrating the Black artists who've shaped its essence.

The collective album proves no genre was created or remains in isolation. It's a concept stoked in the words of the opening track, "AMERIICAN REQUIEM" when Beyonce reflects, "Nothing really ends / For things to stay the same they have to change again." For country, and all popular genres of music to exist they have to evolve. No sound ever stays the same.

COWBOY CARTER's narrative arc, from "AMERICAN REQUIEM" to "AMEN," is a journey through American music's heart and soul, paying tribute to its origins while charting a path forward. This album isn't just an exploration of musical heritage; it's an act of freedom and a declaration of the multifaceted influence of Black culture on American pop culture.

Here's a closer look at some of some of the musical genres touched on in act ii, the second release of an anticipated trilogy by Beyoncé, the most GRAMMY-winning artist of all-time: 

Country 

Before COWBOY CARTER was even released, Beyoncé sparked critical discussion over the role of herself and all Black artists in country music. Yet COWBOY CARTER doesn't stake a claim on country music. Rather, it spotlights the genre through collaborations with legends and modern icons, while championing the message that country music, like all popular American music and culture, has always been built on the labor and love of Black lives. 

It's a reckoning acknowledged not only by Beyoncé's personal connection to country music growing up in Texas, but the role Black artists have played in country music rooted in gospel, blues, and folk music. 

Enter The World Of Beyoncé

Country legends, Dolly Parton ("DOLLY P", "JOLENE," and "TYRANT"), Willie Nelson ("SMOKE HOUR" and "SMOKE HOUR II"), and Martell ("SPAGHETTII and "THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW") serve mainly as spoken-word collaborators, becoming MCs for Queen Bey. Some of the most prolific country music legends receiving her in a space where she has been made to feel unwelcome in music (most notably with the racism surrounding her 2016 CMA performance of "Daddy Lessons" with the Dixie Chicks) provides a prolific release of industry levies. Martell, a woman who trod the dark country road before Bey, finally getting her much-deserved dues appears as an almost pre-ordained and poetic act of justice. 

"BLACKBIIRD," a version of the Beatles' civil rights era song of encouragement and hope for the struggle of Black women is led softly by Beyoncé, backed by a quartet of Black female contemporary country songbirds: Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts. 

Beyoncé holds space for others, using the power of her star to shine a light on those around her. These inclusions rebuke nay-sayers who quipped pre-release that she was stealing attention from other Black country artists. It also flies in the faces that shunned and discriminated against her, serving as an example of how to do better. The reality that Beyoncé wasn't stealing a spotlight, but building a stage for fellow artists, is a case study in how success for one begets success for others. 

Read more: 8 Country Crossover Artists You Should Know: Ray Charles, The Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper & More

Gospel, Blues, & Folk (American Roots)

As is Beyoncé's way, she mounts a case for country music with evidence to back up her testimony. She meanders a course through a sequence of styles that serve as the genre's foundation: gospel, blues, and folk music.

"AMERIICAN REQUIEM" and "AMEN" bookend the album with gospel-inspired lyrics and choir vocals. The opener sets up a reflective sermon buoyed by  the sounds of a reverberating church organ, while the closer, with its introspective lyrics, pleads for mercy and redemption. The main verse on "AMEN", "This house was built with blood and bone/ The statues they made were beautiful/ But they were lies of stone," is complemented by a blend of piano, and choral harmonies. 

Hymnal references are interlaced throughout the album, particularly in songs like "II HANDS II HEAVEN" and in the lyrical nuances on "JUST FOR FUN." In the later track, Beyoncé's voice soars with gratitude in a powerful delivery of the lines, "Time heals everything / I don't need anything / Hallelujah, I pray to her." 

The gospel-inspired, blues-based "16 CARRIAGES" reflects the rich history of country songs borrowing from the blues while simultaneously calling back to songs sung by field laborers in the colonial American South. "Sixteen dollars, workin' all day/ Ain't got time to waste, I got art to make" serves as the exhausted plea of an artist working tirelessly long hours in dedication to a better life. 

Rhiannon Giddens, a celebrated musician-scholar, two-time GRAMMY winner, and Pulitzer Prize recipient, infuses "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" with her profound understanding of American folk, country, and blues. She plays the viola and banjo, the latter tracing its origins to Sub-Saharan West Africa and the lutes of ancient Egypt. Through her skilled plucking and bending of the strings, Giddens bridges the rich musical heritage of Africa and the South with the soul of country, blues, and folk music.

Pop, Funk, Soul & Rock 'n' Roll 

All in, Beyoncé is a pop star who is wrestling with labels placed on her 27-year career in COWBOY CARTER. Fittingly, she brings in two other pop artists known for swimming in the brackish water between country and pop, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. Her intentional inclusion of two artists who have blurred genres without much cross-examination begs the question, Why should Beyoncé's sound be segregated to a different realm? 

On "YA YA" Linda Martell returns as the listener's sonic sentinel, introducing the track like a lesson plan: "This particular tune stretches across a range of genres. And that’s what makes it a unique listening experience." The tune sinks into the strummed chords of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" before leaping into a fiery dance track that features reimagined lyrics from the Beach Boys, with soulful vocal flourishes and breaks that show the throughline connection between '60s era rock, funk, and pop music.

Robert Randolph lends his hands on "16 CARRIAGES" with a funk-infused grapple on his pedal-steel guitar. It's a style he honed through his early years touring and recording with his family band and later in his career as an in-demand collaborator working with names including the Allman Brothers, and Norah Jones

The lesson is solidified as the album transitions into an interlude on "OH LOUISIANA," featuring a sped-up sample of a classic track by Chuck Berry. This moment emphasizes the pop superstar's nod to civil rights era music history, spotlighting a controversial artist celebrated for his pioneering contributions to rock 'n' roll. (It's a part of music history Beyoncé knows well, after starring as Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, a veiled biopic of the legendary Chicago label Chess Records.)

Classical & Opera

Opera was missing from many listeners' Beyoncé Bingo card, but didn't surprise those that know her background. Beyoncé was trained for over a decade starting at an early age by her voice teacher David Lee Brewer, a retired opera singer who once lived with the Knowles family. 

COWBOY CARTER gives sing-along fans a 101 opera class with "DAUGHTER." In Italian, Beyoncé sings passages from the 1783 Italian opera "Caro Mio Ben," composed by Giuseppe Tommaso Giovanni Giordani. The aria is a classic piece of vocal training that fittingly shows off her full range — taking us back to the earliest days of her vocal teachings.

Hip-Hop & R&B

Midway through the album on "SPAGHETTII" Beyoncé announces, "I ain't no regular singer, now come get everythin' you came for," landing right where expectations have confined her: in the throes of a romping beat, experimenting with sounds that blend hip-hop with R&B and soul. The track notably highlights the talent of Nigerian American singer/rapper Shaboozey, who also shows up to the rodeo on "SWEET HONEY BUCKIN'" brandishing his unique mix of hip-hop, folk-pop, and country music. 

Beyoncé worked with longtime collaborator Raphael Saadiq on this album, a career legend in the R&B industry, who lends his mark to several tracks on which he wrote, produced, and played multiple instruments. Beyoncé also utilizes the Louisiana songwriter Willie Jones on "JUST FOR FUN," an artist who draws on a contemporary blend of country, Southern rap, and R&B in the hymnal ballad. 

The violin-heavy "TYRANT" and "SPAGHETTII" both underscore hip-hop's long love affair with the classical string instrument (See: Common's "Be," and Wu Tang Clan's "Reunited" as the tip of that particular iceberg) with a blend of soulful R&B lyrics paired with beat-based instrumentalization. 

In a world quick to draw lines and label sounds, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER stands as a vibrant mosaic of musical influence and innovation. Ultimately, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER isn't seeking anyone's acceptance. As a Texan once told she didn't belong, her critical response claps back at this exclusion.  It's also a reminder that in the hands of a true artist, music is limitless.

Run The World: Why Beyoncé Is One Of The Most Influential Women In Music History

Usher performs in 2023
Usher at iHeartRadio’s Living Black 2023 Block Party.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

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9 Reasons Why Usher's 'Confessions' Is R&B's Definitive Blockbuster Album

Just before Usher kicks off his extensive world tour, the R&B superstar celebrates the 20th anniversary of his magnum opus, 'Confessions.' Here's a look at the ways the album changed the genre — and cemented Usher as an icon.

GRAMMYs/Mar 22, 2024 - 02:29 pm

"All of us have our Pandora's boxes or skeletons in our closets," Usher told MTV News while promoting his 2004 album, Confessions. "I've got a lot of things and stuff built in me that I just want to let go of."

He sure wasn't kidding. The concept album, and loosely based around his relationship with TLC's Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas — essentially played out like a prime-time soap opera set to music. But its brutally honest narrative and earworm hooks connected like no other contemporary R&B record before or since, solidifying Usher as one of music's modern greats.

In fact, Confessions was the second-best selling album of the 2000s (only behind *NSYNC's 2000 juggernaut, No Strings Attached), thanks in part to four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers and a string of attention-grabbing videos that allowed Usher to showcase his skills as a singer, dancer, actor, and all-round loverman.

Just after delivering a career-defining Super Bowl halftime show performance, Usher celebrates  20 years of Confessions on March 23. To commemorate the anniversary, here's a look at why Confessions remains the R&B scene's definitive blockbuster.

It Saved The Record Industry 

Thanks to the rise in illegal downloads and decline of "Total Request Live"-friendly blockbusters, the music industry began 2004 staring down a fourth consecutive year of declining sales. Step forward their savior, Usher Raymond IV.

Confessions shifted a colossal 1.1. million copies in its first week, the highest number since Eminem's The Eminem Show in 2002, and didn't stop selling. By the end of December, its total had ballooned to nearly eight million — double its closest competitor, Norah Jones' Feels Like Home, to become the year's biggest commercial smash.

Usher's magnum opus was widely credited with getting the American public back into record stores again, resulting in a 1.6 percent increase in overall album sales. But Confessions' journey wasn't done there. In 2012, it was awarded diamond status, joining TLC's CrazySexyCool and Boyz II Men's II as the only R&B representatives in the exclusive club, with its current tally now reportedly standing at 18 million!

It Invented Crunk&B 

Crunk, an energetic form of southern hip-hop defined by its 808 basslines, kick drums, and general party-starting vibes, originated in the mid-1990s. But it took nearly a decade for the sound to crossover from the Miami underground to the top of the charts. And then the lead single from Confessions took the scene to another level.

With its high-pitched synth hook, emphatic beats, and hype man chants from the subgenre's self-proclaimed king Lil Jon, "Yeah!" had all the hallmarks of a crunk classic. But Usher's smooth, soulful tones and Ludacris' playful rhymes gave the dance floor anthem a much stronger melodic edge, prompting critics to coin a new term, Crunk&B.

Several artists took note of the crunk and contemporary R&B crossover, with both Ciara's "Goodies" and Chris Brown's "Run It" also topping the Hot 100. But "Yeah!" remains the sound's crowning glory, as proven by the diamond status it achieved right before Usher's Super Bowl halftime show (Usher is also now only the third ever Black artist to have a diamond-certified single and album, alongside Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston).

It Further Bridged The Gap Between R&B And Hip-Hop 

While previous albums Usher, My Way, and 8701 had all been grounded in slick, soulful R&B, Confessions was a concerted attempt to bridge the gap between his signature sound and the grittier world of hip-hop. The man himself admits that he took just as much inspiration from Eminem and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony as his usual suspects, like Michael Jackson and James Brown, to create an album that was aimed equally at the bedroom and the clubs.

Alongside the famous guest appearances from Lil Jon and Ludacris, the LP also drew upon the production talents of Roc-A-Fella regular Just Blaze. Meanwhile, on the special edition, Jadakiss laid down some bars on "Throwback," while the remix of "Confessions Part II" boasted rhymes from Shyne, Twista, and Kanye West.

That's not to say thatNot that Usher forgot his roots, though., Has proven by his collab with Keys ("My Boo"), recruitment of legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and contributions from long-time collaborators Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox all helped remind of his R&B prowess. "I feel like it is the base of everything," Usherhe said about his love of R&B at the time. "I want to make it more prominent."

It Was A GRAMMY Favorite 

Although Ray Charles posthumously won the most awards of the night, the 2005 GRAMMYs undoubtedly still belonged to Usher. The R&B star not only took home three golden gramophones, but he also brought the house down thanks to a spellbinding duet with the Godfather of Soul.

A sharp-suited Usher first took to the stage for an epically choreographed performance of Confessions' fifth single "Caught Up," before James Brown — who even at the age of 71 still had several moves of his own — popped up for a joint rendition of his classic, "Sex Machine."

Usher was no doubt in a celebratory mood. By this point, he'd picked up three of the eight categories he'd been nominated in: Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Yeah!," and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal alongsideAlicia Keys for "My Boo." (As of press time, Usher has won eight GRAMMYs and received 23 GRAMMY nominations.)

It Brought A Confessional Side Back To R&B 

From Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear to D'Angelo's Brown Sugar, some of the greatest R&B records of the 20th century resulted from artists baring their souls as if their lives depended on it. This was an approach that had largely fallen by the wayside as time went on, with some suggesting that the genre gradually became more emotionally stunted.

Usher, on the other hand, had no qualms whatsoever about laying it all on the line, namely the ups and downs of his relationship with Thomas. On the falsetto-voiced "Burn," he willingly displays devastation over his breakup ("I'm twisted 'cause one side of me's telling me that I need to move on/ On the other side I wanna break down and cry"). And even by the penultimate track, "Take Your Hand," he still seems to be in a state of torment ("In your loving, every time I feel your touch/ Second thoughts, more doubts started building up").

Usher's confessional approach continued in 2008 with Here I Stand's love letter to then-wife Tameka Foster and then again in 2010 with the divorce-themed Raymond vs. Raymond. And many other R&B artists, including Janelle Monae and Beyoncé, have since made career bests by delving similarly deep into their personal lives.

It Inspired A Generation Of R&B Lotharios 

Think of any R&B lothario who's emerged in the last 20 years and chances are they've been heavily inspired by Confessions. Jason Derulo has said as much, describing it as a "classic album" and "just start to finish awesome"; Ne-Yo echoed that sentiment to BBC Radio 1, calling it "flawless top to bottom." While Bryson Tiller explicitly told Fuse he wanted to make a record in the same vein. And you can hear its influence in everything from Drake's more romantic offerings to August Alsina's intimate revelations.

And 10 years after Robin Thicke co-penned and co-produced Confessions' sensuous bedroom jam, "Can U Handle It," he released his own breakup tale with 2014's Paula.  Though he hasn't ever explicitly cited Confessions as an influence, Paula is a concept album about Thicke's real-life marriage breakdown, which essentially doubled up as a begging letter to his estranged wife.

It's A Storytelling Masterclass 

In 2023, it was announced that an untitled drama series inspired by Usher's back catalog was in the works. No doubt that the project, said to be "about Black love in Atlanta and individuals looking to find a place to call home," will draw heavily upon the storytelling masterclass that is Confessions.

Take "Truth Hurts," for example, the relationship tale in which Usher initially presents himself as the wounded party before revealing that he was, in fact, the one being adulterous ("I've been blaming you when I'm the one that's doing wrong/ I'ma go on/ My guilty conscience is the real reason I wrote this song").

Usher also appeared to enjoy keeping audiences guessing about whether his confessions were truly autobiographical or borrowed from the album's male-centric production team. See the two title tracks, which suggested the lothario had himself become a father following a one-night stand, when in reality, the paternity drama was all Dupri's.

"We wanted the media to ask us questions," the latteradmitted to Vibe in 2014, citingMichael Jackson as a key attention-grabbing influence. "Nobody knows who the f— Billie Jean is. We're still looking for her."

It Helped Breathe New Life Into Several Soul Classics 

While much of Confessions was interested in pushing R&B forward, it wasn't entirely averse to getting a little nostalgic. The record is filled with cleverly chosen samples from the soul of yesteryear, from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "Is There a Place for Me" on "Take Your Hand" to Willie Hutch's Mack's Stroll on "Superstar" and Preston Love's "Chili Mac" on "Whatever I Want."

And nearly 20 years before Doja Cat repurposed a Dionne Warwick classic to chart-topping effect on 2023's "Paint the Town Red," Usher brought the Motown legend into the contemporary R&B world by borrowing from "You're Gonna Need Me" on the aptly titled "Throwback."

It Broke Multiple Chart Records  

You know an artist has reached true greatness when they start being mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles. In 2004, Usher became the first act since the Fab Four to have both the biggest and second biggest-selling singles of Billboard's year-end chart with "Yeah!" and "Burn," respectively. And this was far from the only major milestone Confessions achieved. 

Until Taylor Swift's Fearless spent an additional fortnight in the top spot in 2009, the album's nine weeks atop the Billboard 200 was the longest run of the millennium. And with "Confessions Part II" also reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100 (ironically, replacing "Burn"), Usher not only became the first artist in  history to achieve three consecutive chart toppers, but also the first act to spend more than half a calendar year atop the Hot 100 at 28 combined weeks. 

Twenty years on, Confessions is still the highest-selling record by a Black artist this century. And further exemplifying his staying power and impact across the globe, Usher will soon embark on a lengthy world tour that has sold out from Brooklyn to Berlin — a momentous way to honor the album that changed the R&B game.

24 Songs Turning 20: Listen To 2004's Bangers, From "Yeah!" To "Since U Been Gone"

Norah Jones
Norah Jones

Photo: Joelle Grace Taylor

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5 Inspirations Behind Norah Jones' New Album 'Visions': Nightly Dreams, Collabs, Harmony Stacks & More

On her iridescent new album 'Visions,' out March 8, Jones embraces a newer collaborator in Leon Michels, and brings the stuff of phantasmagoria into immediate, organic relief.

GRAMMYs/Mar 8, 2024 - 03:06 pm

Not all Norah Jones fans know this, but her debut 2002 album Come Away With Me was recorded in its entirety a whopping three times. Her latest, Visions, is no less detailed or exacting. But in true Blue Note fashion — it's out March 8, via said label — it sprang from an improvisatory, immediate space.

"I didn't really have a lot of preconceived ideas," Jones tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom, as a typically oppressive winter in New York blurs into spring. ("I like winter," she says. "Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one.") Despite this dearth of advance material, "We just wrote and played," Jones continues. "And, honestly, he's one of the most fun people I get to play music with."

"He" is none other than producer, multi-instrumentalist and two-time GRAMMY nominee Leon Michels; Jones, a nine-time GRAMMY winner and 19-time nominee herself, previously worked with him on her first-ever holiday album, 2021's I Dream of Christmas.

Highlights like "Staring at the Wall," "Running" and "I'm Awake" show Jones is clearly the same artist who made classics like Come Away With Me and 2004's Feels Like Home — but in the ensuing decades, her work has assumed layers of adventurousness and dynamism.

"I love playing music with people and collaborating and trying new things, and I feel very at ease with myself and as myself in all those situations," Jones says. "Which is why it works, I think. I'm not trying to be somebody else when I do this. I'm comfortable, but I love to just try new clothes on musically."

Read on for a breakdown of people, concepts and things that inspired the making of Visions.

Her Podcast "Norah Jones Is Playing Along"

Over 32 episodes and counting, Jones has sat down with everyone from Jeff Tweedy to Seth MacFarlane to Laufey for extemporaneous collaborations and conversations. Jones notes that they're gearing up to release more episodes.

While she doesn't expressly note the podcast as a direct influence, its one-on-one format harmonizes with the dynamic between herself and Michel on Visions.

"I think anything you do influences you in some ways, even if you don't realize how," Jones says. "I've always been a pretty open musician, but I just feel like I get more and more open."

Her Creative Synergy With Leon Michels

When Jones had a shred of an idea — a few lyrics, a sketch of a melody — she would sit at a piano or guitar, Michels would get behind the kit, and they'd jam it out, garage band-style.

From there, the collaborators would add "a ton of harmonies" — more on that later — as well as bass, guitar, horns, organ, or whatever else would elevate the songs.

"The live energy you feel on those recordings is from me and him playing drums and piano or guitar," Jones says, "and just having fun."

Subconscious, Subterranean Zones

As Jones noted in the press materials, Visions came from a space beyond wakefulness.

"The reason I called the album Visions is because a lot of the ideas came in the middle of the night or in that moment right before sleep," she said. She then evoked the lead single: "'Running' was one of them where you're half asleep and kind of jolted awake."

"I think it just all flowed really fast," Jones says in retrospect. "There were some songs that I had to tweak the lyrics more because they were slower to come, but most of them were pretty fast."

Stacking Harmonies — Christmas Style

Two years and change ago, I Dream of Christmas displayed a newer facet of Jones' sound: dense, layered harmonies. It worked so well on those yuletide tunes that Jones and Michels expanded on that concept for Visions.

"I'm always hearing harmonies, and I'm pretty quick at adding them," Jones recalls, and he's always, "Add a harmony, add a harmony, add a harmony." It's really part of the sound of the record."

Jones says this comes straight from her record collection. "It does come pretty naturally. It comes from years of loving music," she says. "I mean, I used to imitate Aretha's background singers. I think it was Cissy Houston. I love that kind of harmony." (Plus, she sang in jazz groups and high school and college, with 10 vocalists as a united throng.)

For Jones' upcoming tour dates on the East Coast, which span May and June, Michels won't be present. But those shimmering, layered vocals will.

Bringing Two More Singers To The Party

Along with four-time GRAMMY-winning drummer extraordinaire Brian Blade and the great, indie-oriented bassist Josh Lattanzi, Jones will perform alongside singers Sasha Dobson and Sami Stevens, who will also chip in on guitar and keys.

"We had our first rehearsal yesterday, and it sounds incredible," Jones says, aglow. She then considers the nuances of bringing studio creations to life onstage.

"Sometimes, you want to hit all the parts and sometimes you can and sometimes you can't," she says. "And you have to strip a song back and it sounds just as great, because it's a good song, and that's always a good feeling."

Onstage, though, Jones says they'll have all the resources to pull it off. Call it Visions come to life, and made material.

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Miley Cyrus 2024 GRAMMYs performance shot
Miley Cyrus performs at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Listen: Miley Cyrus & Pharrell Reunite For New Song "Doctor (Work It Out)"

Ten years after their first funky single, Miley Cyrus and Pharrell Williams strike again with "Doctor (Work It Out)," which arrived on March 1. Hear the new track and watch the spirited music video here.

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2024 - 04:31 pm

On the heels of her first GRAMMY wins, Miley Cyrus is feeling good — and she's ready to be your cure.

The pop superstar unveiled her new single, a lustful, funky dance track titled "Doctor (Work It Out)," on March 1. The track is her latest collaboration with Pharrell, and their first in 10 years.

Over a pulsating bass guitar-driven beat, Cyrus opens with the punchy chorus (“I could be your doctor/ And I could be your nurse/ I think I see the problem/ It's only gon' get worse/ A midnight medication/ Just show me where it hurts," she sings) before erupting into a dance break as she declares, "Let me work it out… Imma work it out…”

So far, 2024 is feelin' fine for Cyrus. At the 2024 GRAMMYs, her 2023 smash, "Flowers," took home two awards, for Best Pop Solo Performance and Record Of The Year. Following her first win, she delivered a knockout performance featuring the unforgettable ad lib, "I started to cry and then I remembered I… just won my first GRAMMY!" 

Less than a month later, "Doctor (Work It Out)" serves as another groovy celebration of Cyrus' achievements in life and music so far.

The song's music video is reminiscent of her 2024 GRAMMYs performance, too. Not only is she wearing a similar shimmery fringe dress, but the entire video is a jubilant, blissful solo dance party.

Though Cyrus first teased "Doctor (Work It Out)" just a few days before the song's arrival, Pharrell first gave a sneak peek in January, at his American Western themed Fall/Winter 2024 Louis Vuitton Men's fashion show in Paris. It was Pharrell's third collection for the luxury house, and the bouncy single served as a fitting soundtrack. 

The song marks Cyrus' first release in 2024, and her first collab with Pharrell since 2014's "Come Get It Bae" from his album G I R L'; Pharrell also co-wrote and produced four tracks on the deluxe version of Cyrus' 2013 album, Bangerz.

Watch the "Doctor (Work It Out)" video above, and stay tuned to GRAMMY.com for more Miley Cyrus news.

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