6 Takeaways From Netflix's "Ladies First: A Story Of Women In Hip-Hop"
Behind the scenes with rapper Rapsody

Courtesy of Netflix


6 Takeaways From Netflix's "Ladies First: A Story Of Women In Hip-Hop"

As hip-hop celebrates its golden anniversary, a new Netflix docuseries out Aug. 9 shines a light on the irreplaceable roles Black women have played in creating and evolving the culture.

GRAMMYs/Aug 9, 2023 - 01:13 pm

Despite their many groundbreaking contributions to the culture, women have long been pushed to the periphery of hip-hop. In a new Netflix docuseries, they're getting their long overdue flowers.

Debuting on Aug. 9, "Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop" delves into the remarkable contributions and personal histories of the Black women who shaped hip-hop culture. The four-episode series details how these women changed the world while combating misogyny, racism, colorism and beyond. 

Unfolding from the '70s on, each episode features candid interviews with pioneers and trailblazers — including Sha-Rock, Roxanne Shanté, Queen Latifah, Rah Digga, MC Lyte, Yo-Yo and Da Brat — whose unique journeys and pivotal contributions have long been erased from the narrative. Contemporary artists Tierra Whack, Kash Doll, Chika, Saweetie and Latto are also featured, and discuss their influences and the adversities they face as they carve their own paths in the male-dominated industry. 

Alongside key insights and eye-opening context from cultural critics, writers and professors, "Ladies First" also spotlights the culture's most iconic stylists including Misa Hylton, the pioneering fashion designer and stylist behind Lil' Kim's head-turning purple, one-sleeved jumpsuit and accompanying pasty from the '99 VMAs. "I created a blueprint that people followed. That other artists reinterpreted. And fashion brands have also taken a piece," Hylton says in the film.

Even the most devoted hip-hop fans will learn something new. Among the revelations, producer Drew Dixon suggested that Method Man's "All I Need" was too groundbreaking for an album interlude. He pushed for it to be extended into a full-on single, with vocals from Mary J. Blige.

"I was like, 'This has to be a record.' There is nothing in hip-hop articulating Black love and Black male vulnerability and mutual respect for a woman in a romantic context ever. And if it's an interlude, no one's going to hear it," he recalls in "Ladies First."

From the unsung matriarchs who weaved the first stitch in the fabric of the artform to contemporary artists who continue to break new ground, here are six takeaways from the heartfelt homage to the women who continue to shape the sonic and social landscapes of hip-hop.

Sha-Rock Broke Ground On 'SNL' And Beyond

Born and raised in the Bronx, Sha-Rock started out her career as a B-girl in the early '70s before hip-hop even had its name. In 1976, she auditioned to join the Funky Four, an all-male hip-hop quartet that later rebranded as the Funky Four Plus One (she was the plus-one). 

A few years later, Debbie Harry would help facilitate a game-changing moment for the female emcee. The "Call Me" singer was looking for a hip-hop group to showcase on an episode of "Saturday Night Live" and Sha-Rock and her crew were the perfect candidates.  

"She could've went after anybody but she chose the  Funky Four Plus One  more," Sha-Rock explains. "The reason why she did that is because we looked young. We looked innocent. There was a female that was involved. And she wanted the world to see what the Bronx in New York City was doing."

The Funky Four Plus One became the first hip-hop group to perform on broadcast television. But that was only the beginning for Sha-Rock. The first female emcee of hip-hop culture also popularized the now ubiquitous echo chamber effect, which involves repeating a phrase or word for emphasis. DMC of RUN-D.M.C. recalls hearing her use the effect on a record and becoming completely obsessed with the style. 

Without Sylvia Robinson, There'd Be No "Rapper's Delight" 

"Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang is one of the earliest and most influential rap songs, but it may not have existed if not for the vision of Sylvia Robinson. The artist, producer and businesswoman had co-founded Sugar Hill Records with her husband in 1979 and was in search of a rap group to sign to the label.  

She first heard rapper Big Bank Hank rhyming in a pizza parlor, where she soon approached him about recording music. After he introduced her to Wonder Mike and Master Gee, Robinson decided to bring the trio together to form the Sugarhill Gang. She also took on the role of producer, shaping their debut single "Rapper's Delight," the first commercial rap single. She even had the foresight to cast white women in the music video for the iconic track in an effort to  create crossover appeal. 

And her plan worked."Rapper’s Delight" became the first rap single to break the Billboard Hot 100 Top 40. The song's popularity signaled the commercial viability of hip-hop as a genre, paving the way for future rap artists to gain recognition and airplay. Robinson would go on to co-produce more legendary hip-hop tracks, and continue to run various labels. 

Women Have Been Political Players, Both Vilified And Endorsed 

Acts like Public Enemy are lauded for infusing their music with political messages, but female emcees like MC Lyte, Sister Souljah and Queen Latifah have long used their platform to highlight inequality and social issues affecting the Black community.

But they weren't always able to share these views without impunity. In fact, rapper/activist Sister Souljah was used as a political scapegoat because of her remarks following the acquittal of police officers in the 1992 Rodney King incident. Then-presidential hopeful Bill Clinton criticized her comments, going so far as to call her racist, in an attempt to distance himself from the "radical" side of the Democratic Party and appeal to more moderate voters. 

But as the culture grew and became a mainstay on the charts, radio, television and beyond, things began to shift toward the better. In 2014, MC Lyte became the first female artist to perform hip-hop at the White House during the Obama Administration. 

And the ladies of hip-hop continue to use their platforms to start conversations and enact political change. GRAMMY winner Cardi B has made headlines for using her social media platform to discuss politics with fans, and raise awareness of social issues.

They Continue To Face Double Standards

Since the early days of rap when a young Roxanne Shanté was objectified and demeaned in rap diss tracks by her adult male peers, the women of rap have had to contend with a trifecta of terrible: misogyny, hypersexualization and impossible beauty standards. 

"You have one pressure to be commercial and sell. The sexier the better. And an equally competing and loud pressure that that image is irresponsible and that you need to be Michelle Obama," says Kash Doll.

Objectifying women's bodies and promiscuity are common themes in mainstream rap songs from men, but when women rappers turn the tables and own their sexuality, they are vilified by their peers and the public alike. There are countless examples: from Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown in the '90s, to Nicki Minaj, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B more recently.  

But taking an opposite approach also invites criticism. "As a new rapper in this space, I remember the amount of vitriol that got spit at me and the conversations that I was unwillingly thrown into discussing what I look like," Chika shares in the film. "I remember in the early days of me doing viral videos and rapping and being on social media, some of the comments would be 'Yeah, she's amazing but they'll never be able to market her. She's never gonna make it that far because of her looks.'" 

The Ladies Of Hip-Hop Get Caught Up, Too

Much like their male peers, the ladies of hip-hop have also fallen victim to mass incarceration for drug distribution, tax evasion, assault or simply refusing to snitch. 

"I don't think that Black women rappers escape the really vulnerable position that Black women in America find themselves in," says writer and professor Salamishah Tillet. "There's always a vulnerability due to class, due to race and due to the particular ways in which they're expressing their rage and frustration, internally and externally, that makes them vulnerable to mass incarceration."

And then there's that hip-hop double standard. There's no street cred waiting for these ladies when they get out. As Remy Ma explains, "I had a hard time getting people to not see me as this girl who was convicted and did all this time in jail. The things they would never ever care about from a guy, like he could do a million and one years for whatever his crime was and they wouldn't even care. They'd cheer him on."

Through It All, Sisterhood Remains The Key

Today, the future is brighter than ever for the women of hip-hop who are able to control their narratives in unprecedented ways. Artists are opening up about their sexuality, mental health and motherhood in their lyrics, which was unheard of in mainstream rap of the past. But there is one thing that has never changed: the enduring sisterhood among the ladies of hip-hop. 

Whether it's GloRilla and her Glo-gang, Missy co-siging next-gen talents like Flyana Boss or Rapsody's exhilarating and empowering homage to her peers and heroes at the BET Awards, the women of hip-hop's past and present are pushing back against this narrative that they have to be at odds to be successful. The sprawling and diverse lineup of contemporary women rappers shows that there's room for everyone in the limelight. 

"That's what I like most about this wave right now. We all different shades. We all from different places. We all stand for something different," says Latto. 

Despite concerted efforts by the media, labels and fandoms to divide these talented emcees, they continue to embrace and uplift each other. And when they all hop on a record together, music lovers and the culture reap the benefits — as seen with iconic tracks like "Ladies Night,"  "I Wanna Be Down" featuring MC Lyte, Yo-Yo and Queen Latifah," Saweetie and Doja Cat's "Best Friend" and Meg and Cardi's "WAP."        

Ladies First: 10 Essential Albums By Female Rappers

Press Play: Yiga Reyes Wants "Nobody Else" In This Acoustic Performance Of His Debut Single "Nadie Más"
Yiga Reyes

Photo: Courtesy of Yiga Reyes


Press Play: Yiga Reyes Wants "Nobody Else" In This Acoustic Performance Of His Debut Single "Nadie Más"

Mexican newcomer Yiga Reyes performs his lovestruck single — his first-ever release — by accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

GRAMMYs/Oct 3, 2023 - 05:02 pm

Yiga Reyes is ready to make an impression with "Nadie Más." The Spanish-language track, which dropped at the end of May via Sonidos Lindavista, marks the debut release for the Mexico native, who was born and raised in the city of Linares, Nuevo León.

The song — whose title translates to "Nobody Else" in English — is typically peppered with a jaunty horn line and shimmery percussion, but for this Press Play performance, Reyes keeps things light and stripped back by using just his acoustic guitar for accompaniment.

"Yo no quiero a nadie mas/ La quiero ella, solo a ella/ Es una diosa, es una reina/ Porque me hace suspirar/ No se compara las demás," he croons on the lovestruck chorus.

In the video, Reyes reveals he's performing live from Mexico City — a nearly ten-hour drive south from his small hometown in the Mexican state just below the border of Texas. "When I was visiting Mexico City to make new songs and recordings, a friend of mine lent me his house to stay in and also allowed me to record this in his living room," Reyes says in a statement.

During the performance, the rising singer also shares that his particular brand of regional Mexican music owes a natural debt to his upbringing. In fact, the very first concert he ever attended was Nortex Festival in Monterrey celebrating Norteño and Tejano music with sets by Ramón Ayala (aka "King of the Accordion"), Eduardo "Lalo" Mora and plenty more.  

Press play on the video above to watch Reyes' acoustic performance of "Nadie Más," and check for more new episodes of Press Play.

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Living Legends: Frankie Valli On The Four Seasons' Biggest Hits, Impressing Bob Dylan And Inspiring Billy Joel & Elton John
Frankie Valli

Photo: Varela Media


Living Legends: Frankie Valli On The Four Seasons' Biggest Hits, Impressing Bob Dylan And Inspiring Billy Joel & Elton John

Between a new box set and a Las Vegas residency, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons aren’t slowing down in 2023. Hear from the falsetto king himself about how hits like “Sherry” and “December, 1963 (Oh What A Night!) came to be — and how they live on.

GRAMMYs/Oct 3, 2023 - 02:53 pm

With one of the most recognizable voices in music, a generation-spanning array of hit songs and a life story that has become stuff of legend, Frankie Valli has staked a claim as one of the music industry's most indelible artists. One of the few acts that steadily navigated from the doo-wop age through the disco era, Valli's improbable trajectory with his group, the Four Seasons, was propeled by a golden ear for hits, aided by the songwriter/producer power duo Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe.

That's not to say the 89-year-old is resting on his laurels. His astounding career is on full, vibrant display in the immense new box set aptly dubbed Working Our Way Back to You — The Ultimate Collection. Consisting of 45 discs of every song Valli and the Four Seasons ever recorded — from beloved hits to deep-cuts, demos and other rarities — the set also includes a biographical book filled to the brim with rare images that track their rise from a fledgling New Jersey singing group to Broadway sensations in the form of Jersey Boys.

In addition, later this month Vailli is heading to Las Vegas for a residency at Westgate Resort and Casino where he and the Four Seasons will be appearing until well into 2024.

Valli spoke to about his astounding run of hits, the artists he's influenced, the modern covers of his tracks and how his big year started off with a bang during GRAMMY weekend.

You were a surprise performer at the Clive Davis GRAMMY Gala earlier this year and, in a very special moment, everyone in the audience, from Cardi B to Joni Mitchell, jumped up and sang along with you to "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You." What was that moment like for you?

Oh, it was incredible. I never expected it. When Clive first invited me, he said "I want to invite you to my GRAMMY party, but I want you to do a song." I said, "With the generation gap, should I really do a song?" But I was in shock when everybody stood up to sing along. 

It was a really a moment I'll never forget. It's a good thing we have people like Clive who really has an insight on what's happening and where it's going. 

That night, the Italian rock band Måneksin covered your song "Beggin'" which was their breakout hit. The band was just the latest in a long line of artists who have covered Four Seasons music, with "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" done by everyone from Lauryn Hill to Shawn Mendes, to name just two examples. What do you think of all of these artists wanting to cover your work?

It's quite complimentary. When you've been around a long time and people find value in what you've done, it just makes you feel good about what you've done.

In your career, you've also covered so many songs from Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" to Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice (It's Alright)." How did you go about choosing which songs to cover, and how would you put your own spin on these classics to make them your own?

It was really more or less music that we listened to and we loved. We tried to pick songs that were very meaningful for us, but the trick was to be able to do them a little differently than they had been done. 

We were quite successful with it, we did it with songs like "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" We did a version of "Book of Love" and so many others.

Your version of "Don't Think Twice (It's Alright)" is probably one of the most unusual songs in your vast discography considering its subject matter, your exaggerated falsetto, and those background harmonies. How did that come about? I also understand you heard from Bob Dylan himself about it.

We did it in a very campy way, and it really was quite by accident. I was in a studio, and the guy at the soundboard asked me to sing a little bit to get a level on me. So I was clowning around singing in a falsetto like that.

The next thing I know, the button clicks and I hear [Crewe and Gaudio's] voices saying, "Do it like that." I said, "Do what like what?" They said, "Sing it just the way you're singing it." I said, "Come on, you're kidding!" 

We did it and that version of it was a take-off on a singer named Rose Murphy, who had several hits. Many years later, I was shopping at Fred Segal in LA and Bob Dylan came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. We shook hands and he said, "I love the version of 'Don't Think Twice' that you guys did."

Speaking of your singular vocal stylings, I'm wondering how you and the group went about plotting how you'd all harmonize. For example, in a song like "Candy Girl," there's your iconic falsetto, and then suddenly we hear in a very low baritone voice the line "Our love is real!" Is something like that written out? How does it come together in the studio?

It just comes naturally. A lot of credit goes to the fact that we were never chased away from a song because we didn't know what to do with it. We toyed with it until we found what we thought was right for it. There were no direct plans; everything was done from within the group. 

Nick Massi had his job doing a lot of the vocal arrangements, and Gaudio did most of them after Nick had left. We worked together until everybody was satisfied with it. Does it fit? Does it work? It's like a puzzle. You don't want to overdo anything, and you don't want to under-do.

So then let's say in a song like "Walk Like A Man" when the harmonies sing that iconic "Oo-Oooo-Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo-Ooooo." Where does that come from?

It comes from Bob Gaudio, who wrote the song to sound like that. The first three songs we did were more like a chant, and that's what we created to make what everybody knows as our sound. 

We wanted to be very easily identifiable. If you heard something by us on the radio, you knew that it was us. We were constantly looking for new ways and new things while having fun doing it. We weren't following or listening to anybody else on the radio; we weren't a copycat group. 

Billy Joel has gone on to say that a lot of the inspiration he got came from us. "I love you just the way you are" is the last line in "Rag Doll."

He also said that "Uptown Girl" was an homage to you. Musically it sounds like "Big Girls Don't Cry" but lyrically it's the opposite of "Rag Doll." What do you think when you hear a song like that?

First of all, I'm a big Billy Joel fan. There isn't anything he's ever done that I haven't liked. My favorite of everything is "Just The Way You Are." It sounds so honest and lyrically it's so right, it had to be a hit.

What about a song like "Bennie and the Jets"? It's been said that Elton John was directly inspired by you.

I loved it. He's another guy who has done very little wrong musically. He's an amazing writer and performer. 

You and the group have a lot of name songs: "Sherry," "Marlena," "Dawn." Was that conscious effort, or was it just natural?

It was natural. Bob wrote the songs… He and I have been partners now for over 50 years and he never ceases to amaze me. He's so tuned into everything that's going on, it's really amazing.

Is it true that "Sherry" was originally called "Jackie" in honor of Jackie Kennedy?

No, it was originally called "Perry." Before "Sherry," we weren't signed to a label, so this small independent company owned by a millionaire had a daughter named Perry. And that's what he wanted us to call it, but it was written to be "Sherry" and we just felt very strongly about that and kept it.

What did the owner think of that?

We ended up going with a different company. So we never heard much after that.

One of your biggest hits was "December 1963 (Oh What A Night!)." I always wondered if that was a random date, or if you chose it because that period was a unique moment in history: a month after the Kennedy assassination, but two months before the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. 

It was originally a song with lyrics about the '20s, '30s and '40s. The lyrics were "Flippers flopping on the floor." It was a totally different song. When Bob brought it into the studio, he was disappointed we weren't crazy about it and he wanted to junk the song. We said, "No, you can come up with something better than this," and he rewrote it to fit the time. 

Is there one song that you thought should have been bigger than it was?

The funny thing about records during the days when we recorded, and the record business was as big as it was, to become a hit it was important that the record company do the legwork and get radio stations to play it, or try it for two weeks. I thought there was a lot of what we did that was overlooked because the record company wasn't that crazy about it. 

For example, I put the single "We're All Alone" out, and the record company didn't want to work it. I did mine with the London Symphony Orchestra. Later, Rita Coolidge came out with the same song and it went to No. 1. Sometimes things like that happen.

A song like "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" was in the can for two or three years. We had to force the record company to release it and hire independent promotion people to work the record and get it on the radio. 

"My Eyes Adored You" was recorded for Motown Records and that one was in the can for three years because they weren't too sure about it. Finally, when we left Motown, we asked if we can buy back the track, and they agreed for us to purchase it. We did and we brought it to every record company in the business and they all said no. 

Eventually, we found Larry Uttal with a brand new record company, Private Stock Records, and he said, "That'll be my first No. 1 record for my new company." And it was!  

From when you first started recording in the early '50s to when "Sherry" hit No. 1 was a period of nine years. That's a long time. Why did you stick with it? 

It was always music first. If I had no success at all, I'd probably still be doing music somewhere in New Jersey or New York. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and wanted to be. 

At first, I rejected the fact that I might have to do pop music, but as I started to do it and it became successful, I realized it was a music that people could understand. And what are you doing music for? You're doing it for people. Without an audience you wouldn't have anything. 

My love of music started out for the very first time with me seeing Frank Sinatra as a boy when my mom took me to the Paramount Theater in New York City. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and I was so inspired; I made up my mind that that's what I wanted to do. 

Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With

GRAMMY Museum Announces 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' Programming Schedule

Image courtesy of the Recording Academy

GRAMMY Museum Announces 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' Programming Schedule

Presented by Google Pixel, the exhibit opens Oct. 7 celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop through an expansive and interactive exploration of the global impact of the genre and culture.

GRAMMYs/Oct 3, 2023 - 01:37 pm

The GRAMMY Museum announces its Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit initial programming schedule consisting of in-person and virtual events to supplement the exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.

Opening Oct. 7, the 5,000-square foot installation delves deep into the multifaceted world of hip-hop through expansive exhibits on hip-hop music, dance, graffiti, fashion, business, activism, and history, providing visitors with an immersive experience that explores the profound impact and influence of hip-hop culture.

On display will be an incredible array of artifacts including the Notorious B.I.G.'s iconic red leather pea jacket, LL Cool J's red Kangol bucket hat, and more. Newly announced artifacts include Lil Wayne’s GRAMMY for Best Rap Album, The Carter III, Lil Wayne's handwritten letter from prison to his fans and his family, custom Saweetie acrylic nail sets created by her nail artist Temeka Jackson, plus exclusive interviews with MC Lyte, Cordae and other artists about their creative process.

Additionally, a Sonic Playground features five interactive stations that invite visitors of all ages to unleash their creativity through DJing, rapping and sampling and is made possible thanks to a grant from The Kenneth T. & Eileen L. Norris Foundation.

The exhibit is made possible with the generous support of Google Pixel, and several integrations within the space are powered by Google Pixel's innovative capabilities. This includes the Google Pixel Boombox Throne, an interactive photo experience.

The Rap City Experience, part of the Sonic Playground, is a freestyle interactive featuring Darian "Big Tigger" Morgan, host of BET's "Rap City: Tha Basement." Visitors can freestyle over beats by producers Hit-Boy, PERFXN and Schyler O'Neal, and trade bars with hip-hop artists Reason, Nana and Nilla Allin. As part of the museum's ongoing community and education programming, BET and Mass Appeal will screen the first two installments of their upcoming documentary Welcome to Rap City on Oct. 9. More details below.

Additionally, the GRAMMY Museum is partnering with The Debut Live to present their multi-part event series highlighting iconic hip-hop albums and the artists who created them, including DJ Khaled, Joey Bada$$, Rick Ross, T.I., and more. The intimate conversations are hosted by Billboard's Deputy Director of R&B and Hip-Hop, Carl Lamarre, in partnership with the GRAMMY Museum/Recording Academy + Soho House, and will be available to view beginning Oct. 6 exclusively on the GRAMMY Museum's streaming platform COLLECTION:live.

The exhibit launches on Sat, Oct. 7 and will run through Sept. 4, 2024. A special opening event will take place on Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available to purchase here. Additional programming to be announced at a later date. More information listed below.

Sat, Oct. 7:

EVENT: Careers in Music: The Nelson George Mixtape, Volume 2

WHAT: A conversation and book signing with acclaimed author, producer and director, Nelson George, as we discuss his career chronicling the birth of hip-hop in America and his work in the entertainment industry.

WHEN: 1 p.m.

WHERE: Clive Davis Theater

REGISTER: Click here.

Mon, Oct. 9:

EVENT: Careers in Music: "Welcome to Rap City" Screening

WHAT: In partnership with BET and Mass Appeal, the GRAMMY Museum is proud to host a screening of the first two installments of their new documentary "Welcome to Rap City" followed by a panel discussion featuring Rap City hosts and more.

WHEN: 12 p.m.

WHERE: Clive Davis Theater

REGISTER: Click here.

Thurs, Oct. 26:

EVENT: Backstage Pass: "Road to the Latin GRAMMYs" Mellow Man Ace

WHAT: To celebrate the 24th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards, the GRAMMY Museum is thrilled to have Afro-Cuban rapper and Los Angeles native Mellow Man Ace discuss his career and his accomplishments as one of the pioneers of Latin rap, followed by a performance.

WHEN: 11 a.m.

WHERE: Clive Davis Theater

REGISTER: Click here.

Sat, Dec. 2:

EVENT: Love Your Amazing Self

WHAT: An interactive family program featuring hip-hop musician, meditation teacher and author, Ofosu Jones-Quartey, reading from his latest book Love Your Amazing Self followed by a performance. Support for this program was provided through funding from Councilman Curren Price Jr. and the New 9th.

WHEN: 11 a.m.

WHERE: Clive Davis Theater

REGISTER: Click here.

October 2023 - June 2024

WHAT: Hip-Hop Education Workshops

WHAT: In Celebration of the 50 years of hip-hop from its origin to where the genre is today. Highlighting the golden age of hip-hop, these lessons will provide students with a deeper understanding of the struggles and triumphs of the genre.

WHEN: 2023-2024 School Year

WHERE: Clive Davis Theater

REGISTER: Click here.

For more information regarding advanced ticket reservations for the exhibit, please visit

Hip-Hop Just Rang In 50 Years As A Genre. What Will Its Next 50 Years Look Like?

12 Actors Who Have Bands: Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, Zoë Kravitz & More
Dogstar feat. Keanu Reeves

Photo: Brian Bowen Smith


12 Actors Who Have Bands: Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, Zoë Kravitz & More

The stage, screen and soundfield have always been intertwined. Just look at the music made by acclaimed actors from Ryan Gosling to Zoë Kravitz and Keanu Reeves.

GRAMMYs/Oct 2, 2023 - 07:31 pm

Singers in movies? It’s the most natural thing in the world. Elvis Presley did it, time and time again. More than six decades after Love Me Tender, Harry Styles and Jason Isbell have made the move from stage to screen. In between, you have 8 Mile, Crossroads, Crazy Heart… the list rolls on and on.

How about the reverse, though — actors who have bands, as a separate outlet from their work on the silver screen? There’s a rich history there. Ryan Gosling, currently in the spotlight for his witty Barbie performance, has played in the duo Dead Man’s Bones for some 15 years.

Again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Jack Black’s film legacy runs in parallel to Tenacious D, the comedy-rock duo rocking our worlds since 1994. After taking the 2000s and 2010s off, Keanu Reeves’ Dogstar returns with Somewhere Between the Power Lines and the Palm Trees on Oct. 6.

Granted, this list doesn’t include actors who simply play music, like Jeff Bridges and Jeff Goldblum. Nor would it include Fred Armisen, the bandleader for “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” And if an actor was in a band but no longer is, like Jason Schwartzman in Phantom Planet, that would fall outside this metric.

In honor of this cross-media convergence, let’s take a non-chronological, by-no-means-exhaustive trip through the world of actors who have bands.

Keanu Reeves

Since 1991 — the year Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey was released — Reeves has rocked out in Dogstar.

They released their debut album, Our Little Visionary, in 1996; four years later, they rang in the new millennium with Happy Ending. Twenty -three years later, Dogstar released the uplifting single “Everything Turns Around,” with the full album on its way.

Jared Leto

Like fellow rockers Dogstar, Thirty Seconds to Mars — featuring Jared Leto and his brother Shannon Leto — have a new album in 2023: It’s the End of the World but It’s a Beautiful Day.

Though they’ve taken long breaks since their 1998 formation, they never fell out of the industry; since their 2002 self-titled debut, they’ve managed a couple of albums per decade.

Michael Cera

Lighthearted indie rockers  the Long Goodbye have not one, but two Hollywood actors in it — Michael Cera of Juno, Superbad and more, as well as Clark Duke, who you may remember from Hot Tub Time Machine. (He was also in bands Mister Heavenly with Honus Honus of Man Man, Nicholas Thorburn of Islands and the Unicorns, and Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse and the Shins.)

Zooey Deschanel

The rootsy, twee indie poppers She & Him seemed to typify the mid-2000s upon arrival, and maintained that charm as that milieu gave way to others. These days, the duo of M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel is content to cover classic Christmas songs and Brian Wilson.

Zoë Kravitz

The actress, singer and model — who’s recently been in blockbusters like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Batman — sings in the band Lolawolf, along with drummer and producer Jimmy Gianopoulos. (They’ve worked with eight-time GRAMMY winner Jack Antonoff.)

Michael Imperioli

The "Sopranos" star plays in the three-piece New York indie rock band ZOPA; as per Imperioli’s interest in Eastern-inspired transcendence, the band name means “patience” in Tibetan.

Steve Martin

While he may not have a regular band, the Father of the Bride star and banjo picker has made acclaimed work with the Steep Canyon Rangers, including in contexts like the much-missed radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Michael C. Hall

Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum: that’s a mouthful! It’s also the name of “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under” star Michael C. Hall’s band with Blondie’s Matt Katz-Bohen and the Wallflowers’ Pedro Yanowitz.

Penn Badgley

The "Gossip Girl" and "You" star is the lead singer of Mothxr — which also includes the aforementioned Gianopoulos. While they haven’t released an album since their 2016 debut, “We'll all be making music for the rest of our lives,” Badgley has said.

Hugh Laurie

Dr. House himself hasmade blues music for years, and plays in the all-actor group Band From TV for charity. (Among its ranks: Greg Gunberg of “Alias” fame and James Denton from “Desperate Housewives.”)

Johnny Depp

Back in the 1970s, Alice Cooper formed the “Hollywood Vampires” drinking club, which included two Beatles and Harry Nilsson. He picked up the mantle once again with his band of the same name, which features Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Johnny Depp.

Kevin Bacon

The Apollo 13 and Footloose star — as in “six degrees of…” — plays in the Bacon Brothers with his brother Michael; their latest album, The Way We Love, arrived in 2020.

Clearly, the conceit of a music-making screen star remains fresh — whether you’re a Bacon, Laurie or Depp enjoyer, or any other kind of pop culture disciple under the sun.

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