Source Photos (L-R): Kevin Kane/WireImage; Anthony Pham via Getty Images; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
How Superfans Of Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish & More Are Changing Artist Merchandising With Consumable Fan Art
Fan-made merchandise for artists like Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish has become a popular trend on TikTok. Will it become the future of artist merch?
In March, Emily Kelley posted a video on TikTok unveiling her then-newest creation: an illustration of the 10-minute version of Taylor Swift's fan favorite, "All Too Well." Featuring silhouettes dancing in the moonlight and a scarf hanging out of a drawer — two of the song's more vivid lyrics that strike a chord with Swifties — her artwork immediately resonated with fans.
"That final detail of the silhouettes dancing really hit home for a specific memory of mine," one commented on the video. Another comment signified the piece's impact: "Why are there tears in my eyes watching this?"
Kelley, a graphic designer, is one of the many artists using TikTok as a platform to promote their work. With pieces ranging from customized clothing to lyric-inspired prints and jewelry collections, these creators take inspiration from artists like Swift, Harry Styles, Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish when designing their collections. Their art is taking TikTok from a platform of viral dance crazes to fan-driven artist merchandise stores — and creating a unique connection with fellow superfans along the way.
"Fans know what [other] fans want," Kelley suggests. "I'm listening to every single song, watching every interview, and picking apart every social media post from my favorite artists. I think that reflects in the products I create. Official artist merch typically tends to be a bit pricier and mass produced … it loses that intimacy."
Kelley's artwork stems from her own love of Swift. She created a poster based on her listening experience of 2020's folklore, and upon posting it to TikTok, the piece garnered almost 20,000 likes. Soon, fans were making requests for their own Swift-based artwork, and thus "The T.S. Project" was born. In the nearly two years since, Kelley has created a piece for nearly every song Swift has released.
In one of her "T.S. Project" videos, Kelley alluded to the project's appeal — for both her and fans: "I just love this idea of seeing a piece of art that reminds you of your favorite songs and being able to hang that on your wall."
Sam Buckley had that same thought when she realized her synesthesia — which means she sees color when she listens to music — could emote a special feeling for other fans. She has made a business out of her synesthetic artwork, as her TikTok feed is a variety of videos for requested songs, including Styles' "As It Was" and Eilish's "when the party's over."
Eilish is one of Buckley's biggest inspirations, particularly because the singer (as well as her brother and main musical partner, FINNEAS) also has synesthesia. "[Billie] and Finneas' work is really special aesthetically — I feel a lot of colors in their work and a deep emotion," Buckley says. "It's really easy for me to create with Billie's work. And once I post one BIllie song, I have requests for 10 more songs after that."
Along with connecting with fellow Eilish fans, Buckley's work has allowed her to connect with those who also have synesthesia.
"I just burst into tears because this is exactly how I have always seen the song as well," one commenter said. Another added, "I just want to say thank you. I thought I was alone in this and did not want to tell anyone. Now I feel like I have a superpower."
For those who may not see the colors Buckley sees, it's simply a way to see their favorite music and songs come to life. A request for the Band Camino's "Daphne Blue" echoed Kelley's sentiment about why these fan-made, superfan-driven pieces are special: "They make me so happy and I would love something to look at."
The Band Camino recently offered a full-circle moment for Kelley, who felt her impact at one of the pop-rock group's shows. "I grew my following because of Taylor Swift, but I was at a Band Camino concert, and a few people came up to me to say they loved my work — and, because I had frequently talked about [them], they started listening to them and decided to go to the show that night," she recalls. "More than anything, TikTok has given me a really tight community to be a part of."
Tik Tok's algorithm is perfect for superfans of any musician. Once you like a Harry Styles-related post, chances are, you'll stumble upon several more the next time you open the app. Naturally, you'll probably land on one of these artists' creations. And in Kelley's eyes, super-passionate fans will likely want to buy unique artist merchandise — or at least give them a follow or like. "You don't have to have a big following to successfully promote what you're making," she adds.
"Fandom love and community is so very strong on TikTok — doing #TaylorTikTok or #TaylorTok, #DriversLicenseTok, the power behind a hashtag is insane," says Sara Cohen are a cross between a popular fashion trend and a new concept in fandom merchandising. In fact, Cohenwas inspired to open her own store after seeing the accessory's growing popularity on Tik Tok.
Kicking off her shop with "Mamma Mia"-inspired sets in June 2020, Cohen launches a new collection every other month based on what is resonating in pop culture at the moment. So far, she has made collections for Swift, Styles and Rodrigo, even branching out to beloved franchises like Marvel and Disney.
Staying on top of what's popular is a major reason all three women are seeing success with their own creations. Most recently, Styles'highly anticipated release of Harry's House prompted Kelley to begin curating a full collection of prints based on the album's track list; Buckley has already had a hoard of requests for its songs as well.
Kelley stays on top of official artist merchandise, too. She has a playlist of videos on her TikTok page dedicated to merch reviews, in which she analyzes the pieces from the perspective of both a graphic designer and a devoted fan. "These designs just feel like a cop out," she noted in a review of Rodrigo's Driving Home 2 U collection; "this is how you make a tracklist shirt," she said, complimenting a top for Julien Baker'sLittle Oblivions album.
As Kelley highlights in several of her reviews, artist merchandise can be costly — like the $120 jacket in Rodrigo’s Driving Home 2 U collection and the $50 pool float in one of Swift’s recent merch drops. Fan-made merchandise is often less expensive while still feeding an increasing demand for cool products. Kelley has a Swift-inspired hoodie for $30, a sweatshirt in Swift’s recent collection is $65; she has a Band Camino T-shirt for $16, half the price of the tees on their merch site.
These creators have their finger on the pulse of personalized, unique merchandise that perhaps some artists aren't considering — at least not yet. Buckley, Kelley and Cohen all agree that fan-created goods could be the future of artist merchandising and marketing.
"Before I started creating fan-made merch, I truly had no idea that there would be such a big market for it," Kelley says. Cohen adds, "It's giving so many creators a space to find their individuality in such a saturated market … As shows and fandoms continue to grow, so will the small businesses creating inspired merch."
With how rapidly this unique creator community is growing on TikTok, it may be only a matter of time before the musicians that inspire these artists become the ones who are inspired.
From "Sounds" To Millions Of Streams: How TikTok Became A Major Player In The Musical Ecosystem
Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management
Taylor Swift's Eras Tour Has Officially Begun: Here's What Swifties Have To Say About It
From a colossal three-hour setlist to more than a dozen costume changes, Taylor Swift's Eras Tour is nothing short of sensational. Here's how Swifties are reacting on social media to the GRAMMY winner's massive stadium trek.
It's not every day that a city renames itself after you, but Taylor Swift added this unique honor to her ever-growing list of accolades on March 17, 2023.
The date marks the first leg of Swift's monumental Eras Tour, which kicked off in Glendale, Arizona — or, rather, "Swift City," temporarily renamed in tribute to the 12-time GRAMMY winner's highly-anticipated tour.
The versatile singer/songwriter kicked off her tour playing to more than 69,000 people at State Farm Stadium, breaking the 36-year-old record for the most-attended U.S. concert by a female performer. The record was previously held by Madonna's 1987 performance at Los Angeles' Anaheim Stadium on her MDNA tour.
The tour is the latest example of how Swift continues to one-up herself. After her tenth studio album Midnights smashed records, the Eras Tour emerged as one of the buzziest tours of 2023 (and even sparked a Senate hearing about Ticketmaster). Spanning 52 legs and 22 cities, the tour takes viewers on an odyssey through Swift's vast discography, divided into 10 sections for her 10 studio albums.
Now that the Eras Tour has launched, Swifties who have seen the epic show — and even those who haven't yet — are losing their minds over every detail. Sharing their creative outfits, takes on the setlist, and live reactions to the show's astonishing spectacles, the online Swiftie community is storming social media once again.
“You guys. This is a whole, entire experience,” one fan wrote on Twitter. “This isn't just a concert. This is a FULL experience. I'm not even there and I can tell already. She did this, for ALL her fans. This is incredible.
In honor of Swift's monumental tour launching last week, here are how some Swifties reacted to a few of the biggest moments from the Eras Tour's opening night.
Yes, The Setlist Is Longer Than 'Avengers: Endgame'
Think watching Lord of the Rings or taking the SAT… that's approximately the length of the Eras Tour. Considering Swift's discography, it's no surprise that the setlist is extensive, but fans were still impressed (and shocked) by the whopping three-hour show.
Her massive stadium tour for reputation was just over two hours, and four albums later (or six, if you include Taylor's Version re-releases), Swift needed an extra hour to pack in just a few more of her hits.
nothing but admiration for taylor because Wow this set list is unbelievably LONG— marina ✿ (@bubblewrapboys) March 18, 2023
honestly taylor is insane for such a long and perfect setlist— olka⁷ 🪞 (@komhvmin) March 18, 2023
someone explain how Taylor’s set list is 44 songs long, like how????— neve (@neve41379523) March 18, 2023
"Cruel Summer" Gets Justice As The (Almost) Tour Opener
All Swifties know that "Cruel Summer" should have been a single from Lover, and the popular deep cut is finally getting its deserved attention as the second song in Swift's setlist, after fellow Lover track "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince." Here are some fans reacting to the fever dream high in the quiet of night.
TAYLOR SWIFT PERFORMING CRUEL SUMMER OH MY GOD #GlendaleTSTheErasTour https://t.co/OZ2mLWLrNX— squid || fan account 💙 (@greedymotivez) March 18, 2023
me being airlifted out of the stadium after experiencing cruel summer at the eras tour— Daniel (@Daniel_Tigerr) March 13, 2023
CRUEL SUMMER BRIDGE OH MY GOD TAYLOR.. HER VOCALS #GlendaleTSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/bXqQE9AqfX— squid || fan account 💙 (@greedymotivez) March 18, 2023
shout out to my bf for filming me ascend to heaven during the cruel summer bridge without me even asking pic.twitter.com/V8bXRSDt4g— Jemima Skelley (@jemimaskelley) March 18, 2023
I JUST REALIZED THAT IT WAS THE FIRST TIME SHE PERFORMED CRUEL SUMMER LIVE IM SHAKING https://t.co/DYIHDC1fnc— c 💌 (@celestialswiftt) March 18, 2023
Even Kelsea Ballerini, who was 2,000 miles away on a stage of her own, paused her own performance to ask her audience if "Cruel Summer" had made the setlist.
💬 | Kelsea Ballerini stops her set at a concert in Detroit to ask about #TSTheErasTour:— Taylor Swift Museum (@theswiftmuseum) March 18, 2023
“I just have one question. I’m gonna stop after this but I just have one question," she said. "Has she ... is 'Cruel Summer' on the setlist?” pic.twitter.com/ku2EjR5jjR
Swift Assures Fans She Does Indeed Love evermore
Since evermore's late 2020 release, fans have long advocated for Swift to show some extra love to her ninth album. While Swift celebrated the anniversary of its sister album folklore and released the live Folklore: Long Pond Studio Sessions, evermore was alternatively posted on the singer's socials the least, prompting fans to jokingly theorize that she doesn't know evermore exists.
Yet, at the Eras Tour, Swift reassured crowd goers that evermore does in fact hold a special place in her heart. To fans' delight, Swift performed "'tis the damn season," "willow," "marjorie," "champagne problems" and "'tolerate it," amping up the album's soft whimsy into a stadium-level spectacle.
“I’m here to dispel the rumors and prove wrong the allegations that I hate evermore… I don’t even wish people on social media a happy birthday.” SHE’S SO HAPPY AND NATURAL SPEAKING TO US AND MAKING JOKES ABOUT THIS 😭 #TSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/GW749ZFkYR— Taylor Swift Updates (@SwiftNYC) March 19, 2023
EVERMORE?????? TAYLOR KNOW THAT EVERMORE EXISTS GUYS OMG WTF pic.twitter.com/acNZCOBGVA— Taylor Throwbacks | fan page (@ThrowbackTaylor) March 18, 2023
taylor swift performing tis the damn season is the pinnacle of evermore rights— miguel I arlington 4/1 (@cowboyinwoods13) March 18, 2023
taylor put tolerate it on the setlist pic.twitter.com/VfRqFvGLCw— caro 🧸 (@stylesgala) March 18, 2023
SHE DIDN'T FORGET ABOUT EVERMORE #TSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/XOt5cOu1Iy— ًm (@jchnnyshan) March 18, 2023
But… Where's The Love For Speak Now And Self-Titled Debut?
It's impossible to please every Swiftie, but some fans spoke up about the Speak Now and Taylor Swift erasure on Swift's 44-song setlist. "Enchanted" was the only song from either album that made it to the setlist, though it's likely Swift will perform more Speak Now songs as her interchangeable "surprise" songs of each show.
it all makes sense now pic.twitter.com/jBsu4lzXTz— snowglobe allie leading the midnights rug campaign (@reckedmaserati) March 19, 2023
@clairenotdanes listen, im SO HAPPY about the setlist but also why speak now erasure 😭 #taylorswift #speaknow #erastour #setlist #swiftie #swifttok #longlive #haunted #taylorsversion #SeeHerGreatness ♬ You're On Your Own, Kid - Taylor Swift
She sang one speak now song …….. pic.twitter.com/ZmrVsxmMKe— shan (@wildIyenchanted) March 18, 2023
the biggest eras tour easter egg we all missed pic.twitter.com/rXctAQ2iVW— lina🧚♀️ (5/21 eras tour!!) (@tswizzlecat) March 18, 2023
6 songs from lover and 5 songs from evermore but only 1 song from speak now pic.twitter.com/LYob2Azk2V— 𝒍𝒊𝒂𝒎🌙 (@NotFancy_) March 18, 2023
From "Gorgeous" To Comical: Eras Tour Fashion Stuns
Whether it's a dazzling iridescent custom Versace for Lover or a golden flapper fringe dress for Fearless, Swift's tour fashion never fails to disappoint — and neither does fans'.
While Swift pulled off more than a dozen costume changes on stage, her fans dressed up in outfits inspired by her eras, iconic lyrics, fanbase inside jokes, and more. See some of the top dressing-for-revenge looks below.
taylor went from “not a lot going on at the moment” to “a lot going on at the moment” in 10 years #GlendaleTSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/xCP9HjKSx1— Ron || ERAS TOUR (@midnightstrack2) March 18, 2023
the midnight rain costume change is so good stfuuu 😭#GlendaleTSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/oLaSmEZ8DZ— 𝙠𝙖𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙖 (taylor’s version) 🦋 (@swiftiestanwbu) March 18, 2023
taylor’s reputation costume was the best part of the show last night like i am obsessed pic.twitter.com/Pj1xnxWVBx— becky 🥐 (@benditlikebecky) March 19, 2023
SOMEONE DID IT YOU GUYS pic.twitter.com/JVDiMMevOQ— lea | eras spoilers🍓SEEING GRACIE (@cowboylikehale) March 19, 2023
they’re having a camp off pic.twitter.com/OxWsZ4nYE6— 𝗮𝗻𝗱𝘆 💫 eras tour TX 4/1 & 4/22 (@xThisIsAndyG) March 20, 2023
We’re dressed up as TVs, a play on Taylor’s Version. 😂— KelseyLioness (@kelseyLioness) March 20, 2023
It was a hit and people took pics with us and all. 😊 @taylornation13 #erastouroutfit #erastour #erastourglendale pic.twitter.com/gwhsOdXEys
I went with a guy and we dressed up as Taylor in her getaway car outfit backstage hugging Joe. A couple girls picked up on it at our show & it was fun. pic.twitter.com/9sxqM2qPJb— Melissa - Eras Tour Vegas 3/24 3/25 (@MelissaEnchant) March 20, 2023
@briannaxrenee SEE U AT NIGHT 2 🏻💕✨ first time at a Taylor concert so excited! #taylorswift #erastour #erastouroutfits #swiftcity #taylornation #glendaletstheerastour #swifttok ♬ ERAS TOUR OUTFIT TRANSITION - paige!
Lucky Fans Caught The Jaw-Dropping, Fearless Dive On Camera
One of the most surprising moments of Eras Tour was most definitely Swift's shocking dive off stage. Stirring a collective gasp from the crowd, the moment served as a transition from her debut era to Midnights.
Between a three-hour show and a flawless swan dive, the Eras Tour begs one question: Is there anything Taylor Swift can't do?
Idk how I caught this @taylorswift13 #GlendaleTSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/y8FqEwMcWH— Daniel McGreevy (@DanielJMcGreevy) March 18, 2023
📲 UPDATE | Taylor has won the gold medal in the high dive!— kaitlyn 69 (@fearlesskait) March 18, 2023
The dive was the craziest thing ive ever seen I was so caught off guard LMAO— 𝒓𝒚𝒍𝒆𝒆 is seeing taylor!!!! (@ucanbemyjailer) March 18, 2023
Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
10 College Courses Dedicated To Pop Stars And Music: Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny & Hip-Hop
In honor of Music in Our Schools Month, check out nine college-level music courses that dissect punk and EDM, global hip-hop culture and the discographies and careers of superstar acts like the Beatles and Harry Styles.
There’s never been a better time to be a music-loving college student.
Beginning in the mid to late aughts, an increasing number of academic institutions have begun offering courses dedicated to major music acts. In the late aughts, rap maverick Jay-Z made headlines after becoming the subject of a Georgetown University course taught by Michael Eric Dyson, a sociologist and best-selling author of Jay-Z: Made in America. In the Sociology of Hip Hop: Jay-Z, students analyzed Hova's life, socio-cultural significance and body of work.
It's easy to see why students would be attracted to these courses — which fill up quickly and are often one-time-only offerings. The intertwining of celebrity and sociology present such fertile grounds to explore, and often make for buzzy social media posts that can be a boon to enrollment numbers. For instance, Beyhivers attending the University of Texas at San Antonio were offered the opportunity to study the Black feminism foundations of Beyoncé's Lemonade in 2016. Meanwhile, Rutgers offered a course dedicated to dissecting the spiritual themes and imagery in Bruce Springsteen's catalog.
Luckily for students clamoring to get a seat in these highly sought-after courses, institutions across the country are constantly launching new seminars and classes about famous pop stars and beloved musical genres. From Bad Bunny to Harry Styles, the following list of popular music courses features a little something for every college-going music fan.
Bad Bunny's Impact On Media
From his chart-topping hits to his advocacy work, Bad Bunny has made waves on and off stage since rising to fame in 2016. Now graduate students at San Diego State University can explore the global superstar's cultural impact in an upcoming 2023 course.
"He speaks out about Puerto Rico; he speaks out about the Uvalde shooting victims and uses his platform to raise money and help them," said Dr. Nate Rodriguez, SDSU Associate Professor of Digital Media Studies. "How does he speak out against transphobia? Support the LGBTQ community? How does all of that happen? So yes, it’s very much relevant to journalism and media studies and cultural studies. It’s all of that mixed into one."
A Deep Dive Into Taylor Swift's Lyrics
Analyzing Taylor Swift's lyrics is a favorite pastime among Swifties, so it's fitting that her work and its feminist themes have been the focus of a string of university courses over the years.
In spring 2022, the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University launched an offering focused on the "Anti-Hero" singer's evolution as an entrepreneur, race and female adolescence. The waitlisted course — the first-ever for the institution — drew loads of media attention and Swift received an honorary degree from NYU in 2022.
In spring 2023, honors students at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas can analyze the 12-time GRAMMY winner's music and career in a seminar titled Culture and Society- Taylor Swift.
Kendrick Lamar's Storytelling & The Power Of Hip-Hop
Since dropping good kid, m.A.A.d. City in 2012, Kendrick Lamar has inspired a slew of academics to develop classes and seminars around his lyrical content and storytelling, including an English class that juxtaposed his work with that of James Baldwin and James Joyce.
More recently, Concordia University announced that the 16-time GRAMMY winner will be the focus of The Power of Hip Hop, It’s Bigger Than Us, a course examining the lyrical themes of Lamar’s works, such as loyalty, fatherhood, class and racial injustice.
"No artist speaks to this ethos louder and more intricately than King Kunta, the prince of Compton, Kendrick Lamar, 10 years after good kid, m.A.A.d. City dropped," said Yassin "Narcy" Alsalman, the Montreal hip-hop artist and Concordia Professor who developed the class which launches in winter 2023. “He showed us it was okay to work on yourself in front of the world and find yourself internally, that family always comes first, that community and collective missions are central to growth and that sometimes, you have to break free."
EDM Production, Techniques, and Applications
If you dream of hearing your own EDM tracks played at a massive music festival à la Marshmello, Steve Aoki and Skrillex, this all-in-one course at Boston's Berklee College of Music has you covered. Learn about the cultural origins of the various EDM styles — like techno, trance, drum and bass and more — and the techniques that artists use to achieve these sounds.
In between thought-provoking cultural seminars, students will receive lessons on how to operate the technologies necessary to create their own EDM masterpieces, including synths, digital audio workstations (DAW) and samplers.
Harry Styles And The Cult Of Celebrity
While many celebrity-focused courses center around sociology, the Harry’s House singer/songwriter has inspired his own digital history course at Texas State University in San Marcos: Harry Styles and the Cult of Celebrity: Identity, the Internet and European Pop Culture.
Developed by Dr. Louie Dean Valencia during lockdown, the class will cover Styles’ music along with topics like gender, sexual identity and class — but the singer-songwriter’s personal life is off limits. Stylers who are lucky enough to grab a spot in this first-ever university course dedicated to their fave can expect to revisit One Direction’s catalog for homework.
"I’ve always wanted to teach a history class that is both fun, but also covers a period that students have lived through and relate to," Dr. Valencia wrote in a Twitter post. "By studying the art, activism, consumerism and fandom around Harry Styles, I think we’ll be able to get to some very relevant contemporary issues. I think it’s so important for young people to see what is important to them reflected in their curriculum."
Global Hip Hop Culture(s): Hip Hop, Race, and Social Justice from South Central to South Africa
Since its inception, hip-hop has left a lasting mark on the world, influencing language, fashion, storytelling and beyond. At the University of California Los Angeles, students can learn about how the art form has shaped young minds as they analyze the various hip-hop scenes worldwide.
As part of a mission to establish the university as a leading center for hip-hop studies, UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies launched a hip-hop initiative featuring an artist-in-residence program, digital archives, and a series of postdoctoral fellowships. Chuck D, the founder of the barrier-breaking hip-hop group Public Enemy, was selected as the first artist-in-residence.
"As we celebrate 50 years of hip-hop music and cultural history, the rigorous study of the culture offers us a wealth of intellectual insight into the massive social and political impact of Black music, Black history and Black people on global culture — from language, dance, visual art and fashion to electoral politics, political activism and more," said associate director H. Samy Alim, who is leading the initiative.
The Music Of The Beatles
With their catchy two-minute pop hits, artsy record covers, headline-making fashions and groundbreaking use of studio tech, the Fab Five are among the most influential acts in music history. It’s no surprise, then, that they are the subjects of courses in a number of colleges and universities.
Boston’s Berklee College of Music offers The Music of Beatles, which digs into the group’s body of work as well as the music they penned for other acts. Alternatively, if you’re more interested in their post-breakup works, The Solo Careers of the Beatles dives into those efforts. Meanwhile, the University of Southern California takes a look at their music, careers and impact in The Beatles: Their Music and Their Times.
Symbolic Sisters: Amy Winehouse and Erykah Badu
Whether you want to learn about craft, management, building a career, or marketing your work, the Clive Davis Institute at NYU offers an impressive curriculum for musicians and artists. With seminars focusing on the works of Prince, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and J. Dilla, a unique duo stands out: Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse.
Framing the pair as "symbolic sisters," this two-credit seminar explores and compares how each songstress fused different genres and styles to forge a magnetic sound of their own. Winehouse rose to prominence for her retro spin on the sounds of Motown and Phil Spector and rebellious styling. A decade before "Back to Black" singer hit the mainstream, Badu — who is recognized as one of Winehouse's influences — rose to stardom thanks to her seamless blend of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop and captivating urban-bohemian style, creating a template for singers like SZA and Ari Lennox.
Selena: Music, Media and the Mexican American Experience
From ascending to the top of the male-dominated Tejano genre to helping introduce Latin music to the mainstream, Selena Quintanilla's impact continues to be felt decades after her untimely death. Artists including Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Victoria "La Mala" Ortiz, Becky G and Beyoncé cite the GRAMMY-winning "Queen of Tejano" as an influence.
Throughout the years, her legacy and cultural impact have been the focus of dozens of college courses. In 2023, Duke University continues this tradition with Selena: Music, Media and the Mexican American Experience. The course will explore the life, career and cultural impact of the beloved Tejano singer.
The Art of Punk: Sound, Aesthetics and Performance
Since emerging in the 1970s, punk rock has been viewed as a divisive, politically charged music genre. Its unique visual style — which can include leather jackets, tattoos, chunky boots and colorful hair — was absorbed into the mainstream in the '90s, where it continues to thrive (to the chagrin of hardcore punks everywhere). Over the decades, dozens of subgenres have cropped up and taken the spotlight — including riot grrrl and pop-punk — but very few have left the impact of the classic punk sound from the '70s and its anti-establishment themes.
If you're interested in learning more about the genre that inspired bands like Nirvana, check out Stanford University's The Art of Punk seminar, which explores the genre's visual and sonic origins, as well as its evolution and connections to race, class, and gender.
Meet Me @ The Altar Reveal The 4 "Badass" Female Artists Who Inspired Their Debut Album, 'Past // Present // Future'
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Meet Tobias Jesso Jr., The First-Ever GRAMMY Winner For Songwriter Of The Year
"I felt the weight of what it meant," the man behind the curtain of massive songs by Adele, Harry Styles, Marcus Mumford and more says about his win in the brand-new GRAMMY category.
Tobias Jesso Jr. wanted to know how to write a hit song, so he read How to Write a Hit Song. Not that he needed to figure out how to break into the mainstream: he had already written a tune with Sia and Adele that cracked the Billboard Hot 100. But in an effort to take his young career seriously — that of writing behind the curtain for the stars — he cracked open the book at a café.
Just then, a voice: "What the hell are you doing?" He glanced up. It was Sia.
"She was like, 'Why are you reading that?' and I was like, 'I honestly don't know,'" Jesso remembers with a laugh. "I think I just put the book away from that point on and was like, OK, I don't need the books. And I just felt like there's been a different one of those lessons at every step of the way where I'm just like, Man, I think this is what I got to do, and then I just figure it out."
Since that exchange, Jesso has written with a litany of contemporary stars: John Legend, Shawn Mendes, Pink, Haim, Harry Styles — the list goes on. (As per the latter, he co-wrote "Boyfriends" on Harry's House, which was crowned Album Of The Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs.)
And at said ceremony, he received a historic honor — the first-ever golden gramophone for Songwriter Of The Year. As Evan Bogart, Chair of the Songwriters & Composers Wing, recently toldput it to GRAMMY.com: "We're looking for which songwriters have demonstrated, first and foremost, that they're considered a songwriter first by the music community. We want to recognize the professional, hardworking songwriters who do this for a living."
Read More: Why The New Songwriter Of The Year GRAMMY Category Matters For The Music Industry And Creator Community
Clearly, Jesso fits the mold, and possesses technical chops worthy of How to Write a Hit Song. But his realization — that he can literally throw out the rulebook — speaks volumes as to his flexible, collaborator-first and fun-first process.
"I get into a room and I really want to enjoy the people, and the songs will come if we're all just being honest," he tells GRAMMY.com. "If you take a few days or weeks to get to know somebody, all of a sudden, your songs are deeper."
And while working his interpersonal and collaborative magic, he keeps his ears and imagination open — a momentary trifle can become the heart of a song. It happened with Cautious Clay's "Whoa," which came from messing with some, well, whoas.
"It was a little silly at first," says Jesso,the songwriter whose first output was "inappropriate" high-school joke songs. "But now it wasn't silly anymore."
GRAMMY.com sat down with Jesso about his creative beginnings, the experience of working alongside pop titans, and how his inaugural GRAMMY win for Songwriter Of The Year happened during the happiest, most creatively fruitful period of his burgeoning career.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
How did it feel to take home the golden gramophone — the first ever in this category?
It felt tremendous. It felt amazing. It's such an honor to have received it, and I felt the weight of what it meant. I get really stage frightened, and so I kept telling myself there's no way I was going to win, just so I wouldn't be nervous or anything like that.
But weirdly, when I did win, I was very not nervous. I don't know how to put it, but it was the opposite of what I thought I would feel. I don't know if I've never been awarded something so prestigious. My elementary school did a piece on me after I won the GRAMMY, and it was sort of largely a "We didn't see any talent at all" kind of thing.
So, I'd say "tremendous" would be probably the one word I would feel most aptly describes it. I'm just really, really proud of the category and its creation, and super lucky to have been a part of it at all. Especially in the year that it comes out. I was baffled that I was nominated.
I had already felt like that rush of whoa, this amazing thing happened when I was nominated. And then winning was the next level of completely beyond what I could have ever expected.
How does the win help chart the next stage of your career?
As a songwriter, your job is to serve the artist. Your job is to serve the artist — the person who the song's for. And I think because of that, most songwriters have a very serve mentality, which generally doesn't work out well on the business side of things for you.
I think if you took all the producers in the world and took all the songwriters in the world and tried to look at which ones are more business savvy, I'd say nine times out of 10, it's probably the producers.
I think a lot of people — artists or songwriters among them — have imposter syndrome, feeling like they don't really know whether they belong there or they're just lucky or they have what it takes for the next one, even. If they know they had a good run or whatever, they're always going back to the well and praying that there's something in there.
And I think this GRAMMY is almost like having a symbol of a really good run — a really good, fertile time of creativity or something. TI think the way I see it is sort of a symbol of this period of time where I had a lot of ideas, and worked really hard, and managed to somehow win this thing, which is, for me, is huge. It means a lot.
For the songwriting community to have the award to look forward to, to have this symbol of Hey, you can be creative as a songwriter and just be a songwriter who doesn't sing and doesn't produce, and [the fact] you can get this prestigious symbol of your gifts that the world will now recognize — I think that's a wonderful thing for songwriters to have.
Take me back to the beginning of your career writing songs, either for yourself or others. The first time you really embraced this magical act of creation.
I was such a lazy songwriter for so many years because I always loved writing songs, writing songs with my friends in high school and stuff like that. But I never really wanted to play an instrument, and I never really wanted to sing them myself.
I think probably back in high school, in 1998 or '99, it was because they were joke songs. So I probably didn't want to sing them because they were inappropriate or something. I always wanted to. The beginning for me was definitely a sort of moment of hearing Tracy Chapman when I was like, Oh, this is what I'm going to do. Not be Tracy Chapman, but write songs.
From there I was really lazy and I just tried to do as little as possible, but I had this sort of confidence that I was somehow good at it. So, I would sometimes have my friends who played guitar or my friends who played piano, or whoever was around, do the music part for me, and I could just kind of pipe in and direct where I felt like my skillset was.
I started writing on piano for the first time when I was 27. That was a big moment for me where I was. I feel like I finally figured it out. It took me a long time: I still don't know how to play the piano, but I know I'm going to figure this out now.
I made a lot of mistakes along the way with bands and with albums or whatever. Things that just didn't exactly go the way [I planned them]; my gut was eventually telling me it just wasn't right. And then, when I started playing piano, it just finally all felt right, and I didn't think too much about it. I just sort of started doing it.
During that time, I unfortunately had to sing to get my album out, which was sort of a means to an end. But as soon as I was able to, I ducked away from that and started writing. Then I just had a new job. I was like I got promoted or something.
As you honed your ability and developed your craft, how did you follow that chain of connections to be able to write for who you've written for?
It's funny because Adele was the first person I worked with — [but] not in a professional way where managers and stuff like that are involved, and it's not just a friend of mine from high school or something. She was sort of my blueprint for how those things went.
I couldn't have gotten any luckier than with Adele, because her blueprint for how to do a writing session is the most pure in the game. There's nothing to hide behind. There's no producer in the room. She came to my friend's grandparents' where there are no mics; there's no studio equipment at all. There's a piano. And she just goes, "Great, let's write a song."
I don't know that that even exists much anymore. There's not even a microphone to capture what's going on, let alone one of the biggest players in the entire world doing it — just showing up, being like, "Let's write a song." And there's nothing to record her. I thought that was really cool. I'm like, "That's how I write songs. I just sit in front of a piano and just do what I think I like." And she was like, "And me too."
So, that's how we got along real great off the bat. And then from there, I would say it was just the most epic amount of failures and trial and error to figure out what the hell I was doing in every different session. I mean, I was treading water at times, and I felt like I was smoking crack sometimes, because I was so creative in a certain scenario I didn't expect to be creative in or something like that.
I think it's just this kind of learning process. There are a lot of people who are typically geared towards one style of writing. You're the country guy or you're the pop guy, or you're the ballad guy. And I could see that I was getting typecast. I was starting to get typecast, especially early on in my career because ballads, that's just the tempo that's naturally within me. It's sort of my soul tempo to just slow things down. I can write much easier in that tempo. I'll always sort of naturally progress there.
But I wanted to push the limits of that, and I wanted to figure out a way to get out of that typecast. And so I tried as quickly as I could to pick people who would be like, "Please don't play a ballad."
And when I started doing that, it was, again, trial and error. I think Niall [Horan of One Direction] was the first person I worked with who was in the pop world, and he was very much an acoustic singer. So I think that I was going into that session thinking I wanted to do upbeat pop. So I don't know — you get in the door and then you just try to acclimate yourself to the environment and help out as much as you can.
I think that's the best way to put it, because you never know what you're going to be doing. You never know what the artist is going to want from you or not want from you. A lot of the job is just figuring all that stuff out and then trying to just have fun while you're doing it. I think it's just that good energy, good attitude, and good people tend to sort of gravitate together.
How would you characterize the state of your artistic journey at this point?
I would say it feels the richest, in the sense that I'm the happiest I've been working.
I've found my rhythm — my perfect work-life balance kind of thing — so I can spend time with my son. And I think because of all of the time I've spent writing songs and how many songs come out, which is not a lot compared to how much you spend writing, you kind of learn that the relationships you make in the room are really the things that you really take out of it. It can be a lot more than, "I'm just a songwriter here to serve this artist" or whatever.
Lately, probably because of all the time I've spent doing it, I get into a room and I really want to enjoy the people. And the songs will come if we're all just being honest. We all know why we're here. We don't need that pressure in the room, and we don't need the A&R sitting in the room. We can get a song, but let's just be honest and really enjoy each other's company for a while.
And I think once that starts happening, it's way, way more fruitful in the long run. Because if you take a few days or weeks to get to know somebody, all of a sudden, your songs are deeper.
As a songwriter, your job is to point out metaphors or parallels — and things that could spark some interest in an artist's mind. And the better you get to know somebody, the more amazing the writing process can be.
That's been happening a lot in my recent sessions with Dua [Lipa] and Harry, another just amazing person. He is a great guy, but we haven't done that much writing together, but we know each other mostly through Kid Harpoon — Tom [Hull], who's the best.
I'm getting to know the people, and that's the most important part for me — I'm working with the people I want to work with. That's my journey now. I'll always work with new people, but I don't need to work with people I don't really vibe with or listen to. That's not really my interest anymore, especially if I'm in it for the right reasons. I'd say it's just more intentional, and I'm being more honest.
When you walk into a room to write with somebody, what are the first steps, or operating principles?
My operating principle is: Do I want to get to know this person, and do they want to get to know me at all, or do they just want to write a song and not want to open up?
If it's somebody who seems very open to talk, that's usually a good sign. And if not, then you just do what they want. You start writing a song and that's fine too. Sometimes there's great, catchy stuff. It's not always the deepest stuff.
Maybe they're the ones writing the lyrics, so maybe it is. But my operating principle is kind of, if I'm having a good time and everyone's having a good time, we're doing something good. We're not writing a bad song. We're just not. If we were writing a bad song in this room of professionals, we wouldn't be having a good time.
And when you're having a good time, good ideas do come. Even if they are silly at first and they're more openly accepted, and everything in the room is flowing better when those channels of enjoyment are sort of open, and everyone's laughing and having fun and dancing and being silly, that's how you get creative.
I don't know of many songwriters who are just dead serious. I've maybe met a couple. So I think my operating principle is to have a good time. That's going to be the funnest day, no matter what. It's probably going to be a better song for it if you're having fun and you like the people and they like you, and everything's going well.
Why is it crucial that the Recording Academy honor not only public-facing creators, but those behind the curtain?
I won't speak for myself as much as just the amazing people who I've worked with. You can't understand what kind of work has to go into a song. It's so funny, because it's a three-minute thing that sounds like most people can do it in an hour or something, but some of these things take months of work to get right.
I think it's really important to acknowledge everyone involved in each of the processes, because to give credit to just producers and artists, and then it's like, "Yeah, but the storytellers aren't even in the room," is like the congratulating a director and an actor, and then being like, the writer is s—. It's like, what? The movie wouldn't exist without them!
That just wouldn't happen. So, it feels like the right thing. I'm a bit overwhelmed and still a bit in disbelief, but it's snowing in LA, so miracles do happen.
What would you tell a young songwriter who wants to roll up their sleeves and do this?
I would say just be a good person and keep learning. Everyone's not perfect at the start. But if I had to give one piece of advice that was super, super important to me, is the good guys are winning in the end sometimes.
Like I said, the friendships and the artists, you don't want to come in being a d—. And I don't mean that strictly for men. I just mean whoever's coming in, you want to be a nice person. I think there's a lot of good people, and there's a lot of bad people too. You find your crew — energy finds energy.
Meet Stephanie Economou, The First-Ever GRAMMY Winner For Best Score Soundtrack For Video Games And Other Interactive Media
Photo by Danielle Neu
How Making 'Good Riddance' Helped Gracie Abrams Surrender To Change And Lean Into The Present
While working on her debut album ahead of touring with Taylor Swift, the 23-year-old singer/songwriter not only tapped into a curiosity about growing up, but learned how to trust herself more.
There's a mesmerizing delicacy to Gracie Abrams' music. Her breathy, graceful vocals hang over sharply insightful songwriting, compelling you to listen just a little more closely. And once Abrams has your attention, she holds it close to her chest.
On her debut album Good Riddance, out Feb. 24, Abrams knits an ornate helix of homesickness and heartbreak. You can feel the lightning of a love that came out of the blue, and almost hear Abrams' mom on the phone through childhood bedroom walls. Throughout the record, Abrams draws listeners in as she sifts through what ifs and why nots in search of relief.
While her last two EPs — minor (2020) and This Is What It Feels Like (2021) spun bittersweet depictions of half-drunk happy past lovers, Good Riddance confronts her resentment and recklessness. Though the alt-pop album leads with a blurry black-and-white aesthetic, Good Riddance bleeds into the gray areas of right and wrong, of closeness and distance.
"It's funny when albums come out a year after you've written them," Abrams tells GRAMMY.com. "I feel like so much life has happened since then in a really great way. So it's almost like talking about it in hindsight now, but I'm desperately excited for it to belong to everyone else."
It's not easy coming to terms with a rollercoaster of feelings, especially at age 23, and it's even less easy to share them. But after crafting Good Riddance at Long Pond Studios in New York, Abrams credits her close friend and collaborator the National's Aaron Dessner with helping her settle into her vulnerability more comfortably. Her third headlining tour kicks off early this March, and she'll support Taylor Swift's Eras Tour in April alongside Phoebe Bridgers, beabadoobee, HAIM, MUNA, and others.
Before life grew too busy, Abrams logged onto Zoom to chat with GRAMMY.com. Wearing a soft smile and gray sweatshirt, she enjoyed a "super, super caffeinated cappuccino." ("I always get glares when I order it. People are like, 'Is she okay?'" Abrams says. "No.")
As she sipped on four shots of espresso, Gracie Abrams shared intimate details on her album's creative process, why touring is the "best kind of exhaustion" she's ever known, and leaning on her fans' rare "superpower" of being able to make her feel better.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What surprised you most about the creative process for Good Riddance? Or did you feel like the process was similar to other albums'?
No, definitely not remotely similar. I think working with Aaron allowed for so much to come up that I don't think would have for me otherwise. So much of that is because of the trust that he and I share. We have very similar personalities in many ways, and often joke that we share a piece of our brain because certain instincts are so aligned. So to have a space that was so comforting and safe, I was surprised by the ease at which I was able to write about such heavy s—.
I think there was a joy to all of it, even when it hurt really bad to admit feelings through the lyrics. I think I was surprised by how excited I was to go to bed every night so that I could wake up the next morning and do it all over again. All of it felt very different than anything I've done before.
It sounds like it was a cathartic experience for you. I'm really glad he was able to create such a safe space. What's the best piece of advice he's given you?
I think that the biggest takeaway that has been universally applied is to trust myself more. He's made me feel really good at what I bring to the table. And I think that is while also challenging me and pushing me to be the best version.
There's something about that kind of someone — who I admire so much, who is a mentor to me — having confidence in me not just as an artist and a writer, but as a person. He's encouraged me to listen to these internal fire alarms that I think for a while I'd been pushing aside a bit. It's definitely helped enormously.
He's one of my best friends now too. That relationship has been really, really, really massively life-altering. Just because I feel like not only can I call him up and ask him when I'm spiraling about something, how to handle it, he's always like, "well, you already know what you're going to do and trust that, do the thing."
One of my favorite tracks is "Best," which features the titular lyric. Can you tell me more about that song and why you decided to name your debut Good Riddance?
Well, this is the first time that I've made an album where I've been thoughtful about every element, including the tracklist. I think as a songwriter and a storyteller, I'm very invested in the arc of the narrative. So the bookends on the album were very important to me. "Best," which is track one, was one of the more painful songs to write because I think there was a lot that I said in this song that I never even said to the person that it's about. And it feels like a version of an apology in many ways.
And yes, the title comes from a line in that song, and I felt very drawn to what Good Riddance means and feels like when you hear it. I think there's this harsh connotation, that I think is definitely one side of it for sure. But then I also think, in a more kind of conversational offhand way, there's a surrender to change. I feel like there's many elements of the album that consist of me surrendering to change, in having a curiosity about growing up in different ways and what it means to leave certain things behind.
Surrendering to change is such a perfect phrase to describe what the album encapsulates. How do you find yourself coping with change, especially at such a fast-paced time in your life?
I think I'm trying to hold everything a bit more lightly and remind myself that nothing is permanent at all, the good or the bad. Honestly, my experience with touring has allowed me to understand that being a controlling person only makes everything harder.
There's so many unpredictable elements, and you have to be really down to go with the flow and be open to last minute adjustments across the board in order to have the best time. That's something that my tour manager, Mackenzie Dunster, the sickest person of all time, she's like a big sister to me [taught me]. She is very much the person that… [gave me the] understanding that the only thing that you can control is yourself.
When talking about change in general, I try to consciously have more of a softness now than I have in the past towards myself, but also what other people may be going through at any given time, spoken and unspoken. Trying to just be more understanding and less rigid has allowed for more ease when going through these greater transitions. But I definitely am no expert. Especially at 23, I also try to constantly remind myself of how little I know about everything. So I hope I continue to get better at going with the flow.
Navigating your twenties can be so tricky, but it sounds like you have a wonderful support system. What would you go back and tell the Gracie that made minor?
I would say so many things. I think mostly get off your phone a lot. I think I would urge myself from back then to remember what is real and what is not real. That was the year before my worst anxiety ever, so I think I would also whisper little tools into my ear about how to deal a bit better in healthier ways and things.
But that being said, I also do feel very grateful for having gone through the things that I did at that time. And I wouldn't change them, but I do think it's awful. When I think back on the amount of time I spent on my phone, or looking for validation, or posting about feelings, [I want to tell myself] just shut your mouth and go to sleep. You know what I mean?
You've been in the music release, tour, music release, tour pattern for a while. Do you feel like you're going with the flow now, and you're more used to it?
I feel really thrilled to get back on the road, especially for [my] headline [tour] being the first tour this year. It feels comforting. I feel so excited to be back in rooms with people that are nice enough to show up and be vulnerable with their feelings, and reciprocate in that way.
It also is such a significant reminder of what I feel we all were lacking over the past few years in having that sense of community in a room and being okay, being emotional with strangers. It's so specific, and… I haven't found it can be replicated elsewhere.
So I've missed it dearly. And I think knowing that I am capable of doing it is very helpful going into this year. Especially with the Taylor tour too, the scale is so extreme and so wildly different from anything I even had the imagination for. I truly can't wait. But definitely, I feel a greater sense of calm than I did before.
What's been one of your favorite tour experiences or fan attractions? I'm sure you have a lot to pick from.
It's just so lucky and it's so fun to remember all of it. All I can speak to is my relationship with my listeners, but I feel like we have such a close relationship. It literally feels like friendship first to me. Every time I meet someone and have even a quick conversation, we're like, oh, "this is my username and X, Y, Z." Immediately, I'm like, "oh, we've talked before a billion times, or you sent me this meme on this day, and I really needed it" because I felt sad. Or reading letters from my audience when I'm really far away from home and feeling immediately cured of all homesickness.
There's this weird superpower that I feel they have, that again, is just such a rare thing. It makes me so grateful and just is a constant reminder of how giving they are with their time and energy and experiences. To share with me anything at all also makes me feel way more down to share about my life.
But I think it's funny too, with these songs on this album, a lot of them are very explicit and it's also very raw still. And I think I'm still navigating how to have a job that is so intertwined with my personal life and how to protect my energy and my privacy, while also wanting to be open and vulnerable.
I've been spending a lot less time on social media recently because it has been better for my head. Especially with tour coming up, what feels real to me is the in-person interactions [rather than what comes] up online that feels destructive or distracting. When I think about this as an album that I don't want to be giving much added context to, I think I'm really more interested in hearing from everybody else [about] how it makes them feel. I think I also want to just keep some parts of it for me.
How do you remind yourself to stay present?
Well, every time I've felt like I've been on stage and I'm thinking about something else by accident, the show is worse in my mind. I remind myself to stay present because I have the best time when I'm exactly where I am. And I think the easiest way to do that is to make real, direct eye contact with someone in the audience and just lock in for a minute.
I think there is a softness and a sensitivity to the audience that [enables me to] feel more okay to show up as I am on any given day. And I've definitely had certain shows where I'm like, "can we all just take a group breath for a second?" And sometimes I do that when I am having some weird wave of a feeling, or an anxiety or something creeps into my head, I do try to recalibrate in real time. Just having little practices along the way to try to be as present as possible is really helpful.
But I'm also aware that there's so many of these places, for example, I've never been to, and there's so much to explore and to really be excited about — especially on days that you're extra tired, or really homesick, or feel super far away from everyone, or haven't seen your dog in months or whatever it is. The luckiest thing in the world is to be able to write these songs and then perform them, and then meet people through that and connect. That's real and so lucky. So lots of gratitude all the time.
Since you're touring with Taylor Swift in the next few months, what was it like the first time you met her?
It's like meeting an immediate best friend and also a superhero. You know what I mean? She's like the coolest person of all time. She is the warmest. She makes you feel like family instantly. And to have admired her and her work for my entire life, to also then be able to feel that way on a personal level is such a lucky, cool thing. And she's everything that you would ever hope she would be.
The Psychology Of "Sad Girl" Pop: Why Music By Billie Eilish, Gracie Abrams, Olivia Rodrigo & More Is Resonating So Widely