Photo: Brian Ziff
The Veronicas Talk New Album, Why Performing Pride Is So Important & Coming Of Age In The Music Industry
"There's something so beautiful about the LGBTQ community in particular. Wherever you go, they're the most supportive, loving crowd…and [at L.A. Pride] they showed up hard for us and it was the best feeling"
Identical twin sisters Jessica and Lisa Origliasso, born on Christmas Day in Brisbane, Australia, have always had big dreams and strong sense of who they are. They are better known as alt-pop outfit The Veronicas, which they formed in the early '00s after moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music when they were just 19.
In 2005, they released their debut album, The Secret Life Of..., along with their breakout single "4ever." They followed up with Hook Me Up in 2007, featuring pop-rock classic "Untouched." Due to issues with their label, they would take a forced hiatus until 2014, when they could finally release new music, which would eventually be their self-titled third album.
Through it all, The Veronicas have remained 100% themselves: bold, confident and creative, always exploring new sounds and styles. They are not only bolstered by the unbreakable bond they have as twins, but also by the support of their fanbase, especially those from the LGBTQ community, as they tell us.
Not long after their breathtaking performance at L.A. Pride, and before they took to the stage at World Pride in N.Y.C. this weekend, the Recording Academy sat down with Jessica and Lisa to learn more about what new music they've been working on, and what performing at Pride means—and feels like—to them. As they finish each other's sentences, they also dive deep into their creative process, the pressures of the music industry, their biggest influences and Jessica's own journey with exploring her sexual identity.
Okay, so let's start with new music. You guys released a new song earlier this year, "Think Of Me," which I think is your first new song in two years. How did it feel to be sharing your music again with the world?
Jessica Origliasso: It's always incredibly inspiring to be releasing new music, and for us, it's like every song is our baby. Everything that we put out is something that we've slaved over in some capacity. "Think of Me" was the beginning of a bigger picture of music that we've created, and it just felt like a relief really to have it out, the first sort of piece of the puzzle, the story.
Lisa Origliasso: Yeah, it's been fun because it has been quite some time since we've actually got in the studio to write an entire album, and we have about an album's worth of material now, but we did it in a relatively short time. So, about six to eight months we just kind of wrote out everything, and, I don't know, the universe is kind of inspired to get us at the right time, inspired writing. None of it was sort of too preplanned. It was just the right pieces fell into place, or the right inspiration was there.
Jessica: Artists that we wanted to collaborate with were available to get in the studio, and it all just sort of worked out that way. So, yeah, it felt right.
Do you want to talk a little bit more about that song specifically, and then maybe about the bigger project as well? What can we expect?
Jessica: When Lisa and I go into write an album, usually we're drawing from a lot of different influences of whatever we are listening to currently, but then also stuff we've been into for a long time. So, because of how much freedom artists have now with music, it was important for us to be able to storytell, and have elements that don't feel forced.
So, because there's so much now to be influenced by, because when we last did an album in such a short period of time, it was our second record [2007's Hook Me Up]. And at that time the Internet and Spotify were not really there. So, you had to go really searching, you had to go to see a lot of live shows and dig around for a lot of underground stuff, which we did at the time. Whereas now there's a lot to pull from.
I think with "Think of Me" in particular, we went in and just wanted to write a song, and make it as sort of simple as possible, and just embody a feeling. So, it was about a feeling, and that feeling came from a personal experience that I was going through that Lisa channeled into, and the other two writers, the producer and the other writer in the room channeled into, and we all just threw a lot of feelings into the middle, and wrote out some stories.
It's very uncensored when you're in a recording room like that. I think maybe because we're twins we have each other's back, and you automatically feel very comfortable. So we tend to throw out the rawest feelings to the room, a lot of people are probably a little shocked. Like, "How are you so comfortable?" But because we have each other, you feel immediately at home.
Lisa: We've always had that comfortability, and it's what has made us love music so much.
Jessica: I think inspired writing is incredibly important. It's why people go, "Why do you wait so long in between records?" There's actually a really good reason for it. I mean, Adele speaks on it all the time. She's one of my favorites with that because she will not go into the studio and create a record that isn't inspired writing. Because at the end of the day, you can do it. We've done songwriting for 15, almost 16, 17 years now, professionally. So, you can go in and do it…
Lisa: And when you're doing it for other artists, it's maybe easier to do that. But for our record, and a fourth record especially, where you have so much creative freedom, I think it's really important to be able to create it from the most authentic space you can.
Jessica: This record is actually very collaborative-heavy. Over half of the record is collaborations, and we've never done that before. We've never collaborated with anyone before other than each other.
Jessica: So, we've got collaborations and then we've also gotten features on other artists' stuff.
Lisa: Which is such an exciting time for us because more music is out there. And that's why we love today's climate with music. It's not just about having to slave over this one album and then you're going to have that for two years. You can get into the studio tomorrow with this awesome DJ, and we just featured on our friend Allday's new single. Even though it's not our release, it feels like our release and our fans are excited, and our fans are turning into his fans, and his fans are turning into our fans, and it's just such a beautiful sort of love fest of collaborations. Those experiences have been really, really fun.
Jessica: But this album has been very influenced by stories, feelings and stories. It's driven by the idea of leaving the past behind and stepping into your power. And there's a lot of '80s influence, there's guitars, there's a lot of emotions...
Lisa: A little dramatic.
Jessica: Bit dramatic, but most of our records are.
Lisa: That's sort of a bit of our blueprint, to be honest.
Jessica: And then there's also like the super-stripped-back, raw, vulnerable feelings in the story. So, it's quite a juxtaposed record. Our next single…[looks to Lisa] We can say the name of it, yeah?
Lisa: Yeah. I mean, I'm always saying yes. I'm like "Yeah, get it out there."
Jessica: Yeah, the next single's called "Life of the Party," and we wrote it about essentially the last 15 years of what it's like when you first come into a space of music, and celebrity, and somewhere like Hollywood, and everyone thinks that it's this particular thing. Everyone's here to be the party. Everyone's here to be the life of everything, the center of attention, and how that becomes old very quickly.
Lisa: The reality of that.
Jessica: What is of true value to you, as people? We wrote this song with our friend, Allday, and the hook is like, "Everybody wants to be the life of the party, but I just want to find somebody. I just want to have something real."
Lisa: It's that sort of feeling, that melancholy sadness intertwined with a lot of '80s pop or hip-hop elements.
You put out your debut album back in 2005. What was it like coming of age in the music industry? How has your growth and personal identities shifted within the context of The Veronicas?
Lisa: Well, we have an incredibly interesting dynamic and journey because we are twin sisters, who literally created a band together. Nobody tells you when you start music, that you're about to also embark on a social experiment of celebrity. That is one of the wildest concepts. Nobody has the conversation with you when you enter the public eye for what you love to do, which for us it was songwriting first. We weren't even focused on being artists first, it was songwriting and then we moved into being artists. Nobody tells you at that point, you're going to be entering some weird public social experiment of position, of power, of dynamics, of having money for the first time, of having people recognize you, of knowing how to navigate—
Jessica: The attention.
Lisa: And being completely exhausted.
Jessica: The tabloids.
Lisa: Negative attention, or positive, overly positive attention.
Jessica: Well, and then you put, on top of that, the fact that we are twin sisters…
Lisa: …and young women who are growing, and becoming independent from each other as well.
Jessica: Yes. Becoming independent from each other, and growing into the people that we are. Because you get two twin sisters in a band, people are going to compare you to each other. So, there's the comparisons, there's the interviews. "What's your favorite thing? What's the worst thing about your sister?" And it's kind of like you're constantly navigating this sort of dynamic, that in itself, is just a crazy thing.
Lisa: Well, you don't give it that much observational thought until every single interview it's, "Who's always late? Who's the better cook? Who's the better songwriter? Who's the better singer?" Literally, I would say every single interview from the past 15 years, at least one of those questions will come up.
Jessica: And at the beginning, it would be like, what? Who's the better singer? What a stupid question. Like, wait, who's the better cook? Well I guess I am, or I guess that you are. Who's messier? Well, I'm messier. But then it becomes a competition. So, it's funny that you become this sort of social experiment that you're not ready for. Lis and I, we're very blessed that we grew up with a very grounded family and grounded sense of self. So, for us, none of that was taken on board really. We're very blessed in that. For us it's always just been about music, and about our family and being real.
Lisa: But it is a wild experience, and we've been doing it 15 years now, and you find that after 15 years, success is cyclic. Success is...
Jessica: It's very individual to the person. What is true success? We would say, at this point, true success is creative freedom. Having the freedom to be able to create how and what you would like without compromise. Now, at the beginning of your career, you're told there's a lot of compromise that has to happen, in order to have success.
Lisa: And success back then is a number one hit, fame, money. But 15 years later, that is not the same value system.
Jessica: Yeah, you redefine what success is, what is the true value on it. That's really what a lot of this record is about; what is of true value?
Yeah, I can't imagine like being a young woman in the music industry, when people are literally staring at you like you're not there, and there's just such an emphasis on women's looks. But you both seem so grounded.
Lisa: We were very young, we were very naïve.
Jessica: Yeah, we were 19 when we moved to America. We had lived in our family's home with our parents up until 19, up until we moved here by ourselves. But the thing about us from the beginning has been that we've always had a very big sense of self, of who we are. And yeah, when we moved here, it was weird because a lot of that was internally going on in the industry. I think we were really lucky to have each other because...
Lisa: We never felt pressured to ever have to compromise on those things. I remember, our first music video was shot in a pool and…
Jessica: …we were wearing like skater boy pants, and just quite horrible fashion honestly. But we didn't want a stylist, okay? We were very much like, we know who we are, and God bless, we really were true to that.
Lisa: They would try and get us in bikinis and all kinds of stuff. We were like, "Why would we do that?"
Jessica: It didn't even make sense to us. I didn't even own a bikini.
Lisa: [looks down at all-black outfit] I own goth attire and that's what I'm going to wear, and just give us the money for the budget because we'll go buy what we like.
Jessica: Which at time was like Dickies shorts.
Lisa: It was a different time, Hot Topic was our favorite shop. I mean, it looks like I'm wearing Hot Topic right now, but the point is that we always had each other's back, and we always were like, well that's stupid.
Jessica: We were always going to fight for who we are and fight for our career.
Lisa: And now, sometimes, people who work with us are like, "Wow, you girls are..."
Jessica: …hard aes. We don't ever step on people to get to where we want to be, but we're quite stern with what we want. When you've had to fight for 15 years, with people calling you a b*tch for having an opinion because you're a girl in pop music, you learn to value your integrity, and your position through the years of learning where the actual power lies. The actual power lies in you, your ability to create, and nobody can take that from you.
We had a record company shelve of us for four years because they went through internal changes, at the peak of our career, and how debilitating that is for an artist, I cannot even put into words. That can literally destroy you.
Lisa: So crazy.
Jessica: We had dedicated eight years to this, and then they just literally didn't have a single person there to be able to help with our release.
Lisa: And then they also wouldn't let us off the company. So, we had no other choice but to just sit there, and the only way that we could actually take the power back was to get back in the studio. And throughout that time we kept writing, but it was a pretty dark time.
Jessica: And that's why for us, it always comes back to writing. Always comes back to being the songwriters because nobody can ever take from you. Tabloids can't take that from you…
Lisa: That's our voice.
Jessica: Record companies can't take that from you, managers can't take that from you, they can take your money, they can take pretty much everything else, your freedom to be able to release, but they can't take your ability to write. So, for us it's always what it comes back to. As long as we have that, and we've always placed so much value in having that voice.
Lisa: I think that's why there's these big writing camps with the best songwriters in the world, and they come out with these amazing songs, but it's like, well, it's going to take us a little longer because…
Jessica: …that process is the most important for us.
Lisa: It feeds our soul as artists, it feeds our soul as Lisa and Jess, not just The Veronicas.
Jessica: But there is a machine that works, and it works very quickly these days, and so people get a little bit frustrated, like, "Why haven't you got your album out yet? What's taking so long?" And I don't think people realize, because of how quickly music works now, that unless you have the team that's feeding that, it's impossible for one artist or two artists to do everything. But we're trying to do everything.
Lisa: We love to do everything.
Jessica: We would love the time to do everything.
Lisa: Or you find a team that can help facilitate that, but that's also very difficult. It's almost impossible.
Jessica: Well, let's also be real. We really know what we want, and more often than not, we're not satisfied with someone else doing it. It is nice when you find those people you can collaborate with. It's just so rare to find that special connection, I think we're lucky we have it at each other. And so you almost expect other people to be on that same wave, and more often than not, I'm sure we're on a wavelength of our own. I mean, maybe no one else can actually get on this frequency.
Lisa: They probably don't want to. It's probably a bit much.
Were there specific artists or someone that made you feel like you had a place in music when you were younger?
Jessica: We had a very eclectic [musical] upbringing.
Lisa: Our parents were super into a lot of different stuff. So, they were playing records around the house, but I mean it was anything from a glam rock band from Australia, called the Skyhooks. It was very camp, it was fun, it was rock and roll.
Jessica: They'd be in make-up and dresses, super gender-bending.
Lisa: Australia's very innovative, especially with rock and roll music.
Jessica: We loved them. And we grew up in musical theater. So, Jesus Christ Superstar and Rocky Horror Picture Show. I mean, this is stuff that our mom was really into, so she was just constantly playing it around the house. For us, it was just the coolest thing we've ever seen when Frank N. Furter comes out in this women's corset, just rocking our world. And then on the other side it's like k.d. lang, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley...
Your performance at L.A. Pride was amazing; you said it was your first show in L.A. in eight years, and you two seem so natural and powerful on stage. How did it feel to be back?
Lisa: There's something so beautiful about the LGBTQ community in particular. Wherever you go, they're the most supportive, loving crowd. In L.A., we've lived here for 15 years so, we're sort of L.A. natives a little bit in that way. You're kind of spoiled here, everybody comes through, you can see your favorite artists in rare, small shows. We're very lucky, but with having played for the first time in eight years, especially to such a huge crowd in L.A. But the LGBTQ community in general, wherever you are [shows up], and in L.A., for this particular show, they showed up hard for us and it was the best feeling.
Jessica: Oh my god. It was so much love coming our way. And just looking down, seeing people just…
Lisa: …Loving it. And knowing all the songs.
Jessica: Singing every word and just giving us all their love and energy. It was overwhelming. I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is my fave. I wasn't expecting want everybody to know all the songs, all the words.
Lisa: We got off stage and we were like, "I think that was the best show we've ever done." I couldn't even think of a show where we left feeling that good.
just want to report that yesterday at LA pride, the veronicas took the stage and boldly said "all rise for the gay national anthem" before playing "untouched" and honestly... where is the fuckin lie— Jill Gutowitz (@jillboard) June 10, 2019
So, during the L.A. Pride performance you guys were like, "Okay, it's time for the gay national anthem," and then sang "Untouched." That was kind of amazing.
Lisa: I was thinking about it because so many people we've been playing for—we played Pride in Orlando as well—and so many people said like, "Your music helped me when I was coming out." There were these beautiful stories that we were hearing from every single person that we were meeting. And I thought, I wonder what it is? What could it be that connected with the queer community in general in such a huge way at that time, beyond obviously we wrote lyrics like, "I want to kiss a girl, I want to kiss a boy." We were just writing out our feelings at the time.
But even beyond that, what was it about the music? What was it about it that really captured the community in such a big way? Well it makes sense because we grew up with the queer community. We grew up in theater from the age of five, where every single friend of ours was gay or queer or in some form of the community. Our main director at the theater company was a gorgeous gay man, and every song was some kind of an anthem for that time as well.
Jessica: Free love and celebration.
Lisa: Yeah, free love, celebration, liberation, sexual freedom. I thought to myself, we've taken that on board in our songwriting, in what we're attracted to sonically. So, we've created music that has essentially embodied a history of music that has engaged the LGBTQ community.
So, that's what we have then been influenced by and created. So, people say that we gave the gays "Untouched," but I'm like, gays actually gave us "Untouched." And that's why I call it the gay anthem.
Jessica: You're right. It's the culture and queer community, and even entertainment was ingrained. It was such a huge part of our upbringing.
Lisa: It's our DNA, and our blueprint. And that's why we've gone on to create this music.
Jessica: Yeah. It's funny thinking about it because I guess I haven't really thought back, but that really stems from our mom. Our mom was just the most loving, giving soul there was. From the theater company, she would have all of our best friends sleep over, and it was all the cute boys, and we'd play fairies and wizards and they'd always want to be the fairies. So we had to be the wizards.
Lisa: She encouraged so much, and she always took in, and always loved people for who they were. We grew up in the most diverse upbringing that you could possibly have.
It’s almost pride month!!! My favourite month of the year— Jessica Veronica (@Jessicaveronica) May 27, 2019
I got my weave in and I’m ready to sing my queer ass across the USAAAAY.
You'll also be performing at World Pride in N.Y.C. this weekend, which is huge, as well as a few other city's Pride celebrations. Why was it important for you this year to celebrate Pride on stage?
Jessica: I think for me personally, my journey sort of coming to celebrate my sexuality, and I always have been very comfortable with my sexuality, but it has been a particular journey for me. Especially because it's all been quite public, and now I'm in a relationship with a trans man, and he's the absolute love of my life. And how I've identified previously, I've had a very bisexual journey, but through it I've realized that my preference is women, but that's in my 30s now realizing that that's how I would identify.
I just feel so proud to be doing what I love to do, in a relationship that is so wonderful and healthy, and loving, passionate and exciting, and be the most comfortable and happy with. I guess it's continuing to always honor myself, and honor every process and step that I'm going through and to be in a community with people that are going through that for the first time.
But also knowing that in some parts of the world and, in other times of the year, it's not accepted. It's not acceptable to a lot of people still. I take so much pride and honor in being a voice to that, and just a creative force in that, and an ally in every way.
Lisa: Bringing our voice, and that visibility as well I think is so important for us, and especially as music is a universal language. So, through our music, that's why we want to be there. We want to use our voices, we want to use that platform to celebrate love and spread that message. And especially because it's my twin sister too, and part of her journey, and I'm so proud of her in literally every way. So, yeah, it's the best feeling to be here celebrating with everyone.
Jessica: I guess because we've grown up next to so many fans, and a lot of them are part of the LGBTQ community, we wanted to be able to celebrate in every way that we could with them. Over here in America too, because we do a lot in Australia, and we do a lot of activism, a lot of the rallies in Australia. But marriage equality was only passed last year in Australia, and it's still kind of up there somewhere in the legislation being seen through properly.
But to come here, and I know it's been legal here for a little while, and just being able to celebrate that, and like Lis said, visibility, as there's so many issues within the community that need highlighting. Trans women of color, and the risks and danger that they face still daily, is a huge part of that. Obviously, legislation around transgender visibility, and freedom, and acknowledgement is still a huge, huge thing. And now, being with a trans partner, it's very important for us to be able to embrace those issues.
So, it's really just like being here for that time, and then to be completely honest, the LGBTQ community has shown up for us in the biggest ways at some of the darkest times of our life. When it's a really hard to be an artist in a time when maybe you're having a down time or a hard time in the press, or whatever it is, and they rally around you and lift you up no matter what.
We played a party the other night, called Heaven Party, it's like an underground queer goth warehouse party. It's amazing.
When we came off stage there was a row of the most beautiful drag queens you've ever seen in your life. And every single one of them kissed me, and was like, "You were amazing. You're so gorgeous. Thank you." And I was like, by the third, I was crying because I just feel so lucky.
What is your message for young LGBTQ+ people this Pride, right now?
Jessica: I think just to feel proud of your journey, feel proud of who you are. [Pauses.] Gosh, there's so many messages. I'm trying to think of something to sum up in a soundbite for you.
That you are beautiful, that you are seen, we see you, we're so proud of you, continue to shine brightly. Know that even if you haven't come out yet or if you don't feel safe there, or in the community that you're in currently, that it will get better, and there will be a time when you can live as authentically, and entirely as you wish to be.
That there are people here who love you and there always will be. And as long as we are creating music, we will continue to try to reach out and inspire people in every way that we can. You're so loved, and that family, and that sense of family and community that is available to love and accept you, might not be blood, and that's okay. Love is love and that there really truly is a community here who will embrace and love you, and to always remember that.
Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist
The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.
Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!
The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.
Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.
So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.
Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.
About GRAMMY U:
GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.
Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.
As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.
Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.