meta-scriptVic Mensa's New Lease On Life: "Our Biggest Competition Is With Ourselves" | GRAMMY.com
Vic Mensa's New Lease On Life
Vic Mensa

Photo: Olivia Wolfe

interview

Vic Mensa's New Lease On Life: "Our Biggest Competition Is With Ourselves"

'Victor' is the Chicago rapper's first album in six years and a document of his growth. GRAMMY.com caught up with Mensa in the midst of a victorious year, just before he headed back to the studio.

GRAMMYs/Sep 12, 2023 - 03:24 pm

Vic Mensa's musical output has altered radically and suddenly in recent years, evolving from a craft based in self-destruction to an art of healing. 

The Chicago rapper's  life — which had been dogged by depression, violence and unrestrained chaos — came to an abrupt crash several years ago. Mensa tells GRAMMY.com that he fell asleep at the wheel while driving a Range Rover back from the studio, totalling the vehicle. He miraculously left the road unscathed, and swore himself to sobriety as a mark of his good fortune. 

Ever since, Mensa has decided to live conscientiously, tapping into divinity, and departing his path of destruction towards one of love. 

His new album Victor, out Sept. 15, is a document of that growth. It’s liberatory in sound and spirit, an ode to the victories Mensa has made in his own life and through his enormously impactful community work. Victor also boasts a broad swathe of musical influences — from house and punk to Afrobeat and funk — and features collaborations with Common and Ty Dolla $ign

That Victor is his first album in six years would be a big accomplishment, but it's already been a huge year for Mensa. In January, he and Chance the Rapper put on a free festival in Ghana which drew 52,000 attendees, as part of their effort to broaden the cultural exchange between the African and American rap scenes. He continued to grow his 93 Boyz business (Illinois' first Black-owned cannabis brand), which uses its profits for social initiatives including Mensa’s Books Before Bars program that distributes books to prisoners.

GRAMMY.com caught up with Mensa in the midst of this victorious year, just before he headed back to the studio once again.

You’ve been performing recently with your longtime friend and collaborator Chance the Rapper for his 10 year Acid Rap anniversary show. There were years when you didn’t seem to be quite so close. Can you tell me about them?

You know, we’ve grown up together since we were 14 years old. As brothers do sometimes, there were some years where we didn’t see eye to eye. That’s what family does, man.

But family’s also very resilient. People have to go through personal growth, self-discovery otherwise they’ll take family s— to the grave with them. Now, I’m in a positive, loving relationship with myself. So anywhere there is discord I know it can be transcended.

It’s also been 10 years since Chance rapped "And I still get jealous of Vic/And Vic's still jealous of me." What's your relationship with competition nowadays? 

Rap is, by its nature, extremely competitive, and it’s something I’ve had to reframe and recontextualize. Now I know that our biggest competition is with ourselves. 

And so, if I can be the best me that I can be, if I can write the best verse, if I can do the best performance, then I'm succeeding. You have to actualize your potential. The only crime in this game is to be less than yourself. 

Earlier this year you referenced your 2016 Drake diss track during a freestyle on Sway, calling it "a big mistake/But when you raised in a cage all you know is MMA." What made you want to address that?

I was just being really transparent and honest in that freestyle. I think the dopest lines take honesty and turn it into a metaphor, into wordplay, into something witty. 

I think that’s why we — or I — love Dave Chappelle. He takes real critiques of the Black experience and turns it into a real whippersnapper. So as far as the Drake line, I wanted to give it context in an adult way, to relate it to my upbringing and all the ways I’ve grown to recognize how stupid it was. 

Victor is your second studio album in six years. What made you want to release these songs as an album rather than as another EP or mixtape?

The album was originally going to be called C Tape to finish off the V Tape and I Tape EP trilogy, but I think just in the process of doing that, opinion on EPs really shifted. People devalue music. People are like, Man, it's astounding that this is only your second album, you know? 

It's not such a big difference from seven songs to 10 songs but its reception means so much. When you say "album" people just think completely differently. So instead of doing the VIC trilogy, I thought, let me just use my name. Just call it Victor.

Why did you decide to name your album after yourself? 

About last October, I was on a deep dive on mushrooms in the woods and I was meditating on the genesis of my name. I was named Victor to commemorate the victories and battles of an ancestor from my father's family — he was fighting in the Burma Camp in Ghana against the invasion of the British and the subsequent robbing of African people from the continent. In many ways, he was a freedom fighter. 

I speak a lot in this album about working to have people released from prison, like man, this was ordained for me. You know, it’s no coincidence that I would be named after a freedom fighter and I would grow to become one myself. And I had another realization in that moment: That no matter what I experience — the ups, downs, scuffles, controversies — I am named to be the victor of them all. 

Do you believe music has been passed down to you as a tool for liberation also?

Yes, my uncle [Kofi Sammy] is a pioneer of Nigerian highlife music. He was a contemporary of Fela Kuti. Fela, as you know, was a very notable liberator. My uncle's music was really political and educational, and he handed that down to me. Although, he did tell me recently, when I had him come out at the festival, something I thought was so interesting. He said: "Don’t use your music for politics, use your voice for God."  

At that moment, I took it at face value. I thought he was telling me to make gospel music, because he's really Christian. But the more I think about it, the more I realize it was a really profound thing to say. He’s coming into the later years of his life with next to nothing, and I think he was reflecting on the bridges he’d burned. There were times when he was really close to the president of Ghana, and he was so outspoken and so political. 

In many ways, that's something that I've been learning to implement myself. It's like, how do I move purposefully with God and the school of thought that I'm raised in — you know, the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X — a politics without bloodshed, and still be a warrior? I’m learning how not to always be the aggressor, to act with forbearance.

Is that a principle you take with you into the studio, to act from a place of forbearance rather than aggression? 

I don't know that I want to lose my aggression; I just want control. You know, I do a lot of combat training, and we're taught to emulate a lion who is completely relaxed until the moment they strike into action. They pounce into extreme force and violent aggression, and then relax. And so I think about that in a creative process, I use that aggression and then turn back to a calm state. 

Sometimes the voices in my head are so loud and the anxiety and the fear and expectations become a cacophony. But similar to my combat training, my creative process is all about staying in the moment.  How do I find peace and calm so that I can stay in control of my own mind?

It feels like you’re really going prophet mode. I’ve always thought of Common as operating from that space too. What was it like working with him? What did you learn from him?

He’s a gem in the studio. He had a palo santo with him, and he was just sitting there with it — I might even try to get a palo santo before I go to the studio right now. And the thing about Common is that he's very calm, very relaxed. He's always gracious. Like, he always introduces the people that are with him. You can tell he treats his people with a lot of respect. And he just moves in love, you know? 

I think I learned that from him before I ever met him. I mean, I've been learning things from Common since when I was a kid, way before I knew him. Common has a song called "A Song For Assata" where he details [Black Liberation Army activist] Assata Olugbala Shakur’s story, it’s basically like Cliff Notes in hip hop form. It inspired me so much because not only did it teach me a crucial piece of American history but it also opened my eyes to how much of a tool to educate hip-hop can be.

Do you envision your music as a tool for manifestation?

Yeah, man, music is a powerful tool for manifestation. That's why hip-hop is the most commercially successful and impactful musical genre of all time. It’s a verbose art form full of artists telling you "this is what I’m gonna do, I'm gonna change the world" to a different degree than any other genre has ever done. 

Hip-hop has been, like, these young guys from the hood telling you how they're gonna make it out. And the power of our words is so significant. We can build and destroy just with the things we say. So I manifested life as a rap star from childhood.

You say your purpose as a kid was to become a rap star. Now that you are one, what is your purpose now?

My purpose now is to spread the truth.

What does that mean to you? 

It takes many forms. It can be the truth of my experience. Truth can be a key or a window into how you view your own experience. Truth can be a commentary on society or structures or ideas. Truth can be love; just purely spreading love.

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Display inside GRAMMY Museum's New K-Pop Pop-Up
ATEEZ on display at the GRAMMY Museum

Photo: Rebecca Sapp

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Inside The GRAMMY Museum's ATEEZ & Xikers Pop-Up: 5 Things We Learned

Rookie K-pop group Xikers and label brothers ATEEZ are the subject of the GRAMMY museum’s first-ever K-pop pop-up exhibit. Go inside the exhibit, which runs through June 10, and learn about the clothes, videos and stories behind these K-pop boy groups.

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 11:32 pm

K-pop’s reach has expanded exponentially over the past decade, bringing some of Korea’s biggest pop stars to the West for sold-out tours, history-making performances, and a number of cross-cultural collabs.

K-pop touring acts accounted for a record high of 5.1 percent of the 100 highest-grossing tours globally in 2023 according to Billboard. K-pop’s reach has been palpable in regions outside of Asia — like the U.S., Europe and Latin America. According to the same study, BLACKPINK was the No. 1 grossing K-pop group in 2023, with their global tour netting $148.3 million over 29 shows; the group was the 10th most profitable touring act across any genre. 

The GRAMMY Museum is capturing this historic moment in time with a pop-up exhibition focused on two of the fastest-growing groups in the industry. On April 10 through June 10 at the GRAMMY Museum in downtown Los Angeles, "KQ Ent.: ATEEZ & Xikers" is an inclusive environment for anyone — whether you’re a dedicated Xikers fan who knows the dances step-by-step or a casual listener wanting to learn more about K-pop. 

Read more: What's Next For K-Pop? A Roundtable Unpacks The Genre's Past, Present And Future

After passing through displays dedicated to King of Pop Michael Jackson, you’re transported to a new era of pop music through an exploration of both ATEEZ and Xikers’ careers. Right at the entrance is a bright blue wall containing a sweeping look at the history of Korean pop music, written in both English and Korean. The exhibit details terms exclusive to the world of K-pop, including the positions of various members in each group, and what key terms like "bias" and "trainee" mean. 

GRAMMY Museum's New K-Pop Pop-Up _ What Is K-Pop Wall

The second part of the exhibit displays outfits both groups have worn, as well as props from their music videos. Other items on display include abstract drawings Xikers’ members did themselves as concept art for their first mini-album HOUSE OF TRICKY: Doorbell Ringing.

The second and third walls of the exhibit focus on breaking down the basics on what to know about ATEEZ and Xikers. Visitors can then head to a wall of music videos from both groups, pop on the attached headphones, and enjoy the exhibit’s displays come to life in a glorious video. 

At the pop-up's opening event, there was palpable excitement from both groups' fan bases — also know as Xikers’ Roadys and ATINYs for fans of ATEEZ. Fans squealed and gasped, taking pictures of each other and the exhibit; some fans even brought photocards of their favorite members (protected in a pink, decorated case, of course) in order to snap a photo of the card next to a member’s outfit on display. 

This exhibit is a love letter to fans, as well as a succinct introduction into the world of the modern K-pop star. Read on for five things we learned from "KQ Entertainment: ATEEZ and Xikers" exhibit.

All photos by Rebecca Sapp.

For Xikers, It's All About Relating To Their Fans 

GRAMMY Museum's New K-Pop Pop-Up _ Xikers Outfits

*Xikers' outfits on display*

Xikers already had fans in their pre-debut days, and their journey was on full display at the GRAMMY Museum. Under the temporary moniker KQ Fellaz 2, the group released pre-debut documentary-style videos exploring how the members approached training in Los Angeles. 

The pop-up explains how the 10-member group came up with their name: The "X" was short for x-coordinates, while "IKERS" derives from the word hiker. Together, the name was supposed to represent the group on a journey to find their Roadys (the "Y" representing y-coordinates) as well as their own career trajectory. 

Xikers are fearless stylistic chameleons who pen their own tracks and experiment with genres like hyperpop and rap. With such innovation, it makes sense that they are the only group from K-pop’s fifth generation that has landed two albums on the BIllboard Global 200 chart within the year of their official debut (March 30, 2023). Their latest EP, HOUSE OF TRICKY: Trial And Error, arrived in early March 2024.

The props and outfits acquired from the sets of Xikers' music videos are often an homage to traditional Asian culture and intertwined with the bright, braggadocio of street style — all with a youthful spin. At the exhibit, large bubble guns and neon bandanas from the "We Don’t Stop" music video are a snapshot of these small moments of youthfulness. 

ATEEZ’s Focus On Freedom Has Always Important To Their Art 

GRAMMY Museum's New K-Pop Pop-Up _ ATEEZ skateboard

*ATEEZ's prop skateboard*

Throughout the pop-up ATEEZ, are described as having "everything the youth needs." It’s a tall order for any musical artist, but the exhibit solidifies ATEEZ’s growth into that role. 

Their sophisticated debut tracks were self-assured and encouraged fans to embrace the same attitude: "We can do anything, just follow us" they sing on their debut single, "Pirate King." Yet, becoming a symbol of youth meant digging into how powerless the young can find themselves. Reflected in the band's anarchy card props and graffitied skateboards on display,  ATEEZ's music has always included a rebellious streak. 

The group often revisit this theme throughout their career — particularly on 2020’s "Say My Name" and "Pirate King" — except with more of an exploration of figuring out how to liberate oneself from those in power. While some K-pop groups’ concepts and music video can be tedious or confusing, ATEEZ's focus on freedom is effortless.

K-Pop Stage Outfits Are Even More Magnificent IRL 

GRAMMY Museum's New K-Pop Pop-Up _ ATEEZ outfit

*An outfit worn by Jongho from ATEEZ*

High-energy choreography has been an essential facet of K-pop, and both ATEEZ and Xikers perform a youthful, powerful choreography (so much so that ATEEZ included a dance practice video for their display). 

Xikers’ emphasis on smooth, synchronized and intense choreography was proudly displayed on their wall of information and in the music video playing throughout their display. The group incorporated their outfits into their choreography, with dynamic zipping motions and confidently stomping out complicated footwork with their platform sneakers. 

Both Groups Performed Sold Out Debut Tours

GRAMMY Museum's New K-Pop Pop-Up _ xikers props

*Xikers props*

Xikers and ATEEZ stay booked and busy. On  both walls listing their accomplishments, there seemed to be an endless array of album titles and projects coming out —  ATEEZ have released nine EPs since their 2018 debut. It only highlighted the immense work ethic it takes to thrive in the industry.

ATEEZ's first tour came only four months after their debut and sold out in mere minutes. Xikers headed on a tour merely six months after their debut, performing in North America, Europe and Japan. Both bands' global popularity speaks to the depth with which K-pop groups (and Xikers and ATEEZ in particular) connect with their fans. On social media, under each tour’s hashtag, fans record their live performances, or write about how much a song meant to them.  

ATEEZ’s upcoming fourth world tour Towards the Light: Will to Power, is on the horizon, and Xikers just wrapped their tour this year in February. It’s clear that touring has become an essential part of their artistry, as well as a crucial way to connect with with listeners in a safe space. In fact, it’s something fans often look forward to — not only being able to relate to their favorite singer but also finding other fans. As this exhibit reveals, despite the glitz and glamor of the industry, at the core of it all is the group’s desire to find connection. You might carry a photocard of them, but they are just a bit like you, too. It makes this unique connection all the better for it. 

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(L-R) Tony Kanal, Gwen Stefani, Adrian Young and Tom Dumont of No Doubt stand holding their GRAMMY Award for  Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal
(L-R) Tony Kanal, Gwen Stefani, Adrian Young and Tom Dumont of No Doubt

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch No Doubt Accept Their GRAMMY Award For “Underneath It All” In 2004

Ahead of No Doubt’s highly anticipated reunion at Coachella on April 13 and 20, revisit the last time the band was on stage at the GRAMMYs together — the moment they won Best Pop Performance By A Duo/Group at the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 05:49 pm

Right before their hiatus in 2004, No Doubt had one last hurrah with a win for Best Pop Performance By A Pop Duo Or Group With Vocals for "Underneath It All" at the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, travel back to when they took the stage to accept their award presented by Mathew Perry together.

Drummer Adrian Young began by praising their families, loved ones, and the citizens of Drapers, Jamaica, for "showing us how to have a good time and relax while recording music" Then, bassist Tony Kanal took a turn at the microphone thanking their team, management company, and label, Interscope Records.

Frontwoman Gwen Stefani closed out the speech by acknowledging "Underneath It All" co-writer, David Stewart of Eurythmics; her then-husband, Gavin Rossdale, who inspired the track; and, of course, the fans for "letting us stay alive as a band for all these years."

This Saturday, No Doubt will reunite again (they took a second hiatus in 2015) for a premiere performance on the Coachella stage. 

Press play on the video above to watch No Doubt's complete acceptance speech for their "Underneath It All" win in 2004, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma
(L-R: Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma of Blue Öyster Cult

Photo: Sandra Roeser

interview

On Their New-Ish Album, 'Ghost Stories,' Blue Öyster Cult Defy The Reaper Once Again

Long-running hard rockers Blue Öyster Cult have experienced exhilarating highs and tragic lows. On 'Ghost Stories,' an album of refurbished outtakes of yore, they survey what they've lost and savor their resilience.

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 04:15 pm

It's been eons since far-out classics like "E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)," but Blue Öyster Cult are still enveloped in the sci-fi dream. At 79, singer and multi-instrumentalist Eric Bloom still plays video games every day. "I'm playing 'Diablo Immortal,' 'Nexus War' and 'Return of Shadow,'" he reports over Zoom, at home in Florida, with wall art of Saturnian rings and moons swirling overhead.

Later on, Bloom remembers Allen Lanier, their founding guitarist who passed in 2013, at age 67. "He was probably the brightest guy in Blue Öyster Cult intellect-wise," Bloom says of his late friend. "He always had a book." BÖC's been irresistibly brainy from the jump; they got saddled with the "heavy metal" genre tag, but that never made that style of music, nor fit that macho archetype.

So are the nuances of this cult classic rock band. If you only know the ever-spellbinding "Don't Fear the Reaper" and cowbell jokes — well, you have a lifetime of entertainment ahead of you. Happily, the band is still forging ahead at full capacity. Their last album of new material, 2020's The Symbol Remains, was excellent and one of their most consistent. (And, no, that's not graded on a legacy-act curve.)

Now, they've followed it up with Ghost Stories — an album of songs of yore whose recordings were never finished, until now. "It's for the hardcore BÖC fan," Bloom admits of this collection of tunes, which could have ended up on 1979's Mirrors or 1983's The Revölution by Night if things went in a different direction. (The limit of how much audio could fit on an LP, or cassette, was one factor.) But tracks like "Late Night Street Fight" and "So Supernatural" could make you one.

When you visit BÖC's homepage, you're greeted with an emblazoned "On Tour Forever!" — and not for nothing. In a 100+ show-per-year touring schedule that would flatten many bands half their age, Bloom and brother in arms Donald Roeser — that's Buck Dharma to you and me — carry the flame throughout the small theaters, state fairs and casino resorts of America.

Dharma's the only original member of the band, back when they were Soft White Underbelly — a paraphrasal of a Winston Churchill comment about Italy's role in World War II, by their manager, in-house poet and overall impresario, Sandy Pearlman. On Christmas Day, 1968, Bloom moved into the band house in Great Neck on Long Island, as their tour manager. The next year, he was their vocalist.

In 1971, they became Blue Öyster Cult, named from a Pearlman poem about a conspiracy of aliens taking over the world. (To get a handle on the lore, just read the lyrics to their 1988 album Imaginos, all drawn from Pearlman's bonkers poems and scripts.)  And aside from one brief breakup during a rough '80s, they've been powering ahead ever since.

"We're not dead yet," Bloom deadpans from behind wraparound shades. But they're still telling Ghost Stories.

Eric Bloom

*Eric Bloom performing with Blue Öyster Cult in 1978. Photo: Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images*

The Symbol Remains did so well that their label, Frontiers Music out of Italy, chomped at the bit for more output. However, they couldn't make a new album at that juncture; the road dogs had to be on tour. Eventually, the idea came about to return to unfinished material from 1978 to 1983, de-mix them, remix them and complete them.

As the equally boyish and soft-spoken Dharma explains, the Ghost Stories multitracks weren't recorded in a proper studio, but in a rehearsal hall to eight-track tape. They got the tapes from their original audio engineer, George Geranios, who baked the tapes and, in effect, "pre-produced" the record (Bloom says with air quotes).

Afterward, Geranios sent them to Richie Castellano's studio and still found deterioration on the vocal of the first single, "So Supernatural." BÖC leapt at the opportunity to employ cutting-edge technology to complete the music.

"We deconstructed some of them with these AI software tools to separate the individual elements of the ones that weren't multi-track," Bloom explains. Original BÖC drummer Albert Bouchard, who left the band in 1981, stepped behind the kit to complete the tunes that weren't fully tracked. Albert's brother, their former bassist Joe Bouchard, who left in '86, followed suit.

Regarding "So Supernatural," "Joe Bouchard had to come in, current day, and re-sing it. I believe that's the only song that had a vocal re-sung," Bloom says. Neither he nor Dharma had to re-sing anything; he's not sure that Dharma played anything new, but knows Castellano had to replay elements that were missing. "Some of those older tapes had holes on them where they were abandoned before rhythm guitars were put on them, things like that," he says.

Overall, "It was a nice collaborative effort with the original band members," Dharma says. Naturally, as they flip through these Ghost Stories, both Dharma and Bloom's heads fill with memories of the original sessions. Especially of one very, very critical figure in the band's history.

"Of course, Allen Lanier is gone now," Dharma says. "But to hear him play, it makes me feel good to hear him and hear the band as it was at that time period. It's like a snapshot of what it was."

Dharma can mentally place himself in the room where this music was made. "It was sort of transitional in the band's career because 'Reaper' had been a hit, and once you have a hit, the record company wants you to get another hit," he says. "There's quite a bit of pressure to sustain your level of output and quality. It's a burden."

For a white-hot streak in the '70s and early '80s, Blue Öyster Cult were as big as your ZZ Tops or Cheap Tricks. In the '80s, "The Reaper," "Burnin' For You," "Godzilla," and the like remain staples of classic rock radio.

Still, "It's not like we were hitmakers in terms of writing or performing or posing or whatever you're supposed to do to be a hit recording artist," Dharma says. "We just always thought of ourselves as an album band. And we didn't mind taking the road less traveled as far as styles and going out on limbs and stuff like that."

"I think that's where we did our best stuff, when we just didn't give a thought about commercial success," Dharma concludes. "So, it was an odd time for us, but we persevered. And here we are. It's 2024, for crying out loud."

According to press materials, Ghost Stories "marks a fitting finale to the recording legacy of one of rock's most iconic fixtures from the past 50 years." This notion clearly irks Bloom; he denies it without reservation. "That is record label speech, and my answer to that is never say never," he says. "There's no reason why we couldn't do another project if there was a reason to."

Buck Dharma

*Buck Dharma performing with Blue Öyster Cult in 1978. Photo: Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images*

Beyond having eternal radio staples, Blue Öyster Cult have sneakily resonated with younger generations. Their catalog is vast, and full of treasures, oddities and are-they-or-aren't-they missteps to argue about; this is a band with a lot to offer to the instant-access Spotify generation.

By the way, Dharma's not buying the "Spotify is evil" line: "People bitch about the streaming and who gets the money and stuff, but actually streaming is more equitable to the artists than it ever was in the physical product days," he contends.

Rather, he puts the onus more on the predatory deals with labels: "The split is better, and the bookkeeping is much better, because every listen is logged and no one's really cheating on that. You may complain about who gets the percentage of what, but if your music is popular, you are making money now."

Everyone knows the Christopher Walken "more cowbell" skit from SNL, but BÖC heads have been found in many a writer's room; they've been referenced, and played, repeatedly on shows that burrowed into millennials' heads young, from "The Simpsons" to "That '70s Show." They've even infiltrated indie, punk and alternative: Bloom being credited as "E. Bloom" led one Dennes Dale Boon from San Pedro, California to become D. Boon.

Neither Dharma or Bloom ever met the Minutemen legend, who was tragically hurled from a van in the Arizona Desert in 1985, marking another member of rock's "27 Club." But their camps are close; Bloom has a fond memory of Mike Watt joining BÖC live to perform the blazing "The Red and the Black" — which, Watt has maintained over the years, was the first song he and Boon ever played together.

"I'm grateful for them giving a damn about Blue Öyster Cult, because I certainly appreciate what they did with it," Dharma says. And, unrelated, Bloom recently caught wind that none other than Dave Grohl's a huge fan.

"Every time our name comes up, it's always something positive," Bloom says. And whether or not Ghost Stories will mark the end of the line, Blue Öyster Cult are not apparitions to be relegated to the past. There've been ups and downs galore with this complicated, idiosyncratic, rewarding band — but as agents of fortune, Lady Luck's been with them indeed.

And to the Reaper — the main character in their greatest song, who will take us and everyone we know eventually — better luck next time.

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GRAMMY U NYC Conference flier

Photo: GRAMMY U

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What To Expect At The 2024 GRAMMY U Conference In NYC

On April 20, music’s next generation will be in New York City for the 2024 GRAMMY U Conference, presented by Amazon Music. Read on for everything you need to know about the day of career-driven discussions with Broadway icons and pop stars.

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 03:56 pm

Shaneel Young contributed to this article

It’s been an unparalleled year of programming for GRAMMY U. 

Lainey Wilson and Greta Van Fleet connected with crowds at the 2023 Fall Summit in Nashville; Halle Bailey and Muni Long shared wisdom with the world during GRAMMY Week in Los Angeles at the GRAMMY U Masterclass. Now, music’s next generation of creative professionals will head to New York City for the 2024 GRAMMY U Conference presented by Amazon Music.  

This year it's all about show biz, and music has a hand in every part of the entertainment industry. Featuring a star-studded lineup of guests, the GRAMMY U Conference will dive deep into how your favorite musical performances on television are created, and offer insight into music careers on Broadway. 

GRAMMY U members will be able to learn all about the live performance industry through educational panels, a speed networking session, and even a performance workshop. You won’t want to miss what the big names have to say: GRAMMY, Tony, and Emmy Award winners Ben Platt will be the conference's keynote speaker, and Billy Porter (also a GRAMMY, Emmy, and Tony Award winner)O will work up close and personal with young talent, and Remi Wolf is going to talk about the music of late night shows. 

The action begins Friday, April 19 at the Chelsea Music Hall. Members from all over the country will gather for the GRAMMY U Showcase, where five GRAMMY U contest winners will perform original music. Catch a set by Jawan and stay for Infinity Song’s closing set.

Below, GRAMMY.com has gathered all of the information you need to get excited for the massive event.

GRAMMY U Welcomes Amazon Music

GRAMMY U has officially welcomed Amazon Music as a cornerstone partner. To kick off what will be an instrumental relationship, Amazon Music is proudly bringing their knowledge to the table as a presenter of the 2024 GRAMMY U Conference. Mastercard will also be returning as a participating sponsor for the event. GRAMMY U will kick off the conference with remarks from Ruby Marchand, Chief Awards and Industry Officer, Recording Academy;, Amazon Music's Global Head of Artist & Label Relations Andre Stapleton, and GRAMMY U Sr. Director Jessie Allen.

Hang With Ben Platt, The Star Of The Show

Starting the Saturday strong, Ben Platt will sit down with Beanie Feldstein to talk all about his storied career as an actor and singer ahead of his 18-date run at the Palace Theater in NYC, kicking off May 28th before his album release.

Growing up on the stage, Platt quickly became a leading force on Broadway, and has since shared his talents with the screen, starring in multiple films and TV series. Platt is also releasing music — his third album, Honeymind, drops May 31, beginning with an 18 date residency at the Palace Theatre in NYC followed by his national tour with special guest Brandy Clark this summer — and will discuss the significance of music within his various projects.

As the GRAMMY U Conference keynote speaker, Platt will share insights from the recording studio.

Share The Stage With Billy Porter

During a workshop, Billy Porter will share his best performance practices and advice for GRAMMY U members trying to make it big. Porter is no stranger to putting on a show, with over 30 years in the industry and numerous awards under his belt — and GRAMMY U is eager to learn and take guidance as they begin their music careers. Roy Gantz, GRAMMY U's National Membership Representative, will then take the stage and receive live performance coaching directly from Porter.

Making Music On Late Night TV With Remi Wolf & More

In a discussion moderated by talent booking pro Siobhan Schanda, members of "Late Night with Seth Meyers" will discuss bringing music to late-night television. The discussion will feature "Late Night" Associate Producer Yeji Cha-Beach and Marnie Stern, former guitarist for "Late Night" house band, the 8G Band and recording artist.

Singer/songwriter Remi Wolf, who performed recently on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert," will also join the discussion. In anticipation of supporting Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS World Tour and her upcoming sophomore album Big Ideas, Remi will discuss how a special performance like hers comes to life onscreen.

Learn What Happens Behind The Curtains

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the Broadway stage? This dynamic panel will highlight the brilliant minds that work to make the big show happen. Moderated by Michael Kushner, Founder and Creator of Michael Kushner Photography, hear from Broadway producers, directors, record label executives and more on how they put together a Broadway production behind the scenes. 

Panelists include renowned Broadway producer Christen James, Adam Hess of DR Theatrical Management, Pete Ganbarg, the President of A&R at Atlantic Records, and Erich Bergen, producer, actor and director at 6W Entertainment. From set design to marketing, this panel will reveal that whether on stage or behind the scenes, there's a place for every passion in the world of theater. 

Hear How Professionals Produce The Sounds Of Drama

In this panel, Broadway professionals will dive into the inner workings of theatrical sound in live theater, and how their expertise in Broadway audio production translates into other facets of the music industry. 

Experts Tom Winkler, Kurt Deustch, David Lai, and Kathy Sommer will detail the dynamic challenges that producers and composers must navigate to make productions possible. 

Learn How To Build Your Brand In The Career Center

At the start of the conference, attendees can learn from the experts and level up their profiles at the GRAMMY U Career Center. Learn how to present your best professional self, take a professional headshot, get a review of your resume from real recruiters in the industry, and network with professionals from Amazon Music, the Recording Academy and more. Networking mentors include AC Gottlieb, Asmita Khullar, Billy Seidman, Haley Bennett, Jameka Pankey, Jessica Fusco, John Ochoa, Leah Dowdy, Madeline Nelson, Nick Cucci, Nikisha Bailey, and Sarah Crane. So get there early and make the most out of your professional development at the GRAMMY U Conference!

Don’t forget to stop by the GRAMMY U Mixtape Listening station, too, and see the process behind how we select music for the GRAMMY U Mixtape every month.

Reserve Your Seat

Mark your calendars now, the 2024 GRAMMY U Conference will take place in New York City on Friday, April 19, and Saturday, April 20, and with more announcements to come, this is an event you surely won’t want to miss. Reserve your spot now with a RSVP.

For members who aren’t able to attend, the GRAMMY U Conference will be livestreamed on the Recording Academy’s YouTube and Twitch channels at 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET.

GRAMMY U Reps Experience GRAMMY Week Like Never Before Thanks To The Recording Academy & United Airlines