meta-scriptUK Drill Is An International Sensation. Will It Be Censored To Death? | GRAMMY.com
Digga D Performs At The Royal Albert Hall
Digga D performs at Royal Albert Hall in London

Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage/GettyImages

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UK Drill Is An International Sensation. Will It Be Censored To Death?

UK drill is on the cusp of international popularity, quickly becoming the dominant form of drill. But with mounting censorship in its home country, what does the future of the genre look like?

GRAMMYs/Feb 29, 2024 - 07:26 pm

Popular British rapper Digga D was just 18 years old when police first attempted to control his creative output. 

A 2018 criminal behavior order controlled where the artist could go and who he could meet, as well as what he could say in his lyrics. It also meant that within 24 hours of releasing a new song, Digga D had to submit the lyrics to the police – if the court found that his lyrics incited violence or mentioned certain areas of London, he could be found in violation of his parole. 

Digga D is one of the most prominent artists in UK drill — a raw, energetic form of drill with dark instrumentals and tresillo hi-hat patterns popularized by young artists like Central Cee, Digga D, and Unknown T. Originating in the early 2010s and popularizing towards the end of the decade, UK drill is a cultural phenomenon and wildly popular among young people throughout the United Kingdom and beyond.

In many ways, the future looks bright — the biggest UK drill artists are on the cusp of becoming not only huge in their own country but bona fide international stars with recognition from London to Lagos, Brixton to Brooklyn. However, UK authorities have been trying to censor drill artists, with restrictions on their abilities to make and perform music, so what’s the real future for the movement?

From underground to the top of the charts: UK drill's eruption in popularity

UK drill has steadily become one of the more popular genres of music among young people in its namesake country. Popularized on social media and YouTube, UK drill is resonant for the ways it discusses issues such as life on the streets to financial struggles. It's also translating to significant ticket sales and charting hits.

Ticketing marketplace viagogo noted a shift in demand for UK drill artists over the past year, telling GRAMMY.com that when tickets for Digga D’s Royal Albert Hall show went on sale  — he became the youngest rapper ever to headline the famous London venue — his page views on the platform spiked five times higher than average. 

Digga D has over 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify, with his most popular track getting over 110 million streams. His contemporary Central Cee, whose music is a mix of UK drill, trap, and more traditional British rap, has over 26 million monthly listeners on the platform; his track with rapper Dave, "Sprinter", became the longest-reigning rap track in UK chart history with ten weeks at No. 1. It’s amassed over half a billion Spotify streams. 

Since 2022, fans from 50 countries have bought tickets to Central Cee’s shows on viagogo, with most of them coming from Canada and the US. Music Week reported that, per the Official Charts Company, he was the biggest breakthrough artist in the UK for 2021.

Cee featured on a remix of Ed Sheeran’s "Bad Habits," which was engineered by Fumez the Engineer and featured Tion Wayne; the song remained at No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart for eight weeks. 

Fumez has had a huge impact on UK drill, and British rap more generally. The audio engineer helped to launch the rap platform Pressplay Media in 2012 at the age of 18, before moving to Link Up TV and then returning to Pressplay when he began his "Plugged In" freestyle series in 2020. 

Just as grime gradually became more mainstream, UK drill is following a similar path. Collaborations between UK drill artists and huge names in UK rap like Stormzy and Dave have increased its popularity and widespread appeal, as do projects worked on together by UK drill artists and American artists. In 2018, Skengdo x AM released "Pitbulls" with Chicago drill icon Chief Keef, for example, while Brooklyn drill pioneer Pop Smoke worked closely with UK producer 808Melo.

AS UK drill spreads across borders, it's criminalized at home

While UK drill has spread around the world, it originated in the multicultural south London district of Brixton, an area of the city with high levels of deprivation. While it’s influenced by the aesthetics of Chicago drill, UK drill has significant stylistic differences.  

Whereas Chicago drill is heavily influenced by trap, UK drill is in some ways an offshoot of road rap, a British equivalent to gangsta rap. Drill artist Loski’s father is a member of road rap group PDC, and big names in road rap like Giggs and Nines have collaborated with drill artists too. 

However, it has influence from British genres like grime and UK garage too — influential grime MC Jammer even said that, without grime, there wouldn’t be any drill, while drill producer Mazza said that drill and grime have a similar energy and raw feel. Drill’s tempo is similar to that of grime, while the use of 808s and fast-tempo snares is ubiquitous in both genres. 

However, it’s not all success and star-studded collaborations. Although the censorship of UK drill music is similar to the ways grime was criminalized and censored in the 2000s. However, it seems policing of UK drill has gone further.

UK drill faces a battle as it’s being censored by the UK authorities. High-profile politicians such as former Home Secretary Amber Rudd and journalists including Ben Ellery have linked drill to criminal behavior. Project Alpha, a London Metropolitan Police taskforce, was developed to gather intelligence from social media to prevent gang-related crime. Their efforts include monitoring music videos released by drill artists.

Hundreds of drill music videos have been taken down from YouTube as a result, including "Next Up" by CGM featuring Digga D. At the time of its removal in 2018, the song had received over 11 million views.

The same year Digga D was placed under a criminal behavior order, Skengdo and AM were subject to a gang injunction by the police, which prevented them from entering certain areas and from performing music that the police said was inciting violence. In 2019, the duo were both given a suspended jail sentence for breaching the injunction, with the court finding evidence that drill music can, and was, encouraging violence. 

And Digga himself was charged with "being concerned in the supply of cannabis" after police raided his London home this February. The raid was said to have taken place in the early hours of the morning, when the rapper was in the middle of an Instagram Live. 

Fumez describes drill as "freedom of speech and creative art." He tells GRAMMY.com "sometimes more gets said than needed, but everyone has their own story and their own background and their own form of expression."

In November 2021, Fumez’s first-ever headline show in London was canceled 20 minutes before doors opened after police imposed a Section 60 order on the area. The order gives police stop and search powers. 

Meanwhile, rap duo Krept & Konan released a short film called Ban Drill in 2019 and began a petition asking the police to stop criminalizing the genre. Diane Abbott, then of the UK Labour Party, invited Skengdo x AM and Krept & Konan to the Houses of Parliament to address lawmakers about censorship that same year. 

"Britain has a history of vilifying its young people all the way back to the teddy boys back in the ‘50s. So when things have been implemented to try and stop grime, for example, or sound system culture and things like that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, people pivot and find a way around it," explains Dr. Monique Charles, a British cultural socialist, theorist and methodologist and assistant professor at Chapman University in California. 

These circumnavigating measures may include releasing a film (like Krept & Konan), or as Skengdo, AM, and Drillminster did in 2019, teaming up to release a video, "The Media." Drillminster even ran to be mayor of London in 2021. At his Royal Albert Hall performance, Digga D referenced his troubles with the law more than once, and was "detained" onstage.

Fighting back might be as simple as continuing to make music, even if it's just freestyling between friends rather than releasing music online.

"People always need an outlet — a place to blow off steam. People want to come together, they want to be in a space, enjoying music at the same time," Charles adds. 

This sort of censorship isn’t unique to the UK, either. In the United States, advocates including the Recording Academy are addressing the issue of artists’ lyrics being used against them. The Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act was first introduced in 2022 and was reintroduced to Congress last April. At present, it has been enacted in two states: California and Louisiana.

Despite efforts to tamp it down, UK drill dominates internationally 

Many UK drill artists are second or third-generation immigrants from Africa, and UK drill beats often have a structure that’s influenced by African music. Unknown T is of Ugandan and Congolese descent, Headie One and LD are of Ghanaian origin, and Tion Wayne’s parents came from Nigeria. 

"One of the unique things about me as an artist is the intersection of my UK upbringing and my Nigerian heritage, and this is prominent throughout my music," says Dr. Adaku Agwunobi, an academic at the University of Oxford who also has a music career under the name Dr Adaku.

Her music spans a number of genres from Afrobeats to highlife to drill — something she thought would be a "seamless way to highlight the essence of my upbringing and heritage."

Perhaps in part because of its varied influences, UK drill is fast becoming one of the most dominant forms of drill internationally. Dr Adaku explains that she sees fusions of drill growing across the world — particularly in Nigeria, with some Nigerian artists starting to become popular in the UK too. She cites Psycho YP and Odumodublvck from Nigeria, as well as Ghana’s Asakaa Boys and FL EX from Egypt. 

In 2017, actor, comedian and rapper Michael Dapaah (a.k.a. Big Shaq) released "Man’s Not Hot" which sampled a drill instrumental used on 67 featuring Giggs' "Let’s Lurk." It soon became a viral success both in the UK and overseas — whereas UK drill before this was largely a success at home, "Man’s Not Hot" took it worldwide. 

Dapaah says he visited and performed in countries that previously had little awareness of UK rap or drill, and "Man’s Not Hot" became their introduction to the UK scene. The track has almost 300 million streams on Spotify; beyond London, the cities listening to the track the most are in Australia or Belgium. 

Dr. Charles says that UK drill is also on the rise in the U.S. — something that Dapaah has definitely been a factor in. A year after the release of "Man’s Not Hot," Dapaah was making YouTube videos with Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, and Malcolm Lee. 

"I've had a couple of students who were asking me if I knew what various slang terms were. There are some pockets in L.A. and on the East Coast with an interest because our diction, the way we phrase things, and the way we ride over the beat are phenomenal to Americans," she says.

Despite challenges, UK drill is growing — and its male dominance is being confronted

Drill is often associated with young men and hyper-masculinity, but female artists such as Shaybo, TeeZandos, Ivorian Doll, and Abigail Asante are also making their mark on the genre. Asante says that she became a musician "by accident" after writing lyrics over an R&B instrumental and creating the track "The Situation" with Ivorian Doll. The track trended on YouTube and Twitter, and kickstarted their careers. 

"The moment you hear drill you automatically affiliate it with gangs, violence, drugs, and weapons," she says. "I wanted to change that, be unique, and have my own spin on that narrative."

The pair became the first UK drill duo to get over three million views and streams — something Asante credits to their audience being 70 percent female. The group also discusses female empowerment and confidence to "challenge a very male-dominated genre and prove that girls are just as talented."

Asante, however, has said that she’s decided to "hang my boots" with drill, moving onto genres like Afroswing and Afrobeats. "I think drill is wearing out and people are getting bored of it – I’m most definitely bored of drill, it’s too repetitive and being known as a ‘drill rapper’ doesn’t allow my versatility as an artist."

That said, she says that drill beats have a "contagious, unique, upbeat sound that automatically gets people dancing," while it’s also a way for people to express themselves and their personal experiences. 

Fumez admits that he doesn’t think about the future of drill too much, or look too far into the future. He suggests that it might get a new name, and points out similarities between drill, garage, and grime, and says that the international appeal of drill — with even huge stars like Drake getting involved —  "brings longevity."

Dr. Charles believes that UK drill will become the dominant form of drill, though with influence from other scenes, and will continue to grow and expand. New generations of listeners will gravitate to UK drill's DIY ethos and put their own tweaks on it.

"I think one of the reasons why it will continue to grow and continue to expand is because the UK’s major cities are diverse places and because of British history, international connections, people migrating, moving around," she says. "Music travels with people, music migrates with people."

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Central Cee performs in Madrid

Photo: Aldara Zarraoa/Redferns

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5 International Hip-Hop Scenes To Watch Now

Acts around the globe are shifting away from imitating American artists, creating an audible international shift toward sounds that are truer to location. Read on for five countries with distinct hip-hop scenes worth checking out.

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2023 - 02:16 pm

Fifty years since the recognized beginning of hip-hop culture in the United States, its beats, rhymes and life have been inspiring artists and doing serious business around the world. These days, though, there’s an audible international shift away from imitating American acts and producing sounds that are truer to location.

"Overall, we’re definitely seeing the decline of the dominance of rap music on a global scale," notes Nima Etminan, COO of Empire. Headquartered in San Francisco, Empire is included among
Billboard’s 2023 International Power Players and has offices in New York, London, South Africa and Nigeria. An experienced A&R executive, Etminan is originally from Germany and frequently works from each base to scout and sign talent.

What
is working, Etminan has noticed, are emergent international styles that may count rap music and hip-hop culture as ingredients or influences. Artists around the globe are breaking new sonic ground, whether it’s Puerto Rico’s Bad Bunny rapping and singing, or the hip-hop appeal of the corridos by Mexico’s Peso Pluma.

"I think that the essence of African American culture when it comes to talking and dressing and stuff is definitely still there, but it’s just less because [America has] less global influence," he says. " Now everybody kind of has their own local scenes that are bigger. So the American stuff still plays into it, but just on a much smaller scale because they have their own heroes and their own superstars who are big that they are looking up to."

With all that in mind, GRAMMY.com asked Etminan and other global music minds to recommend international rap scenes that are worth watching now.

Brazil

In November, Brazilian hip-hop artists made a big impression at the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs. Planet Hemp and Criolo were the first to win the inaugural award for Best Portuguese-Language Urban Performance with their song "Distopia." They were nominated alongside three other Brazilian rap acts worth watching: Luccas Carlos, Dallas and Filipe Ret.

Empire, which is both a record label and distributor, just hired its first employee in Brazil. The company has good reason to watch and invest in this region.

"I think Brazil is one of the fastest rising areas," says Etminan. "I think as far as their own sound and culture that’s really big but hasn’t exploded outside of that yet, and hasn’t had mainstream success yet, it’s probably Brazil."

Read more: A Timeline Of Brazilian Hip-Hop: From The Ruas To The Red Carpet

France

French rap music may not be on the radar of the average American fan, but France is the second largest market in the world for hip-hop — behind only the United States.

"Take a look at the country's Top Spotify lists and it's strongly dominated by domestic artists in the genre who come from Paris, Marseille and from various regions across the country," notes Alexandra Greenberg, the U.S. consultant for CNM (Centre national de la musique), France’s national music office. "The country also has Les Flammes, an international awards show celebrating rap going into its second year this coming April."

Paris-based hip-hop journalist and author Epée Hervé Dingong suggests becoming acquainted with the likes of Ninho, an MC of Congolese descent influenced by American Southern rappers, who recently collaborated with Lil Baby. Dingong also pointed to Booba, who has had three NO. 1 albums and eight other Top 10 releases in France since his 2002 debut.

"Booba is not new," says Dingong, who is working on a book chronicling the history of the hip-hop mixtape, "but he is still the king." 

Nigeria

The world’s embrace of Afrobeats originated with Nigerian artist Fela Kuti, who was likened to be the James Brown of Africa. Current Nigerian superstars who are poised to eclipse that success internationally, like Burna Boy and Olamide, have grown up under the influence of the Kuti family (including Fela’s recording artist sons, Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti) and the allure of American rap.

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy introduced a new category of Best African Music Performance, reflecting the continent’s current breakthroughs in the North American music business. And a remix of "Sittin’ on Top of the World" by Burna Boy featuring 21 Savage is one of the nominees for Best Melodic Rap Performance in 2024. Fellow nominees in the category are "Attention" by Doja Cat, "Spin Bout U" from Drake & 21 Savage, "All My Life" by Lil Durk feat. J. Cole, and SZA's "Low."

Though these artists are beloved around the world, the worsening economic climate in Nigeria has made it challenging for them to succeed at home, explains Etminan.

"The inflation in Nigeria was so crazy this year," he says, "and the Nigerian currency lost so much of its value, so a lot of the money these artists were making was devalued at the same time. So that’s stuff that plays into [their ability to work at home and] that’s really tough. And that’s outside of anyone’s control, you know?"

Read more: 2024 GRAMMYs: How The New Best African Music Performance GRAMMY Category Is A Massive Win For The World

South Africa

A&R executives like Etminan are still heavily focused on the talent and potential in South Africa, though the man who was arguably the biggest star in the South African scene with the most international appeal lost his life in 2023. AKA, an MC who was the top-selling South African hip-hop artist of all time, was shot and killed in Durban in February when his career was still on the rise. He was 35.

Presently, South Africa gets the most attention globally for amapiano, which takes influence more from house music and the more local kwaito music from the Nineties, but there is a growing cooperation and
collaboration with the South African rap world. Like most specifically rap scenes, South Africa’s is male-dominated, but a notable exception is Nadia Nakai, an Artist Of The Decade nominee at the South African Hip-Hop Awards and reality star in the Netflix series Young, Famous & African. Nakai and her contemporaries reflect an aspirational lifestyle in their music.

England

"The UK market for a long time was very tough," says Etminan, adding that the market is small, saturated, and generally concentrated around London. "Especially when it comes to hip-hop, a huge percentage of the Black population in the UK is centered around London and once you leave London it’s very white."

Hip-hop with an English accent may not have had as much success catching on internationally as other UK-bred styles like drum & bass and grime have, but a current set of stars are demanding the world’s attention.

"I think Central Cee is probably a perfect example of what can happen," Etminan adds. "Everybody loves Central Cee and I don’t know if part of it is his look — he’s very racially ambiguous, he’s good looking, girls love him. He makes music that obviously has a UK accent and stuff like that, but it’s very adaptable and catchy. I feel like Central Cee is probably the one that I hear played the most from people that just listen to regular American rap music [in England]."

Central Cee won two 2022 MOBO Awards for Best Male Act and Video Of The Year for his song "Doja," which was directed by Cole Bennett, the popular Chicago video director from Lyrical Lemonade. He celebrated his 25th birthday in 2023 with the release of Split Decision, a joint project with Mercury Prize-winning English rapper Dave, also 25 and a still-rising star who appeared on the UK series "Top Boy" (which became a US hit for Netflix). Cee is also bridging countries with collaborations such as "Eurovision," a song and video featuring rappers and producers from France, Spain, Italy and across the United Kingdom. 

Luckily, YouTube offers a free passport to experiencing the creativity from these scenes and artists as well as music from all across the planet. A true benefit of the streaming age is that hip-hop fans of any age who appreciate originality, flow and bumping beats can learn about how an American-bred art form has inspired the world.

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Tanner Adell
Tanner Adell attends the 2024 CMA Awards.

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for CMT

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12 Must-See Acts At Stagecoach 2024: Tanner Adell, Charley Crockett & More

Before the country music festival returns to the California desert April 26-28, get to know some of the most buzzworthy artists set to take this year's Stagecoach Festival by storm.

GRAMMYs/Apr 23, 2024 - 11:28 pm

In a matter of days, some of country music's best and most promising acts will come together in Indio, California for Stagecoach Festival 2024. The annual event has spotlighted an eclectic mix of talent since 2007, but this year's impressive roster of performers helped Stagecoach earn its largest number of ticket sales in the festival's 17-year history.

Held April 28-30 at the Empire Polo Club — the same scenic desert landscape as the long-running Coachella Music and Arts Festival — this year's Stagecoach Festival offers a diverse blend of artists that spans from headliners like Miranda Lambert and Eric Church to surf-pop icons the Beach Boys, hit rockers Nickelback and hip-hop star Post Malone

Along with this diverse roster of superstars, the 2024 Stagecoach lineup is filled with a captivating list of artists on the rise. From a singer/songwriter enjoying a much-deserved comeback to a skillful 25-year-old putting his own spin on the '90s country sound, this year's crop of talent is paving the way for the future of country music.

Stagecoach Festival 2024 is completely sold out, but country fans who didn't snag their ticket in time can still enjoy all the festivities by streaming performances live via Amazon Prime all weekend long. Before you head out into the California sun or get cozy in front of your TV, take a moment to learn more about these 12 must-see acts coming to Stagecoach this year.

Tanner Adell

Since the release of Beyoncé's country-inspired album COWBOY CARTER, singer/songwriter Tanner Adell has become one of the genre's most talked about new artists. Before she was tapped as a guest vocalist on Beyoncé's cover of the Beatles' classic "Blackbird," and original track "AMERIICAN REQUIEM," Adell had already garnered a dedicated fan base online. 

Thanks to viral hits like "Buckle Bunny," the playful title track of her 2023 debut album, the Nashville-based talent has earned praise from both critics and country listeners worldwide. From heartfelt ballads to beat-driven bops made to get you on the dance floor, Adell blends elements of radio-ready modern country and rhythmic hip-hop with ease.

Adell's Saturday performance at Stagecoach promises to be a fiery and fun showcase of her polished pop-country songbook.

Zach Top

While growing up in Washington state, Zach Top forged a deep connection to the sound of traditional country music. From Marty Robbins to Keith Whitley, the influence of the genre's past is deeply entwined in every track of the talented 25-year-old's brand new record, Cold Beer & Country Music

Top's 12-track LP has earned plenty of buzz for its new take on the neo-traditionalist style that dominated country radio in the late 1980s and early '90s. With engaging vocals reminiscent of the late Daryle Singletary and thoughtful lyricism, Zach Top provides a fresh new take on a familiar and formative sound.

Brittney Spencer

Over the past five years, Brittney Spencer has repeatedly proven why she's one of the most important and captivating voices within modern country music. From her acclaimed 2021 single "Sober & Skinny'' to her celebrated collaboration with country supergroup The Highwomen, Spencer's vocals are consistently as emotive as they are effortless.

Spencer's charismatic personality and boundless energy take center stage through every performance, making her live shows a can't-miss event. Her Sunday afternoon set at Stagecoach offers a chance to hear cuts from her stellar debut album, My Stupid Life, which dropped in January.

Vincent Neil Emerson

Texas native Vincent Neil Emerson first earned widespread praise with the 2019 release of his debut album, Fried Chicken and Evil Women, earning him comparisons to influential artists like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. His narrative-driven lyrics and hauntingly raw vocals have won the hearts of country fans far outside the Texas plains.

Over the years, he's collaborated with fellow alt-country favorite Colter Wall and recruited the creative genius of Rodney Crowell, who serves as producer on Emerson's self-titled 2021 LP. With his most recent album, the Shooter Jennings-produced The Golden Crystal Kingdom, Emerson once again channels the old-school magic of the traditional country that only comes from a rare type of Texas troubadour.

Katie Pruitt

Although Katie Pruitt has been locally lauded as among the best of Nashville's modern crop of singer/songwriters for years, her rise into the mainstream is still overdue. The Georgia native's stunning 2020 debut album, Expectations, was hailed for its raw honesty and effortless vocal intricacies. 

When she takes the stage during the final day of Stagecoach 2024, Pruitt will be armed with a brand new batch of awe-inspiring songs. Released on April 5, her sophomore album, Mantras, delivers an unpredictable, genre-bending sound that displays a sense of artistry far beyond her years. Don't miss your chance to see Pruitt's mesmerizing live set, which is guaranteed to have you dancing and maybe even wiping away a few tears.

Carin León

In just a few short years, beloved Mexican singer/songwriter Carin León has evolved from a regional hitmaker to an internationally known talent. His reflective and honest songs have connected with audiences globally, becoming one of Spotify's most streamed modern Mexican artists. 

Earlier this year, the two-time Latin GRAMMY-winner made his Grand Ole Opry debut, and will serve as the opening act for rock legends the Rolling Stones' Hackney Diamonds Tour when it heads to Glendale, Ariz. this May. (And just one week before his Stagecoach debut, he also made his Coachella debut.) Fans who catch his Friday set may be lucky enough to see a live rendition of "It Was Always You (Siempre Fuiste Tú)," his fresh collaboration with fellow Stagecoach 2024 artist Leon Bridges.

Trampled By Turtles 

Thanks to their unique blend of bluegrass, folk, country, and a dash of rock and roll, Minnesota-based outfit Trampled by Turtles has become a music festival staple — and will make their third Stagecoach appearance (and first in 10 years) on Saturday. Their high-energy live sets channel the psychedelic magic of rock's jam band scene, subbing plucky acoustic instrumentation in the place of rolling electric guitar.

The long-running band will treat fans to an array of tracks from their impressive career, which spans 10 albums, including their critically praised 2022 LP, Alpenglow. Even if you aren't already familiar with Trampled by Turtles' extensive list of releases, you're sure to be captivated by their hypnotizing performance style and positive energy that radiates from the live stage.

Charley Crockett

Texas-born talent Charley Crockett is one of few modern artists who have proven worthy enough for the coveted title of "troubadour." The seasoned singer/songwriter's appearance at Stagecoach will coincide with the release of $10 Cowboy, his soulful and synth-tinged 16th studio album.

Crockett's mix of traditional country and thoughtful folk, infused with gritty 1970s pop, creates a nostalgic charm that captivates the live stage. His descriptive story songs and distinctive twang echo the genre's early greats while expanding those classic country themes into new and surprising sonic territory. His Stagecoach 2024 set is sure to deliver a blend of fresh album cuts along with fan favorites from his already-expansive catalog.

Lola Kirke

You may know Lola Kirke as an accomplished actress in both television and film, but the British talent is also one of country music's most surprising new artists. Her stylized mix of traditional country and edgy pop-rock is refreshingly fun and tailor-made for Stagecoach's good-time vibe. 

In recent months, Kirke has shared a string of infectious singles leading up to the release of her latest EP, Country Curious. In March, she dropped a stellar take on the Paula Cole classic "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" featuring Stagecoach 2023 alumni Kaitlin Butts. Make sure you clean off your boots before Kirke's set, because there's a good chance she'll have a very special line dance lesson ready for the crowd.

Willie Jones

For nearly a decade, Louisiana-born talent Willie Jones has captivated country fans with fresh and genre-bending tracks, propelled by deep, rich vocals. Since first making waves with his rendition of Josh Turner's "Your Man" during an audition for "The X-Factor" in 2012, Jones has been paving his own path in the genre. 

He's recorded two full-length records, including his irresistible 2023 LP Something to Dance To. His Stagecoach set will certainly be a boot-stomper, offering concertgoers a chance to experience the magic captured on his latest EP, The Live Sessions, which arrived on April 5.

Sam Barber

Missouri native Sam Barber has evolved from a hopeful musician to a viral sensation with a major-label record deal. While passing the time at college, the gifted 20-year-old began recording covers of his favorite country tracks and shared them on TikTok, quickly garnering thousands of eager listeners. His down-to-earth charm, paired with surprisingly seasoned and gritty vocals, also earned the attention of Atlantic Records. 

In 2023, they shared Barber's debut EP, Million Eyes, which spawned the breakthrough radio single "Straight and Narrow." Now, fresh off the release of Live EP 001 and a string of new singles, Barber will bring his thoughtful yet edgy country sound to Stagecoach, marking another rapidfire career accomplishment.

Luke Grimes

Although you may know him best for his role as the chaotic charmer Kayce Dutton on the acclaimed television series "Yellowstone," Luke Grimes' creative talents expand far outside the small screen. A lifelong musician and lover of country music, Grimes took the stage at Stagecoach 2023 in support of his debut EP, Pain Pills or Pews. The project's raw and honest tracks earned critical acclaim and quickly led Grimes back into the studio, tapping Dave Cobb as producer for his vulnerable new self-titled LP, which arrived on March 8.

Whether you're a longtime fan of his acting or an already devoted listener, Grimes' set marks a pivotal moment in his ever-evolving musical career — and one of many can't-miss moments at this year's Stagecoach Festival.

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The Melvins
The Melvins (L-R: Dale Crover, Steven McDonald, Buzz Osborne)

Photo: Chris Casella

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On The Melvins' 'Tarantula Heart,' Buzz Osborne Continues His Idiosyncratic Calling: "I Don't Want To Do Anything Normal"

Kicking out bassists, flipping the script on drummers, beating up drunks: no conversation with the razor-sharp Buzz Osborne is going to be conventional. And the Melvins' gloriously strange new album, 'Tarantula Heart,' is a boon to off-center music fans.

GRAMMYs/Apr 23, 2024 - 08:24 pm

"I will answer any and all questions. Just, a lot of times, people don't like my answers."

So goes Buzz Osborne — the long-reigning King Buzzo, of cult heavies the Melvins — halfway through a hair-raising, hour-long interview. He had a catbird seat to the exhilarating rise and tragic fall of the grunge era; for some, his brutal honesty in that regard might be a liability.

"That's just Buzz," said his old friend Krist Novoselic of Nirvana, after Osborne virally disparaged the documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck as "90 percent... bulls—." "He's always been like that, but we love him so we just accept him for that. He's always had these opinions. Like, 'Oh, there goes Buzz again.'"

There he goes again, indeed. But Osborne's honesty is just that — honesty. Go ahead and scour his interviews; try to catch him in a lie, or a half-truth, about anything he's lived through.

"I wasn't wrong then, I'm not wrong now. I was misunderstood then, and I'm going to continue to be misunderstood," Osborne tells GRAMMY.com of the old days, when he watched his friends in Nirvana and Soundgarden grow from nothing to dominate the earth. "But that's OK, it's part of the deal."

Unlike either act, Osborne has always been 100 percent opposed to conventional notions of rock stardom. (Cobain seemed hot and cold on the matter.) He doesn't drink or take drugs. He's been married to the same woman forever. "I live a conservative life, and I let my wildness come out of my art," Osborne explains.

And while Tarantula Heart might not necessarily grow his cult fanbase, it's one of the wildest things Osborne's made — and that alone makes it worth celebrating and cherishing.

The Melvins' 27th studio album (Osborne estimates the total to be over 30, so perhaps it depends on how you count) is rife with off-kilter, pummeling tracks like "Working the Ditch," "She's Got Weird Arms" and "Smiler."

Therein, Osborne shows he can still throw a wrench in the works when things threaten to become predictable, and come up with profoundly idiosyncratic and ineffably satisfying art. (How he recorded the drums alone is fascinating — and by some standards, backwards.)

Read on to learn how Tarantula Heart was made, living with Kurt Cobain's distorted public shadow, which of his grunge-era contemporaries he still talks to, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

I'll admit that I haven't heard every Melvins album. But Tarantula Heart still strikes me as a high watermark in the discography.

Well, I don't think anybody has heard our entire catalog.

I probably have. I would say that I guarantee you Steven [Shane McDonald]'s never listened to all of our records. The guy who plays bass for us. I really, seriously doubt it. I doubt that [former bassist] Kevin Rutmanis has ever listened to all of our records. I can't imagine that the Big Business guys listened to all our records. It's too much for anybody to take in. I don't expect people to do that.

At any rate, how do you keep your artistry so fresh and inspired?

I stay inspired by thinking — moving my feet. After 30-plus albums, I am always looking for something that's going to inspire me in a new way. I don't really have much interest in going back and making records the way that I did 30 years ago, or 15 years ago.

There's really no template for how you guys do things, is there?

No, there's no template. I don't want to do anything normal. Nothing. I'm an accidentalist, I'd say, by 50 percent. And the other 50 percent is making sure that you are not throwing out the good stuff with the bad stuff. 

Also, as time has gone on, I've realized that my tolerance for lots of stuff is a lot higher than most people are capable of dealing with. I can listen to long, drawn-out stuff, and I always could, but I realized in my music, I always held back a little bit on it. Then, I realized, Well, I don't need to do that. I can do whatever I want. I can view albums the way that I want to.

Do go on.

One of my favorite albums for that kind of thing is Heathen Earth by Throbbing Gristle. That's been a huge inspiration on what I've done for a long time. Or early Swans. I mean, we were never going to sell millions of records. All we were going to do was make music that, because I felt like I had good taste, there'd be other people that would like it. It probably won't be millions, but it'll be enough.

Those kinds of inspirations [are] very exciting for me. And I expect people not to understand it, but that's the way it's always been.

We did this record in such a weird fashion. I knew that I needed to tell people how we did it, but…once they knew, they would say, "That's what it sounds like." They'd piss all over it.

You know how many times I have been told what I should do in the last 41 years? It's like if I listened to all this good advice, I'd be sitting here with nothing.

You characterized yourself as an "accidentalist." Give me a couple of great accidents on Tarantula Heart.

Well, one of them was accidentally figuring out how we were going to do this record. Because that's not how we recorded the drums originally. I didn't know that's what we were going to do. I just accidentally stumbled on it while listening to the demos or the rough mixes of all the jams that we made.

So, we would have a basic riff that we could jam to with the drummers. We recorded for about 15 minutes, 20 minutes, maybe a few minutes into it, the drummers would lock up into something. And I realized when I was listening back to [the demos] that they did something interesting for this little six-minute section or eight-minute section, and then they kind of lost it.

Then, I would take that section, and write a riff to it that had nothing to do with the original riff that was on it. The first one I did was "Allergic to Food," I think. And then I put vocals on it and then I realized I could do the whole record like this. The drums are playing along with stuff that's not now on there. So, all their accents and all the way that they're playing isn't the way they would've done it, had we rehearsed it or something like this.

So, I got something out of it that's brand new.

That's the epitome of a happy accident.

I just accidentally stumbled upon this thing that might work, let me try doing the whole record like that. And it worked. But I don't know, I couldn't do it again, because now they'd be suspicious of it and they might play in a way that wasn't as free as the way they played. So, it's probably a one-time-only.

There's a song we did a long time ago called "The Bloated Pope," and there's a stumbly-sounding drum intro. Dale [Crover] made a mistake. I went, "Leave that in there. That's really cool." Now, that's the intro. It sounds intentional. That's how we play it now. But it was a mistake.

You mentioned Kevin Rutmanis. Do you keep in touch with old members of the Melvins?

I'm still really good friends with Kevin. Let me think. Mark [Deutrom], no. Lori [Black], no. Jeff Pinkus… I'm going to do a big acoustic tour starting in August with Trevor Dunn, who's also played with us. Jeff Pinkus is doing all the U.S. touring, and we're trying to get him on the European end of it. So, I talk to both Trevor and him a lot.

Matt [Lukin] from Mudhoney — no, not in the least.

I didn't know stuff wasn't cool with Matt. I just knew he played on the first Melvins album, Gluey Porch Treatments.

Oh, no, I don't get along with him at all. I haven't liked him since I was in high school. He's a very toxic human being. He wasn't a very good player, and I just found him irritating and counterproductive. I've not looked back one minute, nor have I regretted any part of not having him in my life.

He can do or say whatever he wants. I don't give a s—. That's nothing new. It's not like that's a new revelation. Look, hardly anybody in the world even knows who he is. You're one of the first people that's even brought him up.

That's surprising, as Pearl Jam named a song after him. It's not a hit, but fans know it.

Yeah, well, if Eddie wants to think he's a great guy, then so be it. Better him than me.

How about your other contemporaries, like the other members of Mudhoney?

Oh, I get along with those guys great. I would love to do a recording with all the Mudhoney guys.

Mark [Arm], especially, is someone I've known since the very early '80s. I learned a lot of stuff about bands and music that I never knew before. He turned me on to lots of stuff that I was very excited about, like Foetus and the Birthday Party — just a host of bands.

I always viewed him as somebody who was really smart — really fun to be around. He and Steve Turner know more about music than anyone I've ever been around.

I’d like to broach this as sensitively as possible: April 5 marked the 30th anniversary of your old friend Kurt's passing. How have you dealt with the endless flattening and deification of a person you knew as flesh and blood?

It's very weird. It's not the kind of thing you get over. People tend to want me to look at it like the good old days, but to me, heroin addiction and death, it's hard to romanticize that. I'm not going to get over it anytime soon. I don't know that I ever will.

Part of me also thinks that, yeah, I turned him onto music and got him interested in all this stuff, and it's like maybe if I hadn't, he wouldn't be dead. So it's a weird position to be in.

I hope that doesn't bedevil you too much. That's a massive weight to carry — one that you didn't ask for.

I mean, at some point, you just have to move on. And musical ideas that I had, other people took, and it changed music on a global level. So I wasn't wrong about what I originally thought, and I'm happy to have that be the case, and I'll just move forward with the same attitude I did then.

I wasn't wrong then, I'm not wrong now. I was misunderstood then, and I'm going to continue to be misunderstood, but that's OK, it's part of the deal. I'm OK with that.

It's your lot in life.

That's all right. I mean, I make my living as a musician. That's all I ever wanted. So no one could have guessed any of that stuff would happen.

I mean, the Nirvana guys and the Soundgarden guys — those are rags-to-riches stories.Those guys, especially the Nirvana guys, had nothing. And if you look at the guys in Soundgarden, those people all come from nothing. Zero.

So, it's been exciting to watch people you're so fond of become successful and have that kind of thing happen and say that you were an influence on what they were doing. Great.

But when you're handed that kind of responsibility and those kinds of keys, you need to work harder than you ever have. You just need to keep doing this good work. And that's what I've tried to do for the next 35, 40 years.

The Melvins

*The Melvins in 1991 (L-R: Dale Crover, Buzz Osborne, then-bassist Lori Black). Photo: David Corio/Redferns*

It feels so unfair what happened to you guys. You were kids from the sticks — and to varying degrees, you were all thrown into this ruthless celebrity grinder.

Oh, yeah. It's easy to avoid that stuff. I'm not going to any industry parties. I never have. I don't want to do that kind of stuff. I've always shied away from it, because I'm not comfortable there.

I don't think it's wrong for everyone, but it's wrong for me. I'd rather just do my work and let that be the end of it. I'm not good at networking. I'm not good at outselling myself to people who may not give a s—.

I've been in L.A. for 30-plus years and most people in the industry don't even know I'm there. They still say, "Oh, so you live in the Northwest?" I go, "Well, I left there in '86, '87." And in L.A., you're far more likely to see me at a municipal golf course than at a rock and roll show.

At this point, I only go to rock and roll shows if I'm getting paid to be there. They're not fun for me. I end up in the audience talking to a bunch of drunks. That's not fun for me. Drunks are only fun if you're drunk.

And I appreciate everybody who comes to our shows, but I don't have fun at live shows myself as an audience member. I'm in those places all the time, and I don't want to put myself in a position where I'm going to have to punch someone in the mouth. It's not a good place for me to be, so I avoid it.

That's unfortunate, but I know exactly how I am. If you push me far enough. I'll beat the living f—ing s— out of you. And I don't fight fair. I don't. I grew up in a redneck town. I fought all the time. I'll kick you right in the nuts and then lay your head open.

I get to see enough shows. We did a tour last year with Boris, and we played some shows with We Are the Asteroid and Taipei Houston, who are really good. On stage, I'll get to watch Trevor Dunn play every night. I'm not feeling unfulfilled in a live music type of way at all.

I'm sure your intense work ethic also stems from your upbringing.

Suffering and working a s— job and all those kinds of things — I don't know that that ever made my music better, but it did give me an understanding of how important things like hard work are.

I think it's kind of a tragedy that teenagers don't work more. I always enjoyed working when I was a teenager. I wanted a job. I wanted to do things like that. I think that working hard is something that people should do. I couldn't wait to get a car. I couldn't wait to be mobile, and be my own person.

I've only ever been around my family situation, around people who had to work, so I don't know anything else. I don't know what it's like to live some bourgeois life where work is just not important. Unless you plan on inheriting a lot of money, I don't know how else it's going to work out for you.

I went to school and went to a job after school, got home by about 9 or 10 at night, and went and did the whole thing over again. I never had a problem with that. You don't do the work, you don't get the money. That's just how it works. So this whole idea that teenagers don't work anymore hardly in the US anyway, I think is just kind of absurd.

Before we go, give me a line from the album that you believe in with your whole heart.

"I'm about to make you happy."

What's that mean to you?

It could be the truth. It could be a lie.

Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard On New Album Dark Matter & The Galvanizing Force Of Andrew Watt

Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Selena Gomez
(L-R) Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Selena Gomez during the 2008 Teen Choice Awards.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/TCA 2008/WireImage/Getty Images

feature

Disney's Golden Age Of Pop: Revisit 2000s Jams From Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez & More

As Disney Music Group celebrates its defining era of superstars and franchises, relive the magic of the 2000s with a playlist of hits from Hilary Duff, Jesse McCartney and more.

GRAMMYs/Apr 23, 2024 - 06:41 pm

"...and you're watching Disney Channel!" For anyone who grew up in the 2000s, those five words likely trigger some pretty vivid imagery: a glowing neon wand, an outline of Mickey Mouse's ears, and every Disney star from Hilary Duff to the Jonas Brothers

Nearly 20 years later, many of those child stars remain instantly recognizable — and often mononymous — to the millions of fans who grew up with them: Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. Nick, Kevin and Joe

Each of those names has equally memorable music attached to it — tunes that often wrap any given millennial in a blanket of nostalgia for a time that was, for better or for worse, "So Yesterday." And all of those hits, and the careers that go with them, have the same starting point in Hollywood Records, Disney Music Group's pop-oriented record label.

This time in Disney's history — the core of which can be traced from roughly 2003 to 2010 — was impactful on multiple fronts. With its music-oriented programming and multi-platform marketing strategies, the network launched a procession of teen idols whose music would come to define the soundtrack to millennials' lives, simultaneously breaking records with its Disney Channel Original Movies, TV shows and soundtracks.

Now, two decades later, Disney Music Group launched the Disney 2000s campaign, honoring the pivotal, star-making era that gave fans a generation of unforgettable pop music. The campaign will last through August and lead directly into D23 2024: The Ultimate Fan Event with special vinyl releases of landmark LPs and nostalgic social media activations occurring all summer long. April's campaign activation was Disney 2000s Weekend at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, which featured special screenings of 2008's Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert and 2009's Hannah Montana: The Movie and Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience.

But before Miley and the JoBros, Hollywood Records' formula for creating relatable (and bankable) teen pop stars began with just one name: Hilary Duff. At the time, the bubbly blonde girl next door was essentially the face of the network thanks to her starring role in "Lizzie McGuire," and she'd just made the leap to the big screen in the summer of 2003 with The Lizzie McGuire Movie. In her years with Disney, Duff had dabbled in recording songs for Radio Disney, and even released a Christmas album under Buena Vista Records. However, her first album with Hollywood Records had the potential to catapult her from charming tween ingénue to bonafide teen pop star — and that's exactly what it did.

Released on August 26, 2003, Duff's Metamorphosis sold more than 200,000 copies in its first week and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The following week, the bubblegum studio set performed the rare feat of rising from No. 2 to No. 1, making the then-16-year-old Duff the first solo artist under 18 to earn a No. 1 album since Britney Spears.

The album's immediate success was no fluke: Within a matter of months, Metamorphosis had sold 2.6 million copies. Music videos for its radio-friendly singles "So Yesterday" and "Come Clean" received constant airplay between programming on the Disney Channel. (The latter was eventually licensed as the theme song for MTV's pioneering teen reality series "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County," giving it an additional boost as a cultural touchstone of the early '00s.) A 33-date North American tour soon followed, and Hollywood Records officially had a sensation on their hands. 

Naturally, the label went to work replicating Duff's recipe for success, and even looked outside the pool of Disney Channel stars to develop new talent. Another early signee was Jesse McCartney. With a soulful croon and blonde mop, the former Dream Street member notched the label another big win with his 2004 breakout hit "Beautiful Soul."

"When 'Beautiful Soul' became the label's first No. 1 hit at radio, I think that's when they really knew they had something," McCartney tells GRAMMY.com. "Miley [Cyrus] and the Jonas Brothers were signed shortly after that success and the rest is history.

"The thing that Disney really excelled at was using the synergy of the channel with promoting songs at pop," he continues. "I did appearances on 'Hannah Montana' and 'The Suite Life of Zack & Cody' and my music videos were pushed to Disney Channel. The marketing was incredibly brilliant and I don't think there has been anything as connected with an entire generation like that since then."

By 2006, Disney had nearly perfected its synergistic formula, continually launching wildly popular tentpole franchises like High School Musical and The Cheetah Girls, and then giving stars like Vanessa Hudgens and Corbin Bleu recording contracts of their own. (Curiously, the pair's HSM co-star Ashley Tisdale was never signed to Hollywood Records, instead releasing her first two solo albums with Warner.) 

Aly Michalka showed off her vocal chops as sunny girl next door Keely Teslow on "Phil of the Future," and fans could find her off-screen as one half of sibling duo Aly & AJ. In between their 2005 debut album Into the Rush and its electro-pop-charged follow-up, 2007's Insomniatic, Aly and her equally talented younger sister, AJ, also headlined their own Disney Channel Original Movie, Cow Belles. (Duff also helped trailblaze this strategy with her own early DCOM, the ever-charming Cadet Kelly, in 2002, while she was simultaneously starring in "Lizzie McGuire.")

Even after years of proven success, the next class of stars became Disney's biggest and brightest, with Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers all joining the network — and record label — around the same time. "Hannah Montana" found Cyrus playing a spunky middle schooler by day and world-famous pop star by night, and the network leveraged the sitcom's conceit to give the Tennessee native (and daughter of '90s country heartthrob Billy Ray Cyrus) the best of both worlds. 

After establishing Hannah as a persona, the series' sophomore soundtrack introduced Miley as a pop star in her own right thanks to a clever double album that was one-half Hannah's music and one-half Miley's. It's literally there in the title: Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus.

From there, Cyrus' stardom took off like a rocket as she scored back-to-back No.1 albums and a parade of Top 10 hits like "See You Again," "7 Things," "The Climb," "Can't Be Tamed," and the ever-so-timeless anthem "Party in the U.S.A."

At the same time, Gomez had top billing on her own Disney Channel series, the magical (but less musical) "Wizards of Waverly Place." That hardly stopped her from launching her own music career, though, first by fronting Selena Gomez & the Scene from 2008 to 2012, then eventually going solo with the release of 2013's Stars Dance after the "Wizards" finale aired.

For her part, Lovato — Gomez's childhood bestie and "Barney & Friends" costar — got her big break playing Mitchie Torres in Camp Rock alongside the Jonas Brothers as fictional boy band Connect 3, led by Joe Jonas as the swaggering and floppy-haired Shane Gray. Much like Duff had five years prior in the wake of The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Lovato released her debut solo album, 2008's Don't Forget, just three months after her DCOM broke records for the Disney Channel. 

Building off their chemistry from the movie musical, nearly the entirety of Don't Forget was co-written with the Jonas Brothers, who released two of their own albums on Hollywood Records — 2007's Jonas Brothers and 2008's A Little Bit Longer — before getting their own short-lived, goofily meta Disney series, "Jonas," which wrapped weeks after the inevitable Camp Rock sequel arrived in September 2010.

As the 2000s gave way to the 2010s, the Disney machine began slowing down as its cavalcade of stars graduated to more grown-up acting roles, music and careers. But from Duff's Metamorphosis through Lovato's 2017 LP, Tell Me You Love Me, Hollywood Records caught lightning in a bottle again and again and again, giving millennials an entire generation of talent that has carried them through adulthood and into the 2020s.

To commemorate the Disney 2000s campaign, GRAMMY.com crafted a playlist to look back on Disney's golden age of pop with favorite tracks from Hilary Duff, Vanessa Hudgens, the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and more. Listen and reminisce below.