meta-scriptYoung Gun Silver Fox On Staying True To The West Coast Sound While Creating Their Own Shangri-La | GRAMMY.com
Shawn Lee and Andy Platt of Young Gun Silver Fox
Andy Platts and Shawn Lee

Photo: Dan Massie

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Young Gun Silver Fox On Staying True To The West Coast Sound While Creating Their Own Shangri-La

"There was never pop music that was so musical and accomplished, and that sophisticated, on the radio," Young Gun Silver Fox's Shawn Lee says of the AOR his band is modeled after. The British duo's take on the West Coast Sound hits the road Jan. 23.

GRAMMYs/Jan 23, 2024 - 05:47 pm

Young Gun Silver Fox's music is nothing if not evocative. It envelops you like a warm breeze on an early summer evening and floats over the Topanga Canyon of our minds — a familiar soundtrack for a groovy house party or drive along the coast. It’s timeless in one sense, while also referencing a very particular era.

Over four albums, YGSF reflect "an apex of analog record-making" that occurred between 1977-1982 —  a period of pop radio where groups like Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers and countless less-heralded others created million-dollar records that dominated the charts and remain staples of classic rock radio.

"One of the things that was unusual about that whole West Coast scene was that you had these really talented people, but they all worked together in different capacities. One day they were working on a Michael Jackson record and another day they were doing their own record — or maybe sometimes the same day," says YGSF co-founder Shawn Lee, an American multi-instrumentalist with credits the length of some of his idols. "That's why the music sounds so money, because everybody was at the height of their powers. Everybody had craft."

Although Young Gun Silver Fox nod to an analog era, they make music in a very 21st century medium. Collaborators Lee and Andy Platts – both multi-instrumentalists, with Platts doing much of the songwriting — met on Myspace. And while both live in the UK, they are rarely in the same room. Lee is more of a city guy and lives in London while Platt lives with his wife and young children about 2.5 hours away along  the M25 motorway — they primarily work separately and send each other files. 

"There's an advantage now because you know how things were done and how they're supposed to be done. You have history and you know where the bodies are buried," Lee says with a laugh. "These were records that cost a lot of money to make, and we're making these things in a way that is the exact opposite of that."

The result is era-perfect, and could easily be placed among any of their yacht rock idols. Yet Young Gun Silver Fox are distinct for their medium and messaging; where their heroes were sarcastic or heartbroken, YGSF are wistful and in love, incorporating funk, soul and psychedelia. Their most recent album, 2022's aptly titled Ticket To Shangri-La, is being released as a deluxe version with two newly remixed tracks.

Following their first North American shows in late 2023, Young Gun Silver Fox are preparing an American tour beginning Jan. 23 in Los Angeles. Fittingly, Shawn Lee and Andy Platts sat down over zoom from their respective homes to talk about recreating the sounds of the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me a little bit about how you translate what's on the record into a live performance with multiple additional players.

Shawn Lee: It requires a lot of concentration. I think we have a laugh when we play live and it's unscripted. There's a lot of people singing along and dancing around. The choruses will often erupt into big sort of sing-alongs, so it's a lot of fun.

I quite like "Lenny." It's a sort of epic little track and it's always a big sing-along. "Underdog" is quite cool; I love that drop in the middle and everybody claps their hands. Sometimes you can't even hear what you're singing in the chorus. "Mojo Rising" has always been a real massive crowd sing-along and we're trying to get our little vocal blend together and it's like…

Andy Platts: You can't even hear yourself. [At a gig in] Cologne in Germany, [a guy] must've been two meters tops from me, singing every ad lib, every single vocal detail from the record, whilst I was doing it. It was like a double tracking lead vocal thing in the room. He was really on point, really passionate, just singing his heart out. I think after the fourth number, I was halfway through a song and I [mouthed] Really? Is this the thing for the whole show? I think he kind of got the gist of my discreet, please shut the f— up.

Lee: Sometimes people sing the horn parts as well, which always makes me laugh.

I'd love to take it back to just the two of you and learn a bit about the genesis of your group. How did you guys come to develop this distinct but very familiar sounding vibe?

Lee: Back in that time when Myspace was really big and it was a really good networking site for musicians …that's how we met. We tried producing an earlier iteration of [Platts’ band] Mama's Gun, and for whatever reasons that didn't quite happen. So that planted the seed in my head that I wanted to make this kind of sophisticated West Coast music with Andy, and I knew he had all the right reference points and all the right talents that together we could do something good.

It was a good couple of years to make the first record, off and on occasionally doing a tune while we were both busy with our own respective things. And it was very much just a labor of love; we didn't have any big plans for it. It was just let's cobble together a record in our spare time.

Platts: The A&R guy for the label we went with in Holland, he was a guy called Jacques de Bruin, who I'd worked for years, and we got the record to him initially and he was like, "I love it. I grew up with this s—, but I don't know who's going to buy it." And then two months later he called and said, "I want to put it out. F— it. Let's have a go."

There was a DJ that picked up on a track called "Long Way Back," the very last track on the first album, which is like this six minute 50 BPM, really slow soul jam. And he started playing the s— out of it, over and over, and that really caught fire. So it was a real natural, slow-burning word-of-mouth thing that has put us on this journey. 

What does a typical collaboration look like for you guys, if there's such a thing as a typical working pattern?

Platts: It’s one of three things. Shawn will make a perfect sounding record and play almost everything on it — maybe not the horns. It'll sound finished and it's just waiting for some songwriting, some lyrics, melodies, perhaps some backing vocals; a few extra bits of sugar on it – synths or whatever.

Another way is that I'll start and I'll send all the multi-tracks over to Shawn. He'll add or replace whatever needs replacing. Invariably if I try and play drums on the track, Shawn will replace that because he is a master drummer. The third way is your old school get it together in person, which has happened on a few tracks. 

More often than not, we kind of like being masters of our own domain and using the technology and the internet for speed and bottling stuff and getting s— done. A Young Gun Silver Fox record doesn't take that long to make usually. It's just having the time set aside to do it.

With all that in mind, it's pretty incredible that you guys managed to make these records that sound like million dollar Los Angeles productions from the '70s. And in reality, you're just emailing back and forth. What is the secret sauce?

Platts: Before it turns into ones and zeros, we're actually playing this s—. It's all these same instruments from back then, same analog processes.

Lee: I think it's one of the gifts of modern technology to not have to go into some expensive studio. It's basically working with really strong materials and then putting it together. There's a saying in the studio world: You can't polish a turd. You need to have good ideas, and good execution of ideas. 

Platts: When people say you can't make a record like that for $100,000. What they're talking about is a $100,000 musical idea. They think that they're talking about the studio and all the bells and whistles and the Star Trek Enterprise, and that's the vessel through which all this brilliance seems to work and come out sounding how it should. They're not attributing that to the source material.

Having those shared reference points and just deeply understanding the language of what you are trying to reference, probably goes a long way in creating something that sounds authentic.

Lee: I think the magic in record making is in the people; in the musicality and what they put into it. There is magic in the process, and it's just about being open to that and letting it happen. I work really fast and I always have. Working fast really ensures that the magic gets in there because I'm discovering it at the time that I'm recording it. 

When you're being intuitive and noodling along, there's a sort of innocence. There's a sort of not pushing too hard thing, which has an energy and a magic to it. It hasn't become stiff and sterile, or I haven't been obsessed by the technical delivery of it.

Platts: It’s a bit more chin stroking for me in that department. I'm happy to gestate on stuff. [Lyrics are] probably one of the big gold standards of the time period in which we're referencing. And for me, that's all about songwriting craft. There's a certain duty of care that is less prevalent in the mainstream to my ears these days in terms of lyrical integrity. You've got to be able to look at something and want it to stand up. 

Is there an underrated, a AOR/yacht-rock group that each of you feels has really influenced your sound?

Lee: I feel like everybody is highly rated amongst the aficionados [of this music]. But I think there were definitely people at the time of inception that didn't really have the hits. You had your Steely Dans and your Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald who were getting the big hits, and the Christopher Crosses and people like that.

At the same time those records were coming out, there were other bands that weren't really setting the charts on fire, but there were records that I was listening to and enjoying at the same time. There was a record called Single by Bill Champlin, which came out in 1978, which had all the same people working on it.

Pages was another band; they didn't really have any hits, but they've become this sort of musicians' band now. And they were very involved in the whole scene as backing singers. They sang on so many hit records, everybody from Michael Jackson, to Al Jarreau, to Kenny Loggins

You had these guys who were obviously really, really amazing at what they did, but they were friends and they had fun and they were making music all the time. Those guys are doing it every day, day in and day out. With all the talent that they had, and all the great people that they had to work with — the great studios, and the great engineers, and the great arrangers — that's why the music sounds so money, because everybody was at the height of their powers.

There was never pop music that was so musical and accomplished, and that sophisticated, that was on the radio. Steely Dan is the perfect example: They made this really, really sarcastic music, almost like they were the smartest people in the room and maybe had a slight bit of contempt for you. But their songs were on the radio and you were singing along and they had the best musicians. And that's a rare thing. It doesn't exist anymore.

Andy, are there any records that really inspired you, particularly from a songwriting perspective?

Platts: Young Gun Silver Fox was started by Shawn. I think he harbored a desire to start making music that referenced this time at some point because it's so deep within him. He came up when that s— was on the radio. One of the great exciting things about this project is that I've been introduced to a whole load of s— that was kind of second nature to Shawn. I hadn't heard, for example, "Biggest Part Of Me" by Ambrosia. And when Shawn played me that, I was like, f—ing hell that's awesome. Absolutely awesome.

I read that "Moonshine" from Ticket To Shangri-La  was co-written with prolific songwriter/Heatwave member Rod Temperton. How did that come about?

Platts: In 2005 I got to score my first ever publishing deal, and they were keen to develop me as an artist. They're like, "We like your songwriting style, we like what you're doing, but you just need to put in the hours and do some wood shedding. Is there anyone you want to work with?" 

I'd spent the previous three years going around the world working with loads and loads of pop people. There are people who are really good at doing that and write fantastic songs, but that's just not the environment that I wanted to be in. I knew that I wanted to be educated in a different way, I think by osmosis.

I spent two days and nights with [Temperton] at his place in Topanga, just hanging out, smoking a lot of Marlboro Reds. Talking and listening, and working on a track together. We created this horrifically sounding '80s demo; it epitomized the worst of the '80s in one production. I knew it was a wicked song, so some 20 years later, Shawn had heard it and he said, "Look, this could work."

He came back with this whole production around my vocal and Rhodes that really did justice to the song, to the spirit of Rod's writing, to where we were with Young Gun Silver Fox. We quickly released it as a little limited edition seven inch, and it just flew. 

Lee: It was an amazing opportunity to be part of that legacy in my own way just to put myself into that scenario. And I definitely felt the responsibility that I had to do it justice. 

As somebody who writes about revivals quite a bit, I cringe asking this question: How do you not exhaust this fairly specific sound, both as performers and with audiences?

Platts: It's a narrow timeline and pool of music and style if you're looking at it from the outside in. [But there's] the fact that it can cross from white bread, straight-down-the-line pop rock to deep gospel and everything in between. It gives you a lot to play with. But we do just sound like ourselves.

Back then — whether it's Michael McDonald or Hall and Oates or whoever — there was a lot of angst, heartbroken love songs. There's a lot of men baring their feelings, which is fine, but I don't think we're treading a lot of those same lyrical things. The first song on Ticket to Shangri-La is capturing a portrait of an old couple who is still in love after all these years. "Sierra Nights" is a song which tries desperately to capture the novel Don Quixote in a song.

Lee: I think it's an interesting thing that happens when you understand you've cultivated the sound which is yours. There's a structure now, and that actually frees you up because you concentrate on other things. You are augmenting what you've already done. And it's great, man. It's like having some stability. It's a strong anchor to work off of.

I think now we just have to sound like the best versions of ourselves, to write the best songs, make the best records. And I think that's the kind of thing that Andy and I really thrive on, always doing something better than we've done before.

Are you working on anything right now that you can detail?

Lee: It's in progress. We don't really talk about what we do. We just kind of do it. The first record, we almost didn't talk the whole time that we did it. It was completely autonomous. 

I think four albums in, we kind of understand what we're doing now and that's a double-edged sword. Sometimes it's like, I feel like we could always make a good record without putting a lot of effort into it. It would take care of itself. But I think the idea is that you want to feel like, hey man, we broke through another wall with this.

You [have] got to aspire to greatness. Whether or not you ever achieve it, even if you achieve it for a moment.

Platts: If you're not trying to kick it with the very best who've ever done it, what's the point? You absolutely want to go shoulder-to-shoulder with anyone who's ever done it. That's definitely a big part of the criteria. To be able to keep doing it is one, to get better at doing it is the other. And between those three criteria, you've got success. 

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NMIXX perform at KCON 2023 in Los Angeles.

Photo: CJ ENM

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KCON L.A. 2024 Returns: Get Ready With This Playlist Featuring NCT 127, Zerobaseone, ENHYPEN, Zico & More

The ultimate K-pop festival-convention returns to Los Angeles July 26-28, featuring a star-studded lineup with over 20 artists — including ENHYPEN, NCT 127, and Jeon Somi — interactive experiences, and unforgettable performances.

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 01:50 pm

Ever since it first began in 2012, KCON has been a delightful surprise for attendees. Turn right on the convention floor, you might receive a goodie bag filled with high-quality skin care products. Turn left, and you could stumble into the first-ever performance of a K-pop group in the U.S. All this happens before the main concert even begins at night.

Returning to the L.A. Convention Center and Crypto.com arena from July 26-28, this year’s hybrid South Korean pop culture festival-convention event will host over 20 artists. 

The line-up ranges from popular acts around like ENHYPEN and NCT 127 to '90s K-pop legends g.o.d and hip-hop icon Tiger JK (aka Drunken Tiger), plus burgeoning acts, including the newly formed seven-member girl group, IZNA, from the TV competition show I-LAND 2. KCON L.A. 2024 offers an array of musical exploration for anyone enraptured by the South Korean music scene. 

Read more: 11 Rookie K-Pop Acts To Know In 2024: NCT Wish, RIIZE, Kiss Of Life & More

After days of meet-and-greets, showcase performances, and a special KCON Stage, each night of this year's KCON will culminate in a full-blown concert that will air in South Korea as part of the M Countdown music show.

Whether you’re a fan of soloists like Taemin, Zico or Bibi, girl groups like Kep1er and NMIXX, or boy bands like Zerobaseone and TWS, this KCON is undoubtedly for you. There are also surprises for anyone intrigued by changing entertainment technology, like Apoki, a virtual singer designed as a bunny from outer space. 

While you may not (yet!) be a fan of all these artists, familiarize yourself with all that they have to offer with this playlist featuring some of their most popular and newest songs ahead of this year’s KCON L.A. 

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Ivan Cornejo press photo
Ivan Cornejo

Photo: Le3ay Studio

interview

On 'Mirada,' Ivan Cornejo Redefines The Sound Of Sad Sierreño And Helps Fans Heal Through Music

Ivan Cornejo has always found solace in music. With his new LP, 'Mirada,' he wants his fans to experience that sense of belonging: "I write about emotions that everyone goes through or has been through."

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 01:08 pm

Within the landscape of Música Mexicana, Ivan Cornejo is a rarity.

The 20-year-old California native stands out as one of the most intriguing acts in a genre represented by artists known for their flashy looks and music. Soft-spoken and warm, Cornejo's gentle demeanor effortlessly translates into his music and on-stage persona and musical productions.

Cornejo's songs and lyrics are far removed from the "corridos tumbados" that have taken over global charts. Fans have dubbed the Mexican American singer the "Gen Z therapist" because of his heartbreak-influenced lyrics and dexterity in creating the ethereal, melancholic sound known as sad sierreño.

With two albums under his belt, Cornejo makes his major label debut with Mirada, released on July 18 via Zaragoza Records / Interscope. The album features the wistful, sad sierreño sound that made Cornejo famous three years ago with "Está Dañada," a heart-wrenching ballad from his first LP, Alma Vacía (2021).

In the single, which has amassed over 270 million streams on Spotify, Ivan — then 17 — captivated listeners with powerful melodies accompanied by languid and nostalgic vocals, reciting verses filled with maturity beyond his years.

In Mirada, the Música Mexicana breakout star presents 12 solo songs inspired by summer nights, including singles "Aquí te Espero," "Donde Estás," "Baby Please," and "Intercambio Injusto." As with his previous productions, Cornejo makes heartbreak the central theme of his album while guitars and melodies reminiscent of alternative rock take center stage.

While the album doesn’t feature additional artists, Cornejo opened up to collaboration within the studio. The singer, used to collaborating solely with his producer, Frank Rio, encountered a challenge when bringing two additional creatives into the studio.

"The process for this new project was very different," Cornejo tells GRAMMY.com in a Zoom interview from Mexico City. "[Having other] creatives in the studio [resulted] a lot of learning. For example, my producer and I learned a lot from each other; we had constructive disagreements. We heard each other's opinions and learned a lot from this project."

The rising sad sierreño star discusses with GRAMMY.com the creative challenge of Mirada, the artistic boundaries he pushed along the way, the advantage behind bilingual songwriting, and the unexpected singer that influenced his lyrics.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

'Mirada' feels very personal, almost like a diary. How would you describe the album's overall theme and feeling?

While writing and recording this album, I wanted it to feel very personal, intimate, and gentle but with a little more uplifting sound.

I wanted the Mirada theme to feel like a nostalgic summer night. I want people to feel like they can play these songs on the beach, with friends, or alone in bed. I wanted it to feel a little euphoric.

The record showcases a blend of Latin and Anglo influences. Tracks like "Baby Please," "Dónde Estás," and "Aquí te espero" have a rock ballad feel. What inspired this fusion?

My influences come through a lot. I remember listening to my sister's and brother's music at eight while my parents would play classical regional Mexican music, like mariachi and corridos. As I grew up and started making music, it meshed into this sad sierreño and this funky Spanish alternative [genre].

The guitar is a staple in your sound. How did it become so central to your musical expression?

I started playing the guitar when I was about seven. I fell completely in love with the instrument. My mom tried to put me in violin classes, and I learned the instrument for a while, but the guitar kept winning me over. I kept learning more and more about the guitar, and around 12, I started learning songs by Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys and Tame Impala, and that's where my music emerged.

Mirada portrays the nostalgia around summer nights. How were those nights for you?

I spent it with my friends, making a bonfire and hanging out at the beach, pool, or jacuzzi.

Those nights when you just put your phone away and let the wind hit you and talk about your feelings, your thoughts are different, that kind of night.

What kind of music did you listen to on those summer nights?

Last summer, I listened to [Bad Bunny’s] Un Verano Sin Ti; [that album] was  No. 1 on my playlist.

The year before, I listened to just any vibey music, like Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, or Radiohead, when I was alone. Cigarettes After Sex, I listened to them a lot during the summer when I was going to sleep. I always put them on.

You say that each track on this album is pushing the boundaries of your art. In what aspect are you breaking those barriers?

I go back to my last two albums [Alma Vacía and 2022’s Dañado,] and I want to grow as an artist and musician every time I listen to them.

Every time we enter the studio, [my producer] Frank Rio and I try our best to push the limits for ourselves and keep growing as artists. Vocally, musically, instrumentally, [we're] trying our best to make things sound even better.

How do you achieve that? Do you take vocal references from singers you like? Instrumentally, how do you break patterns within the genre? 

Sometimes, when I feel something is missing from a song or I want to do something but don't know how to listen to a bunch of music that I think [is similar].

For example, each song on Mirada has a very different style. Depending on the style of the song, I’d listen to genres, styles, or certain ways that artists sing that match that song. Listening to those songs gives me ideas; it's like combining those ideas.

Vocally, for example, if I don't know how to sing a specific word or note, I listen to references and try to combine them in the best way possible.

Your lyrics show maturity beyond your years. Do you consider yourself an old soul?

Yes, I'm an old soul, for sure. When I was 7 years old, my brother would play Johnny Cash songs, and I was right behind him listening to them, downloading all the songs. I remember that for a while, I would go to sleep listening to Johnny Cash for an entire year.

Read more: Meet The Gen Z Women Claiming Space In The Regional Mexican Music Movement

Your song often references therapy sessions, and your fans even consider you the therapist of an entire generation. Do you feel that way?

I never realized my music had that effect. I would read comments saying, "Oh, he healed me" or, "I feel better now," or "he's my therapist, he's my comfort artist." That gave me a lot of joy because my music touched my fans in a very emotional way.

[Those comments] gave me the great idea of naming my [last] tour "Terapia." [Going to a concert] It's like you go to a therapist and you hear them. It all made sense. I hope my music is therapy for a lot of people.

Have you ever been to therapy yourself?

No, I have not. But... I should go. [Laughs.]

How do you articulate emotions clearly in your songs, especially without formal therapy experience?

I write about emotions that everyone goes through or has been through. And I try to write it in a way that sounds fresh and new. Also, melodies are very important because you can say something; depending on the melody, it can change your feelings. I try my best to make it hit the heart melodically and lyrically.

What about Spanish led you to express heartbreak in this language?

I was very inspired by Mexican music because there's something about the sound and the language that is very romantic. For example, there are some phrases in English that you might translate to Spanish, and they sound better in Spanish. Since my first language is English, I can translate them into Spanish and make them sound better and more emotional.

I try to write [songs first] in Spanish, but from time to time, when I get stuck, I start thinking in English. I try to think of just lyrics, and I'm like, okay, that's a cool lyric; how do I make it fit into this? And then, if it doesn't work, I'll try another one and another one until something works, or I get an idea in English, and it just works in Spanish.

[Being bilingual] gives you two perspectives, which helps a lot in the writing process.

What does it mean to you to represent Mexican American culture through your music?

It feels like you're put on a pedestal and have to be a role model. Being part of two cultures is a blessing, because you have two sides and perspectives. I'm very lucky to be here in Mexico and to learn about Mexican culture while still being from the United States and learning from American culture.

Did you feel you fit in when you were growing up?

No. At first, no. I was very shy.

Did music give you that sense of belonging?

Yeah, for sure. It gave me relief as I fit somewhere, and my voice was being heard. [It makes me feel] like I have support and people are [rooting for] me, and it helps me feel a bit understood.

As you enter your twenties and deal with growing fame, do you feel pressure being labeled as the voice of a generation?

I feel the pressure of being a role model, but it's a good kind of pressure. It helps me to make sure that I'm always giving my all. It's almost like motivation; I have to keep trying my best every time to be a role model.

It helps me to ensure that I'm always giving 100 percent and that it's like motivation, too. I have to keep trying my best each time to be a role model.

You sold out the mythical Houston Rodeo in April. How did singing to a crowd of 72,000 make you feel?

[Selena] and Johnny Cash are many of my favorite artists and artists that I look up to [have performed there]. It was a complete honor to play the Houston Rodeo and one of the scariest things I've ever done. [Laughs.]

It was scary at first. But when I realized that there were a good number of fans, I took out my in-ears, and I heard nearly the whole stadium singing back to me. It was such a beautiful and unforgettable night for me. It was a crazy experience.

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ATEEZ performs in Los Angeles
ATEEZ performs in Los Angeles

Photo: KQ Entertainment

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ATEEZ’s First U.S. Stadium Show Was A Triumph & Testament To Their Growth

During two performances at L.A.'s BMO Stadium, the fast-rising K-pop boy group dazzled audiences with drama, dance, and a deep appreciation for how far they've come.

GRAMMYs/Jul 22, 2024 - 04:51 pm

On July 20,  K-pop boy group ATEEZ stepped foot onto one of their largest stages yet for their first U.S. stadium show. The scene at Los Angeles’ open-air BMO Stadium was a far cry from the group's L.A. performance in 2019 — their first tour stop ever — at the petite Globe Theater, a former movie palace with a tenth of BMO’s capacity.

Even then, as a five-month-old rookie group, fans (called ATINYs) saw a remarkable promise in Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Mingi, Wooyoung, and Jongho. In the years since, ATEEZ has developed a growing presence in the States, even being the subject of a first-of-its-kind GRAMMY Museum pop-up. If the BMO Stadium performance was any indication, ATEEZ have officially hit their stride.

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The nearly sold-out July 20 show felt like a level up, and not just because of the size of the venue. "As we performed, I really felt like ATEEZ has grown so much," singer Yunho said near the end of the night. He’s not wrong: they’re undoubtedly more confident than ever. Perhaps that’s because the octet made history earlier this year as the first K-pop boy group to perform at Coachella. Regardless, ATEEZ's growth in both production and showmanship was palpable. 

If you missed ATEEZ’s two nights in L.A., don’t worry: K-pop’s resident pirate kings (more on that title later) have more up their billowy sleeves. In the spirit of their never-ending grind, the Towards the Light: Will to Power tour has nine more North American stops, including New York’s Citi Field. Read on to find out why you won’t want to miss these fast-rising K-pop idols.

The Members Are As Good Apart As Together

ATEEZ’s motto is "eight makes one team" for good reason. Individually, their talents and tastes are prismatic, yet complement each other perfectly — a fact that comes into startling clarity midway through the show, when the group breaks off into units and solos.

Equal parts erotic and controlled, trap banger "IT’S You" gives Yeosang, San, and Wooyoung room to deploy their enigmatic charms as a trio; ATEEZ’s purveyor of belted high notes, Jongho, dips into his deeper register on solo ballad "Everything"; diametric duo Hongjoong and Seonghwa spit fire about the rapport that arises from their differences on red-hot cypher "MATZ": "M-A-T-Z like allergy, we don’t really fit together / Yeah, yeah, but on stage, reacting to that synergy."

Then there’s the wistful "Youth" from dance class pals Yunho and Mingi. The two go way back — something they reminded audiences of by acting out a fictionalized version of a real phone call they shared the day before auditioning for KQ Entertainment. "Imagine us taking the stage together someday," Yunho said. "Sounds amazing, right?"  

Read more: ATEEZ Are Here To Win The Hearts Of K-Pop Fans

ATEEZ Know How To Turn Up The Drama

ATEEZ's lore runs deep. In their conceptual universe, what began as a swashbuckling tale of pirates in search of treasure evolved into an anarchic manifesto about toppling the world order. Recently, in a Wild West turn, they’ve been masquerading as cowboys dedicated to the daily hustle.

Every ATEEZ performance has a story; on this tour, the theme is light. But, as always in ATEEZ’s oeuvre, that light can’t exist without a darkness seeking to quash it. The way they convey this narrative — acting, stage decoration, extras — is a masterclass in drama, fit for the theater as much as a stadium. 

Watch: Global Spin: Watch Ateez Represent South Korea With Kinetic Performance Of "The Real"

They’re In Their Element Onstage

The success of ATEEZ’s storytelling is bolstered by the group’s unearthly stage presence. In that regard, Seonghwa led the pack, moving like a man possessed. Whether crawling on his knees, rolling his eyes back, or slinging a sword to symphonic backing, the lithe dancer never let the air-tight facade slip — except, of course, when it came time to offer a couple of warm words to fans.

Like Seonghwa, the rest are also shockingly versatile. San effortlessly switches between agile body rolls and thigh caresses in the dangerously sensual "Cyberpunk," then vigorously glides his arms through air at the climax of "Say My Name," a gesture that has only grown in power and potency over time.

ATINYs Do Their Best To Match ATEEZ’s Energy

"There [are] more than 20,000 singers in here," Hongjoong said as the lead-in to the soaring "Dance Like Butterfly Wings." "Can you show me your singing?" 

Sing they did: All night, the crowd brought an energy as fierce and passionate as ATEEZ, especially when barking at charismatic rapper Mingi, much to his apparent enjoyment.

But the single noisiest moment came during "Guerilla." At a certain point, Yunho shouted a  ferocious "Make some noise!" as a cue and ATINYs know it’s time to warm up their vocal chords; while Jongho belts some of his highest notes yet, fans roared "Break the wall!" at the top of their lungs, loud enough to rise above the stadium enclosure.

Fan chants and cheers are a mainstay of K-pop shows in South Korea, but due to differences in concert etiquette and language barriers, most don’t make their way overseas. ATEEZ and their fans broke that wall, and built a bridge in its place.

It’s A Full Circle Moment In Their Career

That ATEEZ chose to drop anchor in Los Angeles for their first U.S. stadium show feels especially momentous. The band has history in Southern California, having trained at L.A.-based dance studios Movement Lifestyle and Millenium Dance Center prior to their debut. ("Our second hometown!" San said during the show.)

"Even though it was six years ago, it feels like just yesterday," Hongjoong said in his encore speech. "It’s absolutely an honor to be right here, now, in such a big venue." 

That’s a short time to come as far as they have, without slowing pace. "But, you know, it doesn’t stop," Hongjoong continued. "We will keep going to the next step and the next step, with you. Let’s keep making moments to shine even brighter, together." And if these three hours are any indication, ATEEZ has a light that won’t soon be dimmed.

More News About ATEEZ

Bellakath performs during Flow Fest 2023 in Mexico City
Bellakath performs during Flow Fest 2023 in Mexico City

Photo: Jaime Nogales

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7 Artists Bringing Reggaeton Mexa To The World: El Malilla, Bellakath & More

Pulling from the genre's underground roots in Puerto Rico, these fast-rising reggaeton Mexa artists infuse their own culture and grit into a globally-appealing sound.

GRAMMYs/Jul 22, 2024 - 01:21 pm

Música Mexicana isn't the only sound of Mexico that's blowing up; the country's artists are now starting to make their mark in reggaeton. Imbued with the essence, swagger, and lingo of Mexico, reggaeton Mexa is the next big Latin sound that's going global.

Originating in the Caribbean, reggaeton evolved from Panama’s reggae en español and Jamaican dancehall of the 1980s. Puerto Rican acts like DJ Playero and DJ Nelson shaped the sound of reggaeton in the island's underground scene during the '90s, while Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón, Don Omar, and Ivy Queen pushed the genre into the mainstream at the dawn of the new millennium. 

Boricua acts Tainy, Bad Bunny, and Ozuna pushed reggaeton into the next decade, though Colombia also brought about the genre's second wind. J Balvin's success solidified Medellín as a reggaeton hotbed, spawning Maluma, Karol G, and Feid as global stars.

Learn more: The Sonic And Cultural Evolution Of Reggaeton In 10 Songs

In the 2020s, Mexico is becoming the next hub for reggaeton as artists who grew up listening to the Puerto Rican OGs  — as well as Mexican acts Ghetto Kids and Pablito Mix — are now putting their own stamp on the genre. In late 2022, Bellakath put a spotlight on reggaeton Mexa with her viral hit "Gatita"; the following year, Yng Lvcas took the sound to new heights with his "La Bebé" remix featuring Peso Pluma, which reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

Reggaeton Mexa pulls from the genre's underground roots in Puerto Rico, infusing its songs with Mexican culture and grit. Lyrics are full of Mexican slang that reflect life in the barrios.

"Reggaeton Mexa is reminiscent of the sounds of the '90s and 2000s from Puerto Rican DJs like Playero and Joe," El Mallila, one of the reggaeton Mexa leaders, tells GRAMMY.com. "The songs, the beats, and rhythms are more or less similar to that flow. The difference here is the Mexican jargon. Reggaeton Mexa is spicy. We play with Mexican profanities without being offensive."

The emerging genre has gained traction among the larger reggaeton community with Jowell y Randy, Maldy, and J Balvin recently featuring on their songs. Following the success of Yng Lvcas, Bellakath, and El Malilla, Mexican acts like Peso Pluma (who dedicated part of his Éxodo album to reggaeton) and pop star Kenia Os are embracing the wave. As the tide continues to rise for reggaeton Mexa, GRAMMY.com is highlighting seven of the sound's leading artists.

Yng Lvcas

Guadalajara, Jalisco native Yng Lvcas noted that no one around him could name a Mexican reggaeton artist, so he decided to fill that void.

An early encounter would make for auspicious beginnings. As he was signing a record contract with Warner early last year, Yng Lvcas crossed paths with Peso Pluma. The música Mexicana star's first foray in reggaeton was with Yng Lvcas and their global hit, a sensual remix of "La Bebé." Their collaboration became the first reggaeton song by Mexican artists to enter the Hot 100 chart.

Last October, Yng Lvcas released his album Super Estrellas to put a spotlight on more reggaeton Mexa acts. The LP included songs with El Malilla and El Bogueto. Puerto Rican OG Maldy later teamed up with Yng Lvcas for the hypnotic "Diviértete."

Bellakath

The first artist to get the global conversation started about reggaeton Mexa was Bellakath. After earning a law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Mexico City native became a social media personality. Bellakath leveraged her following to start her music career, which exploded in late 2022 with the frisky "Gatita." The song went viral on TikTok and the music video has over 144 million views on YouTube.

In the male-dominated reggaeton Mexa scene, Bellakath is continuing to keep women on top. Last year, she released her debut album Kittyponeo with the hit "Reggaeton Champagne" featuring Dani Flow. After signing with Warner in May, Bellakath dropped "Sandunguea," which sampled the reggaeton classic "Mayor Que Yo" by Luny Tunes. On July 15, Bellakath released her second album, Sata 42, where she ventured into dembow music with artists from the Dominican Republic. 

Learn more: 5 Women Essential To Reggaeton: Ivy Queen, Natti Natasha, Karol G, Ms Nina & Mariah Angeliq

El Malilla

El Malilla proudly represents the chakalones (Mexican slang for "bad boys") in reggaeton Mexa. Hailing from Valle de Chalco, El Malilla remembers his first encounter with reggaeton as a teen came from the pirated CDs that were sold at the tianguis, or open-air markets.

Now, El Malilla is bringing Mexico's version of reggaeton to the forefront. He recently released his debut album ÑEROSTARS, which includes his viral hit "B de Bellako" with Yeyo. Back in May, Puerto Rican OGs Jowell y Randy jumped on a remix of the quirky banger. 

El Malilla also wants to make reggaeton Mexa more inclusive. Reggaeton has historically excluded LGBTQIA+ folks, though queer artists such as Young Miko, Villano Antillano, and La Cruz are changing that tune. On the Mexican front, El Malilla wanted to be an ally to his queer fans with the 2000-inspired "Rebote" music video, which was shot at the gay club Spartacus with Mexican drag queens. 

Within his album, El Malilla is also stretching the bounds of his artistry by exploring merengue in "Coronada" and experimenting with house music in "Todo Tiene Su Final." "ÑEROSTARS is a call to all the reggaeton Mexa artists to dare themselves to make new music and try different sounds," he says. "Don’t stay in your comfort zone just making perreo."

Yeri Mua

Veracruz native Yeri Mua is keeping a high heel firmly planted on the neck of the genre, holding it down for the women in reggaeton Mexa.

Mua started out doing makeup tutorials on YouTube and later grew a massive social media following. Last year, she launched her music career on Uzielito Mix's reggaeton romp "Línea del Perreo," which has over 103 million streams on Spotify. In songs like "Chupon," Mua brings a fierce femininity to reggaeton Mexa while flipping the genre's explicit lyrics from a woman's perspective. In April, Kenia Os tapped Mua and Ghetto Kids for her reggaeton Mexa banger "Mamita Rica." With a laugh, Os told GRAMMY.com at the time, "[Mua] sounds very sexy and makes noises like meowing. It felt very great to work with her." Last month, Mua signed a record contract with Sony Music México.

El Bogueto

Alongside El Malilla, El Bogueto is one of the OGs of reggaeton Mexa. The Nezahualcóyotl native has scored a number of hits since 2021, including "Tu Favo" and "G Low Kitty," which has nearly 60 million streams on Spotify.

The title of El Bogueto's 2023 debut album Reggaetoñerito is an amalgamation of the words reggaetonero and ñero, which is Mexican slang for a person from the hood. El Bogueto has continued to rack up millions of streams with his LP, which include hits like the freaky reggaeton romp "Piripituchy" and "Dale Bogueto." In May, J Balvin gave his co-sign to El Bogueto and the reggaeton Mexa scene when he jumped on an all-star remix of "G Low Kitty."

Yeyo

Among the artists on this list, Yeyo is the freshest one on the reggaeton Mexa scene, but he's fast becoming one of the genre's brightest stars and the go-to artist for a hit collaboration. The Zacatepec, Morelos native is a protege of Ghetto Kids' Luis Díaz, who also serves as his manager.

Yeyo's playful and infectious flow as a Mexican reggaetonero has translated into million of streams in songs like "B de Bellako" with El Malilla and "Mami Chakalosa" alongside Bellakath. He has also flexed a romantic side to his distinct voice in Ghetto Kids' recent hit "En El Ghetto #5 (La Discoteca)." Yeyo has also shined on the electronica-leaning reggaeton of "Maldad" and the sensual "Tentación."

Uzielito Mix

Many of the songs mentioned in this list wouldn't have been possible without Uzielito Mix. Following in the footsteps of Ghetto Kids and Pablito Mix, the Mexico City-based producer has become the backbone of the sound of reggaeton Mexa. Uzielito Mix produced Yeri Mua's hits like "Línea del Perreo" and "Brattiputy." He also co-produced El Bogueto and El Mallila's "G Low Kitty" with DJ Rockwell, which J Balvin later hopped on. 

In his stellar collaborations, Uzielito Mix is known for uniting many of the reggaeton Mexa stars. He continues to push the sound of the genre into the future like in the spooky "Espantan" remix with El Bogueto, Alnz G, Dani Flow, and Tensec. In 2022, Bad Bunny tapped Uzielito Mix to open his World's Hottest Tour stops in Mexico City. 

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