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

interview

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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Twenty One Pilots performing in 2022
Twenty One Pilots perform at GPWeek Festival in 2022.

Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images

feature

Twenty One Pilots' Road To 'Clancy': How The New Album Wraps Up A Decade-Long Lore

Three years after 'Scaled and Icy,' Twenty One Pilots' seventh studio album is here. Dig into the rock duo's journey to 'Clancy,' and how it further showcases their knack for vivid world-building.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 07:28 pm

Long before Twenty One Pilots developed a cult following, the Columbus, Ohio natives were determined to not be put into a box. From their first EP, 2009's Johnny Boy, they've blended elements of emo, rap, alt-pop, electronica, incorporating hardcore and hip-hop into their shows. "No one knew where to put us," drummer Josh Dun told USA Today in 2014. "But we've approached live shows as a way to build something from nothing."

In the decade since, the band's sheer determination and eclectic onstage personality have made them one of the biggest rock groups of their generation. They're equally as spontaneous and intriguing in their music, building an entire world through dynamic soundscapes and visuals — and their new album, Clancy, ties all of it together.  

As the band revealed in a press release upon announcing the album in March, Clancy "marks the final chapter in an ambitious multi-album narrative" that began with Blurryface in 2015. But it certainly doesn't feel like an ending; Clancy further expands on the theatrical style and eclectic sound they've showcased from the start, offering both a resolution and an evolution.

While the makings of the signature Twenty One Pilots aesthetic began with its original formation as a trio — lead singer Tyler Joseph and his friends Nick Thomas and Chris Salih — it truly took shape when Dun replaced Thomas and Salih in 2011. Dun and Joseph had a common goal to re-formulate the way songs and shows were crafted; the drummer utilized samples and backing tapes at their gigs, helping the band dive deeper into their alternative style by fusing everything from reggae to pop together.

As a newly formed duo, Twenty One Pilots issued their album Regional at Best in 2011 — their last release before they signed to a major label (though, as they told Huffpost in 2013, they since consider the record a "glorified mixtape"). After significant social media buzz and selling out a show at Newport Music Hall in Columbus, the duo was courted by a dozen record labels, which set the stage for their big break.

"We went from no one in the industry caring to all of the sudden it was the hot thing for every label, independent and major, to be interested in some way," Joseph told Columbus Monthly in 2012 upon signing to Fueled by Ramen, which the singer said they were drawn to because they were able to retain "creative control" — a factor that would become increasingly more important with each release. 

Their 2013 album Vessel — which featured a combination of new and re-recorded songs from Regional At Best —spawned the band's first charting single, "Holding On to You," a rap-meets-pop track that oscillates from sensitive indie ballad to energetic anthem. Not only had they begun making a mark commercially, but it seemed to be the album that Twenty One Pilots felt they were hitting their stride creatively, too: "I know some people might not like this, but I kind of view Vessel as our first record," Joseph told Kerrang!at the time.

Though the character "Clancy" first came about with 2018's Trench, Twenty One Pilots actually introduced the world that Clancy would eventually live in with 2015's Blurryface, which focused on a titular character who embodies depression and anxiety. "It's a guy who kind of represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around me, are insecure about," Joseph said of his alter-ego in a 2015 interview with MTV.

To convey the "feeling of suffocation" caused by insecurities from what he creates, Joseph began wearing black paint on his neck and hands in music videos and on stage to represent the "Blurryface" character. As Joseph told the Recording Academy in 2015, the "common thread" of all of the songs on Blurryface was that Joseph's alter-ego would be defeated, and each song wrestled with the dichotomy between darkness and optimism.

While Vessel kickstarted the band's commercial success, Blurryface saw their popularity explode and resulted in the band's best-selling single, the eerie rap-rock anthem "Stressed Out." The commercial success of Blurryface helped their hot streak continue into 2016 with the release of "Heathens." While the song served as the first single from the Suicide Squad soundtrack, its haunting production fits right into the world the pair had begun building with Blurryface. Their acclaim continued to grow, with Twenty One Pilots earning their first GRAMMY in 2017 for "Stressed Out" in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance Category — and, in line with their affinity for stunts, dropping their pants as they accepted their award.

Ahead of the release of their 2018 concept album Trench, the lore surrounding "Clancy" really began. Twenty One Pilots began leaving clues for fans on a website known as DMAORG, which featured black-and-white images and letters from "Clancy," who ultimately became the protagonist of the album. Twenty One Pilots fans (often referred to as the"Skeleton Clique") began clamoring to deduce puzzling clues and posting their theories about the narrative's endgame online.

With Trench, they found more characters and a deeper narrative. The overall album depicts "a world where nine dictatorial bishops keep the inhabitants (Tyler included) of a fictional place named Dema from escaping its controlling clutches, with the help of the Banditos — a rebel organization (featuring Josh)." On a larger scale, the album grapples with mental illness, suicide and an expansion on Joseph's insecurities from Blurryface

But Trench isn't one cohesive story; rather, it's a series of songs with clues embedded within. For instance, in "Morph," the character Nico is introduced, who is also the subject of "Nico and The Niners." From there, fans gleaned that Nico was one of nine bishops controlling the citizens of Dema, and those nine bishops were represented by each of the songs on Blurryface. The bombastic "Pet Cheetah" references that the house has vultures on the roof which alludes to it — and Joseph's home — being Dema. 

As with Blurryface, visuals became an integral part of the album cycle. This time, they used them to illustrate life in the dystopian Dema, which personifies depression through the trilogy of music videos for "Levitate," "Nico and The Niners" and "Jumpsuit." While Joseph's black-painted neck and hands signaled the Blurryface era, dark green clothing marked with yellow tape signaled the Trench era. During this time, the "Clancy" character remained shrouded in mystery — though through videos and letters shared by the band, fans theorized that it is an opposing force to "Blurryface."

By the time Twenty One Pilots' 2021 album, Scaled and Icy, came around, fans quickly noticed that it paid homage to "Clancy" as an anagram for "Clancy is dead," while also acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic as a shortened phrase for "scaled back and isolated." While Twenty One Pilots could have leaned into the harrowing events of lockdown, they instead chose to focus on what has driven the band itself, the power of imagination — something that has been behind much of the band's work since Blurryface.

With the album came three singles — the propulsive "Shy Away," the heartwrenching banger "Choker" and the funk-pop-tinged "Saturday — which were recorded when the duo was working virtually during the pandemic. Unlike the past two projects which grappled with this doomed slant, Scaled and Icy pivoted toward a sunnier sound, signaling a shift in the narrative. But it didn't mean the dark world of Blurryface and Trench were completely in the past; upon Scaled and Icy's release, Joseph revealed to Apple Music that there would be "one more record" and "an explanation and book end" before moving onto another story.

Three years following the release of Scaled and Icy, fans began receiving letters from the "Sacred Municipality of Dema" — a reference to the fictional city featured on Trench, signaling what appeared to be a new era diving deeper into the band's lore. Since the previous record featured an anagram about "Clancy" in its title, it seemed natural that the next album would be named after the character. 

"'Clancy' is our protagonist in this story we've been telling, stretched out over the last several records. 'Clancy' is the type of character who, for a long time, didn't know if he was a leader or not, didn't want to take that responsibility," Joseph told BBC Radio earlier this year.

As the singer had hinted in the Scaled and Icy era, Clancy brings fans back to the darker narrative that began with Blurryfacet. After Joseph's character escapes Dema a handful of times, joins a rebellion, then is captured again, he finally has the same abilities as the bishops and aims to free the people of Dema. The album attempts to answer a few conceptual questions along the way.

Clancy's blistering first single, "Overcompensate" is inherently hopeful, and answers the long-lingering question fans have been wondering: Who is "Clancy"? According to the psych-funk number, it's been Joseph all along ("If you can't see, I am Clancy/ Prodigal son, done running, come up with Josh Dun.") As Joseph further explained to BBC Radio, "[With] 'Overcompensate', there's a bit of a confidence and swagger in it that the character needed to embody in order to take on the new role in the story we've been telling, and Clancy is gonna rise up as that person."

But much of the album focuses less on the literal lore, instead tackling the overarching themes of its counterparts: Joseph's struggles with mental health. Despite the darker, anxious nature of the album's lyrics, the majority of Clancy has a self-assured breeziness to it, jumping off of the upbeat Scaled and Icy sound. 

On the ballad-like closer, "Paladin Strait" — named after a fictional body of water off the coast of Dema —Twenty One Pilots really digs into the narrative of "Clancy" the character in a literal way again. What's revealed is the final battle between "Clancy" and "Blurryface" with no apparent winner — alluding to the idea that there is not necessarily a triumph over depression. In the final line, the band offers a callback to a lyric from Blurryface: "So few, so proud, so emotional/ Hello, Clancy."

While the ending may remain ambiguous, it may not be a coincidence that Twenty One Pilots postponed Clancy's release date by a week (from May 17 to May 24) in order to finish filming music videos for each of the tracks, all of which were unveiled upon the album's release. So, there's still hope that fans will find out definitively what happened to "Clancy" — or maybe it means his story isn't completely finished. 

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Nathy Peluso Talks 'Grasa,' The Mob & More
Nathy Peluso

Photo: Kito Muñoz

interview

Nathy Peluso Is 'Grasa': How Hard-Earned Lessons, The Mafia & A Lost Album Led To Her Most Vulnerable Work

Both honest and brash, Nathy Peluso's first album in four years is the culmination of therapy and deep musical work. "It’s important to bring that energy to the music, like, rude, strong, dangerous," she says.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 04:45 pm

Those who follow underground Spanish music have known the name Nathy Peluso for a while, but in 2020 the Argentine-Spanish artist came to the attention of a broader audience. That year,  the rapper and singer released her official debut album Calambre, which won a Latin GRAMMY for Best Alternative Album and received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album in 2021. 

Four years later, Peluso is back with Grasa [Grease]. Out May 24, the 16 track follow-up is simultaneously bolder, more vulnerable and more revealing than its predecessor, crystalizing the artist's iconoclastic and often cinema-inspired vision.

At Legacy Records, a hotspot for haute Mediterranean fare in Manhattan's Hudson Yards neighborhood, Nathy is draped in an oversized blazer and pants. She looks like a relaxed, elegant CEO and the style becomes her, especially as she balances it with ultra-feminine touches. Today, its long nails tipped in fire-engine red.

Her fashion choices are as pointed as her manicure, on and off stage. In the recent video for "Aprender a Amar," she raps ferociously into a mirror, sharply dressed in a pin-stripe tie, a jacket with exaggerated shoulders, and delicate black lace gloves. These sartorial choices ask, Why settle for a mob-wife aesthetic when you can be a don yourself?

Both visually and aurally, Nathy Peluso is part cinematic diva and part underworld kingpin, with a fair amount of Missy Elliott swagger. Her tough, independent persona was on full display on her now-multimillion streamed 2020 Bizarrap session, which smoldered and crackled with her bombast. It was fully formed on "Business Woman," from Calambre, and returned with a roar on her 2021 single "Mafiosa," a high drama salsa track.  

Her powerful energy is pure hip-hop in steel-toe Timbs, but she performs with the generous spirit of a burgeoning pop star ministering to a big house of fans. On Grasa, Nathy Peluso brings humanity to her braggadocio. This doesn’t stop her from picking up the mafia saga where she left off on Calambre. The opening track is titled "Corleone." 

Ahead of the release of her first album in four years, Nathy Peluso spoke with GRAMMY.com about overcoming creative burnout, taking inspiration from mob movies, and the true meaning of "grasa."

This album is more personal than your previous releases. What led you to open up more lyrically?

I think it just happened because I am growing. I am learning and I need to tell my truth. The way for me to do that is music. It’s been four years, but, when the moment came, I was ready.

Speaking of four years ago, 2020 was a very big year for you. A lot happened. What are your most vivid memories from that time?

Calambre was the moment. It was really special for me. Winning the GRAMMY was the moment, and then touring with that album was an amazing learning experience for me. I grew up on the stage. 

I grew up as a woman, as an artist, as a performer, maybe as a lover too. You are traveling around the world with so much pressure. Physically, it was a difficult show. I was alone on stage, with my musicians, but no dancers. It was a challenge. 

I grew up in so many ways, but when I finished that tour I was broken. My soul was broken. I was empty. I started looking for myself. It was very tough. 

It sounds like you were experiencing creative burnout.

Yes, my brain was broken, but it was necessary in order to start again. I did an album then, but I decided not to go with that album and to start again. So, it was a very long path. 

You wrote a whole album and then discarded it? What wasn’t working about it?

It was working, but it wasn’t the feelings I wanted to share and the music I wanted to share. Sometimes there are projects whose purpose is just to learn from. It was a process of learning for me. That was a very special moment. 

You start feeling like a failure, but no. It was necessary to go through that to get to Grasa. The things I learned were exactly the things I needed to know to then make this music. 

So, how did you overcome this period of burnout and get to the point where you were feeling creative again?

A lot of therapy. A lot of working on my s— and confronting it.

Is there one song on Grasa that is more intense to perform, or more emotional for you than the others?

"Envidia" is talking real s—. Things happen around you and you need to know who you are and what your intention is. You have to be focused on what you want to bring to the world and not care about anything besides your craft. People are going to talk. Things are going to be crazy. You’ve got to know your choice, your path.

Can you tell me about the song "Corleone"? How do gangster movies inspire you?

I have a song called "Mafiosa." It’s a character I love to perform and I see myself in that character. It’s relatable. The mafia have codes that represent me — not everything [laughs] — but, you know, the family, the legacy, working hard, respect. That kind of feeling in music, in cinema, is what I was looking for. I love the aesthetic. I love Tarantino. I love Tony Montana, the character. On stage, I feel like him sometimes. 

I love for a woman to be that type of character. I think it’s interesting. Usually, those kinds of feelings in music or cinema are represented by men. It’s always that way in salsa. If you look at Celia or Gloria, they were always more romantic. Maybe La Lupe was dangerous. For me, it’s important to bring that energy to the music, like, rude, strong, dangerous. Be careful, bitch!

What were some of your specific musical influences while working on this album?

Always folklore and roots, salsa and bolero, but then I was paying attention to Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. They are a big inspiration for me. 

How do you bridge the gap, or find the connections among your different influences?

I don’t even know. I just do music, really. I go to the studio and I start singing. I just feel it.  I go to the studio, and suddenly I want to sing, and I want to cry. And then another day, I feel powerful and I want drama and aggressive stuff. It’s very honest. The starting point is always the way I feel.

Is it important to you to make music that empowers other women?

Yes. For sure. But it wasn’t ever a strategy, like, "I want to do music for empowering women." I just did my music without direction. Then I discovered people were feeling the power and using it. I feel inspired by that, but it wasn’t the point. 

What does the word "grasa" mean to you?

I chose that word because it’s the strongest word. It’s dirty. It’s funky. But it’s a word that, at least in Spanish, has a lot of meanings. So, I want people to choose the meaning. After listening to the album, you can choose the meaning and maybe redefine it with the album.

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RM of BTS in 2023
RM attends W Korea‘s ‘Love Your W' breast cancer awareness event in Seoul, South Korea in November 2023.

Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images

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Stream RM's New Album 'Right Place, Wrong Person': See The Tracklist, "LOST!" Video & Special Guests

The second solo album from BTS' RM further displays his knack for genre-bending experimentation, while also delving deeper into his vulnerable side. Listen to the new album here, and get to know the project's featured artists, tracklist and more.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 04:08 pm

As the world patiently awaits the return of BTS in full force, each member continues to deliver solo projects to show off their individual talents. And 18 months after his last album, RM is back.

With a discography that hops between pop, R&B, and hip-hop, RM returns to the spotlight with his second solo album, Right Place, Wrong Person. The project tells the relatable story of an individual who is a creature of habit, but slowly comes to find solace in foreign spaces.

Below, listen to RM's latest album, and discover more about how he's revealing a new side of his artistry with Right Place, Wrong Person.

The Tracklist

After RM's debut solo album, 2022's Indigo, had 10 tracks (including features from the likes of Erykah Badu, Anderson .Paak), he ups the tally with an 11-song tracklist this time around.

Here is the complete tracklist for Right Place, Wrong Person:

1. Right People, Wrong Place
2. Nuts
3. out of love
4. Domodachi (feat. Little Simz)
5. ? (Interlude)
6. Groin
7. Heaven
8. LOST!
9. Around the world in a day (feat. Moses Sumney)
10. ㅠㅠ (Credit Roll)
11. Come back to me

The Creative Visuals

Two weeks before the album dropped, he unveiled the music video for "Come Back to Me," the lead single from Right Place, Wrong Person. Directed by the critically acclaimed actor Lee Sung Jin, the music video narrates the tale of feeling like an outsider and yearning for a sense of belonging in unfamiliar surroundings.

Then, on the day Right Place, Wrong Person arrived, RM added to release-day excitement with another intriguing visual, this time for "LOST!" The five-minute clip sees RM as the star of "The Lost! Show," where he and a group endure an eerie whirlwind of scenarios they can't seem to get out of. It's equal parts dramatic and slapstick, and another clever display of RM's creative versatility.

Noteworthy Guests

The featured artists on Right Place, Wrong Person — British rapper Little Simz on "Domodachi" and art-pop artist Moses Sumney on "Around the world in a day" — underscore RM's ability to interlace his own musical style with artists from various genres.

The album also has some notable behind-the-scenes collaborators as well. Production credits include Kim Han-joo, keyboardist and vocalist from the South Korean rock band Silica Gel, on "LOST!" and GRAMMY-nominated jazz duo DOMi & JD Beck on "? (Interlude)."

On "Come back to me" — which RM initially debuted last August during a surprise performance at BTS bandmate Suga's encore concert in Seoul — he delves into the album's central theme of wanting to venture into unknown areas, but feeling the intense urge to stay with what's already known. The track was composed and arranged by OHHYUK from the South Korean indie-rock band Hyukoh, but also features credits from artists Kuo, JNKYRD, and San Yawn.

But no matter who RM is working with, his own talent and prowess as a creator always shines. Right Place, Wrong Person presents a diverse array of tracks marked by sheer vulnerability, honesty, and sensitivity — a masterful continuation of a remarkable solo journey.

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Aaliyah in 2001
Aaliyah in 2001.

Photo: Sal Idriss/Redferns

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8 Ways Aaliyah Empowered A Generation Of Female R&B Stars

More than 20 years after her untimely death and 30 since her debut album, 'Age Ain't Nothing But a Number,' Aaliyah's legacy lives on through female R&B artists of generations new and old. Dig into her impact, from her fearlessness to her fashion sense.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 02:39 pm

With worldwide sales of 32 million, five GRAMMY nominations, and more than a dozen Hot 100 hits to her name, Aaliyah achieved more in her tragically cut-short 22 years than most would several lifetimes over. And more than two decades after her untimely death, the female R&B scene is still very much indebted to her pioneering talents.

In the last few years alone, she's been namechecked by Beyoncé, sampled by SZA and Normani, and covered by Mariah the Scientist and Sinead Harnett. And that's only on a sonic level. Ella Mai and Mahalia also recreated her signature tomboyish look in their video for "What You Did," as did Jhené Aiko on " P*$$Y Fairy (OTW)." Justine Skye and Sevyn Streeter are just a few of the names who paid their respects in 2023 ABC tribute Superstar. And going further back, Aaliyah has also been cited as a major source of inspiration by Ciara, Tinashe, Nelly Furtado, and Rihanna, while Katy B and Jessie Ware even named their "Jolene"-esque duet after their musical icon.

And thanks to Aaliyah's innovative second and third studio efforts, 1996's One In A Million and 2001's Aaliyah, finally escaping from licensing limbo in 2021, those growing up in the streaming age are now discovering her supremely sultry voice, masterly interpretative skills, and array of forward-thinking hits, too. In the last three years, the likes of "Try Again" and "Are You That Somebody" have racked up more than 140 ad 170 million streams, respectively, on Spotify alone.

But why exactly does the singer nicknamed Baby Girl still have such a hold on contemporary artists, several of whom were barely out of diapers when she was busy tearing up the R&B rulebook? To coincide with the 30th anniversary of Aaliyah's debut album, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, here's a look at how the "street but sweet" star built up such an inspirational legacy.

She Knew How To Use Her Voice 

Aaliyah arrived at a time when powerhouses Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston were the dominant female singers. But the New Yorker quickly proved that lung-busting multiple octaves isn't the only way to vocally impress.

Aaliyah was still capable of such acrobatics. According to producer Daryl Simmons, she would often rely on opera runs before recording to warm up her voice; Diane Warren, who worked with the star on ballad "The One I Gave My Heart To," has spoken of how she was taken aback by her versatility. But Aaliyah's signature delivery was very much "less is more." You can hear her sensual, featherlight tones in the likes of Kelela, Rochelle Jordan, and The Internet's Syd, the latter of whom has specifically hailed Aaliyah as a formative influence on her own cooler-than-cool style.

She Retained An Air Of Mystery 

Aaliyah's less-is-more approach also applied to her public profile. Perhaps due to the controversy surrounding her relationship with debut album producer R. Kelly, the singer largely preferred to let her music do the talking.

Even when she did speak to the press, she kept her cards close to her chest. And she avoided giving the more salacious outlets any further ammunition by growing up away from the spotlight. If they were looking for celebrity beefs, love triangles or stumbling out of nightclubs, they had to look elsewhere.

In the social media era where oversharing is the norm, Aaliyah's desire to keep her private life entirely private now seems both admirable and practically impossible. But there are still several artists who've recognized there's a power in retaining a sense of mystery. Just look at Sault, the enigmatic collective said to be fronted by the Aaliyah-esque Cleo Sol, who've released 11 albums and evenperformed live without officially revealing their true identities.

She Was A Triple Threat 

Triple threats are par for the course these days. From Beyoncé and Rihanna to Brandy and Nicki Minaj, almost every female R&B star now seems determined to show they can pull off singing, dancing and acting — and, in the case of Jennifer Lopez's recent passion project, all at the same time. But Aaliyah was one of the first to showcase such impressive versatility.

In 2000 thriller Romeo Must Die, she stole the show from Jet Li as the daughter of a crime lord who refuses to get drawn into his dangerous underworld. And thanks to an inventive blend of wirework and futuristic choreography, she was equally spellbinding in the video for tie-in single "Try Again." 

Meanwhile, her slithery performance as the titular bloodsucker was by far the standout in 2001 horror Queen of the Damned. Having landed key roles in The Matrix Reloaded and Sparkle shortly before her untimely death, Aaliyah's movie career would undoubtedly have ascended to the same lofty heights as her musical.

She Wasn't Afraid To Take Control 

Don't be fooled by Aaliyah's softly spoken vocals and coy demeanor. The star was never afraid to tell it like it is. Just ask A&R executive Jeff Sledge, who guided her early days with Jive Records. "She was shy but when she would speak, you could tell she was a real artist," he told The Guardian in 2021. "She had her ideas of what she wanted to do and say — she wasn't a puppet."

Although her talents lay as a performer/interpreter rather than a songwriter/producer, Aaliyah continued to exert creative control throughout her discography. While promoting sophomore One In A Million, she told MTV, "I was very confident in my convictions and what I wanted this time around." 

It's a mindset reflected across her lyrical themes, too. On "If Your Girl Only Knew," she hits back at a player whose attention she's unwillingly caught, while on "Are You That Somebody," she insists on keeping her new beau a secret until he proves his worth.

She Helped Launch Missy Elliott's Career 

Although Missy Elliott had started to make waves in the music industry — firstly in short-lived girlband Sista, and then as writer/producer for Jodeci and Aaron Hall — it was her partnership with Timbaland and Aaliyah on 1996's One In A Million where she truly established herself as an R&B game-changer. Elliott co-penned nine tracks, including the singles "Hot Like Fire," "4 Page Letter" and "If Your Girl Only Knew," her sensual melodic hooks the perfect foil for Timbaland's innovative beats.

By the time their crowning glory, "Are You That Somebody," dropped in 1998, Elliott had become a star in her own right: maintaining the synergy, her debut album, 1997's Supa Dupa Fly, also boasted a guest appearance from Aaliyah. But as Elliott told Entertainment Weekly in a tribute to Aaliyah after her passing, their connection went far beyond the studio: "It was more of a family vibe than just work. We could tell each other anything." Over the next few years, both established (Whitney, Mariah) and emerging (702, Tweet) female talent would follow Aaliyah's lead by utilizing Elliott's production skills.

She Gave The Youth A Voice 

From SWV and En Vogue to Brownstone and Jade, the mid-'90s R&B scene was dominated by ladies well into adulthood. Aaliyah, however, was just 15 when debut Age Ain't Nothing But A Number hit the shelves. Subsequently, a generation of young girls immediately latched on to who they saw as a kindred spirit.

Although Aaliyah always sounded more mature than her years, her debut often reads like a schoolgirl's diary entry. (She even opens the title track by noting one: "May 5, 1993/ Aaliyah's diary/ Got it," goes the often-omitted intro.) Songs about crushes, hanging out with her friends, and partying on the weekend certainly reflected the teenage experience with authenticity (Aaliyah was still attending Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts).

What's more, "Young Nation" essentially finds her spearheading a new youth movement, "keeping it smooth with a jazz attitude.""There were so many messages in her songs that guided me and became the soundtrack to my childhood," British singer Kara Marni told The Guardian, proving that Aaliyah's generational influence extended far beyond her homeland.

She Had A Timeless Sense Of Style 

"There doesn't seem to be a current streetwear trend that Aaliyah didn't sport first," Vogue's fashion editor Janelle Okwodu recently claimed, no doubt referring to everything from bandanas and baggy jeans to sports jerseys and ski hats. From the moment she first graced MTV in overalls, a tracksuit and the chunkiest of leather vests in "Back & Forth," the New Yorker made it crystal clear she wasn't interested in appealing solely to the male gaze.

Aaliyah could dress up for the occasion; see the Roberto Cavalli ballgown she wore to the 2000 VMAs. But her sense of style always leaned more toward the casual and tomboyish end of the spectrum, empowering the next generation of R&B performers to wear exactly what they wanted. British singer Nao was one such follower of her fashion: "There was a part of Aaliyah that made me feel comfortable in rolling out in my denim trousers or in an oversized jumper and knowing that my music can be enough."

She Proved Female R&B Could Think Outside The Box 

TLC's "No Scrubs," Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On," Amerie's "1 Thing." Think of the most innovative R&B singles of the pre-streaming era and it's likely a female act is responsible. And thanks to a sonic palette that still sounds like it's been sent from the future, Aaliyah undeniably paved the way.

Age Ain't Nothing But A Number first established her innovative ways, her mellifluous vocals gliding across Timbaland's progressive beats and bank of avant-garde sound effects. But it was 2001's eponymous LP that truly pushed the genre into various weird and wonderful directions, from the snake-charming classical sample on "We Need A Resolution," to the warped Nine Inch Nails-esque guitars on "What If," to the squelchy sci-fi funk of "Try Again." 

Even when she went classic, as on gorgeous slow jam, "I Care 4 U," she practically invented alternative R&B. Musical boundaries might now be a thing of the past, but in the early '00s, Aaliyah was one of the few breaking them down.

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