Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images
How Carly Simon's "You’re So Vain" Became The Definitive Feminist Breakup Anthem
50 years after its release, "You’re So Vain" remains much more than an epic diss track. Carly Simon’s best-known song is an empowered, feminist narrative that illustrates the power of "confessional" lyrics.
Whispering "son of a gun" under her breath as an imposing bassline rolls, Carly Simon is a deft marksman on the hunt on "You’re So Vain." Released 50 years ago on Nov. 8, 1972, the song has an exacting self-possession that hit a nerve with audiences around the world.
Every piece of the chart-topping song emanates power — informed in part by Simon's reclamatory chorus, sung loudly as if she's telling someone off. While the song is a tell-off, the strength of "You're So Vain" lies in its female-centered narrative which, at the time, was novel for the way it contended with the shame and anger of a breakup.
Yet the much-discussed rationale for the enduring hold of "You're So Vain" is the mystery of who the song is about — and who would think the song is about them. The iconic line has so diffused into the pop culture lexicon that its sly irony can be overlooked: The song was about him and yet acknowledging that truth only amplified the song’s detailed account of his vanity. Of course, that didn’t prevent Warren Beatty from saying he knew the whole song was about him.
For decades, the question of who, exactly, was so vain grew into an unavoidable subject for Simon, who withheld from naming the men who served as her inspiration. Theories included the only acknowledged source, Warren Beatty, (as Simon said in an interview forPeople back in 2015), to Mick Jagger, who sang backup vocals, to her ex-husband James Taylor, to David Bowie, David Cassidy, Cat Stevens, and on and on.
While media frenzy around Simon's mysterious subject surely allowed "You’re So Vain" to achieve long-lasting popularity, the song's confessional lyrics make it a standout among singer-songwriters of the era. The song contains an affecting recognition of Simon's hopes for her relationships, despite the men’s shortcomings, as well as recognition of her naivete (her spoiled hopes turn up as "clouds in my coffee"). Though most of her listeners could not relate to potentially singing about Mick Jagger, they could relate to that realization that their aspirations for their love interest were far from reality.
Simon also understood the power of specificity to create universality. References to the apricot scarf, the Learjet and the races at Saratoga may be specific clues about the identity of the men, but the average listener likely knows someone in their own life who can’t help but look in the mirror. In conversation with Simon, listeners are reminded of the own idiosyncratic habits of the lovers who did them wrong. Music commentator Chuck Klosterman dubbed such relationships the "Carly Simon Principle" — songs that create an "espoused reality" which listeners construct their own meaning from.
Despite the deep connections Simon built with her audience through embracing inherently feminist lyrics, the media maintained a myopic focus on the mysterious men who remain unnamed since the song’s release. When Rolling Stone included the song as No. 495 on the list of greatest songs of all time in 2004, its entry starts with it being "the holy mother of diss tracks." A recent revisiting of the song in American Songwriter focused only on the story of who the men might have been and the speculation over the years. Simon's experience was marginalized as the trappings of a "confessional artist" — one who writes with an intentional revelation of the self.
Yet the term confessional artist is almost exclusively used as a term for women, and has been applied to Simon contemporaries such as Joni Mitchell and those she influenced, such as Taylor Swift. The confessional label can be stifling and diminutive, even explicitly "pejorative," according to St. Vincent. "It presupposes – in a kind of sexist way – this idea that’s ingrained in culture that women lack the imagination to write about anything other than their exact literal lives." St. Vincent points out that women are seen as overly sensitive, their stories seen as bloated with sentimentality, a stereotype that completely miscategorizes the assuredness in songs like "You’re so Vain."
The sentimentality of "You're So Vain" doesn’t mean it did not deserve critical accolades or a long life in the pop culture lexicon; sentimentality is why it earned both of these things. While critic Lester Bangs may have called singer-songwriters like Simon "the death of rock and roll," their confessions demonstrate humility, and help listeners relate to artists whose public personas are far different than their own.
The derision against so-called confessional artists denies the talent of these female artists and their craft. "You’re so Vain" feels true and complete. In her essay, "In Defense of Saccharin(e)", Leslie Jamison writes about how female artists of all kinds are accused of sentimentality for acknowledging emotion, and their emotions in turn are labeled as unearned. But sentimentality can "carry someone across the gulf between his life and the lives of others."After the sugar rush crush Simon acknowledges, we come back down from clouds in her coffee to the earth with her. Simon's admission of her own feelings makes her dismantling of these men feel more earned and while "You're So Vain" may put men in its crosshairs, it's ultimately about the scorned lover having her turn at the mic.
Although Simon had won the coveted Best New Artist award at the 14th GRAMMY Awards in 1971, "You’re so Vain" proved that a sophomore slump was not in the cards. Instead, the song firmly positioned Carly Simon as the queen of soft-rock and a "confessional artist" for the ages. She went on to deliver more hits of this ilk, including "Coming Around Again" and "Jesse." When Simon could not attend her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony this year, Olivia Rodigo performed "You're So Vain" in her stead.
Simon's style remains evident and acknowledged as an influence for many female artists of today, including Tori Amos, Carly Rae Jepsen, Natalie Mains of the Chicks, Clairo, and Taylor Swift. Swift, who sang a duet with Simon of the song "You’re So Vain," called Simon in an interview for Entertainment "an emotional person but a strong person. I really really look up to that." As anyone who has followed Swift knows, she too has inherited the same media manhunt to attach her songs to specific men and has been written off for writing so much about relationships that failed.
Despite the persistent tropes utilized to dismiss female artists, Simon’s legacy continues. As historian Judy Kutulas wrote, Simon made songs where "the woman was the subject, not the object, modeling her own sexuality: her feelings, her delight, her satisfaction." Crucially, Simon avoided writing about love that ended in a happy marriage; her work forced male music critics to consider, for the first time, that women might see marriage as something that "tied them down" too.
"You’re So Vain" is not just a confession but a conversation, one which calls it as Simon sees it but also reaches out to listeners as something they can hang their own experiences on. Fifty years on, the song feels as sharp and fun, confidently feminine, and one you can revel in the energy of, the sentimentality of it all, as you sing along. So what if "You're So Vain" was about Warren Beatty? The song’s legacy, and Simon’s, isn’t.
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Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management
Taylor Swift's Eras Tour Has Officially Begun: Here's What Swifties Have To Say About It
From a colossal three-hour setlist to more than a dozen costume changes, Taylor Swift's Eras Tour is nothing short of sensational. Here's how Swifties are reacting on social media to the GRAMMY winner's massive stadium trek.
It's not every day that a city renames itself after you, but Taylor Swift added this unique honor to her ever-growing list of accolades on March 17, 2023.
The date marks the first leg of Swift's monumental Eras Tour, which kicked off in Glendale, Arizona — or, rather, "Swift City," temporarily renamed in tribute to the 12-time GRAMMY winner's highly-anticipated tour.
The versatile singer/songwriter kicked off her tour playing to more than 69,000 people at State Farm Stadium, breaking the 36-year-old record for the most-attended U.S. concert by a female performer. The record was previously held by Madonna's 1987 performance at Los Angeles' Anaheim Stadium on her MDNA tour.
The tour is the latest example of how Swift continues to one-up herself. After her tenth studio album Midnights smashed records, the Eras Tour emerged as one of the buzziest tours of 2023 (and even sparked a Senate hearing about Ticketmaster). Spanning 52 legs and 22 cities, the tour takes viewers on an odyssey through Swift's vast discography, divided into 10 sections for her 10 studio albums.
Now that the Eras Tour has launched, Swifties who have seen the epic show — and even those who haven't yet — are losing their minds over every detail. Sharing their creative outfits, takes on the setlist, and live reactions to the show's astonishing spectacles, the online Swiftie community is storming social media once again.
“You guys. This is a whole, entire experience,” one fan wrote on Twitter. “This isn't just a concert. This is a FULL experience. I'm not even there and I can tell already. She did this, for ALL her fans. This is incredible.
In honor of Swift's monumental tour launching last week, here are how some Swifties reacted to a few of the biggest moments from the Eras Tour's opening night.
Yes, The Setlist Is Longer Than 'Avengers: Endgame'
Think watching Lord of the Rings or taking the SAT… that's approximately the length of the Eras Tour. Considering Swift's discography, it's no surprise that the setlist is extensive, but fans were still impressed (and shocked) by the whopping three-hour show.
Her massive stadium tour for reputation was just over two hours, and four albums later (or six, if you include Taylor's Version re-releases), Swift needed an extra hour to pack in just a few more of her hits.
nothing but admiration for taylor because Wow this set list is unbelievably LONG— marina ✿ (@bubblewrapboys) March 18, 2023
honestly taylor is insane for such a long and perfect setlist— olka⁷ 🪞 (@komhvmin) March 18, 2023
someone explain how Taylor’s set list is 44 songs long, like how????— neve (@neve41379523) March 18, 2023
"Cruel Summer" Gets Justice As The (Almost) Tour Opener
All Swifties know that "Cruel Summer" should have been a single from Lover, and the popular deep cut is finally getting its deserved attention as the second song in Swift's setlist, after fellow Lover track "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince." Here are some fans reacting to the fever dream high in the quiet of night.
TAYLOR SWIFT PERFORMING CRUEL SUMMER OH MY GOD #GlendaleTSTheErasTour https://t.co/OZ2mLWLrNX— squid || fan account 💙 (@greedymotivez) March 18, 2023
me being airlifted out of the stadium after experiencing cruel summer at the eras tour— Daniel (@Daniel_Tigerr) March 13, 2023
CRUEL SUMMER BRIDGE OH MY GOD TAYLOR.. HER VOCALS #GlendaleTSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/bXqQE9AqfX— squid || fan account 💙 (@greedymotivez) March 18, 2023
shout out to my bf for filming me ascend to heaven during the cruel summer bridge without me even asking pic.twitter.com/V8bXRSDt4g— Jemima Skelley (@jemimaskelley) March 18, 2023
I JUST REALIZED THAT IT WAS THE FIRST TIME SHE PERFORMED CRUEL SUMMER LIVE IM SHAKING https://t.co/DYIHDC1fnc— c 💌 (@celestialswiftt) March 18, 2023
Even Kelsea Ballerini, who was 2,000 miles away on a stage of her own, paused her own performance to ask her audience if "Cruel Summer" had made the setlist.
💬 | Kelsea Ballerini stops her set at a concert in Detroit to ask about #TSTheErasTour:— Taylor Swift Museum (@theswiftmuseum) March 18, 2023
“I just have one question. I’m gonna stop after this but I just have one question," she said. "Has she ... is 'Cruel Summer' on the setlist?” pic.twitter.com/ku2EjR5jjR
Swift Assures Fans She Does Indeed Love evermore
Since evermore's late 2020 release, fans have long advocated for Swift to show some extra love to her ninth album. While Swift celebrated the anniversary of its sister album folklore and released the live Folklore: Long Pond Studio Sessions, evermore was alternatively posted on the singer's socials the least, prompting fans to jokingly theorize that she doesn't know evermore exists.
Yet, at the Eras Tour, Swift reassured crowd goers that evermore does in fact hold a special place in her heart. To fans' delight, Swift performed "'tis the damn season," "willow," "marjorie," "champagne problems" and "'tolerate it," amping up the album's soft whimsy into a stadium-level spectacle.
“I’m here to dispel the rumors and prove wrong the allegations that I hate evermore… I don’t even wish people on social media a happy birthday.” SHE’S SO HAPPY AND NATURAL SPEAKING TO US AND MAKING JOKES ABOUT THIS 😭 #TSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/GW749ZFkYR— Taylor Swift Updates (@SwiftNYC) March 19, 2023
EVERMORE?????? TAYLOR KNOW THAT EVERMORE EXISTS GUYS OMG WTF pic.twitter.com/acNZCOBGVA— Taylor Throwbacks | fan page (@ThrowbackTaylor) March 18, 2023
taylor swift performing tis the damn season is the pinnacle of evermore rights— miguel I arlington 4/1 (@cowboyinwoods13) March 18, 2023
taylor put tolerate it on the setlist pic.twitter.com/VfRqFvGLCw— caro 🧸 (@stylesgala) March 18, 2023
SHE DIDN'T FORGET ABOUT EVERMORE #TSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/XOt5cOu1Iy— ًm (@jchnnyshan) March 18, 2023
But… Where's The Love For Speak Now And Self-Titled Debut?
It's impossible to please every Swiftie, but some fans spoke up about the Speak Now and Taylor Swift erasure on Swift's 44-song setlist. "Enchanted" was the only song from either album that made it to the setlist, though it's likely Swift will perform more Speak Now songs as her interchangeable "surprise" songs of each show.
it all makes sense now pic.twitter.com/jBsu4lzXTz— snowglobe allie leading the midnights rug campaign (@reckedmaserati) March 19, 2023
@clairenotdanes listen, im SO HAPPY about the setlist but also why speak now erasure 😭 #taylorswift #speaknow #erastour #setlist #swiftie #swifttok #longlive #haunted #taylorsversion #SeeHerGreatness ♬ You're On Your Own, Kid - Taylor Swift
She sang one speak now song …….. pic.twitter.com/ZmrVsxmMKe— shan (@wildIyenchanted) March 18, 2023
the biggest eras tour easter egg we all missed pic.twitter.com/rXctAQ2iVW— lina🧚♀️ (5/21 eras tour!!) (@tswizzlecat) March 18, 2023
6 songs from lover and 5 songs from evermore but only 1 song from speak now pic.twitter.com/LYob2Azk2V— 𝒍𝒊𝒂𝒎🌙 (@NotFancy_) March 18, 2023
From "Gorgeous" To Comical: Eras Tour Fashion Stuns
Whether it's a dazzling iridescent custom Versace for Lover or a golden flapper fringe dress for Fearless, Swift's tour fashion never fails to disappoint — and neither does fans'.
While Swift pulled off more than a dozen costume changes on stage, her fans dressed up in outfits inspired by her eras, iconic lyrics, fanbase inside jokes, and more. See some of the top dressing-for-revenge looks below.
taylor went from “not a lot going on at the moment” to “a lot going on at the moment” in 10 years #GlendaleTSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/xCP9HjKSx1— Ron || ERAS TOUR (@midnightstrack2) March 18, 2023
the midnight rain costume change is so good stfuuu 😭#GlendaleTSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/oLaSmEZ8DZ— 𝙠𝙖𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙖 (taylor’s version) 🦋 (@swiftiestanwbu) March 18, 2023
taylor’s reputation costume was the best part of the show last night like i am obsessed pic.twitter.com/Pj1xnxWVBx— becky 🥐 (@benditlikebecky) March 19, 2023
SOMEONE DID IT YOU GUYS pic.twitter.com/JVDiMMevOQ— lea | eras spoilers🍓SEEING GRACIE (@cowboylikehale) March 19, 2023
they’re having a camp off pic.twitter.com/OxWsZ4nYE6— 𝗮𝗻𝗱𝘆 💫 eras tour TX 4/1 & 4/22 (@xThisIsAndyG) March 20, 2023
We’re dressed up as TVs, a play on Taylor’s Version. 😂— KelseyLioness (@kelseyLioness) March 20, 2023
It was a hit and people took pics with us and all. 😊 @taylornation13 #erastouroutfit #erastour #erastourglendale pic.twitter.com/gwhsOdXEys
I went with a guy and we dressed up as Taylor in her getaway car outfit backstage hugging Joe. A couple girls picked up on it at our show & it was fun. pic.twitter.com/9sxqM2qPJb— Melissa - Eras Tour Vegas 3/24 3/25 (@MelissaEnchant) March 20, 2023
@briannaxrenee SEE U AT NIGHT 2 🏻💕✨ first time at a Taylor concert so excited! #taylorswift #erastour #erastouroutfits #swiftcity #taylornation #glendaletstheerastour #swifttok ♬ ERAS TOUR OUTFIT TRANSITION - paige!
Lucky Fans Caught The Jaw-Dropping, Fearless Dive On Camera
One of the most surprising moments of Eras Tour was most definitely Swift's shocking dive off stage. Stirring a collective gasp from the crowd, the moment served as a transition from her debut era to Midnights.
Between a three-hour show and a flawless swan dive, the Eras Tour begs one question: Is there anything Taylor Swift can't do?
Idk how I caught this @taylorswift13 #GlendaleTSTheErasTour pic.twitter.com/y8FqEwMcWH— Daniel McGreevy (@DanielJMcGreevy) March 18, 2023
📲 UPDATE | Taylor has won the gold medal in the high dive!— kaitlyn 69 (@fearlesskait) March 18, 2023
The dive was the craziest thing ive ever seen I was so caught off guard LMAO— 𝒓𝒚𝒍𝒆𝒆 is seeing taylor!!!! (@ucanbemyjailer) March 18, 2023
Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
10 College Courses Dedicated To Pop Stars And Music: Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny & Hip-Hop
In honor of Music in Our Schools Month, check out nine college-level music courses that dissect punk and EDM, global hip-hop culture and the discographies and careers of superstar acts like the Beatles and Harry Styles.
There’s never been a better time to be a music-loving college student.
Beginning in the mid to late aughts, an increasing number of academic institutions have begun offering courses dedicated to major music acts. In the late aughts, rap maverick Jay-Z made headlines after becoming the subject of a Georgetown University course taught by Michael Eric Dyson, a sociologist and best-selling author of Jay-Z: Made in America. In the Sociology of Hip Hop: Jay-Z, students analyzed Hova's life, socio-cultural significance and body of work.
It's easy to see why students would be attracted to these courses — which fill up quickly and are often one-time-only offerings. The intertwining of celebrity and sociology present such fertile grounds to explore, and often make for buzzy social media posts that can be a boon to enrollment numbers. For instance, Beyhivers attending the University of Texas at San Antonio were offered the opportunity to study the Black feminism foundations of Beyoncé's Lemonade in 2016. Meanwhile, Rutgers offered a course dedicated to dissecting the spiritual themes and imagery in Bruce Springsteen's catalog.
Luckily for students clamoring to get a seat in these highly sought-after courses, institutions across the country are constantly launching new seminars and classes about famous pop stars and beloved musical genres. From Bad Bunny to Harry Styles, the following list of popular music courses features a little something for every college-going music fan.
Bad Bunny's Impact On Media
From his chart-topping hits to his advocacy work, Bad Bunny has made waves on and off stage since rising to fame in 2016. Now graduate students at San Diego State University can explore the global superstar's cultural impact in an upcoming 2023 course.
"He speaks out about Puerto Rico; he speaks out about the Uvalde shooting victims and uses his platform to raise money and help them," said Dr. Nate Rodriguez, SDSU Associate Professor of Digital Media Studies. "How does he speak out against transphobia? Support the LGBTQ community? How does all of that happen? So yes, it’s very much relevant to journalism and media studies and cultural studies. It’s all of that mixed into one."
A Deep Dive Into Taylor Swift's Lyrics
Analyzing Taylor Swift's lyrics is a favorite pastime among Swifties, so it's fitting that her work and its feminist themes have been the focus of a string of university courses over the years.
In spring 2022, the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University launched an offering focused on the "Anti-Hero" singer's evolution as an entrepreneur, race and female adolescence. The waitlisted course — the first-ever for the institution — drew loads of media attention and Swift received an honorary degree from NYU in 2022.
In spring 2023, honors students at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas can analyze the 12-time GRAMMY winner's music and career in a seminar titled Culture and Society- Taylor Swift.
Kendrick Lamar's Storytelling & The Power Of Hip-Hop
Since dropping good kid, m.A.A.d. City in 2012, Kendrick Lamar has inspired a slew of academics to develop classes and seminars around his lyrical content and storytelling, including an English class that juxtaposed his work with that of James Baldwin and James Joyce.
More recently, Concordia University announced that the 16-time GRAMMY winner will be the focus of The Power of Hip Hop, It’s Bigger Than Us, a course examining the lyrical themes of Lamar’s works, such as loyalty, fatherhood, class and racial injustice.
"No artist speaks to this ethos louder and more intricately than King Kunta, the prince of Compton, Kendrick Lamar, 10 years after good kid, m.A.A.d. City dropped," said Yassin "Narcy" Alsalman, the Montreal hip-hop artist and Concordia Professor who developed the class which launches in winter 2023. “He showed us it was okay to work on yourself in front of the world and find yourself internally, that family always comes first, that community and collective missions are central to growth and that sometimes, you have to break free."
EDM Production, Techniques, and Applications
If you dream of hearing your own EDM tracks played at a massive music festival à la Marshmello, Steve Aoki and Skrillex, this all-in-one course at Boston's Berklee College of Music has you covered. Learn about the cultural origins of the various EDM styles — like techno, trance, drum and bass and more — and the techniques that artists use to achieve these sounds.
In between thought-provoking cultural seminars, students will receive lessons on how to operate the technologies necessary to create their own EDM masterpieces, including synths, digital audio workstations (DAW) and samplers.
Harry Styles And The Cult Of Celebrity
While many celebrity-focused courses center around sociology, the Harry’s House singer/songwriter has inspired his own digital history course at Texas State University in San Marcos: Harry Styles and the Cult of Celebrity: Identity, the Internet and European Pop Culture.
Developed by Dr. Louie Dean Valencia during lockdown, the class will cover Styles’ music along with topics like gender, sexual identity and class — but the singer-songwriter’s personal life is off limits. Stylers who are lucky enough to grab a spot in this first-ever university course dedicated to their fave can expect to revisit One Direction’s catalog for homework.
"I’ve always wanted to teach a history class that is both fun, but also covers a period that students have lived through and relate to," Dr. Valencia wrote in a Twitter post. "By studying the art, activism, consumerism and fandom around Harry Styles, I think we’ll be able to get to some very relevant contemporary issues. I think it’s so important for young people to see what is important to them reflected in their curriculum."
Global Hip Hop Culture(s): Hip Hop, Race, and Social Justice from South Central to South Africa
Since its inception, hip-hop has left a lasting mark on the world, influencing language, fashion, storytelling and beyond. At the University of California Los Angeles, students can learn about how the art form has shaped young minds as they analyze the various hip-hop scenes worldwide.
As part of a mission to establish the university as a leading center for hip-hop studies, UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies launched a hip-hop initiative featuring an artist-in-residence program, digital archives, and a series of postdoctoral fellowships. Chuck D, the founder of the barrier-breaking hip-hop group Public Enemy, was selected as the first artist-in-residence.
"As we celebrate 50 years of hip-hop music and cultural history, the rigorous study of the culture offers us a wealth of intellectual insight into the massive social and political impact of Black music, Black history and Black people on global culture — from language, dance, visual art and fashion to electoral politics, political activism and more," said associate director H. Samy Alim, who is leading the initiative.
The Music Of The Beatles
With their catchy two-minute pop hits, artsy record covers, headline-making fashions and groundbreaking use of studio tech, the Fab Five are among the most influential acts in music history. It’s no surprise, then, that they are the subjects of courses in a number of colleges and universities.
Boston’s Berklee College of Music offers The Music of Beatles, which digs into the group’s body of work as well as the music they penned for other acts. Alternatively, if you’re more interested in their post-breakup works, The Solo Careers of the Beatles dives into those efforts. Meanwhile, the University of Southern California takes a look at their music, careers and impact in The Beatles: Their Music and Their Times.
Symbolic Sisters: Amy Winehouse and Erykah Badu
Whether you want to learn about craft, management, building a career, or marketing your work, the Clive Davis Institute at NYU offers an impressive curriculum for musicians and artists. With seminars focusing on the works of Prince, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and J. Dilla, a unique duo stands out: Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse.
Framing the pair as "symbolic sisters," this two-credit seminar explores and compares how each songstress fused different genres and styles to forge a magnetic sound of their own. Winehouse rose to prominence for her retro spin on the sounds of Motown and Phil Spector and rebellious styling. A decade before "Back to Black" singer hit the mainstream, Badu — who is recognized as one of Winehouse's influences — rose to stardom thanks to her seamless blend of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop and captivating urban-bohemian style, creating a template for singers like SZA and Ari Lennox.
Selena: Music, Media and the Mexican American Experience
From ascending to the top of the male-dominated Tejano genre to helping introduce Latin music to the mainstream, Selena Quintanilla's impact continues to be felt decades after her untimely death. Artists including Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Victoria "La Mala" Ortiz, Becky G and Beyoncé cite the GRAMMY-winning "Queen of Tejano" as an influence.
Throughout the years, her legacy and cultural impact have been the focus of dozens of college courses. In 2023, Duke University continues this tradition with Selena: Music, Media and the Mexican American Experience. The course will explore the life, career and cultural impact of the beloved Tejano singer.
The Art of Punk: Sound, Aesthetics and Performance
Since emerging in the 1970s, punk rock has been viewed as a divisive, politically charged music genre. Its unique visual style — which can include leather jackets, tattoos, chunky boots and colorful hair — was absorbed into the mainstream in the '90s, where it continues to thrive (to the chagrin of hardcore punks everywhere). Over the decades, dozens of subgenres have cropped up and taken the spotlight — including riot grrrl and pop-punk — but very few have left the impact of the classic punk sound from the '70s and its anti-establishment themes.
If you're interested in learning more about the genre that inspired bands like Nirvana, check out Stanford University's The Art of Punk seminar, which explores the genre's visual and sonic origins, as well as its evolution and connections to race, class, and gender.
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Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Remembering Wayne Shorter: 7 Gateway Tracks From The Jazz Titan's 1960s Run
The pioneering composer and tenor and soprano saxophonist passed away on March 2. His influence and legacy spans decades and permutations of jazz, but for the uninitiated, here are seven highlights from his 1960s leader albums.
When the world learned of the pioneering saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter's death on March 2, it did so partly through a quote from the maestro itself: "It's time to go get a new body and come back to continue the mission."
This evocation of reincarnation not only speaks to Shorter's elaborate psychospiritual universe — he followed Nichiren Buddhism for half a century — but his multitudes as an artistic behemoth. In his 89-year life, Shorter irrevocably altered so many sectors of jazz and related forms that he seemed to inhabit many bodies at once.
To trace the 12-time GRAMMY winner's artistic evolution is to tell the story of the music as it evolved and propagated through the latter half of the 20th century. He was a member of two of the most crucial groups in jazz history: the brilliant, hotheaded drummer Art Blakey's unofficial jazz academy the Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis' so-called Second Great Quintet.
But even that's just the tip of the iceberg. After an astonishing run of leader albums on Blue Note — including all-timers like JuJu, Speak No Evil and The All Seeing Eye — Shorter formed Weather Report, a fundamental group in '70s and '80s jazz fusion. Along the way, he also collaborated with AOR legends — Joni Mitchell on a slew of mid-period records, and on the title track to Aja, Steely Dan.
In the 21st century, he continued hurtling forward as a composer, and work only seemed to grow more eclectic and multifarious, arguably culminating with (Iphigenia), an expansive opera co-created with bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding. At the 2023 GRAMMYs, he won Best Improvised Jazz Solo alongside pianist Leo Genovese for "Endangered Species," a cut on Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival, which also features Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.
In 2015, the Recording Academy bestowed upon him a Lifetime Achievement Award. "Wayne Shorter's influence on the jazz community has left an indelible mark on the music industry," Harvey Mason jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, said in part. "It's been a privilege to celebrate his contributions to our culture throughout his incredible career."
As bandleader Darcy James Argue put it, "There isn't a jazz composer today who does not owe an absolutely immeasurable debt to Wayne Shorter. Whether you assimilated his harmonic language, or consciously rejected it, or tried to thread a path somewhere in between, his influence is as unavoidable as the elements."
But with this vast cosmology established, how can Shorter neophytes find their own way in? To traverse the universe of the self-dubbed Mr. Weird — from a line about person or thing X being “as weird as Wayne” — one need not enter it at random.
Arguably, the gateway is Shorter's aforementioned '60s run as a leader; from there, one can venture out in a dozen directions and be rewarded with a lifetime of cerebrality and majesty.
So, for those looking for a way in, here are seven essential tracks from that specific period and component of Shorter's culture-quaking legacy.
"Night Dreamer" (Night Dreamer, 1964)
Shorter was terrific as a leader from the jump, but he arguably came into his own with his fourth album under his own name, Night Dreamer. Much of this had to do with paring down his compositions to their haunting essence. "I used to see a lot of chord changes, for instance, but now I can separate the wheat from the chaff," Shorter said at the time.
Immerse yourself into the fittingly crepuscular title track, which Shorter crafted for a nighttime brood. "The minor keys often connotes evening or night to me," he wrote in the liner notes. "Although the beat does float, it also is set in a heavy groove. It's a paradox, in a way — like you'd have in a dream, something that's both light and heavy."
"Juju" (Juju, 1965)
Night Dreamer and Juju feature a rhythm section closely associated with John Coltrane — the classic Olé Coltrane one, composed of pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Elvin Jones.
As a tenorist influenced by Coltrane, Shorter invited comparisons to his inspiration. But alongside Trane's accompanists, he had developed his own style — with the raw, unvarnished quality of said legend, but a barer tone and more elliptical sense of articulation. Juxtaposed against his accompanists' dazzling, shattered-glass approach, the side-eyeing Shorter is enchanting.
"House of Jade" (Juju, 1965)
After the rainshower of piano notes that initiates "House of Jade," Shorter demonstrates his inimitable way with a ballad, hung on Jones' weighty swing and sway. As jazz author and columnist Mark Stryker put it in an edifying Twitter thread compiling the best of Shorter at a gentler pace: "The ballads are everything. It's all there, now and forever."
"Indian Song" (Etcetera, rec. 1965 rel. 1980)
Featuring bassist Cecil McBee, drummer Joe Chambers, and harmonic mastermind Herbie Hancock — Shorter's lifelong ride-or-die — on piano, Etcetera was recorded the same year as Juju but remained on the shelf for a decade. Better late than never: it stands tall among Shorter's Blue Notes of its time.
All five tracks are fantastic — four Shorters, one Gil Evans, in "Barracudas (General Assembly)." But regarding its final track, "Indian Song," one reviewer might have hit the nail on the head: "At times the rest of the album seems like a warm-up for that amazing tune."
Across more than 11 minutes, "Indian Song" expands and retracts, inhales and exhales, on a spectral path into the unknown. Want an immediate example of how Shorter and Hancock twinned and intertwined their musical spirits to intoxicating effect? Look no further.
"Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" (Speak No Evil, 1966)
As per compositional mastery, evocative interplay and plain old vibe, Speak No Evil represents something of an apogee for Shorter — and many in the know regard it as the crown jewel.
The majestic, mid-tempo "Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" is just one highlight of this quintessential, classic-stuffed Blue Note. Hear how Hancock's elusive harmonic shades and Shorter's simple yet impassioned approach just gel — with support from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Elvin Jones.
"Wayne isn't playing the changes, but plays around the composition—he's creative within the composition," saxophonist David Sanchez once explicated. "[It's] distinct from a lot of other Blue Note recordings of the period on which, generally speaking, people would improvise on the changes once the head or theme was over."
But you don't need to know what's under the hood to hear how this classic thrillingly pushes and pulls.
"Infant Eyes" (Speak No Evil, 1966)
"Infant Eyes" is a Shorter ballad of almost surreal atmosphere and beauty: on a compositional and emotional level, it's difficult to compare it to much else. It's "doom jazz" decades before that was ever a thing.
Down to Shorter's sheer note choices and the grain of his tone, "Infant Eyes" will make your heart leap into your throat. As per Stryker's Twitter litany of enchanting Shorter ballads, the combination is stiff — but if one is supreme, it's difficult to not pick this one.
"Footprints" (Adam's Apple, 1967)
This loping waltz-not-waltz from 1967's Adam's Apple is one of Shorter's most well-known tunes; even without close analysis of its sneaky rhythms, it's downright irresistible. And talk about gateways: it's a launchpad for any young musician who wants to give his tunes a shot.
"Footprints" continues to be a standard; it titled his biography; the Facebook post announcing Shorter's death bore footprint emojis. Shorter may have transitioned from this body, but his impressions are everywhere — and we'll never see the likes of Mr. Weird again.
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Photo by Danielle Neu
How Making 'Good Riddance' Helped Gracie Abrams Surrender To Change And Lean Into The Present
While working on her debut album ahead of touring with Taylor Swift, the 23-year-old singer/songwriter not only tapped into a curiosity about growing up, but learned how to trust herself more.
There's a mesmerizing delicacy to Gracie Abrams' music. Her breathy, graceful vocals hang over sharply insightful songwriting, compelling you to listen just a little more closely. And once Abrams has your attention, she holds it close to her chest.
On her debut album Good Riddance, out Feb. 24, Abrams knits an ornate helix of homesickness and heartbreak. You can feel the lightning of a love that came out of the blue, and almost hear Abrams' mom on the phone through childhood bedroom walls. Throughout the record, Abrams draws listeners in as she sifts through what ifs and why nots in search of relief.
While her last two EPs — minor (2020) and This Is What It Feels Like (2021) spun bittersweet depictions of half-drunk happy past lovers, Good Riddance confronts her resentment and recklessness. Though the alt-pop album leads with a blurry black-and-white aesthetic, Good Riddance bleeds into the gray areas of right and wrong, of closeness and distance.
"It's funny when albums come out a year after you've written them," Abrams tells GRAMMY.com. "I feel like so much life has happened since then in a really great way. So it's almost like talking about it in hindsight now, but I'm desperately excited for it to belong to everyone else."
It's not easy coming to terms with a rollercoaster of feelings, especially at age 23, and it's even less easy to share them. But after crafting Good Riddance at Long Pond Studios in New York, Abrams credits her close friend and collaborator the National's Aaron Dessner with helping her settle into her vulnerability more comfortably. Her third headlining tour kicks off early this March, and she'll support Taylor Swift's Eras Tour in April alongside Phoebe Bridgers, beabadoobee, HAIM, MUNA, and others.
Before life grew too busy, Abrams logged onto Zoom to chat with GRAMMY.com. Wearing a soft smile and gray sweatshirt, she enjoyed a "super, super caffeinated cappuccino." ("I always get glares when I order it. People are like, 'Is she okay?'" Abrams says. "No.")
As she sipped on four shots of espresso, Gracie Abrams shared intimate details on her album's creative process, why touring is the "best kind of exhaustion" she's ever known, and leaning on her fans' rare "superpower" of being able to make her feel better.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What surprised you most about the creative process for Good Riddance? Or did you feel like the process was similar to other albums'?
No, definitely not remotely similar. I think working with Aaron allowed for so much to come up that I don't think would have for me otherwise. So much of that is because of the trust that he and I share. We have very similar personalities in many ways, and often joke that we share a piece of our brain because certain instincts are so aligned. So to have a space that was so comforting and safe, I was surprised by the ease at which I was able to write about such heavy s—.
I think there was a joy to all of it, even when it hurt really bad to admit feelings through the lyrics. I think I was surprised by how excited I was to go to bed every night so that I could wake up the next morning and do it all over again. All of it felt very different than anything I've done before.
It sounds like it was a cathartic experience for you. I'm really glad he was able to create such a safe space. What's the best piece of advice he's given you?
I think that the biggest takeaway that has been universally applied is to trust myself more. He's made me feel really good at what I bring to the table. And I think that is while also challenging me and pushing me to be the best version.
There's something about that kind of someone — who I admire so much, who is a mentor to me — having confidence in me not just as an artist and a writer, but as a person. He's encouraged me to listen to these internal fire alarms that I think for a while I'd been pushing aside a bit. It's definitely helped enormously.
He's one of my best friends now too. That relationship has been really, really, really massively life-altering. Just because I feel like not only can I call him up and ask him when I'm spiraling about something, how to handle it, he's always like, "well, you already know what you're going to do and trust that, do the thing."
One of my favorite tracks is "Best," which features the titular lyric. Can you tell me more about that song and why you decided to name your debut Good Riddance?
Well, this is the first time that I've made an album where I've been thoughtful about every element, including the tracklist. I think as a songwriter and a storyteller, I'm very invested in the arc of the narrative. So the bookends on the album were very important to me. "Best," which is track one, was one of the more painful songs to write because I think there was a lot that I said in this song that I never even said to the person that it's about. And it feels like a version of an apology in many ways.
And yes, the title comes from a line in that song, and I felt very drawn to what Good Riddance means and feels like when you hear it. I think there's this harsh connotation, that I think is definitely one side of it for sure. But then I also think, in a more kind of conversational offhand way, there's a surrender to change. I feel like there's many elements of the album that consist of me surrendering to change, in having a curiosity about growing up in different ways and what it means to leave certain things behind.
Surrendering to change is such a perfect phrase to describe what the album encapsulates. How do you find yourself coping with change, especially at such a fast-paced time in your life?
I think I'm trying to hold everything a bit more lightly and remind myself that nothing is permanent at all, the good or the bad. Honestly, my experience with touring has allowed me to understand that being a controlling person only makes everything harder.
There's so many unpredictable elements, and you have to be really down to go with the flow and be open to last minute adjustments across the board in order to have the best time. That's something that my tour manager, Mackenzie Dunster, the sickest person of all time, she's like a big sister to me [taught me]. She is very much the person that… [gave me the] understanding that the only thing that you can control is yourself.
When talking about change in general, I try to consciously have more of a softness now than I have in the past towards myself, but also what other people may be going through at any given time, spoken and unspoken. Trying to just be more understanding and less rigid has allowed for more ease when going through these greater transitions. But I definitely am no expert. Especially at 23, I also try to constantly remind myself of how little I know about everything. So I hope I continue to get better at going with the flow.
Navigating your twenties can be so tricky, but it sounds like you have a wonderful support system. What would you go back and tell the Gracie that made minor?
I would say so many things. I think mostly get off your phone a lot. I think I would urge myself from back then to remember what is real and what is not real. That was the year before my worst anxiety ever, so I think I would also whisper little tools into my ear about how to deal a bit better in healthier ways and things.
But that being said, I also do feel very grateful for having gone through the things that I did at that time. And I wouldn't change them, but I do think it's awful. When I think back on the amount of time I spent on my phone, or looking for validation, or posting about feelings, [I want to tell myself] just shut your mouth and go to sleep. You know what I mean?
You've been in the music release, tour, music release, tour pattern for a while. Do you feel like you're going with the flow now, and you're more used to it?
I feel really thrilled to get back on the road, especially for [my] headline [tour] being the first tour this year. It feels comforting. I feel so excited to be back in rooms with people that are nice enough to show up and be vulnerable with their feelings, and reciprocate in that way.
It also is such a significant reminder of what I feel we all were lacking over the past few years in having that sense of community in a room and being okay, being emotional with strangers. It's so specific, and… I haven't found it can be replicated elsewhere.
So I've missed it dearly. And I think knowing that I am capable of doing it is very helpful going into this year. Especially with the Taylor tour too, the scale is so extreme and so wildly different from anything I even had the imagination for. I truly can't wait. But definitely, I feel a greater sense of calm than I did before.
What's been one of your favorite tour experiences or fan attractions? I'm sure you have a lot to pick from.
It's just so lucky and it's so fun to remember all of it. All I can speak to is my relationship with my listeners, but I feel like we have such a close relationship. It literally feels like friendship first to me. Every time I meet someone and have even a quick conversation, we're like, oh, "this is my username and X, Y, Z." Immediately, I'm like, "oh, we've talked before a billion times, or you sent me this meme on this day, and I really needed it" because I felt sad. Or reading letters from my audience when I'm really far away from home and feeling immediately cured of all homesickness.
There's this weird superpower that I feel they have, that again, is just such a rare thing. It makes me so grateful and just is a constant reminder of how giving they are with their time and energy and experiences. To share with me anything at all also makes me feel way more down to share about my life.
But I think it's funny too, with these songs on this album, a lot of them are very explicit and it's also very raw still. And I think I'm still navigating how to have a job that is so intertwined with my personal life and how to protect my energy and my privacy, while also wanting to be open and vulnerable.
I've been spending a lot less time on social media recently because it has been better for my head. Especially with tour coming up, what feels real to me is the in-person interactions [rather than what comes] up online that feels destructive or distracting. When I think about this as an album that I don't want to be giving much added context to, I think I'm really more interested in hearing from everybody else [about] how it makes them feel. I think I also want to just keep some parts of it for me.
How do you remind yourself to stay present?
Well, every time I've felt like I've been on stage and I'm thinking about something else by accident, the show is worse in my mind. I remind myself to stay present because I have the best time when I'm exactly where I am. And I think the easiest way to do that is to make real, direct eye contact with someone in the audience and just lock in for a minute.
I think there is a softness and a sensitivity to the audience that [enables me to] feel more okay to show up as I am on any given day. And I've definitely had certain shows where I'm like, "can we all just take a group breath for a second?" And sometimes I do that when I am having some weird wave of a feeling, or an anxiety or something creeps into my head, I do try to recalibrate in real time. Just having little practices along the way to try to be as present as possible is really helpful.
But I'm also aware that there's so many of these places, for example, I've never been to, and there's so much to explore and to really be excited about — especially on days that you're extra tired, or really homesick, or feel super far away from everyone, or haven't seen your dog in months or whatever it is. The luckiest thing in the world is to be able to write these songs and then perform them, and then meet people through that and connect. That's real and so lucky. So lots of gratitude all the time.
Since you're touring with Taylor Swift in the next few months, what was it like the first time you met her?
It's like meeting an immediate best friend and also a superhero. You know what I mean? She's like the coolest person of all time. She is the warmest. She makes you feel like family instantly. And to have admired her and her work for my entire life, to also then be able to feel that way on a personal level is such a lucky, cool thing. And she's everything that you would ever hope she would be.
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