Ariana Grande Says Next Studio Release Is ‘If First Wives Club Were An Album’

Earlier this week, Ariana Grande was crowned Billboard‘s Woman of the Year with a generous, intimate cover story and a banquet of striking photos. In it, she opened up as much as she could about her upcoming fifth album — yes, the one apparently due to drop only a few months after this year’s excellent Sweetener — that’s officially called Thank U, Next. (Its vibe, she said, is “feminine energy and champagne and music and laughter and crying.”) But that was only the beginning.

Thursday night (December 6), Grande took the stage at Billboard‘s Women in Music 2018 to officially accept the honor after performing the album’s title track. And following a thread she first presented in November when she debuted it on Ellen, the singer gave even more details on what to expect. “I feel like we made if The First Wives Club were an album,” she said onstage, adding it was “some of the most fun times of my life in the studio.”

After a loving (and genuinely hilarious) intro by soul legend Patti LaBelle, Grande alternately got very real and punctured the more serious moments with light ribs at her own expense. “I find it interesting that this has been one of the best years of my career and the worst of my life,” she said, before admitting that while people may see her success as a sign that she has her shit together, she decidedly doesn’t. But she’s trying.

It was a joyful and cathartic expression of sentiments, in line with the tenor of the entire evening. Some laughs, some tears, and a lot of celebrating the endless drive and work of women in the music industry. Here are the highlights.

Zayn Gets Real About Long-Lost Friends (And Possibly 1D) On ‘Good Years’

Zayn is in full-on album promo mode! Just a week after making the world wonder what a “Rainberry” is, the 25-year-old is back with yet another taste of Icarus Falls.

His latest, “Good Years,” arrived on Thursday (December 6) to remind us that no one nails a falsetto quite like Z. While the bulk of his buzz tracks this year have been hazy R&B jams, this one is a proper pop ballad, with Zayn getting introspective about his past over a sparse piano medley. “I’d rather be anywhere, anywhere but here,” he sings. “I close my eyes, I see a crowd of a thousand tears / I pray to God I didn’t waste all my good years.”

If you’re a One Direction fan who’s thinking those lyrics might be referencing Zayn’s self-described unhappy days with the boy band, you’re not the only one. Following the track’s release, Directioners started speculating as much, taking into account lyrics like “nothing in the world could bring us down,” which could be a play on One Direction’s post-Zayn single “Drag Me Down.”

Stoking those rumors even further was a cryptic tweet posted by Zayn’s former 1D bandmate Louis Tomlinson just hours after “Good Years” surfaced. “Proper confused. What a hypocrite!” the tweet read.

Of course, Zayn’s new song could also be about literally anything else and have nothing to do with One Direction, and we won’t know for sure unless he chooses to open up about it.

Until then, anticipation for Icarus Falls is sky-high — the 27-track album arrives on December 14, and includes the previously released tunes “Rainberry,” “Sour Diesel,” “Let Me,” “Entertainer,” “Fingers,” “Too Much,” and “No Candle No Light” with Nicki Minaj.

Teddy Geiger, More Confident Than Ever, Told Us Who She Was In 2018

A little over a year ago, Teddy Geiger revealed something important on Instagram, something that would shape the rest of her life. “I’m transitioning,” she wrote to answer a fan’s question about her changing appearance. “Love it or hate it this is who I have been for a looooong time.”

The declaration kicked off a new era for Geiger, the songwriter and singer who had spent years behind the scenes penning music for One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, and Shawn Mendes. In fact, three songs Geiger and Mendes wrote together — “Stitches,” “Treat You Better,” and “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” — hit the top 10 and quickly became Mendes’s signature tracks. But that’s all part of Geiger’s career.

Her personal news precipitated a string of revealing, illuminating interviews that focused on her: her own music, her identity, and her years-long path from teenage pop-rock wunderkind to celebrated songwriting maestro. In 2006, Geiger hit as a talented solo artist with “For You I Will (Confidence),” released a debut album called Underage Thinking, and ventured briefly into film and TV roles all before age 21.

As she recapped to The New York Times earlier this year, though, she found the music-industry machine exhausting. “Having a hit is fine, but doing the work is what I want,” she said. “I get more excited the day of creation than once it’s big.”

In 2018, after years of quiet retreat and private writing, Geiger was once again eager to share her creation. Teddy became teddy<3, a fun moniker used to package her own new solo recordings, which culminated in a personal, wildly technicolor new album called LillyAnna. She made some public appearances at awards shows and industry parties. And notably, she teamed back up with Mendes for the most ambitious album of his career. Here’s what happened during the highest-profile, most creatively enterprising year of Geiger’s life.

There’s Nothing Holdin’ Them Back

Before Mendes dropped his self-titled album in May, he gave us a taste of his newfound maturation on the advance singles “In My Blood” and “Lost in Japan” — two Geiger co-writes that thrusted Mendes’s star forward both musically and thematically. The former mines the 20-year-old’s struggles with anxiety while the latter playfully saunters into the arena of sex.

Geiger co-produced those as she did for 11 of the album’s 14 tracks, giving Shawn Mendes a unified, holistic aura of confidence. It’s a representation of Mendes fully coming into his own as a performer, writer, and all-around talent, one his recent Rolling Stone cover story folds into a larger examination of his fame. It’s also hard not to equate that sonic self-assurance to Geiger’s own clear path forward, which began after letting the world know who she is.

One of Mendes’s idols is John Mayer, a pop figure who likewise was hardly ever seen without a guitar in his early years. Geiger’s “For You I Will” sounded like it fit that Mayer mold, too, with its hushed vocals and strummed acoustic chords, so there’s a bit of undeniable synergy in their creative partnership. The best part now, of course, is how Geiger’s sound has matured well beyond that, adding splashes of psychedelia and a coat of early 2000s New York grit. You don’t necessarily hear it on Shawn Mendes — though the roomy, pumped-up claps on “Queen” are steps forward — but it’s all over LillyAnna, her lush reintroduction as teddy<3.

Under The Blue And Brand New

In fact, LillyAnna‘s atypical arrangements are precisely what make it so endearing. She still strums chords — you can hear as much on the glam title track and the panoramic “Under the Blue” — but the songs they serve frequently sound sideways. Geiger’s voice is rarely present without a layer of distortion or reverb and often even partially obscured in the mix. A lot of the effects-heavy tracks, like moody instrumental “8” and frenetic indie pop bop “Wishing (And Hoping),” sound lifted right from a hidden SoundCloud page. In a way, they were; Geiger spent a portion of 2018 tweeting out demo versions of dozens of tracks she’d assembled over the years.

But LillyAnna, named for a persona she’d once used online, isn’t just a collection of ideas. The songs date from 2011 or 2012 up until right before she transitioned, as she revealed to Zane Lowe in September. Despite that, it’s easy to hear LillyAnna — with its burying of solid pop foundations under whirling keyboard textures, layers of post-punk bass lines, and even a brief funk detour (!) — as a reemergence of the new teddy<3. And it sounds exciting.

So, too, does a recent acoustic “Under Pressure” cover where she plays the David Bowie to Mendes’s Freddie Mercury, and a reportedly forthcoming track for singer Olivia O’Brien that Geiger cooked up while using a beer can as an instrument at a party. “I just feel more open,” she said in that New York Times interview. For Geiger, it’s a resurfacing. But for teddy<3, it’s just the beginning.

Taylor Swift And Hayley Kiyoko Team Up On A Surprise Stripped-Down ‘Delicate’

Wednesday night (December 5) in New York City, Taylor Swift made a surprise appearance at the Ally Coalition’s fifth annual Talent Show to sing “Delicate.” This is notable for a number of reasons: 1) Swift was not listed as a scheduled performer at the gig, which also featured Lana Del Rey, Bleachers, Haley Kiyoko, and more; 2) the venue where it happened, Town Hall, has a capacity of roughly 1,500 people, making one of the most intimate Swift performances in some time; and 3) she sang it alongside Kiyoko, someone who’d previously used Swift’s career to contrast with her own struggles within the music industry as a queer artist.

“I’ve had several music industry execs say ‘You’re doing another music video about girls?'” Kiyoko told Refinery29 in March. “I was like, um, yeah… Taylor Swift sings about men in every single song and video, and no one complains.”

Swift responded quickly on Tumblr, saying, “We should applaud artists who are brave enough to tell their honest romantic narrative through their art, and the fact is that I’ve never encountered homophobia and she has. It’s her right to call out anyone who has double standards about gay vs. straight love interests.”

That’s all ancient history though, because the pair’s team-up on an acoustic “Delicate” was accompanied by plenty of smiles and a power that comes from that kind of unexpected collaboration. Kiyoko takes the harmonies and it sounds good. Watch fan-captured video of the performance below.

The event also featured Lana Del Rey performing all new cuts from her upcoming Norman Fucking Rockwell album, including two we’ve previously heard, “Venice Bitch” and “How to Disappear.” The other two, “Hey Blue Baby” and “I Must Be Stupid for Feeling So Happy,” made their live debuts, as per Billboard.

“Me and Jack [Antonoff] wrote a couple of country songs just for fun, so we thought we’d play them,” Lana reportedly told the crowd, referencing her producer for the upcoming LP. Antonoff was there, too, and his sister, Rachel, hosted the event. Check out one of those new cuts below.

Find out more about the Ally Coalition right here.

Ariana Grande’s ‘Upbeat’ New Album Stemmed From ‘A Super Sad Chapter’

Scattered throughout Ariana Grande‘s triumphant Billboard Woman of the Year profile are major tidbits for everyone who has diligently read every tweet, checked every Instagram story, and watched every YouTube drop on Ari’s accounts since early October: concrete details on the second new album she promised would be coming by the end of this year.

Thank U, Next — the album, not the song — is almost ready for global consumption. In mid-November, when the interview took place, Ari was in the “polishing” phase of production, having spent one week writing the tracks and two weeks recording them with help from collaborators Tommy Brown, Social House, Victoria Monét, Tayla Parx, and Doug Middlebrook. But as of Tuesday (December 4), she was tweeting at Republic Records to “hurry yo ass up” with her final product.

Created in a zen-sounding studio outfitted in white flowers, a candle, and a light that projects rippling water imagery, the tone of the new music is “not particularly uplifting,” Ariana said. “A lot of it sounds really upbeat, but it’s actually a super sad chapter.”

It’s a description that actually makes a lot of sense considering the work was fueled by pink champagne and an unthinkable amount of heartache that the artist has endured in the past few months alone — most notably, that which resulted from the unexpected death of her beloved Mac Miller. At least one song on TUN is about the late rapper, according to the profile.

Another tune — one whose name we already know — has tackles a happier memory. “7 Rings” is about a “challenging fall day in New York” that brought Ari and friends to Tiffany’s for some casual retail therapy. A few glasses of champagne (what else?) later, “we bought seven engagement rings, and when I got back to the studio I gave everybody a friendship ring.”

Billboard writer Natalie Weiner, who got to listen to the tracks, described the album as “defiant — deep, bass-driven bangers with trap beats alternating with airy, sad ballads — and aesthetically more adventurous than anything she has ever released.” Lyrically, Weiner called it “unambiguously personal and gutting.”

But perhaps the best news to come of this interview is that Ari, being the benevolent pop diva she is, is already looking forward to making even more new music when she hits the road for next year’s Sweetener tour, and potentially just teased a third new album.

“Please. [“Thank U, Next” production duo] Social House is my opening act — you don’t think we’re going to have a studio on the bus? That we’re not going to be making records on the road? Of course we are,” she said. “I want to be able to do what is authentic and honest and natural. It’s the only way that I’ve been able to survive.”

It’s a bold approach that’s been working for Ari these past few months, and we are here to support its continuation. Please!

Drake Had Three No. 1s This Year — What Does That Mean For The Future?

As ever, Drake remained inescapable in 2018. His vicious beef with Pusha T ended in an atomic dis track and the revelation of a secret son. He also helped orchestrate four wildly viral music videos with young visionary director Karena Evans. All that matters.

But radio matters, too. As one of music’s steadiest avenues for repeated exposure, it remains a substantial part of the rapper’s lasting dominance over pop culture. Drake has now obliterated enough streaming records to essentially make platforms like Spotify and Apple Music into his playgrounds (e.g. his 2017 album mixtape playlist More Life). But radio? That’s Drake’s old standby. And both radio and streaming factor into chart performance.

“We’ve seen hip-hop have great chart runs before, especially in the early to mid-2000s. Then, American Idol came along and pop had a resurgence,” Gary Trust, Billboard‘s co-director of charts, told MTV News in an email. “Still, this year saw a record 34 consecutive weeks of rap hits at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 – three of those songs by Drake, accounting for 29 of those weeks – and with streaming being a major chart metric, and streaming being dominated by hip-hop, the sound does not seem in danger of disappearing. Plus, many current artists of multiple genres grew up influenced heavily by hip-hop.”

Case in point: Only 19 days into the year, Drake released “God’s Plan,” which you’ve now heard over 600 times (alongside “Diplomatic Immunity,” which you haven’t). “God’s Plan” predictably blew up, bolstered by $996,631.90 of visual philanthropy and relentless radio play. Both quickly helped Drake achieve his first Hot 100 No. 1 of the year. And somehow, that was just the start.

In fact, here at the year’s end, Drake boasts two additional No. 1s — “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings” — bringing his career total to six. That means half of them dropped this year alone. Of those three, “God’s Plan” and “In My Feelings” spent double digits at the top of the chart, joining 2017 juggernaut hits like Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”

“Drake has always shown off different sides to his music, from the start, having arrived rapping on ‘Best I Ever Had’ and singing, really nicely, on ‘Find Your Love,'” Trust said. “Almost a decade later, that formula continues to work, for him and others, as ‘God’s Plan’ and ‘In My Feelings’ update the best of ‘Had’ and ‘Find,’ respectively. That combination of rapping and singing helps bridge audiences and, thus, translates to chart success.”

This is a lot of analysis, but it helps elucidate just how influential Drake remains a decade or so into his career. In April, after “God’s Plan” had been No. 1 for 11 weeks, it finally got bumped out of the top spot, naturally by Drake himself and “Nice for What.” The dude’s hits are so big that he can replace himself at the top of the charts, becoming part of an elite class of just 12 other recording acts to have achieved the feat, including Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and The Beatles.

A big part of how this happens, as Trust said, is what those songs actually sound like. While the airy “God’s Plan” kept a fundamentally trap skeleton (in line with much contemporary rap), “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings” delved into New Orleans bounce; the latter video even acted as a love letter to the city itself.

Drake paired each new song with a dynamic visual, the kind that makes a hell of a case for the continued existence of music videos in general. A major part of his visual identity in 2018 was Evans, the 22-year-old director whose clips with Drake vibrate with life and portraiture. After giving away a million dollars in Miami as part of “God’s Plan,” Drake retreated out of frame so that Evans’s “Nice for What” could come alive as an ode to strong women. By the time “In My Feelings” dropped in August, the song had already blown up thanks to Shiggy’s challenge. All Drake had to do was show up wearing gold grills and charm his way out of a contentious encounter with Phylicia Rashad. Of course, the dude did. And his canny strategizing essentially guaranteed each song’s coronation as an Event instead of just another single.

As if right on cue, Drake’s achievements kept rolling in even as 2018 winded to a close. Tuesday (December 4) brought the news that he was both Spotify’s most-streamed artist of the year — and with 8.2 billion new listens in 2018 alone, also the platform’s most-streamed artist ever — as well as Billboard‘s artist of the year. He also claimed that same title from Apple Music.

Let’s not forget either that, the day before, the rapper had hit No. 1 again, this time as a featured guest on Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” Notably, the song is the first No. 1 for Scott, and Drake’s fourth appearance at the top this year. “Sicko Mode” is one of the biggest songs of the year, so it only makes sense that it dethroned another humongous, year-defining song in Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next.”

But there’s something just as potent in “Sicko Mode,” whether it’s Scott’s oblique mention of his maybe-wife Kylie Jenner or, who knows, maybe even Drake’s “I did half a Xan, 13 hours ’til I land.” He’s long been a meme, after all.

That’s just what you have to do. Drake’s known it for years. In 2018, it paid off with three mammoth No. 1s. Next year, however, nothing will be guaranteed. Drake’s reign, Trust stressed, may be short-lived given how cyclical the trends represented on the chart tend to be.

“The end of the year has seen pop and rock make a bit of a comeback, thanks to Panic! at the Disco’s ‘High Hopes’ and Marshmello and Bastille’s ‘Happier,’ among others,” he said. “And, even amid Drake’s dominance, a country/pop hit reached No. 2 on the Hot 100: Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Meant to Be.’ There’s always room for a catchy pop hook.”

Pop Quiz: What’s The Most Iconic Spoken Interlude In A Song?

The TRL Pop Quiz works like this: our editors are posed a music-related question and have only 15 minutes and just 100 words to research, choose and explain their answers. Inspired by Tyler Oakley’s tweet asking his followers for the best mid-song interlude, here’s this week’s question: what’s your favorite spoken interlude in the middle of a song?

“I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead!” Taylor Swift’s Reputation album marked a brand-new era for Swift, with the spoken interlude in her lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” truly reflecting that change. She shed her softer image for one that embraced and even poked fun at the rumors and scandals associated with her career. The shocking interlude was immediately swept up into meme culture and the sentiment was echoed throughout the music video as we saw various “old Taylors” in their iconic looks being killed by Reputation-era Taylor. Kristen Maldonado

Blood Orange’s album Negro Swan is full of powerful interludes in tracks like “Jewelry,” “Family” and “Runnin’.” The songs are autobiographical for producer/singer Dev Hynes and cover themes of being yourself while being black and queer. The interludes are mostly Janet Mock, a black trans woman, talking about her own experiences. I find particular beauty and vulnerability in “Dagenham Dream,” where Dev sings about being bullied viciously as a child for expressing queerness. Janet Mock adds her own childhood experience of being silenced and forced to conform, commenting on how people have had to do so just to survive. – Landyn Pan

My personal favorite spoken interlude in a song is from “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The simple, folksy track’s chorus, sung by Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, proclaims “home is wherever I’m with you.” The spoken interlude is a little reminiscence about when when Jade fell out of a window and “Alexander” had to drive her to the hospital, all the while falling in love. It’s almost unbearably saccharine, but it’s also goofy and fun. Also, do yourselves a favor and look up Maya Rudolph and Paul F. Tompkins singing this song; it’s a delight. – Leah Williams

As Superfruit‘s Mitch and Scott build a perfect man on “GUY.exe,” the singers pause their always-angelic melodies to let Mitch reflect on his boyfriend-search thus far. “I’ve been looking high and low for a man who’s just right,” Mitch confesses in his perfectly-sensual voice, over the song’s pop synth instrumental. The campiness of the interlude – and of the song in general – is the epitome of what makes the duo’s debut album, Future Friends, the album that queer music needed in 2017. Give Mitch more interludes in 2019, please! – Matt Gehring

Let Robyn’s Warm ‘Honey’ Video Be The ‘Piece Of Heaven’ You Need Today

Robyn‘s excellent new album, Honey, has been out in the world since October 26, and you’ve presumably danced to it approximately every day since then. Its highs, like fizzy opener “Missing U,” are dazzling peaks, while its more experimental and gooey middle (“Send to Robin Immediately”) pumps some air into the moment, letting everything else breathe.

And then there’s the wonderful title track, whose four simple words – “come get your honey” — have become a bit of a rallying cry. There’s something very comforting about the song’s seemingly endless warmth, a key element that director Max Vitali preserved and even bottled for the music video, which dropped on Wednesday (December 5).

In it, Robyn and a crowd of dancers are artfully shot from a multitude of close angles, gradually panning out to reveal the full squad. It’s neat. It also perfectly captures the song’s underlying clubby pulse, its heartbeat and fulcrum, as Robyn’s jetting vocals fill the spaces.

“I want to say thank you to all of you who came from near and far and danced with me,” Robyn wrote on Instagram. “The video is for you and everyone who found a piece of heaven on the [dance floor].”

The clip reminds me most recently of Sam Smith and Calvin Harris together on “Promises” and Dua Lipa’s equally sweaty, equally ecstatic “Electricity” video with Silk City, though Robyn’s long career in dance music likely helped served as inspiration for those relative newcomers. It’s always nice to see how dance celebration takes new shapes.

Watch the delightful “Honey” video above. Let its coziness warm your frigid bones.