24-year-old indie-rocker Samia dropped her debut studio album The Baby last August, so the title is hardly a misnomer. But it’s a new year now. The Baby has to make room for its younger sibling The Baby Reimagined, a new collection of remixes from 11 different artists. Palehound’s spacey, slowed-down take on “Big Wheel” is a standout. Added guitars and warped vocals create the perfect backdrop for her simmering frustration. “God, I’m really gonna blow with all this empathetic shit,” she sings. “I understand the thing you did and every reason you did it.” Also of note: The “lover in my bedroom” here is a “she,” not a “he.” I got good news, and I didn’t fight! —Sam Manzella
By Lai Frances
“English queen!” That’s what a fanboy in the audience enthusiastically yelled after Ryujin introduced herself in my native tongue during our live interview at Build Series in January 2020.
At the time, Itzy, whose name is a play on the Korean words “to have it all,” was less than a year old since their debut in February 2019, but the group had already amassed an impressive roster of accomplishments, broken records, and awards under their belt; including the fastest rookie group to win a music show (nine days from their debut) and a handful of Best New Artist awards, all while capping the year with a showcase tour in Asia and the United States.
During the same interview, Yeji, Lia, Ryujin, Chaeryeong, and Yuna surprised viewers by answering a majority of the questions in English, widening the eyes of the in-studio audience and invoking excitement from viewers worldwide. The moment was later included in a fan-made English compilation video on YouTube that has more views than the conversation itself.
While 2020 delayed plans and canceled concerts, that did not stop the JYP Entertainment quintet from releasing their viral chart-topper “Wannabe” last March, followed by the confident “Not Shy” that summer. The group used the pandemic to their advantage to produce thorough video interviews and dance-practice clips showcasing different dance breaks between promotional cycles. The group managed to do weekly — sometimes daily — livestreams via the South Korean streaming platform VLive and communicated with fans in Korean and English, often mentioning how they were studying and practicing their English.
Little did fans know, Itzy was going to welcome 2021 with a four-track all-English EP Not Shy consisting of all their lead singles (“Dalla Dalla,” “ICY,” “Wannabe,” and “Not Shy”), out today (January 22).
It’s 7 a.m. in New Jersey and 10 p.m. in South Korea when the quintet appears on Zoom. Sitting in the front row in full glam despite the late hour is Yeji, Lia, and Yuna; behind them sit Ryujin and Chaeryeong. Exchanging greetings and the customary “happy new year” in English, the group’s tone is energetic and bright.
“We’ve prepared them in English because all of our fans have given us so much love and support, so this is our way of repaying the love our Midzy have given us,” Itzy’s leader Yeji says with Lia and Yuna to her left. Pointing to the music video for “Not Shy,” the album’s lead single, Ryujin says, “This is actually us thanking our global Midzys and this is our way of growing closer to them, so that’s why we prepared this album.”
Considering the improvement in the members’ English in the lead-up to the EP, Itzy’s entrance into the Western market was a consideration in its production. “We hope to, of course,” Itzy’s main vocalist Lia responds. “It’s not meant for that [entering the Western market], but if we get a chance for that, then we’d love to! We’ve always wanted to. Maybe once everything gets better?”
The English EP follows the releases of fellow JYP labelmate Twice after releasing English singles of “More & More” and “I Can’t Stop Me” last year. Other acts who’ve gone through the Korean-to-English release trend in 2020 were Loona (“Star”), CLC (“Helicopter”), (G)I-DLE (“Oh My God”), and many more.
“I think many K-pop artists make English versions since English is a universal language,” Itzy’s sassy dancer Chaeryeong says. “As K-pop has more and more global fans, I think this trend will grow bigger.” The group’s bubbly youngest, Yuna, chimes in after, “Artists can have a new experience recording English versions, and fans can enjoy and understand the lyrics more too.”
British production duo LDN Noise, who helmed the group’s popular B-side “Surf” alongside some of K-pop’s top talents (Twice, SHINee, f(x), EXO), agrees to Itzy’s sentiments. “Any time K-pop can reach a new audience, it’s always a plus,” songwriter, producer, and DJ Greg Bonnick says. “Once your eyes are open to the K-pop world, people are super intrigued and hopefully here to stay as fans.”
While the trend is inevitable as K-pop grows as a global phenomenon, Isabel Chi, A&R and Management for One and Saint Leonard, reminds us that incorporating a line or two in English is nothing new in Korean music.
“The rise in popularity of full English versions of songs has to do with acceptance into mainstream Western media,” Chi says. “While K-pop fans and those already interested in alternative music have no problem listening to songs in Korean, I think that making songs only in English is an attempt to make the genre more palatable to the masses who need a segue into the genre. Songs in any language open up that market to the artist — Selena Gomez just released her first all-Spanish track, K-pop groups have regularly made all-Japanese albums — and I do think the main goal of labels is to tap into a yet-unreached market.”
But global recognition is more of a nice than a must for Itzy’s future aspirations. “Since the U.S. has the biggest music scene, it’d be a great achievement to have many people know and listen to our music through our new English album,” Lia says. Rather than focus on future possibilities, the five members hope to make their story heard through their music — and by as many listeners as possible. “Our songs have messages of self-confidence, and we hope our English listeners will be able to hear it with our English songs,” Ryujin adds.
“The only thing that matters is the music feels and sounds great. We don’t need to conform,” Bonnick says.
One of the first Korean artists to promote during the pandemic last year, Itzy has successfully taken advantage of using their time at the dorms to not only create content but study, practice their language skills, and communicate with their fans. Yeji, who doesn’t deny feeling a little bit of pressure learning and performing in English, has tremendously improved alongside Ryujin, Chaeryeong, and Yuna, who aren’t native speakers.
“English is confidence,” Yeji says with a laugh, remembering a past relay interview where the group was asked to imitate the phrase “cuteness overload.” She adds, “It was tough, but it was also fun. I also took a lot of one-on-one and group lessons, and I had homework. I want to be able to speak to global Midzys in English. I try my best, but I’m not perfect!” Ryujin quickly swoops in to compliment Yeji: “She’s definitely become more confident now and she’s improved a lot.
Lia, the group’s native English speaker, talks proudly about how quickly her bandmates picked up on a new language, to the point that the group’s on and off-cam conversations are spoken in Konglish (a hybrid of Korean and English). “It’s become a sort of a bad habit,” she jokes as the group nods and giggles. “What I felt while living with the girls is that their English has improved a lot! The members try to speak English in the dorms and even while practicing.”
But when it comes to singing for this new album, there’s really no shift in the core messages of their sound. Chaeryeong, however, did notice a change in her tone. “In my case, my voice becomes deeper when I sing in English, so I try to keep my energy up,” she notes. Out of all the four tracks, she believes “Not Shy” sounds stronger in English, to which all members agree.
Just a couple of weeks shy of their second year together, Itzy has plenty of goals for their year ahead. Getting closer with each other is Ryujin’s, “revealing some new and professional vibes” for Yuna, and for Lia, to work harder. “We still have a lot to do,” Lia says. “I don’t know what’s waiting for us, but we’re excited for it. We’re scared, but whatever it is, I’m sure we’ll be able to go through it.”
Whatever the outcome, there is no denying Itzy have transcended their “monster rookie” moniker and become the “monster girl group” of South Korea — and soon, the world. (After all, they are Honorary Ambassadors of the Korean Tourism Organization.) Having seamlessly transformed into one of the nation’s top groups, the new EP proves that music and success have no borders.
“[Success is] different for everyone, but personally, I think I achieved it,” Lia says with a sincere look on her face as her fellow members were in deep thought. “My standards aren’t that high, happiness and success isn’t something that should be high, so to be here with my members and all the fans that love us is already so much success and happiness.”
“I think that there’s no boundary in success,” Yeji adds.“So whenever I try and achieve my goal, I feel successful every time.”
Last April, Rosalía was waiting for Billie Eilish to send her vocal contributions for their much-teased collaboration. “I feel like the production, the sound design, is almost done,” she told Variety at the time, “so I just need that Billie maybe sends the vocals and they send me the ideas that they want to add because we are there.”
It might’ve taken a while to finalize, but the vocals were sent. The ideas were added. And now, the finished product is out, complete with a gauzy, skeletal video that matches the mood of the song itself. That song is called “Lo Vas a Olvidar” and it features both Rosalía and Eilish singing in Spanish.
Featuring trademark sparse production from Eilish’s brother/collaborator Finneas, “Lo Vas a Olvidar” finds both featured artists in their respective zones — a dreamlike plane where slight shifts in mood and atmosphere are guided by powerful vocal moments from each.
The tune was first mentioned by Rosalía sometime in 2019, and later that year, she told Billboard that her and Eilish had met in Los Angeles and worked together while sitting at a piano. “When I released ‘Malamente,’ Billie was one of the first huge artists who shared the video. She has been there from the onset,” Rosalía said. “Then, when I was working with Frank Dukes in Los Angeles, Billie and I had a session together, totally independent from her other projects. We wrote with her at the piano. We created a great idea for a song and had a great time.”
Part of that synergy is Eilish singing in Spanish. “When we were writing the song, I remember her saying something about, ‘It should be in English,’ and I was like, no, no no, it should be in Spanish,” Eilish told Zane Lowe today (January 21) after the song dropped. “It’s so beautiful.”
“Lo Vas a Olvidar” will be featured on the soundtrack to HBO’s hit series Euphoria, which returns for its second season later this year. Check it out above.
By Jack Irvin
Maggie Lindemann has always considered herself a paranoid person. As a kid, it was the reason she’d ask her mom to stay in her room until she fell asleep. As an adult, it’s why she began sleeping with a switchblade under her pillow.
“It just gave me bad vibes, which is weird because it was a brand new house,” the 22-year-old singer-songwriter tells MTV News about her then-home in a Los Angeles neighborhood. Combined with the copious amount of horror films Lindemann watched at the time, nights when her roommate wasn’t home left her scared, to say the least. “Two stories is too much for me… I need to know every inch of the house. He would be gone, and I would just freak out and need to sleep with a knife under my pillow like every night — and in all my drawers.”
Her sharp response to fear came in handy as direct inspiration for “Knife Under My Pillow,” the pop punk-inspired first single from her debut, Paranoia, out this Friday on Caroline Records. While the EP may be the singer’s first-ever project, she is by no means a newbie in the music industry. Growing up in Texas and performing with her local church choir, she always dreamed of singing professionally, and she moved to Los Angeles at 16 to pursue it. Like many other teenagers at the time, she started posting cover videos online — not on YouTube, but on Keek, a now-defunct video platform that launched in 2011.
After picking up a following, her fans flocked to her Tumblr and Instagram pages, turning her into a full-blown influencer before the term — which she despises — even existed. “I hate when people call me an influencer, ‘cause that is not how I make my money,” says Lindemann, who hit a million followers before releasing her first single, the downbeat “Knocking on Your Heart,” in 2015. “I always wanted to sing. I didn’t want to just be a pretty girl on Instagram.”
Lindemann expressed a similar sentiment in 2016’s aptly titled “Pretty Girl,” an empowering, anthemic pop track that became an international hit and caught the attention of 300 Entertainment, the record label she signed to that year. Considering the track has been streamed well over a billion times to date, and its follow-up, infectious dance bop “Obsessed,” boasts nearly 100 million streams, you’d think the singer would have followed up the immense success with an album. But behind the scenes, she wasn’t a fan of the music she was putting out.
“I hated being this bubblegum-pop girl. I just didn’t ever feel like that was me,” she says. “The lyrics were me, but the vibe wasn’t, and I felt like that started to become a constant theme in my music. I loved the lyrics, but the production, I always just didn’t like it.”
She decided to shift her sound to better reflect her own music taste, citing acts like Sleeping With Sirens and Avril Lavigne as major inspirations. “I love heavy drums, heavy electric guitars. I always wanted to scream. I used to practice my screams when I was young,” Lindemann recalls. “I felt like my whole life was pop-punk, and then I was pop, and it just felt so weird.” In 2018, she released the emo, melancholic “Would I” and “Friends Go,” a No Doubt-influenced track that received a hardcore remix from Blink-182’s Travis Barker. But just as she was finally settling into a sound she identified with, things took a dark turn.
On June 21, 2019, she was asked to leave the stage during a performance in Malaysia, where she was then arrested by immigration police for not possessing the correct work permit visa. The incident was reportedly due to negligence on behalf of the visa agent, who was later fined over $7,000. After the show, Lindemann was put in jail for 24 hours before getting released to her hotel room, where she was forced to stay for five days before she could fly home. “It’s all such a blur, but basically we had to go and be like, ‘Look, we had no idea. We don’t book these things,’” she details. “We were facing possibly five years in prison for being there illegally and possibly deportation. It was just horrifying.”
At the time, she felt she was being watched in her hotel room, only worsening her preexisting paranoia. “I’ve always been paranoid, but that was a different level ’cause it felt like I had a reason to be,” she says. While recognizing how fortunate she is to be able to move on relatively unscathed thanks to her legal team — and how many others aren’t as lucky — over a year later, she still finds herself reminded of the discomfort and uncertainty she felt during her time in jail. “I had to go to the DMV the other day, and the tiles and stuff were the same [as the jail cell], and I was just kind of like, ‘Whoa, this is really freaking me out.’”
But it also pushed Lindemann to “want to make better music” and finally get a project out into the world, and this time she wanted to call the shots — which meant parting ways with 300 Entertainment in favor of Caroline Records, an independent distributor that allows her to do so. Within a week of returning home from the tour, she hit the studio and made the grim, guitar-driven “Different,” the first song written for Paranoia, as well as the first track she’s ever co-produced.
From that point the songs kept flowing, and soon enough she had an EP’s worth of material. While new songs like the ear-shattering screamo track “Gaslight!” and metallic, cutthroat banger “Scissorhands” are a far cry from the polished pop of “Pretty Girl,” the musician feels like her sound perfectly aligns with her personality for the first time. “I used to always see comments like, ‘I love her Instagram, I love her style, but her music doesn’t match,’ and it always would drive me crazy ’cause I’m like, ‘Ugh, I know. I want it, too, so bad.’ And I feel like it finally does,” says Lindemann. “What you see is who I am, for sure.”
In fact, she’s felt so inspired in her new sound that she’s already hard at work on an album to come after Paranoia. “I have three songs already, but I’m still just in the beginning,” she details. “But I do want to have an album out not too too much longer after the EP drops, hopefully next year.”
If it were up to Lindemann, the next step would be to head out on a headlining tour, which she was planning to do before the pandemic hit back in March. Above anything else, her goal is merely to prove herself as an artist once and for all: “I just hope to reach people that I haven’t reached yet, and I hope that people will take me more seriously — and not think of me as an internet person who decided to make music or something.”
After the swearing in of both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on January 20, the new administration got to work. Biden immediately signed over a dozen executive orders, reversing some of the previous administration’s, and implemented a mask mandate for federal employees, recommitted the United States to the Paris climate agreement, paused student loan repayments until September 30, and more. But even though he was already set up behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, the inauguration celebration was far from over.
On Wednesday night, Tom Hanks hosted a star-studded, post-parade nighttime special called Celebrating America, a victory lap for the new administration that doubled as a tribute to America’s frontline workers. As part of the festivities, artists like Justin Timberlake, Ant Clemons, Jon Bon Jovi, the Foo Fighters, and more sang out songs of perseverance and hope. And none were more rapturous than Demi Lovato and Katy Perry.
Lovato’s twilit performance in front of a (digital) purple sky honed in on dancing, as she brought her funky take on Bill Withers’s “Lovely Day” to life. Rocking a beige suit with a new shorter haircut, Lovato anchored the disco-tinged song to sparkly life with a little help from videoed-in performances from health care workers, some of whom played guitar and piano along with the track. The Biden family got in on the action, too, watching the performance from inside the White House.
“It was an absolute HONOR to perform tonight for our @POTUS, @VP, & the entirety of our United States of America ❤️🇺🇸,” Lovato tweeted. “This is a night I will NEVER forget. Thank you to everyone who joined me to sing ‘Lovely Day’ by the late Bill Withers. Such an inspiring night.”
Before the night concluded — and before Hanks became in icicle hosting the telecast outside in the chilly Washington, D.C. evening air — everyone knew there would be fireworks. And what better way to ring them in than with a song that’s the aural equivalent of a firework: Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
In a grand, let’s-return-to-normalcy gesture, the sky above the National Mall and the Washington monument lit up in a cavalcade of color, all as Perry belted out her signature 2010 pop-EDM anthem — and all as the President and First Lady watched and applauded from their balcony.
Relive all the glory in the videos above.
By Regina Kim
“We were anomalies when we started,” says Tablo of the Korean hip-hop trio Epik High, which he leads. A Stanford graduate whose given name is Daniel Lee, he wears a black cap and matching hoodie on the opposite end of a Zoom call, giving off a laid-back, unassuming air that belies his status as a South Korean superstar. Though rap and hip-hop have become infused in all of the country’s major pop from BTS to Big Bang to Blackpink, Epik High were genre pioneers when they formed in 2001, mixing high-speed vocal deliveries with seemingly disparate elements as punk and classical at a time when the sound was considered very niche. “As time went on and other people started experimenting with different sounds in hip-hop, we became more accepted,” he tells MTV News.
Composed of Tablo, fellow rapper Mithra Jin, and DJ Tukutz, Epik High craft outspoken, socially conscious lyrics that tackle topics ranging from discrimination and class struggle to religion and politics, subjecting them to controversy and even outright bans over the years. But that raw authenticity has only fueled their success: All of Epik High’s previously released albums have charted No. 1 on the South Korean iTunes hip-hop chart. In addition to reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s World Albums chart in 2014, they became the first major Korean act to perform at Coachella in 2016. They’re set to reprise their appearance at the music festival later this year.
Now the industry veterans are back with the first half of their two-part tenth album, Epik High Is Here, every aspect of which they treated like a film production. “Every song is a scene,” Tablo says, as on display in the cinematic, sprawling composition of “End of the World” and the lush portrait of contemporary society “Leica.” That strategy extends to their collaborators, which include the popular South Korean rappers Zico and CL, as well as contributions from emerging stateside talents, like the singer-songwriter Hayley Gene Penner, whose writing credits include tracks for The Chicks and The Chainsmokers. “The artists are like character actors, and we’re in the director’s chair,” Tablo adds. “We know exactly what we want for the scene and who would be the best actor to deliver that scene.”
The resulting collection is a true epic, the story of collaborations and inspirations inevitably shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, including the title itself. But while the songs deal with somber lyrical themes of sadness, anger, and confusion, the album’s core message is one of hope — a reflection of Tablo’s belief that, if the entire world is collectively experiencing painful emotions, then it can unite in positive sentiments, too. “We’re all in the same boat,” he says. “We’re all confused, but Epik High is here for you and with you.” Speaking with MTV News ahead of the album’s release, Tablo reveals the secret to the group’s longevity, as well as his aspirations for the future of Korean rap and hip-hop as it pervades music around the world.
MTV News: When did you start working on the album?
Tablo: It depends on the song. We had demos for “Based on a True Story” and “Acceptance Speech” about four years ago. Some of the songs are completely new — they came in a couple of weeks before we had to press out CDs. We were debating everything until the very last moment, which is normally what we do anyways.
MTV News: The word “here” comes up a lot on this album. In addition to being included in the title, it’s found in the lyrics of “Wish You Were” and “Acceptance Speech.” Where is “here” for you, and what kind of significance does the word hold for you?
Tablo: You live in your home, but you never really think about it. It’s just where you come back after work or go to sleep, right? But we’ve had to think about each of our “here”s in a new light. And for me, I think “here” is not a fixed place — it’s an ever-changing place that is both physical and spiritual. Even when you look at the arc of Epik High’s career, “here” has changed so many times, where sometimes “here” is a very good place and we’re flying high, and sometimes “here” is the lowest of lows.
People who are ambitious are always imagining a better “here.” They want that certain job or that certain life, which means that you’re never actually thinking about the “here” that you’re living in now. I think I was probably the same way. I think I’m finally learning that my “here” is going to change day by day or even minute by minute. Sometimes it’s going to be great, and sometimes it’s going to be horrible, but it is my “here,” and I’m OK with that. So when I say, “Epik High is here,” wherever that may be, we’re OK with that. We know it’s ever-changing.
MTV News: What do you hope people will get out of this album? What’s the overall message you’d like to convey?
Tablo: I just want people to feel like someone understands, that someone is with them and is just as confused and angry as they are. If they’re angry about something, I want these songs to accompany them. Hopefully, at the end of the song, some of their anger will have transformed into something better, like courage.
I don’t want my songs to be diversions. I don’t want our music to simply be a way to get away from or ignore what’s going on. I think there are other musicians that are great at doing that. But I don’t think that is our forte, and that’s not even close to what our music is pretending to do. I want our music to reflect whatever emotions you are really feeling, because most likely we’re feeling that way too, and we really do know what it’s like. It can feel comforting to know that you’re not alone.
MTV News: Can you talk about the meaning of the titles of some of your songs?
Tablo: “Rosario” has multiple meanings, [referencing] the rosary and praying the rosary. It also comes from the Latin rosarium, which means “a crown of roses.” All of that is within the song. We’re talking about God and celebrity and dealing with your own demons. I imagined that if a Messiah figure were to come down to earth today, what would people say? I think people would attack this person, and nobody would believe them. If this person were to use a modern-day way of speaking to express their grievances, how would they do it, and how would they rap? I imagined these weird things and then put them into a song.
“Based on a True Story” is for people dealing with heartbreak. In moments of heartbreak, you want to put your attention into any story that is not your own, so you watch TV and movies and listen to songs to forget. But the irony is that everything you see or hear hits close to home and feels like your own story.
MTV News: Epik High has been around for two decades. How has the group stayed together for so long, and did you guys hit it off from the beginning?
Tablo: I think we appear to get along really well because, from the very beginning, we didn’t get along. The three of us have extremely different personalities and musical differences. From the beginning, we fought, even in public and in front of the camera. We weren’t a group that was made, and we didn’t have media training, so we had no other choice but to be ourselves. And I think that worked out because that meant that we had no “yes” men. The three of us are so hard on each other that it’s impossible to have a situation where everyone around you is a “yes” man, which I think is the worst possible thing you can do to yourself, to have everyone agree with you and pretend to love you. Musically as well, I think that’s why we’ve always been able to adapt and grow because we’re really hard on each other. We’ll shit on each other’s songs, and it just never stopped. And I think ironically that is the only reason we’re still together.
MTV News: Who are some of your biggest influences, for you and for the group?
Tablo: For the group, A Tribe Called Quest was probably the biggest influence. It’s one of the only groups that all three of us liked equally. Also, Outkast. Personally, I’ve been a huge alternative rock fan. I love Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. Also, growing up I was in love with The Beatles and Bob Dylan. My favorite hip-hop artist was and still is Nas. Illmatic was the first hip-hop album that I bought with my own money.
Nowadays as a group, we’re really into the Rolling Stones. We imagine performing as a group when we’re grandpas, and we hope that we’ll have the same energy on stage when we’re 90.
MTV News: Are there any artists that Epik High might want to collaborate with in the future?
Tablo: Mark Ronson. Billie Eilish. Kid Cudi. Bruno Mars.
MTV News: Epik High are pioneers of Korean rap and hip-hop, and I think it’s safe to say that you guys were the ones who brought those two genres into South Korea’s mainstream music. How would you describe the current rap and hip-hop scene in South Korea? How would you describe the music’s popularity in Korea compared to K-pop and other genres?
Tablo: I think rap and hip-hop are the most popular genres in Korea right now by far. BTS is heavily a hip-hop group as well. The members of the group started off as hip-hop artists, and even when they’ve branched out into other genres, the way they approach lyrics has never left their hip-hop roots behind, and I think that’s why they’re so popular. Major groups like Blackpink and Big Bang have always been hip-hop-based. Now the scene is so huge that there are so many rappers and hip-hop artists that I don’t even know. It’s very vibrant.
We’ve also had a renaissance of indie and folk-rock artists, and many of them have been featured in our music. We’ve always wanted to introduce different genres and artists to our fans. We just want everyone to like each other’s stuff, because there’s no bad that can come out of that. I’m all about having people expand their circles and break down whatever barriers they may have between each other. I can’t understand why someone who loves hip-hop must hate other genres, or why some fans of K-pop idols won’t listen to other genres like Korean indie. I can understand that familiarity can be good, but I’ve never divided people into genres. I don’t see those barriers, and I don’t want our audience to see those either.
I believe that if everyone who is a fan of Korean music in one form or another can all share in this experience and get behind not just Korean music but Asian music, art, films, and culture in general, then these can do even better. We are having a moment, but I want that moment to become a movement. I really want some 12-year-old with a guitar and a unique sound somewhere in Asia to feel like the path to their dreams isn’t farther than some other kid living in Tennessee. I don’t want anyone of any race to think that their path to their dreams is farther away.
Lady Gaga brought her pipes to Inauguration Day.
On the steps of the United State Capitol, as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris awaited to be sworn in to their new offices, Gaga belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a red ball gown and black top a golden dove pin attached to her. Accompanied by the marine band, Gaga utilized a gold microphone, gold in-ears, and a gold olive branch in the dove’s mouth a show of what she tweeted would be a “healing” moment.
“Singing our National Anthem for the American People is my honor,” Gaga tweeted before the inauguration event. “I will sing during a ceremony, a transition, a moment of change — between POTUS 45 and 46. For me, this has great meaning.”
“My intention is to acknowledge our past, be healing for our present, and passionate for a future where we work together lovingly,” she continued. “I will sing to the hearts of all people who live on this land. Respectfully and kindly, Lady Gaga.”
As she exited, she stopped to speak briefly with Biden and Harris, as well as Barack and Michelle Obama. On Instagram on January 20, Gaga shared a message that she prayed that Inauguration Day “will be a day of peace for all Americans. A day for love, not hatred. A day for acceptance not fear. A day for dreaming of our future joy as a country. A dream that is non-violent, a dream that provides safety for our souls. Love, from the Capitol 🇺🇸”
After Harris was officially sworn in as the new Vice President, Jennifer Lopez took the podium to sing a medley of “This Land Is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful,” likewise with help from the marine band. And then it was Biden’s turn to take his oath of office.
In late 2018, when “Old Town Road” was first gaining steam on TikTok and other online platforms, conversations arose around the nature its rise. Was it a meme with a BPM? A savvy bit of web culture come alive with a Nine Inch Nails sample? The apotheosis of the yeehaw agenda?
The answer was likely yes to all, and the result became legendary: After Billy Ray Cyrus hopped on the remix, Lil Nas X’s country-trap hit reached No. 1 and eventually became the longest-running song at the top spot of the chart in its history. Why bring this all up now? Well, there’s a new No. 1 in town, and its extremely accelerated and much-celebrated success recalls a bit of the rise of “Old Town Road,” though the two songs couldn’t sound more different.
Today (January 19), Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” — a heart-racing tale of heartbreak and suburban loneliness — debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s also become one of the most-streamed new songs in history, racking up 76.1 million plays in the United States in a week and marking a new weekly best. Additionally, “Drivers License” is the most-streamed song since Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” in August.
Fans of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series already know Rodrigo and her talents, and her song “All I Want” from the show was Rodrigo’s first Hot 100 hit back in January 2020. Her starring role likely helped propel “Drivers License” right out of the gate, along with the song’s much-discussed backstory involving her rumored relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett and the seeming references hinted at in the lyrics.
There’s also the matter of the song’s explosion in popularity on TikTok (hence the “Old Town Road” echoes) as well as its co-sign from none other than Taylor Swift, who said she was “really proud” of the song’s performance.
“Drivers License,” too, absolutely slaps. There are certainly echoes of both Swift and Lorde in its poetic realism and encapsulation of teenage feelings from the 17-year-old Rodrigo (and her co-writer, As Tall As Lions’s Dan Nigro). But it all feels very much her own, and true to the kind of emotional rite of passage captured in its lyrics.
Combined, all this buzz and connection leads to “Drivers License”‘s accolades: replacing 24kGoldn and Iann Dior’s “Mood” at No. 1, becoming the top-selling and most-streamed song of the week, and, according to the ChartData Twitter tracker, the fastest song to reach 100 million streams (in roughly eight days).
By Yasmine Shemesh
When Jennifer Lopez began recording her sophomore album, J.Lo, in 2000, she was in the midst of an incredible career high. With a $1 million salary for 1997’s Selena, she’d become the highest-paid Latina actress in Hollywood history and had no less than three new movies in the works. “Waiting for Tonight,” her dance-infused 1999 single, had become an anthem for the new millennium and was nominated for a Grammy. And she was about to make fashion history, thanks to a certain plunging Versace dress. In hindsight, given how long she’s been a multihyphenate, Lopez’s early ambidextrousness wasn’t one bit surprising. In fact, as she told Rolling Stone the following year, she felt like she hadn’t even started yet. “I’m looking forward to the ninth album, the 30th movie. I want to write more songs, tour, find the right roles, have my own family. That’s why I have so much energy. I know what lies ahead.”
Lopez brought the same resolve into acting, and her title performance in Selena served as the perfect jumping-off point into the pop-music sphere. Starting with the sultry, groovy single “If You Had My Love,” her debut, On the 6, also made Lopez — alongside Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, and Enrique Iglesias — an important contributor to 1999’s Latin Explosion, which saw a substantial increase in the mainstream visibility of Latin music.
With everything she already accomplished, Lopez proved she could evolve artistically and do it well. But J.Lo represented the most significant turning point for Lopez yet, securing her status as an icon. Released on January 16, 2001, the same week The Wedding Planner opened in theaters at No. 1 at the box office, J.Lo debuted on the Billboard 200 at the very top spot. She was already a star; this — the only double No. 1 debut of its kind to date — made her intergalactic. With four singles, subsequent smash Murder Inc. remixes featuring Ja Rule, and a refreshed image that presented Lopez through a glamorous-yet-still-relatable lens, J.Lo became an influential catalyst that positioned its star to define nearly every corner of Y2K pop culture.
The shift was imminent when J.Lo’s lead single, “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” dropped in December 2000. Sparkling and bass-heavy, with empowered lyrics that dismissed lavish gifts as the glue holding Lopez’s love in place, it was more confident than anything she’d released before. The press speculated the song was a wink at Lopez’s high-profile relationship with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, who also co-wrote and produced four tracks on J.Lo. The music video saw Lopez — draped in gold jewelry, a cream duster, and caramel-gradient sunglasses — tearing off her luxuries until she was just about bare on the beach. J.Lo, the nickname given to her by fans, had arrived.
As a producer and co-writer, Lopez had creative control over J.Lo and leaned into R&B and hip-hop. On the 6 did too, but J.Lo was distinctly shaped by the influences and yielded some impressive collaborators. Lopez breathlessly yearns for a lover on the Diddy-produced slow jam “Come Over.” “Play,” co-written by Christina Milian with the singer on background vocals, combines a funky groove with ’80s dance sensibilities. Hip-hop meets Latin pop over a subtle sample of the Sugar Hill Gang’s “8th Wonder” on “I’m Going to Be Alright,” while Mambo-inspired “Cariño” and “Si Ya Se Acabó,” with flutters of flamenco guitar, fully embrace Latin sounds — another formative influence on J.Lo.
Hip-hop played an even larger role on the album through Murder Inc. remixes, particularly with “I’m Real” featuring Ja Rule. The song was a standout in its original iteration (with its now-infamous sample of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Firecracker,” which Mariah Carey planned to use for “Loverboy”), but the remix — an entirely new track, written by Ja Rule with backup vocals from Ashanti and a melody sampled from “Mary Jane” by Rick James — was a spectacular hit, becoming a signature for Lopez and carving out a place in the cross-genre prism of featuring rap on a pop song.
The model gained massive traction through the decade with, for example, Carey’s “Fantasy” remix featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” featuring Timbaland. But as “I’m Real” dominated the airwaves and received critical acclaim, Lopez’s duet with Ja Rule helped cement the lasting power of the pop/hip-hop composite. Over the next decade, everyone from Beyoncé (“Crazy in Love” featuring Jay-Z) and Usher (“Yeah!” featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris) to Justin Timberlake (“Like I Love You” featuring Clipse) tapped in. The success of “I’m Real” led to other J.Lo remixes, including “I’m Gonna Be Alright” with Nas and “Ain’t It Funny” with Ja Rule and Cadillac Tah. “It’s gonna put her in another zone,” Ja Rule told MTV at the time. “After this one, they gonna be expecting hot crossover R&B joints from J. Lo.”
Lopez kept them coming after J.Lo: “All I Have” featuring LL Cool J; “Jenny from the Block” featuring Jadakiss and Styles P; “Get Right” featuring Fabolous. With 2018’s “Dinero,” pairing her with DJ Khaled and Cardi B, and 2019’s “Medicine” featuring French Montana, Lopez continues to bridge pop and hip-hop today. She’s also still blazing genre-crossing trails, dipping pop into trap and reggaetón: “Te Guste,” a 2018 duet with Bad Bunny, was described as a “trap-pop gamechanger,” and her two-track collaboration with rising Colombian star Maluma, “Pa’Ti” and “Lonely,” appears on the soundtrack for the forthcoming romantic comedy, Marry Me.
While J.Lo was contributing to the trajectory of early 2000s music, Lopez herself was making her mark in fashion and beauty. After wearing the palm-print chiffon Versace dress to the 2000 Grammys — and inadvertently spurring the invention of Google image search — Lopez’s style quickly permeated into the era’s aesthetic. Athleisure, nude tones, fur-lined puffer jackets, hoop earrings, French-tip nails, and high-heeled Timberland boots proudly channeled her Nuyorican roots and fused them with Hollywood glamour. Lopez rocked the looks in her music videos, which now serve as chic time capsules, from the pink terrycloth shorts set in “I’m Real (Remix)” to the long fur coat and taupe bucket hat in “Play.”
Months after J.Lo was released, Lopez launched her clothing line: J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez reflected her own style and included sweatsuits, bedazzled tops, and denim. “The voluptuous woman is almost ignored,” Lopez said during a press conference. “I want to offer clothes that are wonderfully designed and will fit women of all sizes.” It’s hard to overstate how the visibility of Lopez’s body inspired a cultural shift. The ’90s, especially, were the era of “heroin chic,” an impossible standard of beauty that excluded anyone who wasn’t 5’10” and a size zero. With so much attention fixed to her natural curves, Lopez — repeatedly asked to lose weight early in her career (she refused) — undeniably contributed to the media’s more inclusive view of all body types. Her clothing line was a physical realization of that.
Lopez, of course, is now at the helm of a multimillion-dollar empire spanning film, television, music, fashion, and beauty. She is one of the most versatile, influential, and recognizable artists in the world, not only increasing Latin representation in the entertainment industry through the strides she took in the early 2000s but helping to redefine the entire media landscape along the way. She’s an icon — an important one. And J.Lo, with the reverberating impact it made, was a vital stepping stone in that path: Because of that album, those three letters are forever embedded in the vernacular of contemporary pop culture.
One of two bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of December’s Evermore, “Right Where You Left Me” transports listeners back to the fantastical forests of Folklore, Taylor Swift’s first foray into indie folk-pop. “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt,” a forlorn Swift pleads in the pre-chorus, referencing a public breakup that left the song’s narrator permanently frozen in time. Folksy strings and self-aware lyrics underline tensions between the head and the heart, reality and fantasy, evolution and stagnation. It’s also a total earworm, which is to say: How dare you, Taylor! —Sam Manzella