Bladee And Mechatok Are Winning At Losing At The Same Time

By Eli Enis

Bladee and Mechatok like to think of luck as a paradox. The 26-year-old cloud-rap icon and the 23-year-old producer are sitting in a Swedish hotel room talking about how their new album documents their simultaneous failure and success at creating perfect pop music. The eight-track project is simply titled Good Luck, but they don’t subscribe to the idiom’s optimistic connotations. “When you say ‘good luck’ to someone, you’re kind of implying that there’s a good chance that it might not work out,” Mechatok says with a smile. “You’re not saying that, if you’re confident, it’s going to be fine.”

At the very least, the album’s existence is the result of some good fortune. The two artists met a few years back through a mutual connection in the London club scene. The Berlin-based Mechatok, real name Timur Tokdemir, was an auxiliary member of the dynamic Bala Club electronic music collective, which cross-pollinated the ethereal rap movement that Bladee, born Benjamin Reichwald, and Yung Lean were spearheading in Stockholm. As they tell it, it was only a matter of time before they worked on a project together, and when it finally happened, their chemistry was extremely intuitive.

”We quickly discovered that we have the same habits where, if you hang out, you either listen or make music,” Tokdemir says.

Despite emerging as a distinctly internet-based artist and developing his career in the early days of SoundCloud, Reichwald is a uniquely private and elusive figure for a rapper of his generation. Until last year, he refused to do interviews; his lyrics have never revealed much about the man behind the misty, celestial delivery. His social media pages mostly consist of arcane images with esoteric captions. While speaking with MTV News via video chat, he’s about as soft-spoken and reserved as he sounds when he’s performing, but his decision to share more about himself with his fans aligns with his shift toward making more accessible music.

Since forming the Drain Gang artistic collective in 2013 with rappers Thaiboy Digital and Ecco2k and producers Whitearmor and Yung Sherman, Reichwald has fostered a cultish following of international listeners who devour anything he puts his name on. The dreamweaving production, fairy-dusted Auto-Tune, and short, simplistic song structures of his 2018 records, Red Light and Icedancer, have become sacred texts for the emerging wave of hyperpop artists led by Glaive, David Shawty, and Ericdoa. Even if his earlier projects weren’t direct influences, Bladee’s melancholy spaciness can be heard in Post Malone’s 2015 breakout “White Iverson,” and his sound feels spiritually in tune with the extraterrestrial psychedelia of American rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, and the late emo-rap pioneer Lil Peep.

Unlike the other artists who propelled themselves out of the SoundCloud trenches to attain major label deals and sponsorships, Reichwald has always remained in the periphery. All of his projects have been released on the Stockholm indie label YEAR0001, he’s rarely collaborated with anyone outside of his Drain Gang cohort. Despite the considerable popularity of his labelmate Yung Lean, his monthly listeners on Spotify alone amount to little more than half that of his longtime collaborator. To him, that’s perfectly fine, and he thinks it correlates with his personal philosophy as of late: a rejection of materialism in favor of universalism, a pivot from two years back when he was doling out tag-poppin’ flexes on Red Light’s “Steve Jobs.”

Hendrik Schneider

Benjamin Reichwald, a.k.a. Bladee

After spending two years in London and another in Berlin, Reichwald moved back to Stockholm at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and has since released two other albums. April’s Exeter featured the most docile vocal delivery he’s ever employed over plush instrumentals that channel the coziness of the Sleepytime tea bear. July’s 333 was more akin to the transcendental hip-hop of his older material, but both albums contain some of the catchiest songs in his whole catalog.

“Looking at Exeter and this project [Good Luck], I wanted to make something more approachable in a way,” Reichwald says. “But also I always want to make it more true to my expression.”

Tokdemir says he’s always heard a “curiosity” for something grander in Reichwald’s melodies, and on Good Luck, the producer’s sweaty club instrumentals allowed the rapper’s icy cadences to thaw into warm, steamy pop hooks. Songs like the Italo-disco banger “Rainbow” and the techno-thumping “God” are the type of light-show EDM you could imagine thousands of people jumping to at Tomorrowland. Even the rap-based track “Drama” has a sexy buoyancy far more upbeat and punctuated than the lowercase sadness of Bladee’s 2018 album Icedancer.

“It’s not like a Britney Spears album,” Tokdemir says while mentioning the hymnal ambient songs that bookend the record. And he’s right. As accessible as the songs are compared to some of Bladee’s other albums, it’s unlikely that any of these tracks will scrape the Billboard Hot 100. However, the fact that they’re pop songs that could have been taken to that level is what Reichwald and Tokdemir find so interesting about them.

Hendrik Schneider

Timur Tokdemir, a.k.a. Mechatok

”We’re trying to make these pop songs but also we’re not managing to,” Tokdemir explains. ”It’s more about the tragedy of trying to make the pop song than the pop song itself. And then, of course, in a bigger way, it’s more so the tragedy of trying to make it and [the dualities] of winning and losing at the same time.”

That idea seems to almost contrast with the concept of luck, which is predicated on one of two results — you either win or lose; you’re either lucky or unlucky. Tokdemir and Reichwald think there’s more nuance to the concept. “There is no winning,” Tokdemir says. “Even if you become a millionaire, you’re probably going to have some other problems.”

“[Luck] is a metaphysical thing that doesn’t exist,” Reichwald adds. “But everyone speaks of luck and can feel lucky.”

In that sense, the album is more about the mechanic of luck than the success of a given pop song. That dualistic theme is visually represented on the album’s artwork, which features a coin with a demon on one side and two angels high-fiving on the other. In promotional video graphics, the coin is seen spinning, a symbol that the record lives in the limbo between heads and tails. Following that meta-narrative to its logical conclusion, Reichwald feels the interstitial zone between winning and losing is a reflection of where he’s at in his career.

“I’m happy with where I’m at even if I’m not the most successful, or whatever,” Reichwald says with thoughtful consideration. “I feel like I haven’t compromised and done stuff I wouldn’t be comfortable with. So I’m happy with where I’m at.”

On Good Luck, Reichwald freestyled almost all of his lyrics in the studio, and those careerist reflections came swimming out of his subconscious. On “Rainbow,” he sings the phrase, “I could have had it all / I didn’t wanna have it,” which articulates his resistance to sacrificing an iota of his artistic integrity, and a conscious choice to remain in that spinning limbo.

“To strive for something is, for me, the most beautiful thing, rather than to achieve something,” Reichwald says. “Because then you’re at this place when you have nothing.”

The other themes that are sprinkled throughout the record — love, loneliness, oneness — can all be interpreted through the lens of luck and its inherent dichotomies. On the muted club track “Sun,” Reichwald sings, “Not a fault / Not a wrong / Nothing’s off,” which is his way of challenging ideas of right, wrong, lucky, and unlucky with a commitment to the eternal in-between. During the chorus of “Rainbow,” Reichwald asks the simple question, “Do you believe in love?,” which sounds like a parallel to asking “Do you believe in luck?”

”To me, all of this stuff is still the same coin-spinning kind of mechanic,” Tokdemir says. “It’s not about saying the one thing or the other thing, it’s about portraying the tension of these ways of seeing it. It’s more the relation of two things than it is the one or the other.”

Taylor Swift’s Evermore, A Folklore ‘Sister Record,’ Will Be Out Tonight

The opening lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 folk song “The Battle of Evermore” introduce a “Queen of Light” who “took her bow / And then she turned to go.” Taylor Swift, indisputably one of the queens of 2020 (in terms of album sales, acclaim, and adoration), is doing the opposite: At midnight tonight (December 11), she’ll release her second album of the year, Evermore, a “sister record” to her Folklore release, which dropped in July.

“To put it plainly, we just couldn’t stop writing songs,” she wrote to announce the album on social media. “To try and put it more poetically, it feels like we were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of this music. We chose to wander deeper in. I’ve never done this before.”

“In the past I’ve always treated albums as one-off eras and moved onto planning the next one after an album was released,” Swift continued. “There was something different with folklore. In making it, I felt less like I was departing and more like I was returning. I loved the escapism I found in these imaginary/not imaginary tales. I loved the ways you welcomed the dreamscapes and tragedies and epic tales of love lost and found into your lives. So I just kept writing them. And I loved creating these songs with Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, WB, and Justin Vernon.”

WB, of course, refers to William Bowery, the pseudonym Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn used to help pen some of the tracks on Folklore, including “Exile” (the Bon Iver collab), and “Betty.”

In addition to Alwyn and her Folklore crew, Swift also pointed out some additional collaborators for Evermore. Her pals in Haim appear on a song called “No Body, No Crime,” while Dessner’s band The National is listed as a feature on “Coney Island.” Bon Iver returns as well for an appearance on the title track, which is also the album’s closer.

The arrival of Evermore coincides with Swift’s 31st birthday on Sunday, an event she addresses in her announcement. “Ever since I was 13, I’ve been excited about turning 31 because it’s my lucky number backwards, which is why I wanted to surprise you with this now. You’ve all been so caring, supportive and thoughtful on my birthdays and so this time I thought I would give you something! I also know this holiday season will be a lonely one for most of us and if there are any of you out there who turn to music to cope with missing loved ones the way I do, this is for you.”

Evermore is available for pre-order now at Swift’s online store.

Right when the album drops tonight, Swift will also be premiering the self-directed new video for “Willow,” which she teased with an image of her in a white dress and a flower crown. I’ve seen a few tweets suggesting this is actually a wedding dress, and that there’s more to this announcement than meets the eye. I suppose we’ll find out tonight!

Folklore, Swift’s eighth album, found her primarily returning to her acoustic roots while also partnering with Dessner and Antonoff for a warmer, earthier sound. It connected with fans and critics across the globe and was named the top album of 2020 by outlets like Billboard, Rolling Stone, and Uproxx.

News of a Folklore “sister record” throwing everyone’s year-end album lists into disarray? Let’s call it The Battle of Evermore.

Rico Nasty On Nightmare Vacation, Naruto, And Never Rushing Herself

The rapper Rico Nasty has at least two tattoos of herself, one on each arm. On her right shoulder sits an inked-in rendering of a pink-haired selfie taken to commemorate her first visit to the Sony Music offices following the release of her third mixtape, Sugar Trap, in 2017. Her left forearm bears an image of a cartoonish black-and-white figure, less a portrait and more a persona — feisty, with spiked hair and a jagged smile — that made an appearance in the music video for her clanging single “OHFR?”. In it, Nasty wears fishnet stockings, vampiric black makeup, and a patched leather biker jacket, stomping and growling and swinging a miniature guitar like a battle axe.

That fondness for shapeshifting self-definition has left a trail of mixtapes released as various alter egos, starting with Summer’s Eve, which she dropped in 2014 while still in high school. But the characters, she explains, are just part of the whole that is her turnt-up debut album, Nightmare Vacation. There’s Tacobella, the pop star who sings in electronics on “iPhone,” a hyperpop-leaning track with a nostalgic 8-bit twang courtesy of 100 gecs’s Dylan Brady, who also produced “OHFR?”; and Trap Levine, a pissed-off punk whose rage against the system and ex-boyfriends might lead her to literally “Smack a Bitch.” What was once rumored to be a response to a physical altercation with a former collaborator, the single, which was first released in 2018, becomes a tribute to female empowerment with the help of emerging rappers ppcocaine, Rubi Rose, and Sukihana.

“All of these characters together, they just create your average person,” Nasty tells MTV News. “When you look at an average human being, they have three aspects of them. The person they show their family, the person they show their friends, and the person that they show their significant other. I just add names to mine.”

During a recent Zoom call, the 23-year-old mom from Maryland, born Maria Kelly, is decidedly more turnt down. Ahead of the release of Nightmare Vacation, her Los Angeles hideout — where she has been quarantining during the ongoing pandemic — has seen a steady stream of packages touting new merch and makeup; Nasty, whose occasionally over-the-top glam has become the subject of recreations by fans online, has recently joined in the conversation, crafting makeup tutorials using her own line of eyeshadows and liners with Il Makiage and sharing them to YouTube. As she sits down to speak with MTV News, wearing a tie-dye T-shirt and a blonde and green split-color wig, she tears into one bag with her teeth, before realizing her folly. “It’s coronavirus,” she says, “and I just put my mouth on this package.”

MTV News: I first saw you perform — it seems like it was 5 million years ago now — at a Chromat runway show in September 2019. Around that time you released the song “Fashion Week,” and now you have your own makeup line, as well. How does your sense of style factor into who you are as an artist?

Rico Nasty: Oddly enough, everything just falls into place. I’ve always been a creative person, so when it came to makeup, it just flowed right in. Everybody knows I love makeup. And I also like making people feel beautiful and shit like that. When I started getting acknowledged for my makeup looks with recreations by fans, that’s when I was like, I should really do something that will make my fans proud.

MTV News: You’ve done a few makeup tutorials, too. Do you watch YouTub makeup tutorials?

Rico Nasty: I do watch YouTube tutorials! I had dropped one for Il Makiage. I did the Vogue Beauty Secrets. I would definitely get into it if I had more time. I don’t have time. I’m a mom, so that keeps me pretty busy. And sometimes when I’m trying to do tutorials, [my son is] popping in and out and making it real hard.

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

MTV News: What are the differences between your personas over the years, Trap Levine, Tacobella, and then Rico Nasty herself?

Rico Nasty: Tacobella is melodic — she sings. Trap Levine is a rock star, and Rico is just the rapper. I haven’t come up with a name for a character or a personality in a really long time, because I feel the ones that I’ve made are fine. I don’t need any more. I’m definitely growing up and there are new aspects that I would like to add to my characters. I feel Tacobella might also be a pop star because she’s definitely on “iPhone.” Rico might know how to sing a little bit, but not a lot, and that’s why she’s on “Own It”. But it’s more swaggy. It’s not screaming. That’s Rico. And going crazy, going dumb songs like, “OHFR?” and “Rage,” “Trust Issues” and “Smack a Bitch,” that’s Trap Levine.

MTV News: One of your breakout songs was “iCarly,” then later you had, “Hey Arnold.” On “iPhone,” you rap about Tamagotchis, and for me, all of this is really nostalgic. Why is that imagery something you insert into your music?

Rico Nasty: Childhood things and things that are nostalgic that remind you of growing up, they allow you to be more free. Most have great memories tied to them. The first time I had a Tamagotchi, that was my first example of a pet. I reference that ‘cause I’m talking about a relationship, and sometimes that relationship can feel like you have a pet. Somebody’s on your hip all the time. And then mine would always die.

MTV News: They always died!

Rico Nasty: I would accidentally have them in my pocket and get my clothes washed — on my key chain and my pants be inside out.

MTV News: Are there any cartoons or animes you’d want to show your son?

Rico Nasty: Obviously, Naruto and Dragon Ball Z, I would love to show him. But the anime I watched was very girly, Fruits Basket, and I also watched Chobits. And I’m not going to say I’m an anime fanatic, but I had an anime phase. Definitely during quarantine I started rewatching Chobits, because I just feel it’s the cutest love story ever. Everybody deserves a Hideki.

MTV News: What is the biggest difference between Nightmare Vacation and your previous mixtapes?

Rico Nasty: I did not let my fucking fans rush me to make it be out. I was like, no, it’s not done, I promise it’s not done. I trusted myself and I didn’t rush nothing. I didn’t rush making one song on there. When you don’t drop music for a really long time, I feel you’ll always grow. So I’m really happy for you all to hear the growth.

MTV News: One of the biggest departures I heard was in your collaborations with Dylan Brady of 100 gecs on “OHFR?” and “iPhone.” In a way, your sound as a rapper is extreme, so to mix it with the extreme of hyperpop is really interesting. Why were you excited to work with Dylan?

Rico Nasty: Music shouldn’t be about thinking. When I first heard his music, I just felt free, and that’s what attracts me to collab with people. Their music makes me feel it’s just a bright sunny day, my head in the clouds, having fun, or nostalgic. His shit made me feel like I was 13 again, and the ability to make people feel forever young is very rare. And I love Dylan. From the first time we ever met, he never was trying to do anything. It would be weird because there are very few conversations that can say I’ve had with them. When we get in the studio, we work straight like that. He’s always touching that damn computer and I’m always in the booth. And we’re just going, going, going, going. I always think it’s important when you collaborate with a producer for them to bring you into their world, to things they like and they’re known for. But it’s also very important for you to bring them into your world as an artist. And I think we did that.

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

MTV News: Was there any moment where you knew you wanted to become a musician?

Rico Nasty: I always wanted to be a musician, ever since I was a child. But I just didn’t think that I was good enough, or pretty enough, or all of the things that people put on themselves to think that they can’t be famous. I feel anybody could be famous. When I started getting label calls and stuff, realizing my music had worth, that’s when I was like, “OK, fine.”

MTV News: And now you’re releasing your debut album with Atlantic, which is so major! How do you manage to pursue that dream while also being a mom?

Rico Nasty: It doesn’t feel there’s any other way to do it. You know what I’m saying? This is what I’ve been doing. So this just my life. But I wouldn’t say it’s not hard to balance. It gets tricky sometimes because you have to be gone. Even with coronavirus, I still had to leave a couple of times this year — I guess he’s even harder now because I’m hearing all the time now he misses me more. But, yeah, I feel people think that it’s so difficult, but just imagine if your mom had a job and she just didn’t work at a desk. And it is pretty fun being my son, I can’t lie. We lit in here. But I don’t want him to know that I’m famous or none of that.

MTV News: Do you show him your music?

Rico Nasty: Yes, he listens to my music. He comes to the studio. He’s there for videos. I’ve always been protective of my son and I’ve never been the type, like, “On set, my baby’s on set.” Like, bro. He don’t want to be on camera, bro. He just be like, “I’m on my iPad, I’m running my business.”

MTV News: Also on this album, you have a new version of “Smack a Bitch” with ppcocaine, Rubi Rose, and Sukihana. Why did you choose to collaborate with those artists, specifically?

Rico Nasty: They speak for all different types of girls. ppcocaine is the TikTok girls. She’s also bisexual. And I feel those people oftentimes get ignored or placed off. Rubi Rose is the pretty, slim, thick IG bitches. And Sukihana is for the ratchet bitches. And she’s also a mother. So I love everything that she do. She really doesn’t give a… And, I feel, obviously, let me say something. When you’re young and you’re 15, 16, 17, yes bitch, you need to be giving a fuck. But when you are grown, you got kids, you got bills, you got experience. You’re not just going off of some shit you’ve seen on Instagram.

MTV News: Is there anyone you dream of collaborating with next?

Rico Nasty: I love Cardi B. I love City Girls. I love everybody right now. Everybody’s doing their thing and just putting out heat, so I guess it’s limitless at this point.

Shawn Mendes And Camila Cabello’s Puppy Stars In New Video For ‘The Christmas Song’

At the end of last week, Shawn Mendes unveiled his fourth studio album, Wonder, a wide-open collection of sleek, moody, often sky-scraping pop tunes — at least one of which began in his dressing room at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before a gig. Now, dropping an album in December is already a tacit embracing of the holiday spirit. But on December 7, Mendes went a step further, releasing the album’s deluxe edition mere days after its standard release.

In addition to live and acoustic cuts, the new Wonder version boasts two brand-new songs: Mendes’s piano-led BBC cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” as well as “The Christmas Song,” the standard yuletide tune that comes complete with chestnuts roasting on an open fire, featuring none other than Camila Cabello.

The song feels patently cozy and warm, with the two sings (and lovebirds) swapping vocals on the Mel Tormé classic and eventually finding that space where their voices can live together as one.

They gave us an accompanying home-shot video, too, which they wisely begin with ample footage of their new puppy, Tarzan — who also lands a directing credit, because they’re clearly providing for his financial future. It’s equally cozy and intimate, finding the pair dancing around strings of lights, drinking out of Grinch mugs, cuddling in red sweaters, and generally doing all the things you do around this time of year.

Wonder saw Mendes reuniting with collaborator Scott Harris, who’s worked with him since the Handwritten days. He told MTV News the album sprang from, among other things, the duo listening to classic rock and pop artists like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Queen, Paul Simon, and the Beach Boys.

“Comfort is key in the songwriting community,” Harris said. “When you’re comfortable you feel you can really be yourself and be honest, especially for the music Shawn has made and continues to make. Being honest and open like that takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of energy.”

On the new Wonder deluxe tracks, Mendes finds himself so comfortable that he can just as easily slip into crooner mode — a nice treat for the holiday season. Watch the adorable homemade video for “The Christmas Song” above.

Shawn Mendes’s Co-Writer Scott Harris On Writing Songs In The Dressing Room

By Rob LeDonne

As the pop star Shawn Mendes unleashes his fourth studio album Wonder, buoyed by its eponymous single, into the world today (December 4), it’s clear to hear a natural continuation of his unique musical perspective: raw, emotional lyrics complemented by catchy, guitar-forward, and occasionally swelling production. It’s a style Mendes has refined over the course of his entire discography, the bulk of which was crafted by a tight, integral group of co-writers: Teddy Geiger, Geoff Warburton, and Scott Harris. Harris, a Long Island native, found his first taste of chart-topper status with his co-write on “Don’t Let Me Down,” which The Chainsmokers and Daya took to No. 3 in 2016. He’s since penned hits with Niall Horan, P!nk, Julia Michaels, and more.

But his work with Mendes has continued and grown since they initially linked up in 2014, collaborating on the soaring ballad “Life of the Party” and, later, the pop-rock grandiosity of “Treat You Better.” His songs helped take 2018’s Shawn Mendes album to No. 1. Now, Wonder finds Harris the lone holdover of Shawn’s core songwriting group. “I think me and Shawn are so open with each other, and that lends itself to it being so honest in the music,” Harris tells MTV News. The result is an album of longing that’s also not afraid to go as big as it needs to. “A lot of this record was written both pre-quarantine and during, but there are certainly songs that made [their] way onto Wonder about isolation, pausing, and being alone. Even with the song ‘Wonder,’ writing that on FaceTime and bringing it into the studio in an era of Covid certainly affected that record and the way some of the lyrics spilled out.”

As listeners begin to explore the world of Wonder, MTV News spoke with Harris about what it’s like watching Mendes grow from a young Vine performer into a global superstar, how writing for Mendes can double as a therapy session, and what the creative process was behind its key tracks.

MTV News: You and Shawn go way back. Can you remember the first time you met and worked together?

Harris: We met when Shawn was recording 2014’s “Life of the Party,” which I co-wrote. His A&R played him the demo, he loved it and cut the song, and from there, we started writing together. He was 15 at the time and I was 27. Shawn was a young songwriter, so I was showing him a little bit how to play guitar, and he was showing me ideas of what he was writing at the time, and we inspired each other at that very moment. The inspiration kind of never went away. I do feel like I was showing him the ropes as an older brother and in the same sense [he was] showing me the ropes as a younger brother.

MTV New: So after working with Shawn for so long, with a project like Wonder, how do you go, “OK, let’s get to work on an entirely different album from scratch?”

Harris: It’s a special relationship. We were talking about Wonder the day the previous album came out [2018’s Shawn Mendes]. It starts with this rapport we have where we’re constantly sending each other voice notes or songs from Spotify that inspire each other. We’d send each other all different types of shit, like Beatles songs or Pink Floyd or Queen. We were also listening to Paul Simon songs and the Beach Boys. We also went through a ton of different phases where we are listening to a bunch of ’80s music at one point, the kind of stuff I’ve been listening to forever, and those are some of the artists who inspired the album. Creatively, it’d unravel from there.

MTV News: What was the timeline of the production process? Were you polishing stuff up until recently?

Harris: It’s been wrapped for a few months. With me and him, it never stops. Some of the ideas we started directly after the last album have wrapped and became ideas that have made their way onto this album, as well as ideas that came about a few months ago. With “Wonder,” we’d started some of it on FaceTime and would get together to flesh it out.  One of the earliest songs was “Higher,” which we wrote in his dressing room after one of his shows at Barclays Center. Before and after the show, me and Shawn were strumming it, and the next day I remember him coming to my apartment, and we were kind of banging it out like, “Oh shit, this is really good.” We rented this studio down the block from my apartment and hashed it out from there. I wasn’t even sure it was going to make this project, but it felt so strong and kind of kept making its way through all the hoops. To this day it’s one of my favorites.

MTV News: Was there a creative inspiration when it comes to the events of 2020 in the work?

Harris: I love a song we did called “Call My Friends.” It’s an anthemy-type record and it’s kind of about Shawn missing his friends and wanting to come back down to earth. Honestly, all he wanted to do, as he says, is look at the moon with his friends and smoke weed. Sometimes you’re running around the world and you just need your homies. I think for myself I can certainly relate to missing those times. It’s a call to that idea, and it feels really special.

MTV News: So many other pop stars have songwriting sessions with a variety of people and they’re in and out of a million rooms. But Shawn so often works with you and (previously) Teddy Geiger and Geoff Warburton. Why do you think, from his perspective, having a tight group was and is so integral to his creative process?

Harris: It definitely stems from an emotional place. Comfort is key in the songwriting community; when you’re comfortable you feel you can really be yourself and be honest, especially for the music Shawn has made and continues to make. Being honest and open like that takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of energy. Instead of going around and doing The Dating Game with all of these pop writers and producers, you can just show up on any given day and spill your heart out and create versus starting from zero. I can’t speak for Teddy and Geoff, but I know for Shawn and me, aside from collaborators, we’re friends. We talk about non-music stuff all the time and sometimes it dips its way into the songs and sometimes it doesn’t. But both comfort and vibing musically with another person is hard to find.

For example, when it came to writing a song like “In My Blood,” we went in thinking, how can we show the world how Shawn is really feeling? How can we not write a love song? How do we treat this song as some type of story where we show Shawn has anxiety just like anybody else? How do we make it all not just I love you, I love you, I love you? But that just kind of just stems from any deep therapy session we had. We’d been talking about anxiety and how sometimes it feels like too much, and we came up with that little riff. Me, Geoff, and Teddy ran with that idea. At the time, we didn’t know it was going to be the debut single until 60 or 70 percent through the album.

MTV News: It was also you, Shawn, Teddy, and Geoff who concocted what would be a game-changer in his perception as an “adult” artist, “Treat You Better.” Can you take me into that room?

Harris: I went on a trip to South America and was listening to a lot of Vampire Weekend, so I came back with a bunch of weird riffs and one of them was part of the “Treat You Better” riff. We then had two days in the studio; we wrote “Treat You Better” one day and a song called “Patience” the other day and we weren’t sure which one was better. They were both electric guitar demos at the time and we really liked both of them. Lyrically, we were listening to The Police and talking about stories in Shawn’s life and came up with that kind of concept. It made its way through the entire album process as an unproduced demo. But one day, Teddy reproduced it, and we were like, “Wait, this is the best song we have!” and it kind of went from there.

MTV News: You’ve had a front-row seat to Shawn’s incredible rise and has seen his life go from normal kid to a global superstar. What has it been like to watch his life evolve into what it is today?

Harris: I remember growing up wondering about people’s rises to fame and it’s incredible to watch it all unfold. I remember him saying things like, “Man, if I can only get this opening slot for Taylor Swift I’ll be good.” Watching those little milestones and watching him step on each one like a little ladder has been amazing to see.

MTV News: As someone so close, what did you think of Shawn’s recent Netflix documentary In Wonder?

Harris: I think it’s a really good invitation into the world of Shawn that people don’t know. Even getting feedback from my friends and family, people obviously listen to these songs we created together but this is the first time they’re seeing Shawn as a real human being as opposed to a pop star on the radio. You can see he’s a really good dude and he’s emotional and he’s got feelings. He gets lonely and happy like everybody else.

Juice WRLD’s Birthday Bop, Rina Sawayama’s Dance-Floor Release, And More Songs We Love

There have been so many songs this year destined to be heard in a club, but Rina Sawyama’s “Lucid” has quite literally pushed music lovers over the edge. As the song transports you to an alternate universe of tight spaces, glittery eyeshadow, and flashing lights, “Lucid” reminds you of what it’s like to feel alive. Its use of heavy synth and lyrical looping is nostalgic of the early 2010s DJ movement, where the desired result was a simultaneous, collective release of emotion. The dance breaks, which come exactly when you desire them most, do just that, but for a new generation of listeners. With the undying success of “XS” and “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys),” 2020 has clearly been the year of Rina Sawayama. “Lucid” finishes it off perfectly. —Sarina Bhutani

23 Voices And Limitless Possibilities: How NCT Became One

By Emlyn Travis

As the clock ticks past midnight on a chilly October evening in Seoul, South Korea, there is a light that doesn’t go out in the SM Entertainment building. Inside, NCT members Taeyong, Doyoung, Xiaojun, Lucas, Jaemin, Jaehyun, and Shotaro are wide awake, sipping on iced Americanos as they make fun of each other, pick at each other’s clothing, and chat excitedly via Zoom about the group’s most ambitious project yet: their two-part album NCT 2020 Resonance.

“It’s a meaningful album,” 23-year-old singer Jaehyun answers in English. “[It has] WayV, NCT Dream, and NCT 127, and we’ve all grown a lot. I think in the year 2020, it was meaningful for us to become one.”

To understand the true impact and scale of an album like Resonance, one must understand NCT and its many permutations. An acronym for Neo Culture Technology, NCT debuted in 2016 with the goal of becoming a K-pop group with limitless global outreach. As part of a strategy called “Hallyu Localization” laid out by SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo-man in 2016, NCT would consist of an unlimited number of members placed into teams based in major cities across the globe who could release music in various languages. With numerous units working independently of one another in theory, NCT could dominate multiple music markets concurrently — from South Korea to China to Japan and beyond.

Currently, there are 23 members in NCT divided into four units: NCT 127, WayV, NCT Dream, and NCT U. Two of the units are localized; NCT 127 creates K-pop music from its epicenter in Seoul, while WayV focuses on the Chinese market. NCT Dream originally began as a group for members under the age of 19 but has since spawned its own unique identity. Unlike its counterparts, NCT U is the group’s musical playground; under the moniker, any combination of members from the aforementioned units can collaborate on songs. Lee Soo-man emphasized that the entirety of NCT could unite to release music as a whole, too, promising “diverse collaborative units between teams.”

Courtesy of SM Entertainment

Enter: Resonance. The 21-track album highlights all 23 members, split in two parts with five distinct lead singles. This is the group’s second project album featuring its entire roster; its first, 2018’s Empathy, presented a huge shift to NCT’s musical paradigm as the units performed songs that contrasted their image at the time, as when bubbly NCT Dream released the gritty “Go” and fiery NCT 127 brightened their discography with “Touch.” Now, as NCT reunites for the second time, its members are pushing the musical boundaries of NCT and K-pop as a whole. As rapper Yangyang, 20, says: “I feel like we are doing something that no one has ever done before.”

How does a project like Resonance get started? “Initially, it was a bit hard to picture and see how such a huge project would come to life; I felt a bit unsure,” 21-year-old rapper Mark recalls, saying preparation began this summer. “But after seeing the whole structure of the album, and visualizing each song with the different members in different units, it really made me feel like the Resonance album was going to be a project that’s never been seen by people out there.”

The album’s September 20 announcement sent shockwaves through the group’s fandom when official imagery included two new names: Shotaro and Sungchan. The duo made their official debut in NCT through a set of sleek video teasers that saw them don navy and cornflower-blue silk suits and find their place alongside veteran members.

“NCT’s a group that I’ve always loved, and just to be able to join this group is a huge honor for me,” says Shotaro, the 20-year-old from Kanagawa, Japan, who used to post videos of himself covering NCT dance routines on TikTok. Now, he smiles brightly between Xiaojun and Doyoung as he participates in his first album as an official member of NCT. “I love being here.”

“Being able to work with members from all over the world, I’ve been learning a lot of things I wouldn’t have known or experienced otherwise,” rapper Sungchan, 19, answers. “It also allowed me to grow and mature.”

Resonance also saw WayV members Xiaojun, Hendery, and Yangyang officially participating in their first NCT songs. To Xiaojun, being a member of NCT is a deeply personal title. “To me, it’s like an honor all the time,” the 21-year-old vocalist shares in English. “I really had a lot of fun doing this project with these guys; [they’re] so amazingly funny. I really appreciate the community and this opportunity to do more — to be young myself.”

Resonance’s greatest charm, however, isn’t based on the spectacular size of its ranks; it’s how members’ voices commingle in the album’s unique song configurations. Where Empathy toyed with of mixing members from different groups together — creating hits like the indomitable “Boss” and soul-searching “Yestoday” — Resonance ups the ante by developing fresh group combinations that perform songs in a variety of musical genres, ranging from uplifting ballads to fierce hip-hop anthems. While there are still unit songs — NCT 127’s “Music, Dance,” WayV’s “Nectar,” and NCT Dream’s “Déjà Vu” — Resonance’s new groupings highlight each member’s many facets, taking NCT’s musicality to dynamic heights.

The entirety of Resonance was divided into two parts and released over the course of two months. Beginning on October 12 with the release of Part One, NCT’s lead singles, “Make a Wish (Birthday Song)” and “From Home,” encapsulated their duality as they transformed from confident rappers to soft-hearted crooners. They proved their ability to take any genre and make it their own with the release of Part Two on November 23, showing off their powerful stage presence in the visuals for hip-hop throwback anthem “90’s Love” and their youthful side with the electronic dance track “Work It.”

According to singer and rapper Johnny, 25, both parts of Resonance come together to create “one big story” that he equates to a “generation” of music. “This album is like any other NCT album: experimental, exciting, and pushing creative boundaries,” he says. “You can hear sounds from many generations, but we added new sounds to make them more like us. I would say this chapter really shows what NCT is capable of. Especially with the new units and members — there are no boundaries to the music we can accomplish.”

This can be heard both literally and figuratively on Resonance. The album includes multiple interludes that segment it into different time periods: past, present, and future. Starting in the past, tracks like “90’s Love” and “Misfit” are explosive love letters to ‘90s hip-hop and overflow with witty allusions to New Kids on the Block and Friends. But “Lightbulb” finds its roots in NCT’s personal past.

Originally performed by Taeyong and Doyoung as members of SM Entertainment’s pre-debut group SM Rookies, the song received a revamp on Resonance with the inclusion of Kun and Sungchan — past, present, and future NCT members all working side by side. “It’s been six years since we actually performed that [song] together; we have lots of memories about that song,” 24-year-old singer Doyoung reveals. “I actually heard that a lot of fans were waiting for us to come together again on it, and it was cool to have other members join. I think for this album in particular it was kind of like a gift for our fans, but also it was kind of a gift for ourselves too — for me and Taeyong.”

The present section of Resonance depicts today’s NCT amidst steadily growing global popularity. In the four years since their debut, one of NCT’s greatest draws has been the ability to release songs in multiple languages. “From Home” features lyrics in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and English. “Make a Wish (Birthday Song)” received both Korean and English versions. Among the languages spoken by the group are English, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, and German.

Now, NCT is seeing the fruits of its diverse discography pay off: Part One sold over 1.2 million copies globally in a single week, crowning the group with the title “Million Seller” in its shortest timespan yet. And at the time of writing, the music video for “Make a Wish (Birthday Song)” has received over 119 million views, the fastest to hit over 100 million views of NCT’s visuals. Clearly, when 21-year-old rapper Lucas remembers being “really blown away at how well the music video turned out,” he wasn’t alone.

Finally, from the dreamy “All About You” to Yangyang’s personal favorite “I.O.U,” each song in the future section of Resonance is centered on providing listeners with a sense of healing and strength, rather than carving out the group’s next milestone. In particular, Hendery, 21, thinks  “Work It” is “a song that can really provide encouragement and strength to listeners,” he says. “I hope fans can receive that happy energy while listening to it.”

Courtesy of SM Entertainment

For some members of NCT, Resonance’s new combinations allowed them to reconnect with old friends whom they hadn’t seen in years, while others met their fellow members face to face for the very first time. Through long nights working together, NCT’s leader Taeyong, 25, says that everyone naturally grew closer. Some of the members — in particular Lucas, Xiaojun, or Jaemin — they would ask me a lot of questions just related to performance. When I got all of those questions, that made me step back and reflect, OK, I need to kind of look after these guys a little more,” he says.

The other members are quick to share their similar thoughts. With all 22 other members by his side, 20-year-old rapper Jeno says that he felt “well-supported” throughout the creation of Resonance, and 23-year-old singer Winwin calls every moment spent creating the album with the rest of NCT a “cherished memory.” For multilingual singer Ten, 24, part of the reason why “90’s Love” is his favorite song on the album is that the recording process felt like hanging out with friends. “We’ve never had these members come together onstage to perform, so it was all new, and I think the specific dynamics within this group emphasize each member’s strengths even more,” he says.

The brotherhood formed while crafting Resonance takes center stage in its final, eponymous single, released today (December 4). Featuring all 23 members, the song is a combination of four songs from the album — “Make a Wish (Birthday Song),” “Work It,” “Raise the Roof,” and “90’s Love” — and displays just how powerful NCT can be when they become one. Youngest member Jisung, 18, explains that NCT’s greatest strength is that they’re “a group that doesn’t overlook even the smallest, most minor detail — and at the same time are able to showcase so many different sides and charms.”

And yes, it also means when all 23 members are together, it’s an explosion of energy, which can be seen in the video. “Because there’s so many of us, this just adds to the level of energy we have when we’re all together,” 20-year-old vocalist Haechan explains. “I also feel like I suddenly made a lot of friends.”

While Resonance may have already set the tone for the future of NCT, the members are open to their next direction. “Right now, we don’t have a specific thing that we can say that, OK, this is the direction that we’re going to go, but NCT itself, our goal has always been to release the best content of that time,” answers Doyoung. “And whether that’s 2021 or 2022, we’re committed to releasing content and music and albums that are best fitting those times.”

“This was a big project for all of us, despite the fact that we’ve always been trying to experiment and stay away from playing it safe,” Mark reveals. “Not only did our members mature along the way, but new members have also joined through this album. That itself is an upgrade for all of us. This chapter of our career is a bold move to prove what NCT’s world looks like and it makes us work harder to make that world a place for more of our fans to enjoy.”

Hear Taylor Swift’s New Re-Recorded Version Of ‘Love Story’

Taylor Swift‘s been hard at work. After releasing a new Folklore performance film on Disney+ last week, she headed into the Thanksgiving holiday with an impressive six Grammy nominations — including in the key Album of the Year and Song of the Year categories. But as we know from a note she posted to social media last month, she’s also been spending a lot of time in the studio.

Due to Scooter Braun’s purchase (and subsequent sale) of Swift’s back catalog, she’s taken it upon herself to re-record those old songs — the ones from her first six albums — so she can retain control over (and make money from) them. “I have recently begun re-recording my older music and it has already proven to be both exciting and creatively fulfilling,” she wrote in November. “I have plenty of surprises in store.”

Thanks to her pal Ryan Reynolds, one of those surprises is now here: Swift’s updated version of her 2008 song “Love Story,” as featured in a twisted new commercial for Match.com.

The premise of the spot is simple — Satan is having bum luck dating, until he meets his match in the year 2020, personified. (Because 2020 has been a shit year, you see, and the only being who could actually like — or even love! — it is the actual Prince of Darkness.)

Swift’s new take on “Love Story” soundtracks this, uh, love story, and though we only hear snippets, it sounds good! “Okay so while my new re-records are NOT done, my friend @VancityReynolds asked me if he could use a snippet of one for a LOLsome commercial he wrote so…here’s a sneak peak of Love Story!” Swift tweeted with the clip. “Working hard to get the music to you soon!!”

How soon? That remains a mystery. But remember: December 13 — Swift’s 31st birthday — is only 11 days away. And then it’s Christmas after that. It’s the season of giving, is all I’m saying.

Listen to Swift’s new take on “Love Story” in the ad above.

Sia, Steve Aoki, And Travis Barker Will Perform At Movie & TV Awards: Greatest Of All Time

Get your gigantic bows ready: Sia is coming to the Movie & TV Awards: Greatest of All Time, along with Steve Aoki and Travis Barker. The three pop talents will be performing at the 90-minute special, airing Sunday, December 6 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

“I’m stoked to be performing with one of my good friends at the MTV Movie & TV Awards: Greatest of All Time,” Aoki said. “Not only will we be celebrating the best of the best pictures with the iconic music that pushed them forward, but we have some surprises for you all as well. Make sure to tune in, and celebrate these epic films with us.”

Sia has spent 2020 releasing songs she collaborated on with Dua Lipa and Jack Antonoff for the upcoming film Music, while Aoki released new tunes this year with Maluma, Monsta X, Mike Shinoda, and many more. Barker, meanwhile, has kept busy, working with Machine Gun Kelly, Post Malone, Run the Jewels, and of course, Aoki himself.

As the performers take the stage, the show will honor the GOATs in the categories of Scream Queen, Legendary Lip Lock, Dance Your Ass Off, Heartbreaking Break-Up, Comedy Giant, Zero to Hero, She-Ro, and Dynamic Duo.

The show is set to be hosted by Vanessa Hudgens. “At this point, you’ve pretty much watched all the movies and TV shows you can handle,” she said. “So now, it’s time for us to decide the greatest movie and TV moments of all time.”

Which one of your faves will be honored? Find out on December 6.

In the meantime, stay tuned for more info on MTV Movie & TV Awards: Greatest of All Time.

Miley Cyrus’s Plastic Hearts Has A Song For Every Mood

By Ashley Oken

Miley Cyrus’s long awaited seventh studio album, Plastic Hearts, dropped on Friday (November 27) and sees Cyrus embracing a throwback rock sound, reinventing herself yet again and unapologetically reflecting on her journey from Disney child star to mature artist exploring herself. She spent her immediate post-Disney career trying to shed the clean-cut image that comes with child stardom, and since then, Cyrus has tried embracing many sounds, from pop to country to psychedelic, in order to break away. Now, she seems to have found a bold, fitting path in rock.

The track “Gimme What I Want” has Cyrus drawing deeply from Nine Inch Nails and her penchant for covers of ‘80s tunes, while “Prisoner” melds a Runaways-style glam-rock vibe and Dua Lipa’s dance-pop sound with bits of Olivia Newton John’s “Physical.” Cyrus gets personal on “Never Be Me” and “Golden G String,” in which she discusses her flaws and her evolution as depicted by the media. All this adds up to a robust new sound to work with.

She originally planned to release a series of EPs, starting with 2019’s She Is Coming, but the 2018 Malibu wildfires — in which she lost her home — changed those plans. Though most of the old material survived the natural disaster, the event altered her perspective on her life. That renewal is there on Plastic Hearts, which also has seen videos allowing her to transform into rock and roll vampire and even eat a spider. Along with collaborations with Mark Ronson, ‘80s icon Billy Idol, and rock forebear Joan Jett, Cyrus treats fans to her personal rebirth and a look into her true musical self.

Below, we break down this rock-fueled album track by track and mood by mood.

  1. “WTF Do I Know”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: rebellious

    Key lyric: “Thought it’d be you until I die / But then I let it go”

    Serving as a more savage version of “7 Things” and a nod to early aughts alt-pop, this kickoff track is an upbeat, rebel punk song that seemingly dives right into Cyrus’s divorce from Liam Hemsworth as well as her image in the media. Play this when you want to thrash around your childhood bedroom and set your own rules.

  2. “Plastic Hearts”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: thoughtful

    Key lyric: “I just wanna feel something / But I keep feeling nothing all night long”

    Slyly referencing Rolling Stones’s “Sympathy for the Devil” in its intro and Bruno Mars’s “Locked Out of Heaven” in its outro, Cyrus sings of wanting to feel deeply connected to someone or something, but only being able to for a short time. This song will have you thinking about your last IRL hookup or virtual date.

  3. “Angels Like You”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: reflective

    Key lyric: “I know that you’re wrong for me / Gonna wish we never met on the day I leave”

    On this vulnerable mid-tempo track, Cyrus reflects on a relationship that wasn’t meant to be and learns to let go. Listen to this the next time you’re stuck on that person you thought was your forever.

  4. “Prisoner” (ft. Dua Lipa)

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: freewheeling

    Key lyric: “Can’t get you off my mind / Why can’t you just let me go?”

    A mashup of neo-disco samples and early ‘70s/’80s rock, Cyrus and Lipa sing of feeling trapped in their emotions and pair it with an equally retro and sensual video. This song will provide you with a dance-tinged escape from those 3 a.m. thoughts you’re having during quarantine.

  5. “Gimme What I Want”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: lustful

    Key lyric: “I don’t need a future, I don’t need your past / I just need a lover”

    Over ’80s synths, Cyrus sings of giving a potential lover the choice to pursue a relationship and being OK if they turn her down. This song serves as a reminder that you can be alright on your own amid the flurry of Instagram engagement announcements.

  6. “Night Crawling” (ft. Billy Idol)

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: sexy

    Key lyric: “Sometimes I’m the best you’ve ever had / Sometimes I need your loving”

    With throaty vocals and thoughts about light, violence, and silence from Idol, this track marries rebellion with sex. A rocker version of Teddy Pendergrass’s “Turn Off the Lights,” this song will have you thinking of your beau in the wee hours.

  7. “Midnight Sky”

    Listen to when you’re feeling: free

    Key lyric: “Lotta years went by with my hands tied up in your ropes / Forever and ever, no more”

    Wielding her weathered vocal style and a disco-pop sound expertly, Cyrus channels Stevie Nicks and samples her hit “Edge of Seventeen” while singing this LGBTQ+ anthem of being a free spirit who embraces all that she is and doesn’t live with expectations of forever. Whether you need a pick-me-up or want to dance in your room in the middle of the night, this song will provide the right soundtrack.

  8. “High” (ft. Mark Ronson)

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: nostalgic

    Key lyric: “And I don’t miss you but I think of you and don’t know why”

    With a country feel and powerful vocals, Cyrus explores missing someone that you shouldn’t and not being able to shake them. Listen when you still feel warmth while thinking of a past friendship or relationship and want to understand it.

  9. “Hate Me”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: angry

    Key lyric: “I hope that it’s enough to make you cry / Maybe that day you won’t hate me”

    After a near-fatal experience during a flight to the Glastonbury Festival and recent discussion about not wanting to join the 27 Club, Cyrus discusses how the media would shed positive light on her if she was to die after years of negativity. If you’re feeling angry at the state of your life and being left on read during the pandemic, this song understands those feelings.

  10. “Bad Karma” (ft. Joan Jett)

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: naughty

    Key lyric: “You may think I’m ghosting, but the truth is I’m a liar”

    Leaked online a year ago, this defiant song sees Cyrus and rock legend Joan Jett crooning about cheating and not caring about the consequences, with Cyrus noting that she’d “think about it later.” Miley’s got you covered the next time an ex pops up in your DMs.

  11. “Never Be Me”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: emotional

    Key lyric: “If you’re looking for someone to be all that you need / That’ll never be me”

    With vibes of “It Ain’t Me Babe” by Bob Dylan, this gutting power ballad sees Cyrus sing of not being who a partner would need her to be. This song is great for processing breakups and realizing that there is life afterwards.

  12. “Golden G String”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: powerful

    Key lyric: “The old boys hold all the cards and they ain’t playing gin”

    This personal track inspired by the Trump era sees Cyrus doing two things: owning her persona over the years (“I was trying to own my power / Still I’m trying to work it out”) and discussing how men can still act as the gatekeepers to the fate of women. If you wanna feel like a boss, here’s your soundtrack.

  13. “Edge of Midnight” (“Midnight Sky” remix ft. Stevie Nicks)

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: wistful

    Key lyric: “Sings a song sounds like she’s singing / Ooh, baby, ooh, said, ooh”

    This remix to lead single “Midnight Sky” transports you to the past with its clear references to Stevie Nicks’s 1972 hit “Edge of Seventeen” and even has Nicks singing the chorus, something we never knew that we needed. Bookmark this for whenever you need a song to dance to in between Zoom meetings.

  14. “Heart of Glass” (Live from the iHeart Music Festival)

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: romantic

    Key lyric: “In between what I find is pleasing and I’m feeling fine / Love is so confusing, there’s no peace of mind”

    A cover of the 1979 original by Blondie, Cyrus’s 2020 cover garnered praise and was an introduction to her robust, rock-infused new sound. Importantly, it’s also Debbie Harry-approved.

  15. “Zombie” (Live from the NIVA Save Our Stages Festival)

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: sentimental

    Key lyric: “It’s the same old theme since 1976 / In your head, in your head, they’re still fighting”

    On this cover of the 1993 original by The Cranberries, Cyrus channels a powerful sound in line with its anti-violence message. Save this for the next time you need to be reminded that musical taste and Cyrus’s vocal abilities transcend genre.