Scarypoolparty’s Los Angeles Has A Song For Every Mood

Alejandro Aranda spent a season on American Idol, but he’s always been a being of his own creation. He performed technically dazzling original compositions as part of a showcase that tends to favor belting covers. He greeted judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie with an understated “What’s up, homies?” during his audition. And since 2019, when he released his stark, genre-agnostic debut Exit Form, Aranda has used his major-label platform to wedge the weird, hard-edged sounds that fuel him into a mainstream pop career. No easy feat, but Aranda is such a gifted stylistic polymath that it magnetizes him; his songs blend industrial darkgaze, soulful trip-hop, mathy heaviness, and dizzying piano rhapsodies into a recording and performing alias he calls Scarypoolparty.

The staggering result, seemingly impossible in the streaming age, is something wholly his own, a path not beholden to trends or dictated by focus-grouped nostalgia. It’s the cold, metallic Queen of the Damned soundtrack filtered through the warm lights of his home, Los Angeles, and of Aranda’s own lived experience. His new EP, titled after the city itself, captures what it’s given him: the emotion, the part-time jobs, the long talks, the longer drives, and every moment in quarantine.

“A lot of these songs were definitely lockdown songs,” Aranda tells MTV News. “I think a majority of them were self-reflection on where the city is, where I live, and daily life — daily going out and trying to do things, and you can’t, and you have to stay inside and make sure everything is OK in that area.”

For last year’s Doom Hologram, Aranda recorded vocals directly into his MacBook, unknowingly prefacing the Zoom-call collaborations he’d rely on finalizing this new EP. The brevity of Los Angeles as a four-song EP likewise allows Aranda to tighten up his own arrangements, making it his most accessible collection yet. Instead of downbeat, seven-minute meditations or hourlong piano improvisations, he leans into pop structures even as he rushes toward the horizon fusing trap, classical piano, and cocktail bravado. He even reined in some of his more experimental tendencies: “Originally, I had three songs on the EP and then I had this metal song that I was going to throw in there, and I was just like, you know what? I want it to make sense.”

The result is Los Angeles in its many shades, cohesive yet sprawling like its namesake. Below, Aranda breaks down the EP track by track and mood by mood.

Beyoncé Set A Flawless Precedent With One Big Surprise

By Hilary Hughes

An eponymous album marks a major moment in an artist’s career. For women, owning one’s work, body, and artistry can be especially powerful, even political. Throughout Women’s History Month, MTV News is highlighting some of these iconic statements from some of the biggest artists on the globe. This is Self-Titled.

Beyoncé is queen of the epic entrance (as anyone who watched her 2018 Coachella headlining set can attest), but Beyoncé, her fifth, self-titled album, made its debut quietly — and in the middle of the night.

At first, only those who happened to be scrolling through the iTunes Store after midnight on December 13, 2013 noticed a new addition to its offerings in the form of a simple, striking cover featuring the name of the artist, all caps and in petal pink, emblazoned across its front. Word soon spread across social media — and from Beyoncé’s accounts, no less — that she had not only unveiled a surprise album, but one featuring corresponding music videos for each of its 14 songs.

In the early hours of that December morning, one thing was clear: Beyoncé had pulled off a revolutionary hat trick. Yes, she had completely shocked the world by releasing a new album without so much as a whisper of promotion or warning in the months leading up to it. Yes, she had gone above and beyond by putting out never-before-heard music and a collection of musical film shorts that introduced a new standard for multi-format domination. And yes, she had completely redefined the possibilities for what an album or a music video could do — and what a pop star can achieve by dropping either unexpectedly. Beyoncé wasn’t just another chart-topping addition to Queen Bey’s discography: It was a cultural event, and one that took place at the zenith of her career.

To appreciate Beyoncé and the feat its creator pulled off requires rewinding a bit — not to 2013, but 2012, one of the most transformational years of her life. Her 2011 album, 4, (and her fourth to hit No. 1 on Billboard’s albums chart), yielded a crop of beloved singles, from the beat-savvy “Run the World (Girls)” to affectionate confection “Love on Top,” which went on to win Best Traditional R&B performance at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards. At the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, she revealed she was expecting her first child with husband Jay-Z to a national audience while lovingly caressing her baby bump as she performed the latter hit.

Her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, was born on January 7, 2012, and Beyoncé took a well-deserved maternity leave, nesting and embracing her newfound role as a mother after a particularly demanding and lucrative professional stretch. When she returned to the mic the following January, it was for two of her most significant performances to date: She sang the national anthem at the second presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, and then delivered one of the most superlative Super Bowl halftime shows in the event’s history a couple weeks later. The premiere of Life Is But a Dream, a documentary about her life she co-directed and produced, followed on HBO, and with it came Beyoncé’s ascension from pop queen to multi-format auteur.

Life Is But a Dream not only served as Blue’s on-screen debut, but a video diary and scrapbook of the off-the-record moments that had shaped Beyoncé’s private life, from childhood home movies to revisiting the miscarriage she suffered to never-before-seen footage from her and Jay-Z’s wedding Though her flair for visuals and impeccable style shaped her many memorable music videos up to this point, the documentary was a new and different medium for her — choreographed and polished to shine, but personal, multi-faceted, vulnerable. Beyoncé has always been heralded for her awe-inducing talent and triple-threat performances, but with Life Is But a Dream, she stressed that she was a storyteller, too, one who thought about the best possible ways to ensure her audience could hear, and see, what she needed them to understand — and for them to reach that understanding down a path of her making.

Between Blue’s birth and this inviting glimpse into her private life, Beyoncé started working on the follow-up to 4. In the summer of 2012, she, Jay-Z, and baby Blue decamped to the Hamptons, where a number of producers and collaborators convened to write, record, and experiment with new sounds. “We had dinners with the producers every day, like a family,” she told Vogue in a 2013 interview about the sessions that would ultimately shape Beyoncé. “It was like a camp. Weekends off. You could go and jump in the pool and ride bikes… the ocean and grass and sunshine. … It was really a safe place.”

Frank Ocean, Justin Timberlake, Sia, Pharrell Williams, Drake, Ryan Tedder, Timbaland and producer Boots rounded out the A-list team of collaborators she assembled to usher in this era, and the result is one of her most vivid and eclectic releases. Beyoncé opened with soaring power ballad “Pretty Hurts,” an empowering rejection of damaging beauty standards; she closed with “Blue,” a lush ode to her daughter that featured the voice of the littlest Carter, too. Resonant pop and R&B abounded, from the romantic “XO” to “Superpower,” her mesmerizing duet with Frank Ocean, as did hip-hop bangers thanks to the instantly iconic Bey-Jay duet “Drunk in Love,” the sly and sexy “Partition,” Drake duet “Mine,” and “Flawless,” which fused the hallmarks of teaser single “Bow Down” with segments from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” speech.

While the songs themselves made for easy repeat-listening, the videos astounded audiences from the jump — and were just as vivid and varied. Each clip explored fresh aesthetics and presented eye-catching contrasts, many getting more up close and personal to the star than her previous visuals had. Instead of embodying a mid-century go-go girl (“Get Me Bodied”) or flexing the robo-glove of Sasha Fierce (“Single Ladies [Put a Ring on It]”), Beyoncé played herself and the multitudes she contains. Clips like “Drunk in Love” needed little more than an empty beach, a bottle of bubbly, and the Carters dancing together in the surf to deliver a captivating romp, while “XO” was splashed with the neon of Coney Island as she rode the Cyclone with friends and goofed off at Brooklyn’s landmark fun park over the sounds of her serenade. Some, like the candy-colored pageant treatment of “Pretty Hurts” or the lavish, lingerie-clad “Partition,” were full-blown productions, each with their own narrative that translated beautifully to the screen but never disguised her under the guise of fantasy.

And though many of her music videos had become cultural icons themselves prior to Beyoncé, the sheer depth, breadth, and volume of the material she released all at once set a new standard — and precedent — for what came next. When Beyoncé hit the road following Beyoncé’s release on the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour in 2014, elaborate visuals played a huge part in her updated live show and featured fresh narration from Queen B herself — a direct tie to the documentarian she became with Life is But a Dream and the imaginative, maximalist vibe of Beyoncé. (The platinum edition of Beyoncé includes several performance clips from this tour on its digital version.) Two years later, the world rejoiced when she released Lemonade, her second surprise visual album, in 2016: Another audio-visual stunner, Lemonade built on Beyoncé’s foundation while further mining her personal life to showcase its muses, catharsis, and breakthroughs in her music. Like Beyoncé, it was critically adored, a commercial juggernaut , an award-winner, and a feast for the eyes and ears. But unlike Beyoncé, it was a successor: Lemonade was proof that she’d perfected her medium of choice.

In the years since, Beyoncé has continued to embrace sensory overload to the delight of her fans. The music video for “Apeshit,” the lead single off the Carters’s collaborative 2018 album Everything is Love, retains the epic grandeur of her cinematic embrace, and she employed it once more with the release of another exceptional visual album, Black is King, in 2020. Countless artists have taken a page from her surprise playbook as well, and dropped full albums with little to no notice, from Drake to Taylor Swift and beyond. Seven years after Beyoncé’s arrival, its ripple effect across the industry is undeniable, both in her own creative story and that of the industry at large — and nearly a decade later, we still bow down.

Serpentwithfeet’s Great Spirit Fills Every Note Of Deacon

By M.T. Richards

Think back to the fourth season of HBO’s sui generis crime drama The Wire. It’s all about the finer points of Baltimore machine politics. Mayoral hopeful Tommy Carcetti, a loquacious, know-it-all councilman from the city’s South Side, visits the parish of a kingmaking West Side minister. Carcetti scans the church cautiously, unsure quite what to do with himself.

Baltimore soul troubadour Serpentwithfeet wouldn’t have that problem. The church is his home turf. And his glow-getting new album, Deacon, is a testament to God’s saving grace.

At 32, Serpent, real name Josiah Wise, is learned enough to write an encyclopedia about the history of Black American expression. Wise’s music serves as a guidepost through its peaks and troughs, R&B-adjacent, but not quite R&B. “I look at R&B as a prism, a window, a portal,” Wise said in a recent Zoom call. “I do think I fit within the R&B canon. It’s my natural cadence.” His is a microgenre derived from hymns, spirituals, extemporaneous field hollers — every tool in the enslaved Black man’s toolbox. Where else but the church could Wise have received this education?

“My parents met in church,” Wise says with a chuckle. “My brother played in the band. My mother was choir director when she was coming up. My father played the washboard. I spent at least three or four days a week in church.”

Wise grew up in Baltimore, a shrimpy theater geek whose parents “mainly” played gospel in the house, but you wouldn’t know it from hearing him talk. His accent, such as it is, is liltingly neutral and regionally nonspecific. Only when he pronounces the word “to,” pushing that last letter to the front of his tongue, do Wise’s Baltimore origins manifest.

But variety is the spice of Deacon. It’s also a virtue that Baltimoreans live by. Much has been made of Wise’s classical music background; that’s only part of a larger story about his cosmopolitan palette, and how it came into being. As a child, Wise, like so many in Baltimore, was taught balance across eclectic food groups.

“I was schooled in the tradition of Black folk music,” Wise says. “And jazz music. And, you know, singing gospel and doing hymns in church. Between church choirs and concert choirs, there’s a wonderful choral scene in Baltimore. I was exposed to so much at such an early age. I had the best of so many worlds. So when I decided to start writing original music, I was trying to synthesize all that I had learned.”

After high school, Wise attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. But a schism between mind and heart had been wrenched open. Subconsciously, Wise may have been torn between the trappings of his youth and the tug of his burgeoning sexuality. Even if he was no longer physically present at church (“It was time to take up space differently,” Wise says), the call to worship was always within earshot.

“I think of the church and the institution of church as a place for a certain kind of discipline. I actually don’t know any scriptures,” Wise says with a laugh. “I know a lot of gospel songs; I could tell you a Kirk Franklin lyric in a heartbeat! But it was a wonderful community. I’m still in touch with many people from the church I grew up in. I still consider them family.”

Artwork, provided

For Wise, the unconditional nature of God’s love was never in doubt, but he sometimes received mixed messages from family. On “Same Size Shoe,” he relays a mortifying — but dubiously veracious — conversation with a churchgoing relative stuck in her ways. (“A lot of Deacon is factitious,” Wise says. “I don’t want any of my aunties coming for my neck.”)

Wise made tons of music in the years that followed. He also moved to New York City: “It schooled me. I only have a bachelor’s officially, but New York gave me a master’s in life. New York has a lot of lessons if you’re open to them. I don’t think I could even recognize the wonder in my life without my many, many teachers in New York.”

Much of this music was beautiful. Most of it hinged on themes of self-dislike and self-sabotage. His 2018 debut, Soil, wasn’t strictly autobiographical. Even so, it revealed a nebbish, needy person given to misguided acts of self-sacrifice. The songs were creepily, imperturbably still, as though Wise were too devoted to a singular person to notice the outside world. In other words, too devoted for his own good.

Which brings us to Deacon, an album of syncopated club rhythms, twinkle-toed keyboard arrangements, and mellifluous, silhouetted vocals. Wise has an opera singer’s command of vibrato and tremolo. He may be in total control of his instrument, but his head is all swimmy. “Blessed is the man who gambles!” Wise rhapsodizes on “Malik.” “Blessed is the man who wears socks with his sandals!” There’s no getting around it: Wise is madly in love, presumably with the telegenic boyfriend who has co-starred in some of his videos.

“My intention was to make an album that is a love letter to gay Black men,” Wise says. “It’s a love letter to all of the men that make the world a more colorful and rewarding place to live in. Because I’ve already talked about some of my dissatisfactions in past music, I wanted to go on the record as saying, ‘I’ve loved and been loved. Let me count the ways!’”

“Amir” is about the giddy early stages of courtship. Wise peppers the titular baddie with half-teasing questions. (“Do you like beer or like rosé? Do you slow dance or do you rush?”) It’s the most infectious song of Wise’s young career, but don’t ask him to make it Deacon’s next single. That would be infringing on his process.

“Derrick’s Beard” and “Heart Storm” are further proof that the anomie of Wise’s past has given way to a satisfying present. “Fellowship” sounds a little like Naija pop, but Wise found spiritual equilibrium right here, not in his ancestral homeland. All he had to do was grow up a little.

“When I got to my thirties, a self-acceptance took place,” Wise says. “I no longer felt like I was doing life wrong. It was like, ‘This is me. This is my pool of information. These are my skills. These are my weaknesses.’ All of the silly questions of my twenties — ‘Am I cracking the right jokes? Am I wearing the right shoes?’ — I just don’t have anymore.”

That wisdom extends to the past year living amid a pandemic, and life under lockdown has been good to Wise. He doesn’t even miss live music. “I’m just trying to be present at the moment,” Wise says. “I’m thankful that people are finding ways to have fun. And I don’t want to miss out on the gems because I’m reminiscing about when I could tour two years ago. Touring might be even more dynamic when it returns. It could be something better than we thought possible.”

“I’m grateful for what we have,” Wise continues. “People are hella inventive.” Preach!

The Weeknd’s House Of Balloons Launched A Pop Career Shrouded In Mystery

By Alex Gonzalez

From the beginning of The Weeknd’s debut mixtape, House of Balloons, he informs us that we’ll want to be “high for this.” Named after a one-bedroom apartment he shared with friends in his Toronto hometown, House of Balloons is a dark body of work, with trippy tales of partying, heartbreak, and drug-fueled sexcapades. While these themes still resonate within Abel Tesfaye’s vibrant, glistening pop tracks today, he first stepped onto the scene with more minimalistic, brooding sounds, a far cry from the rallying maximalism of “Blinding Lights.”

The Weeknd is one of the most recognizable voices and faces in music today, with five Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s to his name and a Super Bowl halftime performance under his belt. But when House of Balloons dropped on March 21, 2011 — 10 years ago this weekend — he was still an anonymous entity, releasing his songs online with little context.

“I think the mysterious, faceless vibe kind of helped him in the beginning,” music producer Cirkut tells MTV News. “I think that kind of created this mysterious allure around him. It made people even more inquisitive, wanting to know, ‘Hey, who’s this guy? Have you heard of this guy, The Weeknd?’ It made the music come first, rather than putting himself all out there. It was just all about the music, the vibe, and the artwork.”

Cirkut first met The Weeknd through mutual friends, who told the producer that he was “the next big thing.” The pair connected for a session at Cirkut’s Dream House studio in Toronto. At the time, Cirkut was also fairly new to the music scene, though his resume already boasted tracks for mainstream heavyweights Britney Spears and Kesha.

The Weeknd’s alternative R&B sonances were relatively new territory for Cirkut, but he was drawn to Tefaye’s vibe and aesthetic. “I do everything from some of the darkest R&B, to hip-hop stuff, to the most bubblegum of pop you can get,” Cirkut says. “I pride myself on being versatile like that.”

During their session, Cirkut created a bassline and then formed general musical arrangements. The Weeknd began freestyling in the booth. The result was “High for This,” an ominous, sensual track which became the opener for House of Balloons. Cirkut says the core of “High for This” was recorded within a day; however, he and The Weeknd went over it several times before they were happy with it.

“As a producer in the studio, it’s often my role to tell someone ‘Sing it again,’ or ‘Do this,’ or ‘This isn’t good enough,’” or stuff like that,” Cirkut says. “But he’s kind of his own biggest critic. He’ll be the one saying, ‘I need to re-record this.’”

Around January 2011, Cirkut and his then-creative partner Adrian Gough later connected The Weeknd to producer Doc McKinney, who, along with Illangelo, would go on to produce the bulk of House of Balloons. Illangelo had begun working with The Weeknd about a month earlier. The pair had crafted several tracks, including one called “Crew Love.” That was one of three tracks, along with “Shot for Me” and “The Ride,” that ended up going to fellow burgeoning Toronto superstar Drake for his sophomore album, Take Care.

“I just feel like when Doc, Abel, and myself linked up, it was just kind of like a meeting of the minds of people that want to hear or see something different in the world,” Illangelo says. The Weeknd’s ghostly opening vocals make “Crew Love” distinctly his, and he owns the track before Drake enters halfway through.

At the time, McKinney, Illangelo, and The Weeknd were going for new, fresh sounds. They worked swiftly: House of Balloons was released via a zip folder on The Weeknd’s official website just two months after the trio’s initial meeting. McKinney says the quick release allowed for “the freshest shit.”

When producing tracks for House of Balloons, McKinney and Illangelo were minimalistic in their approach, utilizing software like Ableton Live, MPC studio, and Cubase instead of many different instruments. “I pretty much decided to not use any hardware equipment,” Illangello says. “I didn’t have any keyboards and synthesizers. We used different interfaces, we used different mics, we were just using anything around us. Everything was inside the [Cubase] box, except for Doc’s wavy-ass guitars that would bless up the songs.”

“Wavy” would soon become a recurring aural pattern for House of Balloons, as The Weeknd would use the word several times during the recording process, particularly with closing track, “The Knowing,” in which The Weeknd confronts an unfaithful lover. McKinney says this is the first track he remembers cutting with The Weeknd and Illangelo.

“[The Knowing] was a beat that I had for probably three years at that time,” McKinney says. “But I had it at 90 BPM. And he was like, ‘I want to do stuff that’s wavy.’ And I was like, ‘Oh man, this Cocteau Twins sample [of “Cherry-Coloured Funk”] is super wavy.’ And he was like, ‘That’s amazing, we should slow it down.’”

McKinney then slowed the track down by 10 BPM, but it still wasn’t “wavy” enough for him.

“He’s like, ‘Slower,’” McKinney says. “Finally, it’s half-time and he starts banging his head. And I’m like, ‘I’m not hearing the hype-ness,’ and he’s like, ‘It’s perfect.’ It ended up being 45 BPM.”

McKinney and Illangelo both say another prominent sample-driven song, “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls,” is their favorite of House of Balloons’s original nine tracks. McKinney first created the instrumental for the track circa 2009, but The Weeknd immediately gravitated toward “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” when McKinney was playing him tracks for consideration.

It features a prominent sample of Siouxsie and the Banshees’s “Happy House,” part of the creative, interpretative use of samples, including a few from Baltimore indie band Beach House, that made House of Balloons a classic.

“I just think the interpolation of that, in juxtaposition with everything at the time, helped make it timeless,” McKinney says. “Sampling anything that already is classic and timeless is kind of like grabbing onto the coattails, and hopefully you don’t rip off the jacket.”

House of Balloons also contains “Wicked Games,” which was released as The Weeknd’s debut single after he signed a deal with Republic Records in 2012. He repackaged his first three mixtapes — House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence — as one collective album called Trilogy. “Wicked Games” became his proper debut single, nearly a year-and-a-half after its original release.

Although the coy, heavily melodic “Wicked Games” was the beginning of a promising career for The Weeknd, both McKinney and Illangelo insist that they were never trying to appeal to pop radio. They were just trying to make stuff they wanted to make.

“I don’t think anybody expected anything, man,” Illangelo says of the song’s success. “Like before any of this, nobody saw the vision. Even with a song like ‘Wicked Games’ we didn’t give a fuck about [radio play]. We were just making the fucking illest shit we’ve ever made in our life. And we were stoked on that.”

Ten years after the release of House of Balloons, the once mysterious, faceless Canadian crooner is now a household sight — even if he’s lately kept that face under bandages and prosthetics. While The Weeknd has experimented with several genres throughout the past decade, including R&B, trap, EDM, and ‘80s-style synthpop, his poignant, personal craft and cinematic aesthetics set him apart from other pop stars.

Doc McKinney, Illangelo and Cirkut have all continued to work with The Weeknd since House of Balloons and admire his drive, determination, and ability to take creative control on all of his projects. Even before he was one of the world’s biggest pop stars, The Weeknd always had a drive for greatness.

“Abel was actually sleeping on couches,” Illangelo says. “This dude was actually sleeping at the studio all the fucking time. He really lived that shit, man. That’s his life. No one’s seen it [more] than Doc and I.”

Bop Shop: Songs From Aly & AJ, Joyce Wrice, Serena Ryder, And More

Ditch the self-help books and give this song a spin next time you need some unabashed confidence. Brooklyn performer Ellen Winter bottles infectious enthusiasm in three and a half minutes or less, creating a pump-up anthem driven by snaps, claps, and thumping piano chords. The lyrics spill out like a stream of consciousness while steering clear of clichés. You feel the weight of her words as she recounts wasting “days, months, years letting insecurities pair up with fears,” though her inner cyclical monologue of “confidence is crucial” feels airy. Still, it’s the chorus that’s truly transcendent, culminating in an echoing assertion that she will “leave the bar raised high.” With a song this good, she does just that. —Carson Mlnarik

Justin Bieber’s Justice Might Just Be His Most Adventurous Album Yet

Last Sunday night found Justin Bieber picking up his second-ever Grammy, a notable accolade given the song it accompanied: “10,000 Hours,” the country-pop team-up between Biebs and Dan + Shay. Considering Bieber’s first Grammy win was for the EDM-pop “Where Are Ü Now” with Diplo and Skrillex, his latest win five years later is a testament to not only his versatility, but his continued musical evolution.

Case in point: Justice, the artist’s sixth studio album out today (March 19). It’s loaded with collaborators, including Khalid, Chance the Rapper, Burna Boy, Dominic Fike, and more. It opens with a Martin Luther King quote and devotes an entire track to a speech he gave near the end of his life. It spans the gospel-pop we first heard on “Holy” and dips into synthpop (“Die For You”), acoustic songs of praise (“Ghost”), and the long-awaited studio rendition of “Peaches,” which he debuted in full this week as part of an NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert.

This is Bieber at his most multifaceted. And there’s something very welcoming about seeing him continue on in several directions, considering how last year’s romantic Changes stayed more or less in a singular lane — the same drive that caused him to call out the Grammys for nominating in the pop categories instead of R&B. “It is not being acknowledged as an R&B album which is very strange to me,” he wrote in an Instagram post when nominations were announced in November 2020. “I grew up admiring R&B music and wished to make a project that would embody that sound.”

The scope of Justice is wider. A first listen reveals that the varying styles might just point less to Bieber’s future and more to his state of mind while making it — or both. “My objective in making this album was to provide comfort to the listener,” he said on a recent Zoom, per Vogue. “I know a lot of people have been isolated, but music is really an outlet to bring people together.”

Come together and listen to Justice, now that it’s out in the world, below.

Joyce Wrice’s Overgrown Is A Testament To Herself

By Jaelani Turner-Williams

Following a series of EPs and a decade of YouTube covers, Los Angeles-based R&B singer Joyce Wrice has met the moment. This week marks the release of Wrice’s electrifying debut album, Overgrown, which listens like a metaphor for her personal imperfections, making peace with flawed relationships, and the errant road to stardom.

Still an independent artist, Wrice took the reins of her creative process over the course of quarantine, filming an intimate visual in 2020 for her standalone single “That’s On You,” and remixing the song with fellow African-American and Japanese neo-soul singer UMI. Though Wrice has studied genre-shifting Black women artists like Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, and Sade, her Japanese culture — and a reverence for Buddhism — has reinforced her persistent identity.

“One of the things that I’ve learned through my Buddhist practice is to create opportunities within the obstacle or the struggle. To create value from it, don’t let it define you or sway you, figure out how you can transform it into value,” Wrice told MTV News. “It’s actually helped me to dig deeper and not be swayed by the situation and keep pushing through. Now looking back, I’m like, wow, I did that. I was able to push through. So, what else is there? I’m ready.”

Growing up in San Diego as an only child to a Japanese mother and African-American father from Flint, Michigan, who was briefly stationed in Japan, Wrice was immersed in her mother’s culture as a child. She attended Japanese school for five years, visited Japan annually until she was 18, and later taught English to Japanese-American students in Los Angeles as an adult. Taught to have appreciation for her elders under the guidance of Buddhist principles, Wrice simultaneously learned to master her craft by following a passion for music. “When you really love something, you’re obsessed with it and you want to get good at it,” she said.

Captivated by nostalgic R&B and hip-hop songs of the ‘90s and early 2000s, Wrice took to YouTube while in high school where she would cover Brandy and Janet Jackson and enjoyed positive interactions with viewers who actively commented on her videos. Wrice segued into covering songs by then-budding L.A. rappers Dom Kennedy and Pac Div, who caught wind of her clips and invited her to collaborate. Her first exposure to in-studio songwriting and recording jolted Wrice out of her self-admitted “shyness.”

“With YouTube, you’re just performing to a camera, and I really had to get out of my shy and comfortable place. If I really want to do this, I have to perform live. I have to be in front of people, I have to be vulnerable in these sessions and tell my story,” she said. “It really allowed me to reflect on ‘Who am I? What are my truths? What is my message? What am I trying to say?’ It was me embracing all of me and submitting to the present moment.”

Wrice became a go-to collaborator on songs by male rappers and singers, her delicate, mellifluous vocals creating a duality and providing hooks. On 2018 track “Trouble on Central” by Compton rapper Buddy, Wrice’s voice melts smoothly with Buddy’s laidback flow and the production’s g-funk influence. Elevating rap songs, Wrice’s silky vocals have made her a mainstay by complementing rappers’ verses with ease. Gaining confidence, she became respected in the L.A. beat scene, working alongside SiR, Free Nationals, and Mndsgn. Being the lone woman in circles of men still posed a challenge for Wrice, who would occasionally be underestimated as a “groupie” during studio sessions. Unafraid to lose an opportunity, Wrice ultimately spoke up for herself as uncomfortable situations became recurrent, even when potential collaborators tried to pursue her.

“I care about my values and my integrity. I had to take someone off one of my songs from my album because they disrespected me,” Wrice said. “So many times I’m just like, damn, this sucks. I always have to remind myself that sometimes things don’t work out because something better is there. When I can remind myself of that, I just trust the journey. I’m never going to be a slave to someone who’s only there for their best interest.”

By prioritizing her self-worth, in 2018, Wrice devised a plan for her breakthrough album. Early fans caught glimpses of Wrice’s soulful niche on EPs Stay Around and Good Morning along with intermittent singles, but during a chance meeting with multi-instrumentalist and production extraordinaire D’Mile, Wrice rediscovered her sound.

“I looked him up and I saw that he’s produced some of my favorite records by Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, and he worked with Rodney Jerkins,” Wrice said of D’Mile, who later played a central role in executive producing debut albums by R&B vocalists Lucky Daye and Victoria Monét. “He’s so open and knows how to make music that can share the spirit of what you’re feeling — not everyone can do that. Some people will just share with you what they think sounds good, but what I love about D’Mile is that there’s a much deeper connection with the music that you’re creating.”

Logan Williamson

Sessions with D’Mile became a form of therapy for Wrice. Further pushing her songwriting skills became an outlet for the singer’s self-expression and vulnerability. The singer wanted Overgrown to not only be a testament to communicating her needs in a relationship, but for women listeners to assume control over their self-worth.

“I hope that [women] can know that we have control and it’s not the end of the world if this person does not want to be with us, or they’re not compatible with us,” she said. “I don’t want to compromise my happiness just to please another person. It’s important to speak up, to do it in the most productive and value-creating way possible.”

Although Wrice was used to singing ballads and mid-tempo songs, her manager encouraged her to make upbeat records for an eventual return to music festivals and touring. Wanting to prove her versatility on Overgrown, Wrice tapped producers Kaytranada, Mndsgn, and Devin Morrison for highlight interludes, along with features by fellow vocalists Masego, Lucky Daye, Freddie Gibbs, and Westside Gunn — whom she collaborated with on “French Toast” from 2020 album Pray for Paris.

“I realized that I wanted to make energetic records, I wanted to do records where it’s just me and the piano, I wanted to do interludes that don’t have me involved at all, or interludes that have me involved with a producer that doesn’t sing. [Overgrown] doesn’t have structure. It’s unorthodox to the ‘formula’ of how music should be,” Wrice said. Setting firm boundaries and putting herself first on “Losing,” the production winds down, blending into mellow, guitar-tinged song “You,” where Wrice admits to longing for a wayward lover. The title track, a standout piano ballad, was crafted with singer-songwriter and producer Mack Keane, embodying Wrice’s anxieties in prevailing through her journey as a musician.

“For me, my garden, my emotions, my thoughts, they’re all full of a variety of colorful flowers, but they were being overrun by weeds. My garden was overgrown and it needed tending,” Wrice said. “Tending to that garden has allowed me to blossom, become the best version of myself and share my story.”

Rosé Is ‘On The Ground’ And Looking Up

By Ashlee Mitchell

It’s finally Rosé’s time to shine, and she’s ready to receive her flowers. The New Zealand-born, 24-year-old singer is a quarter of iconic K-pop girl group Blackpink, but she delivers enough for four on her first official solo effort. The main vocalist proves herself more than capable of holding her own with her two-song debut, R, which includes electropop lead single “On the Ground” and guitar-led ballad “Gone.” Both songs are sung entirely in English and give a refreshing new sound and vibe for Rosé as a performer who can stand alone.

As we catch up via Zoom, Rosé’s sweet and friendly tone reveals how she’s fierce in her own right, a “kill ‘em with kindness” type of girl. But her bright personality is only one reason she’s managed to steal Blinks’ hearts worldwide. “I’m most excited about how my fans will react, how they are feeling about my whole single,” she says with anticipation. She is the second Blackpink member to debut as a solo artist, following Jennie’s 2018 single “Solo.” Last October, the quartet released its first full studio album, The Album, to rave reviews, a No. 2 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, and plenty of fan propulsion. “This time around I think we really just tried to focus on a new sound and a straightforward and great message that we hope that our Blinks are needing right now.”

Fans were waiting earnestly; she easily set a record for most pre-orders for a female Korean soloist before release and broke Psy’s record for most-viewed Korean soloist music video in 24 hours. These achievements are well deserved, as Rosé has been awaiting this moment almost as eagerly as her fans. “I’ve been preparing my solo for a very, very long time, but I think the first time I recorded a song regarding my solo was three years ago,” she says, reminiscing on the process. “We’ve had multiple songs come in and out, and we’ve recorded this and that, this type of music, that type of music, and it’s taken a long journey to get where we are at, but honestly, I think I just wanted to find a song that introduced me the best to the world.”

A big part of that introduction is the ephemeral “On the Ground” music video, which boasts glamorous outfits and scenery straight from a dream, including plenty of pink, flower fields, and a staircase to heaven. Rosé calls it “a collage of representations of me” spanning marquees and stages as well as blockbuster pyrotechnics. Yet it’s intimately centered on her. “I think the director really tried to portray a timeline of myself, since the song does have the key [phrase] ‘whole life.’ I’ve worked my whole life, and so I think he really tried to present the past and present version of myself, and he wanted to see a collided world in that sense.” As far as Rosé is concerned, it’s already iconic. “Every time I watch it, I still get chills watching some scenes.”

In late January, Rosé debuted her other new track, the emotional “Gone,” early for fans at Blackpink’s virtual concert The Show, garnering over 280,000 live viewers. “I recorded ‘Gone’ like two years ago. To be honest, I was very eager to put it out there and give it to my fans,” she explains. “I felt like it would be a very special thing to be able to sing my own song at my concert since I do know that a lot of my fans were waiting for that moment. Since we were preparing for it and we had just shot the video, we thought, why not give them a sneak peek of the video and kind of perform it for the first time? And I think it went well.” She sang the song alongside a guitarist while sitting on a swing set, allowing her angelic vocals to steal the show.

Both songs contain introspective, honest lyrics that capture Rosé’s humble and shy personality behind her striking star power. Though she and her group often feel bigger than life, she hopes this solo debut serves as a reintroduction, and a way to humanize herself for the fans. “I think I just want them to know that I’m no different than anyone else. I have the same thoughts in life, go through the same phases, and just like, I’m a lost soul too sometimes.” She speaks softly, choosing her words with care. “I just wanted my fans to kind of learn that I’m just as human as everybody else, and I can relate to a lot of things that everybody may be going through at this time.”

With lyrics like, “All my love is gone and the hate has grown / Standing all alone and I’m searching for something” on “Gone,” it’s apparent Rosé is ready to open up and embrace vulnerability. “On the Ground” provides the perfect contrast, taking a more confident stance, reminding listeners of the importance of being true to yourself. Rosé’s soulful delivery of the message makes it resonate even more.

For Rosé, one of the biggest pop stars in the world, being true to her fans is likewise important, and she says she paid attention to their conversations in the lead-up to her solo debut. “That whole process was very interesting, looking at all the fans’ reactions, seeing them talk about what kind of song they think I will be coming out with, what kind of performance I would be having, what kind of genre I’d be coming out with,” she says, then laughs. “It was fun to kind of look at that process of how they had waited for my solo, and to also see me kind of develop my own style of music until I released it.” Her radiant energy makes it hard not to root for her, and this new chapter is obviously one she’s immensely proud of.

As she reminds me, even with all the work she did to get to this place, her debut is just the beginning. “My homework is now to explore more as a solo artist,” she says. “I just started, the song has only just come out, I’m sure I have a long journey ahead of me. … I have a lot of different types of genre songs that I already have archived, so I mean, I guess what my next step is — the world’s the limit.”

Imagine Dragons And Rob McElhenney Are Shirtless Pros In ‘Follow You’ Video

Being in a band is tricky. When you start out, you can’t take yourself too seriously or you won’t be flexible enough to deal with the inevitable challenges. And when you do get big — which almost never happens — you want to be taken seriously, but if you’re too serious, you risk alienating people. That’s why Imagine Dragons‘s goofy as hell new video for “Follow You” is such a feat. It’s relentlessly self-ribbing, but it also showcases the band doing what they do at the top of their game.

It also has major help from two extremely funny people: Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. That alone is enough to puncture the veneer of a Serious Rock Band, but Imagine Dragons go further, with band leader Dan Reynolds stripping off his shirt and making an idiot of himself on a few occasions. Nicely done, Dan!

McElhenney, who knows a thing or two about performing shirtless dances onstage, commits to this video in a way you have to admire, but Olson might be the real MVP for how she gets to sit back and watch it all (apart from one brief, incredible moment that’s effectively an Easter egg). If that wasn’t enough, the band dunks on itself by invoking their fellow Las Vegas arena champs The Killers in a genuinely funny bit at the top of the clip.

“Follow You” — and its extremely well-done video from Matt Eastin — comes ahead of Imagine Dragons’s forthcoming fifth studio album, also set to include “Cutthroat,” a song that came out of Reynolds’s experiences with ayahuasca. “Follow You” is the soft side of “Cutthroat”‘s fury, and Reynolds recently told Rolling Stone it’s one of the few love songs the band has, inspired by him reuniting with his wife, Aja.

“‘Follow You’ is about loyalty,” he told the magazine. “It’s inspired by the Beach Boys, which I grew up on, and it was a very playful, fun song.”

As far as husband-and-wife reunions go, the “Follow You” video also allows McElhenney and Olson, who’ve been married for 13 years, to have a night out together and watch some live music. What a dream. Watch it above.

Taylor Swift Thanks The Real-Life James, Inez, And Betty In Album Of The Year Speech

A few hours ago, she took the Grammys to the woods with a hybrid Folklore/Evermore medley performance. And as the night wound down to its final (and top) prizes, Taylor Swift was rewarded for such a journey with a golden gramophone.

Yes, the Recording Academy awarded Folklore, Swift’s surprise return-to-roots quarantine album, the Album of the Year trophy. The folk album’s win punctuated one of the most unusual years in the Recording Academy’s history, and Swift mentioned the origins of Folklore‘s 16 tracks in her acceptance speech. “I had the best time writing songs with you in quarantine,” she said, thanking her partner, Joe Alwyn.

She led by thanking “all of my collaborators,” including recording engineers Jonathan Low and Laura Sisk and co-producer Jack Antonoff, who joined her onstage to accept, as well as Justin Vernon — who sings on “Exile.” “I’m so excited to meet you someday,” she said, nodding to the album’s cohesion despite being constructed of remotely recorded parts.

Swift also thanked one of her album’s co-writers — Alwyn — by name and said he’s “the first person I play every single song I write.” (Alwyn is credited on “Exile” as well as “Betty.”) Notably, she also thanked the real-life namesakes of three characters on the album: James, Inez, and Betty, daughters of her pals Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. Reynolds and Lively are, Swift said, “the second and third people I play every new song that I write [for].”

She ended by thanking her fans for going on the adventure with her: “You guys met us in this imaginary world that we created, and we can’t tell you how honored we are forever.”

Before Swift spoke, Dessner offered his thanks and called her “one of the greatest living songwriters,” likewise shouting out the crew of collaborators as well as his family, including twin brother, his bandmate in The National and Folklore orchestrator, Bryce.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Folklore beat out a stacked field of fellow nominees, including Jhené Aiko’s R&B and soul odyssey of self Chilombo; Black Pumas’s electrifying, psychedelic self-titled debut; Coldplay’s reinvigorated dispatch from the other side of the world Everyday Life; Jacob Collier’s subterranean stacked-pop statement Djesse Vol. 3; Haim’s dazzling reintroduction Women in Music Pt. III; Dua Lipa’s showstopping nu-disco opus Future Nostalgia; and Post Malone’s full-stop pop crossover Hollywood’s Bleeding.

Find all the night’s winners right here.