Archive For The “Music” Category

Ariana Grande's 'No Tears Left To Cry' Pushes Past Grief

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Ariana Grande's 'No Tears Left To Cry' Pushes Past Grief

Ariana Grande in the Dave Meyers-directed music video for “No Tears Left to Cry.”

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The lead-in to Ariana Grande‘s comeback single, as per most pop diva returns, was ecstatic. Memes abounded online — of her cryptic, upside-down tweets, her low-slung ponytail. She rolled out a preview of her voice in an echo chamber of melisma. It’s a traditional pop roll-out, except with the gravity of loss and tragedy still hanging in the air.

“No Tears Left To Cry” comes as Grande’s first single since the bombing at her Manchester concert in May of last year, which killed 22 people and injured 59. There are slight cues to signify that these horrors continue to occupy her: the rainbow that crests her cheek on the single’s artwork, perhaps a callback to the “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” cover from her One Love Manchester performance; a butterfly flutters in the music video’s final moments, which, as noted by the BBC, serves as an emblem for Manchester.

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If nothing else, “No Tears” eases Ariana Grande back into the public eye as a capital-P pop star without the weight of the Manchester tragedies breaking her. She feints through much of the song, for better or worse, turning a devastating, world-shattering moment into subject matter suited for a Max Martin production (here joined by Ilya Salmanzadeh). Grande addresses a “babe” as she gravitates toward “another mentality.” She’s “out here vibin’.” The vagaries can be read as indirectness, as is the “Show Me Love“-lite thump that underpins her still-sterling voice.

So too can the Dave Meyers-directed music video, which runs with the idea of the world toppling over and places it into aesthetic chaos. It’s the sort of visual that lends itself to plausible deniability. Grande struts and traipses across a brooding, topsy-turvy cityscape in one cut, is tessellated in shimmering lipstick and ensnared in a web of string lights elsewhere. In one particularly odd scene, she takes off her face and hangs it up with a collective of other faces.

“No Tears Left to Cry” isn’t a return-to-form filled with pop diva largess. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s the sign of Grande moving forward, her private grief turning into catharsis to be blasted on the airwaves.

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That's A Wrap: Kanye's Koans, K-Dot's Prize, Drake's 'Scorpion,' J. Cole's 'K.O.D.'

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That's A Wrap: Kanye's Koans, K-Dot's Prize, Drake's 'Scorpion,' J. Cole's 'K.O.D.'

Kanye West returned to Twitter this week to post aphorisms… and announce several new albums, including one from Pusha-T (left).

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Yeezy Season 3

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Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Yeezy Season 3

Forget that old adage about hip-hop being a product of the streets. Nowadays, if you really want to keep your finger on the pulse, you better follow the tweets.

Consider the events this week in rap as exhibits A, B, C and D: In the last five days, three of the biggest, most elusive names in rap have taken to social media to tease fans with forthcoming album release dates, while rap’s reigning G.O.A.T. collected the big cheese.

It all started on Monday, when Kendrick Lamar won a damn Pulitzer Prize in music, the first of its kind awarded to any artist outside of classical or jazz. Word spread like wildfire on the web.

The same day, Drake announced on Instagram the forthcoming June release of Scorpion, which everybody instantly assumed to be an album, because why else would he have it screenprinted on the back of a shiny black jacket? (He later confirmed those assumptions to Rolling Stone.)

Later that same night, J. Cole, whose fans are well-adapted to his unannounced releases, tweeted out the details of a surprise listening show at New York’s Gramercy Theatre — “No phones, no cameras, no bags, no press list not guest list” — where he previewed his new 12-track album K.O.D., before announcing its Friday release five hours later.

Oh, and Kanye West returned to Twitter, spitting out the deepest aphorisms this side of Deepak Chopra. (“Some people have to work within the existing consciousness while some people can shift the consciousness,” is my personal fave. Go ahead and guess which one Kanye considers himself.) In an interview with his interior designer Alex Vervoordt, ‘Ye promised his own philosophy book was on the way. By Wednesday, he’d informed us that the tweets we were consuming were, in fact, the book: “oh by the way this is my book that I’m writing in real time,” he tweeted, because, why not?

The news everyone was waiting for — and the only reason Kanye ever returns to Twitter — finally came Thursday when he cryptically tweeted a few release dates: “my album is seven tracks,” he posted. “June 1.”

Kanye didn’t stop there, confirming a slew of GOOD Music release dates, including his long-rumored collaborative album with Kid Cudi (the duo now known as Kids See Ghosts) for June 8; Teyana Taylor for June 22; and Pusha T for May 25. (NPR Music has reached out to Def Jam in an attempt to confirm Kanye’s release dates.)

Coming from Kanye, of course, these dates could mean anything. Or nothing. His last major release, Life Of Pablo, got pushed back several times from his originally announced release date, and he continued to tweak the album long after its exclusive release on streaming platform Tidal.

But such is the ephemeral nature of hip-hop — or politics — today, where the formality of press releases has been usurped by the immediacy of informal tweets, complete with typos, unconfirmed info and the likelihood that all can be deleted at an artist’s whim. (Surprise, snitches!) You almost have to wonder if the genre’s biggest artists got together and plotted out this week in advance, you know, for the culture. If so, it’s the biggest troll ever.

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Lykke Li's Two New Songs Dance At The Edges Of Pop Music

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Lykke Li's Two New Songs Dance At The Edges Of Pop Music

Lykke Li’s so sad so sexy comes out June 8.

Chloe Le Drezen/Courtesy of the artist

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Lykke Li has always found her own path through pop music. She is and isn’t a part of that landscape, instead dancing along its edges where the grass grows wild. There was her whimsical, indie-electro debut from a decade ago, Youth Novel, the wide-ranging but altogether rollicking Wounded Rhymes, and 2014’s I Never Learn, which closed a conceptual trilogy, with anthemic production very much of its time, yet intimately reined in by Li’s voice.

In June, the Swedish artist will release so sad so sexy, and after listening to its first two singles, it’s clear Li has absorbed pop’s recent obsessions with the kind of care that comes from deep listening. “Hard Rain” finds her in lonely-in-the-woods-with-AutoTune mode, something James Blake or Bon Iver might make with a fire roaring somewhere nearby. Instead of loudly announcing her newfound love for trap music with bombast (as is often a pop singer’s wont), “Deep End” employs the triple-time subdivided beat with a dreamy sheen, simmering in its nodding rhythm — plus, it’s such a delight to hear Lykke Li sing, “Bae, you burned me / Your kiss is salty chlorine.”

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so sad so sexy comes out June 8 via RCA Records.

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Los Tigres Del Norte Perform At Folsom Prison 50 Years After Johnny Cash

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Los Tigres Del Norte Perform At Folsom Prison 50 Years After Johnny Cash

Norteñoband Los Tigres del Norte became the first free musicians to play at Folsom Prison since Johnny Cash did 50 years ago.

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The Thistle & Shamrock: The Road Of Tears

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The Thistle & Shamrock: The Road Of Tears

This week’s episode of The Thistle & Shamrock features music by Battlefield Band.

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John Slavin/Courtesy of the artist

Although the scenes of immigration may change, the tragedies of displaced people are replayed with each passing year. Fiona Ritchie’s selections this week include traditional broadsheet ballads and music hall choruses from artists like Dolores Keane, Mick Moloney, and Battlefield Band.

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Squirrel Nut Zippers On World Cafe

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Squirrel Nut Zippers On World Cafe
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  • “Beasts Of Burgundy”
  • “Fade”
  • “West Of Zanzibar”

If you hate fun, now would be the time move on to another session. My guests on the show today are the members of Squirrel Nut Zippers.

The band just released Beasts of Burgundy, its first new album of original material in 18 years. At the helm of this motley crew is Jimbo Mathus — he’s the one consistent member of Squirrel Nut Zippers and the ringleader who put together what he makes clear is a revival, not a reunion. The current incarnation features a new cast of characters, including slinky and powerful singer Cella Blue, multi-instrumentalist Dr. Sick, a horn section and the matching suits of a big band paired with the feather, flounce and costume changes of cabaret.

The original lineup of Squirrel Nut Zippers broke through a sea of rock and pop in the ’90s to put hot jazz and swing on the charts; you might remember its hit from that era, “Hell.” But along with the new lineup comes a new batch of tunes that Jimbo was eager to capture on a new record. The band kicks off its session here with the title track from Beasts of Burgundy, and the first sound you’ll hear comes from a saw; Dr. Sick, who plays it, will explain that later. Hear it all in the audio player.

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Dump Your Boyfriend, Scream Along To GRLwood's Hooky 'Bisexual'

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Dump Your Boyfriend, Scream Along To GRLwood's Hooky 'Bisexual'

GRLwood.

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Jordan Lanham/Courtesy of the artist

When Joey Ramone sang, “I wanna be your boyfriend,” The Ramones tapped into bubblegum pop’s naïveté with a rosy-cheeked hiccup. When GRLwood’s Rej Forester sings the line, at first with a little nod to Joey’s Buddy Holly impression, she eventually screams it with all of the pent-up rage of someone who just wants a woman to dump her dude, but also is pretty damn tired of being ignored by society.

BISEXUAL by GRLwood

GRLwood’s debut album Daddy “challenges social norms and taboo topics relating to sexuality and heteronormative social structure,” Forester says.

After a demo and an EP, “Bisexual” is the album’s first single. It lulls you into the Louisville duo’s hooky, self-deprecating, surf-inspired punk before tearing you apart. When guitarist Rej Forester and drummer Karen Ledford hit the refrain, you quickly understand why they call their cathartic and fun music “scream-pop.”


Daddy will be out on sonaBLAST! Records sometime this year.

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Kendrick Lamar's 'DAMN.' Wins Historic Pulitzer Prize In Music

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Kendrick Lamar's 'DAMN.' Wins Historic Pulitzer Prize In Music

Kendrick Lamar in 2015. The rapper was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

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Since (at least) the release of good kid, m.A.A.d. city in 2012, the singularity of Kendrick Lamar has been plainly evident. But with the Pulitzer Prize in Music for 2018 being given to the Compton rapper for his 2017 album DAMN., his exceptionalism is now officially historic: It’s the first time in the prize’s history that it has been given to an artist outside of the classical or jazz community.

“A virtuosic song collection,” the Pulitzer board writes of DAMN., “unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” In addition to topping many year-end best lists (including ours), DAMN. was awarded five Grammys, though it lost out on album of the year to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic.

The recognition comes on the heels of growing acceptance of hip-hop from reigning cultural institutions over the past year, including LL Cool J becoming the first hip-hop artist to be acknowledged by the Kennedy Center Honors and Jay-Z the first rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (as well as giving an in-depth interview to the executive editor of The New York Times).

Lamar was awarded the Pulitzer over co-finalists Michael Gilbertson and his string Quartet and Ted Hearne’s cantata Sound from the Bench. This year’s music jurors were: violinist Regina Carter; Paul Cremo, a director at The Metropolitan Opera; Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor of English, comparative literature and African-American studies at Columbia University; David Hadju, music critic for The Nation; and David Lang, a composer. The winner receives a $15,000 prize.

Lamar also recently presided over another ambitious, if commercially and artistically motivated, artistic vehicle with Black Panther: The Album.

Other Pulitzer winners this year included The New York Times and The New Yorker for their journalism, breaking the Harvey Weinstein scandal and kicking off the #MeToo movement and Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, by James Forman Jr., in general non-fiction writing.

DAMN. itself is — particularly when considered next to the looser, jazz-rooted musicality of Lamar’s album To Pimp A Butterfly from 2015 — a thoroughly modern document of hip-hop’s present and near future, in both sound and narrative scope. In it Lamar questions his own motivations and those of the culture which helped make and define him (and that very nearly unmade him as a young man), the paranoia of success and the process of acceptance, all framed within bleeding-edge productions and nuanced sequencing. Late last year, Lamar released a “collector’s edition” of DAMN. with the original album’s tracklist reversed — played back-to-front it revealed even more of the album’s shifting, contrasting revelations of self.

“Both of these pieces,” Lamar said of the album’s duality, “are who I am.”

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Philadelphia District Attorney's Office Recommends A New Trial For Meek Mill

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Philadelphia District Attorney's Office Recommends A New Trial For Meek Mill

Meek Mill in 2015. In a hearing today, April 16, 2018, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office voiced its support for the rapper receiving a new trial over a 2007 drug and guns case. His judge, however, has so far been unwilling to consider any legal dispensations.

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Rob Kim/Getty Images for WatchLOUD.com

During a brief status hearing Monday, prosecutors said — for the first time — that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office wants to grant the rapper a new trial over drug and gun charges filed against him in 2007 because of questions over the credibility of the arresting officer, Reginald Graham, raised by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

Graham is said to have allegedly provided false testimony during Mill’s first trial.

“We’re elated,” said Brian McMonagle, one of Mill’s lawyers. “We anticipate that he should be released immediately.”

Assistant District Attorney Liam Riley declined a request for comment after the hearing, tough his office has said it would not oppose Mill’s release on bail, a position which also drew support from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.

Mill, who was not in court, has been behind bars since early November after Common Pleas Court Judge Genece Brinkley sentenced him to 2-4 years in prison for violating his probation. The decision has sparked months of public outrage directed at Brinkley and the country’s criminal justice system more generally. Support for Mill has also led to athletes, sports executives and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney visiting him in prison.

Brinkley has said in court documents that sending Mill to prison for violating his probation was not “excessive” based on his behavior while she’s presided over the case, including charges tied to an altercation at an airport in St. Louis and popping a wheelie on a dirt bike while filming a music video in New York.

The airport charges were dismissed. The dirtbike charges were also dismissed as part of a court deal.

On Monday, a curt Brinkley refused to hear arguments for releasing Mill on bail, and instead scheduled another hearing for June 18.

McMonagle and lawyer Joe Tacopina, who also represents Mill, have previously said they would be filing motions to a higher court to try and free their client.

“Now, the fact that he’s not out on bail is even more egregious and more outrageous, because the District Attorney’s Office just agreed that this conviction should be overturned,” said Tacopina.

Even if Mill, 30, is released, it will be up to Brinkley to decide if he should get a new trial. If she approves, the District Attorney’s Office has the option of dropping the case.

Mill’s supporters gathered Monday outside the Criminal Justice Center for a rain-soaked rally.

“It’s not just about Meek Mill. It’s for every single person locked up in these cages that can’t have a news camera, that don’t have expensive attorneys,” shouted Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill to a few dozen protesters.

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Beyoncé Marks Her Homecoming At Coachella 2018

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Beyoncé Marks Her Homecoming At Coachella 2018

Beyoncé headlines 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 on Saturday, in Indio, Calif.

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Just as Coachella Music and Arts Festival sets the bar for every other American music festival of the summer, Beyoncé recurringly sets the bar for every other performer.

A year after postponing her headlining set in 2017 due to pregnancy, Beyoncé treated her return to the stage like a family reunion, homecoming pep rally and a Beyhive-unifying rebel yell before heading into battle.

To start off her two-hour show, Queen Bey evoked the spirit of another member of black royalty, Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, appearing in a custom Balmain gold-crusted cape and headdress.

While a dance brass band and drum line drew the audience’s eye and ear, Bey made a quick change into denim shorts, a college-crested hoodie and iridescent fringe boots. She ran through two decades of her hits while ascending a pyramid of bleachers, employed color guard dancers and baton twirlers who moved in precision to every note, and even had a pseudo-college step show reminiscent of a historically black fraternity performance.

More than an hour into the show, Bey inexplicably caught her second wind (without ever really losing her first one) by ushering her husband, rapper Jay-Z, onstage for a preview of the couple’s upcoming summer tour On The Run II.

She kept the family love flowing by inviting her former Destiny’s Child members — “my sisters” — Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams onstage for a medley of their early aughts hits like “Lose My Breath.” And Solange’s cameo appearance for a “Get Me Bodied” tick fight with Bey set a new standard for sibling goals.

As the first black woman to headline Coachella in the fest’s 19-year history, Bey also took the opportunity to pay homage to black leaders and visionaries who’ve inspired her own artistry.

Music and speech clips from Nina Simone, Maya Angelou and Malcolm X worked as audible dog-ears for switching performance paths, while conscious hip-hop fans in the crowd welcomed dance breakdowns to songs by Southern rap legends like Master P, Pastor Troy, Fast Life Yungstaz. A cover of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — a song affectionately referred to as the “Black National Anthem” — made an unapologetic statement of strength and resilience.

With this highly conceptual headlining performance marking the star’s reintroduction to the world after having twins, Beyoncé not only raised the bar for herself but for every other festival artist this year.

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