Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (2024)

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (1)

interview

With two GRAMMY nominations in two different Categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs, Coi Leray is already proving to be a versatile artist. But as she promises, she's building a brand much bigger than her music.

Taylor Crumpton

|GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2024 - 03:00 pm

Even after a flight and an hours-long photo shoot, Coi Leray exudes brightness and warmth as she discusses her monumental year. She carries a vibrant energy that matches her music — all of which is reminiscent of hip-hop's beginnings and bright future.

Leray brought that vitality to "A GRAMMY to 50 Years of Hip Hop," where she held her own among genre legends with a dynamic performance of her smash hit, "Players." Exactly one month prior to the Dec. 10 event, Leray added another milestone to her booming career: her first GRAMMY nominations.

"Players" earned Leray a nod for Best Rap Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs, where she's also nominated in the new Best Pop Dance Recording Category, for her collaboration with David Guetta and Anne-Marie, "Baby Don't Hurt Me."

"One of the biggest things and accomplishments for me as a artist is for people to know me and admire my versatility," Coi told the Recording Academy. "To be nominated for two of my voices — my melodic, my rap, my singing — it's a dream come true. I wouldn't want it no other way."

Her versatility expands outside of her music, too. From her signature braided hairstyle to launching her own beauty and haircare products, the New Jersey-raised rapper is also building a name for herself in the fashion and beauty industries. What's more, Leray has entered the philanthropic space as well, with plans to launch her mental-health-focused Camp Courage World Foundation later this year.

Even just a few years into her career, Leray is steadfast in leaving a multi-faceted legacy for herself — one that takes inspiration from icons like Beyoncé and J.Lo, but feels uniquely hers. And while she sees herself in every business venture, the rapper vows for one thing to remain true: she'll always be having fun.

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Leray sat down with GRAMMY.com to discuss what she learned in 2023 — and how her breakthrough year was the perfect setup for a long career.

Congratulations on a wonderful year — from receiving your first GRAMMY nominations for "Players" and "Baby Don't Hurt Me" to opening up for Beyoncé at the Renaissance World Tour in Los Angeles. How would you describe 2023 for you?

This year was the icing on the cake to what my future entails. You know with "Players" being nonstop on the radio, getting nominated to all these big award shows, performing on Beyoncé's stage, and getting a written letter from Beyoncé.

She told me that she's been watching me grow. It shows how hard I have been working. Most importantly, it shows them what to look forward to in the future. I feel like I'm one of those artists that is going to be here for a very, very long time.

As you described, "Players" has maintained a chart-topping position since its release. The single has a sweeter meaning to it because you are paying homage to the rappers, such as The Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, who have come before you. The group has even publicly thanked you for re-introducing them to the younger generation.

I wanted to ask about your decision to pay homage to them, because we exist in an era where a majority of songs have samples, but few artists go out of their way to pay respect to the pioneering artists.

I feel like it is my job to educate the youth as much as possible.

I'll be 27 in May. As I get older, I remember when I was 16, 13, 10, 18, 21. Everything that you hear now is inspired by so many great artists, such as Busta Rhymes and The Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five; those icons in hip-hop made a huge statement. What's derived from Busta's creativity, his flows, his music videos and everything — a lot of kids have to understand the music they hear today and the videos they see are inspired by him and that's where it came from.

I remember the moment where I sat down and listened to Sade. She has one of the most beautiful tones in the music industry, and one of my biggest inspirations. When I go to the studio, I try to master my tone, my melodies, and my voice. Sade helped me grow, and [I] realize how big she is to hip-hop, the industry, and music in general.

All the icons study music. The way in which you spoke about developing your melodies and voice speaks to that, and shows your dedication to the craft. Another icon that you have spoken of in high regard and worked with is Pharrell Williams.

He's not only an icon in music, but fashion as well. You sat front row at his debut collection for Louis Vuittion and have become a regular attendee for other notable luxury fashion houses. Are you carving out your own path as an entertainer who has one foot in music and the other in fashion?

I have always been into fashion. I have been building my brand. To me, it's bigger than being an artist. It helps me build my brand.

I've been building my relationship with YSL. When I landed my Fendi by Marc Jacobs campaign, I was on the frontpage of Fendi's website, alongside Kendall Jenner. I have done Fashion weeks and been dressed by amazing designers, like Jeremy Scott at Moschino, Alexander Wang, AREA, Diesel, and more.

As I continue to elevate and and my music continues to grow, "TWINNEM" ended up on the charts, the success of "Players" and to land with Pharrell, then sit front row at Louis Vuitton; it just shows how much I have been progressing.

It's also a reminder that through all the hate and negativity that I am going through, even my personal tribulations, it's those moments that make me realize, "Yo! You are a star!" and this is happening in real life. Whether it's next week, next month, you're elevating.

The weekend where I sat front row at Louis Vuitton, I was in the studio with Pharrell. We made four records. I learned so much in my 24 hours with him. I built the most amazing relationship. Pharrell is a mastermind not only when it comes to not only fashion, but when it comes to music.

2024 GRAMMYs: Meet The Nominees

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In previous interviews, you referred to yourself as a "walking brand." As of late, you have garnered partnerships with brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Tommy Hilfiger, Ray-Ban, and more. In your interview with Angie Martinez, you mentioned the possibility of a haircare line. I would like to hear more about the business components of your brand and how you are building an empire, adjacent to the music industry?

I have always had braids since I was a kid. When I did my first song, "Huddy," and throughout the beginning of my career, I always wore braids. I always had my baby hairs out.

It was important to me when I signed my deal to make sure that I'm good in the long run. So I sat down and thought about, what is going to help me be a better person?

Create longevity. Create an asset.

As much as I did my baby hairs, I ended up inventing a baby hair brush. I'm just getting my first mold. It's been a process because I want this brush to be perfect, and it's crazy because once it's complete, I want to go add something else. It's a learning process, and it feels so good to be able to financially invest into myself, grow my brand, continue to learn, have errors, make mistakes at this age and in my career.

I got my first top 10, but I never got a top five. I'm aiming bigger and everything is on God's timing. With my branding, my music and my YouTube series, "Cooking with Coi Leray," my skincare products, and my nail line products that's coming, it's all going to come in perfect timing because everything's on God's timing.

It brings me joy to hear a young woman artist, especially a Black woman, discuss their plans on building their legacy and ensuring longevity for the duration of their career. I saw this in your decision to have Trendsetter Studios, your creative agency, direct the music video for "Players." Could you walk me through the decision making process to start your agency?

I started Trendsetter Studios because I have always been into content. I've always been the creator behind everything I do. They say that I'm big on TikTok and a lot of these platforms, which I am, and I take pride in it because I'm good at what I do.

I'm great at making content. I'm great in front of the camera. I love the camera. When I signed my deal, I invested in a lot of equipment because I knew this is something. When I want to do a video, I want to be able to just grab the camera whenever I want to. Be able to create my own thing.

There's so many music videos up that Trendsetter Studios produced. I'm very grateful for my team. We're still learning. We're still growing.

It's still in development. The goal and the key is longevity, having access and being able to build, do what you want, when you want, and how you want it.

**When you look at the projects you have worked on in 2023, such as "Self-Love" on Spiderman: Across The Spider-Verse soundtrack and your sophom*ore album, Coi. What are some lessons that you've learned from those projects that you're going to apply in 2024?**

I learned to have fun. This [past] year, I kind of got wrapped up in it. It's hard to not get wrapped up in the political stuff or the numbers or the fans. I don't pay attention to the negative comments and stuff like that. But, it was at a point where I was paying attention to what someone else wanted versus myself.

I realized, in 2024, I'm only catering to what I want to do. I'm going to live in my truth. I'm going to keep growing as a young lady, as a young woman. Do what I want to do, and keep making great music, and just have fun, not get too wrapped up in the other stuff.

I want to have fun. Life is about having fun, and I'm at an age where I need to have fun. In 2024, we're having fun, and I feel like everybody's gonna feel that in my music, in my videos, in my vlogs, and whatever it is I'm doing, they're gonna feel that energy, and I'm gonna make sure of that, because that's the goal.

It seems to be a trend that icons release self-titled albums. 2023 was the 10-year anniversary of Beyoncé's self-titled album. When you look back at Coi, an album that will always be synonymous with you, where do you place that album in your legacy as an artist?

It's gonna be here forever. It's gonna be one of those records where people are gonna go back and they're going to be like "Yo, what the hell?!"and I know that because it's such an amazing body of work.

I write through experience, so as I go through new experiences, as I learn new things in the studio or work with more amazing creatives — creatives in all aspects, whether they're producers, engineers, songwriters, videographers, directors, creative directors, labels. As I'm working with all those people. I'm learning and every single time I just end up scoring better.

My next body of work is always my best body of work, but that doesn't mean take away the greatness from that work. It just means that I've been elevating in every single way. Coi is one of those projects where I elevated it, it has amazing music just like Trendsetter.

The more I create and the bigger I get, the more people will go back, listen, and really appreciate the body of work for what it is.

You have not only achieved success domestically, but internationally with high placements on the Global and K-Pop charts, as well as participating in Paris and Milan fashion weeks. You have crossed over to being a well-known performer across the world. You're a girl from Jersey who has received global recognition. How does that feel for you?

Recognition is dope. When you go over to places like Australia and Paris, they treat you like a major star. The love over there is immaculate. I get really inspired overseas. There's so many great things.

For example, Paris has so many great music video directors. Their music videos are insane. I had to go out there to really understand that.

It made me want to be the voice that when I come to America, "I'm like, I want to use more videographers so people can see how amazing they are too." It's a blessing to be able to travel.

You mentioned a desire to work with music video directors in Paris and abroad. You have already worked with international talents such as David Guetta and TOMORROW X TOGETHER. It seems you are pivoting yourself as an entertainer who uses music to bridge the gap between these cultures.

Well, David Guetta is an incredible artist.

He is a mastermind when it comes to the studio, and I want to continue to work with David. We have an incredible relationship, and amazing chemistry in the studio. He's one of the first DJs to bring hip-hop and EDM together. That's another life experience for me that I'm going to remember forever.

You know, being a young Black queen in the music industry and being able to have so much versatility, it allows me to collaborate with so many great artists. David Guetta, he's a mastermind. That's another way to educate the young kids on David Guetta too. I know he's already a major, but they don't know the history.

Some people might not know the history, and I feel like it's important. David Guetta getting nominated with me — I'm getting nominated with my rap song and the pop electronic recording record. It's just a dream come true, I'm telling you.

**In your music video for "Wasted" with Taylor Hill from Blue Moon, you showed a side of you that is different from your previous works. The video displayed a tender and vulnerable side of you. Can we expect to see more of that from you in 2024?**

I can admit that I haven't done my best at showing that side. I was under my rock a little bit, but I promised to myself that in 2024 I am going to show more of my process, bring people into my world, my fans, and I think I owe it to my fans 1000%. I think that they want to know Coi Leray outside of Instagram, The Shade Room, social media, and blogs.

I want them to also understand who I am as a woman, as a person. Music is important, but relationships are important. Just as much to me, and I admire that.

Read More: Women In Hip-Hop: 7 Trailblazers Whose Behind-The-Scenes Efforts Define The Culture

Icons not only inspire us through music, but the way they invest in their community. In 2023, you organized a Thanksgiving Giveback in your hometown. What led you to start doing philanthropy efforts? I think people will always want to root for the girl who made it big and paid it forward.

That's why I started my Camp Courage World Foundation. I'm super excited to launch that at the top of 2024.

It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. I finally thought of an amazing name for it and I'm excited. We're focusing on mental health because I feel like that's something that I've dealt with my entire life, my childhood, growing up and now, and there's so many things that I do that I'm pretty sure that these girls would want to know and learn.

For example, just reading books and waking up every day, praying, finding my spirituality and sticking through it, staying consistent, going to church, even if they're not physical, online every Sunday, speaking to my pastors, my life coach, getting therapists, whatever it is that's going to make me better, that doesn't have me relate to anything that can self harm myself mentally, physically, financially, emotionally.

I'm excited for that launch because that's also going to be the next step in a big part of my career that I feel is one of the most important things.

Having major records is cute. That's fire. Everybody wants a number one record, but with that number one record, you want to be able to give back and inspire because, at that point, what are you doing it for?

Since your debut, conversations about your body, your image, and your contributions to hip-hop have been a point of contention in the cultural zeitgeist. It seems you have decided to take control of the narrative in the media and the press. Whether it is through the development of your brands or the creation of your talent agency, do you feel as if you are on a path of reclamation?

I'm taking control of it. I should be able to tell it. It's my life.

I was sitting down talking to my people. I had told them. I said, "Yo. 2024. The future is so bright that the only thing that can stop me is me."

A lot of people don't know what I go through outside of this stuff. I go through a lot, you know what I mean? But going through what I went through, it taught me a lot about myself.

I realized this year was all about self-awareness, and it prepped me for 2024. Like I said, I'm the only one that can get in my way.

It's about just staying focused, staying level-headed, staying consistent. And staying prayed up.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (32)

GRAMMY Award statue

Photo: Jathan Campbell

list

Here are seven facts to know about the actual cost and worth of a GRAMMY trophy, presented once a year by the Recording Academy at the GRAMMY Awards.

Morgan Enos

|GRAMMYs/May 1, 2024 - 04:23 pm

Since 1959, the GRAMMY Award has been music’s most coveted honor. Each year at the annual GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY-winning and -nominated artists are recognized for their musical excellence by their peers. Their lives are forever changed — so are their career trajectories. And when you have questions about the GRAMMYs, we have answers.

Here are seven facts to know about the value of the GRAMMY trophy.

How Much Does A GRAMMY Trophy Cost To Make?

The cost to produce a GRAMMY Award trophy, including labor and materials, is nearly $800. Bob Graves, who cast the original GRAMMY mold inside his garage in 1958, passed on his legacy to John Billings, his neighbor, in 1983. Billings, also known as "The GRAMMY Man," designed the current model in use, which debuted in 1991.

How Long Does It Take To Make A GRAMMY Trophy?

Billings and his crew work on making GRAMMY trophies throughout the year. Each GRAMMY is handmade, and each GRAMMY Award trophy takes 15 hours to produce.

Where Are The GRAMMY Trophies Made?

While Los Angeles is the headquarters of the Recording Academy and the GRAMMYs, and regularly the home of the annual GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY trophies are produced at Billings Artworks in Ridgway, Colorado, about 800 miles away from L.A.

Is The GRAMMY Award Made Of Real Gold?

GRAMMY Awards are made of a trademarked alloy called "Grammium" — a secret zinc alloy — and are plated with 24-karat gold.

How Many GRAMMY Trophies Are Made Per Year?

Approximately 600-800 GRAMMY Award trophies are produced per year. This includes both GRAMMY Awards and Latin GRAMMY Awards for the two Academies; the number of GRAMMYs manufactured each year always depends on the number of winners and Categories we award across both award shows.

Fun fact: The two GRAMMY trophies have different-colored bases. The GRAMMY Award has a black base, while the Latin GRAMMY Award has a burgundy base.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (33)

Photos: Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

How Much Does A GRAMMY Weigh?

The GRAMMY trophy weighs approximately 5 pounds. The trophy's height is 9-and-a-half inches. The trophy's width is nearly 6 inches by 6 inches.

What Is The True Value Of A GRAMMY?

Winning a GRAMMY, and even just being nominated for a GRAMMY, has an immeasurable positive impact on the nominated and winning artists. It opens up new career avenues, builds global awareness of artists, and ultimately solidifies a creator’s place in history. Since the GRAMMY Award is the only peer-voted award in music, this means artists are recognized, awarded and celebrated by those in their fields and industries, ultimately making the value of a GRAMMY truly priceless and immeasurable.

In an interview featured in the 2024 GRAMMYs program book, two-time GRAMMY winner Lauren Daigle spoke of the value and impact of a GRAMMY Award. "Time has passed since I got my [first] GRAMMYs, but the rooms that I am now able to sit in, with some of the most incredible writers, producers and performers on the planet, is truly the greatest gift of all."

"Once you have that credential, it's a different certification. It definitely holds weight," two-time GRAMMY winner Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter of the Roots added. "It's a huge stamp as far as branding, businesswise, achievement-wise and in every regard. What the GRAMMY means to people, fans and artists is ever-evolving."

As Billboard explains, artists will often see significant boosts in album sales and streaming numbers after winning a GRAMMY or performing on the GRAMMY stage. This is known as the "GRAMMY Effect," an industry phenomenon in which a GRAMMY accolade directly influences the music biz and the wider popular culture.

For new artists in particular, the "GRAMMY Effect" has immensely helped rising creators reach new professional heights. Samara Joy, who won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs, saw a 989% boost in sales and a 670% increase in on-demand streams for her album Linger Awhile, which won the GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Album that same night. H.E.R., a former Best New Artist nominee, saw a massive 6,771% increase in song sales for her hit “I Can’t Breathe” on the day it won the GRAMMY for Song Of The Year at the 2021 GRAMMYs, compared to the day before, Rolling Stone reports.

Throughout the decades, past Best New Artist winners have continued to dominate the music industry and charts since taking home the GRAMMY gold — and continue to do so to this day. Recently, Best New Artist winners dominated the music industry and charts in 2023: Billie Eilish (2020 winner) sold 2 million equivalent album units, Olivia Rodrigo (2022 winner) sold 2.1 million equivalent album units, and Adele (2009 winner) sold 1.3 million equivalent album units. Elsewhere, past Best New Artist winners have gone on to star in major Hollywood blockbusters (Dua Lipa); headline arena tours and sign major brand deals (Megan Thee Stallion); become LGBTIA+ icons (Sam Smith); and reach multiplatinum status (John Legend).

Most recently, several winners, nominees and performers at the 2024 GRAMMYs saw significant bumps in U.S. streams and sales: Tracy Chapman's classic, GRAMMY-winning single "Fast Car," which she performed alongside Luke Combs, returned to the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time since 1988, when the song was originally released, according to Billboard. Fellow icon Joni Mitchell saw her ‘60s classic “Both Sides, Now,” hit the top 10 on the Digital Song Sales chart, Billboard reports.

In addition to financial gains, artists also experience significant professional wins as a result of their GRAMMY accolades. For instance, after she won the GRAMMY for Best Reggae Album for Rapture at the 2020 GRAMMYs, Koffee signed a U.S. record deal; after his first GRAMMYs in 2014, Kendrick Lamar saw a 349% increase in his Instagram following, Billboard reports.

Visit our interactive GRAMMY Awards Journey page to learn more about the GRAMMY Awards and the voting process behind the annual ceremony.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (34)

Photo: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

(L-R) Billy Joel, Freddy Wexler

interview

"Part of what was so beautiful for me to see on GRAMMY night was the respect and adoration that people of all ages and from all genres have for Billy Joel," Wexler says of Joel's 2024 GRAMMYs performance of their co-written "Turn The Lights Back On."

Morgan Enos

|GRAMMYs/Feb 26, 2024 - 09:11 pm

They say to not meet your heroes. But when Freddy Wexler — a lifelong Billy Joel fan — did just that, it was as if Joel walked straight out of his record collection.

"I think the truth is none of it is that surprising," the 37-year-old songwriter and producer tells GRAMMY.com. "That's the best part. From his music, I would've thought this is a humble, brilliant everyman who probably walks around with a very grounded perspective, and that's exactly who he is."

That groundedness made possible "Turn the Lights Back On" — the hit comeback single they co-wrote, and Wexler co-produced; Joel performed a resplendent version at the 2024 GRAMMYs with Laufey. Joel hadn't released a pop album since 1993's River of Dreams; for him to return to the throne would take an awfully demonstrative song, true to his life.

"I think it's a very raw, honest, real perspective that is true to Billy," Wexler explains. "I think it's the first time we've heard him acknowledge mistakes and regret in quite this way."

Specifically, Joel's return highlights his regret over spending three decades mostly on the bench, largely absent from the pop scene. As Joel wonders aloud in the stirring, arpeggiated chorus, "Is there still time for forgiveness?"

"Forgiveness" is a curious word. Why would the five-time GRAMMY winner and 23-time nominee possibly need to seek forgiveness? Regardless — as the song goes — he's "tryin' to find the magic/ That we lost somehow." The song's message — an attempt to recapture a lost essence — transcends Joel's personal headspace, connecting with a universal longing and nostalgia.

Read on for an interview with Wexler about the impact of "Turn the Lights Back On," why he thinks Joel took such an extended sabbatical, the prospect of more new music, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

**You did a great interview with Rolling Stone ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs. Now, we're on the other side of it; you got to see how it went down on the telecast, and resonated with the audience and world. What was that like?**

It's why I make music — to hopefully make people feel something. This song has really resonated in such a big way. More than looking at its commercial success on the charts or on radio, which has been awesome to see, the comments on Instagram and YouTube have been the most rewarding part of it.

Why do you think it resonated? Beyond the king picking up his crown again?

I don't think the song is trying to be anything it's not. I think it's a very raw, honest, real perspective that is true to Billy. I think it's the first time we've heard him acknowledge mistakes and regret in quite this way. And to hear him do it in a hopeful way where he's asking, "Is it too late for forgiveness?" is just very moving, I think.

Forgiveness? That's interesting. What would any of us need to forgive him?

He has said in other interviews, "Sometimes people say they have no regrets at the end of their life." And he said, "I don't think that's possible. If you've lived a full life, of course you have regrets." He has said that he has many things he wishes he would've done differently. This is an opportunity to express that.

I think what's interesting about the song is it has found meaning in various ways with various people and listeners. Some people imagine Billy is singing to former lovers or friends. Other people imagine Billy is singing to his fans asking, "Did I wait too long to record again?" Other people wonder if Billy is singing to the songwriting Gods and muses. Did I wait too long to write again?

In Israel, where the song was number one — or is number one, I haven't checked today — I think the song's taken on the meaning of just wanting things to be normal, wanting hostages to come home and turn the lights back on. So, you never know where a song is going to resonate, but I think that Billy just found his own meaning with it.

You know the discography front to back. What lines can you draw from "Turn the Lights Back On" to past works?

I think it draws on various pieces of his catalog, right? "She's Always a Woman" has a sort of piano arpeggio in the chorus. To me, it feels like a natural progression. It feels like, on the one hand, it's a new song. On the other, it could have come out right after River of Dreams. To me, it just kind of feels natural.

**Back when you spoke with Rolling Stone, you said you couldn't wait to hear "Turn the Lights Back On" at Madison Square Garden. How'd it sound?**

Amazing. Billy is a consummate live performer. I think he's one of the few artists where everything is better live, and everything is always a little bit different each time it's played live.

It's been really cool to watch Billy and the band continue to change and improve the song and the song's dynamics for the show. He told me tonight that tomorrow night in Tampa, I think they're going to try to play with the key of the song, potentially — try it a half a step higher.

Those are the sort of things I think great artists do, right? It's different from being on a certain type of tour where every single song is the same, the set list is the same, the key is the same, the arrangements are the same.

With Billy, there's a lot of feeling and, "Hey, why don't we try it this way? Let's play it a little faster. Let's play it a little slower. Let's try it in a different key." I just think that's super cool. You have to be a really good musician to just do that on the fly.

What have you learned from him that applies to your music making, writ large?

I've learned so much from him. As Olivia Rodrigo said to us at GRAMMY rehearsals, "He's the blueprint when it comes to songwriting."

He has helped raise the bar for me when it comes to melodies and lyrics, but the thing I keep coming back to is he's reminded me that even the greatest artists and songwriters ever sometimes forget how great they are. I think we need to be careful not to give that inner voice and inner critic too much power.

Can you talk about how the music video came to be?

Well, I had a dream that Billy was singing the opening two lines of the song, but it was a 25-year-old version of Billy. It was arresting.

When I woke up, I sort of had the vision for the video, which was one set, an empty venue of some kind, and four Billy Joels. The Billy Joel that really exists today, but then three Billys from three iconic eras where each Billy would seamlessly pick up the song where the other left off.

The idea behind that was to sort of accentuate the question of the song — did I wait too long to turn the lights back on?

And so, to kind of take us through time and through all these years, I teamed up with an amazing co-director, Warren Fu, who's done everything from Dua Lipa to Daft Punk, and an artificial intelligence company called Deep Voodoo to make that vision possible.

What I'm driven by is the opportunity to create conversations, cultural moments, things that make people feel something. What was cool here is as scary as AI is — and I think it is scary in many ways — we were able to give an example of how you can use it in a positive way to execute a creative artistic vision that previously would've been impossible to execute.

Yeah, so I'm pleased with it and I'm thankful that Billy did a video. He didn't have to do one, but he liked the idea of it. He felt it was different, and I think he was moved by it as well.

What do you think is the next step here?

It's been a really rewarding process. And Billy is open-minded, which is really cool for an artist of that level, who's not a new artist by any stretch. To actually be described as being in a place in his life where he's open-minded, means anything is possible. I could tell you that I would love there to be more music.

I'd love to get your honest appraisal. And I know you're not him. But his last pop album was released 31 years ago. In that long interim, what do you think was going on with him, creatively?

Look, I'm not Billy Joel, but I think there were a number of factors going on with him. Somewhere along the way, I think he stopped having fun with music, which is the reason he got into it, or which is a big part of the reason he got into it. When it stopped being fun, I don't think he really wanted to do it anymore.

Another piece to it is that Billy is a perfectionist, and that perfectionism is evident in the caliber of his songwriting. Having always written 100 percent of his songs, Billy at some point probably found that process to be painstaking, to try to hit that bar where he's probably wondering in his head, What would Beethoven think of this? What would Leonard Bernstein think of this?

I think part of what was different here was that, perhaps, there was something liberating about "Turn the Lights Back On" being a seed that was brought to Billy. In this way, he could be a little disconnected from it, where maybe he didn't have to have the self-imposed pressure that he would if it was an idea that he'd been trying to finish for a while.

Ironically, he still made it. Well, there's no "ironically," but I think that's it. There's something to that.

Billy Joel's Biggest Songs: 15 Tracks That Best Showcase The Piano Man's Storytelling And Pop Hooks

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (35)

GRAMMY U Reps and staff walk the red carpet at the 2024 GRAMMYs

Photo: Andrew Sankovich

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United Airlines flew the GRAMMY U Representatives out to L.A. for an unforgettable 2024 GRAMMY Week. The trip provided significant professional development in music, and the Reps savored every moment. Take a look at the GRAMMY U Reps’ inspirational week.

Samantha Kopec

|GRAMMYs/Feb 22, 2024 - 10:38 pm

Thanks to United Airlines' partnership with the Recording Academy, the students traveled from all over the country to Los Angeles and met in person for the first time. In past years, GRAMMY U Reps have only been able to attend a few select events in addition to the GRAMMY Awards on Sunday. But because of United Airlines, these National and Chapter Reps were able to experience the music industry’s most exhilarating week.

Come with the GRAMMY U Reps as they experience Music’s Biggest Night, behind-the-scenes tours, and events highlighting various initiatives within the music industry during GRAMMY Week 2024. Learn how to apply to GRAMMY U here.

Tuesday: Travel Day

The GRAMMY U group chat was exploding with excited messages as we arrived at the airport early Tuesday morning. Each Rep was about to meet their co-workers — many of whom had only connected virtually — and gain the experience of a lifetime.

United flew all 14 Reps to Los Angeles with exceptional timing, service, and care — even though we were traveling to work at GRAMMY Week, it felt like we were getting celebrity treatment. Once we touched down in L.A., we ran to the United baggage claim to hug our friends and capture the experience to share with fellow GRAMMY U members.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (36)

Philly Rep Tamara Tondreau and Nashville Rep Della Anderson┃GRAMMY U

After grabbing lunch near our hotel in downtown L.A., we made it to the Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter Office in Santa Monica for our first in-person team meeting. Sporting new custom GRAMMY U jackets, T-shirts, and hats, we prepared for our signature GRAMMY Week event, a .

Reps were briefed on plans for the week, then took an office tour where we spotted multiple golden gramophones. Since we work remotely year-round, this was our first time getting to see where all the magic happens.

Wednesday: Behind-The-Scenes & Behind The Music

On Wednesday, we were up bright and early to explore the Crypto.com Arena and learn about the behind-the-scenes preparation it takes to host the GRAMMY Awards each year.

Jody Kolozsvari, Associate Producer of the GRAMMYs and a GRAMMY U alum, guided us around the arena. He also introduced us to the incredible audio, mixing, communications, and production teams as well as Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr.

"Walking intoCrypto.com Arena and seeing the GRAMMY stage being built was a very surreal moment," said Sara Hudson, GRAMMY U's New York Chapter Rep. "Meeting so many of the people behind the show and witnessing the hard work that is put into producing the GRAMMY Awards made my passion for working in live music grow even more."

Later that night, Philadelphia Chapter Rep Tamara Tondreau and Los Angeles Chapter Rep Jade Bacon worked as GRAMMY U press at the A Celebration of Craft event, a collaboration between the Recording Academy Producers and Engineers Wing and Songwriters and Composers Wing. This was the very first time GRAMMY U Reps were invited to this exclusive event; Tamara, a songwriter herself, called this event "unforgettable."

"Since songwriting sparked my interest in the music industry, it was inspiring to be in the room with so many talented creatives," Tamara says. "Networking with professionals who hold multiple roles in the industry encouraged me and reaffirmed my goal of maintaining both business and creative aspects in my career."

Thursday: Fostering Community & Culture

Hosted at GRAMMY House, Thursday morning started with a beautiful luncheon at the inaugural A Celebration of Women in the Mix. This event made space for women in the music industry to gather and support one another, recognizing all of the strides made in a male-dominated field.

Twelve of the 14 Reps identify as women, and this was a special moment to meet some of the industry leaders that we look up to as role models. Networking with female artists, managers, and producers who are laying the groundwork for our generation was a powerful moment we will never forget.

After delivering the keynote speech, Ty Stiklorius, the founder of management company Friends at Work, spoke with some of the GRAMMY U Reps.

"Having a conversation with such an established female in the music industry was incredibly inspiring," says Memphis Rep. Shannon Conte. "After this moment of mentorship and encouragement, I left the event feeling much more confident in my ability to one day succeed in becoming an artist manager."

Dressing up in our finest suits and gowns, we hit the town to attend the exclusive Black Music Collective’s 2024 Recording Academy Honors event, where legends Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz accepted Global Impact Awards. Sitting in the same room as these superstars was awe-inspiring, and it was an honor to see how the Black community was celebrated during GRAMMY Week.

GRAMMY U Reps Shaneel Young, Jade Bacon, and Chloe Sarmiento hosted interviews for our social media, highlighting the fashion of dozens of high-profile attendees including Adam Blackstone, Jordin Sparks, Flavor Flav, and Erica Campbell as they walked the signature black carpet. The excitement of the press line on the black carpet provided Reps with first-hand experience of what a career in press and publicity could look like.

GRAMMY U DC Rep Shaneel Young aspires to work in music marketing. "Interviewing some of the most influential people in the industry about my passions: music, fashion, and culture, will be a moment I remember for the rest of my career," she reflects.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (37)

Reps at Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors┃GRAMMY U

These two spectacular events immersed us in the initiatives the Recording Academy has implemented to celebrate diversity and representation in music, and we are so honored to be a part of the company’s continued mission.

Friday: Work Hard, Play Hard

After months spent planning our signature GRAMMY Week event, the GRAMMY U Masterclass with Halle Bailey, presented by Mastercard, we finally saw the fruits of our labor come to life. This year, we welcomed over 500 attendees in person, with members from every Chapter flying in to experience the event together at GRAMMY House.

GRAMMY U PNW Rep Chloe Sarmiento worked as talent lead and interacted directly with Halle Bailey and her team. "It was incredibly fulfilling to see the event come together on-site in Los Angeles after weeks of working on it from home," Chloe says. "Halle and her team were so great to work with, and I couldn’t have asked for a better speaker for the Masterclass!"

Working with experienced Recording Academy staff onsite further enlightened us about all things event production. From talent handling and partnerships to working radios and managing the stage, we were excited to execute a large-scale event with all of the Reps at GRAMMY House.

After a successful Masterclass, the Reps split up for the evening to conquer even more GRAMMY Week events. Half the group went to the #GRAMMYsNextGen party to spread the word about membership, host a photobooth, and interact with influencers and emerging performers. We met hip-hop duo Flyana Boss, and some of our other celebrity sightings included Laura Marano and Milo Manheim. It was inspiring to see other young professionals who have established themselves in the entertainment industry so early in their careers.

Mastercard surprised us with an entire seated table at the exclusive MusiCares Person Of The Year Gala honoring Jon Bon Jovi. It was an outstanding evening honoring the rock icon and the many ways he has given back to the music community. Following a live auction, Brandy Clark, Lainey Wilson, Jelly Roll, Shania Twain, and others performed some of Bon Jovi’s biggest hits — Bon Jovi even graced the stage with Bruce Springsteen for a special rendition of "Who Says You Can’t Go Home."

The Reps were incredibly grateful to United and Mastercard for granting us the opportunity to witness these exclusive live performances. To see the music community come together to honor a legend while giving back and furthering the mission of MusiCares is a heartwarming aspect of the music industry we don’t get to witness every day.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (38)

Reps with Sabrina Carpenter at the Person of the Year Gala┃GRAMMY U

GRAMMY U Chicago Rep Rachel Owen was one of the lucky attendees able to watch the thrilling performances while mingling in the crowd with other musicians like Sabrina Carpenter and David Archuleta.

"To even be in the same room as Shania Twain is an honor, she’s timeless and more exquisite than I could've even imagined," Owen says. "To see her perform live to Jon Bon Jovi is the type of moment you just never take for granted."

Saturday: Divide & Conquer

Saturday was jam-packed with events. Back again at GRAMMY House, a group of Reps attended the Best New Artist Spotlight, where nominees discussed their breakthrough years and what it means to be considered a "new artist." From upstarts Ice Spice and Gracie Abrams to the long musical journey of Victoria Monét, The War and Treaty, and Jelly Roll, these diverse perspectives all stressed that each person has a unique career timeline and reminded us as students to practice perseverance and patience as we navigate this industry.

Various Reps continued at GRAMMY House, some working as press at the #GRAMMYsNextGen Ambassador Power Brunch and the first-ever Academy Proud event, celebrating LGBTQIA+ voices.

A handful of us worked as GRAMMY U press at the Special Merit Awards ceremony and subsequent celebration. Being a part of these exclusive events and witnessing historic moments like the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards was truly impactful. We interviewed nominees at the celebration, including boygenius engineer Owen Lantz (the supergroup would win their first three GRAMMYs the very next day.)

Hundreds of nominees attended the Special Merit Awards and Celebration, proudly displaying their blue medallions and glowing as they took their official GRAMMY nominee photos; the hopeful and energetic spirit of the event fueled our drive to succeed in this industry even more.

Sunday: And The GRAMMY Goes To…

Sunday morning was the day everyone had all been waiting for: the 66th GRAMMY Awards! After getting our glam on, the GRAMMY U Reps got to walk the red carpet for the first time ever. We took tons of photos and videos to commemorate this special moment and share our experience with friends and family.

While most of the Reps were posing on the carpet, Pierson, Jasmine, Rachel, and Chloe had the honor of being trophy presenters during the GRAMMY Premiere Ceremony. This was the first time GRAMMY U Reps from across the country were given the honor of being up close and personal during artists' career-defining moments.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (39)

Reps on the GRAMMYs Red Carpet┃Andrew Sankovich

Moving into Crypto.com Arena to be seated for the telecast portion of the evening, the GRAMMY U Reps were ecstatic to watch the ceremony in person. As legends like Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Tracy Chapman, and Stevie Wonder blazed on stage, all the Reps were singing and dancing along, thrilled to be a part of Music’s Biggest Night. Phenomenal performances from nominees SZA, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, and Luke Combs were equally captivating.

Witnessing the live telecast after experiencing so much behind-the-scenes production exemplified how rewarding the music industry can be, and how prestigious winning a GRAMMY truly is. The quiet suspense before a winner was announced and the roars that followed created a rollercoaster of emotions that took our breath away.

Immediately afterward, we were off to enjoy the official GRAMMYs After-Party —and not even the constant showers could not rain on our parade. The Reps hit the dancefloor as soon as NE-YO took the stage, and hearing "Time of Our Lives" felt especially relatable.

As we headed back home on our United flights, we reflected on an exhilarating GRAMMY Week. Not only were we able to be part of exclusive events, but we also interacted with artists, learned from experts, and grew exponentially. Experiencing these moments with the other Reps brought our team closer, while meeting members and peers showed the expansive community GRAMMY U is cultivating.

Because of United, we witnessed all the Recording Academy does for the music industry. After GRAMMY Week, we feel more inspired and empowered than ever to lead the next generation of the music industry.

With additional reporting from Pierson Livingston.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career | GRAMMY.com (40)

Tyla with her golden gramophone

Photo: Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

feature

While Afrobeats and amapiano are certainly crossing over in America, Tyla’s win reflects how Western influence is often necessary for African music to transcend the continent. Is "Water" what African music needs to blossom?

Tiléwa Kazeem

|GRAMMYs/Feb 12, 2024 - 10:43 pm

As the first recipient of the inaugural Best African Music Performance GRAMMY Award, South African songstress Tyla has officially etched her name into history. At the 2024 GRAMMYs, the 22-year-old's amapiano-infused Afro pop hit "Water" beat out several long-established names in African music.

While Tyla's success on Music's Biggest Night stresses the Recording Academy's continued efforts to showcase diverse African music, her victory is more of a one-armed hug rather than a full, legs-off-the-ground embrace of African music.

This is chiefly because "Water" was successful and marketable for its use of Western pop influences. While Afrobeats and amapiano are certainly crossing over in America, bestowing a golden gramophone upon an artist whose work reflects familiar sounds is a curious step forward for African music. Still, Tyla's win may foster a greater embrace of the African sound, and the virality and pervasiveness of "Water" propelled the Johannesburg-born singer/songwriter to unheard of heights.

"Water" hit No. 1 on the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs and Hip-Hop/R&B charts, and became the first African song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 since 1968. The track peaked at No. 7, making Tyla the highest-charting African female solo musician in Billboard history. The "Water" dance challenge on TikTok further pushed the track into the global sphere, and the song has been featured in over 1.5 million videos.

The widespread appeal of "Water" is a culmination of elements, notably a fusion of Western pop with subtler amapiano influences. The song melds sleek American R&B and pop compositions with the log drums and piano trails synonymous with the South African amapiano genre.

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Indeed, most musical genres (regardless of continent of origin) draw inspiration from and contribute back to each other. The resulting music transcends regional boundaries and appeals globally — and Tyla's "Water" is proof of this resonance. Yet it also reflects how a major Western influence is often necessary for African music to transcend the continent.

The Recording Academy's new Category was designed to highlight "strong elements of African cultural significance," said Shawn Thwaites, Recording Academy Awards Project Manager and author of the Category. In describing eligibility for the Best African Music Performance Category, Thwaites noted that songs must feature "a stylistic intention, song structure, lyrical content and/or musical representation found in Africa and the African diaspora."

Still, when it comes to recognizing lesser known genres — from South Africa's gqom to Tanzania’s singeli and Ghana’s asakaa — the global audience still has a long way to go.

"We need to go deeper and in more detail within different genres of music. We know there are multiple different types of music — hundreds of genres, in fact — coming from Africa and from all 54 countries on the continent," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. told GRAMMY.com after his three trips to the vibrant continent. "I'd love to see us be able to honor even more music from Africa and other areas of the world."

Thwaites hopes that celebrating the diversity of African music will also lead to greater cultural exchange. Eventually, this could lead to "more collaborations between artists of different genres and more artist relations between labels and executives in America," he said.

But for this progression to happen correctly, there has to be a cultural education about the music within the continent and it's something Ghazi Shami, CEO/Founder of Empire Records, Distribution and Publishing — who consulted with the Recording Academy on the new Category — is looking forward to watching develop.

"I think we'll see expanded categories in African music in the years to come, but this is a great start toward recognizing the merits and impact of African music," he told GRAMMY.com prior to the ceremony.

Tyla's GRAMMY win is an exceptional achievement — particularly so for a young African woman. Popular African music has often been skewed towards male artists. At the 2023 GRAMMYs, Tems became the only female solo artist currently living in Nigeria to win a GRAMMY. (Sade, who was born in Nigeria, has won four GRAMMYs but lives in the U.K.)

A similar trend is observed in South Africa, where Miriam Makeba was both Africa's first GRAMMY winner and the country's solo female vocalist to win prior to Tyla.

Tyla's win is a beacon to other young female performers in Africa — including fellow Category nominee Ayra Starr and singer/songwriter and producer Bloody Civilian — proving that female artists can and will be recognized, regardless of their country of origin. It also demonstrates how the distance between African artists and international prestige has been shortened, thus furthering the likelihood of artistic innovation.

Her win is also notable in a Category stacked with Nigerian artists. Of the five nominated works, "Water" is the only one not created by an artist of Nigerian descent or currently living in Nigeria. (Though South African producer Musa Keys is featured on Davido's nominated "UNAVAILABLE.") Although South Africa has a lengthy history at the GRAMMY Awards, Tyla is proof the world is listening to what her country has to offer.

While her fellow nominees — Starr, Burna Boy, Davido, ASAKE & Olamide — and artists such as Wizkid have also shouldered the responsibility for the globalization of popular African music, there is still a long road ahead.

Tyla’s win holds significant promise for African music as pop music. While "Water" certainly has noticeable South African elements, its Western appeal may partially lay in its use of familiar sounds. For Africa to truly win, the world has to embrace African music for what it is, and not for what it's trying to be.

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