Beabadoobee has spoken to NME about the importance of supporting the UK’s independent music venues, as well as her upcoming support slot on Taylor Swift‘s US stadium tour and plans for her “raw” new album.
More than 300 UK venues will host hundreds of gigs and events this week to celebrate and support the country’s independent live music spaces, as well as the people that own, run and work in them.
Speaking to NME, Beabadoobee said that she’s “very proud” of her role with IVW 2023.
“It just feels rad supporting something that’s supported me for so long,” she said. “I was given the opportunity to play lots of really amazing venues when I was starting out as an artist, and it’s nice being able to give them a little thank-you in return.”
Asked about her memories of performing live at such venues, Bea cited two formative shows she played at The Boileroom in Guildford – her first-ever gig – and London’s St. Pancras Old Church.
“I think I can speak for a lot of artists when I say that, at these tiny venues, it’s always going to be the best gig you’ll play,” she said. “You can play these massive, amazing venues as well, but the connection you have with the people watching you on-stage is completely different when you play a gig like the ones I did in Guildford or St. Pancras.
“Those two are still among my favourite shows ever. I remember being so extremely nervous: the idea of just playing a gig on a stage where people can watch you was just a crazy idea for me. And it’s still a crazy idea for me!”
For young and up-and-coming artists, Bea said that independent venues can provide “an accessible space” where artists can “share their art and creativity” while also building up their confidence.
“The charm about these venues is not only the fact that it’s so intimate that it’s just you and the crowd, but there’s [also] space for mistakes and vulnerability,” she explained. “I would never be the person I am today were it not for me being nervous, playing to about 50 people and fucking up loads. [The crowd] are right by your feet as well: there’s no barriers at all! It’s just so special. I don’t think I would appreciate everything that’s happened to me [since] were it not for playing those gigs.”
Acknowledging how “the love of live shows has entered everyone’s lives again” post-COVID and asserting that “we’ve got to keep that culture alive”, Bea encouraged music fans to keep supporting their local independent venues by taking a chance on new and previously undiscovered musicians.
“It’s really nice discovering artists on the internet, but there’s something special about buying tickets to a random gig by an artist who you don’t know, and then discovering an artist who you’ll go on to really, really love,” she said. “That’s what I used to do: the amount of bands I’ve discovered from being like, ‘Oh, fuck it: there’s a gig on at the Moth Club!’ It makes it way more special.”
“I’m really excited. I feel like I was really busy last year, and I was trying to find what I wanted in terms of how much I wanted to play live,” she told NME. “I think I figured out an amount of touring that would be healthy for me, because what’s most important in my head is being able to enjoy being able to play live. I feel like if I do it too much, then I might get too tired. I don’t think people talk enough about how much touring takes a toll on an artist’s mental health, and it takes a massive toll on mine.
She continued: “When you get bigger as an artist, you tour way more immensely in venues where you’re further away from the crowd, and you don’t get that sort of intimacy any more. I kind of miss that, so part of me is like, ‘Maybe I should do one week touring the tiniest UK venues and make it super punk-rock?’ But there’s also part of me where it’s like, ‘I have to tour the US for three weeks and be on a bus, away from my mates’. It’s a weird balance, but I’ve managed to figure it out.
“I toured a lot of [second album] ‘Beatopia’ last year, so I think I wanna write a new album this year and figure out something cool to do when I play live. Especially on the European tour, I think I’m going to do something a little bit different.”
“I would say I’m nervous, but I don’t feel the nerves until 10 seconds before I go on stage,” she continued about the prospect of joining Swift’s tour. “I was speaking to my band about this: it’s hella crazy because you get way more nervous playing gigs in front of 50 people than you do playing an arena show, as all the faces blur into one abyss of darkness. All you can see is phone lights! But when you play a 50 or 100-capacity venue, you can see every single one of those faces, which is way more daunting. But I still think I’m going to be fucking nervous playing at a stadium! Like 10 minutes before I go on stage, I’m going to be like, ‘Oh my God, what am I gonna do?'”
“I’m hoping to speak on the road with her,” she replied. “We’re going to Las Vegas, and if I have a Vegas wedding, she has to sing at my wedding!”
Bea continued: “I’ve had conversations with [Swift] before where she’s mentioned that she’s a fan of my music, which absolutely boggles my mind. At the NME Awards 2020 I was trying to pluck up the courage to go up to her, and then she comes up to me and says that she really loves my EP. I’m just like, ‘Oh my God, what the hell?’ She’s awesome, and she’s always been an inspiration. I used to listen to her a lot – and I still do! – during my formative years.”
Revealing to NME that she’s already working on the follow-up to July 2022’s ‘Beatopia’ – and that a new song will be released soon – Bea explained: “I’ve been through a lot in my life, so I think it’s going to be a very personal record – much like my other ones. Not just lyrically, but sonically it’s going to be way more raw. It’ll be way more acoustically driven and wholesome.”
Rita Ora has shared the new music video for her single ‘You Only Love Me’ – you can watch the clip below.
The track, which was also released today (January 27), was co-written by the singer and produced by Lewis Thompson, and was “inspired by her personal experience of feeling vulnerable at the very start of a romantic journey”.
‘You Only Love Me’ opens with a voice memo for Ora’s husband, the filmmaker and actor Taika Waititi.
“With ‘You Only Love Me’ and my upcoming album, I wanted to capture the vulnerability I’ve experienced as I opened myself up to love and entered a new phase of life,” Ora said in a statement about the song.
“Learning to let go of the past to make way for new experiences is a deeply personal process, and one I felt compelled to document through my music – the journey was not always easy, but I’ve come out of it stronger and filled with more love than I ever thought possible.”
A new video for ‘You Only Love Me’ has been released this afternoon. Directed by Charlie Sarsfield and shot in the LA suburbs, the clip depicts a fictional wedding “through the lens of a Stepford Wives-meets-Alice In Wonderland-style narrative”.
Cameos in the video come from Kristen Stewart, Lindsay Lohan, Jodie Turner-Smith, Chelsea Handler, Addison Rae, Alexander Stewart and fairy godmother Sharon Stone.
Ora will perform ‘You Only Love Me’ – which is the first track to be lifted from Ora’s upcoming album (her first release since inking a partnership with BMG) – on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday (February 1).
Last week, the Argentinian producer and DJ Bizarrap had a rather special guest lined up for the latest instalment of his BZRP Music Sessions series: Colombian pop megastar Shakira. The video session, which premiered on YouTube last week, saw the pair debut a Spanish language diss track aimed at the singer’s ex-partner, the former Barcelona and Spain star Gerard Piqué.
Let’s take a moment to delve into the wider story behind the track, as well as Piqué’s response to the song.
2011 – Shakira and Gerard Piqué confirm relationship
Having met for the first time in 2010 on the set of the video for Shakira’s World Cup-soundtracking song ‘Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)’, the singer and Piqué started a relationship the following year. The pair then lived in Spain and had two sons together: Milan, born in 2013, and Sasha, born in 2015.
February 2, 2020 – Shakira headlines Super Bowl Halftime Show with Jennifer Lopez
In what was arguably Shakira’s highest-profile gig to date, the singer co-headlined the Super Bowl Halftime Show with Jennifer Lopez at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida in February 2020. Piqué, however, wasn’t in attendance as Barcelona were facing Levante the same night (they won 2-1), but he did tell 60 Minutes ahead of the performance that he was expecting “something amazing” from his then-partner. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the following month, the Super Bowl show still remains Shakira’s most recent major live performance.
June 2022 – Shakira and Piqué announce split
“We regret to confirm that we are separating,” the couple said in a joint statement that was released last summer. “For the well-being of our children, who are our highest priority, we request respect for [our] privacy. Thank you for your understanding.”
September 2022 – Shakira addresses split publicly for the first time
Speaking to Elle, Shakira explained that working on her forthcoming new album had “brought light” to a “moment of my life which is probably one of the most difficult, darkest hours of my life”.
Asked about the split, she continued: “I’ve remained quiet and just tried to process it all. It’s hard to talk about it, especially because I’m still going through it, and because I’m in the public eye and because our separation is not like a regular separation. And so it’s been tough not only for me, but also for my kids. Incredibly difficult.
“I have paparazzi camping outside, in front of my house, 24/7. And there’s not a place where I can hide from them with my kids, except for my own house. You know, we can’t take a walk in the park like a regular family or go have an ice cream or do any activity without paparazzi following us. So it’s hard. And I’ve tried to conceal the situation in front of my kids. I try to do it and to protect them, because that’s my number one mission in life. But then they hear things in school from their friends or they come across some disagreeable, unpleasant news online, and it just affects them, you know?”
November 2022 – Piqué retires from football
Having won the World Cup and Euro 2012 with Spain, as well as the Champions League with Manchester United (2008) and Barcelona (2009, 2011, 2015), Piqué announced his retirement from football in November 2022, bowing out after Barca’s 2-0 win over Almería (although he was shown a red card as a substitute in the following away game at Osasuna).
Addressing the Camp Nou crowd after the Almería game, the defender said: “I was born here and I will die here…. when you get older, you realise that sometimes to love is to let go. I’m convinced that I’ll be here again in the future. I love Barca. That’s why I consider it’s the right moment to go. This is not a goodbye.”
January 9, 2023 – Planes preview Shakira’s upcoming diss track
The first inkling that was something was brewing from Shakira’s camp arrived last week when planes were flown over both Miami and Mar del Plata in Argentina, trailing a message that teased a January 11 release date and the words: “A she-wolf like me, it’s not for dudes like you.”
January 11, 2023 – Shakira’s diss track drops, breaking a YouTube record
January 11 rolled around and Bizarrap promptly unveiled the 53rd edition of his BZRP Music Sessions series on YouTube, with a rather special guest in tow. “So much talk of being a champion / And when I needed you, you gave me the worst version of you,” Shakira sung over the Bizarrap-produced beat in the video, addressing the camera with each pointed barb. “I was out of your league, that’s why you’re with someone just like you.”
It was quite apparent who Shakira was addressing, with various outlets and observers noting how Piqué had recently begun a relationship with a 23-year-old woman, Clara Chía. “I’m worth two 22-year-olds,” the singer declared. “You swapped a Ferrari for a Twingo / You swapped a Rolex for a Casio.” Naturally, the track drew huge, immediate interest and racked up 63.5 million views in 24 hours on YouTube, becoming the most-watched new Latin music video in the platform’s history.
One more insult, then: “You left me with your mom as a neighbour / The press at my door, and a debt with the Treasury / You thought you’d hurt me, but you made me stronger / Women no longer cry, women get paid.” Your response, Gerard?
Following his retirement from football, Piqué has thrown his all into The Kings League: a seven-a-side tournament set up by Piqué and the popular Spanish streamer Ibai Llanos that is regularly streamed online on Twitch.
During one such stream on Saturday (January 14), Piqué sarcastically declared that he had a “big announcement” to make. “Casio have given us watches,” he told viewers, a clear reference to Shakira’s “you swapped a Rolex for a Casio” line. “The Kings League has come to an agreement with Casio… I’m being serious.” Former Manchester City and Argentina striker Sergio Agüero was the only streamer willing to mention Shakira’s song as the reason for the “endorsement”, prompting laughs from those in the studio. Piqué was later filmed arriving at an event driving, of course, a Renault Twingo.
Will that be that? With Shakira’s first new album since 2017’s ‘El Dorado’ expected to arrive in 2023, it seems likely that the beef will rumble on into the new year…
For many people, though, 2003 in music will be best remembered for the array of classic albums that arrived that year, all of which will celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2023. So yes, it’s that time to feel old again: here are 15 albums from 2003 that are turning 20 this year.
OutKast – ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’
Big Boi and André 3000 essentially went their separate ways on OutKast‘s fifth studio album, with each member taking up residence on either side of this double album to indulge in their preferred sound. While Big Boi didn’t veer too far from the triumphant yet tried-and-trusted Southern hip-hop on ‘Speakerboxxx’ (‘GhettoMusick’, ‘The Way You Move’, ‘Tomb Of The Boom’), André pushed the boat out like never before. Mashing together elements of pop, soul and electro-funk (and so much more), ‘The Love Below’ featured timeless, universal smashes (‘Hey Ya’, ‘Roses’), beautifully realised moments of intimacy (‘Take Off Your Cool’, ‘Prototype’) and, naturally, a frantic cover/reworking of John Coltrane’s version of ‘My Favourite Things’. The world has been waiting for ‘The Love Below’ part two ever since.
What happened next: After releasing one more LP (2006’s ‘Idlewild’, accompanying their musical film of the same name), OutKast then announced a hiatus that would only be interrupted in 2014 when they embarked on a reunion tour which included headline slots at Coachella and Bestival.
The Strokes – ‘Room On Fire’
“‘Room On Fire’ had this kind of ‘if we don’t put out a record quick, our careers are over’ [energy],” The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancasrecalled to NME in 2020 about the fraught process of making the follow-up to their era-defining 2001 debut ‘Is This It’. Thankfully, ‘Room On Fire’ helped prolong The Strokes’ career rather than sink it, with the NYC five-piece ultimately managing to dodge the “difficult second album” curse by producing another 11 tracks of solid-gold indie-rock (though there was some disappointment at the time that they hadn’t pushed the limits of their sound further). Following unsuccessful sessions with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, the band reunited with Gordon Raphael to help bring the likes of ‘12:51′, ‘Reptilia’ and ‘The End Has No End’ to glorious life.
What happened next: The Strokes’ ascendancy continued with their more expansive third album ‘First Impressions Of Earth’ in 2005, though it would be another six years before they released their next body of work (2011’s ‘Angles’). Now six albums in, the band toured in the UK last summer.
Jay-Z – ‘The Black Album’
It seems remarkable now that ‘The Black Album’, Jay-Z‘s eighth studio album (a prolific run that began with 1996’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’), was initially billed as being his farewell record before retirement. Of course, this ultimately didn’t turn out to be the case, but ‘The Black Album’ would’ve been a fitting swansong had Shawn Carter decided to bow out from the rap game then and there. Enlisting some major names to handle production – The Neptunes, Eminem, Kanye West, Timbaland, Just Blaze and Rick Rubin – Jay-Z went about cementing his legacy on the record like it really was his final time on the mic (“I’m supposed to be number one on everybody’s list / We’ll see what happens when I no longer exist,” he rapped on ‘What More Can I Say’). But when you make a track as timeless as ‘99 Problems’, you can’t really call it a day, can you?
What happened next: Jay-Z opened his Glastonbury headline set five years later by tagging ‘99 Problems’ onto a sarcastic cover of Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’, sticking two fingers up to Noel Gallagher – who’d publicly doubted Jay’s suitability on the Pyramid Stage – in the process.
Amy Winehouse – ‘Frank’
“I’ve never heard the album from start to finish. I don’t have it in my house,” Amy Winehouse plainly told The Guardian the year after releasing her debut album. A self-assured statement of intent that saw the Londoner’s inimitable vocals weave over tracks that traversed the worlds of soul, jazz and hip-hop, Winehouse’s gripes with ‘Frank’ were more to do with the music industry “idiots” who spoiled its release rather than its star-making content. The precocious singer despaired over the “Gucci bag crew” on the brilliantly withering ‘Fuck Me Pumps’, lashed out at the fuckboys on the sultry soul of ‘In My Bed’ and produced a break-up song for the ages on the devastating ‘Take The Box’. “My album isn’t shit,” Winehouse clarified in the same Guardian interview. “If I heard someone else singing like me, I would buy it in a heartbeat.”
What happened next: Winehouse’s second album ‘Back To Black’ – which saw her link up with producer Mark Ronson – was a major critical and commercial success in 2006 that elevated the singer to superstar status. Tragically, Winehouse passed away at the age of 27 in 2011.
Dizzee Rascal – ‘Boy In Da Corner’
The history of modern British music, let alone grime, cannot be told without paying suitable homage to Dizzee Rascal‘s thrillingly assured debut. ‘Boy In Da Corner’ saw the east Londoner – aged just 18 at the time of its release – declare himself “a problem for Anthony Blair” (‘Hold Ya Mouf’) as he delivered damning social critiques of the strife, alienation and frequent trauma that came with growing up on an inner-city estate, themes that many of his UK fans instantly identified with (the record went on to sell over 250,000 copies). Primarily produced by Dizzee himself, the album drew in even casual listeners with its big radio hits (‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’, ‘Jus’ A Rascal’) who then stayed to absorb the harrowing tales Dizzee spun on ‘Jezebel’ and ‘Sittin’ Here’. And he knew he was good: “You can’t outplay me, I’m an ace,” Dizzee not-so-modestly noted on ‘Cut ‘Em Off’. There was definitely no topping ‘Boy In Da Corner’ for some time to come after its arrival in 2003.
What happened next: ‘Boy In Da Corner’ deservedly won the Mercury Prize in 2003, before Dizzee went on to embrace the mainstream with a string of pop-leaning albums and chart-topping singles. He later returned to grime with 2017’s ‘Raskit’. In March 2023, he’ll play a special gig at London’s O2 Arena to celebrate.
The White Stripes – ‘Elephant’
There are around 7.8 billion people living on Earth – and who’s to say that 99.9% of them don’t know how ‘Elephant’ begins? Jack White‘s seven-note riff on ‘Seven Nation Army’ is world-renowned and, taken in the context of the album it kicks off, immediately sets the tone for what, for many, is The White Stripes‘ finest LP. White and drummer Meg White were on rip-roaring form across their visceral fourth record, creating all-time garage/blues-rock classics in the form of ‘Black Math’, ‘The Hardest Button To Button’ and ‘Ball and Biscuit’, to name but a few. ‘Elephant’ transformed the dynamic duo into Grammy-winning major festival headliners, while the still-ubiquitous ‘Seven Nation Army’ is now taught at schools (probably).
What happened next: Jack and Meg released two more albums together – 2005’s ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ and 2007’s ‘Icky Thump’ – headlined Glastonbury, and, following a lengthy hiatus, eventually announced their break-up in 2011, legacy secured.
Radiohead – ‘Hail To The Thief’
Weighing in at 14 tracks and 56 minutes long, Radiohead’s sixth album certainly tested the patience of their fanbase – and didn’t the band just know it. “We should have pruned it down to 10 songs, then it would have been a really good record,” guitarist Ed O’Brien told Mojo in 2008. “I think we lost people on a couple of tracks and it broke the spell of the record.” Colin Greenwood described ‘Hail To The Thief’ as “more of a holding process, really”, while his brother Jonny added: “We were trying to do what people said we were good at. But it was good for our heads.”
Still, ‘Hail To The Thief’ saw Radiohead combine their trailblazing rock and electronic urges to (mostly) good effect, producing gems such as ‘2 + 2 = 5’, ‘Where I End And You Begin’ and album highlight ‘There There’, which made Thom Yorke “blub my eyes out” when he first heard the finished version. “I was in tears for ages,” he told the BBC about the song in 2003. “I just thought it was the best thing we had ever done.”
Recently ranked by NME as Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ best-ever album, ‘Fever To Tell’ initially cemented the trio’s status as one of New York City’s best new bands in 2003 following the rich acclaim which greeted their first two EPs. At the eye of their debut album’s fearsome storm was rock’n’roll’s latest hero Karen O, as much a captivating presence in the studio as she was tearing up the stage. Vocally fierce, imploring and fired-up all at once, O led her guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase through the searing likes of ‘Date With The Night’, ‘Rich’ and ‘Black Tongue’ (in which O wonderfully sneered: “Boy, you just a stupid bitch / And girl, just a no-good dick”). But then there was the sheer emotional gut punch of ‘Maps’, which showcased a different side to the usually riotous YYYs as Zinner, Chase and O united as one to ensure that there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house, with the latter forlornly chanting: “They don’t love you like I love you.”
What happened next: YYYs delivered further greatness with their 2006 follow-up ‘Show Your Bones’, furthering guaranteeing their lifetime place in the hearts of every indie fan of the ’00s.
Blink-182 – ‘Blink-182’
Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker grew up significantly on their self-titled/untitled fifth album (especially given that their previous record was called ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’), and, it turned out, maturity suited the pop-punk trio. ‘I Miss You’ saw the band embrace acoustic instruments – including a cello! – to deliver arguably Blink‘s most beautiful moment on record, while even the immediate rock hits ‘Always’, ‘Feeling This’ and ‘Down’ blew away fans and innocent bystanders alike with their unshakable emotional power. Oh, and they also recruited The Cure‘s Robert Smith to briefly form a goth supergroup on ‘All Of This’. Much like our previous entry, ‘Blink-182/Untitled’ was recently ranked by NME as Blink’s best studio LP so far.
What happened next: Despite notching a career high, tensions within Blink reached boiling point in 2005 when they announced a hiatus. Their next record, ‘Neighborhoods’, wouldn’t arrive until 2011.
Kelis – ‘Tasty’
After delivering two hugely promising albums in ‘Kaleidoscope’ (1999) and ‘Wanderland’ (2001), Kelis truly hit the sweet spot with album number three. ‘Tasty’ featured not one, not two, but three undisputed, all-time R&B/pop classics – ‘Milkshake’, ‘Millionaire’, ‘Trick Me’ – which helped the then-24-year-old rise to the very top. The effervescent record also saw the Harlem singer continue her fruitful creative partnership with The Neptunes (‘Flashback’, ‘Protect My Heart’), while the very much on-form André 3000 delivered sparkling production and a scene-stealing verse on the aforementioned ‘Millionaire’. Kelis was still very much the star of ‘Tasty’, though.
What happened next: After releasing her first three albums in the space of four years, Kelis slowed the pace down by dropping her next LP, ‘Kelis Was Here’, in 2006. After that album failed to match the heights of its predecessor, Kelis started to balance her music career with a foray into the culinary world – she later graduated from Le Cordon Bleu.
Muse – ‘Absolution’
Muse followed up their 2001 breakthrough album ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ in 2003 with a record that NME hailed at the time as “astonishing”. We weren’t wrong: boasting the seismic likes of ‘Time Is Running Out’, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘Hysteria’, the Teignmouth trio were remarkably poised in delivering what at the time was their biggest and most excessive statement to date. “Muse have widened the goalposts and re-established what rock is allowed to stand for,” our review concluded in 2003. It’s hard to imagine what path modern rock music would have taken without ‘Absolution”s influence.
What happened next: Muse headlined Glastonbury the following summer, which they later told NME was “the best gig of our lives”, and they didn’t look back; 20 years later, they’re still headlining mega-stadiums and festivals alike.
The Rapture – ‘Echoes’
Two years before the release of LCD Soundsystem‘s seminal self-titled debut came The Rapture‘s similarly influential ‘Echoes’. Signed to James Murphy’s DFA Records, the Luke Jenner-led band were at the vanguard of NYC’s dance-punk revival of the early 2000s, which brought together the energetic sounds of the dance and rock underground to thrilling effect. Wholesome ballad ‘Open Up Your Heart’ aside, ‘Echoes’ now serves as a time capsule of that electrifying, albeit relatively brief, period in recent music history. Its euphoric centrepiece, ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’, still comes across today like the Daft Punk/LCD Soundsystem team-up of our dreams, and is guaranteed to light up any dancefloor in 2023 – especially when the guitar kicks in at 51 seconds…
What happened next: The Rapture released just two more albums (2006’s ‘Pieces Of The People We Love’ and 2011’s ‘In The Grace Of Your Love’) before disbanding in 2014. They did reform in 2019, but they’ve since gone quiet again.
Beyoncé – ‘Dangerously In Love’
When a record produces what NME hailed in 2013 as “the best pop single of the 21st century”, then it’s fair to say that its place in music history is well assured. Her first proper solo endeavour away from Destiny’s Child, ‘Dangerously In Love’ gave Beyoncé Knowles the chance to revel entirely in the spotlight – and, of course, she grasped the opportunity with both hands by thriving on her solo tracks (‘Naughty Girl’, ‘Me, Myself and I’ and ‘Dangerously In Love 2’) and more than matching her collaborators in the studio (her future husband Jay-Z, Missy Elliott and ‘Baby Boy’ Sean Paul). Oh yeah, and it featured the immortal ‘Crazy In Love’. Need we say much more?
What happened next: The huge success of ‘Dangerously In Love’, and in particular ‘Crazy In Love’, set Beyoncé on course to becoming arguably the biggest pop star in the world, a title she still very much holds today: see 2022’s ‘Renaissance’.
Kings Of Leon – ‘Youth & Young Manhood’
The same week Kings Of Leon released ‘Youth & Young Manhood’ in the UK, they were pitched on the cover of NME as a band who liked to indulge in some “shootin’, snortin’ [and] screwin”. Fair enough! It was an unlikely move for a band of brothers (and cousin) who grew up in the Deep South as sons of a roaming preacher, but such was the Followill clan’s belief in the power of rock’n’roll. On their hastily recorded 2003 debut, they became perhaps the only viable challengers for The Libertines’ sleazy crown: its finest songs ‘Red Morning Light’, ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and ‘Spiral Staircase’ still burst at the seams with filthy riffs and ramshackle vocals.
‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’’ curiously proved to be a comeback record for an artist who could barely get started. In 2000, 50 Cent – real name Curtis Jackson – was shot nine times in a near-fatal attack just two months before his proposed debut record, ‘Power Of The Dollar’, was set to be released (it was quickly shelved by Columbia Records and, as of 2022, still remains unreleased). Two years later, Eminem heard glimpses of magic in the New York rapper’s muscular storytelling and catchy choruses, and he invited Fiddy to work with himself and Dr. Dre on what would become ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’’. A five-day recording spree on the West Coast with Dre conjured ‘In Da Club’, a high point for ’00s rap, and the resulting album became 2003’s best-selling record in the US. ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ stood at the pinnacle of gangsta rap’s commercial ambition.
What happened next: A film adaptation of his life recycled the album’s title in 2005, and Jackson soon went full mogul mode by establishing the G-Unit record label, and, er, investing in bottled water. TS
The party-starting musician and producer is a sought-after collaborator for Elton John, Dua Lipa, Mabel and more. A second album – influenced by Daft Punk and yacht rock – ought to cement his place at dance-pop’s pinnacle
This winter’s cold snap may have finally ensnared London, but there are still pockets of colour to be found amid the diminishing December daylight, impenetrable grey skies and bitter, icy winds that sweep across the capital. NME has located one such pocket in Hackney where we’re warmly greeted by SG Lewis, wearing a bright turquoise Adidas x Gucci suit, at his first NME Big Read cover shoot. Our snapper has brought a set of spiral balloons and a pair of luminescent oranges as props to add further technicolour to the scene, though Lewis politely turns down a request to do a spot of fruit juggling for the camera: this type of party trick isn’t quite his forte.
Where the Reading-born, London-based singer/songwriter, producer and DJ really shines, though, is in the studio. A prolific, bangers-minded collaborator who has worked with the likes of Elton John, Dua Lipa and Dave in recent years, Lewis’ esteemed reputation as one of the UK’s most in-demand dance-pop creatives has been assured for quite some time.
He can go it alone, too: following his consistently vibey 2015-2019 run of EPs and his February 2021 debut LP ‘Times’ – a glossy, lockdown-busting tribute to disco and the dancefloor – the 28-year-old is now set to drop his second studio album ‘AudioLust & HigherLove’ on January 27. Its arrival is set to further enhance Lewis’ standing as a producer-turned-solo artist in the vein of Calvin Harris and Mark Ronson, both of whom honed their respective signature sounds while drawing on diverse influences and collaborating with a star-studded array of musicians. But Lewis, it seems, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground when it comes to the wider ambitions of this project.
“People really want to categorise whatever you’re doing [musically] because it makes it easier to compartmentalise,” he says when asked whether he’s ready to embrace solo star status. “But there’s never really a thought of, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be the star’. It was just that I wanted to test myself further and see what I was capable of. I always feel like I’m trying to further my abilities as a musician, whether that means singing or producing more. I think I will always try and do as much as I possibly can.”
During its creation, ‘AudioLust & HigherLove’ positioned Lewis as an in-the-studio bandleader. Having assembled a core team of musicians, including Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (“one of the most important collaborators in my musical life; his first album had a big influence on me”), Berkshire solo artist Frances and chart pop songwriter Ed Drewett, Lewis’ songwriting sessions – which took place at such UK studios as Decoy Residential in rural Suffolk – took on “much more of a band approach”.
“The whole process felt more song-focused than sound-focused,” he continues. “The last record was very much about studying a period in time and elements of that music, whereas this was very much focused on the songs.”
As its title suggests, ‘AudioLust & HigherLove’ explores two distinct thematic worlds. “At the start of the process, you throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks,” Lewis explains about the genesis of the concept. “At first I was just making music, but then these two worlds became apparent and the songs that I was making fit into either one of those two sides.” Elaborating further on this duality aspect, he later adds: “It’s lust versus love: one being this rushy, toxic version of love and relationships, and the other being this more fulfilled, actualised, longer-lasting version.”
The record embraces these lovestruck themes from the off with the striding ‘Infatuation’, which is populated by the kind of giddy falsetto hooks The Weeknd would be envious of. ‘Holding On’, a sun-kissed 80s synth-pop gem which culminates in a soaring guitar solo, would work nicely over the loading screens of GTA: Vice City. Elsewhere, ‘Lifetime’, the record’s standout moment, has been likened by Lewis himself to the “yacht-rock” of Hall & Oates and Steely Dan that he and his friends discovered during lockdown.
“It started off almost ironically, and then it became completely not ironic. We were like, ‘This music is incredible!’” he laughs. “I mean, even the name ‘yacht rock’ sounds like a joke name. But within that genre there’s a lot of music, writing and chords that are just incredible, so I started to draw on a lot of that and wanted to try it out.”
Another major influence on ‘AudioLust & HigherLove’ was Daft Punk and their 2001 opus ‘Discovery’, with its still-transcendent single ‘Digital Love’ having a significant bearing on Lewis’ own track ‘Something About Your Love’. “It’s hard to summarise the influence that they’ve had, not only musically but their artistic output. Even the way that they retired was perfect,” Lewis says about the French duo, who bowed out quite literally with a bang in February 2021 with a farewell video that featured one of the Daft Punk robots exploding.
“Within yacht rock, there’s writing and chords that are just incredible”
“Their music is both hugely inspiring and depressing to look at because it’s just so perfect. ‘Something About Your Love’ is very much an ode to ‘Digital Love’. It’s funny because I was like, ‘Are people gonna think I’m trying to rip them off? Or will they understand that I’m paying tribute?’ Luckily, people seem to understand that it was the latter.”
How would Lewis feel if Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo ever got their hands on the track? “I think I would want to crawl into a hole and die,” he quickly replies, stifling a chuckle. “As much as that would be amazing, I’d also just don’t think I’d ever be able to make music again if Daft Punk hated it.”
Such a possibility would’ve seemed even more far-fetched to the fresh-faced SG Lewis of 2014, who got his first big break in the dance music world at this time while studying sound technology at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. After taking the DIY route of learning how to DJ (“I would practise using CDJs on the decks at a local music shop, and the owner eventually banned me and said: ‘You’re clearly not buying these, go away’”), he bagged a residency at the city’s Chibuku nightclub.
“It was a great way to cut my teeth as a DJ, because it meant playing completely different styles every week based on who was headlining,” he recalls of that formative experience, which also taught him the importance of “referencing” in his own music. “If you’ve never heard of J Dilla and you try to make instrumental hip-hop, you’ll be worse off for not having that reference and knowledge.”
With a foot in the door and a deepening appreciation for dance music, Lewis began exploring his own creative urges by writing and releasing his own solo material. Signing to PMR Records, home to Disclosure and Jessie Ware, Lewis’ first major exposure as a soloist came when his debut single ‘Warm’ was picked up by HBO for use in the Dwayne Johnson-starring series Ballers in 2015.
“The episode aired at 3am UK time, so I was in bed and my phone just blew up. ‘Warm’ did the most Shazams of any TV show that year, and all of a sudden there were a bunch of people listening to the song and I ended up on the Coachella line-up: I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! I was thrown in the deep end.”
A series of EPs followed, including 2018-19’s ‘Dusk’, ‘Dark’ and ‘Dawn’ concept trilogy which charted the course of a night out and boasted such fan favourites as ‘Aura’, the two-part ‘Sunsets’ and the Clairo-featuring ‘Throwaway’. As Lewis set about making his debut album, though, the pandemic struck, with numerous lockdowns keeping nightclubs closed and confining people to their homes.
Reflecting on that difficult period, Lewis says: “Without a context for club music, it can make club music kind of… not pointless, because I understand that club music can be enjoyed at home. But when that memory [of clubs] became further and further away, it became harder for me to resonate with club music.”
His debut LP ‘Times’ arrived in February 2021 while COVID restrictions were still in place, prompting Lewis to celebrate its release with a ‘70s New York-inspired livestream that beamed the collective and celebratory vibe of the nightclub into his fans’ living rooms and bedrooms. “The purpose of ‘Times’ changed: before it was an ode to dancefloors, but as lockdown happened it became an escapist vehicle for people, which became almost more important [as a purpose],” he says now. NME agreed, lauding ‘Times’ for its “kitchen disco bangers that ache with nostalgia” in a four-star review.
“I’ve always wanted to test myself and see what I was capable of”
The record also presented Lewis with the opportunity to work with CHIC’sNile Rodgers on the imploring single ‘One More’ (“he’s like a session quarterback who commands the vibe of the studio”) and Robyn on his Channel Tres collaboration ‘Impact’. The chance to write remotely with the somewhat elusive Robyn was an opportunity that Lewis – who has still yet to meet the Swedish artist in person – snapped up.
“She’s selective about her output, but we sent the track over and, somehow, she was excited about it. That was the start of a process of going back and forth with her and spending hours and hours on Zoom together for the best part of a year, because she’s very purposeful with her art. I’m so proud of the outcome, and I still love playing the track when I’m DJing.”
One famous name Lewis has met in person is Sir Elton John, with Lewis having earned his place on the esteemed guestlist for John’s 2021 record ‘The Lockdown Sessions’ alongside the likes of Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks and Rina Sawayama. Receiving his invite after appearing on John’s Apple Music show Rocket Hour was “really wild,” Lewis says. “At the end of the interview, Elton said, ‘I’d love to get in the studio with you’. I was like, ‘… Are you kidding?’ I thought he was just saying it. The next day I’m driving along, and I get a phone call from this number I don’t recognise. I pick it up and I hear, ‘Sam, darling, it’s Elton! When are we getting in the studio?’”
The invitation produced the tropical ‘Orbit’, which was the end product of “one of the most surreal days ever,” a still star-struck Lewis tells NME: “Elton’s extremely personable, very funny and very caring: he’ll FaceTime every now and then just to check up on me and make sure I’m doing alright. It’s really cool.” Is Lewis now likely to get a call-up to help John bring the curtain down on his glittering career during his Glastonbury 2023 headline slot? “I mean, hey: I wouldn’t say no! But I’m sure he’s got a few hundred hits to get through before we do ‘Orbit’. So we’ll see.”
John, who told Paper in 2021 that Lewis “has only just touched the surface” of his talent, also enlisted Dua Lipa for ‘The Lockdown Sessions’ following the success of her 2020 album ‘Future Nostalgia’. That record featured the Lewis co-written and co-produced track ‘Hallucinate’, and Lewis remains full of praise for Lipa’s work ethic.
“Dua’s incredible in the studio. She has so many ideas and is such a pro on the mic: you don’t do a take more than three times,” Lewis says. “‘Future Nostalgia’ became bigger than anyone could have even contemplated, and it ended up getting a bunch of Grammys. It was just a really cool record to be able to have played a small part in, because I think it will be a record that will represent a moment in time to a lot of people, especially in terms of lockdown.”
As well as ‘Future Nostalgia’, Lewis has had a hand in a number of successful dance music-driven pop records in recent years, with credits on Jessie Ware’s ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’, Mabel’s ‘About Last Night…’ and Tove Lo’s ‘Dirt Femme’. Lo is also among a number of special guests on ‘AudioLust & HigherLove’ which include the likes of Channel Tres, Ty Dolla $ign and Grammy winner Lucky Daye – though the latter two’s ‘Vibe Like This’ was nearly the victim of a studio mishap.
“They were all smoking in the room, and I was getting pretty second-hand high!” Lewis laughs while reminiscing. “Towards the end of the session I span around in my chair as Ty went to high-five me, and I pulled the laptop off the table: the laptop nearly died and I nearly lost the track. But luckily, I didn’t! It was very smooth.”
“I’ve learned that you have no control over how people react to your music”
Weed-induced accidents notwithstanding, Lewis’ stock as a musician, producer and collaborator is as high as it’s ever been. Reeling off his dream list of future collaborators (Charli XCX, Bon Iver and Kim Petras), what, NME wonders, keeps these big names coming and knocking on SG Lewis’ door?
“That’s a funny question, because honestly I don’t really know!” he modestly, if somewhat frustratingly, replies. “Sometimes, especially when the imposter syndrome sets in, I do ask myself that. But I think I trust my own tastes: I think that, if anything, I like to think that I’m able to at least share some musical tastes with my collaborators, and try and at least aim to make something that we both genuinely like and listen to. That’s always the aim.”
Two months after its arrival, Lewis will take ‘AudioLust & HigherLove’ on a UK and European tour that’ll continue the album’s live band approach while also featuring “some stuff you won’t be able to hear anywhere else”. The tour will culminate with a momentous headline date at the O2 Academy Brixton on March 31, an occasion that was originally cancelled due to the pandemic and also marks a full-circle, albeit “surreal”, moment for Lewis.
Festivals will follow in the summer, though he’s keeping his counsel on the specifics of those plans at present (“there’s some stuff that I’m really excited about”). Lewis is a noted Glastonbury fan, while he underwent the “rite of passage” of attending Reading Festival in his teens (“the NME Tent was a big deal at the time,” he remembers). Could he follow the example of his labelmates Disclosure, who have co-headlined Reading & Leeds twice and topped Glastonbury’s Other Stage, in becoming a festival headliner one day?
“Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been releasing music for nearly eight years now, and I think I’ve learned that you really have no control over the outcome: you just make the best music you can. Sometimes the music that you think is great might not get the audience that you think it deserves, but then equally sometimes the stuff that you’re less emotionally attached to ends up reaching a lot of people. I’d love to become a festival headliner, but I think the decision is in the listeners’ hands.”
Given that ‘AudioLust & HigherLove’ looks set to elevate Lewis to unprecedented heights, it seems likely that that decision will be an easy one for both his fans and festival bosses. A big 2023 awaits for SG Lewis, then: those juggling lessons will have to wait a little while longer.
“The feeling of being the winner of Amex Gold Unsigned is changing every day or so for me,” a beaming Jazzie Martian tells NME a month on from winning the NME-backed new music initiative. “I’ve started loving and believing more in what I’m doing as I’ve started to actually digest that winning mentality. You start to go, ‘OK, yes, I’m a winner – now I wanna win’.”
The Nottingham artist is clearly basking in, as he puts it, “feeling like a winner” after emerging victorious from a talented shortlist of unsigned UK-based acts, who all performed at a live music showcase in London in the summer. Now working closely with Amex on a forthcoming nationwide advertising campaign for the Gold Card – which will feature Jazzie and his song ‘Future’ front and centre – Jazzie has also received a sync fee, mentoring from music industry professionals and a slot on the Stargazer Stage at Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire (more on that shortly).
Of the multitude of benefits of winning Amex Gold Unsigned, Jazzie adds: “It’s a gift come true. Any artist wanting to get to the next stage of their career, this is definitely something that you would be hoping for. To also have the backing of NME, it’s a beautiful thing for me to see that this is even possible, that people and great companies are willing to look at little old me from Nottingham. It’s crazy.”
It’s truly an exciting time for Jazzie Martian – we caught up with the rising star to hear more about the origins of his “genre-fluid” music career, the story behind his track ‘Future’ and his ambitious plans for his live show.
NME: Congratulations on winning Amex Gold Unsigned, Jazzie! How did the live showcase in London go?
Jazzie Martian: “It was an amazing opportunity. I feel like that really opened me up in terms of what to expect, how much energy to use and how to go forward [as a performer]. I learned a lot by watching some other great artists on the night, though I was happy to just be a part of it. The showcase was actually my first time going on stage [as a performing musician]. I was like, ‘OK Jazzie, we’re about to do three or four of your own songs. Not sure how this is going to go, but we’re going to give it a good go!’ Now we’re here – so I must have done something right!”
You were a professional dancer before you moved into music. How did growing up in Nottingham influence you creatively?
“I always say in my songs that I come from “a blocky estate”, meaning a high-rise [of] blocks and alleyways. Nine times out of 10, your creative sense was brought on because you were fed up [of living there]. I’d say that dance in Nottingham saved me: I feel like I would’ve been a whole other person if I didn’t dance. Dance allowed me to open up, Nottingham allowed me to open up. I then went from dance to music, so my creative juices run very differently from how I see a lot of other musicians’ creative juices run.”
How did your move into music come about?
“I’ve always been into music, but I never wrote music initially. Through dance, though, I learned beats, rhythms and polyrhythms, as well as finding sounds between sounds. When I came over to music, I was already in that creative mindset. My friend then asked me to audition for the 2017 BBC talent show Let It Shine. At that point, I was like, ‘Eh, OK – I don’t really do that stuff’, as I was doing dance battles at big competitions at that time. Before I knew it, though, I jumped in the audition and I was in the finals on TV. I’d never had a singing lesson, but I think my charisma, attitude and willingness took me through. Through that experience, I learned how to hold a note.
“By 2018, I was heading into the studio to see if I could figure out who this dancer dude, who was hearing music through feeling, was and trying to figure out what that all means. I created one of my first songs, ‘Future’, which is the reason why we’re here now. A lot of people don’t know that ‘Future’ was predominantly made from my own voice, meaning that the production was a lot of me harmonising: it’s not a tweak or an effect. When you know how to shapeshift, you shapeshift.”
What more can you tell us about ‘Future’?
“I made ‘Future’ when everybody – including record labels – told me that it was ‘too far ahead’. Now we’re five years on! I have tweaked it by pushing it a few years [further] ahead, because I realised that everybody’s ears are now more tuned to certain sounds. Back in 2018, the sounds that I was using weren’t registering with certain people. Now though, through other genres, we’re getting familiar with certain sounds that I was already putting in one cooking pot and mixing. I’ve tweaked ‘Future’ to give it a bit more of an ‘oomph’ and to be like, ‘OK, [Jazzie’s] here, I hear that bit’. ‘Future’ will be the sound of the future.”
How would you describe your sound?
“I’d always say that I’m genre-fluid. With my music, the beat gravitates towards me: I find that when I make music, no matter what genre it should be in, it still sounds like me. You can tell it’s Jazzie from the moment I use my voice. I’m very aware of what I look like and how I come across, but I’m happy to be someone who could break down a lot of doors and turn a lot of eyes, in the sense that people won’t know that a person like me exists.”
You made your festival debut at Wilderness Festival in August, thanks to Amex Gold Unsigned. How was that experience?
“It was so crazy being able to perform so many of my songs and have such adrenaline running through you at the same time. It will take all your stamina! I loved Wilderness because it really made me understand who I am, where I am and what it feels like to perform songs that people don’t know, but to then watch my whole crowd dance and react as if they knew the songs. When I finished my set, I popped the speakers – they stopped working! People kept coming up to me being like, ‘Bro, you just blew up the stage!’ I’ll never forget that: it felt like one of those signs that told me that I’m made for this.”
How long have you been planning your live show?
“For a while! But the difference between formulating it in your head and doing it in real life is the adrenaline. I’ve been dancing for years, so performing is in me. But dancing and singing together, people think that it’s easy: it’s two different types of stamina working together, you have to be an athlete. One of the biggest lessons I took from Wilderness was to not be fearful of being Jazzie or wanting to dance on stage, or talk and joke with the crowd. These things I’ve been wondering about for years! It’s crazy when the crowd gives you organic and beautiful energy back – you can only give them the best you’ve got in return. I’m now preparing my [full live] show, because that’s what I believe I was born to do. Just know that when Jazzie does a tour, it’s going to be monumental: I can guarantee you that. I don’t plan on doing things in the fashion of where they’re already headed, but I believe we have possibilities to touch Broadway. We’re in the day and age of where one artist can be a plethora: if an artist is genre-fluid as well, imagine what that could sound like? It could be iconic.”
How far can Jazzie Martian go?
“As far as God will allow me. I’m a big spiritual guy, and I always will be. I believe having so much ability is one thing, but it’s being able to manage that ability. How far Jazzie can go depends on how I manage my mentality, how well I keep myself together, how organised I stay, how healthy and fit I can be, and making sure the people around me are the right people. With that there as my foundation, Jazzie can do whatever is available.”
Show one saw Brooklyn’s own Nation Of Language and Infinite Coles take to the stage to perform to a sold-out crowd at Elsewhere. The former marked the occasion by playing a cover of Pixies’ ‘Gouge Away’ during their set which, according to singer Ian Devaney, they first played at one of their early shows at Elsewhere.
The second gig in the series featured a pair of performances at the Bell House from MICHELLE and Sarah Kinsley. “NME was one of the first publications to not only review my music and give it four stars, but really understand it, protect it and want to share who I am an artist,” Kinsley told the packed-out crowd during her set. “I feel very grateful to be playing.”
Stormzy’s career checklist has been revised and scaled up numerous times in recent years. With two UK Number One albums to his name (and a third surely on the way), the south Londoner has also ushered in a new generation of Glastonbury headliners, announced plans for ‘This Is What We Mean Day’ – a specially curated event that will form part of All Points East Festival 2023 – and launched a multitude of important and inclusive initiatives (most recently #Merky FC, a partnership with Adidas that is “committed to enhancing and protecting diverse representation in the football industry”). For Stormzy, such lofty life goals must seem more like open goals at the moment.
Given his high-achieving reputation, it’s not surprising to learn that preparations for ‘This Is What I Mean’, the follow-up to December 2019’s ‘Heavy Is The Head’, were meticulously planned. Staging a “Stormzy music camp” on Osea Island in Essex, the 29-year-old assembled an ensemble of musicians and collaborators to help create his third studio album, a work that he previously promised would be “an intimate love letter to music”. Elaborating further, Stormzy added in a pre-release day statement (which doffed a cap to Tyler, the Creator’s similar welcome message for ‘IGOR’): “I pray that [the album] moves you and captures your imagination, and I pray that someone, somewhere feels it.”
Setting such objectives for ‘This Is What I Mean’ foreshadows the album’s largely mellow and mature tone, which sees a reflective, suave and more melodic than ever Stormzy pour his heart out on record. “I’m a sensitive soul,” he practically whispers on the harmony-rich ‘Please’. “Please, could you pause the applause?” Given that the LP’s two lead singles, ‘Firebabe’ and ‘Hide & Seek’, rank highly among its creator’s smoothest slow jams yet, it’s clear that we’re a long way from the Stormzy of 2019 (“this ain’t the same man who said his head was heavy,” he offers as a parting shot on the fiery title track, which conversely serves as the album’s stand-out rap moment), let alone the ‘Shut Up’ Stormzy many people were introduced to in the park back in 2015.
‘This Is What I Mean’ sees Stormzy letting his listeners in like never before. On ‘Bad Blood’, he analyses the breakdown of his recent high-profile relationship (“news and the blogs and the sites never bother us”) before poetically declaring that his love will prevail: “It should be me by your side ’cause I know your heart.” The uplifting gospel tones of ‘Holy Spirit’ is another soaring highlight, in which a singing Stormzy underlines the role his faith continues to play: “You gave me peace and purpose / Although I don’t deserve it, although I’m far from perfect.”
The compelling ‘I Got My Smile back’ is Stormzy’s most candid moment on record yet, in which he acknowledges his past struggles with his mental health. “Me and loneliness kick it from time to time,” he states over soothing choral voices and determined beats. “She knows the deal, that I ain’t hers and she ain’t mine / Me and joy got tighter, that was overdue.” The track’s second verse is a vitally important expression of vulnerability for a major artist to impart on his listeners, some of whom may ultimately draw inner strength from Stormzy’s own lived experience.
Among the record’s many contributors are 0207 Def Jam signee Debbie, who steals the show on ‘Firebabe’ and the album’s blissful closer ‘Give It To The Water’, Sampha (who is given his very own track on the imploring ‘Sampha’s Plea’) and a host of Afropop stars including Tems, Amaarae and Ayra Starr. Stormzy leans on and gives his guests ample space to breathe in order for them to apply their individual influence on the record, demonstrating the rapper’s solid belief in the collective power of music.
There is a small sense of disappointment that we don’t get to hear Stormzy let loose on the mic more often, but then this record was never going to be a recreation of ‘Heavy Is The Head’ or ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’s proclivity for immediate grime hits. The hard-hitting lyricism is still present, though: the punchy ‘My Presidents Are Black’ references Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DNA’ after claiming that, by listening to this album, we are “now tuned into my magnum opus”. A snippet of conversation ends the track, with Stormzy’s trailblazing presence in UK music being highlighted: “The road that you go on now, you’re paving the lane. It’s this road for all these people to walk.” With ‘This Is What I Mean’, Stormzy continues to lead the way: another goal ticked off on that checklist, then.
It all started with former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes waking up to the zombie apocalypse, and now it’s ended with… well, that would be spoiling things, wouldn’t it? But yes, you read that correctly: The Walking Dead is about to end its 12-year run on the air with the conclusion of its 11th and final season, which airs in the US on Sunday (November 20).
But if you’re worried about how you’re going to get your regular fix of the undead from now on, don’t despair: The Walking Dead is set to rise again. As well as the ongoing spin-offs Fear Of The Walking Dead and the not-yet-cancelled Tales Of The Walking Dead, there are plans well afoot for the continuation of the TWD franchise in the form of several new projects – meaning that hordes of walkers will continue to fill our screens and/or nightmares for some time to come.
Here’s what’s coming next from the twisted world of The Walking Dead…
How many shows currently make up The Walking Dead universe?
There are two spin-off Walking Dead series on the air – but more are planned
With the original series about to wrap up, that means that only two TWD shows – the aforementioned Fear Of The Walking Dead and Tales Of The Walking Dead – will be currently active.
Fear… wrapped up its seventh season back in June, but filming on season eight is already well underway in Savannah, Georgia (marking a relocation from Texas) and a 2023 air date is expected.
Season eight will “kind of reinvent the show a bit,” director and executive producer Michael E. Satrazemis said on companion show Talking Dead: The Walking Dead Universe Preview 2022 special back in August. “Getting a brand new palette to work with, visually, and a lot of that kind of low-country, beach areas as a background, that’s something that our characters [will] navigate.”
The anthology series Tales Of The Walking Dead, which featured “six original life-or-death, high-stakes stories of survival with an all-star cast of both new and familiar characters set against the walker apocalypse”, debuted in August before wrapping up its run in September. There’s been no word yet, however, on whether a second season of Tales… has been green-lit by TWD’s network AMC.
It’s also worth noting here that spin-off The Walking Dead: World Beyond, which debuted in 2020, ended its intended two-season run back in December 2021. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’ll see what happens in season 6,’ or whatever. We’re going to go two seasons. It’s going to be 20 episodes total,” World Beyond showrunner and co-creator Matt Negrete told EW in 2020. “It’s challenging, because there’s a lot we need to fit in those 20 episodes. But, at the same time, it’s great to approach it knowing what you’re working towards.
So what’s coming next in The Walking Dead universe?
A host of familiar faces are fronting new projects…
The original TWD series may be no more, but that doesn’t mean that we’re done with our characters just yet.
Let’s start our round-up with The Walking Dead: Dead City, which will star Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan reprising their roles as Maggie and Negan respectively and roaming the zombie-infested streets of… New York City? The frenemies are set to reunite in the new Eli Jorné-helmed series, which will air in April 2023 and “envision Maggie and Negan travelling into a post-apocalyptic Manhattan long ago cut off from the mainland,” according to an official description from AMC. “The crumbling city is filled with the dead and denizens who have made New York City their own world full of anarchy, danger, beauty and terror.”
You want more? Well, how about another spin-off from the original TV series that focuses on everyone’s favourite crossbow-toting biker Daryl? Titled Daryl Dixon, the action will cross the pond to France as Daryl (played by Norman Reedus) somehow winds up in Paris following the events of The Walking Dead. The big question of “how on Earth did Daryl get to France in the middle of a zombie apocalypse?” will be addressed, apparently: “[Daryl] wakes up and finds himself somewhere on the European continent and tries to piece together what happened,” AMC president Dan McDermott said recently of the new show’s premise. “How did he get here? How’s he going to get home?”
While Clémence Poésy and Adam Nagaitis have both been cast as the leads of the new show opposite Reedus, one actor who won’t feature is Melissa McBride, who plays Carol in TWD. The spin-off was initially set to focus on both Daryl and Carol, but McBride dropped out of the project back in April as “relocating to Europe became logistically untenable for Melissa”. However, Reedus has teased that “familiar faces” will return in Daryl Dixon, which is set to premiere in 2023.
And last but not least, it’s the long-awaited Rick & Michonne series. First announced all the way back in 2018 as a series of movies, the six-episode project – which will reunite Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira (who is also credited as a co-creator and co-writer) in their titular roles – has since been scaled down to a spin-off TV series that will be set in a previously-unexplored new location.
Billed as an “epic love story”, a synopsis for Rick & Michonne reads: “This series presents an epic love story of two characters changed by a changed world. Kept apart by distance. By an unstoppable power. By the ghosts of who they were. Rick and Michonne are thrown into another world, built on a war against the dead… And ultimately, a war against the living. Can they find each other and who they were in a place and situation unlike any they’ve ever known before? Are they enemies? Lovers? Victims? Victors? Without each other, are they even alive — or will they find that they, too, are the Walking Dead?”
Production on Rick & Michonne will begin in January, with the show becoming the third TWD spin-off that’s set to debut in 2023. The end of The Walking Dead? Some might say it’s only just beginning…
Brockhampton have often flirted with the idea of The End. Take the final instalment of ‘Saturation’, their breakthrough 2017 album trilogy, which mock-claimed that it was “the last studio album by Brockhampton”, or when the collective’s leader Kevin Abstracthad to assure fans that they hadn’t split up after he dared to release a solo EP in April 2019. Speaking to NME four months later ostensibly about the band’s close-knit, all-under-one-roof creative process, Abstract acknowledged: “The worst part for me is just that I know it’s gonna end at some point. I won’t always have this house to go to. People get older, you know? Somebody’s gonna have a kid or something.”
Then again, Brockhampton have long been renowned for their prolific output – this is a group who released their first five albums in just over two years – so it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that they’ve opted to take the scenic route on their final outing. But are their hearts still in it? “The label needed 35 minutes of music / It’s the true shit,” Abstract almost sighs on the fluctuating lead single ‘Big Pussy’, having conceded on previous track ‘Gold Teeth’: “Did we sign for too many motherfucking albums? Probably.”
This would appear to be the official Brockhampton stance on the matter, given that Abstract is the sole lead vocalist on ‘The Family’. Working on the record with just Brockhampton’s Bearface and Romil Hemnani (LA artist boylife also serves as an executive producer), this pared down approach will likely disappoint some fans who hoped to hear final contributions from vocalists Champion, Joba, Merlyn Wood and Dom McLennon. But this is Abstract’s moment to write the final Brockhampton chapter, and it’s heavy on the confessions. “This the most corrupted vision / I turned my friendship into a business into an empire,” he reflects on the penultimate track ‘The Ending’, one of a number of instances across the record where he pointedly looks back on the group’s rollercoaster ride from their organic Texan beginnings to becoming major label signees living it up in LA.
All hasn’t been rosy in California, though. Abstract revisits past inter-band tensions on the breezy ‘All That’, namely a conflict that stemmed from him not joining his bandmates at the 2019 BRIT Awards: “I was trying go solo before we went on tour… But honestly, I shouldn’t’ve said what I said / I should’ve went to therapy instead.” He later admits on ‘Good Time’ to creating a “toxic relationship” with his bandmates because “I turn everything into art”.
Musically-speaking, ‘The Family’ is primarily powered by big beats and a host of chopped-up soul samples (‘RZA’, ‘Take It Back’, ‘Boyband’) that recall early-career Kanye West (debatably a possible stylistic nod to how Brockhampton formed on the Kanye To The forum). ‘All That’ is the record’s poppiest moment, with lush, TLC-style R&B vocal harmonies in the chorus demonstrating Abstract and his collaborators’ dexterity in the pop arena, while the brief-and-balladic ‘Any Way You Want Me’ and ‘My American Life’ are two of the record’s true curveballs. The latter features just an acoustic guitar and tambourine as the humble accompaniment to the song’s increasingly frantic vocals: “Sometimes I wish we could speak, but I have nothing to say.”
‘The Family’ signs off with ‘Brockhampton’, which drops the beats and dials up the tear-jerking orchestral strings as a contrite Abstract delivers his closing remarks. “I wish I knew the day that we signed that it would change shit,” he notes at one point as he lists his recollections, regrets and reasons to smile about the band’s journey to this point. It’s here that he also individually praises Champion, Joba, Merlyn, Dom and producer Jabari, which should reduce some of the potential discontentment about their absence from the album.
“This next chapter is everything that we wanted it to be,” Abstract then concludes. “The show’s over, get out your seats.” Roll the credits: this really does feel like the end of the Brockhampton story.