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Aimee Mann on the ‘Stubbornness’ That Led to ‘Bachelor No. 2,’ an Indie Landmark Being Reissued for Record Store Day

Aimee Mann on the ‘Stubbornness’ That Led to ‘Bachelor No. 2,’ an Indie Landmark Being Reissued for Record Store Day

Aimee Mann knows a sinking ship when she sees one. And she saw the holes in the ballast back at the turn of the century when she asked for her release from her record company so that she could release “Bachelor No. 2 or, The Last Remains of the Dodo” herself. It’s not so much that the majors were going down (Interscope, the label she was signed to at the time, has soldiered on fine without her) so much as the marriages between these companies and a classic breed of singer/songwriters going down for the count. In asking for, and receiving, her exit, she was getting a few years’ head start on nearly every other significant artist of a similarly artisan ilk also looking to go independent, either out of choice or necessity.

It could hardly have worked out better: “Bachelor No. 2” not only became a landmark record on its own — with a little cross-promotional help from “Magnolia,” which employed several of its songs, among other Mann numbers Paul Thomas Anderson seeded throughout the movie — but it set the template for her subsequent career. As much acclaim as Mann had gotten in Til Tuesday and for her first couple of solo records, it was “Bachelor No. 2” that made Mann No. 1 in the hearts of critics and a significant coterie of followers who’ve hailed her, with plenty of justification, as the sharpest songwriter of her generation.

For the Black Friday edition of Record Store Day, Mann is reissuing “Bachelor No. 2” as a two-LP set, with extensive annotation, a new cover and five bonus tracks (including more “Magnolia” songs that weren’t previously a part of the album). Anyone who might hesitate in this dating game probably needs to wise up, as the limited edition of 5,000 copies is likely to go fast, although Mann is not averse to eventually pressing a second edition if the first goes as quickly as expected.

“It seems really fresh,” Mann said in a phone call with Variety. “It’s a very startling to realize it had been 20 years.” Our conversation about what fed into this classic album then, and how she reevaluates it now, follows.

VARIETY: Have you been actively thinking about releasing your catalog on vinyl, or was it just “Bachelor No. 2” in particular?

MANN: Well, we’re going to do a reissue of “Lost in Space,” too, because I think some of them just wanted to get better vinyl versions. In fact, I can’t even remember if we had a vinyl “Lost in Space” — I don’t think we did.

To refresh your memory, both of these albums only came out on vinyl in very limited Mobile Fidelity editions. And they command high prices on the collectors’ market. Looking them the going rate for them on Discogs, the lowest price for a sealed copy of “Bachelor No. 2” right now is about $300, and the lowest price for a sealed “Lost in Space” is about $365. So, you can probably sell a few of these new editions.

Good God! I don’t think I had anything to do with those. Or it was probably one of those things where I was on the road and my manager said, “Somebody wants to release it on vinyl,” and I’m like, “Fine.” That was probably my involvement at the time.

But I think with this one in particular, because I had recorded all of those “Magnolia” soundtrack songs at the same time, to me, it always felt like they should be on that record. And then some of (the bonus tracks), like “Momentum” and the cover of (Nilsson’s) “One,” had been done earlier, but I wanted to put them on this reissue. And I wanted to have a better package, because the package was done so hastily at that point, it didn’t really come out the way I wanted it to. And there are some liner notes, and it’s remastering by this great guy, Dave Cooley.

And the running order has changed.

Yeah, I resequenced it a little bit. I wanted it to flow from one side to the other, while still trying to keep most of the original sequencing. But it has been changed a little bit, because I didn’t want to just chuck the five new songs together on one side. That sort of bothered me. I wanted to incorporate them. So everything is a little different. The cover keeps the idea of the original cover, but expands it. It’s all just a little bit more. It’s “Bachelor No. 2 Plus.”

There are only 5,000 copies pressed, which seems low, looking at how instantly some Record Store Day titles have gone recently in quantities of about that size that have far less repute as a classic than this one. Is this a one-time pressing or will there be a separate edition later on that’s not limited?

I don’t know! Listen, if I thought people were really clamoring for it, I’m sure I would press up some more.

Will there be a CD of either of these albums in their remastered or expanded form, or is it vinyl only?

It’s vinyl-only right now. But I think a digital version will come.

Besides the bonus tracks and the fact that basically only a handful of people already have it on vinyl, one of the big draws of this is the extensive liner notes, which include track-by-track commentary. A general statement you make in the notes is: “This album is better than I remember.” Did you have a thought in your mind, like, “Well, that one was kind of mediocre by my standards”?

No. Well, I think it’s two things. First of all, you always think that your most recent thing is the best. And for me, there’s always a feeling of “Oh, I’ve improved so much.” I think that feeling that I’ve gotten better or the sound has gotten better, or whatever, on some level translates into that meaning the older stuff wasn’t as good. But that’s also compounded by not ever listening to your record once it’s done, so you retain an impression of what it was or what it was like to make it or what it sounded like. I think that’s just why I was surprised. Like: Oh, I just haven’t heard this. It actually is really good.

One of its lasting legacies, besides the fact that it is really good, is that you were legendarily ahead of the indie curve. Nowadays, probably anyone who makes anything sort of remotely like your kind of music is thinking, “Why would I want or need to be with a major label?” But in 1999-2000, it was a radical thought to go it alone.

Yeah. At the time (a major) was the only game in town, you know? I didn’t know anyone who put out their own records. The Internet wasn’t really a thing. I mean, it was a little bit of a thing, but you couldn’t really order it online. It was more like mail order; you could call a number or something — I’m not sure exactly what it was. But I know that the online store thing at that point didn’t really exist in the same form.

But that was the point where I found myself, along with a bunch of other artists, getting transferred to Interscope [which absorbed Geffen, her former label, and A&M, in a consolidation]. I had pretty much seen all that the major labels had to offer and realized it wasn’t really rocket science, and saw kind of a thin sliver of hope of a way to do it myself. Because you can hire independent record promoters to work at radio. Obviously you can continue to tour it and promote it yourself. You can hire a publicist. All the things that a record label does, you can provide for yourself. Distribution was the only thing that was missing. Eventually I was able to get distribution for my label, but at first we just went (self-released).

Mostly, it was stubbornness. I just didn’t want to work with the major labels anymore, and I felt like I don’t care if I have to sell this out of the back of a van. Because then at least you’re in charge of your own destiny. My reasoning was that if I wasn’t going to sell any records, at least I should be able to make the record I wanted to make — and I had already made it. It wasn’t a mystery as to what it was. It was already recorded. And I felt like it wasn’t a very good sign that Interscope, I think even without listening to it, assumed that they would have to go over it and make me record a bunch of extra songs and continue to work on it. I felt like it was finished. So I didn’t want to go through that again.

How did it pan out, commercially?

We sold 25,000 records, just from the website. And then once we got a distribution deal, we sold 275,000, which I think is the most sales that I’ve ever had.

It got a boost when people who probably didn’t know anything about Til Tuesday or your two previous solo records were discovering you from the “Magnolia” soundtrack, safe to say?

I do think I got a new audience with the “Magnolia” soundtrack, and those two things overlapped. I know that Interscope was offered the soundtrack, and they turned it down. I think the soundtrack was a gold record — but for Interscope, those numbers were really insignificant; a gold record didn’t really mean anything to them. So they passed on that, and I think that made it even easier for me to leave.

You’ve made it sound like you were bringing in material to the label before you left and were getting sort of a shrug. Were there any champions who were saying “No, no, this is great stuff,” or was it really just kind of uniformly “we don’t get this and you need to write a hit”?

With Interscope, I didn’t really have a relationship with them anyway. That lasted about five minutes and then I was out. But at Geffen, I didn’t really feel like I had (support). Jim Barber had signed me, but I think he was also fixated on a single. Which, in my experience, when you are listening to music to try to discern whether it’s going to be popular with other people, you just can’t hear it the same way. There’s no emotional response, which means you can’t really ascertain whether it would be a single, because music is all about having an emotional response. I mean, if something is catchy, that’s an emotional response. It’s not going to be catchy if you’re looking at it with a microscope.

The impression I got was that they thought that I was not commercial enough, which to me seemed crazy. Because I remember having a lot of conversations, like, “Well, what about like 10,000 Maniacs? They have a huge hit — how am I less commercial than that?” And, “What about Tracy Chapman?” That was more at Epic (Til Tuesday’s label). I would point to these other artists, and they would say, “Well, that’s a different story, because of these other reasons.” It was just very frustrating because I in no respect thought that I was a left-of-center or inaccessible artist.

You wrote the song “Nothing Is Good Enough,” which was provoked by those kinds of conversations, thinking back on situations that predated even being on Interscope, then?

Oh, yeah. A lot of that record was really hard to write, because I felt so completely demoralized by and discouraged by my interactions with people at Geffen. Because nobody ever listened to anything that I played for them and reacted with any kind of happiness. When you play a song for somebody, what you’re hoping for is that they smile and go, “Oh, I really like that,” or “It’s really pretty,” or “It really gets to me” — or something. And it’d just be sort of like nodding and then saying, “Well, I don’t hear a single.” You just feel like you’re failing all the time. The upshot of that is that I started to be unable to write because their reaction made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, and so I just started to have a lot of writer’s block.

Then you filtered those feelings you were having into some of the songs, which are great, more universal songs that certainly transcend being about the music business.

Yeah, I think the only way to deal with that kind of situation is just to write about what you’re feeling. And obviously everybody’s been in various relationships where they felt like they weren’t good enough for the other person, or they kept letting the other person down in some unknown way that was frustrating. I wanted the song (“Nothing Is Good Enough”) to not just be about the relationship with the record company, but be about that feeling.

In the liner notes you say that the “Dodo” part of the title reflected your feeling at the time that singer-songwriters were a dying breed. If you felt that way in 2000…

Oh my God. [Laughs.] Yeah. “The remains of the Dodo” — I came across that phrase because I was reading about the Dodo. It obviously became extinct ages ago, but they don’t even have a full stuffed Dodo. They just have a beak and a couple of feathers and a claw. There’s just these sad little remains! And I feel like that’s about where we are now. We’re at beak-and-claw stage.

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Aimee Mann’s “Bachelor No. 2” vinyl reissue for Record Store Day Black Friday

To talk about “Magnolia” a little: Did Paul Thomas Anderson tell you how much of your music he was planning to use, or that he was quoting lyrics in the script, well before he shot it?

Yeah, he did. I have to confess that my reaction to a lot of the things that were in the movie … When he showed me the “Wise Up” sequence in the script, I just did not know how he could pull that off without seeming ridiculous, because it was such an audacious idea to have people suddenly start singing. But I didn’t realize that throughout that movie, there’s a kind of almost surrealism that makes everything take on a dreamlike state, without being mannered. To me, that’s almost like the state of PTSD where normal things feel surreal, but extraordinary circumstances feel commonplace.

It’s difficult to think of any other film that transforms itself into a movie musical — for just one number.

I know, it’s so strange. But it was such an amazing moment. But yeah, it was very hard for me to picture. And then I felt bad that I lectured him. [Laughs.] That I had doubted. I was like, “I don’t know, man. This seems pretty weird!”

Speaking of surrealism during that period, does performing on the Oscars still feel like a surreal experience? [Mann sang her Oscar-nominated “Save Me” on the 2000 telecast.]

Oh, yeah, that was very surreal. I really didn’t feel like I belonged there. It’s such a formal event. The focus on the women’s clothes… You know, from a distance it’s kind of entertaining. And then when you realize you have to be a part of it, you’re like, “I can’t do that! I’m not going to play in a gown. I can’t even wear those shoes.” That was just so far from my life. And I thought about Elliott Smith wearing that white suit [when performed his nominated song from “Good Will Hunting” two years earlier]. It was hard to bridge that gap. And then finally I found a stylist who found some clothes that looked fancy but still weren’t out of the realm of the kind of things that I would wear normally. But it felt like a whole different planet that I didn’t belong on.

Is it something that at least feels good on your resume — “Oscar nominee”?

Oh my God, yes. And I got to meet Jeff Goldblum at the Vanity Fair party, and that was worth the price of admission. [They became friends and Goldblum has occasionally shown up as a guest at Mann’s L.A. shows.]

The song “Deathly” is one that appears on both “Bachelor No. 2” and “Magnolia.” There, the opening line shows up as a piece of dialogue between Melora Walters and John C. Reilly. In that context, you could think of it as more of like a positive song, because the characters are fearful of something that could be good for them. But then in your liner notes, you say that the song was written about needing to be wary of charmers who really are no up to good. So it’s one of those songs that could read different ways, but maybe the “Magnolia” usage pushes it in a certain direction?

Yeah, that’s probably true. I think when I wrote it, it was, yeah, “be aware of the charmer.” But it’s about when you have a certain reaction to somebody, and you’ve spent a long time really trying to stay heavily armored, and realizing how overwhelming it is to have feelings for somebody when you’re so heavily armored. It’s in that moment that you realize, “Oh, I’m out of my depth. It’s just too much.” It’s like, “Don’t be nice to me. It’ll just make me think of all the other times where people weren’t nice, and I don’t want to think about that.”

Songs like that stuck out because pop artists tend to write about more clear-cut feelings. “I’m really guarded” is not necessarily the first go-to theme for love song lyrics.

Yeah, exactly. Or stating in the first line both your attraction to somebody and how you’re immediately going to repudiate that attraction.

With the song “Wise Up,” Aaron Dessler and Bon Iver covered it just within the last few weeks, for a Biden thing or something, right?

Yeah, they did it for a get-out-the-vote-for-Wisconsin thing. I loved their version. And they have “rise up” at the end, which I loved.

That’s another song that you could almost take two ways. It’s either a hopeful song or a “you are just never gonna get the point” type of song.

This was before I knew anything about 12-step stuff, but it’s basically saying: “it’s not going to stop until you hit bottom. And better sooner than later.”

In the liner notes you say there were songs you almost would have left off the record then, and that they’re different than the ones you would leave off now.

Yeah, I think “Satellite” is a song that I overworked. Which you can kind of hear, because it’s got so many sections. Even so, I actually think it works. But I think when you overwork something, it doesn’t leave you with a great feeling. So I didn’t like that song — but I like a lot of it now. I am kind of into it. But I had originally had different music to it, and going through so many stages with a song is not something I usually do, because it throws me off, and I think that’s what happened. I lost perspective on that song.

Is there a standout for you?

I think “Nothing Is Good Enough” is kind of my current new favorite. The song where I was going to deliberately write a single, and that’s what I wrote instead. That really makes me laugh — the sort of Bacharach-y jazz waltz that would have no possibility of ever being a single in any universe.

There’s one song where, in the notes, you break down the math on what your attitude toward the decision making about it. You have the equation as “one-fourth make them happy, one-fourth fuck you…”

[Laughs.] That’s my usual breakdown in any given situation: one-fourth make ‘em happy, one-fourth fuck you.

You’d made great albums before this, but did you feel like this was the start of a second act, or third act, or whichever level of new beginning it would be at this point in your career?

Yeah, I do. I was so proud that, first of all, I produced that record. There were some songs that Jon Brion had started, or that I started recording with him, but finished off myself; songs that I produced entirely; songs that I collaborated with others). But I was more in charge of it than usual. Because the songs that I did with Jon, he plays everything, almost — I mean, 90% of everything — so he’s not only producer, he’s sort of the band. It’s very easy to just sit back and let Jon go. So this was the only record that I really took responsibility for all the music: all the parts that were played, the way everything sounded. Everything about it had an Independence Day flavor for me, including the fact that we took it and sold it ourselves and were completely under our own recognizance in selling and promoting it. It’s made me really happy that we were able to pull that off and keep going, even after leaving the sanctified world of Record Company Dad.

On subsequent albums, you’ve had an outside producer, usually a pretty close associate. But it feels like this album sort of set the template for what you did since; that even though it may be other people in the producer’s role, that you really settled on something musically with this album.

Yeah, I think there were certain things that I wanted to try, and a certain sound I wanted to go for that was a little more stripped down than I had been doing. My first two (solo) records were a little kitchen sink-y — in a great way. But I think I always felt more comfortable with a less-is-more approach.

And you’ve stuck with the DIY approach on a business level, keeping your own SuperEgo as your label. You must be pretty happy with that model, because surely other labels have come calling and would be very pleased to have you as a flagship artist. It’s still working for you, 20 years later, the way you go about things.

Yeah, it really is. I’m so happy to be able to do these records the way I want, within the limits of whatever I can afford — to spring for a string section sometimes, and to have the cover art the way I want it… I think the record companies were kind of counting on the idea that you were so desperate to just have a record out, because I think they thought, “Well, every artist wants to be famous, and this way we’ll sort of dangle the possibility of being famous over their heads.” But I wasn’t really into that. I mean, I wanted to make to make a good record. And I also wanted to have the possibility of being able to make a living — which, I mean, if you’re on a major label and they’re not promoting your record, it’s not like they’re giving you money, you know? The only money they give you is to make the actual record, and then sometimes not really that much.

At the time, with the model of how things worked so set, there was probably a feeling of, “Why wouldn’t you want our advice on how to make a hit record or find out what you can do to get on the radio, if we just give you some helpful hints”?

They were always wrong, though. All their hints were, “Well, why don’t you make it sound like this thing that is on the radio right now?” And my response was always: “Because by the time this record comes out, they won’t want to hear that anymore.” And also… I can’t speak to now, because I think there’s a really manufactured quality to everything that’s on top. Maybe it’s always been like that. But I think people respond to music most strongly when they can sense that the artists themselves were personally invested — that’s a personal expression and that it’s not just trying to move some units. Hearing a striving for moving units is not an emotional experience.


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Long Ryders Bassist Tom Stevens Dies at 64

Long Ryders Bassist Tom Stevens Dies at 64

Tom Stevens, bassist for the Los Angeles rock quartet the Long Ryders, a key member of the so-called “Paisley Underground” scene of the 1980s, died on January 24, according to an announcement from the band. No cause of death was cited; he was 64.

While the group, heavily influenced by Gram Parsons, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan and other country-rock pioneers, released just three albums and an EP during their 1980s heyday, they were an early purveyor of the genre later dubbed Americana and represented the rootsier side of the Paisley Underground, along with bands like Green on Red. The more psychedelic contingent was held down by the Rain Parade — whose guitarist, David Roback, went on to form Opal and Mazzy Star and passed away last year — the Dream Syndicate, the Three O’Clock and others. The scene was a stronghold of the American independent-rock explosion of the era, and those bands played on many bills with R.E.M., the Replacements, Husker Du and other college-radio staples.

Born in Indiana, Stevens was classically trained and received scholarship offers from colleges to study double bass but chose rock instead. He joined a local hard rock group called Magi, which developed a strong regional following and released an album in 1976 before moving to Los Angeles; the group’s sound was out of step with the post-punk of the late 1970s and they split up. Stevens worked at local record stores, networked around the scene and released a solo EP. After hearing that the Long Ryders, whose debut EP he knew from the record store, had parted ways with their bassist, Stevens was recommended to the band by singer Carla Olson. He officially joined singer-guitarists Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy as well as drummer Greg Sowders in the band early in 1984. As well as playing bass, Stevens sang and went on to write a couple of songs per album.

After releasing their “Native Sons” album on the indie Frontier Records in 1984, the group toured the U.S. and Europe extensively — American rock bands of the era were enthusiastically welcomed by the British music press — and signed with major label Island and released “State of Our Union” the following year. The album featured a bigger sound and disappointed some longtime fans but generally received positive reviews and did well at college radio. However, the group was harshly criticized for doing a Miller Beer commercial in 1986 — a controversial move in the purist rock scene of the era — and their career never quite recovered. Despite releasing a strong album, “Two Fisted Tales,” in 1987, commercial success eluded them and they split at the end of the year.

Stevens, who had guested with Olson and Byrds cofounder Gene Clark as well as other L.A. area groups, moved back to Indiana in 1988, raised a family, got a degree in computer science and worked in information technology for many years; he also released several solo albums. Beginning in 2004, the Long Ryders occasionally reunited for gigs or brief tours before regrouping for a full-blown album and tour (minus Sowders) in 2019. The album, released on Omnivore Records and aptly titled “Psychedelic Country Soul,” reunited the group with producer Ed Stasium (who’d also helmed “Two Fisted Tales”) and former scene-mates the Bangles, who sang backing vocals. In many ways, it found the group coming full circle.

Below: the Long Ryders in the mid-1980s, L-R: Greg Sowders, Tom Stevens, Stephen McCarthy, Sid Griffin

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Did Billie Eilish Finally End the Grammys’ Best New Artist Curse?

Did Billie Eilish Finally End the Grammys’ Best New Artist Curse?

After logging two massive No. 1 hits last year, Megan Thee Stallion seems poised to have a bright career ahead… even if she does win the 2021 Grammy for best new artist.

Old superstitions die hard, though. Ever since Starland Vocal Band won the category in 1977 on the strength of their No. 1 single “Afternoon Delight,” then promptly disappeared from view forever — with a similar fate awaiting a good number of others who followed in that group’s wake — the myth of the “best new artist curse” has been a part of popular Grammy lore.

The frontrunners among the crop of eight contenders in this year’s race — including Megan, Doja Cat and Phoebe Bridgers — probably aren’t shaking in their boots at the thought of winning, though. It’d be hard to after Billie Eilish walked away exactly one year ago with best new artist among the portfolio of eight awards she won that night. Both she and Dua Lipa, the 2018 winner, are back and up for multiple awards this year, while other recent winners like Adele and Sam Smith are still flourishing, which bodes well for the trophy as a current indicator of future success.

Whether the category remains cursed or not, a scroll through the list of best new artist winners over the years does lend some credence to the theory that taking that particular gong has not always been the best career move. As different as their careers otherwise may have been, one thing Starland Vocal Band had in common with the next four winners that followed — Debby Boone, A Taste of Honey, Rickie Lee Jones and Christopher Cross — was extremely abbreviated runs as chart-toppers. The biggest of them all, Cross, the toast of 1980, accomplished the unprecedented feat of sweeping all four of the top categories at the 1981 ceremony. And, although he enjoyed a few more years of chart success and a best original song Oscar for “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” in 1982, by mid-decade, he was pretty much history.

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Members of the group Taste of Honey (from left: Perry Kibble, Janice Johnson, Hazel Payne and Donald Johnson) hold their 1979 Grammy awards for best new artist.

“Flash in the pan” was a recurring best new artist theme in the two decades that followed, with a large percentage of the freshmen Grammy winners failing to fulfill the promise of the title. Famously and scandalously, the 1990 pick, Milli Vanilli, later had theirs rescinded after it was revealed that the duo hadn’t actually sung a single note on their debut album, “Girl You Know It’s True.”

In the years since, the category has worked hard to win back its credibility, and it does seem to be working. Three of the last four best new artists — Chance the Rapper, Lipa and Eilish — have gone on to build impressively on their initial Grammy-winning success. This year, Lupa’s second album, “Future Nostalgia,” has scored nods in album, record and song of the year, while Eilish is up for record and song of the year for “Everything I Wanted” in her sophomore Grammy session. It’s the continuation of a trend this century, in which the best new artist has produced far more winning winners than clunkers.

That isn’t to say there haven’t been one or two egregious missteps in relatively recent times. It’s almost unfathomable now that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the Academy’s choice as best new artist of 2013, beat Kendrick Lamar, Kacey Musgraves and Ed Sheeran, all of whom have enjoyed exponentially more spectacular careers and major Grammy hardware (23 between them).

In 2011, Esperanza Spalding’s shock win was a rare triumph of artistic merit over chart clout. Although the jazz newcomer hasn’t gone on to approach the level of commercial success achieved by the four acts she defeated — Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence and the Machine and Mumford & Sons — her post-best new artist career has been solid. She’s since padded her Grammy tally by three, and like one-hit-wonder winner Rickie Lee Jones, she’s continued to be a critical darling with a loyal following.

While the red-hot careers of several champs this century — Norah Jones, Evanescence and Meghan Trainor — cooled after they nabbed best new artist, they all still felt like more valid choices a few years later than either Starland Vocal Band or Boone did. And the Recording Academy has otherwise made a number of impeccable choices since 2000: Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, John Legend, Carrie Underwood, Sam Smith and, of course, Adele. Amy Winehouse died three years after winning in 2008, but even with an abbreviated career is still regarded as a titan of 21st century pop.

So is the curse as good as finally over? Some might argue that the category was never all that cursed in the first place. Before Starland Vocal Band, the circle of best new artist winners included such legends-to-be as Bobby Darin, Bob Newhart, the Beatles, Tom Jones, the Carpenters, Carly Simon, Bette Midler and Natalie Cole.

Even in the ‘80s and ‘90s, for every pick that peaked the moment they won the award, like Men At Work, Marc Cohn, Arrested Development and Paula Cole, there was a Sade, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton and Sheryl Crow.

The category’s most WTF moment this century may have been the anointing of Shelby Lynne over Brad Paisley in 2001 — not because she didn’t go on to become a multi-platinum superstar, but because she was already a decade into her career as a modestly successful country act when she won. The critically acclaimed album that earned Lynne her coronation, “I Am Shelby Lynne,” was a sort of reinvention — but it was still actually her sixth release. Since her collection of torchy roots-pop hardly set the charts ablaze before or after the Grammys that year, the singer-songwriter’s middling career since feels less like cursed luck than business as usual.

(Lynne wasn’t the first vet to be named best new artist: Jody Watley and Lauryn Hill won after enjoying major success in Shalamar and Fugees, respectively, and each member of Crosby, Still & Nash had been in a legendary band that’s now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before forming the trio that won in 1970.)

Although the ghosts of Starland Vocal Band and A Taste of Honey continue to loom large over the category for historically minded Grammy watchers, part of being a “new” artist is not having all that institutional memory to stoke worries. As the March 14 telecast approaches — who knows — they might even be thinking of a best new artist win as a blessing. Sometimes, it’s just a sense of institutional memory that’s a curse. The recent hot streak in the category can reassure Megan, Doja, Phoebe and the other five nominees that when the next best new artist is announced at the Grammys on March 14, the show, for them, will most likely go on — even after the telecast’s end credits.



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‘The Prom’ Star Jo Ellen Pellman on Why Kate McKinnon Is Her Queer Role Model

‘The Prom’ Star Jo Ellen Pellman on Why Kate McKinnon Is Her Queer Role Model
‘The Prom’ Star Jo Ellen Pellman on Why Kate McKinnon Is Her Queer Role Model‘The Prom’ Star Jo Ellen Pellman on Why Kate McKinnon Is Her Queer Role Model

Long before Jo Ellen Pellman was cast in the starring role of Emma in Ryan Murphy’s movie adaptation of “The Prom,” she saw the original production of the Broadway musical.

“I’m only 25, yet I still wish I had this story growing up,” Pellman says on Tuesday’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.”

“The Prom” is about a group of theater stars from New York who try to drum up some positive publicity for themselves by traveling to an Indiana town to help high school student Emma (Pellman) fight for her right to bring her girlfriend Alyssa (played by fellow queer actor Ariana DeBose) to prom.

Pellman has always been out about being queer. “That’s something that I do not take lightly; that I have the choice of whether or not to come out to someone, that I am white, cis-passing and able-bodied, and there’s so much privilege that comes with that and, if anything, I feel like my queerness has just been nothing but celebrated and it’s allowed me to tell stories like ‘The Prom.’”

Pellman said she’s received messages of gratitude from a lot of young people. “I remember one very sweet person who messaged me saying that they watched the film with their parents and hadn’t come out to their parents yet and the film prompted that conversation for them to come out in a very inclusive, welcoming environment and they felt so loved.”

Pellman first saw herself represented in Hollywood by “Saturday Night Live” star Kate McKinnon. “I really looked to people like Kate McKinnon when I was in high school, who were just so unabashedly who they are, who were so brilliantly talented,” Pellman says.

McKinnon, she says, showed her, “I can be openly gay, openly queer, and be accepted and celebrated.”

“The Prom” was Pellman’s first time on a film set, after having earned a couple of acting credits on television’s “The Deuce” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Her scene partners in the Netflix movie included Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, James Corden and Andrew Rannells.

“I was so nervous on the inside,” Pellman says. “Luckily, I’ve since been told by my fellow cast members that I did not seem nervous at all. But on the inside I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go act opposite Meryl Streep,’ and this is like my second day on set.”

Pellman has been living with her mom back in her Ohio hometown since the start of the pandemic, but she excitedly tells me she’s moving back to New York next month. “I am finally flying the nest and I’m very much looking forward to being an adult again,” she says.

Hear the full interview with Pellman above. You can also listen to “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you download you favorite podcasts.

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Teyana Taylor Drops Her First Collection With PrettyLittleThing

Teyana Taylor Drops Her First Collection With PrettyLittleThing

Teyana Taylor may have announced her retirement from music following issues with her record label, but her artistic career is far from over. As a new creative director for PrettyLittleThing, the Harlem native has released her debut collection with the online British retailer. 

The capsule is inspired by Taylor’s own signature style which pays homage to ‘90s icons and “encapsulates female sexuality, allowing you to own your confidence and be proud of who you are,” according to the brand’s site.

“I wanted the collection to be fun and reflect the way I dress,” Taylor told BET. “The new collection is where girly and tomboy meets.”

Designed by Taylor herself, the 25-piece collection features a range of baggy pants, tight body suits, bodycon printed dresses, and couture-inspired outerwear. The line also includes vegan faux leather items, pops of neon, and chocolatey browns. 

Image via PrettyLittleThing

“Do you remember back then when everything fit cute? It was talkin’. It was doing what it had to do,” she said of the collection. “Well, I wanted my new collection to have that classic ’90s feel and look to it. I have some vegan leather looks that are very Jean Paul Gaultier meets hip hop and R&B ’90s streetwear.”

This is Taylor’s first drop in her year-long partnership with PrettyLittleThing, where the multi-hyphenate hopes to elevate the brand.

“Being the creative director of PrettyLittleThing is very exciting,” she explained. “It is a lot that I want to do, and there are some changes that I want to make to better the company. I am a very hands-on person, and when I’m invested in something, I want to know everything.”

You can shop Teyana Taylor’s new collection on PrettyLittleThing.

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Country Singer Lily Rose Signs With Big Loud and Republic, Debuts Video for iTunes Chart-Topper ‘Villain’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Country Singer Lily Rose Signs With Big Loud and Republic, Debuts Video for iTunes Chart-Topper ‘Villain’ (EXCLUSIVE)

The Big Loud/Republic Records team, which currently has what is far and away the biggest album in the country with Morgan Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album,” is celebrating that success by joining with Back Blocks in signing Lily Rose, the partnership’s first shot at breaking a female artist in country music.

But in a very real sense, Rose has already “broken” herself, if radio play isn’t the sole metric: Her song “Villain” became a TikTok sensation before it was ever officially out as a single, When it was released Dec. 15 on the independent Back Blocks label, it debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ all-genre chart and spent several weeks on and off at the top there, topping the Christmas-song competition for most of the month. (Needless to say, if it was topping the overall chart, it was also No. 1 at country as well.) Big Loud took the lead in an aggressive competition among Nashville’s major labels over the holiday season for Rose’s services .

Rose is planning sessions with some of Music Row’s top writers to come up with additional material for what will be her debut album, but in the meantime, today she’s releasing the music video for “Villain” (below).


With the ink still drying on her contract, Variety spoke with Rose about why she went with this label team, and become as close a thing as there is to a real overnight sensation after a good number of years of going at it in her native Atlanta and eventually Nashville.

With presumably a lot of labels taking interest in you, what was attractive about this deal?

ROSE: After signing the single deal with Back Blocks Music and Rakiyah Marshall, when the song was just hanging out at No. 1 on iTunes for so long, we knew that the label deals were going to be starting to roll in, and we had ‘em all slotted, and it was kind of just that feeling of looking for my champions. The money was not something super, super important to mem or the legacy; it was finding the right champion and the right family. I felt that off right off the bat with Big Loud, and then immediately Seth (England) brought in Monte and Avery (Lipman) and Republic, and there was a mutual want for each other, even through the holidays. They really fought for me, and I was very thrilled, because Big Loud has been my dream label since I moved here four years ago.

Why was it your dream label?

I mean, they’ve only been around for five years, but their ability to break artists, first of all — and they haven’t gotten to break a female yet. And I’m very competitive, and I like to be the first in a lot of things, and I think I’m going to have the opportunity to get that. And they’ve got Morgan and Hardy and so many artists that they’ve just kind of let them be them. The authenticity is first and the songs are second, and those are my one and two that I hold true to in my career as well. So I was very drawn to that.

Even through COVID and Zooms and everything, it was a no-excuses situation with Seth where it was “We have no reason not to have everybody on a Zoom call with her on Dec. 23 and lawyers negotiating on Christmas Day.” And then he brought in Monte and Avery soon after. He also had all of the teams on every single Zoom, too — not just A&R but marketing and all of the VPs on the ground. Those were the only VPs I’ve met in town. Everybody else, it was just the A&R team. 

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Top Row: Avery Lipman (Co-founder/president, Republic Records), Tyler Arnold (EVP A&R, Republic Records), Seth England (CEO, Big Loud) Bottom Row: Lily Rose, Monte Lipman (Co-founder/CEO, Republic Records), Rakiyah Marshall (CEO, Back Blocks Music)
Courtesy Republic Records

Can you describe the timeline of December? It was a very short timeline with a lot of notches in it.

Timeline-wise, the song went viral on Dec. 1, and I sdecided the deal with Rakiyah and Back Blocks on the 2nd. And we were like, well, we’ve got to get this out (commercially) before Christmas. So Dec, 15 was the release date, but it was right around the 9th or 10th when the labels started rolling in. Our pre-save numbers were insane, and they couldn’t see that, but I think they saw the traction. And we were very, very adamant that we were not taking a single meeting until the song was released. So on Wednesday, Dec. 16 through that Friday, I think we met with 13 different labels in three days. [Laughs.] Which is crazy.

I had three meetings with Big Loud between Dec. 16 and Dec. 23. That’s how badly Seth and the whole entire team were like, “We don’t care if we’re with our families or anything. We will be on these Zoom calls, selling what we can do for you.” And I was trying to keep my poker face on and my hand very close to me that they were my dream label, you know — it was a very mutual longing and want for each other.

We shot the video on Dec. 22. We have seen how these songs and these moments on TikTok or whatever can make something go viral and have a moment where you’re like: “We need to capitalize on this as soon as possible, so when the new year rolls around and Morgan’s stuff kind of evens out, we can release it and just have stuff ready to go.”

When did you actually sign the deal?

It was Thursday, Jan, 7. The offer was all set on New Year’s Day. But I’ve been working at this for 13 years, since I’ve been starting to write songs; it’s eight years that I’ve really been chasing it professionally. And I expressed to Seth how important it was to me that, even if it was just me and him and Rakiyah in the photo, that (it was important) having that (signing) photo not (just be) on Zoom. I moved up here for this picture. And he got all the COVID testing and everything done so we could take that dream photo (below), so I’m super appreciative of that.


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Back Row: Jeff Tanner (VP, Business Affairs, Big Loud), Matt Cottingham, (Ritholz Levy Fields LLP), Stacy Blythe (VP Promotion, Big Loud), Rakiyah Marshall (CEO, Back Blocks Music), Lily Rose, Seth England (CEO, Big Loud), Candice Watkins (VP Marketing, Big Loud), Joey Moi (Partner, Big Loud) Front Row: Paul Logan (VP Sync & Visual Strategy, Big Loud), Daira Eamon, Patch Culbertson (VP A&R, Big Loud), Austen Adams (COO, Big Loud)
Chris Hornbuckle

That the song did what it did with no promotion speaks to the power one song can have.

Yeah, I mean, we all get into music to try to replicate the feelings and the sonic feelings that songs can do for us. You know, I went to my first Bruce Springsteen concert at 9 years old, and I’ve been trying to replicate that energy on stage ever since. But I think that the power of songs and truth and grit behind country music specifically is what makes this format so special, and it helped “Villain” just reach the top of so much content and so much talent these days that people connected with it.

Talk about the video, because there’s a storyline to it, and you didn’t go with the ins-and-outs-of-a relationship video, or just you singing alone by yourself.

Yeah. The coolest thing about TikTok and social media is the connection with fans. It lends a hand for them to be able to give their opinions, and when I read the comments about “Villain” and why people were connecting with it — first thought, you immediately go to the romantic relationship, or the detriment of a romantic relationship. But “Villain” also has just been tapping into this vein of friendships ending, or even mother-daughter relationships that are not doing well. There are just so many different things. So I was kind of like, you know what? If you listen to the lyrics of “Villain,” I don’t want to give any power to the ex, to the person we wrote the song about on the romantic side. So let’s just do a video that essentially does not give any power to the people we wrote the song about.

How would you describe the story that’s depicted in the video?

Oh man. It appears that a cop is going around looking for a bad guy and the (twist) is, I’m a dirty cop and I’m really just looking for the money. So the hero the entire time is actually the villain. It’s kind of the antithesis of the actual lyric.

What happens from here?

One of the reasons I’m so excited already to be a part of this team is they just put out the biggest double album in country history and it’s doing insane numbers, and they’re still finding time to figure out my stuff. So I think the next chapter of all of this is we’re gonna hopefully send it to radio. You know, that’s a dream. And if the numbers can hold up, we can get an add date. And then also just finding more music. I’m writing like crazy right now, while also building a team and trying to find what the next single could be ‚ and what the next few singles could be — and also trying to form a record to eventually put out. I’ve been writing for so long with the same crew, and we have a lot of great songs that are up for debate. But I’m also meeting so many new writers on the Row and just trying to get me in as many rooms as possible, so we have as many songs to choose from as we can. We’re in good hands.


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