LIVE REVIEW: The Best New Artist Nominees Perform at Spotify’s Grammy Party

Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus perform their smash hit “Old Town Road” at Spotify’s pre-Grammy party showcasing Best New Artist nominees. Photo by Suzannah Weiss.

On Sunday, January 26, 18-year-old singer-songwriter Billie Eilish took home an impressive five Grammy awards: best new artist, album of the year, record of the year, song of the year, and best pop vocal album. The week before, I had the chance to attend Spotify’s official Grammy party, which included performances by Eilish and the other Best New Artist nominees. 

The party was held at the Lot Studios in West Hollywood, and getting into the venue was an adventure in and of itself. After standing in a line to get on a line to get on another line, I’d unfortunately missed the first act, hip-hop sensation Lizzo, but I did get inside in time to catch Eilish’s performance.

Only at an LA music industry event could there be such an unfazed crowd in front of an artist who is about to win a Grammy. Acknowledging how many people were talking, eating, and otherwise failing to give their full attention, Eilish joked, “I’m sorry to make you be quiet for this.” 

The audience’s ostensible lack of enthusiasm didn’t reflect the quality of the act, though. Accompanied by her brother Finneas O’Connell on keyboard, Eilish played a mini-set consisting of “I Don’t Wanna Be You Anymore,” “Everything I Wanted,” and, of course, the haunting “Ocean Eyes.” The highlight, though, was their rhythmic yet mellow acoustic rendition of “Bad Guy.”

Next came a very different nominee, funk and soul duo the Black Pumas, who delivered an eclectic meld of rock and R&B on tracks like “Fire,” which was a bit reminiscent of The Black Keys, “Know You Better,” which contained gospel-like harmonies, and the soulful, catchy “Colors,” which featured an animated keyboard solo. 

Singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers then took the stage, giving the night’s most energetic performance. She jumped up and down and danced almost nonstop as she cycled through hits like “Give a Little,” with its gorgeous closing harmonies, and “The Knife,” to which she added a classical piano intro. Singing poppy tracks like “Say It” and “Love You for a Long Time,” Rogers came off like she was genuinely enjoying herself, bending down at one point to give audience members high fives. 

The audience favorite, however, seemed to be Lil Nas X, who opened with his second single “Panini.” Afterward, he accidentally called out to the audience, “What’s up, New York?” Everyone cheered nonetheless. He followed with “Rodeo,” then brought out Billy Ray Cyrus for an infectious performance of “Old Town Road,” leading audience members to sway and sing along to “I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road and ride ‘til I can’t no more.”

Spanish pop artist Rosalía came on next, appearing alongside dancers in Flamenco-like garb for a show that was visually stunning as well as musically catchy. I left before I got the chance to see the other two nominees, English singer-songwriter Yola and funk group Tank and the Bangas. 

While Eilish was the one to take home the award, it’s clear that none of the other varied nominees will be fading from the public eye (or ear) any time soon. The Black Pumas are speaking to a variety of audiences with music that’s poetic and catchy, oldies-inspired and modern at the same time; Rogers is taking over the radio by adding her own original flavor to pop music; Lil Nas X has released several chart-topping songs at the tender age of 20; and Rosalía has a unique sound that’s catching attention worldwide. It’ll be exciting to see what each of them has done by the time the 2021 Grammys air. I’m betting it’ll be quite a bit. 

PLAYING ATLANTA: Going Behind the Lens with Alexandra Scuffle

When one considers the music industry, generally the first thought is of the musicians themselves: a sweat-soaked Mick Jagger convulsing across the stage; Freddie Mercury, fist raised high before the crowd at Live Aid; a hazy image of Joni Mitchell, all blonde hair and sharply intuitive eyes nearly hidden behind an acoustic guitar. The music follows – a whisper of a melancholy melody or a ravenous guitar line demanding to be heard, carried along by the captivating rhythm of the drums. We’ve all experienced powerful memories of music to some extent. In fact, I would venture to say it’s generally universal.

But when was the last time you stopped to consider the photographers who captured the greatest moments in music history?

Well, today, PLAYING ATLANTA is doing just that. I got the chance to sit down with photographer and graphic designer Alexandra Scuffle. An Atlanta native of proud Peruvian heritage, Alexandra is known for photography that pulses with life, vivid, colorful graphic design, and an uncanny ability to capture an experience in a single photo. Read on for more about her inspirations, her artistic lineage, and her ultimate photography gig.

Pink @ State Farm Arena. All photos by Alexandra Scuffle.

AF: Alexandra, you are officially the first rock photographer I’ve featured on PLAYING ATLANTA (and also one of my all-time personal favorites). Let’s jump right in; how did you get into photography? Was it something you were always passionate about, or was it a hobby for a while?

AS: It all started when I was in elementary school. Whenever I went on a field trip, I would grab a disposable camera. I really got into it because it was fun, and because of the exciting part of how the photos turned out after waiting for a few days. I didn’t see it much as a hobby; it was [something] I felt passionate about. I saw that there was [the] potential of growing it into a career.

AF: Who are your personal photographer icons and inspirations?

AS: Annie Leibovitz, Tim Walker, Mario Testino, Ross Halfin, Mick Rock, and so on. Mario Testino was the first photographer that I looked up to. My mom’s best friend is best friends and working partners with Mario. That was always close to me. I used to have stacks of fashion magazines and make myself study his photos. I was in awe of his amazing work.

AF: What’s your favorite style of photography to shoot?

AS: Concerts, fashion, nature, and behind-the-scenes.

AF: Music and photography have a decades-long romance; what drove you to make a career in music journalism and photo-journalism?

AS: The creativity and getting to meet people with similar interests. I love the fact that my camera can take me places and your office can be anywhere you go. I’m still chasing further to become a personal world tour photographer, traveling with big-name bands, and dreaming of having my work on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Charly Bliss @ The Masquerade

AF: You’ve gotten some amazing shots from the biggest shows and festivals Atlanta has to offer. Do you have any personal favorites? 

AS: Thank you! I’ve shot Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and P!nk. When I shot Taylor Swift, I was told that the stage will shoot out flames. My shooting spot was at the soundboard. It was about a hundred feet from the stage, a little farther than usual. I kind of knew it was coming, but it really surprised me how incredibly intense the heat was from the flames. I thought my camera was going to melt!

AF: What’s your favorite Atlanta venue to photograph? 

AS: The Fox Theatre. It’s full of art and history; that’s what I like about it. Since it’s a seated venue, it’s easy for me to navigate through the crowd during the show. The security and staff are very friendly and helpful, which helps a lot when I work.

AF: If you could photograph one touring band, who would it be? What about a band that no longer tours today?

AS: Hard to pick just one touring band! I would love to photograph Cage the Elephant and Joe Satriani. The no-longer-touring-band that I would like to have a chance to shoot is My Chemical Romance. They were my middle school crush. I had photos of them all over my locker door. I know there are rumors out there that they could possibly come back together. I’m keeping my fingers crossed hoping they will tour again!

Maggie Rogers @ The Tabernacle Atlanta

AF: You work hand-in-hand with musicians to capture the results of hours in the studio. How do you use photography to tell a story that some people may only experience through the images you create? 

AS: When I shoot a band at a show, each song tells a story. I like capturing each song with the singer’s emotion and movement. The stage lighting can change the mood of the song, and the audience, how they react. Photography is one of the best ways to document, especially keeping the story alive.

ATL’s own Starbenders open for Alice in Chains at State Farm Arena.

Follow Alexandra on Instagram to keep up with her latest concerts, shoots, and all the trippy graphics you could ever want (plus her new puppy!). 

NEWS ROUNDUP: Hateful Policy Haters, R. Kelly Lawsuit & More

Hateful Policy Haters, Lawsuits & More

By Jasmine Williams

Spotify Walks Back

Spotify’s new ‘Hateful Content and Conduct’ Policy has a whole lot of haters. Following outcry from a number of industry heavyweights and rumors of internal conflict, Spotify has backtracked on the rule which stated that Spotify could choose to remove or refrain from promoting artist whose music promotes hate or engages in behavior that is “especially harmful or hateful.” So far, the policy’s implementation only saw the removal of R. Kelly and XXXTentacion from promotional playlists, although their content was still searchable.

Public critics of the policy, including Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment, accused the streaming giant of censorship, vagueness, and discrimination. R. Kelly has been accused of various forms of sexual abuse while XXXTentacion was charged with battering a pregnant woman, but neither have been convicted. In response to Spotify’s action, XXXTentacion’s manager tweeted a list of other artist who have been accused of deplorable conduct.

The controversy over the rule illustrates the music industry’s increasingly complicated relationship with the #MeToo movement. While XXXTentacion’s streaming numbers immediately decreased following Spotify’s policy, the opposite effect was had on R. Kelly who saw a rise in plays on the streaming service. Spotify has announced that they will restore XXXTentacion’s presence on promotional content but they have no plans to reinstate Kelly.

R. Kelly Gets Sued (Again)

In very related news, in New York on Monday, R.Kelly was sued by a woman for sexual battery, false imprisonment, and failure to disclose an STD. Faith A. Rodgers began a relationship after meeting the R&B hitmaker in March of 2017, when she was 19 and he was 51. In the following year, Rodgers alleges that Kelly abused her “mentally, sexually, and verbally,” and held her against her well in various places without access to food, water, or a bathroom. Her lawyer, Faith C. Hills, calls the lawsuit a standard example of R. Kelly’s alleged predatory behavior, stating, “For over 20 years, women across America have been victimized by R. Kelly, and have filed eerily similar claims.”

That New New

Pusha T dropped Daytona, his third studio album. Right before the release, he spoke with NPR’s Sidney Madden about Kanye West, rap beefs, and #MeToo. Pusha fans have waited three years for a LP from the Clipse member but it’s not just the tracks that have people talking. The album artwork has sparked a controversy. Kanye provided the creative direction for Daytona and made the last minute decision to spend $85,000 to license a photo of the late Whitney Houston’s bathroom for the cover (seen below). Houston’s family is now demanding a public apology.

Asap Rocky also released his third studio LP, Testing. Preceding the release, the rapper/style icon premiered an art performance in which he went through a series of physical challenges in front of an audience at Sotheby’s.

Maggie Rogers returned from a musical hiatus with her new Rostam-produced track, “Fallingwater.”

Viral sensation Clairo and Stones Throw signee Sudan Archives dropped respective EPs this week. Friday brought the debut album from Thunderpussy, who will celebrate by playing Sasquatch! Fest this weekend; a new Chvrches album, Love Is Dead; and two long-awaited returns: Katy Davidson released her first Dear Nora album in twelve years and George Clinton’s Parliament came out with Medical Fraud Dogg, the band’s first LP in almost forty years!

Two very long-awaited returns occurred yesterday. Katy Davidson released her first Dear Nora album in twelve years and George Clinton’s Parliament came out with Medical Fraud Dogg, the band’s first LP in almost forty years!


End Notes