My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days Was The Perfect Unintentional Goodbye Letter

By Grant Sharples

On December 20, 2019, beloved emo outfit My Chemical Romance made their grand, highly anticipated return at The Shrine in Los Angeles. After temporarily disbanding in 2013, Gerard Way, Mikey Way, Ray Toro, and Frank Iero played a reunion show that sold out in mere minutes and consisted of both fan favorites, such as “Helena” and “Teenagers,” and deep cuts, like “Our Lady of Sorrows” and “Give ‘Em Hell, Kid.” The fictitious Dr. Death Defying introduced the quartet via an audio intro, just as he opened their fourth and final record, 2010’s Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.

Despite the fact that the Jonas Brothers spilled the beans on the MCR reunion, their official return in 2019 was an important one: The year also serves as the post-apocalyptic setting for Danger Days, a concept album that follows protagonists the Killjoys as they traverse the Californian deserts of Battery City to take out the evil Better Living Industries. Each band member has a Killjoy alter ego, with Gerard Way as Party Poison, Mikey as Kobra Kid, Toro as Jet-Star, and Iero as Fun Ghoul, all futuristic warriors wielding laser guns against the Draculoids, the company’s evil minions. Their whole adventure is narrated by Dr. Death Defying, a pirate-radio DJ who provides music and intel. Although an end-of-the-world sci-fi narrative felt alien in the actual 2019, it turns out MCR was just a year off, given 2020’s upending of society via a raging pandemic, ongoing racial-justice protests, a threatened peaceful transfer of government power, and more.

Given the record’s ambitious concept, it’s no surprise that Gerard Way eventually developed it into a full-fledged comic book series. But as he told The Village Voice, the comic idea actually came first. Gerard and Shaun Simon, who sold the band’s merch and co-wrote the six-part series, “had the idea for this comic that really was in a weird way semi-autobiographical, although had nothing to do with [the band], and [they] weren’t in it.” That much eventually changed; the band members perform as their respective Killjoy characters in the music videos for “Na Na Na” and “Sing.” Both see the band taking down Draculoids and driving a car adorned with the Killjoys logo, a spider with eight legs, cut through the middle with a lightning bolt, which also adorns the album cover. Danger Days was the catalyst that set off Way’s comics career — a fruitful second life that’s also seen him launch The Umbrella Academy, now a popular Netflix series. But in 2008, it wasn’t exactly clear what shape Way’s latest creative endeavor would take.

Following the massive commercial success of 2006’s The Black Parade — a theatrical concept in its own right — Way told NME, “I think [the next album] will definitely be more stripped down.” There was reason to believe his next project would discard the dramatics: MCR had begun abandoning the theatricality and pyrotechnics toward the end of The Black Parade’s tour.  You could say that they gave up the gothic outfits and eyeliner, but Danger Days still shows the quartet at a theatrical zenith. The sheer ambition of its plot line, characters, and music videos showed that My Chemical Romance still had plenty of bombast left. Simply put, this band is a lot. But it’s also what makes them so enduringly intriguing.

On The Black Parade, they popularized the marriage of horror-punk aesthetics and Broadway-esque histrionics, and it’s why “Welcome to the Black Parade” is one of the highest-charting emo songs ever written (it peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100). They even worked with producer Rob Cavallo again for Danger Days, who produced not only The Black Parade, but also Green Day’s rock opera American Idiot and the soundtrack of the Broadway musical Rent’s film adaptation. However, My Chemical Romance changed both their music and aesthetic substantially with the release of Danger Days. As many emo fans know, when the ringleader changes their hair color, a seismic shift is likely to follow.

Danger Days is a monumental departure from the violent catharsis the band had come to be known for. This album drew from influences such as MC5’s 1969 live record Kick Out the Jams, The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and David Bowie’s eighth LP Diamond Dogs. Consequently, Danger Days is more akin to psych-rock than, say, pop-punk. My Chemical Romance also imbued their sound with eclectic, pop-forward songwriting, particularly on songs like “Sing” and “Planetary (Go!).” The band even made their momentous Glee debut with the former. Although the songs are much poppier than what the band had typically written, they’re also more reminiscent of pure rock music in the vein of Smashing Pumpkins, one of the band’s clearest influences. “Destroya” mixes a Jimmy Chamberlin-esque drum pattern with a driving guitar hook. Closer “Vampire Money” is a thrash-rock take on a I-IV-V chord progression, and the call-and-response intro pays homage to Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.”

On a lyrical note, it could seem like Danger Days is complete fiction at first glance. But in a track-by-track breakdown with Billboard, Way mentions that some of these tracks are at least somewhat autobiographical. “Summertime,” specifically, is “one of the lyrically personal songs” and is simply Gerard “talking about [his] worldview,” strongly suggested to be about his wife, Lyn-Z. The chorus features the line, “You can run away with me anytime you want,” and it contains two phrases that the couple would write on each other before each of them performed. “Bulletproof Heart” is similarly emotionally vulnerable (“I got a bulletproof heart / You got a hollow-point smile”), as is “The Only Hope for Me Is You” (If there’s a place that I could be / Then I’d be another memory / Can I be the only hope for you? / Because you’re the only hope for me”). You could say that these songs follow the escapades of the evil-fighting, anti-corporate Killjoys, but these songs are as personal as the lyrics found on 2004 breakthrough Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge or The Black Parade.

Then there’s “The Kids from Yesterday,” the song that foreshadowed the group’s hiatus from its opening line: “Well, now, this could be the last of all the rides we take.” As if there wasn’t already a hint of unintentional finality to the apocalyptic Danger Days, “The Kids from Yesterday” was the final song the band wrote for the record. They didn’t exactly plan on it having the conclusiveness that it did. They were even reportedly working on their fifth album in 2012, but that didn’t stop the track from serving as a (short-term) goodbye letter. This song was even the final one in the main set at their reunion show.

Danger Days hasn’t gone on to occupy the same cultural throne as The Black Parade or Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, but it’s still an integral part of the group’s history. It’s certainly not My Chemical Romance’s most popular album, but it’s a milestone in their oeuvre, providing fans with an odyssey-like storyline, wide-ranging musical influences, and a return — after nine years — to a world about to be plunged into a similar madness tackled by the album’s bold concept. “We’re gonna continue to punish you,” Way said to The Shrine’s audience after performing “House of Wolves.” The world didn’t want to be punished by a pandemic, but it’ll take the punishment of an MCR show any day.

BTS’s Be Has A Song For Every Mood

By Emma Saletta

After being forced to postpone the Map of the Soul world tour earlier this year due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, BTS forged ahead with a fire inside, all seven members coming together to write and record new songs. Enter Be (styled all-uppercase), the group’s fifth Korean-language album, which was first announced in April via the group’s YouTube account shortly after the release of February’s Map of the Soul 7. Fans clamored to social media to express their excitement, and with the drop of the Bangtan Boys’ first English-language single just a few months later, the dreamy disco cut “Dynamite,” everything exploded in technicolor.

While many fans around the world remained isolated to curb the spread of the virus, and felt the complex, sometimes harsh emotions that come with that separation, BTS united them in livestreamed performances, a virtual Festa, and the promise of new tunes. “We hope this song can be your energy,” RM told MTV News of “Dynamite” in August, prior to their history-making performance at the 2020 Video Music Awards. That intention rings throughout Be, which is out today (November 20) in full. Across eight tracks, BTS blend danceable pop, hip-hop flow, and EDM thuds with powerful lyrics that channel the members’ own fears and anxieties (“Blue & Grey”), as well as a steadfast determination to overcome (“Life Goes On”).

Ultimately, what comes through is a profound beacon of hope for the future and, perhaps, the sense that BTS needs their fans to work through this difficult time as much as the Army needs them. Below, we break down “Be,” with all its shiny funk and sentimental strings, track by track and mood by mood.

  1. “Life Goes On”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: optimistic.

    Key lyric: “Yeah, life goes on / Like an arrow in the blue sky”

    “Life Goes On” is a song that reminds listeners, no matter what happens in life, we will find a way to get through it. With catchy beats and an overall mellow vibe, BTS begins their album with a song that brings us hope for something better.

  2. “Fly to My Room”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: better after a breakup.

    Key lyric: “Sometimes we get to know / Broken is beautiful”

    Ending relationships is easier for some more than others. “Fly to My Room,” with its triumphant synth-pop flourishes, will help you remember that you deserve to be happy, and the pain of heartbreak will soon be non-existent.

  3. “Blue & Grey”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: vulnerable.

    Key lyric: “Oh this ground feels so heavier / I am singing by myself”

    “Blue & Grey” is a fresh spin on a ballad, and the combination of their voices with the acoustic guitar will bring tears to your eyes. Jimin and V bare it all when they let their walls down and cry, “Don’t say it’s OK / ’Cause it’s not OK.” It’s a positive message that expressing your feelings honestly and openly is always worthwhile.

  4. “Skit”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you need to be around laughter.

    Key lyric: “But it’s really amazing… Everyone is really amazing.”

    This is not a song at all but a recording that was made the day BTS found out they hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. “Skit” lifts the curtain to let fans see who BTS are beyond the music, and their laughter is absolutely infectious. It shows they’re more than one of the most popular boy bands in the world; they’re friends.

  5. “Telepathy”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: nostalgic.

    Key lyric: “Even though we’re far away now / Our hearts are still the same”

    The warm funk of “Telepathy” will return you to the good times you’ve had. At the end, BTS sings “Every time, even in a different everyday life / You’re the most special person to me.” Your next best memory is just around the corner.

  6. “Dis-ease”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you need a jolt of confidence.

    Key lyric: “One for the laugh, two for the show / Just like I’m so fine”

    After listening to the catchy, hip-hop-led “Dis-ease,” you’ll feel all-powerful, a force to be reckoned with. Try streaming before a job interview or a first date, and you’ll walk into the room without a care in the world, because you’re the shit — you’re incredible.

  7. “Stay”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: loved and energetic.

    Key lyric: “Wherever you are / I know you always stay”

    Jin and Jungkook’s unit track is a blissed-out dance bop that will have you jamming like nobody’s watching. Meanwhile, the lyrics are a soft reminder that there’s always someone there for you. It’s joyful, and it will always have you smiling ear to ear.

  8. “Dynamite”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: happy and upbeat.

    Key lyric: “’Cause I-I-I’m in the stars tonight / So watch me bring the fire and set the night alight”

    BTS end their album with the smash hit that started it all. Transposing nostalgic vibrations and an earworm of a refrain, “Dynamite” has proven to be a favorite among Army and beyond. After listening to the entire collection, this song is a welcome return and a reminder that “life is sweet as honey.”

Mila Jam’s Optimistic Anthem, Girlpool’s Dark Adventure, And More Songs We Love

Peppermint ft. LaFemmeBear and Mila Jam: “Be Optimistic”

Today (November 20) is Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the lives of trans people who were violently killed in the past year. But the trans and gender non-conforming community is so much more than the epidemic of violence that plagues it. Enter “Be Optimistic,” a soulful, R&B-infused new track centering trans joy from Peppermint, LaFemmeBear, and Mila Jam, all Black trans people themselves. LaFemmeBear sets the stage in a powerful spoken-word intro: “We came to remind you, let’s be optimistic / ‘Cause we got this / Listen.” For a truly immersive experience, watch the song’s black-and-white music video, which incorporates on-the-ground footage from Black Lives Matter protests. —Sam Manzella

Megan Thee Stallion Seemingly Closes The Book On The Tory Lanez Saga On ‘Shots Fired’

Megan Thee Stallion has offered the last word.

Her debut album, Good News, is here, a week after she announced it with a gregarious message (“Through this rough ass year we’ve all been having I felt like we could all use a lil bit of good news.”), and with it comes a slew of guest features from folks like DaBaby, City Girls, SZA, and more. But the project’s opener, “Shots Fired,” finds Meg alone, seemingly closing the book on the biggest news story involving her all year: her alleged shooting at the hands of Tory Lanez.

“Imagine n—-s lying about shooting a real bitch / Just to save face for rapper n—-s you chill with,” she begins her first on the album opener, a blisteringly direct track that notably samples The Notorious B.I.G.’s seminal (and controversial) 1995 hit, “Who Shot Ya?” Though she never calls out Lanez by name, she makes references to the event that left her hospitalized with wounds in her feet in July, and for which Lanez has since been charged with felony assault. (This week, he pleaded not guilty.)

In the time since the incident, Meg named Lanez as the shooter, wrote a New York Times op-ed urging for the protection of Black women — “Black women are still constantly disrespected and disregarded in so many areas of life.” — and this week, even claimed Lanez offered her hush money afterward. But the placement of “Shots Fired” at the front of Good News suggests these will be Meg’s final words on the matter.

She raps about not telling the police immediately out of fear of escalating the situation, in the middle of the time of mass protests against police brutality this summer (“And if it weren’t for me, same week, you would have been indicted”) and mentions the lack of justice for Breonna Taylor in the time since. And she takes a few pokes at her assailant — again, not by name — along with the people who called her a snitch in the aftermath.

You shot a 5’10” bitch with a .22
Talking ’bout bones and tendons like them bullets wasn’t pellets
A pussy n—a with a pussy gun in his feelings
OK, he in the backseat and he keep callin’ me a bitch (He a bitch)
We all know the shit I could’ve came back with (Lil’-ass n—a)
He talking ’bout his followers, dollars, and goofy shit
I told him, “You’re not poppin’, you just on the remix” (What’s poppin’?)

Meg’s already on to the next blockbuster. Her supersonic video for “Body” — featuring cameos from Taraji P. Henson, Blac Chyna, and more — dropped on the eve of Good News‘s release and has already racked up nearly 1.6 million views as of this writing. Check that out above, after you spend some time with “Shots Fired.”

Shawn Mendes And Justin Bieber Grapple With Fame On The Silky ‘Monster’

Southern Ontario hasn’t been this lit since the Raptors won the NBA championship in 2019.

After years of musical comparisons, potential romantic entanglements, and perceived shade (both subtle and overt), two of the province’s favorite sons have finally come together for a song that finds them grappling with their own celebrities — and even indirectly addressing their own past actions.

Yes, the silky new collaboration Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber is finally here. And it’s a “Monster.”

Musically, the tune stays soulful and in the range of each musician, allowing for plenty of falsetto and vocal experimentation. Mendes, as ever, stays astride his Continuum phase, while Bieber gets a little grittier than the lovey Changes allowed for. But what’s really notable here are the lyrics, which find each pop star mining his own life and fame for meaning ask they ask on the refrain, “Am I the monster?”

Bieber’s first lines, in particular, are striking: “I was 15 when the world put me on a pedestal / I had big dreams of doing shows and making memories / Made some bad moves tryin’ to act cool, upset by their jealousy.” Later, he comes clean, but perhaps not all the way: “I take responsibility for everything I’ve done / Holding it against me like you’re the holy one.” I guess this is growing up.

Ahead of the song’s release on Friday (November 20), the duo engaged in a bit of playful chirping on Twitter, kicked off by Bieber, who resurfaced his iconic 2015 interview moment where he asked, “Who’s Shawn Mendes?” as he gnawed on a plastic bottle cap. As a retort, Mendes posted a photo of himself and child actor Jacob Tremblay, asking Biebs, “You don’t remember us taking this pic together?” Justin then threw down his Jofas for the ultimate quip: “This guy thinks he can beat me in hockey.”

Of course, the ribbing was all for promo, but a little one-on-one shinny feels like the only logical conclusion to this story. How ’bout it, boys? Throw on a couple Reverse Retro Leafs sweaters and toques and meet at the pond for winner-take-all? We can always dream.

In the meantime, check out the introspective “Monster.” Give’r a rip above.

The Emotional Evolution Of Tayla Parx’s Coping Mechanisms

By Alex Gonzalez

In the songs she’s co-written for Ariana Grande, Khalid and Normani, Troye Sivan, Janelle Monáe, and many others, Tayla Parx relies on emotion. On Grande’s “Needy,” she writes about the need for reassurance and validation, while Normani and Khalid’s “Love Lies” sees her diving into love while questioning the intentions of a potential partner. But as she often expresses her feelings through other people’s music, the 27-year-old’s own solo output as an artist allows her the chance to focus the spotlight on herself. On her sophomore album, Coping Mechanisms, out today (November 20), she confronts her inner self, leaning into what she’s learned since she first dove into love without any inhibitions on her 2019 debut.

“[I] started off Coping Mechanisms with, ‘How do you cope with that?’” Parx tells MTV News. “Now you have this whole new discovery of who you are, what you learned about love, what you need from love, and what you need from a partner. I went through that phase of saying, I’m gonna wild out and party in my early twenties,” a time that gave way to a more centered “Zen mode.” “I really wanted to make sure that this album showed that evolution emotionally.”

While her previous album, We Need to Talk, opens with the carefree “I Want You,” a song about wanting multiple people at once, the album’s closer “Easy” perhaps pointed the way toward the heartfelt explorations she mines on her follow-up. “Did something click off in your brain to help you not think of my name?” she sings. “Wish I could say the same.”

Indeed, the groovy lead single of Coping Mechanisms, “Dance Alone,” is inspired by Parx’s girlfriend. This past September, she identified as bisexual in The Advocate’s LGBTQ&A podcast. She tells MTV News that writing Coping Mechanisms allowed her to explore new parts of her queer identity.

“In my old old defense mechanism, [as] I call it, I used to push things away in order to not feel and to possibly not be hurt, which is a very normal thing to do,” Parx says. “With ‘Dance Alone’ in particular, it was that moment of saying, well, why not?”

“Maybe it’s not the person that I fall in love with for the rest of my life, but why cut off my nose to spite my face? And then it eventually turned into something much, much more beautiful than I ever could have expected.”

Parx might’ve expected it growing up in Dallas playing basketball at the nearby rec center and living in a house full of music. Her parents weren’t musicians themselves, but they each had a “great ear” and helped foster her love of R&B by playing greats like Angie Stone, Erykah Badu, Brian McKnight, and Babyface.

“The thing that a lot of those people have in common is a really strong sense of melody, harmony, and vocal arrangement,” Parx says. “Those are things that, naturally, I drifted towards as a writer, once I discovered that.”

By nine years old, Parx was taking “intimidating” dance classes at Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy in Los Angeles, and five years later, she landed the role of Little Inez Stubbs in the 2007 big-screen adaptation of the musical Hairspray. She continued acting and nabbed a songwriting deal with Warner Chappell Music at 19. One of her first credits includes co-writing “Call Me Crazy” for R&B singer/songwriter Sevyn Streeter’s debut EP Call Me Crazy, But… in 2013.

Joey James

Growing up in the South, Parx’s parents raised her to cook, something that remains very important to her. In a particularly humorous line in Coping Mechanisms’s “Sad,” she rage-sings, “You can’t cook for shit, enjoy your Happy Meal tonight,” a lyric she says is inspired by bad culinary experiences with actual exes.

“One thing that [my parents] said was that they’re not going to raise a child who doesn’t know how to cook, and they didn’t,” Parx says. “When you get into that moment when somebody is really wanting to show off what they made, and they’re so proud of it, I love that person, so I just pretended that it was good. I just took it like a G for the both of us.”

That’s the kind of thing expected from the songwriter who penned “Residue,” a single Parx says refers to her own coping mechanism of being avoidant. “I guess I’m very used to writing things down and having people hear them in a different way. It’s a sneaky way of getting my emotions out to that person,” she says. “I’m like, listen to this song. And I’m saying something that you might not like, but I’m gonna sing it in a pretty melody. And maybe that’ll soften the blow.”

Parx says that the most difficult Coping Mechanisms track to write was the Tank and the Bangas-assisted “Justified,” as it came from a turning point during her healing process after a painful breakup. She says that she had to unpack her own selfishness and acknowledge that she may have hurt others while she was healing her own broken heart.

“‘Justified’ was a moment where I had to have an honest conversation and say, look, am I justified in treating this person in a way that they don’t deserve?” Parx says. “And I think that a lot of people have to ask themselves that question. I think that was a little bit tough because you really have to take a look in the mirror and say, ‘What does it come down to?’”

At the time of the interview, Parx says she has written “about 60” songs while in quarantine at home in Los Angeles, where she’s been since March. She also used that time to star in the “Dance Alone” music video, produced by the female-owned Hyper x House visual storytelling collective, where Parx dances in pajamas throughout various rooms as different colored lights strike her face. Among the songs she’s penned this year are ideas for movie soundtracks and melodies for both herself and other artists. Five of those songs landed on Ariana Grande’s sixth studio album, Positions.

One of the songs is the album’s saccharine, vulnerable closer, “POV,” which Parx co-wrote with Grande, Tommy Brown, Oliver Frid, and Mr. Franks. It became an instant fan favorite. “The melodies take us through so many emotions alone,” Parx says of the song, “so just listening to that as the last song of the album is an experience.”

Parx’s resume boasts several Billboard Hot 100 top 10s, including Grande’s “Thank U, Next” and Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes.” While her pen has extended its reach across various genres, she says that as a Black woman, some music industry figures have pigeonholed her solely into R&B and hip-hop categories.

“You hear it in words like, ‘OK, we’re gonna put her in, we need an R&B writer for this session,’ and you see it in the sessions that you show up to that you’re clearly there to add a specific thing to that session,” she says. “But one thing that [experience] also did was it allowed for me to be extremely confident and knowing, wow, I see that there is a problem here, and I see that I could also be a solution to changing that.”

In addition to songwriting, Parx has also recently become a “plant mom,” nursing a grapefruit tree back to health and seeing little green sprouts grow as the days pass.She has also spent a lot of time bike-riding, something she’s loved to do since she was a kid.But most importantly, she makes sure she takes time each day to relax and breathe.

“I think a lot of us are really mean to ourselves, and we forget that,” Parx says. Just be a little easy on yourself and accept yourself for what you are. That allows you to get down to the root of the issue, so you can cope.”

How Rauw Alejandro Blends R&B And Reggaetón As An Afrodisíaco

By Lucas Villa

Rauw Alejandro has been hard at work. The Puerto Rican singer-songwriter exists now at a particularly crucial moment, right between the release of his debut album, Afrodisíaco, that dropped on November 13, and finding out if he will take home Best New Artist at this year’s Latin Grammy Awards on Thursday. Getting to become a leading voice in the R&B wave taking over reggaetón music, heard on songs like Ir Sais’s “Dreamgirl” remix and Lyanno’s “En Tu Cuerpo” remix, didn’t happen overnight, though.

“It’s been two years of hard work,” Alejandro tells MTV News. “Afrodisíaco is my first album, but I’ve been releasing singles every month, like non-stop. We got a lot of music out right now. I think [I was nominated] because of that, working non-stop.”

The 27-year-old got his start in 2014, uploading atmospheric R&B songs songs to SoundCloud. Alejandro’s career breakthrough came two years later with the release of his mixtape Punto de Equilibrio that led to him signing with his current team at Duars Entertainment. He followed that up with last year’s steamy EP Trap Cake, Vol. 1, on which he blended his smooth R&B sound with the hard-hitting edge of Latin trap. As he’s expanded his sound to include elements of reggaetón, Rauw still has purely pop-R&B moments, like on this year’s “Algo Mágico.” “The last two years was when everything started popping for me to be recognized internationally,” he says.

What sets Alejandro apart from his reggaetón contemporaries is his choreography-heavy performances. “I started dancing and singing at the same time,” he says. In his school days, Alejandro danced in talent shows and freestyled with friends. As he leveled-up in his career, his love of dance became a profession that led him to work with Felix “FeFe” Burgo, a former choreographer for Chris Brown. Alejandro cites Michael Jackson as an influence in that aspect. “For me, he’s the G.O.A.T.,” he says. As part of his Halloween live-stream concert, he recreated the iconic “Thriller” routine, donning Jackson’s red jacket while adding a new freaky dance break. Alejandro’s world of music and movement meet in his magical “Enchule” music video, where he slides and glides around the world.

On Afrodisíaco, that talent is easy to spot, and so is its impressive roster of guests. Alejandro collaborates with heavy-hitters like J Balvin, Anuel AA, Wisin & Yandel, Tainy, and Sech and receives a secret co-sign from Spanish superstar Rosalía, who lends uncredited, otherworldly vocals to the track “Dile a Él.” The album’s title in English translates to “Aphrodisiac,” a term the self-proclaimed “ladies’ man” owns proudly. Ahead of his big night and performances at the Latin Grammys, Alejandro talked with MTV News about being reggaetón’s modern-day song-and-dance man and his new album.

MTV News: What interested you to get involved with R&B music?

Rauw Alejandro: I started doing R&B and I mixed it up with dancehall and reggaetón music. I’m more like a ladies’ man. I’m more of, like, a sexy mood with sexy songs. It’s a vibe. R&B is my essence as an artist. I mix it with reggaetón because reggaetón is in my blood. That’s the new fusion. I have no limits.

MTV News: Why did you name your album Afrodisíaco?

Alejandro: My music is porn for your ears. My music is pleasure for you. That’s the vision of the album. Rauw Alejandro is the aphrodisiac. The album makes you feel good. It makes you feel better. It puts you in every mood. We got a lot of reggaetón and sexy songs, too.

MTV News: On “Química,” there’s a house-music breakdown at the end. Does being a dancer influence the way you make music?

Alejandro: Dancing is everything for me right now. In Puerto Rico, there’s a place called La Respuesta. We used to go there at night and dance in the streets. I can’t be on the stage just throwing my hands up. I need to do some moves. You need to feel the beat. You need to feel the lyrics. I think it’s a plus to be a dancer because you can understand music from another point of view. Sometimes to make a decision at the studio, I hit play and start dancing. I try to feel the music in me.

MTV News: One of the biggest songs this year is your remix of “Tattoo” with Camilo. How did that collaboration come together?

Alejandro: “Tattoo” was huge, and when I was thinking about the remix, I just thought of Camilo. I think he’s a great artist. He’s fresh. He brings something new to the table. He’s more pop, more romantic. I think that combination of me and him was perfect.

MTV News: What was the experience like to collaborate with J Balvin on “De Cora <3“?

Alejandro: J Balvin is like my big brother. I’ve known him for almost two years. To me, he always opened the doors of his studio and his friendship. We always wanted to collaborate. I was waiting for the perfect time, for the perfect song. “De Cora <3” was the perfect track. It’s a romantic and happy song, but the lyrics are sad. You’re crying but at the same time dancing. [laughs]

MTV News: There’s a hip-hop crossover moment with Trippie Redd on “Un Sueño.” How did he get involved with your album?

Alejandro: He’s a big artist right now representing the new generation of rappers in the United States I’m representing the new artists from the Latin side. We were in Los Angeles. Everything was so natural and organic. While we were in the studio, we shared ideas. He put his voice on it and he killed his verse. It’s an amazing song. It’s a dancehall vibe. Something fresh. Something new. That was a dream. We got more stuff in the studio.

MTV News: Will there be a Trap Cake, Vol. 2 EP in the future?

Alejandro: For sure! For all my fans of R&B and trap, don’t think that I’ve stopped doing R&B and trap. Trap Cake is going to be a series that I’m going to be doing every year with Vol. 2 then Vol. 3.

MTV News: What can we expect from your performances at the Latin Grammys?

Alejandro: We’re going hard. We’re going big. A lot of dancing. I’m performing a few songs off the album. I’m also part of a tribute for [Puerto Rican salsa icon] Héctor Lavoe with other legendary artists. For me, it’s an honor. Doing two performances at the Grammys, being nominated, and to be there, it’s too much. It’s like too much joy and happiness at the same time. I feel blessed. Life is good.

Ariana Grande Becomes A Mod Fembot In Groovy ’34+35′ Video

Move over, President Ariana Grande. Esteemed robotics scientist Ariana Grande is here to build you a fembot — and this time, she’s gone full ’60s mod with a little help from Director X. In the whimsical new video for “34+35,” Grande goes back to the drawing board to build the perfect woman, or machine-woman, in a vibe straight out of Austin Powers.

Grande plays both the scientist and the creation, fitted with all sorts of metallic goodies as she lies on a cold steel table like Anakin Skywalker. By the end, everyone’s adopted the pink sheer, fluffy nightgowns the Austin Powers fembots rocked just before they all went haywire due to that hero’s raw sexual energy. Some might say: Yeah, baby!

The scientific action is intercut with incredibly stylish scenes of Grande grounded in elegant choreography, often sitting or, um, lying down, over a blank expanse decorated with mod polka dots. This is all for her sprightly Positions song about 69ing, remember, which makes everything feel giddier than it probably is.

Director X, who helmed the clip, has a long track record of making meme-able music video moments, from Drake’s iconic “Hotline Bling” video to Rosalía and J Balvin taking flight in “Con Altura.” Now, where are the GIFs of a robotic Ari coming to life amid a wild electronic forcefield of white light and energy? I’ll wait.

Check out Grande becoming a fembot in the groovy video for “34+35” above.

Taylor Swift Has Begun Re-Recording Her Old Songs: ‘I Have Plenty Of Surprises In Store’

Earlier this month, Taylor Swift fans rejoiced at the calendar turning to November 1 — the day the pop star was officially free to re-record her first six studio albums, per her contract with former label Big Machine. In 2019, Scooter Braun bought the master recordings of Swift’s Taylor Swift through Reputation albums via his $300 million acquisition of Big Machine, a move Swift decried. She also mentioned the “incessant, manipulative bullying” she had been subjected to from Braun for years preceding the sale.

And now, Swift’s taken to social media to defend herself from Braun once again.

On Monday night (November 16), the pop star shared a note following reports that Braun had sold the master rights to Swift’s music for a price speculated to be as high as $450 million to “an investment fund.” Preceding this, she wrote, her team had attempted to enter negotiations with Braun to buy them back, but Braun insisted that she sign a non-disclosure agreement stating that she “would never say another word about Scooter Braun unless it was positive.”

“I would have to sign a document that would silence me forever before I could even have a chance to bid on my own work,” Swift wrote, adding that her legal team said this was “NOT normal, and they’ve never seen an NDA like this presented unless it was to silence an assault accuser by paying them off.” She declined to sign it.

As a result, Swift wrote, she received a letter from a private equity company called Shamrock Holdings saying they’d purchased her music (plus videos and album art) and that Braun had prohibited them from contacting Swift to let her know ahead of time as part of the sale. The letter also stated that Braun will also be continuing to profit off Swift’s music, an aspect that makes Swift working with Shamrock “a non-starter for me.”

For the sake of “transparency and clarification,” Swift also attached her letter to Shamrock Holdings where she states that she would be turning down a partnership with them if Braun continues to profit from her work. “I simply cannot in good conscience bring myself to be involved in benefiting Scooter Braun interests directly or indirectly,” it reads. “As a result, I cannot current entertain being partners with you.”

“It’s a shame to know that I will now be unable to help grow the future of these past works and it pains me very deeply to be separated from the music I spent over a decade creating,” she continued, “but this is a sacrifice I will have to make to keep Scooter Braun out of my life.”

The silver lining for fans is what comes at the end of her note: confirmation that she has “recently begun re-recording my older music and it has already proven to be both exciting and creatively fulfilling,” she wrote. “I have plenty of surprises in store 😎 I want to thank you guys for supporting me through this ongoing saga, and I can’t wait for you to hear what I’ve been dreaming up. I love you guys and I’m just gonna keep cruising, as they say.”

Despite this latest chapter of the Braun saga, Swift’s had a big week, appearing with Paul McCartney on the cover of Rolling Stone for an illuminating artist-on-artist conversation where, at one point, the Beatle taps into Swift’s love of the number 13 in a larger discussion on numerology in music. “It’s spooky, Taylor. It’s very spooky,” he said. Read that here.

And read Swift’s note to fans as well as her letter to Shamrock Holdings in her tweet above.

Benee Just Wants To Say Hey

“I’m a sad girl in this big world,” 20-year-old Benee sings on her most famous song, “Supalonely,” a bubblegum disco cut with funky musicality that belies its own melancholy. But just before the world shut down earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the New Zealand pop chameleon was having the time of her life. “Literally in the week before we went into lockdown, I was at a techno festival,” she tells MTV News. “That was really fun.”

As we navigate a recent intercontinental Zoom call, I mishear “techo” as “TikTok” — at least partly because of the blazing star power “Supalonely” has shown on the app since March. The tune’s been (officially) used in over 10 million videos, and she sang it to an older virtual crowd on both The Tonight Show and Ellen. It’s brought her acclaim and notoriety across the globe, far away from the North Island where she grew up, and Benee — born Stella Rose Bennett — agrees it’s a good entry point for her music. The rest of her debut album, Hey U X (styled Hey u x), which dropped on November 13, hops around stylistically, showcasing a much wider range as it dips into glitchy electronic with Grimes and confessional lo-fi as she strums an acoustic guitar.

It’s also buoyed by its impressive roster of guests — Lily Allen, Flo Milli, Kenny Beats, and more from across the musical landscape — who help execute Benee’s vision for telling her particular story. When she invites fellow Kiwi musician Muroki (and his “smooth, smooth, vocals”) into the fold for “All the Time,” the tune mirrors its subject matter of vibing with a particular person while you’re both under the influence. And Grimes’s ethereal vocals provide the perfect counterpoint to Benee’s mechanized ones on the hyperpop-adjacent “Sheesh.” “I just thought, yeah, I want it to be a robot, so it worked out,” Benee says.

Of course, Benee’s music is only the half of it. Even amid the warm Radiohead-recalling arpeggios that lead opener “Happen to Me,” she injects the anxiety she feels into her lyrics. “I hope I don’t die inside a plane,” she sings as frantic drums enter to echo her mood. And later, she’s spinning a claustrophobic yarn along the edge of “Winter”‘s groove: “Zombies surround me / I’m out of place, I feel so weak / People staring at me.” But overall, Hey U X is as amiable as its simple text-message greeting of a title suggests. It also works as a message to her fans; since the coronavirus pandemic has made touring outside New Zealand largely unsafe, she’s instead filled arenas at home, where the infection rate hovers around zero.

“It’s weird,” Benee says of the sold-out October shows in Auckland that she also live-streamed, “but there’s like this new energy from people, and it’s just making me excited for when everyone can go back to playing shows and stuff.” Below, she dives into her former life as a water polo player, speaking up about mental health, and what you can find in the Benee starter packer.

MTV News: “Supalonely” is the song that, right now, everyone knows you from. Is that the song you imagined that you could possibly send to someone to be like, yeah, this is my vibe, maybe you should start here?

Benee: I think I’m happy that, out of all my songs, it’s the one that got picked up. I feel like I was super experimental in the session. I put lots of Auto-Tune in the verses, and I did, like, a spoken-wordy thing and had weird ad-libs going on, and I was swearing, so I feel like it leaves the boundaries from whatever else I want to make, which is nice. It’s always, like a new, weird life that comes to a song when you perform it. You have to take it away from the studio, but some people know it as well. It’s pretty wild to perform.

MTV News: You mentioned Auto-Tune, which plays a huge part in “Sheesh.” Did you know that you needed Grimes on that from the beginning, knowing that you were going to take this futuristic tone? At what point did she come in?

Benee: I knew that I wanted to have a feature on the song, but I didn’t even think about Grimes cause she’s just like — I’m such a huge fan, and I was like, she’d never want to do that. No, that was Sony/ATV [Music Publishing that] suggested she be featured on there, and I was like, oh, my… far out. But if I had thought about her at the start, she would have been perfect on it, I think. She smashed it.

MTV News: In making a song like that, is the Auto-Tune something that you start with, or is that something that comes in later, as a way to try the song in a new way?

Benee: I think I recorded that with the Auto-Tune. Yeah, I did. With songs like that, I want to have tons of effects on my voice when I’m recording it because it gives me this weird confidence, and I’m like, OK, I’m going to do a crazy-ass EDM song right now. And I just thought that yeah, I want it to be a robot, so it worked out.

MTV News: Another guest on the album is Lily Allen, who you had opened for in Auckland. Had you kept in touch since that show where you played?

Benee: We hadn’t actually, to be honest, talked at all after the show, but she works with this girl called Gina Andrews, who I made “Supalonely” with. As soon as I had finished playing, I had this really, really, bad second verse, where I tried rapping, and I was like, this is not going to work, I need a rapper, I need Lily Allen. I knew that I wanted her in the song, and yeah, Gina hinted that if I wanted to — she did send me a song that she had been writing with Lily and asked if I wanted to be featured on it, so I was like, oh, maybe would she like to be featured on this one? And then Gina and her wrote the verse together, and boom. But I knew that I wanted her on the song, because she’s like the queen of pizzazz.

MTV News: “A Little While” is the only song that you have sole writing credit on, and that song seems super personal. You use it to talk about having been hurt in the past, and trying to get through this wall. Can you tell me about how that one came together?

Benee: That was a lockdown song that I made in my bedroom, and I was working on Logic. and I’m not very good at working on Logic, so it’s quite simple. But I played the guitar and recorded the bassline on the guitar, because I like bass, but I don’t know. I loved working on it in my room by myself, to be honest. I like writing my own songs, but even when I’m working with [writer/producer] Josh [Fountain] on all of the other songs in the album, it would be my lyrics, but it’s Josh’s production. It was weird just for me to do the production, I don’t know, and a lot harder. Josh is so good at it, and he makes it look very quick and easy, and I’m like — I sit there for literally a day, trying to figure out this bloody thing. It’s nice to do it by myself for a change.

MTV News: The very first words on the album are: “I hope I don’t die inside a plane.” You’re not afraid to say explicitly that you’re sad, or you’re lonely, or you’re afraid. Is that always how you have written? Did it take time to settle into a confessional style where you could be that honest?

Benee: Even from the first couple of sessions, they were still quite sad and honest, but I think definitely now I’ve become a lot more vulnerable with my writing. I’ve been exploring topics that make me uncomfortable, [that] like, happened to me. It’s about anxiety and stuff, and, ugh, I hate talking to people about that, but I realized that songwriting for me is such a good way to vent, and I don’t have to talk to anyone about it. I can just write about it. So I think it’s definitely changed, and I’m even more honest.

MTV News: You’re very open on social media, too. For World Mental Health Day, you posted a series of photos where you’d been crying with explanations. Do you try to connect with other folks about your struggles or just help people recognize when you share them?

Benee: I feel like people can kind of forget that artists are very sensitive humans. And it’s like this weird fricking thing where people think that musicians are not normal or anything. So I think that definitely getting a bigger platform, I want to just really make it very clear to people that I have feelings and that I’m sensitive. And I think that it’s important to remind people that it’s OK to be sad, and to cry is also really good, and to cry because you have no reason at all, because there’s no reason at all. Talking to people about it is so important, and I think that that’s kind of why I was posting. It’s just important to keep the mental health conversation going, because it can so easily be pushed under the bus, and that’s when things get really bad. You compare your life to, I don’t know, a Kardashian, and you’re like, oh my gosh, I don’t get to be on vacation. I don’t really look this happy and every photo. So I think it’s nice to mix up a bit of the raw stuff in there, you know.

MTV News: You’re turning 21 in January. What are your goals for the rest of your twenties?

Benee: Oh my goodness. I don’t even know. People ask me about goals all the time, and I actually don’t — I feel like I have some maybe internal goals, that when I do something I’m like OK, yeah, that was satisfying. But I don’t really feel like I’m someone who wants to do stuff before a certain time. I mean, hopefully I’ve released another album. That’s a goal, isn’t it? And maybe, hopefully I’m still happy, well, at 26. That would be great. Yeah. There you go. There are my goals.

MTV News: You also lived a past life before getting into music as a water polo player. What’s something that people might not know about water polo?

Benee: It’s pretty aggressive. At least when I played it, it was. It’s far out, man. It’s pretty ruthless. You have to be so fit to play it, and I know that now, because I’m not that fit, and I’m like, holy crap. I used to be able to do so much stuff and not get tired, and now, like, your gal walks up a fucking hill and I’m coughing, so people who play top-of-the-league water polo, they are so fit. I useds to have to train every day. So hey, respect to them. Respect to the polo players there.

MTV News: And finally, what’s the Benee starter pack?

Benee: The Benee starter pack is a big hill. A grassy hill is in the starter pack. Oh my God, a chinchilla is on the hill, and there’s a packet of — oh, no: a jar of jalapeño-stuffed olives. That’s definitely me. And some Crocs. That’s the Benee starter pack. Oh, and some headphones.