Miley, Taylor, Dua, And More Proved 2020’s Pop Nostalgia Machine Is Potent As Ever

By Katiee McKinstry

With the release of her latest album, Plastic Hearts, in late November, Miley Cyrus completely reinvented herself as a glam-rock icon, diving into the past as she cleared a path forward in the pop-rock sphere. Expertly wielding the collective power of nostalgia to appeal to even the most casual of listeners — its final tracks include a reworked version of standout single “Midnight Sky” featuring Stevie Nicks and covers of the classics “Zombie” and “Heart of Glass” — Cyrus also mined key moments from her own career to generative new results. And this year, she was not alone.

Prior to the drop of Plastic Hearts, Cyrus announced the launch of MileySpace, essentially an updated version of what her MySpace page would look like in 2020, hosted on her own website. Cyrus relaunched her website to draw attention to the drop of Plastic Hearts, in a MySpace format featuring album art, links to music videos, and album related merch. But ardent fans of the pop star may recognize that MileySpace is more than a savvy marketing ploy; rather, it’s a clever easter egg harkening back to a fans-only experience Cyrus culminated at the end of the 2000s.

In 2009, at the height of her Hannah Montana stardom, Cyrus was beginning to break out as a solo artist, as well, with “7 Things.” During her Wonder World Tour, she unveiled her official fan club, MileyWorld. For $30 a year, fans had full access to behind-the-scenes content and exclusive (and heavily moderated) chat rooms where Cyrus would pop in from time to time to say hello. Every club member would receive an ID card, which featured a toothy headshot of Cyrus as a kid, one of numerous elements from MileyWorld Cyrus evoked in the leadup to the launch of Plastic Hearts. There was also the slogan of the MileySpace relaunch, “a place for Miley’s friends,” referencing how MileyWorld once was. Likewise, Cyrus played on the nostalgia of old school MySpace, changing the mouse image when users scroll, adding music to her “profile,” and loading her “friends list” with collaborators on Plastic Hearts. Well played.

Just as MileyWorld functioned as a promotional avenue for album releases and tours with an quintessentially insider feel — fans would get behind the scenes content from Cyrus’s life, be the first to hear about new album drops and concert promos, one of those cute MileyWorld ID cards, and an overall intimate feel of being Cyrus’s BFF — so, too, is MileySpace. As a Cyrus fan back in the early 2000s, it was so fun to be able to connect with her in a more intimate way through MileyWorld. To see her resurface elements from our childhood brings back warm memories: the glow of the computer screen, for example, as Cyrus responded in a chat room to my question, “What is it like to be a blonde?” (It was “definitely a different experience,” she wrote.)

Similarly, numerous other pop artists plunged into their own archives in 2020 for some artistic archeology. Taylor Swift, Gwen Stefani, Aly & AJ, and Dua Lipa have all dipped into the past (both their personal histories and the shared recollections of pop culture) in their recent respective works, using elements that tug on fans’ heart strings and reward their patience and devotion.

Taylor Swift, in particular, is known for laying out fan-centric clues and Easter eggs throughout her musical and visual work. Her summer surprise album, July’s Folklore and its December sister record Evermore, were littered with self-referential nods. Folklore played on nostalgic elements in its presentation, featuring a stripped-down folk sound harkening back to her earliest country hits, but throughout each song on the album, Swift examines her career in a new light. She finally delves into her relationships and how she used those relationships to shape her music career.

Thus, Swift goes backwards and inwards with Folklore, making fans jump right in as their nostalgia runs high. By releasing Evermore, Swift further utilizes the nostalgia marketing, continuing the introspective look at her career and relationships her fans so closely have followed over the years.

Fans of a certain age probably danced around their bedrooms screaming lyrics from No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” or “Don’t Speak” as teens. In December, Gwen Stefani released her new single, “Let Me Reintroduce Myself,” which plays heavily on themes from her previous records solo and with the band. She adds callback elements of ska as well as a line about “bananas” throughout the song, referencing her 2004 smash “Hollaback Girl.”

Speaking of reintroducing yourself, pop sister duo Aly & AJ have done the same, re-releasing their most popular hit, “Potential Breakup Song,” with a twist. In 2007, the single by the then-teens was a huge pop-rock call-out, but its anger was kept kid-friendly. With this new release, Aly & AJ have reinvented the song, making it explicit with f-bombs and contemporary production, capitalizing on its potency after the song saw a resurgence this year thanks to TikTok.

Nostalgia as a marketing tool is not a new concept, and in fact, Dua Lipa wove it into the very fabric of her latest album itself.  This year’s Future Nostalgia found the pop star immersed in ‘80s dance vibes glossed with a more modern feel. “I wanted to make sure that every song touched on both the future aspects and the nostalgic aspects, to somehow bring something fresh and new to the table, but also something that reminds you of a time,” Lipa told Variety. “In terms of the future, it really is a production, and the lyrics about what’s currently going on in my life. But some of the sonics behind it have that nostalgic reminiscence.”

For fans, this powerful sense of nostalgia lets you revisit your favorite parts of your childhood: younger and simpler times. But for artists, perhaps it is more innately tied to reinvention. Plastic Hearts, while not thematically tied into Cyrus’s past in MileyWorld, is about Cyrus stepping into her power as a rock icon. The past is ever present, and therefore so is MileyWorld — via MileySpace. Now, you can revisit 2009 Cyrus online as you meet 2020 Cyrus via her music. In a year that has forced many people to pause and reflect on their lives, these artists are taking the time to delve into what made them so successful in the first place.

14 Albums You Might’ve Missed In 2020

Here’s what we know about Sault, the mysterious British music collective with millions of streams on their nocturnal, rhythmic, and bewitching assortment of tunes. On Juneteenth, the group — purportedly based around U.K. producer Inflo — released its first untitled album, (Black Is), via a name-your-price model, with proceeds going to charity, and with a clear message: “We present our first ‘Untitled’ album to mark a moment in time where we as Black People, and of Black Origin are fighting for our lives.” Musically moving between funk, soul, subterranean R&B, and more, the 20 tracks comprise a powerful statement — one Sault followed up three months later with yet another untitled album, (Rise). Taken together, the pair of recordings mark a crucial year characterized by protests against racial injustice and frank, long-overdue conversations about equity. “Maybe you’re uncomfortable / With the fact we’re waking up,” goes the haunting “Uncomfortable.” “Why do you keep shooting us? / How do you turn hate to love?” —Patrick Hosken

The Best K-pop B-sides Of 2020

By Elizabeth de Luna 

The year of our Lord 2020 sucked (zero out of 10, would not do it again), but somehow, it still managed to be pretty stellar for Korean pop music.

The industry was quick to respond to the pandemic with digital alternatives for in-person meet-and-greets and now stands at the forefront of virtual live concerts and augmented reality technology. BTS climbed even higher into the echelons of global culture, nabbing their first Grammy nomination along the way. NCT pushed boundaries of size and sound with a gargantuan two-part album, Resonance. And the debuts of a handful of impressive new groups propelled the promise of K-pop’s next generation.

It wasn’t all great — parts of the industry (and fandom) still struggled to differentiate culture from costume, failing outright to make Black fans feel welcome. And the ripple effects of corruption were revealed to have upended the careers of dozens of trainees and idols. Despite this, K-pop remained a much-needed source of comfort during an unpredictable year, as most of us used music to cope during quarantine.

We may have had more time to listen to new music in 2020, but it’s always difficult to keep up with the hamster wheel of K-pop releases, especially those that aren’t promoted as title tracks. MTV News put together our annual list of best B-sides with that in mind. Here are 23 songs that weren’t chosen as singles but are nonetheless singular among the thousands of tracks released this year.

23. Weeekly: “Top Secret”

Weeekly’s “Top Secret” is one of the simplest pop songs on this list but, boy, is it catchy. All seven members of the newly-minted girl group have serene voices, but Seoun’s sparkling vibrato and Monday’s soft tone are the stars here. Weeekly debuted in June and quickly carved out a space for themselves with their earnest lyrics about youthful passion and growing up. The music video for their latest single “Zig Zag” is especially charming, with unique choreography that involves the girls pushing large blocks across the stage. Weeekly were recently named Rookie Girl Group of the Year by the Korean public, so keep an eye on them because they won’t be a secret for much longer.

22. JOOHONEY: “Smoky”

JOOHONEY’s powerful delivery is a trademark of his work with Monsta X and it’s also a defining feature of his October mixtape, Psyche. On “Smoky,” he describes stumbling through a world obscured by darkness in a slow buildup to an emo-rock chorus that’s perfect for screaming along. “I want to go back to my childhood,” he raps at the end of the second verse, foreshadowing the choir of children who join him for the poignant bridge. There, he delivers an uplifting message as if speaking from the perspective of a close friend: “Love, pain / It’s all just in the moment / Believe in yourself.”

21. A.C.E.: “Clover”

A.C.E. are generally underrated as a group and underappreciated as vocalists (do yourself a favor and watch them annihilate this Blackpink cover), but in 2020, it feels like they might finally be getting the attention they deserve. Any of the three b-sides on their EP HJZM: The Butterfly Fantasy are worth highlighting, but “Clover” is perhaps the most unexpected. A.C.E.’s lead singles are usually hard-hitting hype tracks, so the heart-fluttering sweetness of lyrics like “I feel like a wave called ‘you’ will hit me” extends A.C.E.’s ample range. Do I also like this song because it reminds me of David Archuletta’s 2008 seminal classic, “Crush”? Maybe. If you’re interested in what else A.C.E is capable of, check out the soothing, worship-music passion of “Stand By You.

20. IZ*ONE: “Open Your Eyes”

“Open Your Eyes” closes out IZ*ONE’s BLOOM*IZ with a bang. It combines the members’ sugary vocals and a killer chorus with influences of tropical house to achieve a surprising intensity. The title is a fun play on the group’s name (pronounced “eyes one”) as well as the formal greeting that the 12 members recite in unison when introducing themselves: “Eyes on me! Eyes on us when we become one!” The group is slated to disband in April 2021, but four months is a lifetime in K-pop. While it’s all but certain that IZ*ONE has more music on the way, their legacy includes some of the genre’s strongest singles of the past two years.

SF9: “Like the Hands Held Tight”

Listening to SF9’s “Like the Hands Held Tight” brings to mind images of outlaws and galloping horses, sunsets and bank heists. Acoustic guitar and distorted trumpets accompany the confessions of someone who knows their actions are irredeemable but begs to be loved anyway. “I’m the bad guy / Dangerous, for you I can endure anything,” the members sing. “Like the hands held tightly, I love you.” Appearing on SF9’s January album First Collection, the release was followed by the June single “Summer Breeze,” whose Wild West whistles and gun-slinging choreography are an even more overt nod to K-pop’s yeehaw agenda.

18. Baekhyun: “Poppin’”

It’s immensely satisfying to listen to the warm, brassy timbre of Baekhyun’s voice as it ricochets up and down. The power-vocalist is a pro at conveying the playful sensuality of “Poppin’” and the delicious single “Candy,” both from his second EP Delight. Delight was the first solo release in South Korea to surpass the sale of 1 million copies since 2001, and if you treat yourself to it, “let’s get this poppin’” will be stuck in your head for weeks.

17. NCT 127: “Love Me Now”

The release of NCT 127’s bombastic “Kick It” was one of 2020’s biggest moments. “Love Me Now” is lighter and sweeter, the sparkling pink-heart emoji to “Kick It”’s black one. The Korean title of the song translates to “Echo” and the lyrics — “My heart keeps ringing it, without a pause / This echo that spreads” — pair with a call and response of “I want you to love me now” in the chorus. The effervescent EDM track was crafted in part by frequent SM Entertainment collaborators Mike Daley, Mitchell Owens, Deez, and VEDO, and it was featured alongside a selection of quality B-sides on the album Neo Zone. The collection sold more than 1 million copies and debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, cementing a stand-out year for NCT 127, whose star was already on the rise at home and abroad.

16. Everglow: “No Good Reason”

Everglow is known for their badass, bruising singles, but they shine just as brightly on a handful of softer B-sides. “No Good Reason” is comforting and surprisingly emotional. The song’s consistent tempo, structure, and composition reflect the compatibility of the couple described in its lyrics. “To me, you’re always spring,” vocalist Mia sings. “I can’t find some good reason to let you go / Seems like even I didn’t know / Your presence in my heart.” “No Good Reason” competes with 2019’s “Hush” for the group’s best B-side ever, and that might have something to do with the fact that the tracks have nearly identical production teams. Like the song says — there’s no need to mess with a good thing.

15. (G)I-DLE: “Luv U”

The four Korean tracks off (G)I-DLE’s April EP I Trust are refreshingly experimental and underscore the group’s signature mix of seduction, power, and calculated restraint. Sandwiched between singles “Oh My God” and “Lion” are the gloomy “Maybe” and the confessional “Luv U.” The percussive tongue clicks and slick production of “Luv U” are particularly compelling, especially when augmented by flirty choreography that walks the line between sexy and sweet. (G)I-DLE have already promised a new album in January, and if it’s anything like I Trust, you can bet we’ll be seeing the group on best-of lists in 2021.

14. WayV: “Domino”

Though WayV is billed as a Chinese pop group, their music is produced by South Korean agency SM Entertainment and they primarily promoted in the country this year as a subunit of K-pop umbrella group NCT, so they get a spot on this list. Listening to “Domino,” a glistening cut off their first album Awaken the World, feels like ascending to another plane. After being lulled by the meditative bass and layered vocals, you’re suddenly elevated by the soaring belts and falsettos of Ten, Kun, and XiaoJun. They describe a love that makes their body ache, like the chill of the wind or cold of the rain, until the bitterness seeps inside them and they concede, “I can feel it in my bones.”

13. SuperM: “Wish You Were Here”

SuperM’s first album Super One is chock-full of banging B-sides, from the sexy, euphemistic “Drip” to the tropical “Big Chance.” “Wish You Were Here” is the catchiest of them all, with a bouncy, lilting chorus that you’ll have trouble getting out of your head, as well as lyrics that sound like a postcard you’d write to an ex from a melancholy beach vacation. This musical style is an exciting departure from SuperM’s solid debut EP, which was more closely aligned with SM Entertainment’s signature R&B and hip-hop-driven sound.

12. ATEEZ: “Horizon”

When ATEEZ dropped their fifth EP Treasure Epilogue: Action to Answer in January, they gave us both the banger “Answer” and one of 2020’s most experimental K-pop tracks, “Horizon.” The latter has an unusual structure — mostly a mix of refrains, pre-, and post-choruses — and is imbued with the kind of expansive emotion and focused intensity that defines Ateez’s nascent career. “Somewhere between the sea and the sky / Now you gonna take me there,” ATEEZ demands before the chorus explodes with all the chaos and distortion of a black hole. The last 50 seconds are especially exhilarating, a climactic resolution to a song that encapsulates why ATEEZ is hailed as a leader of K-pop’s fourth generation.

11. ENHYPEN: “Intro: Walk the Line”

Intros don’t usually make for noteworthy B-sides, but the opening of ENHYPEN’s debut EP is an exception. Australian member Jake narrates the first chapter of ENHYPEN’s story, describing their new destiny of “carving sunrise” between chants of “walk the line.” That “line” may refer to the horizon, or the liminal space between day and night, a nod to the group’s vampiric concept. The lush, nostalgic production ends in a shimmering siren song that definitely deserves a full track of its own. Big Hit, the ball is in your court!

10. Tomorrow X Together: “Ghosting”

“Ghosting” begins with a whisper. “You disappeared / Like a faint ghost,” murmur Soobin and Hueningkai, before the song envelops you in a whirlwind of electric guitar, crisp drums, and twinkling synths, as if to drown out all other thoughts. The lyrics detail the tediousness of drifting apart from a friend and watching them move on. As you get ghosted, you become a ghost of yourself, “ask[ing] in the empty void / What am I to you?” The subject matter is trademark TXT, whose music indulges youthful longing, confusion, and worry, often over a pop-rock guitar riff.

9. GFRIEND: “Labyrinth”

Picking between GFRIEND’s fan-favorite B-sides “Labyrinth” and the epic “Here We Are” is no easy task, but the funky thrills of the former make it harder to resist. There are similarities between “Labyrinth” and the group’s 2017 hit and K-pop classic “Fingertip” — a talkative electric guitar, ever-present drums, and layered synths — which is evidence that their sound has matured without losing its identity. The production team behind “Labyrinth” is also a blend of old and new: It includes frequent GFRIEND collaborator Noh Joo Hwan and Big Hit talents Adora and Frants. Their fruitful partnership reflects the promise of a new relationship between GFRIEND’s home Source Music and Big Hit, which acquired the label last year.

8. Hwasa: “LMM”

Many of the lyrics on Hwasa’s debut EP María read like soul-baring diary entries. “Why are you trying so hard? You’re already beautiful,” she asks herself on the dancey title track. That same introspection is present on the solemn ballad “LMM,” which stands for “Lost My Mind.” The lyrics, written by Hwasa, are sparse and deliberate. “Do you wanna get some more? / Do you wanna go somewhere?” she asks wearily, her voice dancing with violins and piano. It’s unclear whom she’s speaking to, but “LMM”’s music video suggests she is again in conversation with herself. In the video, she walks calmly under a shower of arrows, untouched, until shooting herself in the back.

7. Stray Kids: “Any”

Between their first album Go Live, its repackage In Life, and their Japanese EP All In, Stray Kids has released one of the most consistent discographies of the year. They continue to build upon the biting intensity of their signature sound (“God’s Menu”), experiment with production (“Tortoise and the Hare”) and find new ways to feature member Felix’s husky bass (“Pacemaker,” “Airplane,” and “TA”). Nowhere is this development more apparent than on “Any.” The song’s metallic highs are a natural progression of producing trio 3RACHA’s skilled hand in AutoTune and voice effects, while the play on words (the English title sounds like the Korean word for “no”) highlights their aptitude for bilingual lyricism. The song describes a state of chronic indecisiveness and dissatisfaction, but the production makes it clear that Stray Kids know exactly what they want.

6. Day6: “Afraid”

In 2020, pop-rock band Day6 reached into their chests, pulled out their guts, and laid them bare in their music. On “Zombie,” the lead single off their album The Book of Us: The Demon, they describe the daze many of us have found ourselves in this year. On “Afraid,” they struggle to fight off demons and fear reaching out for help, worried their dark thoughts may dim the light of the people they love. “I’m so afraid that you’ll become like me,” they admit. “I can’t let go or hold on to you / What should I do?” After the album’s release, the group announced they’d be taking a hiatus to allow members Sungjin and Jae to seek treatment for anxiety. Jae has since become a vocal advocate for mental health awareness among teenagers and young adults, making the answer to “What should I do?” very clear: Take care of yourself and ask for help.

5. BTS: “UGH!”

The biggest band in the world released many spectacular B-sides this year (“Moon,” “Louder Than Bombs,” “We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal”), but none feel as cathartic as “UGH!” RM, Suga, and J-Hope growl in repulsion, releasing their disgust at critics who are too swept up in anger to consider the long-term effects of their outbursts. An opening gunshot seems to signal the beginning of a race, but it takes on a new meaning by the end of the track as J-Hope cautions, “I can rage, but if there were to be damage done / To others’ lives, I don’t like [it]… Someone’s rage becomes someone’s life.”

4. Woodz: “Accident”

“Accident” is a cut off Woodz’s Equal, the long-awaited first album from the multi-hyphenate performer also known as Seungyoun Cho. The 24-year-old has worn many hats: a rapper in the currently inactive Chinese-South Korean group UNIQ, a vocalist and rapper in the grievously short-lived X1, and a songwriter for artists like Super Junior-D&E and Suran. On the self-produced Equal, Woodz’s immense musicality is on glorious display. “Accident” stands out for its pop-tinged take on the kind of nocturnal ruminations and soaring falsetto you’d hear from Dean or The Weeknd. At first, Woodz is forgiving of a former lover, telling them “It’s an accident, not your fault,” but after a stratospheric climax, the blame shifts. “It’s not an accident, it’s your fault,” he croons. “You know.”

3. STAYC: “Like This”

Six-member STAYC debuted this year with earworm single “So Bad,” but their superb B-side “Like This” could have easily taken its place. An innocent intro of tweeting birds drops, without warning, into an addictive combination of driving hi-hats and floating staccato synths. The song feels like it belongs in 2010 in the best way, and the alternating sweetness of Sieun and Isa’s vocals with the deeper tones of rappers J and Sumin are a highlight. STAYC is managed by production duo Black Eyed Pilseung, who have created hits for artists like Sistar (“Touch My Body”), Twice “(Likey,” “TT,” “Cheer Up,” “Fancy”), and Chung Ha (“Rollercoaster,” “Gotta Go”). With a debut this strong, STAYC seems primed to follow their lead.

2. Taemin: “Clockwork”

Taemin’s Never Gonna Dance Again: Act 1 and 2 are two of the best K-pop albums of the year, hands down. They’re immaculate from start to finish, but “Clockwork” feels especially meaningful for 2020. The lyrics (by “Top Secret” and “Start Over” writer Lee Su-Ran) describe a world warped by memory and cyclical limbo. “My time is my world / It’s like clockwork / Trapped in this circle,” Taemin sings in palpable despair. The song opens with reflective chords reminiscent of one of the greatest finales in musical theatre, Sondheim’s “Being Alive,” and ends with a similarly emotional release. Taemin wails in frustration as the plodding piano and ticking second hand loom like ever-present spectres of time, marching onward and slowly falling away.

1. BoA: “Start Over”

All hail the queen of K-pop, who celebrated 20 years in the industry this month with her tenth album, Better. The provocative “Temptations” is a top contender for the project’s best B-side, but “Start Over” is the real hidden gem. BoA’s tangy, raspy-edged timbre is a compelling match for the song’s pleading urgency and breathless declarations of “You’re gonna love me, let me start over.” The emotional and musical range between this track and Better’s breakup B-side “Cut Me Off,” on which she deadpans “If we stick together, we’ll get tired / So cut me off / You can do it,” proves that BoA’s still at the top of her game. As if there was ever any doubt.

At-Home Livestreams Are So 2020. Bigger, Bolder Concert Experiences Are The Future

By Deepa Lakshmin

Lightning strikes. There’s a web of tangled branches, a flash of sequins; Misterwives frontwoman Mandy Lee emerges from the darkness of a blank computer screen, mic in hand, and a booming thunder in her voice as she launches into “Over the Rainbow.” Even for a virtual concert during a pandemic, the performance’s stage design had to measure up to the band’s bigger ambitions.

“We wouldn’t be able to bring like 30 trees on tour, you know?” Lee tells MTV News over a video call about the various theater sets the band and their crew built over the past four months: a skyline of clouds, a lonely bedroom, a poppy field in full bloom, a bubblegum-pink disco party. Each installation got its turn in the spotlight in The Live Dream, Misterwives’s ticketed virtual concert that streamed earlier this month on Moment House — the event startup that took home $1.5 million in seed funding from backers like Scooter Braun, Troy Carter, Jared Leto, and Kygo’s Palm Tree Crew.

In truth, “virtual concert” doesn’t do The Live Dream justice. The blink-and-you-missed-it costume changes, the sheer volume of sets, and the expansive choreography wouldn’t make sense on the intimate stages Misterwives came up playing in their hometown of New York City. But on campus at Rochester Institute of Technology — where they rehearsed and filmed the show over multiple days before editing it down and streaming the recorded set — they had the time, space, and resources to go bigger and bolder with their production. It’s a “silver lining,” Lee says, because it wouldn’t have been possible to pull off such a grand performance if their original 2020 tour plans had panned out.

Moment House founder Arjun Mehta tells MTV News over the phone that terms like “livestream” or “virtual show” are “limiting” or “feel inferior.” They prefer “moments.” The startup advises artists to focus on what they can deliver digitally that they could never create in real life. “You’re not supposed to compare the two,” Mehta adds. “This is supposed to be an entirely new unit, not a replacement.”

Though much of Moment House’s funding came after the onset of COVID-19, the company was founded in late 2019 with a 10-year product vision that hopes to keep the events rolling after the pandemic ends. With the live-music industry on hold since March, artists have nonetheless kept the connection alive, first with intimate at-home performances, then eventually with scaled-up concerts in proper venues. Moment House feels like the next logical step in that evolution.

Artists using Moment House — among them Halsey, Yungblud, and Blackbear, plus a Justin Bieber New Year’s Eve performance coming up — set their own ticket prices and pocket 100 percent of that revenue, and the startup charges an additional 10 percent service fee to cover operating costs. Selling tickets, besides paying the bills, also filters out casual listeners, Mehta points out. You’re left with core fans who are often eager to find their people. Pre-recording The Live Dream meant that Lee could join Moment House’s live chat during the show and interact in real time with these “Instawives,” the title of the Instagram DM group started by fans. A Discord server soon followed.

“I thought it was going to be like a movie, and it was going to be weird,” Misterwives super fan Jireh Deng tells MTV News over the phone. “Actually, it was really fun, and I felt like I was still part of a community as I was watching it online, even though we weren’t there physically in person.”

Audiences tune in from across the globe, and if they don’t live near a tour stop, this could be their only shot to see their favorite band perform. It’s a dilemma that BTS, with their worldwide Army, were working to solve even before COVID-19. Last June, the megastars broke the Guinness World Record for most viewers for a music concert livestream on a bespoke platform. A whopping 756,000 fans logged on for their virtual performance broadcast by Kiswe, a cloud-based company founded in 2013 that offers AR and XR technologies and multi-camera perspectives, among other tools, to make at-home viewing more engaging.

“It’s like a blank canvas,” Kiswe CEO Mike Schabel says over video about stages that are intentionally designed for digital audiences instead of arenas. In the BTS set, for example, “everything was a pixel — from the top, the bottom, the sides.” When you’re surrounded by LCDs and running video beneath your feet, the possibilities become endless. During a second Kiswe livestream in October, the K-pop group employed multi-view capabilities to tell six different stories running in parallel across four stages, so fans could pick their favorite. With augmented reality, they were even able to watch and hear fans react in real time. (According to a Kiswe report, BTS was “happy to see you, even if it’s through a screen.”)

Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met — together known as the New York-based pop band AJR —  are currently gearing up for their own Kiswe livestream, One Spectacular Night, airing on Saturday, December 26. They tried out drive-in shows first, and now they’re planning a “virtual concert that really blows up the idea of what a virtual concert can be,” Ryan says over video. Fans expect big spectacles at their performances; on tour last year, they did a step-by-step recreation of how they produced “Don’t Throw Out My Legos” based on the snare of The Beatles’s “Penny Lane” and the sound of Jack dropping his keys, then closed out the night with a parade of simulated drummers pulled from the light-up suits they wore onstage.

Now the trio is letting their imagination run wild and collaborating closely with Kiswe to bring their vision to life. While an in-person tour stop might have eight or so impressive feats, this show will have one for practically every song, from Jack walking in midair thanks to wire automation, plus laser and LED tricks that look like magical illusions.

“It’s weird because we’re living in a world where this idea of the livestream and what it could be is being built as we’re doing this,” Adam says. With tours, you know how much money, how many lights, and what kind of stage you’re working with, but “there hasn’t really been a box put around what a livestream can be yet.”

Yet the number of livestreams grows every day, according to data from Bandsintown, which has been aggregating livestream music events across genres and hosting platforms since March. The website registered over 62,000 livestreams in nine months. In June, 1.9 percent of music livestreams on Bandsintown were ticketed; that skyrocketed to 50.7 percent by the end of November, with 80 percent of fans on the site willing to pay for access. Fabrice Sergent, managing partner of Bandsintown, projects that artists could “double their income” in the future if they incorporate ticketed livestreams into their traditional tour strategy to reach fans globally. Over video chat, he compares it to the evolution and profitability of physical records: “That change happened over 10 years. The switch to livestream happened over 10 months.”

Bandsintown’s heat map of livestreaming data, shown below, proves that audiences across the country are tuning in, albeit in less concentrated groups far away from major cities. Now the concert industry is finally catering to those underserved markets and, as a result, becoming more inclusive of and accessible for fans everywhere.

Courtesy: Bandsintown

“When you’re touring and the money machine is well established, you repeat the money machine. You turn that crank,” Schabel says. “Well, unfortunately the industry got decimated this year… so you have to rethink a new money machine, and this one was sort of sitting there in the wings.”

For AJR, it’s been cool to see how many fans they have in Southeast Asia and South America — places they’ve never played before — so they can consider those locations for tours down the line. Up until now, social media was the main way to connect with such audiences. Though there’s always appreciation for unscripted Instagram Live or Twitch sessions straight out of an artist’s living room, both AJR and Misterwives welcomed the creative challenge to step outside their comfort zones and build something entirely brand new for their fans.

“I feel like it’s like putting out your album and then putting out the demos or sharing your voice memos,” Lee says about sharing cozy videos of herself playing by her Christmas tree. “You can have this beautiful polished product but… seeing the inner workings of us doing it ourselves, or ‘this is what it sounded like stripped down,’ I feel like that resonates so much more, even [when] you put everything you’ve got into the bigger production stuff.”

Each form of musical storytelling works hand-in-hand with another; the large-scale livestreams that are timed down to the second complement spontaneous posts, just as they’re expected to complement in-person concerts when they return. “I do think it’s nice to pull back the curtain,” Lee continues, “and be like, we’re all the same here.”

Ariana Grande And Dalton Gomez Are Engaged: ‘Forever N Then Some’

Ariana Grande is switching up the positions again — this time, as a bride-to-be.

On Sunday (December 20), the 27-year-old singer took to Instagram to share the news that she had become engaged to her boyfriend, now fiancé, Dalton Gomez after less than a year of dating. “Forever n then some,” she captioned a carousel of five photos, which included snapshots of the couple cuddling as well as close-ups of a massive diamond-and-pearl engagement ring.

Following the announcement, the couple received a wave of well-wishes from friends, family, and fans alike. “YAYYYYYY!!!!” Hailey Bieber commented on Grande’s post. “So happy for you guys!!”

“I am so excited to welcome Dalton Gomez into our family!” Joan Grande, the pop star’s mother, wrote on Twitter. “Ariana, I love you and Dalton so much!!!! Here’s to happily ever after! YAY! xoxoxo.”

Grande and Gomez, a real estate agent, reportedly began dating in January. Their relationship was initially kept quiet, after Grande and Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson called off their engagement in October 2018. They appeared together in the music video for “Stuck with U,” Grande’s collaboration with Justin Bieber in May before making it official in June when Grande included a photo of herself embracing Gomez in a carousel celebrating her 27th birthday.

Now, Ari is rounding out 2020 in the sweetest way possible. The announcement of the couple’s engagement also arrived one day prior to the release of Excuse Me, I Love You, a Netflix documentary showcasing performances of hits like “7 Rings” and “Dangerous Woman” as well as backstage footage from Grande’s 2019 Sweetener world tour. Teasing the film in an Instagram post earlier this month, the singer described the project as a “love letter to u all.”

Bop Shop Holiday Edition: Songs From Big Freedia, Girl In Red, Black Pumas, And More

Taylor Swift, you think you were the first witch to traverse through a snowy forest bathed in moonlight? Tori Amos’s music was made to be played on the winter solstice, a fact she cemented with her 2009 holiday album, Midwinter Graces. Now the piano siren has gifted us another present, Christmastide, a new four-track EP that says “’tis the season” with Tori’s signature emotional piano playing. The title track is the perfect Tori song: powerful and dramatic, yet soothing, reassuring us with lyrics like, “We all need to shine, and wake this Christmastide, side by side.” After a year like this, I would gladly sail away on a calm Christmastide. Tori, take the wheel! —Chris Rudolph

Cardi B Is The Only One Allowed To Have Acrylics In Ballet Class

Much of the rapper Cardi B’s early success might be traced to the VH1 reality series Love & Hip Hop: New York. Her drive and undeniable flow have brought from that point to the top of the charts, nailing hit after hit, from “Bodak Yellow” to the slickest song of the summer, “WAP.” Now, at the height of her game, she’s making her return to the small screen — the smallest screen, in fact.

Cardi B launched her new, eight-episode reality series Cardi Tries on Wednesday (December 17). As its title suggests, the show will follow the rap star as she challenges herself Simple Life-style with sports, stunt car racing, sushi-slinging — basically, anything she hasn’t tried before. The first episode takes Cardi to a dance school helmed by the legendary actress and choreographer Debbie Allen, where she takes a spin (and a plié) at ballet class. “Have you done ballet before?” Allen asks Cardi at one point, to which the rapper responds, “I used to be a stripper.”

Hilarity ensues from there, with plenty of the customary Cardi-isms fans have come to expect from the Grammy-winning artist. To prepare our minds and souls for new episodes airing every Thursday through February 4, MTV News recapped everything we learned watching the first episode of Cardi Tries. 

  • Even Cardi B struggles with choreography.

    This was a shock to hear! A travesty, even — that Cardi, who singeth of making it drop, from the top, simply can’t dance. I wouldn’t believe it had she not admitted it herself at the outset of the episode. “I got two left feet,” she says. “I don’t have no rhythm.” She’s joined by members from her team, including makeup artist Tokyo Stylez and wardrobe stylist Kollin Carter. “She’s not lying about the two left feet,” Carter affirms. “She won’t have rhythm for, like, three weeks. And then the last week is like, rhythm just pops from out of nowhere.”

  • Ballet shoes feel like condoms on your feet.

    That’s how Cardi describes the sensation of slipping her toes into the flexible flats backstage at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, though which of the two is more protective, the shoes or their rubbery counterparts, is unclear. You wouldn’t catch me hitting the subway in those flimsy babies, nuh uh! They don’t have red bottoms — well, in some cases, they could ostensibly be considered “bloody shoes,” given the medium’s physical strain — but they’ll do for dance class.

  • There are apparently no ballet classes in the Bronx.

    Well, at least according to Cardi B. Prior to her music career taking off when she signed to Atlantic Records in 2017, Cardi was a stripper, and she remains proud of that history, even appearing in the 2019 film Hustlers. But it seems she didn’t have much formal training prior to that gig. When Allen asks if she’s ever used first position — a basic ballet position wherein a dancer stands with their heels together — while working the pole, Cardi responds in kind. “You know, Debbie Allen, I think that there was no ballet class in the Bronx,” she jokes. A quick Google search reveals more than a few.

  • Ballet class will teach you better French than Emily in Paris.

    For real, how much does Emily Cooper actually learn throughout her internship at Savoir? Yes, I can say oui, too, girl. By challenging herself with this new experience, Cardi learns a thing or two about another culture, as well. Allen explains that plié means to bend, a translation that serves as an astute name for a move that refers to bending and straightening the knees. “It looks so simple and beautiful,” Cardi says of the move, “but this is difficult as hell!”

  • Debbie Allen has soft hands.

    Storied dance instructor and Grey’s Anatomy star Debbie Allen has mentored the stars of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Hamilton, and beyond; she’s traveled the world as an ambassador of the art, and at 70, she’s still molding its future. But she also, we discover, has very soft hands, as Cardi points out while the instructor shows her a few additional basic moves. I wonder what moisturizer she uses!

  • The only person allowed to have acrylics in ballet class is Cardi B.

    Cardi B is always rocking an extravagant set of acrylic nails, to the point that her nail artist, Jenny Bui, was herself the subject of a Drag Race “Snatch Game” skit. But when Cardi arrives at Allen’s studio equipped with royal blue stiletto-sharp nails, the instructor is quick to let her know that it’s simply not practical. You could take an eye out with those things! Fortunately for Cardi, Allen made an exception today. “My nails give me a character,” Cardi says in an aside. “I could look like a bum, right? But my nails show that I got money.”

  • Cardi B can (maybe) drive now.

    So, it’s unclear. A lot of fuss was made when it was revealed that Cardi B, who recently purchased her husband Offset a Lamborghini for his birthday and has plenty of luxury cars of her own, couldn’t drive. But come on, she grew up in the Bronx; what New Yorker can drive? But a look into Episode 2 shows Cardi B hitting the racetrack with Michelle Rodriguez of the Fast & Furious franchise. Seems dangerous — guess we’ll have to tune in next week to see what happens.

Channel Tres Is Reaping The Rewards Of His Work — But He’s Not Satisfied Yet

By Jack Irvin

On the evening ahead of the release of his third EP, I Can’t Go Outside, you’d think Compton hip-house musician and producer Channel Tres would be getting ready to celebrate. Instead, he’s on his sixth hour in the studio, already working on his next project, for which he says this one is “just the precursor.” It’s that mighty work ethic and a dedication to honing his craft that have taken Tres all over the world — on tour with Robyn and Childish Gambino — as an independent artist with just a couple of EPs under his belt. In fact, prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, he’d never really taken a break.

“This is kind of the first time I’ve been able to sit down for this long and not be on a plane or going somewhere else,” the 29-year-old tells MTV News over a phone call, mere hours before his project dropped on December 10. In the absence of touring, which has always been the main driver of his creative process, Tres has been forced to take a closer look at his surroundings. “It’s really easy sometimes when you’re doing music, or maybe any job, to ignore different problems you have because you could just fly somewhere and forget about it, but during this time I haven’t been able to ignore anything. I’ve been having to deal with things.”

Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, the musician born Sheldon Young immersed himself in the music of his church choir at a young age, later learning the drums and taking dance classes; at one point, he even joined a krumping group. Raised by his grandparents, Tres left high school early after his grandfather’s death to take care of his grandmother, who later passed as well. By his late teens, Tres was left unhoused and reliant on welfare. Feeling marginalized by his environment, he fled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to study music at Oral Roberts University, working night shifts at Chick-fil-A to stay afloat. He came back to L.A. after college, began working as a touring DJ, and quickly found himself creating music in rooms with Kehlani, Duckwrth, Wale, and more. By the time his debut single “Controller” dropped in 2018, Channel Tres was already primed for success.

Fast forward to 2020. After years of constant touring (and picking up fans like Elton John along the way), the musician found himself stuck inside just like the rest of us. Channel Tres immediately got to work on I Can’t Go Outside, a seven-track set inspired by quarantine and the anxiety, loneliness, and global chaos he’s endured during it. At first, boredom was a main source of inspiration — especially for the groovy lead single “Skate Depot” and the project’s cover art, which sees Tres’s face peeking through a giant banana leaf. “I picked up skates for like one day. I learned how to play chess. I wanted to learn how to do the Rubik’s Cube,” he details. “I’m just showing myself really bored and not having anything to do, so I put a leaf on my face.”

I Can’t Go Outside is the first project Tres has crafted without a performance in mind, and knowing live shows are out of the question for a while, he decided to leave his longtime apartment and purchase his first home — a major milestone, especially considering the struggles of his past. “It feels good. It’s a testament to consistency, and hard work, and just never giving up when obstacles come your way,” he says. “I hope that it inspires younger kids or any other artists who need to be inspired, ‘cause it took me a long time to get there, but the journey was well worth it.”

Clare Gillen

His environmental shift is accompanied by a sonic one, as the project strays from Tres’s signature crisp house sound to incorporate more hip-hop elements, a string section, and a self-described “aggressiveness” in its mixing.

“A lot of my stuff is polished, but this one I purposely didn’t polish all the way. 2020 wasn’t a polished year, and it doesn’t feel like I can just be that polished artist I want to be,” he says, describing the frustration he felt creating amid the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this summer. “When I made ‘Fuego,’ there was a lot of noise outside, rioting and that kind of stuff. You can hear it in the verse, I’m talking to myself: ‘It ain’t that bad. Why you scared of this shit? You ain’t that rare. You just a beat they gon’ flip. My n—a, get off your knees. It’s trash, ain’t it lit?’”

The track’s dark intensity reflected Tres’s headspace at the time, but those emotions were soon offset by an exciting text Tres received from Tyler, the Creator’s engineer asking if he had any tracks that would fit a guest verse from the rapper. He sent over “Fuego,” which Tyler quickly wrote on and sent back — a full-circle moment for Tres, whose remix of “Earfquake” elevated his own profile and became the first remix of a Tyler, the Creator track to ever receive an official release from the rapper. Also featured on I Can’t Go Outside is Tinashe, to whom he reached out for a verse on the soulful, uplifting “Take Your Time” after she posted a video jamming to his song “Topdown” in her car about a year prior. “I hit her up, and we just became cool. We made some music together. She’s a real fun person to work with,” he remarks, noting that there are “definitely” more tracks to come from the pair.

Channel Tres is yet to achieve mainstream success as it’s often defined (Billboard Hot 100 hits, RIAA certifications), but in an age when impressions are made online and not on the radio, the array of artists knocking on his door to collaborate is a clear indicator that he’s on the verge of something truly great. Earlier this year, he appeared on SG Lewis’s disco-house banger “Impact” alongside pop auteur Robyn, whom he now considers a mentor following his experience as an opener on her Honey tour in 2019. “I’ve learned a lot from her. I feel like she inspired me a lot during that time, and she just taught me little things. The way I work has changed, and the way I was performing changed,” he details. “She sees music a lot of the same ways I see it, so it’s nice to talk to someone as dope as her and be able to level on certain conversations about music.”

Aside from mentorship, there are many perks to being on the radar of the industry and its leading artists. During a celebratory dinner for Tres’s first London show in late 2018, his manager let him know that Disclosure had reached out with interest in a collaboration. A few months later, they got together to create the sticky, infectious “Lavender,” off of the duo’s latest album Energy. Nearly two years after the session, the project is nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the 2021 Grammy Awards — an impressive feat for Tres, who says he’s put in well over his 10,000 hours of practice. “Man, it feels amazing. I knew I was going to work in music, but I never thought I’d get this far, so I’m kinda just riding the wave. It made my mom really happy, and it made people that know my story and what I’ve been through happy,” Tres says. But it only scratches the surface of what’s to come.

“It’s great, but I’m definitely not satisfied. I definitely want my own Grammy one day.”

Billie Eilish Washes Her Dream Car And Ponders Existence In Revealing Doc Trailer

In three days, Billie Eilish turns 19, and yet she’s already become one of the most celebrated artists of her generation. It might be hard to remember a time before her Grammys sweep, before every new song drop was An Event, before she became a veritable auteur crafting her own visual identity.

Luckily, filmmaker R.J. Cutler spent time documenting that very space in Eilish’s life. And the efforts of his time behind the scenes with her — a new doc called Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry — look to provide those intimate details, the kind you might expect from a global musical sensation who recorded a No. 1 album from her brother’s childhood bedroom.

In the trailer, released today (December 15), we see Eilish pass her driver’s test and look forward to cruising around alone (“That’s what’s important,” she says from behind the wheel). We see her admit to still sleeping in her parents’ bed “because I’m scared of monsters in my room.” And we see her washing her first car/dream car, a Dodge Challenger, in her driveway. That’s all pretty ordinary teenage stuff, with a few details tweaked.

But what makes the footage so compelling is how it’s cut with a clip from a live performance, surely shot from before she was selling out arenas across the globe, where she tells the audience, “You guys need to be OK, ’cause y’all are the reason I’m OK. OK?”

This is all interspersed with clips from Eilish’s youth, as well as her big night at the 2020 Grammys earlier this year, in a tale that promises to tell the entire story of Billie Eilish… so far.

Cutler, the director, has plenty of experience in the realm: He’s helmed docs on subjects as diverse as John Belushi, Dick Cheney, and Vogue magazine. See for yourself what he reveals about Eilish when the film hits theaters and Apple TV+ on February 26.

In the meantime, watch the revealing new trailer above.

Jesy Nelson Leaves Little Mix: ‘I’m Ready To Embark On A New Chapter’

Jesy Nelson, one-fourth of superstar British girl group Little Mix, announced that she’s departing the group after nearly a decade. In a touching note posted to social media today (December 14), Nelson wrote that “being in the band has really taken a toll on my mental health,” and announced she’s “ready to embark on a new chapter in my life.”

“I’m not sure what it’s going to look like right now, but I hope you’ll still be there to support me,” she wrote.

Nelson began her note by listing the various accomplishments Little Mix was able to achieve since its inception on The X Factor singing competition show, including selling out the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena in London and winning awards — and thanking their fans for making it all possible. “You have always been there for me to support and encourage me and I will never ever forget it,” she wrote.

But because of the strain on her mental health, she wrote, she’s exiting Little Mix to “reinvest” in taking care of herself “rather than focussing on making other people happy.”

“I need to spend some time with the people I love, doing things that make me happy,” she wrote.

At the end of her note, she thanked “everyone involved in our journey,” taking time to once again thank the fans, as well as her three group mates: Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, and Leigh-Anne Pinnock. “I hope that you’ll continue to fulfill all of your dreams and keep on making music that people love.”

Since forming in 2011, Little Mix have released five albums, the most recent of which, Confetti, dropped in November and featured the single “Holiday.” The group also hosted this year’s MTV EMA, though without Nelson, who missed it due to illness.

Thirlwall, Edwards, and Pinnock shared the announcement on Little Mix’s group account as well, passing along their complete support for their departing group mate. “This is an incredibly sad time for all of us but we are fully supportive of Jesy. We love her very much and agree that it is so important that she does what is right for her mental health and well-being,” the joint message read.

“We are still very much enjoying our Little Mix journey and the 3 of us are not ready for it to be over,” they continued. “We know that Jesy leaving the group is going to be really upsetting news for our fans. We love you guys so much and are so grateful for your loyalty and continued support of all of us. We’re looking forward to seeing so many of you on tour.”

Little Mix’s scheduled spring 2021 tour kicks off in April with a pair of shows in Dublin and runs through the United Kingdom until the end of May. Find those dates here.