Remi Wolf Recorded Juno In Isolation. Now It’s Time To Party

Remi Wolf wants you to finally let loose at her shows.

Zooming with MTV News in a baby-pink sweatshirt and an all-caps “deep funk and divine intervention” slogan baseball cap, Wolf, 25, recalls writing and recording her hallucinatory debut album, Juno, out tomorrow (October 15). The singer-songwriter’s powerhouse pipes and funk-infused sound have already scored her collabs with industry legends like Nile Rodgers and Beck, cementing her status as an alt-pop whiz kid. Her music is fun, frisky, and utterly her own.

But what you can’t glean from her brazen lyrics or trippy Insta aesthetic is how much Wolf struggled personally while making the record. She was newly sober, living amid COVID-19-related lockdowns, and adjusting to life with her adopted French bulldog, Juno, the album’s namesake. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” she remembers, twirling a lock of her bouncy black curls between her fingers. “It was really exhausting. I love the music I made, so I’m happy about that. But [making it in a pandemic] was really, really horrible.” As she makes her way through the United States on tour, you can see why she’d be excited to turn her concerts into post-vax revelries.

A born-and-raised Californian currently based in Los Angeles, Wolf grew up listening to everyone from Stevie Wonder to MGMT. She joined her first band in the sixth grade, and by age 16, she’d taken to performing at open mics and busking as one-half of Remi and Chloe, a duo she formed with a friend in high school, in their hometown of Palo Alto. “We were just two girls,” she says, “and we just played guitar, staying in harmony.” One fateful day, they made $200 in under two hours. It was an unfathomable profit for the teen. “I was just like, wait. I really love performing. I really love singing. And people are paying me now.”

Wolf, MTV’s Push artist for October, studied music at USC Thornton and applied herself “relentlessly,” an effort that included auditioning for Season 13 of American Idol. At school, she connected with other performers, who fed that spark and jammed with her after class in their massive, 10-person off-campus house. She has kept in touch with many of her peers, whom she calls “incredible musicians” and credits as the most crucial part of her education. During that time, Wolf also partied and “learned so much about life” through simply existing, an important but often unsung part of any artist’s creative process.

Wolf released a series of moderately successful singles and her first EP in 2019 before signing with Island Records in January 2021. The major-label name helped her existing discography travel even further: Her electro-pop bop “Photo ID” had a viral moment on TikTok after getting the Dominic Fike treatment, and her two previous EPs, 2019’s You’re A Dog! and 2020’s I’m Allergic to Dogs, spawned the star-studded 2021 remix record We Love Dogs!. (No, there is no deeper meaning; the whole canine thing is a “stupid inside joke” that grew legs.)

But it wasn’t until Wolf sat down to work on her debut album in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, that she realized how sacred live performance was to her. “It’s just in my blood at this point,” she says. “I love bringing people together, and I love making sure that people have a good time.” Citywide lockdowns and stay-at-home orders deprived her of the energy she regularly absorbed from shows — the reason she pursued a career as a musician in the first place. She was lonely and unable to do what she loved most. “It was me, Juno, and Jared [Soloman], my co-producer,” she says. “That was the squad for a fucking year, you know?”

Luckily for all her fans out there — the “Remjobs,” as she christened them — Wolf persevered, bringing her eclectic influences and distinct flair to each track. “I used all that angst to my advantage,” she explains. On the funky-fresh “Anthony Kiedis,” Wolf name-drops the Red Hot Chili Peppers singer before begging to “put my head in the hole of a guillotine, chop,” while she sing-raps about everything from Sugarfish sushi to The Human Centipede on the stomping, chaotic “Quiet on Set.” Juno’s psychedelic cover art completes the moodboard, fusing kaleidoscopic patterns with Wolf’s Y2K-inspired personal style.

“Liquor Store,” the album’s sonic pièce de résistance, doubles as its thesis statement, tackling codependency — on substances and other people — over a rollicking rock beat. Wolf recorded the song in November 2020 during her first trip back to Los Angeles after checking herself into rehab. She was five months sober and “absolutely going through it,” and she still had to quarantine to get studio access, which didn’t help. “It was a fever dream of a writing session,” she recalls. “Very, very manic. I love that song because I poured so much into it. It was an explosion of feeling, and I think I really captured it.”

Her sound straddles genres, but Wolf isn’t concerned about being difficult to define. “People aren’t listening to music based on genre anymore,” she says. There will always be fads — Wolf points to the current resurgence of pop-punk among Gen-Z artists, which she “fucking loves” — but she believes the industry has moved beyond the need to put artists in neat boxes. “You either fuck with the artist or you don’t.”

As for what Remjobs can expect from her next? Wolf will continue the current leg of her tour after Juno drops, a prospect that excites her beyond belief. After the emotional rollercoaster that was 2020, she’s ready to release new music so she can add it to her live repertoire. She teases a “crazy, heavy twist” to the live version of “Quiet on Set,” which sounds “like a Limp Bizkit song or something.”

“I want to curate the best night of people’s lives,” she says, smiling wide. “That’s kind of my whole goal. I just want people to be able to let loose and be free because there aren’t a lot of spaces that allow you to do that.” (She’s spent over a month separated from her beloved Juno, whose weak stomach wasn’t made for life on the road, so you know she means it.)

The day of our interview, Wolf was coming down from the high of performing at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, one of her biggest gigs yet. It was “the craziest show” she’d ever played: Everyone in the audience knew “every single word” to her songs, and she was surrounded by her friends and collaborators the whole time. Fike even hopped on stage to perform “Photo ID” alongside her.

“Having all of those people come together, who mean so much to me, and then all of these fans knowing my words… it’s really overwhelming and very beautiful,” she says. “It makes me want to cry. I cried, like, six times yesterday.”

Adele Finally Announces Her New Album 30, And It’ll Be Here Very Soon

For the past few weeks, Adele‘s been back, but she hasn’t been quite, you know, ~back~. She covered both the U.S. and British covers of Vogue and was tied to mysterious billboards that went up prominently in a few cities. All of this led to intense speculation that her fourth album would A) be dropping imminently, and B) be titled 30, following 2008’s 19, 2011’s 21, and 2015’s 25.

Yesterday, she teased a new song called “Easy on Me,” set to be released on October 15 — and now she’s made things official. Adele’s new album is indeed titled 30 and will be released November 19. “I’m ready to finally put this album out,” she wrote in a highly personal note shared along with the cover art — her profile in front of a dark turquoise background.

“I was certainly nowhere near where I’d hoped to be when I started it nearly [three] years ago,” Adele’s note begins. “Quite the opposite actually. I rely on routine and consistency to feel safe, I always have. And yet there I was knowingly — willingly even, throwing myself into a maze of absolute mess and inner turmoil!”

Her note goes on to detail what that turmoil was, in abstract terms, calling it “the most turbulent period of my life” where she would “sob relentlessly not knowing why.” The album was her constant through all of this, being a metaphorical friend who’d come over with wine and takeout, hold her hand in the night, and get her out of the house for some vitamin D.

On the other side of it, Adele writes, she has “learned a lot of blistering home truths about myself along the way. I’ve shed many layers but also wrapped myself in new ones. Discovered genuinely useful and wholesome mentalities to lead with, and I feel like I’ve finally found my feeling again. And I’d go as far as to say I’ve never felt more peaceful in my life.”

It sounds like 30 will probe both Adele’s inner strife and the resolve she flexed to overcome her Saturn return — something she mentions cheekily in the note. This may or may not take the sonic form of an actual “drum n bass record,” as she likewise cheekily mentioned a new album called 30 may sound like in a birthday Instagram post from 2019.

From its brief teaser, “Easy on Me” promises mid-tempo, scene-setting piano over which Adele can bring in her gargantuan pipes. That’s in keeping with her history, anyway. “Home is where the heart is x,” she signs her note.

Read Adele’s note in full in the Instagram post above, which concludes with the tantalizing detail that she has “painstakingly rebuilt my house and my heart since then,” and 30 narrates that journey.

No One Else Sounds Like Alice Longyu Gao, Period

By Jack Irvin

Alice Longyu Gao celebrated the release of her bombastic hyperpop single, “100 Boyfriends,” produced by 100 gecs’s Dylan Brady, by inviting her fans to a private party on the terrace of  Dumbo House, a luxury, members-only club and bar in Brooklyn. “I warned them,” the 27-year-old musician tells MTV News over Zoom from her Los Angeles home. “I literally said, ‘You know the type of music I play. Do you really think we can do this here?’” As instructed by the venue, Gao proceeded with her DJ set and performance, but her extremely high-energy sounds shocked the club’s opulent members and overwhelmed its weak speaker system. Nonetheless, her fans had a blast. “[Dumbo] House was trying to cut us short that night,” she says, noting that staff members found graffiti on the tables. “At the end of the day, we’re punk. We’re young people. We love music. We love to party.”

Gao is used to thriving in environments that aren’t prepared for her energy. She grew up the only child of conservative, entrepreneurial parents in Bengbu, China, who expected her to take over the family business, a latex glove factory. However, Gao wanted to pursue music. She was classically trained to play piano from a young age, though she says it was merely “a posh move” for her parents “to flex about” to family and friends. “They think living a life by doing art is delusional,” she explains. But not only did her parents advise against Gao’s artistic dreams — at first, they didn’t even want her to be born a woman, a disheartening fact that inspired the title of her debut EP, High Dragon and Universe, out October 14 via Brady’s Dog Show Records.

Alice is Gao’s chosen English name, but her given Chinese name, Longyu Gao, is traditionally masculine.  Gao means high, Longyu means dragon, and Yu means universe. “My dad made up this name before I was born, and my mom didn’t take the gender assessment. It’s not legal in China [to sex-screen for babies], because otherwise a lot of people tend to give up on girls,” she says. “To their disappointment, I came out as a girl and I’m hella twisted, hella wild.” Growing up was tough; teachers would often mistake her for a boy after reading her name on attendance lists. Today, after a decade of hustling solo in the entertainment industry, Gao is reclaiming her name and its perceived power. “Having dragon in my blood is so cool, and it gives me wings,” she details. “Fuck all these people who think a female cannot do shit.”

Against her parents’ wishes, Gao moved to the United States at 17. After preparing herself for the SATs and TOEFL exam, for non-native English speakers, she applied to 16 colleges and got into 11 of them, thanks to a passionate essay about her experiences in Bengbu’s local LGBTQ+ community. (Gao identifies as pansexual.) She attended Boston University to study philosophy and completed Harvard University’s Summer Program in Kyoto, Japan, where she learned to speak fluent Japanese. At 20 years old, she graduated early and moved to New York to start her artist career. “In my last semester, I met this British e-girl DJ, Chelsea Leyland,” she says. “I became her assistant, and that was my stepping stone to go into the entertainment world.”

Looking to make a name for herself, Gao took internships at Comme des Garçons and Paper magazine. (“I was literally giving other artists coverage.”) But NYC is expensive, and she needed to make money to pay her East Village rent, so she utilized her musical skills and taught herself to DJ. “It was really hard because I’m foreign,” she explains. “I had to learn, ‘What are the ’90s hits? What are the songs for a frat party-vibe crowd? How can I find a cool remix so I don’t sound too stereotypical, but people still like it?’”

She figured it out quickly. Gao’s first-ever DJ gig caught the attention of A$AP Mob’s publicist, who invited her to perform her second-ever set at the hip-hop collective’s Vlone clothing brand launch at Miami’s Art Basel in 2016. “I went on right after A$AP Mob’s performance. I was playing ’Barbie Girl’ around 1:30 a.m., [and] A$AP Rocky himself came and shut me down,” she recalls. “I was so upset. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m obsessed with A$AP Rocky. This is the end of my DJ career. It’s over.’” After her set, a tearful Gao ran around the venue trying to find the rapper. When she did, he told her not to take it personally: The song choice was simply wrong for the party. A few months later, they reunited at another event, and Gao says he told her, “‘I want to do a party with you. Let’s play ‘Barbie [Girl].’”

For the next couple years, Gao worked hard and performed anywhere she could, which sometimes meant “DJing for six hours for $50 in cash” and enduring harassment from partygoers. The hustle gets lonely and often takes an emotional toll on her, even to this day. “I was crying this morning so hard because I was going through photos. I haven’t seen my grandma in over half a decade. I haven’t seen my father in five years.”

Ever-determined, Gao has persisted. She officially launched her singing career in 2018, independently releasing singles like “I Want My Hoe Time Back” and “Magnificroissant” and finding herself in studio sessions with Swedish pop hitmakers behind “Ava Max [and] Katy Perry-type beats.” The following year, she met 100 gecs’s Brady, and together they swiftly crafted the explosive fan-favorite tracks, “Dumb Bitch Juice” and “Rich Bitch Juice.” Mere months later, Lady Gaga placed “Rich Bitch Juice” on her Women of Choice playlist on Apple Music. The feat proved Gao’s hard work was finally paying off, and it served as positive reinforcement that she should keep creating where she feels happiest: the studio.

“By the end of every session, I’d go into a mode that I’d be so upset, because [it’s] about the time to go back to my real life, which is feeling so vulnerable, alone, and isolated all the time in my house,” she says. “When I’m making music, I make myself laugh a lot, and usually I don’t do that… I’m actually really bad energy, honestly. [My music] is my fantasy of the really fearless and brave person I wish I [was].”

High Dragon and Universe is filled with fantasy tracks like the ultra-confident “100 Boyfriends,” which draws from an imaginative idea where Gao runs a farm where she raises and owns her many lovers. “On this farm, I make up nicknames for all the boyfriends, because there are too many of them. I can’t really remember their real names, and I don’t really care,” she says. Another track, intense electro banger “Bleeding in the Studio,” was created for a hypothetical Gao headlining set at Electric Daisy Carnival or Burning Man, even though “I’m not even in that scene at all,” she says with a laugh.

Gao struggles with low self-esteem, but she has high ambitions for her music. She wants to sell out stadiums and earn enough money to not only fund her projects, but provide others with better lives and the art education she was deprived of growing up. “Imagine if I’m popular like Dua Lipa — I swear to God, if I do a charity project, all the rich people will come to my fundraising event, and they will open their wallet,” she says. “After I came to America, I was always alone, and going to museums really helped me to stay focused and train my mind… I would love to make museums completely free to the public.”

Her goals aren’t so far-fetched. Without a manager, booking agent, or major label by her side, Gao regularly packs clubs with her fans. However, she says she’s been repeatedly shut out by big-time executives. “I’ve literally had multiple music industry bros telling me, ‘I can tell you’re really smart, and you’re a threat to major labels,’” says Gao. She also still lacks support from her parents. “I could be winning fucking Grammys, and my dad would be like, ‘I don’t give a fuck.’” But Gao isn’t discouraged. She’s confident in her work, knows she’s unique, and recognizes that extreme success takes time. “No one else sounds like me, period,” she says. “I think I will win a Grammy in three years.”

Bop Shop: Songs From Mitski, Blackstarkids, Eartheater, And More

In case you haven’t heard, Remi Wolf is the moment. Fusing funk, soul, and pop with some of the most unhinged lyrics (“Orgy at Five Guys with five guys / That’s 10 guys and holy Christ / I’ve never seen more nuts in my life,” she sings in “Quiet on Set”), the L.A. artist is exceptionally herself. “Front Tooth,” which appears on her debut album Juno, out October 15, finds her taking on a more vulnerable voice than her typically braggadocious bops. “It don’t feel like it’s supposed to,” she croons, before comparing her relationship to “a Conor McGregor fight / Kicking out my front tooth.” Of course, there’s also a crunchy guitar solo, some dolphin noises, and a truly romantic moment when she dubs her lover “a garden gnome.” It is Remi Wolf, after all. —Carson Mlnarik

Aespa’s Savage Science Fiction

By Regina Kim

At first glance, the futuristic music video for the South Korean foursome Aespa’s (styled all lowercase) breakout single “Black Mamba” may not seem that different from other K-pop visuals, with dynamic shots of explosive choreography and brightly colored costumes set against even brighter backgrounds. But about two-and-a-half minutes in, something shifts. As a girl stares wistfully at her reflection in a subway window, the reflection gazing back is not quite human. With cartoon eyes and long purple hair, she’s an animated doppelgänger, stretching her hand toward her human counterpart.

With the release of this futuristic clip in November 2020, the girl group broke the record for the fastest debut track by any K-pop outfit to surpass 100 million views on YouTube, a feat that was achieved in a mere 51 days. It was a remarkable milestone for the “monster rookie group” that had only broken onto the scene one month prior in a series of tantalizing teasers. Aespa followed up this debut song with the releases of the heartwarming ballad “Forever,” the ultra-catchy hip-hop dance tune “Next Level,” and earlier this week, the mini-album, Savage. But “Black Mamba” also had far-reaching implications for the industry: the surreal music video, with its hybrid visuals, laid the foundation for a new form of pop-music storytelling, one where the line between reality and science fiction is blurry at best.

Comprised of Giselle, Winter, Karina, and Ningning, Aespa is the first group to be presented as part of the SM Culture Universe (SMCU), a fictional realm created in October 2020 by the agency SM Entertainment, which also represents top bands like EXO and Red Velvet, as a way to connect its artists under a unified storyline. The ambitious initiative is akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which links the various superheroes and villains that fall under its umbrella, and Aespa is at the forefront of this effort. SM chairman Soo-man Lee said the group will “reflect a future world centered on celebrities and avatars” and represent a “completely new and innovative group that transcends the boundaries between the real world and the virtual world.”

As the vanguard of SM Entertainment’s intricate metaverse, Aespa takes storytelling to the next level with its novel AI concept. The band’s name is derived from a combination of the words “avatar,” “experience,” and “aspect.” The first two refer to “finding another self and experiencing a new world,” Giselle tells MTV News, while the latter represents the duality of real and virtual inherent to the group’s mythology. Each member has an alter-ego called “ae” (pronounced like “eye”), lifelike avatars that exist in a virtual realm called “Flat” and connect with their idol opposites through a portal known as the “Port of Soul.” Although each ae is designed to resemble a group member — with similar facial features and a corresponding cyberpunk ensemble — these are separate entities with their own free will. “SM already had these ideas from the start, but we are the first ones to actually be able to show our avatar members,” Giselle explains.

It’s all quite heady, and yet Aespa’s debut mini-album Savage provides a sonic backdrop that exists outside this imagined world — blending dance and pop with elements of house, trap, rap, and other genres — while also giving listeners glimpses into an overarching fable. The album’s opening track “Aenergy,” for example, introduces the members and their unique powers as they set out to save the avatars from Black Mamba, the giant, serpent-like monster who appears in the group’s debut music video. In the SMCU lore, Black Mamba resides in a lawless, limitless space beyond worlds called “Kwangya,” which translates to “wilderness” in English. Kwangya has also been referenced in the music videos of other SM artists, as in EXO’s “Don’t Fight the Feeling,” where one member, Kai, mentions traversing it in a spaceship.

“I think the biggest quality that sets us apart is the fact that all of our songs are linked together, so it’s like watching a film series,” Karina says. “The song ‘Savage’ has our whole story about our fight with Black Mamba,” Giselle adds. In the visual for the clanging hyperpop-tinged title track, the girls team up to strike down a reptile with translucent scales before breaking it down alongside their ae friends.

Other songs, however, were created simply to communicate messages of hope and encouragement to Aespa’s fans, lovingly known as “My,” and who Karina says are “like my best friends.” There’s “I’ll Make You Cry,” a fierce revenge anthem for betrayed lovers, and the bubbly “Yeppi Yeppi,” a dance cut about embracing one’s own beauty. “When we recorded the track ‘Yeppi Yeppi,’ we put a lot of energy into it, and I think it resulted in a very fun and upbeat song,” Karina says. “I hope that listeners will find comfort in our music and that our songs will cheer them up when they’re going through a hard time.” With a smile, Ningning adds, “And if you look closely at the lyrics, you’ll find a story there, too.”

The making of Savage also marked the first time all the Aespa girls recorded together in a studio, a process that turned out to be a lot of fun for the members, who are all close friends. “We had a great time recording the album, and the four of us got to try genres that we didn’t do before,” Ningning says. In the workroom, they were able to fully harness their unique synergy as a group — a factor Winter says has greatly contributed to their initial success — which is apparent in their smooth vocal harmonies and mesmerizing choreography. “We have no secrets, and we share everything with each other,” Karina notes. “So we’re a lot more like family than people might think.”

While other industries have turned holograms into pop stars and avatars into social media influencers, Aespa is the first K-pop act to include both human and AI members. The group’s concerts often feature the quartet interacting with their digital counterparts onstage. In their debut performance of “Black Mamba,” the girls and the ae can be seen observing each other through a mirror, and during one rendition of “Next Level,” they even trade places for a brief moment. Together, the group heralds the beginning of what seems to be a virtual age for K-pop and perhaps the next chapter in musical storytelling worldwide. Lee once declared that he was “one step closer” to fulfilling his vision for “the entertainment world of the future.” And as Aespa continues to open our eyes to the possibilities that exist at the intersection of music and technology, that day looks increasingly bright.

Mitski Makes A Powerful Return (In A Cowboy Hat) In ‘Working For The Knife’

Something interesting happened yesterday. Early in the day, Mitski posted some teasers on social media hinting that a new song would be dropping in 24 hours or so. Then, Facebook and Instagram (and a bunch of related apps) all went down for several hours. I’m not saying these events are related — or that Adele’s seemingly imminent return to the musical fore contributed — but there’s certainly something to be said about Mitski’s growth as both an artist and a global superstar, and how the arrival of new music from her signals a huge moment.

Her power is on full display on “Working for the Knife,” the self-probing new track she released today (October 5). It’s not a barnburner or a dance-ready bop. In fact, it’s mid-tempo and confessional, though one of the best hooks throughout the song is the down-strummed fuzzy guitar on the chorus. This is Mitski we’re talking about.

“Working for the Knife” finds her discussing her own staying power over rainy keyboards and seems to nod to her own legacy as a songwriter and performer in the public eye. “I used to think I’d be done by 20 / Now at 29, the road ahead appears the same,” she sings with resolve. “Though maybe at 30 I’ll see a way to change / That I’m living for the knife.”

The song was written by Mitski and recorded with help from her trusted collaborator Patrick Hyland, who also worked on 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek, 2016’s Puberty 2, and 2018’s Be the Cowboy. When she sings, “I always knew the world moves on / I just didn’t know it would go on without me,” that’s extremely real, end-of-your-twenties kind of shit. I feel it deeply!

“Working for the Knife” arrives with a Zia Anger-directed visual that finds Mitski once again being the cowboy in an actual cowboy hat, though quickly losing it (and a long coat) for a baggy-sleeved blue performance outfit. The next few minutes are essentially Mitski’s one-woman show, and she makes the most of them by crawling through an auditorium at Albany’s The Egg, stripping down and collapsing onstage, then seemingly losing her shit in the unforgiving gaze of the spotlight.

Along with “Working for the Knife” comes news of a 2022 tour that’ll find Mitski hitting both North America and Europe. It’s a nice continuation of the live-show groundwork she’s laid for the past decade, including most notably opening for Lorde in 2017 and 2018 on the Melodrama world tour — which brought Mitski legions of new fans. They also mark Mitski’s first concerts since September 2019, and you can find all the tour info right here.

Watch, listen, and experience “Working for the Knife” above.

Bop Shop: Songs From Britney Spears, Illuminati Hotties, Twice, And More

With the release of their English single, “The Feels,” the girls of Twice are back and better than ever. The high-energy track utilizes a groovy bass-driven melody interlaced with heavy synth, handclaps, and tambourine, while a spirited, campy music video transports fans to an early aughts fever dream. With each comeback, the Twice members evolve and change into even greater versions of themselves, and this time is no different. The first single off their upcoming album, this song truly gives us “The Feels,” instilling emotions of excitement and wonder, and it’s the perfect taste of what’s to come. —Sarina Bhutani

JoJo Was At Her Lowest Point. Now She’s Just Trying Not To Think About It

By Jack Irvin

In the months leading up to the April 2020 release of JoJo’s album Good to Know, the singer-songwriter was at her most liberated. Almost entirely co-written and co-produced by the artist herself, the ultra-introspective collection was her first original project to come out on Clover Music, her own label imprint launched in partnership with Warner Records. The release was a far cry from the near-decade she was kept from releasing music due to a contract dispute with Blackground Records that was resolved in court in 2014, as well as the creative differences she endured with her subsequent label, Atlantic Records, during the making of 2016’s Mad Love. On top of that, “Say So,” her collaboration with PJ Morton, won a Grammy in January 2020 for Best R&B Song, which further proved JoJo’s perseverance over her 20-plus years in the entertainment industry was worth it. “[It] gave me a sense of validation that I didn’t even realize I had really been longing for,” JoJo tells MTV News over Zoom.

But Good to Know was released as the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, and its promotional cycle was clouded by the political and social chaos of 2020. Like many other artists, JoJo was forced to cancel her tour. While the album received critical praise and reached high chart positions, it failed to spawn a hit comparable to 2004’s “Leave (Get Out)” or 2006’s “Too Little Too Late.” “I did have a No. 1 R&B album with Good to Know, and that’s something I am so fucking proud of,” she says. “But to not hear my songs on the radio, I can’t lie and act like that doesn’t matter to me. I want my music to reach as many people as possible.”

Instead of blaming the unfortunate circumstances, JoJo took the album’s lukewarm commercial reception as her own fault. By the end of 2020, she found herself anxiously wondering whether or not she was worthy of her place in the music industry. Around the same time, she experienced the end of a longtime “situationship” with a friend-turned-lover. “I leaned on that person for so much,” she explains. “I was questioning everything. I’m like, ‘Well, I’ll probably never fall in love again, so that’s it for me. I’m just gonna die alone.’” Not wanting to let the hardships keep her down, JoJo then shifted her perspective and turned her feelings into Trying Not to Think About It, a 12-track project that chronicles her complicated relationship with mental health.

JoJo recalls recognizing symptoms of depression and anxiety among some of her close family members growing up, but she didn’t realize how directly it affected her until adulthood. “For me, anxiety is putting too much pressure, too much weight, and too much importance on me,” she says, noting that it’s a “perfectionist mentality” that often leads her to compare her own success to that of her peers. JoJo says she’s felt like “a bit of an outcast” since she was little, but last year, that feeling escalated to questions about her purpose. “That’s where a lot of Trying Not to Think About It came from, being in that negative, ruminating place of catastrophizing and thinking about, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’”

Such harsh thoughts have led her to harmful coping mechanisms, including binge drinking, overeating, and “falling into toxic relationship patterns of feeling guilt and shame.” But thanks to advice from a therapist — or maybe an ex-boyfriend (“[He] always used to therapize me, so I don’t remember”) — JoJo’s learned healthier ways of dealing with mental-health struggles. One of them is personifying her depression and anxiety as a woman named Burlinda, which inspired the first track she created for the project, “Anxiety (Burlinda’s Theme).” “It can feel so all-consuming and dark when you’re depressed,” she explains. “The thought that there’s this nasty bitch who also lives inside me, whose name is Burlinda and who tries to take over every once in a while, I think is funny. It makes it a little lighter.”

That mentality may make it easier to live with Burlinda, but it certainly doesn’t make her presence any less irritating. “You only show up when it’s inconvenient / Always talkin’ loud, fill my head with lies,” she sings on “Anxiety (Burlinda’s Theme).” And if JoJo were to meet her in person, her message would be direct. “I’d say, ‘Hey bitch’ — and I say this with love — ‘I know you’re trying to protect my ego. You’re trying to protect me from a worst-case scenario… But that’s not how I’m gonna live my life,’” she says. “‘I’m not going to focus on the negatives, what has happened in the past or could happen in the future. We’re living in the present, Burlinda. I don’t think that you thrive here in the present, so I’m gonna need you to sit in the back seat until you learn how to act right.’”

JoJo’s process of healing from the low points of 2020 has included saying “yes” to fruitful opportunities in 2021 — no matter how intimidating they may seem. The mission led her to go on Season 5 of The Masked Singer, where she finished in second place as Black Swan. “It was humbling and challenging, and probably a good exercise for me to go through,” she explains. The experience reminded her of competing on shows like Destination Stardom and America’s Most Talented Kid as a young child, when her hunger for performing was arguably its purest. “Covering and reimagining other people’s songs, that’s something that I’ve done since I was a little girl. It felt good, and it felt scary to put myself out there in that way.”

JoJo understands her creeping feeling that she’s undeserving of her place in music may be hard for outsiders to grasp, considering she’s achieved such high successes and received praise from the likes of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. “People might look at me differently than I look at myself, but for me, I still have a lot more to go, and different tiers that I want to reach,” she explains. “I’ve been discouraged by a lot of different things in this industry, and I’ve literally stopped dreaming.” However, working through her insecurities in real life, as well as creatively through Trying Not to Think About It, has led her to a more optimistic, confident place today. “I am definitely worthy of the place that I have in this industry and beyond. I’m currently solidifying that spot,” she says. “I’m encouraged, I’m inspired, and I look forward to making the next album.”

Rather than striving for top-charting success with Trying Not to Think About It, JoJo simply wants the project to provide the same comfort for fans that she felt while crafting it. “I hope this feels like a warm weighted blanket for them… I hope they know they’re not alone, and that they may be inspired to go on their own journey of finding themselves again, because it’s not just gonna be one time,” she says. “I’ve lost and found myself every single project, and I think it’s always a worthy journey to go on.”

Ester Dean On Why More Women, And Barbies, Should Be Producers

By Sunni Anderson

Sitting across from songwriter and producer Ester Dean as she settles into a Zoom call from her bright studio, I perceive her warm aura through my monitor. Vibrant pink furnishings accent the room, like a visual representation of the electric feminine energy at work. A successful hitmaker for legends like Beyoncé (“Count Down”), Rihanna (“Rude Boy”), Selena Gomez (“Come & Get It”), and Katy Perry (“Firework”), she knows firsthand the power women have to shape the future of music, both on the mic and behind the soundboard. Now, she is using her platform to open doors for the next generation of music-makers.

Starting out in underground studios in Omaha, Nebraska, before relocating to Atlanta at age 20, she understands that the obstacles barring entry to the music industry, like purchasing equipment and renting studio time, can be difficult to overcome. Today, less than 2 percent of producers are women, and fewer still are women of color. That’s why Dean collaborated with Girls Make Beats to expose girls to the careers of producers, DJs, and audio engineers. The program offers one-on-one mentorship with working professionals and provides music equipment for hands-on courses, which Dean hopes will make the journey more accessible, especially for those from underprivileged backgrounds. She is working in collaboration with Mattel, who even created a music producer Barbie doll to inspire young women to pursue a career in the industry. “If you want to know what a girl sounds like, let her make beats,” Dean tells MTV News. “If you want to know what the essence of a woman is, have her make music.”

Dean remembers it was “hearing Black women sing and just have all the swag” that inspired her to step into her creativity unapologetically. “Mary J. Blige, Kelly Price, Faith Evans, SWV with the b-boy outfits. Women in the R&B, hip-hop genres made me want to do everything they were doing.” Seeing artists that looked like her gave Dean the confidence to pursue a career in music, which underscored for her the importance of representation. She tells MTV News how she believes that the next generation can close the gender gap by exuding confidence in their work, showing up with a business-first attitude, and never seeking the validation of the boys.

MTV News: From your time and experience, can you speak about the representation of women behind the scenes and why you believe that narrative exists? 

Ester Dean: I have only been in the music industry for 10 years. I watched the secret, turned it into my manifestation, and came to California, worked like a dog. And I didn’t see just males. I didn’t just see females. I saw a group of people in their working lives. The first time I looked at an interview and it said that other people had written the song I wrote, I was like, how did they get that magazine to say that?

The gap is when you’re working in the back, you don’t come up to greet the people in the front. You know, the chefs don’t come out. I’ve learned, if I have PR, when the song came out, I was also involved in the conversation. I do believe whether it’s a woman or a man, the gap between people knowing who wrote the music and who produced the music is based on PR. It’s like, you can say you did it all day on Instagram, but that ain’t going to take you that far. It’s going to get some likes, but it’s not going to get global exposure. So I tell every producer, every songwriter, everybody I meet: Are you going to get your PR?

MTV News: When it comes to gaining support behind the scenes, what do you think women need? What has worked for you that you would like to see more of? 

Dean: I was on every email you could possibly imagine. I always was my manager. Even when I didn’t have managers, I was my manager. I went to 8 o’clock meetings. I went to 10-o’clock-at-night meetings. I was always present in shaking the hand of the person that I was doing business with. Rihanna or Beyoncé or Nicki, I was going to show up, and I never let anybody speak for me. But if you are under a manager who has 15 people, your song is just a stream of consciousness. I think representing yourself in the room is how you get representation. You are your representation.

Every girl should think business first because that’s what boys are thinking. Am I getting credit? Am I getting paid?” All those things are conversations about what goes on the album’s credits, what goes into the internet. What’s your elevator pitch? I’ve always worked on my elevator pitch of “Ester Dean did this with these people, but I am here to only represent myself.”

MTV News: Why is it important that we have more women producers show up unapologetically in the music industry?

Dean: It’s important to have a balance. I was thinking this morning, I said, what does music sound like in a woman’s essence? We do hair. We do makeup. We put on our clothes — I got on pink. Girl, I decorated this whole house pink because it’s my essence. So what does a pink album sound like? Nicki Minaj. What do pink beats sound like? What does a purple beat sound like? What does a unicorn producer look like? Because that’s what girls do. We are very magical.

MTV News: Who are some examples of what that femininity might sound like? 

Dean: Chloe x Halle, they are producers. They have been producers. I met them when they were babies, and they were in there, making beats with all their harmonics. And they had every note to it. That’s what a woman producer sounds like.

MTV News: What is your vision behind Girls Make Beats and your collaboration with Barbie?

Dean: We give feeling, right? Guys give feeling, too, but we give a different kind of feeling. Can you imagine a 13-year-old who had her heart broken, and she goes to the beat machine and she just starts playing her heartbeat? Or it’s her birthday and she starts making sounds that sound like her birthday. It’s going to sound different. It’s going to sound amazing, just as much as a 13-year-old boy doing it for his first win. So I feel like the gap will be closed once they understand that there’s a system for you and there are tools.

That’s why I love Barbie for putting the mixing machine in there, the computer with the screen next to the producer. When she plays this with her toys and she plays with her Barbie producer doll, she will have to imagine herself making a beat. She would have to hear the sounds. She would have to produce this out in her head. And then when she says, “I want to make music for Katy Perry, I want to make music for Beyoncé, I want to make it for Dua Lipa, I want to make music for Chloe x Halle,” she’s going to have to go listen to them. She’s going to have to go see what they felt like.

MTV News: How has the industry evolved toward closing the gender gap?

Dean: The music industry is a grind-time kind of thing. You’re not even friends with anybody. You’ve got your head down and you’re working. We are all in a race by ourselves. It’s a competitive game. And then every track that comes out doesn’t have people’s real names on it. It’ll be like “Slick Beats” or “8.5 Beats.” With so many people, you don’t even know if it’s a girl or guy. You don’t even know if it was five people. You don’t know if it was one person.

I believe women need to know that they can be it. I don’t know if girls know that they could pick up the beat machine, and now we’re here as representation to tell them, yes, you can.

MTV News: What do you think the future holds for the next generation of female music producers, DJs, and audio engineers?

Dean: The future for girls is creative expression. This is therapy for me. So just thinking about all these women who are trying to self-care and self-cope, when you can just put it through sound and you can make it through sound. I think it’s going to be a lot of healing. I think, overall, mental health is going to get better. Overall direction is going to get better because this is a very technical kind of career. And somehow you start finding your own voice. Whether it’s through sound or your own voice through music, you’re going to find yours. Anytime you create something from scratch, you start finding who you really are. If you want to know what a girl sounds like, let her make beats. If you want to know what the essence of a woman is, have her make music. And it’s going to pour over the world like a rainbow.

It all starts with imagination. I think girls can start reprogramming themselves to take care of themselves and not need the validation of a boy. Validate yourself. As long as we plant these beautiful seeds, the world is going to change. It’s going to evolve, it’s going to become more musical, and it’s just going to be a beautiful experience. I believe that.

BTS And Coldplay Throw An Intergalactic Hologram Concert In ‘My Universe’ Video

Earlier this year during their MTV Unplugged special, BTS took on Coldplay‘s stadium heartstrings singalong “Fix You” for a resonant performance that Coldplay later praised as “beautiful.” It wasn’t just a random cover — BTS and Coldplay have quite a bit common as chameleonic global pop stars. Both groups remain comfortably, consistently on a small list of acts that could conceivably claim to be the biggest in the world.

That’s perhaps why their inevitable team-up is called “My Universe.” (Any other title wouldn’t properly convey the scale.) As you’d expect, the music video for this big-chorus pop jam is expensive, intergalactic, and loaded with enough special effects to make you feel like you’re actually living in another reality. The Doomsday Clock is set at one minute to midnight, and BTS and Coldplay are going to sing their song until the end of the world.

It begins with an absolutely incredible bit of scene-setting that I’m going to include in full below so you understand precisely the kind of Avengers-scale team-up we’re dealing with here:

Once upon a time, many years from now… Music is forbidden across the spheres. On three different planets, three different bands defy the ban. DJ LaFrique, on her alien radio ship, unites them via holoband. All the while they are hunted by the silencers…

A rich text! We’re in the future (or past?), and planets are called “spheres,” and music isn’t allowed (like in Footloose) and entities called “Silencers” are prowling to put a stop to it. In a brave act of resistance, BTS and Coldplay and a third band — eventually revealed to be aliens whose members resemble the Jedi High Council — sync up their holograms via “holoband” and throw a bash to “My Universe.” Then things get sticky.

The computer effects in this video are wild and must’ve cost so much money. But when you’re two of the biggest bands in the universe, you can do this. (The third band, made up of robot drummer, a butterfly lady, and a Mad Max-styled alien on space guitar, might also have pooled resources for this clip; I am not familiar with the mechanics of intergalactic record contracts.)

The visual was unsurprisingly directed by blockbuster maestro Dave Meyers. If there was any doubt about the sheer scale of this video, even the promotional poster has shades of Avengers: Endgame.

“My Universe” appears on Coldplay’s upcoming ninth album Music of the Spheres, which is out October 15. Check out the epic video above, then dive into previously released singles “Higher Power” and “Coloratura.”