‘You can’t cancel me, I’ve got bills to pay!’: music stars on pop’s strange 2021

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January

How do you feel coming into 2021, after an unprecedented shortfall in 2020?

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Lindsey Jordan, aka Snail Mail I finally finished a record – it had been three years. It’s funny as a teen star that I came back as an adult. We haven’t played a show in two years, and that time means a lot to me, because I’m so young. I feel like I’m swimming upstream against deceitful issues; I forget what it’s like to play a show.

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sigrid Definitely. I was doing the Reading Festival this summer and I was thinking: “Do I know how to be an artist?” As well as the feeling of being afraid of getting too excited about something.

Eris Drew For me, it was pretty bleak. I was working on an album and I was still in the middle of engineering it. But I did not see friends, I was away from family for a long time. I felt really bad, and it wasn’t just about the lockdown. There was also the feeling that some opportunities were really lost during 2020: we had this tremendously explosive social movement in the states, and then you get a sense of people moving forward and it felt bad.

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Laura Mvula I still feel that I am adjusting to the new scenario. Everything is constantly changing; Plans that seem solid may be lost. I’ve canceled a lot of gigs.

Serge Pizzorno, Kasabian We booked 17 shows in October, so that was my real focus. But it’s absurd to do them, because we’re in a bubble: We’re playing for 2,000, 3,000 people, but after the gig, we head straight to the hotel, where we’re not allowed to see anyone except room service. You’re not allowed to see your kids or your wife, even, because you don’t want to catch COVID on tour. You’ve got everyone’s connection on the show going completely wild, with all this energy thrown at you, then you’re just sitting in a bubble afterward, the five of you. This is a crazy thing.

February

Britain leaves the European Union and with it comes a lot of red tape for touring artists. Has traveling become difficult? Does this government care enough about music?

mavula It didn’t feel like visiting or the arts was a priority for our government, especially with all the cuts to organizations, school supplies, arts funding, which I rely heavily on. It’s Scary: How Can I Grow My Touring Business With These Restrictions?

pizarno I went to see a band in Leicester, Bec. They were talking about playing a show in Brussels and being kept at the border for 14 hours. If you have a gig in Paris and a gig in Rome, you won’t be able to make it; It will take two to three days. You’ll get to a point financially where you won’t be able to do that, and it’s worst, not being able to play live. It needs to be fixed quickly.

Enter the Metaverse… Ariana Grande. Photograph: Epic Games

procession

Kings of Leon became the first band to jump on the NFT craze. Later in the year, Ariana Grande embraced the metaverse with her Avatar performance on Fortnite. Are these innovations viable ways to make money, or are they shocking and disturbing?

backroad g I really don’t understand it, man. I get a little bit out of it. I’d really like to do some more research on the metaverse.

Drew I don’t either. Part of me is like “good for you for finding a way to make some money”, but it sounds like it’s going to be so inaccessible to your average artist.

sigrid If you want to change everything to go digital, there are a lot of people in the chain of making a show that will get lost. Protecting the live industry is really important and you can’t replace it, not properly.

April

Artists including Paul McCartney and Kate Bush called for changes to streaming rules to improve royalty rates. Are musicians still struggling to meet their needs? What needs to be changed?

pizarno Major labels are making more money than ever before. Streaming royalty rates needing to change now is completely unreasonable. Why is the person who paid the music last and paid the least?

Jordan It’s annoying to see yourself as a successful career, but see where the money is missing. It’s like: Wait, there would have been some millionaire doing this exact thing in the ’90s.

mavula I can hear my mom saying: “Don’t tell people your business anymore”, but let’s be real. My girl Lindsay is right: If we were in the ’90s now, I’d go bowling! The parliamentary vote on December 3 would be a good starting point to introduce equal remuneration for artists. If passed, it would mean income for all musicians performing on the track, including session musicians, and would be applicable from the first stream. So let’s take it further.

backroad g It’s a bit different for me, because I’m still freelancing, so streaming really works if you’re pulling in some decent numbers. Obviously, I understand why it would be frustrating for some people when you’re signed on, because that’s a chunk of money you’re not going to collect.

May

Tion Wayne and Russ Millions score UK’s first drill No. 1 with remix of Body, Has the drill finally broken?

backroad g Yes and no. It’s only really Russ and Tion who have done it on that level. But they have broken doors open for anyone to come and do so. So, right now, I think if there is any possibility of that happening, they played a big part in that. For this we commend him, 100%.

June

Winston Marshall left Mumford & Sons after championing a far-right writer and calling for it online. Is “cancel culture” something you’re all worried about?

mavula As a young, black female artist, I’m always in fear of being canceled, because I don’t want to be stereotyped as an “angry black woman.” This is a real thing in this industry. Over time I saw people saying: “Oh, you’re really well media-trained” and I realized what they meant was that I was good at filtering everything they said; I’ll find ways of saying it that don’t cause offense, or are somehow less effective. I feel as I am getting older, I have experienced true liberation by saying what I really mean, even if it risks being unacceptable. I come from a very vocal tradition – in my family, within the church – so it’s hard to nail down because I don’t want to be unauthenticated.

Drew This is indeed a complex issue. The idea that people need to give a little more thought before spouting their mouths, I love it. I love that people are being held accountable for their racism, their sexism, their ignorance. But I think sometimes canceling the culture makes the speech cold; I don’t want to pretend it’s all rose colored glasses. Personally, I become more concerned when I speak out against the dance music industry. I am very critical of a lot of dance music today, although I love the scene; I am like a strict loving mother!

backroad g I’m really in my own world man. I’m not really surprised by what anyone can say to me. You can’t cancel me, man; I have bills to pay! you know what I’m saying? I just speak my mind and I make sure that it is not a derogatory thing.

Jordan What surprises me when people use it [cancel culture] as a weapon against each other. It despises it, the more it is, the more people make fun of it, it takes away from the good it can do: protect each other from dangerous people, and fools and fascists. This can be an extremely important tool. I think the point is that more people are making it no matter what.

Olivia Rodrigo.
Olivia Rodrigo.

Olivia Rodrigo has been accused of plagiarism by Courtney Love and the Pom Pom Squad and later settles with Paramore over the similarity between her song Good 4 U and their misery business. Is it more difficult than ever to come up with a really original melody?,

sigrid i’m into pop [writing] Sessions has been known to call me out every now and then whenever we copy. I feel like it’s often when everyone’s like: “Oh shit, no no no, this is like…”

mavula I mostly steal myself. “Oh! I already wrote that song!”

pizarno I think a lot of these cases seem like a stretch, with lawyers going: “We might be able to do something with this” and I think that’s unfair. Sometimes you can hear people sitting in the studio listening to music and thinking: “We need to make a song like this – same rhythm, same tempo.” It’s good, surely? It’s a vibe; You can’t own a vibe, can you?

Drew Even though I love dance music, I really studied early rock’n’roll and they’re all taking each other’s opinions, messing with them a little, speeding them up or whatever. Musicians have always reacted to each other, and that is a part of that. Often what we hear is kind of extreme cases and, as a sampler artist, I don’t want to be an extreme case – I would never take someone else’s song and just put a bass line on it. I just try to be really creative and put things in different contexts; I write a ton of original music that I put in these collages. However, it is interesting how one would think, from whose work I took a small sample. It’s not up to me. I just try to be honest.

October

Environmentally sound ... Coldplay.
Environmentally sound … Coldplay. Photograph: James Marcus Honey

Coldplay unveils its plans for environmentally sound travel. How are you dealing with this issue yourself?

Jordan I don’t know how I’m dealing with, you know, trying to drink from reusable water bottles.

pizarno I think next year, we’ll probably play fewer shows, travel less. I was wondering if you play at full moon and just use big mirrors so you don’t have to use lights… but maybe the mushrooms are talking.

Drew I’ve talked about offsetting CO2 at the end of the year, because, gosh, I’ve used a lot of jet fuel and I’m…

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