Looking Back at Attending The GRAMMYS for A Decade (So Many Great Memories)

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My view of the Dolly Parton tribute at The GRAMMYs tonight

I just returned from Staples Center here in Los Angeles where artists, fans and the music industry at large celebrated the 61st GRAMMY Awards. The annual event hosted by The Recording Academy and CBS truly is Music's Biggest Night. For over 6 decades now, The GRAMMY Awards celebrates the finest in music for a mainstream audience. Tonight's show was particularly special with its emphasis on diversity - in representation and musical performances. Once again, the show's producers came up with some fitting and gutsy pairings that will be memorable beyond tonight.

Tonight also has a special meaning to me. It's the tenth year that I'm attending the GRAMMYs. For the first few years, I covered the GRAMMYS backstage for The Recording Academy while blogging and live-tweeting the proceedings. I will never forget when I received the call from The Recording Academy with an invite to take part in covering the show for them. It was an incredible experience to have so much access and get a peek behind the scenes. I covered the GRAMMY telecast, the pre-telecast (where a lot of the awards are being handed out) and I spent time in the press room during the show to ask nominees, presenters and winners questions along with many mainstream outlets. It was an incredible learning experience and I will forever be grateful to the social media team at The Recording Academy for their trust and the opportunity. I freelanced for them for 5 years covering the GRAMMYs thru 2014. 

There are so many great moments I can remember from the last decade. Lady Gaga's performance with Elton John opening the 2010 telecast definitely stands out. Another pairing to remember was the teaming of Madonna with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis in 2014. I also loved Bruno Mars' performance of "Nothin' On You" and "Grenade" alongside Janelle Monáe and B.o.B. in 2011. A personal highlight for me was a video series I made for The GRAMMYs in 2015 with artists like Ed Sheeran and Robyn. What I treasure most about a decade of GRAMMYs is spending time in the press room and having the opportunity to be around the artists that just had won. To share the excitement and career-defining achievement with them is such a humbling and gratifying experience.

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My credentials for the 56th GRAMMYs back in 2014.

In recent years, I've attended the GRAMMYs as a member of the professional music community - not as a writer. I experience the show differently now. There's no need to blog or live tweet but I get to enjoy the show along with other viewers. The telecast is known for putting together unique pairings of artists - entertainers from different generations and/or different musical backgrounds. This year that was no different. From Post Malone who was paired with Red Hot Chili Peppers to Dua Lipa who performed with St. Vincent and from Travis Scott who teamed up with Earth, Wind & Fire, and Dolly Parton who duetted with Miley Cyrus, Kacey Musgraves, Katy Perry, Maren Morris and Little Big Town. So cool.

I was super happy to see such a great representation of LGBTQ artists and their allies across the spectrum. I was really blown away by Brandi Carlile's performance. She delivers such a raw and emotional intensity to her performance. It's practically impossible not be moved by her music. Janelle Monáe was supreme with her Cindy Mayweather-esque performance of "Make Me Feel" (a funked up pop romp co-written by Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels). Lady Gaga rocked the house alongside Mark Ronson with the award-winning "Shallow." Dua Lipa and St. Vincent got close for a lady-loving mash up of "Massseduction" and "One Kiss" Very, very cool. The Dolly Parton tribute was everything I hoped it would be with Parton clearly showing the icon she truly is. I was also excited to see Linda Perry getting some camera time. She was nominated for Producer (Non-Classical) GRAMMY Awards that ended up going to Pharrell.

Huge congrats to winners Childish Gambino and Cardi B for breaking new grounds and writing GRAMMY history.

Anyways, my head is spinning of this year's GRAMMYs show and I'm equally nostalgic about having been to the GRAMMYs for a decade. Pretty nuts to think I've done that but I cherish the memories.

February 11, 2019 | Permalink







Discovering the History of the American West

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I’ve been diving into the history of the American West to better understand its past, culture and people - specifically the history of Native American tribes. Hostiles is a film that provides an honest glimpse at the dark history of the American West. Written and directed by Scott Cooper, it’s a beautifully pictured film that chronicles the journey of army captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale) in 1892 on a journey from New Mexico to escort the ailing Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his native land in Great Bear Wilderness, Montana. Along the way, the relationship between the two rivals grows from deep distrust into a genuine bond of compassion and respect. The brutal journey northwards is a fitting metaphor to illustrate the effort it can take to foster understanding and reconciliation.

Watch Hostiles on Netflix now.

February 9, 2019 in Film | Permalink







Rare Invader Exhibit in Downtown Los Angeles

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I ventured out to Los Angeles downtown arts district to see the new Over The Influence Gallery. The space is currently hosting a rare Invader exhibit. Invader is a french street artist who plasters fun, playful and unique 8-bit mosaics on buildings in cities all over the world. I’ve been obsessed with finding invader mosaics in cities i go to. Tthere’s an app where you log all the ones you find and score points. I’ve found them in Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, Hong kong, Tokyo and Daejon, Korea. This exhibit is a greatest hits of some of Invader’s finest work and is a reminder that art can be fun.

February 6, 2019 in Travel | Permalink







Taking A Left-Turn: Driving from Arizona to West Texas

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Heading east on the Interstate 10 in Arizona (Photo by me)

In recent years, I’ve taken advantage of the long, end-of-year holiday break to head out of the country to far-away spots in Asia. It felt freeing to pick a place remote and be completely immersed in a foreign culture to get a break from the L.A. hustle.

For the most recent break, however, I opted to stay in America and find a travel challenge closer to home. I’ve lived in the U.S. for 20 years now and I’ve come to the realization that there are so many places in America that I haven’t seen yet. I have traveled to all major cities but I haven’t wandered off the beaten path and seen parts of this country that make it so unique.

Following a trip to Phoenix back in November, I decided I wanted to go back there to explore. I picked to head to Sedona for a couple of days to explore its many trails and vistas. From there, I planned to roadtrip all the way down to West Texas to Marfa – an outpost of artists, writers and other bohemians. I’ve read about Marfa over the years and I figured it would be the perfect place to check out and see a part of America that’s off the grid and pretty much a perfect place to get a break from Los Angeles.

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Courthouse Butte: Majestic Beauty (Photo by me)

Sedona was absolutely gorgeous. I think there are over a hundred hiking trails to pick from to explore the Verde Valley and Coconino Forest. I was particularly interested in checking out some of the vortexes that allegedly hold a healing power. There are four main centers of spiritual energy in the Sedona area. I went to check out the vortexes at Mesa airport and Bell Rock. To be frank, I didn’t feel anything while in the presence of these special centers of energy but honestly I may have been too much in “hiking mode” to stop and really absorb what may have been radiating.

The Courthouse Butte hike right south of Sedona was my favorite hike while out there. It’s a hefty 3 hour hike that is mostly flat and very quiet. I really enjoyed this.

I took a full day to travel from Sedona, AZ to Marfa, TX. It’s a 700 mile drive that crosses New Mexico, and is a good mixture of state highways and an interstate. It was a beautiful drive. I enjoyed every second of it. I took very little breaks – only to get gas. I listened to music and podcasts while enjoying the changing landscapes that was at times absolutely breathtaking. The part through the Tonto national forest ending up at the site of Theodore Roosevelt Lake was an incredible sight

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Roosevelt Lake: Wow (taken at Cholla Recreation Site (Photo by me)

also truly enjoyed driving through many little towns, including Fort Apache Reservation and San Carlos Reservation. There are so many small settlements in these vast, expansive stretches of land in the American West and it’s absolutely humbling to see people go about their day there living the best life they know how to live. This experience left me with a lasting impression that was a highlight of the trip.

I was hoping that I would get on roads where there was no other car in sight to give me that feeling of really being off-the-grid and on vacation. Boy, I got plenty of what I wished for. I ended up so often solo on the road driving through remote areas with 3G cell phone reception at best. This is America, too.

Slightly off-topic but I loved listening to Brandi Carlisle and The Rider soundtrack (by Nathan Halpern). It really helped amplify the views of rugged landscapes outdoors while on the road.

Following passing places like Globe, AZ and Duncan, AZ , I crossed into New Mexico. It felt I was making good progress. As soon as I hit Las Cruces on the Interstate 10, El Paso and then Marfa came into close reach. The sun was about to set and my goal was to limit my driving in the dark to make sure I could see where I was driving.

Then I hit El Paso. Wow. This is a very large metropolitan area. I had no idea. It looks absolutely massive and it’s like driving the Interstate 10 in East LA where the city appears to never stop. A local told me later that El Paso looks so big from the road because it borders Ciuadad Juarez in Mexico. It’s one big metro area but only half of it’s in the U.S.

Following El Paso, I was close to the final stretch. Sun was setting to a beautiful, rose colored sky. On the Interstate 10 between El Paso and Van Horn, there was a surprising mandatory stop. The interstate was routed through a make-shift Border Patrol station filled with cameras and immigration agents. It had me confused as I had not crossed in and out of the U.S. After a short wait in line with other cars, I opened my car window to greet the border agent. He was friendly and respectful, and asked where I was heading. I explained I was on my way to Marfa from Arizona. He thanked me and wished me a happy holiday. Border security miles away from the border is proof that the authorities take monitoring the border very seriously – with or without a wall.

It was full dark now and at Van Horn on Interstate 10, I took a turn on Texas state route 90 to head to Marfa – my final destination. I took about another hour or so when I arrived around 8 p.m. I was exhausted from the drive but I was so incredibly happy I did it. It was an experience I will not soon forget. I have seen part of America that I’d never imagined seeing and my understanding of the U.S. is better because of it.

February 4, 2019 in Left-Turns, Travel | Permalink







My West Texas Adventures: Blue Origin

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Note: I have been missing blogging so much. There are so many ideas and observations I want to share. I intended on archiving this blog and just let it be. Meanwhile, I've tried Medium, Tumblr and, yes, even Wordpress as a potential new home to share my writing. But there is so much to proud of here. I started this TypePad blog in 2002 and this is where I belong. The blog design is terribly out of date and nobody may even check this URL anymore, but the point really is to get that craving to write out of my system once a while. It may not be about music, but I will likely be about my travel, books, interests and causes I care about. Anyways, this is the place where I will put pen to paper and share my random musings with you.

I love rockets. I love space. I love to think that some time in the near future humanity will launch a manned mission to mars. Wow. Just amazing to think we're in reach of making that happen.

During the winter break I ventured out on a road trip to West Texas. Super random, but I wanted to feel off the grid and away from the bubble, and West Texas gave me what I had hoped for. While en route I made a left turn on Interstate 10 at Van Horn, TX coming from Texas Route 54 to head to El Paso. Little did I know that just slightly north of Van Horn, space exploration firm Blue Origin has its launch facility. Slightly bummed I didn’t drive by there to see if any rockets were getting prepared for lift off.

I’ve been reading Lawrence Wright’s excellent God Save Texas, which provides a great overview of the history of Texas and what makes the state so unique (here’s a clue: it’s “rugged individualism”). Wright notes in his book that Jeff Bezos quietly purchased huge amounts of lands in West Texas to accommodate Blue Origin’s launch installation but also build an area that can grown into a hub for space tourism. Because, yes, that’s Bezos’ plan.

Blue Origin has quietly made a lot of progress in its mission and is scheduled to send the first tourists into suborbital space by the end of this year. That’s wild. Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket concept is smart. It features a reuseable rocket (that lands vertically following lift-off) with a passenger capsule on top that boasts extra large windows for optimal space viewing. The capsule will be disconnected from the launch rocket and after a quick whirl in space will fall back to earth and land with a parachute.

Blue Origin is planning a launch of the New Sherpard (as pictured above) early 2019 and if the timing works, I may head back to Texas to see it. I have never seen a rocket go up into space and it’s a bucket list item that’s in reach. It feels like we’re on the cusp of commercial space flights becoming real and that is very, very exciting.

(Image courtesy of Blue Origin.)

February 4, 2019 in Left-Turns, Travel | Permalink







Music Lab with MNEK: A Candid Chat with One of Pop’s Most Important New Artists

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It was so exciting to sit down with MNEK this weekend to chat about everything Pop for a special edition of Music Lab at Apple Regent Street in London. I have known MNEK for over 9 years and I’m so incredibly happy to see how he has continued to evolve and impact the world of pop in a very profound way. Check out my very first blog post about his music here (from 2009!)

MNEK is a prolific writer/producer who has worked on music for Madonna, Beyonce, Little Mix, Kylie Minogue, Rudimental, Dua Lipa, Zara Larsson and the list goes on and on. He’s gearing up to release his own artist album this year that has been long in the making. He has released two singles this year to give us a taste of the album. Earlier this year, MNEK shared "Tongue" and just a few weeks ago he unveiled his mighty bop, titled "Colour," that features Hailee Steinfeld.

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"Colour" is the theme song of the Beats by Dre Pop Collection that was officially released last Friday. It’s a fresh and colorful new take on the classic Solo 3 wireless headphones that was inspired by the palette of Spanish street artist Okuda.

MNEK and I talked about the making of "Colour" (he brings out all the colors of the rainbow, make sure to check it out), his work on Christina Aguilera’s new album (he co-write "Deserve" together with Julia Michaels, a stunning track) and his past writing work with artists like Madonna and Beyonce.

MNEK spoke candidly about being an openly gay male pop star of color. He’s starting an important conversation about individuality in pop — paving the way and pushing the pop frontier forward. He’s become a role model for many just by being himself — out, proud and loud in all the right ways. He scrapped his debut album in 2016, pressed the reset button, lived life and is now gearing up for the release of his debut LP. It was a great conversation followed by an acoustic performance of "Colour."

MNEK is an important artist with a unique point of view that has the potential to reach people far and wide — and at 23 years-old, he’s only just getting started.

July 6, 2018 in LGBTQ Artists | Permalink







Bazzi: It’s Written in the Stars

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I’m completely blown away and so proud of my guy Bazzi.

The 20 year-old pop trailblazer played his first show supporting Camila Cabello on her North American tour that kicked of in Vancouver last night.

Bazzi delivered a world-class show. His performance was effortless, invigorating and filled with joy — from the heart-filled “Beautiful” to the playful “Star,” and from the soaring “Why” to his smasher “Mine” that had the entire crowd up on their feet singing along from start to finish.

When I first met Bazzi and heard his music last summer, I knew he was destined for stardom. His show tonight was solid proof of that. His love for music, singular vision and charismatic stage presence all came together for a truly magical pop moment.

Bazzi fully expresses his vision and distinct sonic aesthetic on his debut album, aptly-titled COSMIC, that will be released on Thursday. It will be without a doubt one of the finest releases of the year that make Bazzi one of 2018’s break out artists. It’s written in the stars.

The state of Pop is strong.

April 10, 2018 | Permalink







Visiting the Famed Cheiron Studios in Stockholm Where Pop History Was Made...

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A few weeks ago, I was in Sweden to dive into the local pop scene and I finally had the opportunity to tour the famed Cheiron Studios in Stockholm. Now called Roxy Recordings, this is the studio complex that was founded by the late Denniz PoP in the early '90s. Cheiron became the breeding ground of some of the greatest pop music ever recorded. Following PoP's passing in 1998 , Max Martin took over the studio and engineered a sound at Cheiron that turned artists like Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and N*Sync into mega-acts. In fact, it was in this studio that Britney Spears recorded "Baby One More Time" and most of her debut album. Fans used to camp out when Backstreet Boys recorded here and they had to install a secret elevator so the group could enter and exit the building without issue.  Pop magic was made here and I felt so lucky to go inside and see the studios. It was very special to be in the same room that young Britney used to record her first songs alongside Max Martin. If only I could have been a fly on the wall back then. 

Learn more about the history of Cheiron Studios on Wikipedia.

March 29, 2018 | Permalink







Arjan's Pop Diary: Episode 1 - Bebe Rexha

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Source: http://www.instagram.com/arjanwrites

July 9, 2017 | Permalink







After Twelve Years, I'm Taking An Indefinite Break...

Wow. What a ride it has been.

After twelve years of blogging and tipping all of you about exciting new pop music, the time has come to take an indefinite break and focus on exciting new projects. Following my stint at CNN, The GRAMMYs and Beats Music, I'm now curating songs at Apple Music. Everything that I was doing on this blog for all of those years, I now do at Apple with a great team of like-minded people passionate about music. It's an exciting move for me. To present and contextualize new music at a global scale is a dream come true. All of the years of writing this blog (6772 posts to be exact) has led to this amazing opportunity that takes my personal and professional life on an exciting new adventure. (If you're curious, this what arjanwrites.com looked like when it launched in 2002.)

I want to thank all of my loyal readers who have been following this blog for all those years. Your response and feedback meant the world to me. I cannot thank you enough for tuning in every day to get your new music fix. I also want to thank the artists who shared their music with me and allowed this blog to be a platform to debut their music. From Lady Gaga to Lana Del Rey, and from Ellie Goulding to Bebe Rexha, and many others, they all stopped here first to tell their story. I'm truly humbled and thankful for the opportunity and trust you've given me.

What has always been important to me is that this blog was never about critiquing music. It was about telling the stories about the music, offering perspective, contextualizing an artist and giving them a home to serve up the music as it was intended. My goal was to celebrate pop music in all of its glory.

This blog has led to so many incredible opportunities that are memories of a lifetime. From doing my first phone interview with Pet Shop Boys in China to being the first credentialed blogger to attend the MTV Video Music Awards, and from coordinating Lady Gaga's first television performance to covering the The GRAMMY Awards for five years in a row. Somebody pinch me! All of those special experiences never got old. I still cherish each and every one of them. I never stopped being a music fan, first and foremost. I just happened to write about the stuff I was listening to and excited about.

The passion for music will continue to drive me on my new endeavours. Perhaps one day, I will return here but for now I'm 100% focused on my new gig at Apple where I can fully apply my enthusiasm for music. If you'd like to stay in touch, feel free to reach out on Twitter. Say hey or tell me about your new music!

For now, I'm signing off. See you on Apple Music!

Thank you! x

Arjan

July 31, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)