We Need to Talk About John Mayer

The legacy of misogyny and racism was alive and well at the Grammys, and his name was John Mayer

John Mayer at the Grammys 2021. Gross.

This year's Grammy Awards felt like a desperate attempt to modernize in the face of criticism and the fear of irrelevance.

While most of those attempts felt placating and performative rather than substantive, somehow this year's show was its best in years.

Summer 2020 saw the Grammys finally change the names of their "Urban" categories, which have long garnered criticism for Black artists for feeling segregated and secondary to the bigger (read: whiter), categories. However, the nominations revealed the same patterns and biases; and major artists like The Weeknd announced plans to boycott the ceremony and no longer submit their songs for consideration — joining artists like Frank Ocean, who have long voiced their disdain for the show.

Amidst the controversy surrounding the ceremony and other award shows struggling to keep viewers' attention this season, the Grammys' main bet this year was on its live performances and their ability to distract from the drama, keep its reputation, and entice fans to actually tune in.

And it kind of worked.

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The bottle cap challenge has no doubt consumed the Internet in the last month. Started by legendary Taekwondo fighter Farabi Davletchin back in June, the challenge has seemingly brought every celebrity out of the woodwork to have a go at it.

While many followed the traditional rules of the challenge: place said bottle on the counter, and remove said bottle cap with a clean, efficient roundhouse kick. But others used it as an opportunity to put a unique and hilarious spin on it. Here are the top six participants we feel are worthy of immortal commemoration

Jason Statham

One of the first celebrities to undertake the challenge, Jason Statham's impeccable form and unnecessary seriousness is equal parts hilarious and impressive. Look at that furrowed brow, that posture, that swift form. What a majestic creature he is.

Swae Lee

The singer/rapper is not nearly as agile as some of the other competitors, and it's impressive that he succeeded at all, considering his terrible form and poor execution. Note the pieces of glass flying towards the camera upon contact. It's sloppy work, plus Lee ends the video by giving his audience the middle finger. Like dude, what the f**k? What did we do?

Justin Bieber

Shirtless and frustrated, Bieber mentions that the bottle cap "could be Tom Cruise's head." Not sure why he feels the need to continuously troll Cruise, but we're here for it. As for the execution, the bottle was placed just a little too high, with Bieber no doubt falling at the end of the video. His lanky form could almost not withstand the height, but he still somehow succeeded.

John Mayer

Who knew the pop singer had such flexibility. Judging by what we'd initially expect from Mr. Mayer, his execution was as reliable and enjoyable as Continuum, and judging by the look on his face after the cap's removal, he is no doubt aware and enjoying the hell out of our surprised faces.

Donnie Yen

I mean, it's not even really fair is it? The legendary mixed martial artist took the bottle cap off with a damn blindfold on, and he didn't even need to do a roundhouse to send the cap flying into oblivion. Like, no need to show off dude.

Mariah Carey

Carey's unique twist on the bottle cap challenge is one to remember. Due to some editing magic, the singer blew the cap off the bottle by screaming at it. Did I say screaming? I meant screeching.

Ryan Reynolds

The comedic internet juggernaut and actor one-upped every contender in the challenge. The bottle undergoes an immensely emotional journey in hopes it'll soon be reunited with Reynolds. The bottle succeeds, and Reynolds immediately kills it. We mean he kills the bottle, shattering it into a million pieces before taking off. Reynolds hasn't been seen since.


Daniel Caesar's New Album Is an Ode to Sex and God

The 24-year-old Canadian R&B musician's latest work is a mature meditation on the furthest edges of human experience.

Daniel Caesar's CASE STUDY 1 hit streaming services at midnight, and it feels designed for that time of night, tailor-made to be listened to during a bout of insomnia until the first hints of sun.

Caesar is an expert at crafting dreamlike, ethereal, and slow-burning R&B, and his latest album is a continuation of what made him famous: bass-heavy songs that are sad and sexy at the same time, full of tremolo-laden guitar and multifaceted lyrics that often shapeshift each time you listen to them.

The album's first track, "Entropy," wastes no time in getting into the thick of Caesar's thematic territory. "I remember the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita," begins the song. "Vishnu was trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form, and says, 'Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.'"

Following that, the song collapses into a sultry beat while Caesar sings, "I finally found peace / just how long till she strip for me?" What follows is a meandering spiritual monologue that's as much of an ode to sex as it is to God. It often blurs the line between the two, removing the boundaries between art, love, and spirituality and brewing them together.

The result is a spiral of longing—for connection, for the past, for a different kind of future. Nostalgia runs the show on "Restore the Feeling," a simultaneously laid-back and intricate track which features Jacob Collier and Sean Leon. "Superposition," featuring John Mayer, is a delicate, folky ballad to existential questioning. "Isn't it an irony, the things that inspire me / they make me bleed / so profusely," Caesar begins. "Life's all about contradiction / yin and yang fluidity and things. I'm me, I'm God, I'm everything, I'm my own reason why I sing, and so are you."

It's an incantation, a hymn for a world where fame and success are lauded as the end goal of the human experience—often to the detriment of the famous, when they discover that notoriety can't fill any internal void. "This music shit's a piece of cake," sings Caesar. "The rest of my life's in a state of chaos." His music seems suspended in time, located in a universe that's completely detached from the messiness of human life, so it's easy to see how the transition between his world and the real one could be jarring.

Emerging from CASE STUDY 1 feels like coming out of a dream. Listening to it is not necessarily going to make the real world any easier, but it offers an oblivion that can be clutched like a crucifix or a lover's hand when reality gets old.


Andy Grammer Talks New Album, Fresh Sound and Keeping Positive Vibes

"I wanted to make a collection of songs for people who believe in seeing the good, even in the bad," Grammer says in a Q&A.

It's been about a year and a half since American singer-songwriter Andy Grammer released his third album, The Good Parts. And now, he's back once more—this time exchanging shimmery, stadium-pop production for a more organic sound.

His change in swagger can be heard clearly on his latest single, the gospel-tinged anthem, "My Own Hero." Steeped in optimism and silver linings, Grammer's forthcoming album, Naive, is due out July 26th. He sat down with Popdust to talk more about his legacy, his relentless positivity, and his upcoming album.

Your music tends to be as catchy as it is heartfelt. When a song comes to you, does it seem to more frequently show up in the form of a melody or a lyric first? What is your writing process like? Has it changed or evolved at all over the years? How so?

I think it's really hard to do heartfelt, catchy, and uplifting without being cheesy. My process is that I chase these topics that are real to me a lot. I spend the majority of my writing hunting for them and then only keep the top 10%. There are a lot of songs that get left on the cutting room floor.

You've been creating music for quite some time now. In your opinion, what should a successful song accomplish? What does a great song do for the listener?

Fundamentally, I think songs are supposed to make you feel not alone. We are all alone in our heads with our experiences, but good songs remind us that we're all feeling a lot of the same things.

Who would you cite as having the largest influence on your music? Who do you have on regular rotation these days?

For this last album I was listening to, a lot of the great story tellers: Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder. I love artists who can be light and deep at the same time.

I understand that you have a new album coming out soon. What can fans expect from the new material? Do you see it as deviating much from your previous work? If so, in what ways?

My new album is titled Naive. I find that when your natural state is smiling and shiny, sometimes people misconstrue that as daft or stupid. I wanted to make a collection of songs for people who believe in seeing the good, even in the bad. It's probably my most organic sounding record to date.


Adam Doleac: The Hero Country Needs

He plays to thousands, he's hot on Sirius XM, and he just dropped two sizzling singles.

Talking to Adam Doleac is fascinating.

He never puts on a rockstar swagger, and he never makes you feel like you owe him something for his presence. His conversational, easy, down-to-earth qualities seem at odds with what you'd expect from an artist who's rising fast in the country scene. While his track " Famous" enjoys its second week on Sirius XM The Highway's Hot 30 Countdown, Doleac's two new singles are climbing in popularity, and he's recently played to crowds of 20,000 at the Taste of Country Festival. You almost want him to strut into the room wearing dark sunglasses, still smelling of last night's party, and grinning like he knows something you don't. Instead, he's adroit, collected, and full of ready insight that you'd expect from the CEO of a startup more than from a musician.

"I grew up listening to Amos Lee, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and all these guys that weren't country but had cool voices," he says of his early influences, "The songwriting is what got me in to country. The storytelling that's involved." When it comes to country, many people are quick to be dismissive, but Doleac is able to tread a fine line that keeps him modern and relevant while also appealing to classic Country fans. "I think country has always come from the writing instead of the music," he explains, "The production of my stuff could go right to pop if it wanted to. I like the middle place we've found where it can swing both ways." While he does play around with slide guitar and other country staples, Doleac's stuff can, with a few tweaks, easily sound like pop hits. "Sometimes country is still... beer, pickup trucks, and slide guitars," he enthuses. "But what I love that's happening now is that we're bringing people over who didn't know they liked country music. Our market's turned into 'I didn't think I liked country music, but I like your stuff.'" He adds, "If the listener feels something, I don't think they're ever going to stop and think 'Is this song country or pop?' They're just gonna say 'This song's good.'"

So as Doleac grows as a brand and diversifies the Country audience, what's his process for creating new material? "I won't sit down to write a song unless I'm half towards an idea I've come up with in my head," he explains. "And normally I'll be on the road, so I come back to Nashville with five or six things I've written down. Then it starts with myself... trying to get 2 or 3 lines in so I know the direction it's headed. And then I get in and add music." However, as he tells it, inspiration can come from anywhere. Like with his new single "Solo." "At my house in Nashville I have a swing. I lay on it and have coffee pretty much every morning. The apartment complex [next door] is called 'Solo East'. I kept looking and thinking 'I'm gonna get to [writing] that one day, and then, eventually, I did."

As he tells it, "Solo," his breezy, romantic, John Mayer-esque track, is an oddity. "We wrote it and couldn't stop listening to it," he says, detailing the song's creation. "Normally I have to live with songs for a long time, but I wrote it probably a month and a half ago, and now it's already been through the grinder. Mixed, mastered, produced, and coming out." He smiles a little to himself as he hints at Easter eggs in the song. "I don't know if everyone will catch this, but SOLO is Stay Over Lay Over… here with me," he says. "I wanted to come up with what solo meant. I started writing it on a plane, so that's where that came from. I think when we do the video we'll use that… Maybe with a flight attendant on the plane…"

In contrast, his process for his single "Wake Up Beautiful" displays Doleac's skill for slowly metering his efforts to produce maximal effect. "'Wake Up Beautiful' is three years old. I almost recorded it for the first EP I ever put out. We did six songs, and it ended up being number seven; it's a three-minute pickup line. I've always loved it." He muses, "Music's funny. You can only put so many songs out at once or you end up wasting them." This brings up the interesting position Doleac is currently in, professionally. "Everyone on the Breakout Stage [the other day] had a record deal. We were the independent act, and we had the biggest turnout of the weekend, which was really cool," he explains. "There's literally no strings independently right now. We do what the fans want. We play the song, see them love it, say, 'Hey you want this song, well here it comes on streaming.' Artists on labels can't do that."

But even with all the perks of independence, his aim is always set higher, and his approach remains as practical as ever. "If I was an artist that wanted to sell 20,000 records and have a couple of number ones on Sirius XM, then I'm making it, and I can keep going like this; but my goal, ultimately, is to play stadiums and fill them suckers up and really grow this thing big. No one's done it independently in country yet. You need terrestrial radio to do that." It's at moments like this when Doleac really feels like the young CEO entrepreneur of Adam Doleac Inc. When he's not writing and focusing on putting on a great show, he is running himself as a business—even down to his consistent use of the pronoun "we" in his speech, acknowledging the support of those around him.

All of this aside, Doleac's number one concern is, and always will be, his fans. "I'm as hands-on as I can be with them," he explains cheerfully. "They have to tell me to not be sometimes. All these people come up after shows and they're like, 'We're so sorry, we know you don't want to take pictures with us,' and I'm like, 'No, I really enjoy it.' I stay involved." Acknowledging the importance of the personal touch for himself and for his followers, Doleac has refined his fans' experience into something intimate and touching. "There's a thing we're doing. We call it ' 15 Minutes of Famous,'" he says, referring to the VIP tickets to his concerts (named after one of his songs). He explains, "We find a room, circle up the chairs, then whoever's there gets to ask me any questions they want. We hang for 15-20 minutes, and we just get to know them. We sign whatever they want, take pictures, then I do a 2-3 song performance just for them. So we leave [as] friends, almost, instead of just 'we got a picture together,' which is what most people do."

So as Adam Doleac wraps up his gigs in New York and heads back to Nashville, what's next for the pop-country firebrand? "We're going to be on the road a lot, pretty much booked up till October-November this year. So we don't know what our beds look like right now," he responds with typical matter-of-fact humor. "We're talking with labels and all that good stuff and seeing what kinda deals will happen there. And obviously moving onto terrestrial radio and really getting the reach and spreading out like that. That feels like the next step. Until then, we're just going to keep building, building, building all year." In conversation with Adam Doleac, you never get the sense that he is, or wants to be, alone on an island of creative genius. His approach is grounded, familial, and professional, and it gives him the air of a craftsman. That makes him exactly what Country needs right now.

Follow Adam Doleac Online: Web | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Spotify


AALTA Releases "Closer Than Ever" ft. Lenachka

"A surrender to the night...whatever happens we'll take it together."

L.A.'s production/writing duo AALTA, aka Daniel Pashman and Grammy winner Rich Jacques, unveil "Closer Than Ever," featuring Lenachka, aka Helene Immel.

According to Pashman and Jacques, "This is the first track we wrote as AALTA. Lenachka came in and was the perfect pairing for the track we started."

Since arriving in Los Angeles from Germany at the age of eight, Lenachka has worked with Eric Robinson and John Mayer, as well as written with a who's who catalog of songwriters and producers, including Winston Marshall of Mumford & Sons and Taylor York of Paramore.

The unique aspect of AALTA is less about the core team of Jacques and Pashman than it is about who they collaborate with. A variety of exquisite voices and shifting musical flavors inject sinuous fluidity into AALTA's elusive sound, infusing each new track with ever-changing textures.

"Closer Than Ever" opens on softly gleaming colors atop the throbbing pulse of the kick-drum as metallic synths drone in the background.

Lenachka's voice delivers intoxicating honeyed tones on creamy sonic patinas, as washes of glowing harmonies introduce radiant depth and dimension.

"Closer Than Ever" blends modern pop with glossy alternative vibes into a cool, coruscating soundscape.

Follow AALTA Facebook | Instagram | Spotify

Follow Lenachka Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram