Macy Gray Ramps Up ‘My Good’ Nonprofit to Help Families of Victims of Police Brutality

In response to incidents of police brutality across the United States, singer Macy Gray is ramping up her nonprofit My Good.

The organization, founded quietly earlier this year, seeks to help families and loved ones of victims of police violence with financial, emotional and mental health support. The org is also at work curating different platforms for the victims’ families to be heard including support groups with grief experts and ministers among other initiatives.

One needn’t search far and wide to find examples as recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, to name a few, gripped the nation and helped inspire Black Lives Matter protests across the country. For Gray, this issue and the aftermath for families is personal. Gray watched her aunt and uncle struggle after their son was killed in a bar fight more than four years ago, so she knows first hand how the loss of a loved one can devastate a family.

“It’s impossible to ignore the fact that there are thousands of families in our country who are grieving from unaccountable deaths due to police brutality. We are here to identify those families and help them with grief counseling, legal and financial assistance,” said Gray. “I’ve spoken with a list of mothers who have lost their children in this unthinkable manner and they need help. Everyone grieves in different ways but the common thread is their question of how do they continue on — they need support and this is what we’re here to do.”

On the org’s website, Gray makes it clear that My Good is “NOT an anti-police organization,” but rather, her team’s efforts will be focused solely on doing “as we can for grieving families.” Mental health services are also of utmost importance to the entertainer. Furthermore, My Good will also curate platforms for victims’ families including support groups with grief experts and ministers.

Gray shared her vision for My Good July 25 during Richard and Demi Weitz’s “Quarantunes.” The private pandemic concert series has been a hit with Hollywood insiders and that installment featured John Legend and his organization, Free America, alongside co-hosts Dana Walden and Chrisette Hudlin and an all-star roster of musical acts. Gray spoke, performed and raised north of $10,000 for My Good thanks to supporters like Legend.

She will host her own virtual concert event this fall with a slew of special guests and a VIP meet-and-greet afterparty. Details of that event are forthcoming. “It’s exciting to see people demanding that the police system be changed, and pressuring judges and juries to hold the officers who commit murders accountable,” Gray continued. “In reality, the police have been around since the 18th century and it will be a while before they flip. MyGood.org is here to help accelerate that process on behalf of those moms, and have their backs in the meantime.”

This article originally appeared in THR.com.

Unpacking Taylor Swift’s Huge Debut & Grammy Album of the Year Chances

When Taylor Swift’s surprise album Folklore blasted in atop the Billboard 200 chart with the biggest week of the year for any album, she not only did it without the benefit of any pre-release promotion, but also while taking a sonic left-turn away from pure pop and into a more alternative soundscape.

On the latest Pop Shop Podcast (listen below), the team discusses Swift’s epic chart feats achieved with Folklore and its single “Cardigan,” and speculates on if the album would have achieved such great heights if it had been a surprise-released customary pop effort. The Pop Shoppers also chat about on how Folklore may have brought in new fans to the Swift fold, thanks to her collaborations with alt-rock acts like Bon Iver and The National’s Aaron Dessner.

And finally, could Folklore factor into the race for album of the year at the upcoming Grammy Awards? After all, Swift has been nominated three times, and won twice (for Fearless and 1989). However, her last two albums, Lover and Reputation, didn’t make the cut. Could Folklore turn the tide?

In addition to all of the Swift chatter, the latest Pop Shop Podcast episode features an interview with singer-songwriter Alessia Cara. The Grammy Award-winner for best new artist joins the show to discuss her new charity album This Summer: Live off the Floor, why she’s donating all her proceeds from the project to Save the Children, and how the live album puts an “emotional” new twist on her songs. 

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard’s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard’s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and senior director, music, Jason Lipshutz every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)   

Will the Grammys Classify Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ as Pop or Alternative?

Last week, we asked whether Taylor Swift’s new album Folklore would put her back in the album of the year finals at the Grammys for the first time since she won for 1989. Most of you seem to think it will.

Here’s a tougher follow-up question: Will the album compete for best pop vocal album, as Swift’s last three albums have, or best alternative music album? (Albums may compete in only one “genre album” category.) Unfortunately, we can’t just go by the charts: The album enters both the all-genre Billboard 200 and Alternative Albums at No. 1 this week.

The album has strong alternative credentials. Aaron Dessner, who co-produced the album with Swift and her long-time collaborator Jack Antonoff, and who co-wrote nine songs on the album with Swift, won a Grammy in the alternative category with his band, The National, for Sleep Well Beast. The National were also nominated in that category for their previous album, Trouble Will Find Me.

And Justin Vernon, who co-wrote “Exile,” which features his band Bon Iver, won a Grammy in the alternative field for Bon Iver. Bon Iver was also nominated in that category with its next two albums, 22, A Million and I,I.

Antonoff’s history at the Grammys has mostly been in the pop field. Some Nights, his breakthrough album with the trio fun., was nominated for best pop vocal album. Swift’s 1989 (his first album with the star) won in that category. Her next two albums, Reputation and Lover, were nominated there, as were P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma and Sia’s This Is Acting, on which he also worked. Lorde’s Melodrama and Lana Del Rey’s Norman F***ing Rockwell! both competed in the pop album category—though neither wound up with a nomination. (Both albums were nominated for album of the year.) One of Antonoff’s Grammy-nominated projects — St. Vincent’s Masseduction — was nominated for best alternative music album.

The alternative committee will likely have a lively discussion about whether Folklore has more in common with alternative or pop. A lot is at stake. If Swift is nominated, she would have an excellent chance of winning.

Swift would be just the third female solo artist to win best alternative music album, following Sinéad O’Connor, the first winner in the category for 1990’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, and St. Vincent, for St. Vincent (2014).

Moreover, Swift would become the first artist to win for both best pop vocal album (which she did for 1989) and best alternative music album. She is already the only artist to date to win for both best pop vocal album and best country album (which she did for Fearless).

If Folklore is classified as pop, and wins, Swift would become just the third artist to win twice in that category, following Kelly Clarkson and Adele.

How do the Grammys define the two categories? The Grammy guide (which is now online) doesn’t tell us much about best pop vocal album: “This category recognizes artistic excellence in pop vocal albums.” (Told you not to expect too much!)

But the guide has a detailed and interesting explanation of what it considers alternative music to be: “Alternative music may be defined as a genre of music that embraces attributes of progression and innovation in both the music and attitudes associated with it. It is often a less intense version of rock or a more intense version of pop and is typically regarded as more original, eclectic, or musically challenging. It may embrace a variety of sub-genres or any hybrids thereof and may include recordings that do not fit into other genre categories.”

Folklore has also been tagged “indie folk” and “electro-folk” by some critics. The Grammys no longer have a contemporary folk category, which they presented from 1986-2010, but they do have best folk album. Here’s what the Grammy guide says about that category: “This category recognizes excellence in folk recordings in modern and/or traditional vocal and instrumental styles, as well as original material by artists who utilize traditional and/or modern folk elements, sounds and instrumental techniques as the basis for their recordings. Folk music is primarily but not exclusively acoustic, with production and sensibility distinctly different from a pop approach.”

Swift is not listed on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart, which is topped by The ChicksGaslighter (which the in-demand Antonoff also co-produced). For the record, the Grammys don’t take their cues from the charts, but there’s usually a correlation between where albums are charted and where they are categorized in the Grammy process.

We’ll leave you with two random Grammy facts about Swift.

Folklore has fewer producers (just three) than any Swift album since her first three albums, which each had just two producers. Nathan Chapman co-produced her debut album with Robert Ellis Orrall. Swift and Chapman co-produced her next two albums.

Bon Iver’s “Holocene” (2011) received Grammy nominations for both record and song of the year. Swift has achieved that double-play three times, for “You Belong With Me” (2009),“Shake It Off” (2014) and “Blank Space” (2015).

Alessia Cara Explains Why Her ‘Nostalgic’ Recent EP Needed To Help Raise Money

Alessia Cara says that her latest project, a live covers EP of her own material, This Summer: Live Off the Floor, “brought a whole new life” to her songs.

“I feel like hearing them this way just makes them a lot more nostalgic, cathartic in a way,” she tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below). “It feels a little bit more emotional than they do on the original record.”

The project sees Cara putting a new spin on the songs she released on her last release, 2019’s This Summer EP, in addition to a couple earlier hit singles not found on the set, like “Scars To Your Beautiful” and “Here.”

Released on July 17, the new live effort also has a charity bent, as all of Cara’s proceeds from the album, for the next 21 years, will benefit Save the Children. She says that so much has been “uncovered about the way the world operates” this year, she “wanted to find a charity that would help out all those little pockets of issues in hopes to fix them,” specifically focused on aiding children, “because those are the future leaders.”

Below are some highlights from Cara’s chat with the Pop Shop Podcast, including her excitement over the new arrangements her songs received on the new album, how she feels the songs sonically changed in their new setting, and how the state of the world has impacted her songwriting.

Where did this idea come from, to develop this new take on existing songs of yours? Initially, it was gonna be just like an acoustic EP. Just guitar and vocal. Which is usually what I do with a lot of my songs. I typically give my fans an acoustic version. My manager Chris Smith brought up doing that for the entire project, instead of a few songs this time. So, I got on the phone with my friend Jon Levine who produced the entire EP and he was like, ‘well, why don’t we do an even bigger, cooler thing where we do like all live, off the floor, with a bunch of musicians and make it like a full thing?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, let’s do it!’ It sounded so awesome. I had never done anything like that. I mean, that’s how I love to listen to music. I love recording music that way, like, you know, raw — as raw as possible. And so this was like the perfect thing. I’m so glad we did it because it brought a whole new life into … to the songs that were typically, originally very like confident, straight-forward songs, and now they’re like, I feel like hearing them this way just makes them a lot more nostalgic, cathartic in a way. I don’t know. It feels a little bit more emotional than they do on the original record.

What was it like incorporating wildly different arrangements on the album?

It was so cool. It was amazing. I’m such a music fan before anything. I love jazz music, I love older music. I love anything with strings. I feel like if you put strings on anything it sounds gorgeous. And getting to do that was so awesome. We did a really cool thing in the beginning, which was also Jon’s idea, I can’t take credit. But he somehow managed to incorporate “Summertime,” by Gershwin, into the intro of “Ready,” which is the first thing you hear off the top. And it’s so gorgeous. I feel like even just the song “Summertime” into this summer is perfect. It just sounds so wonderful and I’m just glad we got to experiment with these songs.

What’s been the reaction from fans to the new project?

It’s been great. I always get so nervous about what they’re gonna think about this stuff, just because I know they’re so adamant about me writing new things. So, I was worried about giving them the same songs, and just hoping that they take it as something new and enjoy it. But they love it, so far, from what I’ve seen, anyway. They’ve been so supportive. Their comments always make me really, really happy and I’m glad that they are connecting with this, the way that I hoped.

Cara is donating all of her personal proceeds from the album, for the next 21 years, to the Save the Children charity – how did the charitable aspect come about?

That was a decision I made pretty early on. I knew that I wanted it to have some sort of charitable aspect. But I think as we got closer to the release date, or the period of time that I was planning on releasing it, the whole world flipped upside down. Not only were we seeing the whole COVID-19 pandemic happening, but we were also seeing movements in terms of racial injustice. And all these things were being uncovered about the way that the world operates. Things that I was discovering that I had no idea were going on. Like the famine and war in Yemen. The mistreatment of indigenous communities in my own country (Canada), which was really eye-opening because I didn’t realize how grave the situation was.

So, as the world started progressing, and things were being uncovered, I wanted to find a charity that would help out all those little pockets of issues in hopes to fix them, and in hopes to be as progressive as possible. Save the Children is great with that because they have so many emergency funds for those specific communities across 117 countries, which is great. And I feel like, getting to the root of the situation, which is children, is going to be so beneficial for our future. Because those are the future leaders. It’s important that those kids are protected and rightfully equipped to be the future leaders and hold the torch that us adults are holding now.

Have you been writing and reflecting on what’s going on, in terms of your upcoming music?

All this stuff has been so at the forefront, that it’s almost impossible to not incorporate it in some way into my music. So, it’s definitely there. I mean, all I have is my own perspective, really. So, I’m writing definitely from an introspective place. All of that stuff is definitely making an impact on what I write about, but also just the way that I write. You know, it’s just been a really reflective year so far. So, it’s like I said, almost impossible to not talk about those things. 

In addition to the Cara interview, Pop Shop hosts Jason and Keith down Taylor Swift’s big debut on the charts with her surprise album Folklore and its single “Cardigan.” Plus, how the left-of-center project (which sees pop superstar Swift collaborating with alt-rock acts like Bon Iver and The National’s Aaron Dessner) perhaps brought new fans to the fold. In addition, the team discusses how Folklore could factor into the race for album of the year at the upcoming Grammy Awards.

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard’s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard’s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and senior director, music, Jason Lipshutz every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)  

Event Designer Bobby Garza in Austin, in a Pandemic: ‘I’m Petrified for My Friends’

When the concert business shut down in mid-March, Bobby Garza abruptly shifted from putting on live events to tearing them down — his company, Austin-based Forefront Networks, had to cancel the California food-and-music festival Yountville Live later that month, and massive productions like December’s Trail of Lights in Austin are in question, too. In early April, his life changed even more dramatically: Forefront furloughed 30% of its staff, including him.

As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Garza, a 43-year-old Forefront creative team leader who used to be GM of festival producer Transmission Events, regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the latest installment here and see the full series here.

What’s the status of the contract gig you were working on?

I was able to get a part-time contract with an organization here called the Long Center, which is a venue and community-based organization dedicated to helping the arts and artists and musicians. It’s a 2,500-ish-seat venue that’s had to close, so they’re thinking about what’s next and how they pivot. So I get to think about that, which I’m incredibly excited about.

When did you start?

Oddly enough, the day that you and I got off the phone [two weeks ago], I spent the rest of the afternoon negotiating with the chief revenue officer over there, who’s a friend of mine, about the particulars. I started that following Monday, so I’m just finishing up my second week. My job is to think through a whole new vertical for the organization, which centers right now around virtual programming. That can set the stage for what happens in ’21, but [we’re] also thinking about how to intelligently open whenever venues are able to open.

Having that paycheck must be a huge relief, especially now.

I was so fearful that Congress couldn’t figure out what the heck they wanted to do, and now millions of people are losing this subsidy that’s probably keeping them in their homes and keeping food on the table. It’s incredibly tragic and I feel fortunate to be where I’m at. I’m petrified for my friends. I’m petrified what that’s going to do for the country. Philosophical musings about whether it encourages people to come back to work or not feel irrelevant for my industry, which is 100% gone right now.

What do you think happens next to the country, now that those benefits have run out?

My experience in government doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope that something’s going to pass that’s going to be worth it. What happens if you are furloughed, and now you’re laid off, and now the unemployment assistance from the federal government doesn’t come through? You’ve got an incredible increase in expenses and an incredible decrease in income and there’s not a whole lot to do, especially if you have a family or you live with someone who’s elderly and you have to self-quarantine properly. There are so many variables. I’m so incredibly frightened.

Whenever there may be a concert business again, say with a vaccine, is it going to be like flipping a switch? “Come on, everybody, let’s go to Red Rocks!” What happens in that moment?

I don’t think it’s going to be like that. Folks are going to say “venues can open with 25% capacity,” and the reality is, most venues don’t budget the 25% capacity for break-even. I don’t think it becomes a reality from a financially responsible standpoint until venues can hit 75 or 85% capacity. In which case, venues have a lot of thinking to do and a lot of interacting to do with their local or state governments about how stringent guidelines are going to be and what the smartest things to do are. On one hand, I get the raw emotion of [wanting to] see music right now, and I had to juxtapose that with a text I got from my mother today listing all of the people she knows that have died this week. It’s absolutely terrible. There aren’t many people that want to be back in the business of seeing events and being around live music than me. But we’re not there yet.

Since we talked about your son’s cookie-making camp two weeks ago, I can’t get German snickerdoodles out of my head.

Well, you’ve got to come down, dude! At some point in the future I’ll get my kid to tear up the kitchen again. I just got it back into place, so just give me a minute. It is really funny, though. As I was cleaning the kitchen, I opened the oven and there was one cookie that didn’t quite make it out.

Coronavirus

WME Sues Founder of Country Festival Series It Purchased in 2018

WME says an Oregon promoter is to blame for a popular festival brand’s collapse just months after the agency took over full ownership in 2018.

WME finalized its purchase of 100% of Anne Hankins’ Willamette Country Music Concerts in 2018, keeping Hankins as an employee to produce its three festivals in Oregon — the Willamette Country Music Festival in Linn County, the Country Crossings Music Festival in Central Point and the Cape Blanco Country Music Festival — as well as the Mountain Home Country Music Festival in Idaho.

But after the Country Crossings festival experienced low turnout in 2018 due to extreme heat and a nearby wildfire, and the company’s main Willamette Country Music Festival experienced an unusually high number of alcohol-related incidents, local support for the festival dwindled and — coupled with financial losses — sunk the series’ future prospects. Hankins was fired that fall.

Now, 19 months after firing Hankins, WME has filed a lawsuit alleging the founder misrepresented her business’ financial health in 2013 and misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds after the sale, with millions more needing to be accounted for, according to a lawsuit filed July 31 in nearby Lane County, Oregon.

Hankins’ representative declined to comment for this story.

Since 2010, Hankins had operated Willamette Country Music Concerts as a family run business employing her husband, three daughters and son-in-law. In 2013, WME purchased a controlling 51% interest before buying out the rest of the company five years later. But things started to unravel after the 2018 events’ flopped, worsened by reports that some vendors for the marquee Willamette Country Music Fest didn’t get paid, including Linn County Sheriff Jim Yon, who said his agency was owed more than $70,000 for providing security services.

After a brief investigation, Yon learned Hankins had been convicted in 2001 of lying on an application for a $350,000 loan and withdrew his support for allowing the event to return to Linn County in 2019. This led to the Linn County Board of Commissioners rejecting Willamette Country Music Fest’s 2019 festival permit application,” according to the lawsuit.

Vendors at the Country Crossings festival also complained of not being paid, prompting WME to launch an investigation. In reviewing financial records, WME found “significant discrepancies between the real statements and the ones provided by Hankins,” attorney Matthew J. Kalmanson with Portland law firm Hartman Wagner wrote in a civil complaint that became public Monday.

Over the course of 24 pages, Kalmanson accuses Hankins of forgery, embezzlement and theft, but omits that two years after the internal investigation began Hankins has not faced any criminal charges related to her time running the festivals on behalf of WME.

The festival series’ collapse is an embarrassment for WME, which had booked its own artists to play, despite the obvious conflict of interest for its agency business.

WME also appears to have fallen short in its own due diligence, claiming in the lawsuit it was unaware of the 2001 conviction, despite a portion of the case making its way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, Hankins agreed to settle her $350,000 debt with the bank for a $5,000 payment. The Oregon U.S. Attorney’s Office felt that Hankins had not been punished enough (despite serving a 30-day jail sentence) and won a $331,995 judgement against Hankins which was then applied to the national Crime Victims Fund. The fund has been criticized in recent months for misappropriations by Congress due to caps on victim compensation.

How WME missed this entire saga is unclear, but the festival’s financial problems allegedly meant the agency was on the hook for the “payment of millions of dollars to the other victims of Hankins’s fraud, including the artists and vendors whom Hankins stiffed.”

WME is now suing Hankins for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and contract and unjust enrichment, accusing her of “lying about her criminal background,” “doctoring financial and other records to induce … continued investment” and engaging in acts “that enriched her and her family at Plaintiffs’ and others’ expense.”

As of Monday, WME has not been able to successfully serve Hankins with the suit, according to court records.

What’s Your Favorite Boy Band Song of All Time? Vote!

From One Direction celebrating its 10th-anniversary last month to the Jonas Brothers having an epic reunion year in 2019, anytime is the right time to remember our favorite boy bands. But which boy band hit still rules to this day?

Boyz II Men previously held and tied the record for longest-running No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 with “End of the Road” at 13 weeks in 1992, “I’ll Make Love to You” at 14 weeks in 1994 and “One Sweet Day” with Mariah Carey at 16 weeks in 1995.

Before embarking on their solo careers in 2015, 1D gave their fans butterflies by reminding them “What Makes You Beautiful” with the British boy band’s debut single. But CNCO really had viewers swoon with their smooth moves in the music video for “Reggaetón Lento (Bailemos),” which reached 1 billion YouTube views in 2017. It marked the first time a boy band and non-English group accomplished this milestone.

BTS also defied English language barriers with their internationally renowned K-pop hits, especially when the septet’s 2018 single “Fake Love” became their first top 10 hit on the Hot 100 and Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart. It also became their third certified gold single by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

So which boy band’s hit are you still playing back in 2020? Vote below!