Josh Groban’s Broadway dressing room is a cozy space with an explorer-chic vibe: There’s a brass globe on a shelf, a framed map above the couch, a fake rhino’s head on the wall and a dog bed for his wheaten terrier, Sweeney, stuffed in a corner. And then there’s Groban, who’s holding up a fat suit in the doorway. “It’s just a little extra!” he says, grinning. “I need to add some largeness, especially when I have to look menacing. It looks like muscle, too — another thing I don’t have!”
At 35, Groban will make his Broadway debut in a role that should surprise anyone who assumed he would spend the rest of his life recording inspirational anthems. During the course of a 20-year career with nearly 25 million albums sold, according to Nielsen Music — producer David Foster discovered him as a teenager, just as he was enrolling at Carnegie Mellon University — Groban could have slipped into a cushy six-week gig as the Phantom or Jean Valjean. Instead, he’s playing a depressed, alcoholic, existential mess of a man in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, an unorthodox new musical based on a 70-page chunk of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, opening Nov. 14 at the Imperial Theatre (Groban is the titular Pierre).
“I’m excited by educated risks, by things that challenge me,” says Groban. He first saw Comet in 2013, when it was playing within a huge tent transformed into a Russian supper club in downtown Manhattan. “It hit all the right spots for what I loved most about musical theater, after I’d seen a few things that left me cold.”
With his arena-filling baritone and built-in fan base — his seven studio albums have all reached the Billboard 200’s top 10, and his most recent, the Broadway album Stages, debuted at No. 2 — Groban has had his pick of Broadway roles. But he was hesitant to debut in a “stunt-casting” situation. “It’s like the dating game,” says Groban, who is single following a breakup with actress Kat Dennings this summer. “You wait, you don’t know why you’re waiting half the time, you say, ‘Maybe I should just settle,’ and then something like this comes around and you say, ‘I’m really glad I waited.’ ”
The wait was worth it: By the time Comet rolled around, Groban had proved himself as more than an angelic voice. Starting around 2011, his not-so-serious side surfaced on TV and in film roles: He sang Kanye West tweets in operatic fashion on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, guest-hosted Live With Kelly and played Emma Stone’s obnoxious boyfriend in Crazy, Stupid, Love. The appearances helped convince Rachel Chavkin, the 36-year-old director who has helmed Comet since its start in 2012, that Groban had hidden depths. “Pierre is a sad clown,” she says. “There’s something about Josh’s self-deprecating humor, mingled with a soulful center, plus his beautiful nerdiness, all together. He has a place to sing from.”
Groban plays accordion in the show — he taught himself during sound checks on his recent Stages Tour — and in Comet’s opening song, he is called “dear, awkward, bewildered Pierre.” Groban can relate: “I feel like I only ever sing sad songs,” he says with a laugh. “I could use a good midtempo song in my life.” He also had to figure out how to perform without defaulting to his signature grandiosity, since Pierre’s gruffness is incongruent with Groban’s vocal training. Chavkin encouraged him to leave that polish at the door, invoking a favorite acting mantra: “Perfection is for assholes.”
Though Groban says he has always felt like an outsider — and notes that he’s one of 18 Broadway debuts in Comet’s cast — the theater community has embraced him. This summer, his Carnegie Mellon classmates Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon) and Rory O’Malley (both shows) prank-called him, singing a mangled version of his “You Raise Me Up” in a video that went viral. “His path has been so unique,” says Odom. “I think the show will reveal a willingness and talent for shape-shifting that he takes seriously.”
Bernadette Peters texted him “good luck” on his first preview performance. Sara Bareilles, a fellow Broadway transplant (Tony-nominated for Waitress), calls him “a modern-day superhero, really. I love that Josh knows what his fastball is as an artist, but he still chooses to stretch.”
Likewise, Groban has been eager to involve himself in his new community’s causes. He took time the night before his first preview to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at Stronger Together, a Broadway benefit concert for Hillary Clinton. “I can’t believe it got this far with Donald Trump,” he says. “I think it will be looked back at in history as one of the great shames of the political process. Hopefully, we grow from it.”
It’s a unique career that has let Groban expand his creative wheelhouse while trusting that his fan base will evolve along with him. “When you start out, there’s a fear, an ‘I don’t want this to go away’ thing,” he says. “I’m not afraid to try political humor or to collaborate with artists you might not expect. Maybe you lose a couple of people when you do that, but you gain people who are really in it for who you are. That’s worth everything.”
Billboard’s Philanthropy Issue: Inside How the Music Industry Gives Back
Bill Clinton, vibrant and trim at 70, in a tailored navy suit and a bright red tie, strolls into Billboard’s makeshift photo studio at the New York Hilton Midtown in late September, during the 12th and final meeting of his charitable foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), which has long tapped musicians to give voice to causes. “It’s astonishing the impact they’re having,” says the president about the artists he has worked with through the years, from Elton John to Usher. Right now, rock legends Jon Bon Jovi and Sting trail him quietly like starstruck roadies. When the former president stands beside Bon Jovi and Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, for a group photo, the stars remain quiet while Clinton becomes the quipster-in-chief. “Two couples out for a nice date,” he deadpans. Everyone giggles. Then, turning to Bon Jovi, he says, “I always thought you were the prettiest one.” Everyone laughs. “This is Bon Jovi’s Be Kind to a Senior night!” he says.
It is not surprising, given his professional history, that Clinton is able to maintain a sense of aplomb during this trying year that finds his wife, Hillary Clinton, in the ugliest presidential race in recent U.S. history. Their family name is getting dragged through the mud along with the reputation of the foundation to which Clinton has dedicated his post-White House life. While Hillary remains the clear frontrunner in the election, with just days to go, a steady drip of embarrassing-at-best hacked emails, released by WikiLeaks, has dampened spirits during her campaign’s stretch run. In the latest example, on Wednesday (Oct. 26), media outlets reported on a leaked memo from 2011 that raises further concerns about the intersection of the former president’s charitable work with his and his colleagues’ personal enrichment, in which a veteran aide to the president said that Clinton “gets many expensive gifts” from donors, while Chelsea warned of various aides profiting from the Foundation’s endeavors. The documents contain no evidence of any “pay-for-play” involving then Sec. Clinton, as charged by Republicans. A representative from the Clinton Foundation had no comment on the leaked emails.
If you spent the last couple of hours trying to figure out the title of Shakira’s new single and who she’s collaborating with, you weren’t alone.
After sharing clues on her social media throughout the morning, the Colombian singer’s fans gave it their best shot at guessing the title of her new song and the artist she’s featuring. The first fan to resolve the mystery would get a personal message on Instagram from Shakira confirming the correct answer.
The first clue was a picture of Shak wearing a magician’s hat and holding a rabbit. Her caption: “Abracadabra!”
Next clue: A selfie with a white board in the background with the names of countries and cities and a drawing of a crown. “Selfie of the day. Nothing special or maybe?”
Third clue: Shakira holding a poster with a photo of Alejandro Sanz + TA + G. Her caption reads: “I hope you guys been paying attention to the clues I’ve been posting today. I will send a DM to one of the first to correctly guess the name of my new single and the artist I’ve collaborated with. Post your guesses in the comments below, and keep an eye on your Insta inbox…”
And after the many guesses made by her fans she confirmed her new single is titled “Chantaje” featuring urban superstar Maluma.
In the message sent to the fan who guessed correctly, Shakira explains: “Magic was the name of my first album ever and also Maluma’s. The crown is Maluma’s tattoo. And lastly, ‘Chan’ is Alejandro Sanz’s nickname, plus you add the ‘TA’ and the G sound at the end.”
A few months ago, both Colombian superstars shared photos together on social media — although neither had confirmed a collaboration. Recently, Maluma released the remix to Shakira and Carlos Vives’ summer hit “La Bicicleta.”
Earlier this month, Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang dropped its TGOD Volume 1 mixtape and now they’re sharing a video for “Sleep at Night.”
The Khalifa and Tuki Carter team-up shows the duo hanging out at Khalifa’s L.A. home, smoking pot while touring his collection of clothes and cars.
Khalifa’s son Sebastian makes a cameo as well, basically stealing the show. It’s fitting, with the chorus referencing Sebastian’s mother Amber Rose, “Baby mama say that I ain’t living right, but all this counting money help me sleep at night.”
Naturally, Sebastian shows a lot of swag for a 3-year-old. Watch the video here:
Kid Rock surprised his hometown fans on Saturday night (Oct. 22), making a guest appearance with longtime pal Uncle Kracker during the finale show of the BMI Singer-Songwriter Series in Detroit.
Rock popped into a chair unannounced at the end of Uncle Kracker’s unplugged set for a duet on his 2008 hit “All Summer Long,” on which Kracker shares a writing credit. “Not everybody’s got a best friend as good as this motherf—er here,” Kracker told the packed crowd at Coyote Joe’s in the Detroit suburb of Shelby Township — even more stoked to see Rock because he’s not playing any formal shows in the Detroit area this year as he works on his follow-up to 2015’s First Kiss. “Not everybody will call you up at nine in the morning and set, “We gotta write this motherf—er here…” A grinning Rock replied, “Don’t get all sentimental. Give the people what they want” before breaking into the song, conducting Kracker and his two accompanists through the dynamics of the middle section.
Saturday’s show was the fourth in BMI’s inaugural series, done in conjunction with CBS Radio’s Detroit stations. The show included a guitar pull between Hunter Hayes, Sarah Buxton and Troy Verges — before which Hayes heard his latest single, “Yesterday’s Song,” on the radio for the first time — as well as an acoustic set by LoCash. Joe Nichols, Jerrod Niemann, Tinashe, Jacob Whitesides, Michael Ray, Casey Beathard, Brett Young and Wendell Mobley also played during the festival.
Dan Spears, BMI’s vice president of industry relations/licensing, told Billboard the rights agency is already thinking about what it wants to do for a sequel. “We were trying to figure a way to partner [with CBS] on something that could bring value to their listeners, value to our songwriters and shine a spotlight on the craft of songwriting,” Spears explained. “Motown is synonymous with Detroit, and there’s so much more to the city. It’s a great music town with a lot of great history. So it’s a win-win-win for BMI, CBS, our songwriters and the city of Detroit.”
After great anticipation, Lady Gaga’s new album Joanne is now out.
Joanne is Gaga’s fifth studio album and her first in two years. If this set hits No. 1 on the Billboard 200, it will make for Gaga’s fourth consecutive chart-topper.
The album was executive produced by Gaga and Mark Ronson and includes collaborations with Beck, Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Father John Misty.
Gaga previewed six new tracks when she performed at New York’s Bitter End overnight as part of her three-date Dive Bar Tour.
To reward the tens of thousands of volunteers who have put in time to help make the world a better place, the 2016 Global Citizen Festival put on a star-studded show in New York’s Central Park on Saturday (Sept. 24).
Global Citizen Festival 2014: 5 Best Moments
The lineup, curated by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, satisfied various genre tastes, tapping the likes of EDM act Major Lazer, heavy metal icons Metallica, rap prodigy Kendrick Lamar and headliner, pop phenom Rihanna. Martin also took the stage for a special duet with Peal Jam’s Eddie Vedder, who also delivered a passionate speech about the globe’s current state of affairs.
Big-name Hollywood stars also donated their time to the occasion including co-host, Quantico actress Priyanka Chopra, How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris, Chime For Change co-founder and actress Salma Hayek and a video appearance from First Lady of the United Michelle Obama. A diverse cast of change-makers who vowed to help bring about global goals including gender equality, peace and justice in strong governmental institutions, clean water and sanitation also took the stage for well-deserved recognition.
Relive the night through the festival’s musical highlights below.
With booty short-clad dancers in tow, festival opener Major Lazer — comprising Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionare — set the dance party off in the Great Lawn running through hits — both their own and not — including the standout “Lean On” alongside singer MØ. “Everybody wants to end world poverty, right?,” Fire asked the crowd at one point.
Ellie Goulding also joined the squad for a live rendition of the sensual joint “Powerful.” Jillionaire, who also performed at the Billboard Hot 100 Fest this past summer, offered “We’ve never done that live before. Thank you Ellie — that was beautiful.” Major Lazer then closed out the set with “Cold Water.”
“She’s not only cool for the summer. See what I did there?” joked Neil Patrick Harris, who intro’d the singer before she rocked the stage in a shimmery, diamond encrusted two-piece number and thigh high boots. Backed by a live band, the fiery pop star opened with her self-esteem booster “Confident.”
Nick Jonas’ summer tourmate rocked the stage solo, belting out the emotional numbers “For You” and “Stone Cold.” She then shifted her catalog to the Aretha Franklin 1967 classic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” Lovato offered, “This next song is inspired for lifting up women even before I was born and it goes out to all the women all around the world.” Her finale was the summer jam “Cool For The Summer.”
With an introduction from Chopra, who also appeared on his recently released eighth album, Hard II Love, Usher took the Global Citizen stage, wearing a “Silence Is Consent” sweater for a live rendition of “Champions.” Alongside Panamanian singer-songwriter Ruben Blades and the Kenyan Boys Choir, the tandem brought the Hands of Stone soundtrack cut to life, as Usher urged the crowd to chant “Champions together.” According to Chopra, Usher also dipped after his set to close out Day 2 of the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas.
The Kenyan Boys Choir also had the 60,000 attendees in Central Park on their feet with their energetic performance, which included the Selena Gomez number “Kill Em With Kindness.”
Following his first four shows in New York in 40 years this past week, folk music star Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens, who changed his name after converting to Islam) strummed his heart out for the 1971 Hot 100 hit “Wild World” and brought out his “good friend” Vedder of Peal Jam for the 1970 offering “Father and Son.”
“Hopefully these kind of movements will help us to be a bit more sensitive to others and whet it feels like to be humans and to share,” the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador said during his set, “because this world is big enough to share and for it to go round.” He then wrapped his performance with the timely 1971 song “Peace Train.”
Puerto Rican reggaeton superstar Yandel then hit the stage with with backup dancers and a medley of hip-shakers including 2015’s “Encantadora” and the 2005 Wisin y Yandel jams “Rakata” and “Mirala Bien.” Latina songstress Becky G then joined Yandel for the uniting anthem “Somos Unos (We Are One).”
The iconic rock band performed the most electrifying set at Global Citizen Fest with live performances of their 30-year-old classic “Master of Puppets.” With white crosses in a graveyard, haunting images of soldier silhouettes that turned into menacing skeletons with weapons as their backdrop imagery, Metallica shook the park with riveting versions of 1984’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” 1989’s “One,” and 1991’s “Enter Sandman.” Frontman James Hetfield then offered, “Metallica is grateful to be a part of the solution not the problem. This song goes out to those people who are like-minded and whose good intentions hopefully meet their intended destinies,” before launching into “Nothing Else Matters.”
Even Priyanka Chopra was mindblown after the performance, joking afterwards, “Marry me!”
The singer slowed down the tempo and returned to light up the stage with a candlelit set that included an accompanying pianist and romantic renditions of “Burn” and the Fifty Shades of Grey standout “Love Me Like You Do.” Following a segment spotlighting the mission madewithcode.com that urges girls to use their love of science and technology to change the world, Goulding also performed the uplifting number “Anything Could Happen.”
A George Clinton quotable flashed across the screen before Lamar’s set that read, “Look both ways before you cross my mind.” Compton’s resident good kid became an instant Global Citizen Fest MVP with a catalog-spanning performance that catered to his “day ones” and united the crowd.
Beginning with “untitled 07” off his Billboard 200 chart-topper Untitled Unmastered, Lamar helped fans levitate off the Central Park grounds as he delivered high notes off his other No. 1 albums, 2015’s gripping set To Pimp a Butterfly and his 2012 major label debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, like “Backseat Freestyle,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “untitled 02,” “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Money Trees” and “i.” He also gave his Top Dawg Entertainment cohorts love by performing his verses off ScHoolboy Q hits “Collard Greens” and “tHat Part.”
To note, Lamar shied away from cursing, omitting N-words and B-words where applicable and used the Jumbotron for striking images, including a clip of former president George W. Bush tripping before his performance of “m.A.A.d. City” and a montage of Black icons like Muhammad Ali, Don King, James Brown and black children during his performance of “King Kunta.”
However, after performing the grand finale “Alright,” Lamar’s exit music was the poignant line from “Wesley’s Theory” that echoed “Every n—a is a star.”
Chris Martin and Eddie Vedder
Festival curator Chris Martin joined Pearl Jam’s Vedder for a special duet that marked one of the night’s standout performances. “We’re Rihanna’s warm-up act,” Martin joked before adding, “This is Eddie and he’s a wannabe singer.”
The pair — with Martin on piano and Vedder on guitar — then launched into an uplifting cover of Crowded House’s 1987 gem “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” They were also in perfect harmony for their rendition of Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy ballad “Nothingman.” Martin then switched his instrument to the guitar as he and Vedder brought new energy to Patti Smith’s 1988 anthem “People Have the Power.”
Before singing the Smith number, Vedder delivered an impassioned speech thanking the singer and what her dream stands for today, “I want to thank Patti for having the dream, for documenting the dream, for sharing the dream.” He continued, “It’s a dream that we forget or it’s hard to hang on to or it’s certainly hard to imagine that it could come true but Patti, I wanna tell you if you’re watching, the dream is alive here in Central Park on a Saturday night.”
Vedder also called out racism, homophobia and other acts of bigotry as “antiquated ideals” and asked for unity and continued activism. “Stay active, stay energized, use your voice, use your votes and together, we can use our power for good,” he said.
After a solo warm-up performance from Martin, who covered Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and remixed the second verse to ponder Rih’s delayed performance with a video throwback to Alicia Keys’ 2013 Global Citizen Festival performance of “New Day,” the night’s headliner hit the stage for an abridged version of her Anti world tour.
Rocking red glasses, red hoop earrings and a black and white, pin-striped corset-romper piece, the bad gal worked the stage with her biggest hits across pop and R&B including “Stay,” “Cake,” “Pour It Up” and “Numb.” While Lamar was privy to the curse words, Rihanna was unfiltered and kept every song and curse word in tact, especially for the moolah-loving number “Bitch Better Have My Money.” She mean-mugged and strutted across the stage, delivering her hype-inducing collaboration like T.I.’s “Live Your Life,” Jay Z’s “Run This Town” and Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.”
Riri then transitioned into the dance portion of her set list (“my favorite part of the show,” she said) and boldly told the crowd, “I don’t wanna see you on your cell phones unless you taking pictures of me.” The bad gal then performed “Take Care” and “Where Have You Been,” which was intertwined with the Calvin Harris and Disciples smash “How Deep Is Your Love.” Glittery bodysuit-clad dancers whipped across the stage as contortionist experts awed and wowed with their moves alongside Rihanna.
The new Global Partnership for Education ambassador then performed more Anti material like “Needed Me and the Tame Impala-referencing “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” as well as the shimmery hit “Diamonds” before wrapping with “Love on the Brain” and “FourFiveSeconds.” The woman of the night didn’t exit the stage without acknowledging the global citizens for their hard work, saying, “I ain’t gonna get sentimental and shit but y’all killin’ it right now.”
Ahead of amFar’s new The Time is Now covers album, the AIDS research foundation has unveiled another song from the set — Scarlett Johansson’s band Sugar for Sugar giving a stirring rendition of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
Johansson is joined by musicians Julia Haltigan, Holly Miranda and Kendra Morris in Sugar for Sugar, with the cover marking their first official release.
Along with Sugar for Sugar, the foundation has accumulated some popular artists of today to lend their vocals to the cause. Other acts like Phantogram, Metric, DNCE and Marian Hill also contributed to the album available Oct. 7. The 14-track collection is said to further the relationship between amfAR and musicians.
“The Time Is Now is a great example of our longstanding relationship with the music industry, and we are deeply grateful to the artists who graciously donated their time and talents to the making of this album,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost in a statement. “With continued support for HIV research, and we are confident that we will ultimately find a cure for the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS today.”
“Bizarre Love Triangle” follows the release of Aloe Blacc’s rendition of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson.
Not everyone was able to make it to Minneapolis for the first rock show ever held at the new US Bank Stadium on Aug. 20, but even if you were, Metallica are giving fans a look at the show you might not have even gotten if you were there. They’ve posted an “all angle” video of their performance of “Sad But True” from the show that includes so much more than just the stage show.
The cameras allow the viewers the chance to see some of the many fans that came to watch Metallica play, get a look at the pyro pre-show preparation, get a glimpse at the fan meet-and-greet and watch the expressions of fans in the upper reaches of the U.S. Bank Arena as the film crew gets their stories and presents them with passes to move closer to the stage.
As for the performance, you get high quality video of the band onstage delivering the heaviness of the song while audience members show their enthusiasm for the track. And be sure to stay tuned for the fireworks going off at the end.
During the show, you see James Hetfield giving a shout out to support acts Avenged Sevenfold and Volbeat and dedicating “Sad But True” to them, while being overwhelmed by the support as the band finished out the track. Watch it all play out in the video above.
Dave Grohl’s mother will soon release From Cradle to Stage, a collection of memoirs from the mothers of music’s biggest names.
From Cradle to Stage: Stories From the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars is a work from Virginia Hanlon Grohl, who never expected her son to become a musician, let alone one of rock’s most iconic players. Along with her perspective of raising a future legend, Mrs. Grohl sought out a ton of mothers of equally monumental artists.
While putting together From Cradle to Stage, Virginia interviewed women such as Verna Griffin, Dr. Dre’s mother; Marianne Stipe, Michael Stipe of R.E.M.’s mother; Janis Winehouse, Amy Winehouse’s mother; Patsy Noah, Adam Levine’s mother; Donna Haim, mother of the Haim sisters and Hester Diamond, Mike D of the Beastie Boys‘ mother.
In the book, Virginia finds answers to questions like, “Were they as surprised as she was about their children’s fame? Did they worry about their children’s livelihood and wellbeing in an industry fraught with drugs and other dangers? Did they encourage their children’s passions despite the odds against success, or attempt to dissuade them from their grandiose dreams? Do they remind their kids to pack a warm coat when they go on tour?”
Dave Grohl provides a foreword to his mother’s book, which promises a slew of exclusive family photographs for fans to gaze upon. From Cradle to Stage will be released April 25, 2017, just in time for Mother’s Day. To pre-order the book