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Skylar Grey Talks Working With Macklemore & How They're Both Feeling 'Glorious'
Skylar Grey is no stranger to collaborations. The 31-year-old singer has been featured on tracks with Eminem, Diddy and David Guetta, adding a sultry touch to rap, dance and rock tracks with her smooth vocals.
Her latest team-up is with Macklemore on the Billboard Hot 100 hit "Glorious," which is currently at No. 68 (chart dated Sept. 9). With cheerful lyrics and an anthemic beat to match the song's triumphant title, Grey isn't surprised her most recent collab is resonating.
"I think the world always needs an uplifting, fun song to forget their worries and dance to," Grey tells Billboard. "It might be the happiest song out there right now."
A happy song definitely, and it's something that Grey insists is indicative of how both she and Macklemore are feeling in their respective lives -- likely contributing to the success of the song, since their message is 100 percent genuine. As "Glorious" continues to climb up the charts, Billboard chatted with Grey about working with Macklemore, the impact working with rappers has on her own career, and why she's feeling pretty glorious herself these days.
How did you and Macklemore end up collaborating on “Glorious”?
I had met Macklemore a few years ago when we did a show together, but we had never worked together. I think he heard a song that I had worked on for Fast and Furious — it was called "The Good Life," with Kehlani and G-Eazy — and the story I heard, anyways, is that he heard that song and he was like "Who wrote that? I wanna work with whoever that is." And so then we were linked up and I was very excited, because ever since I'd met him previously I'd wanted to work together and it just didn't happen, so this was the opportunity. And when we got together, it just kind of happened really fast.
Did he have any part of the song written before you came in?
He had already had the song started, he had a beat and his verses were already written, he just didn't have a hook on it yet. When I listened to the verses the first time, I heard him say the word "glorious," and I was like "man, I think that needs to be the title of the song." So I wrote the chorus based on that word. I sat down at the piano and made some chords for a chorus, and then him, his crew and I sat in the room and just knocked it out.
How did you approach writing the chorus with what he already had in place verse-wise?
When I do songwriting with people, a lot of the session is just a conversation, almost like therapy. With Ben [Macklemore’s real first name], it wasn't that long of a therapy session. I just kind of wanted to feel out where he was in his life, career and mental state, and what he wanted to actually say in the song. And I happened to be in the same place, so it worked out.
I didn't write the song with myself in mind as a vocalist. I was thinking, you know, "this is kind of gospel-sounding, it'd be dope to have like a gospel singer on it," and I kind of wrote a little bit out of my range vocally. But it was just funny because a month later [Macklemore] hit me up and was like, “I want you to stay on the song.” They liked the fact that my voice wasn't gospel, so it made it less expected with that type of melody, I guess. So I ended up staying on the song, and I had to practice a lot, playing it, to be able to perform it live — but I figured out how to do it.
It's very rare that I write something thinking somebody else is going to be on it, and then I end up on it. Usually it's kind of the opposite, I write a song and I think I'm gonna sing it, and then somebody else takes it from me [Laughs].
So how does it feel to know that this one was the opposite, and now it’s on the Hot 100?
It’s an amazing feeling, I really love the song. It’s probably the happiest song I've ever written. I mean, it's called "Glorious." Music reflects real life. When I wrote this song, also as I'm writing my new album, I'm just a happier person in general -- and all the music seems to be a lot happier than the dark stuff I'm known for. So it's a fun change-up in my career creatively.
Any specific reason you’re feeling happier these days?
I think I've really grown up in the past couple years, and I figured out that life is really short, and it's important to just enjoy every day. I get to wake up and do what I love every day. You know, life is good. And instead of sulking about my past or being anxious about the future, I'm just trying to stay present all the time, and it's really changed my mood in general. It's affecting my music and my songwriting, big time. I think it's always easier to stand behind a song and promote a song that you feel. I do feel glorious, so, it's exciting to promote a song called "Glorious."
Is there a line you wrote that means the most to you?
"I was born for this, born for this, it's who I am, how could I forget." That's something a lot of artist go through -- doubting themselves at some point in their career and feel like they're failing. But then you realize when something like music is just who you are, it's in your blood, you're always going to come back to it. So that line is powerful to me, because I definitely went through a period of my life where I was like "man, I don't know if music is right for me." I was broke and lost my first record deal, and I was just in a really bad place. Then over time, I fell back in love with music, and I remembered why I did it in the first place. That's a really great feeling, to find the romance with your craft again. That [line] means a lot to me.
One place your voice seems to really work is in rap — do you think that’s where you fit best, at least in terms of collaborations?
[Fort Minor’s] “Where’d You Go” was the first rap song I was ever part of [credited as Holly Brook]. I kind of fell into it. It's just weird because, then when I wrote 'Love The Way You Lie' years later, it had nothing to do with that -- it wasn’t like working with Mike Shinoda was a springboard for me working with rappers. So I don't know what the universe was thinking and why I keep getting put in the room with rappers. I really like it though, I think it's great because it's such a contrast between what I do and what they do. It kind of like makes the hardcore like rap style a little bit more vulnerable, to have like a soft, pretty part of a song.
And it kind of gives you like a double life as an artist, being able to do what you do and then also be on rap songs.
Yeah, and I really like how rappers like tell stories and they can fit a lot of words into their songs. I always feel very confined by melody, where I'm not able to say as much because I just don't have the time within a melody to say a lot of words. It's kind of fun to write songs that have like all these details and wordplay and stuff.
Do you think working with rappers has benefited your own music?
Definitely. By working with rappers I've learned a lot about lyric writing, and in a different way than if I had just written regular songs. The wordplay and stuff like that, I don't think I would have been as good at if I hadn't worked with rappers, so it's definitely made me a more clever lyricist even in melodic songwriting.
Eminem took my career to a whole new level, so working with him — and also just working with him is so fun, he's such a fun person to work with. But it set me up for crazy people approaching me to want to work. People I'd never dreamed I could work with, so I'm very grateful for that.
So now that you’ve worked with the likes of Eminem, Big Sean and Macklemore, ideally, who’s next?
I think my dream person to work with would be Kendrick Lamar, as far as like rappers go. I think it’d be pretty fun.