TIME Music

Watch Tinashe’s Tips for Turning Up Your New Year’s Eve Party

The singer stopped by TIME to reflect on her breakout year

Tinashe had a life-changing year thanks to “2 On” — her hypnotic ode to intoxication topped rhythm radio for more than a month in 2014 — but some fans still have no idea what she’s talking about.

“The craziest part of being on tour is being overseas and having crazed fans so far away from home,” says the singer, who stopped by TIME’s office just a few days after she made our Top 10 Best Songs of 2014 list. “They don’t speak English, but they still know the lyrics. That’s a trip. A lot of people don’t know what ‘2 on’ means, but that’s the cool thing about music — it’s always open to interpretation. It can be whatever we want it to be.”

Before scoring her club hit about getting a little too buzzed at parties, Tinashe released three acclaimed mixtapes that she recorded in her home studio. She now has access to top recording facilities and A-list producers — her debut album, Aquarius, featured collaborations with Mike WiLL Made-It and Stargate — but she still writes and records on her own, and she’s already planning her next album.

“My new year’s resolutions are just to improve in all aspects, from my live show to my music to my music videos — just push it,” says Tinashe, who hopes to release new music next year. “I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.”

TIME Social Media

Michelle Obama Tweeted the Ultimate Throwback Thursday Christmas Photo

Featuring Michelle, Barack and his awesomely dated sweater vest

Michelle Obama killed two Twitter birds with one stone — a Christmas post and a #tbt post — when she shared an old photo of her, Barack and his awesomely dated sweater vest on Thursday. (If Malia Obama hasn’t already discovered that sweater in a closet and worn it to an ugly sweater Christmas party, it’s only a matter of time.)

The photo shows off the couple’s Christmas tree-decorating skills in the back, though FLOTUS and POTUS have since moved on to much, much bigger trees.

TIME Transportation

JetBlue Offers Police Free Flights to Attend Slain NYPD Officers’ Funerals

JetBlue Airways Corp. planes sit docked at the gates of Terminal 5 as another of the company's jets lands at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Jan. 28, 2014.
JetBlue Airways Corp. planes sit docked at the gates of Terminal 5 as another of the company's jets lands at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Jan. 28, 2014. Craig Warga—Bloomberg/Getty Images

It's also offering free flights to other law enforcement agencies who wish to "support their brethren"

JetBlue Airways is offering free flights to relatives and two members of any American law enforcement agency who wish to attend the funerals of the two New York policemen fatally ambushed by a gunman last weekend.

Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were sitting in a patrol car Saturday when authorities say they were shot by a man identified as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who then turned the gun on himself in a nearby subway station. The airline is also offering free air travel for two officers in any U.S. law enforcement agency who want to attend the services, CBS News reports.

“We’re honored to do what we can to support the communities we serve, and our team has made flights available to law enforcement agencies across our route network who wish to send representatives to New York to support their brethren,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

(READ: TIME’s Q&A with Former New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly)

JetBlue says it is working with another airline to help fly some of Liu’s family members in from China for his funeral, which has not yet been scheduled. Thousands of law enforcement officials and Vice Present Joe Biden are expected to attend Ramos’ funeral on Saturday.

[CBS News]

TIME Football

Michael Sam Says Other Closeted NFL Players ‘Reached Out’ to Him

In May, he became the first openly gay football player to be drafted into the NFL

Michael Sam tells Oprah Winfrey that other gay NFL players “reached out” after he decided to come out as gay.

The athlete, who in May became the first openly gay football player to be drafted into the NFL, opens up in his first television interview since he was cut from the St. Louis Rams and waived from the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. He wouldn’t specify how many closeted players contacted him.

“They were thankful that I had the courage … they wished that they had the courage to come out,” Sam says. “There’s a lot of us out there. I’m not the only one. I’m just the only one who’s open.”

The interview airs Dec. 27 at 10:30 p.m. ET on the Oprah Winfrey Network after the 9 p.m. ET premiere of documentary about him.

[OWN]

TIME Art

Google’s Christmas Doodle Feels Your Holiday Travel Pain

Google

The short animation celebrates the lengths we travel for family

Getting to loved ones during the holidays isn’t always easy.

Google feels your pain, so for its Christmas Day doodle, the company made a short animated tribute to all the ways travelers find a way home — by car boat, plane, skateboard, snowboard, subway, camel or even a school bus. Sometimes you have to brave the elements, and sometimes you have to brave a sea of inattentive pedestrians texting and walking at the same time.

Check out the adorable clip on Google’s homepage.

TIME movies

Brie Larson: Why The Gambler Is Actually the Perfect Christmas Day Movie

Brie Larson in The Gambler
Brie Larson in The Gambler. Claire Folger—AP

The Short Term 12 star talks about the competitive audition process, her aversion to mirrors and becoming part of Amy Schumer’s family

If musicals and inspirational World War II epics aren’t your pick for holiday theater-going, The Gambler is your antidote. In this dark, gritty drama — a remake of the 1974 film of the same name, out this Christmas Day — Mark Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, a college professor by day and a gambler by night in Los Angeles’ seedy underworld. When his self-destructive tendencies get the best of him, Jim has seven days to make things right or lose it all.

On the sidelines the whole time is his most promising student and love interest Amy, played by Brie Larson, who wowed critics in last year’s deeply moving Short Term 12. Where Jim’s creditors see a man hell-bent on his own ruin, Amy sees a man exorcising his demons and rebuilding his life from scratch. TIME caught up with the actress to talk about working with Wahlberg and why the life of a wealthy, high-stakes gambler is actually more relatable than it seems.

TIME: This is kind of a downer of a Christmas movie.
Brie Larson: Yeah, it’s about someone trying to get rid of material possessions — an odd choice for Christmas day!

Well, when you put it like that, maybe there’s no better day to do it.
Exactly!

Mark said that the audition process for this role was unusually lengthy. How extensive and competitive was it?
Instead of your typical 30-minute audition where you go in and you read and you leave and you get a phone call with notes, this was far more in-depth. It wasn’t so much about me arriving and having it all figured out, it was about being willing to be open and play and work on it. It was about an hour or two. We just worked on it. It felt more like a rehearsal than an audition. It was really fascinating because Mark Wahlberg was working on Transformers at the time and had flown out just to audition people. I assumed, stupidly, because he was working on another film, that he didn’t have his lines memorized. He was one foot in and one foot out at this point because he was working on something else.

But I was completely wrong, because when I arrived he sprung on me that he wanted to do the scene from the beginning of the movie — the 15-page monologue where he speaks to the classroom. And I thought, “Sure! If you want to do that!” It’s kind of easy for me. I say very little during that. It’s more about me observing him. I think it’s a great representation of the relationship, but it’s a lot for him. He had the whole thing memorized already. It was six months before the movie was about to shoot, and he told me at that point that he had already been reading the script everyday. That’s just what he does. When he agrees to sign on to something, he reads it every morning.

Do you have a sense of what you brought out of the character that no one else did?
I never knew that — that’s kind of how it works. They position it so that none of us see each other. I don’t know who’s going in or who they like or even why. I’m not sure. It’s a bunch of different flavors, and they liked mine, I guess.

I ask because [director] Rupert Wyatt said that if he didn’t get a great actress in an admittedly “underwritten” role, the character of Amy would just serve the protagonist like a 2-D sidekick. How do you prevent her from becoming prop?
We spoke a lot about it. Rupert, Mark and myself had so many conversations about it, because we were trying to say a lot in very little. How do you condense something to get just the actual thing that it is? That’s something I really enjoy. I think you can say for more in a glance or a smirk than you can in a 10-page monologue. That’s a huge part of what I believe the movie is about. We’re dealing with Jim, who is using these lectures to use these grandiose words. He’s highly articulate and everything is psychoanalyzed. And Amy is also, we can assume, incredibly gifted with words as well, being a writer and one that he considers to be a genius. And yet, when the two of them are together, there are actually very few words spoken. The thing that they have together isn’t something you can use words for.

For all those little moments, then, the smirks and the glances — is that the kind of thing you spend hours perfecting in front of a mirror?
No, I don’t really look at myself. I never look at myself. I have a hard time watching myself on film. I avoid mirrors because it just makes me feel really self conscious. I just trust that if I feel it, then you can see it.

Wait, but what about movie premieres? Are you watching with your hands in front of your eyes?
I usually don’t watch it. I’ll watch it before I do things like press because I have to know what the movie is. My favorite part about making movies — one part is the process, and the other part is having conversations about it and trying to understand what it is. This film in particular deals with so many fascinating things to talk about it. But the hardest part, and one that I’m trying to work on, is the bizarreness of seeing yourself that big. A theater is a very big screen to see a closeup of your face. I don’t think a human being is supposed to see that. Your brain will go to a place of judgment, which is not what a human being should be doing. It’s just a face! It’s just my hair. It’s just my legs. It’s nothing. It’s just a body. There’s so much more happening. But it’s bizarre because, if I do catch myself in the mirror, I’m like, “That’s not what I look like!”

So with a script like this, are you having long conversations deep into the night like freshmen philosophy majors in a college dorm?
Kind of! That’s when I think filmmaking is at its best — when you have a bunch of highly intelligent people. The whole pre-production process is fascinating, and then as the movie starts to unfold, it becomes something different as you start making it because you can’t anticipate what’s there on the day. I can think about it all I want. We create a schedule and shoot out of order — how could I ever anticipate what is emotionally available to me four months later at two o’clock on a Wednesday right before I’m about to eat lunch? And it’s freezing out, or I have a parking ticket, or I had a great call with my best friend. There’s just so many factors that go on, it’s impossible to really grasp onto it. The beauty of it is, you let go of it and you just see what’s available every day and what’s true. Through that, it becomes a conversation everyday. We’re surprised by each other and the things that we do, whether it’s a camera angle or the way that someone raised an eyebrow. It becomes this microcosm that we all start to analyze.

Did you at least hit up the casinos between scenes?
We did not gamble, but we had a great time. I had so much fun. Amy is such a clear light. I think she has gone through what we see with Jim and these seven days. I imagine these seven days from Greek mythology — the gates of hell. He has to give up something each day to get town to his innocence, to get down to his true self. I imagine that Amy went through those seven days before this movie started. We’re seeing a person who has let go of everything, battled all her demons and is now available to experience life and find all of these complications that people create for themselves rather amusing.

There was a lot of debate this year about the likeability of female characters and how that factors into criticism, at times unfairly. Has being in a movie where the main male character can be so frustrating given you any insight into those questions?
I think that the likeability just means that the movie is a little harder to digest. We know that side of it. I think we expect movies sometimes to just give us this nice feeling, this nice imagery, a happy ending. I’ve always loved films that are difficult to watch, difficult to stomach — [movies] that show us things that we don’t necessarily want to see but should. And I know what you mean — did you see The Comedy? It’s from a couple of years ago.

I haven’t.
That’s a more extreme example. He’s just a despicable character. I was so traumatized by the end of it. That is a horrible character! But by the end of it, I got home and was like, “That’s a brilliant movie.” I loved it because it’s not someone we think to focus our attention on for a film. But I don’t see why not. We’ve got plenty of films exploring these other ways of life, why shouldn’t we explore this way? I think if it bothers us, it’s because it rings so true. Making the movie, reading the script, watching the film — I didn’t dislike [Jim] at all. I really relate to him and understand that struggle. We live in this world where we strive for riches, we strive for luxury, we strive for extravagance, we work all year for a week of vacation. At a certain point, I feel like you’ve got to a hit a point where you go, “Is this my life? Is this happiness? Is this real? Is this true? Why am I working for this?” And everyone will have their own way of dealing with it, some maybe not as extreme as him. But he’s not really having a gambling addiction — I think he’s kicking a luxury habit. He’s kicking all the inventions that humans have created.

What occurred to me later was that the question he’s asking — who am I if you take everything away? — is actually a little terrifying for most people to confront. I think part of writing him off as a selfish jerk could also self-defensive — you don’t have to ask those hard questions about yourself if you do.
Yeah. You don’t want to let go. [I’ve been asked] a lot of questions about how [Amy] could just sit by and watch him blow $250,000? How could that happen? That’s the point of the movie! You can’t change people. She believes that. You can just support and kindly guide them to the other side. She doesn’t believe in that invention either. She’s already gone through it and gotten to the point where she lives this very simple existence of writing and living frugally — and is fairly happy, I imagine.

Do you fill in all the blanks of her backstory?
I love creating the story! That’s the most fun part — creating her life and her imagination. Once I sign on and start working on a job, I see it everywhere. I feel like I run into things and see things. I see the perfect painting, or I watch a strange interaction on the street corner that is exactly what I needed, and it all starts to fit together for me into this tapestry of what the movie is. Whether that’s fully clear to an audience member doesn’t really matter. Those are all of the things that fuel something as small as a raised eyebrow.

I’m very excited about your role in Trainwreck, the upcoming movie from Amy Schumer, whom we just profiled in TIME. Tell me everything — or, at least, as much as you can without getting in trouble with Amy.
The film is loosely based off her life — loosely based, like, there are certain major plot points that are based off her life. But it’s transformed into a film, so there are other aspects that are very different. I play her sister Kim. She has an actual sister Kim. A lot of the names are real, and there’s a lot of us reenacting moments from her life. I had to reenact a bunch of old photos she has with her sister, like bad vacation photos with disposable cameras. We re-did all of them. It was fun.

Have you spent time with the real Kim?
The real Kim is with her all the time! The real Kim came to the premiere of this movie!

So you’re intimately part of the family now.
Yeah, yeah — I’m kind of a Schumer.

TIME Music

5 Depressing Christmas Songs from 2014 That Will Totally Bum You Out

Featuring the Killers, Liz Phair, Sam Smith and more

Christmas time isn’t always so merry. Increased contact with button-pushing family members? The financial pressures of gift-giving? A constant barrage of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”? It’s enough to make you want to a punch a snowman and rip the festive lights right off your coworker’s cubicle.

Fortunately for your inner Grinch, there are Christmas songs out there that speak to not-so-jolly experiences around this time of the year. Here are five new songs from 2014 — some originals, some covers — that you can play when you’re not feeling the holiday spirit.

The Killers, “Joel, the Lump of Coal”
If Frozen brought the waterworks, steer clear of the Killers’ latest Christmas song — it might prompt enough warm and salty tears to melt Olaf. The Killers have released a new holiday-themed track every year since 2006, and while the material isn’t always uplifting — see last year’s lonely “Christmas in LA” — no song of theirs has been as downright depressing as “Joel, the Lump of Coal,” about a little piece of anthracite who “just wants to keep Santa warm and make the elves cozy.” When Joel mistakenly believes he’ll become a cherished Christmas gift for a lucky boy or goal, he’s ridiculed by the elves — “What kid would ever want you / You’re as filthy as can be” — before learning a valuable lesson about friendship. “Joel, the Lump of Coal” might be the only Christmas song to make you cry and teach you a lesson about the environmental dangers of burning fossil fuels.

Sam Smith, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
“I’m going to put on some Sam Smith to cheer myself up,” said no one ever. With songs like “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not the Only One” under his belt, the soulful British singer is more likely to soundtrack a gloomy night in than a festive holiday gathering. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” doesn’t have the most uplifting back story to begin with — in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, Esther (Judy Garland) sings it to her daughter, Tootie, to lift her spirits after Tootie’s father announces he’s leaving. Yet the 22-year-old’s take on the song manages to make the melancholy song even sadder, probably because it’s sung by someone who despises Christmas music. “I hate Christmas songs, it’s true,” Smith said during a recent radio interview. “But [‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’] is the only song I would ever attempt to sing, because of Judy Garland singing it.”

Liz Phair, “Ho Ho Ho”
The indie-rock queen’s first original song since 2012 fulfilled a longtime wish. “I’ve always wanted to write a dystopian Christmas song,” Phair said in a statement about “Ho Ho Ho,” her contribution to Amazon’s All Is Bright playlist. “Holidays are a time of emotional turbulence, of unpredictable highs and lows. The retail and advertising sectors bill it as the greatest time of the year, but some seasons you are saddled with a real clunker!” A jagged guitar riff accompanies lyrics about yet another dysfunctional family gathering from the esteemed singer-songwriter: “All I wanted was one perfect Christmas / all I got was some coal and some switches,” Phair sings. At least there’s a silver lining in the track’s message — as she asks in the bridge, is anybody’s Christmas really that perfect?

Mark Kozelek, “Christmas Time Is Here”
Mark Kozelek writes songs that make you want to call your family and tell them how much you love them. On Benji, his sixth album as Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek confronted his own mortality and the fragility of human life with heartbreaking monological elegies: on “Carissa,” he remembers his second cousin who died in a tragic freak accident, and on “Micheline,” he reflects on the passings of his grandmother and a dear friend who had a brain aneurysm. So if you thought this A Charlie Brown Christmas classic already provoked a lot of feelings, brace yourself for Kozelek’s sparse, acoustic interpreation, complete with the original Charlie Brown dialogue: “I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy,” Kozelek sings, “I always end up feeling depressed.” The song appears on Kozelek’s Christmas album, Sings Christmas Carols, which came out in November.

Meghan Trainor, “I’ll Be Home”
This isn’t a sad song, at least in terms of its lyrics, but it will make you feel bad about all the harsh things you’ve said about Meghan Trainor since the 20-year-old broke through with “All About That Bass.” (The song ended up on TIME’s Top 10 Worst Songs of 2014 list.) Unlike her hit single or its carbon-copy follow-up, “Lips Are Movin’,” there are no handclaps or upright bass sounds on “I’ll Be Home.” Instead, a simple piano ballad shows off the singer’s voice (the prettiest it has ever sounded amid all her quasi-raps), her songwriting talents (she penned the track herself) and what sounds like her ukelele skills (an instrument she’s been known to play). The track appears on Epic Records’ new compilation, the I’ll Be Home For Christmas EP, which also features contributions from Fiona Apple, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson.

TIME Music

The 7 Most Underrated Pop Albums of 2014

Featuring Katy B, Yelle and Bleachers

Considering how many A-list pop stars crowded the last quarter of 2013 — Britney, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga — 2014 felt a little light on pop releases by comparison. The stars releasing new material this year and recognizable by first name alone — Taylor, Lana, Mariah — were few and far between, and many of 2014’s biggest music stories belonged not to veterans, but to young upstarts like Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor. (Sia may be the most obvious exception.)

But that doesn’t mean every pop record received equal attention. Below are 7 albums that either weren’t talked about enough, didn’t find much commercial success or didn’t get the year-end recognition they deserved.

  • Katy B, Little Red

    Sam Smith may have been heralded as the male Adele in his breakout year, but the closest anyone got to filling the void of the “Rolling in the Deep” singer this year was Katy B on the stellar “Crying for No Reason.” A graduate of the BRIT School — which, in addition to Adele, also counts Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis and Jessie J as alumni — the singer born Kathleen Brien transformed herself from dubstep sweetheart to ‘90s dance diva on her sophomore album, Little Red. When she’s not pumping up listeners on high-octane club-thumpers like the “I Like You” or her spellbinding Jessie Ware duet “Aaliyah”, she’s showing off her pipes on songs like the soaring ballad “Still.” Even better is the album’s continuous mix, an hour-long re-sequenced version that lets the whole record become more than the mere sum of its parts.

    Next step: Read TIME’s original review of Little Red

  • Bleachers, Strange Desire

    The debut solo album from fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff isn’t shy about its 1980s influences: it features behind-the-scenes work from Vince Clarke of Yaz and Erasure, and its synthesizers sound straight out of Born in the U.S.A. (It’s no surprise, then, that Taylor Swift recruited Antonoff to recreate those vibes on her similarly inspired new album, 1989). But to call the record merely a pastiche is misleading, as there’s plenty that looks forward — like the jittery production and piano-smashing samples in lead single “I Wanna Get Better.” Strange Desire is light on its feet — the sounds aren’t as dense and heavy as those of Some Nights — but the tracks are still muscular and anthemic, making them a perfect match for Antonoff’s lyrics about pushing on in the face of trauma, heartbreak and profound loss.

    Next step: Watch behind-the-scenes footage of Jack Antonoff’s TIME photoshoot at Coney Island

  • Tove Lo, Queen of the Clouds

    Tove Lo has a genuine hit on her hands with “Habits (Stay High)” — she’s the highest-charting Swede on the Billboard charts since Ace of Base’s “The Sign” peaked in 1994 — but her debut album, Queen of the Clouds, didn’t get the widespread recognition it deserved. The 27-year-old has plenty of on-stage charisma, but she’s a songwriter first, having worked as top-line writer for Icona Pop, Girls and Cher Lloyd before embarking on a solo career. With a resume like that, the record is unsurprisingly full of searing melodies that burn their way into your brain. And while her topics — partying, heartbreak, sex — aren’t particularly novel for pop, Tove Lo’s sharp lyrics put her at the top of the class when it comes to capturing the pain and anguish she’s singing about.

    Next step: Read TIME’s original review of Queen of the Clouds

  • Cher Lloyd, Sorry I’m Late

    Hailing from the world of reality talent competitions, the X Factor alumna has all the resources of the pop music machine behind her, and it shows her on her sophomore outing: the songs are concise, punchy and jam-packed with hooks from start to finish. That kind of Top 40 bait (or at least Top 40-aspiring) isn’t a fit for everyone, but Sorry I’m Late deserves extra consideration from skeptics for its self-aware spunk, cheeky humor and some distinguishing influences — album highlight “Dirty Love” draws on the jungle sounds of her home country’s electronic music scene. The album didn’t make much of a splash across the pond or stateside — which is a shame, because tracks like “Human” are as a bulletproof as anything else up there.

    Next step: Read TIME’s interview with Lloyd about writing more personal material

  • Yelle, Complètement Fou

    The French electro-pop band, led by frontwoman Julie Budet, has had a small presence on U.S. dance charts since breaking out with the saucy, tongue-in-cheek “Je Veux te Voir.” That could change in the near future: their latest album, Complètement Fou, came out on Kemosabe Records, the label founded by superstar producer Dr. Luke (Britney Spears, Kesha, Katy Perry). The album title is French for “completely crazy,” which is both an apt description of their sound and perhaps an explanation for why it may not have founded a bigger audience: Complètement Fou has all the energy of a Dr. Luke creation but feels far from cookie-cutter thanks to its production quirks (the band wrote most of the material themselves, with Luke credited on a handful of tracks). Oh, yeah, and it’s all in French — but with melodies as good as Budet’s, who needs to understand what she’s saying?

    Next step: Read TIME’s guide to the international artists you need to know

  • Nick Jonas, Nick Jonas

    Former Disney kids trying to enter adult pop stardom are like pendulums held back for too long: when they swing the other way, they swing hard. Miley Cyrus warned Hannah Montana fans that she couldn’t be tamed, but audiences still had trouble adjusting when she twerked against Robin Thicke and embarked on a hip-hop transformation. Nick Jonas’ transition hasn’t been any smoother— one-third of the Jonas Brothers has bulked up and posed in jarring sexed-up photoshoots — but what gives him a fighting chance at legitimacy is surprisingly good music with all the right endorsements (like a remix from “2 On” siren Tinashe). This self-titled record isn’t without its flaws, of course — some tracks fall flat, and the uncensored version of “Jealous” is trying a little too hard to be bad — but the electro-R&B direction (Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds isn’t a far-off reference) should have shed any hang-ups about his past.

    Next step: Read TIME’s interview with Jonas about why he wants a career like Elvis Presley

  • Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions

    The quality of an record’s origin story doesn’t always match the quality of the record, but the 13th studio album from the queen of hip-hop soul is an exception. The story goes like this: after misstepping with this year’s Think Like a Man Too soundtrack, which received mixed reviews and sold poorly in January, Blige got a second wind in 2014 when a one-off Disclosure collaboration took off on the U.K. dance charts. What began as an idea to record a follow-up EP with the British duo soon turned into a month-long visit to London, where Blige cranked out songs with not only Disclosure, but also Sam Smith and Emeli Sandé. The move was unexpected, but the music was nothing but inspired. New collaborators sent a bolt of electricity through Blige’s more on-brand soul, and the cutting-edge dance tunes proved the diva doesn’t need “Family Affair” to get a party started. Considering how reinvigorated Blige sounds — to say nothing of Smith’s 2014 takeover — that the record flew relatively under the radar is more surprising than its genesis.

    Next step: Read TIME’s original review of The London Sessions

TIME Music

Where Has D’Angelo Been for the Past 14 Years, Anyway?

D'Angelo
D'Angelo performing in 2012. Charles Sykes—Invision/AP

The R&B star released his first album since 2000, Black Messiah, at midnight last night

There are artists whose careers are plagued by album delays, and then there is D’Angelo.

The critically acclaimed R&B superstar — once dubbed “R&B Jesus” by prominent rock critic Robert Christgau — made his long-awaited return last night with Black Messiah, his first album since 2000’s Voodoo (and only his third studio album ever in his near-20 year career).

Despite the excitement and social media chatter around the surprisingly timely album, which dropped at midnight, one question still loomed: Where has D’Angelo been for the past 14 years, anyway? At Sunday night’s New York City listening session for the album, only one semblance of answer was provided: D’Angelo has been working on his guitar, and while it shows on Black Messiah, that’s hardly satisfying.

The truth is, there really isn’t a good answer. D’Angelo does work slowly, partially evident by the five-year gap between his debut, Brown Sugar, and Voodoo. The Roots’ drummer Questlove, who worked on a handful of album tracks, leaked one song, “Really Love” — now the album’s official first single — to an Australian radio station way back in 2007. Another album cut, “1000 Deaths,” first hit the Internet in some form in 2010, the same year engineer Russell Elevado, who worked on Black Messiah and Voodoo, announced they were going back into the studio to “to complete overdubs and do final mixing on a few songs.” These songs have been in the works for years, and after hearing the album, it almost makes sense: Black Messiah is a busy, dense album that’s obsessed with the intricate details, so it’s not hard to imagine D’Angelo studying every single guitar note and harmony, tweaking and re-recording it to his satisfaction (and to everyone else’s frustration). D’Angelo fans have been burned by false promises in the past, but while his collaborators spent the past few years making statements about the record being “97% done,” for example, they don’t appear to have been lying lying.

That said, there hasn’t been a complete D’Angelo drought since Voodoo. The singer collaborated with a handful for their records in mid-2000s, such as Raphael Saadiq (“Be Here,” 2005); Common and J Dilla (“So Far to Go,” 2006); Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre (“Imagine,” 2007); and Q-Tip (“Believe,” 2008). And he hasn’t entirely been holed up in a studio, either, embarking on a short European tour in 2012, at that point his first string of live shows (barring performances at church) in more than a 10 years.

Much of absence however, involves his personal struggles, which are extensively chronicled in a 2012 GQ feature about D’Angelo. In the piece, writer Amy Wallance explores how the attention D’Angelo attracted as a sex symbol for his steamy “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” music video “tortured” the singer. “‘Yo, man, I cannot wait until this fucking tour is over,'” Questlove remembers D’Angelo telling him after the Voodoo tour. “‘I’m going to go in the woods, drink some hooch, grow a beard, and get fat.’ … I was like, ‘You’re a funny guy.’ And then it started to happen. That’s how much he wanted to distance himself.”

A few deaths in his family rocked his personal life after the tour — “I just kind of sunk into this thing [after that],” he told GQ. He then spiraled into substance abuse: D’Angelo was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and possession of marijuana and cocaine in 2005. By the time he survived a near-fatal car accident in September of that year, he had already done two unsuccessful stints in rehab. But D’Angelo says his wake-up call occurred in 2006, following the death of raper-producer J Dilla. He was shook by the loss, so he reached out to the man who first signed him, Gary Harris, to get in touch with Eric Clapton, who knew D’Angelo and told him he was welcome at the Crossroads treatment center in Antigua, if he could pay $40,000. According to Harris, the bill was footed by his former boss and one of the most powerful managers in the industry, Irving Azoff, who didn’t even know D’Angelo personally.

D’Angelo wouldn’t be totally clear from personal troubles after that — in 2010, he was arrested and charged with solicitation after offering a female undercover cop $40 for a sexual favor — but he was able to land a new record deal 18 months after his monthlong rehab stint at Crossroads. “But even then, in D’s world,” Wallace writes, “nothing happens quickly.”

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