Marshmello has become one of the most recognizable faces of the modern music scene – by not showing his true colors. The electronic pop producer has racked up billions of streams while remaining completely reclusive, thanks to a marshmallow-shaped headset that sports an adorable cartoon smile.
But even if Marshmello wasn’t one of music’s most mysterious identities (or a playable skin in the hugely popular video game fortnite), his mountain of success has made the masked musician a household name.
Ever since he burst onto the scene with the Skrillex-approved “Find Me” in 2015, Marshmello’s career has been in a league of its own. His first album on the label “Alone” mixed dynamic synth sounds with driving rhythms (and his own helium voice), setting the tone for his sonic universe where youthful vocals meet shattering basses.
After conquering the EDM world, he quickly took over the pop crossover realm, tapping into his rock roots on collaborations with Noah Cyrus, Black bear and Demi Lovato, Khalid, Selena Gomez, Bastilleand the Jonas BrothersJust to name a few.
Of course, a spotlight can also become a target, and Marshmello has had his fair share of detractors. On his fourth studio album, Shock wavethe dancing star fixes her X-shaped eyes directly on those enemies and shows just how dynamic her style can be.
It is his most diverse album to date, with features ranging from rap (Megan you stallion and Juicy J) to fellow producers (Troyboi, DJ Sliink, Nitti Gritti) to a spurt of bass music heavyweights (Eptic, Peekaboo, Subtronic). Shock wave explores every corner of electronic music, from Jersey Club to trap, from dubstep to Eurodance and even pop-punk.
Ultimately, this experimentation earned Marshmello his first GRAMMY nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. The producer spoke with GRAMMY.com about why his nomination is so significant, how he’s advanced Marshmello’s sound Shock waveand why he feels he “needed this album”.
Where were you when you learned of the appointment?
Well, I’m not really good at sleeping. I’m a person who needs a lot of energy, so when I’m not on tour and I’m at home a lot, it’s hard to stay asleep. I always wake up from 8 to 10, and it was at that time.
I’m half asleep, I don’t even know what’s real, and I hear my phone vibrate. I see something about the GRAMMYs, and when you’re half awake — maybe a quarter awake — you’re not even really processing. That second or third time I really woke up, I was like, “Wait, did that happen?”
I’m sure it takes a while to dive into it, even when you’re wide awake to the news. What does it mean to you to be nominated?
It’s something that every artist seeks, even growing up. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but in a good way. I was processing that, but I was also really excited to tell everyone that it was on the album. We made the album during the pandemic, and we really put in a lot of — I don’t know how to describe it.
joytime i, II and III are very precise and intentionally sound, accurate, catchy. This album, I did not name it Joytime. I wanted to try something different.
We made very specific clips for each video, many of them with my ideas. The whole experience was different, and it was the album that was nominated for a GRAMMY.
It was all going through my head at the same time: “Everything was just different. I wonder why, blah blah blah.” Then my next move was to tell everyone who was there.
This intention manifests itself. I was also struck by the fact that the second song “Supernovacane” opens with a clip of some guy calling you an “overrated electronic artist” and then you keep mixing your sound with artists and styles revered. Was your approach a message to people who would put you in a box?
I was going to start the album with that, but then I was also struggling with this track “Fairytale”, which is actually the intro that sounds a lot more like an intro.
Every artist has people who hate them, right? I don’t know if I can speak for them, but that was me saying, “I’m aware that people think that, and I’m just having fun with it.”
Specifically with this album, everything was like “I want to do a trap song”, so I started the album with “Fairytale”. I want to advance my Marshmello sound and try to use all of my production tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years and try something different.
Let’s say someone with that kind of hateful intent keeps listening to this album, right? They turn on this song, and how would they feel hearing me recognize and even put in a song that someone said what they were? I just did it because I can.
This matches the rest of the album. It’s like, “Yeah, I did this Vengaboys-sounding track with Carnage because I can. I did this future Jersey Club bass jam with DJ Sliink because I can.”
Who’s gonna tell me not to? joytime i, Joytime II, Joytime III, I’ve been doing this style for a long time. I needed this album, just to make the music that I like to play.
Every song, I remember sitting in my studio and thinking about playing it – then seeing the show that I hadn’t played yet and how the crowd would react in my head.
You have huge collaborators from all over the map on this LP, and you’ve had some truly legendary collaborations throughout your career. What makes a good collaboration?
Honesty. You don’t want to tell someone you don’t like their idea, and they don’t want to tell you either. It’s always hard. I’m not saying that everyone hated everyone’s ideas. It’s just like, instead of beating around the bush and dragging on, going straight to the point, until everyone likes it and running with it.
Everyone I’ve worked with on this album, I know they really know how to produce. So you can have that connection – they’ve been through it all as well. It was very simplified because of the talent, so it was really nice.
You have so many fun sounds on this album. Which style was the most fun to explore?
This song I did with Carnage, I wrote all the lyrics and the melody. It was fun to get out of my box. It’s old school, almost like Eiffel 65. I remember listening to Eiffel 65 on a CD. When there was a good song back then, you couldn’t just get the song, you had to get the whole album. I was listening to Eiffel 65, and “Blue” was on it, but all the other songs really influenced me. I still remember after how many years. It was cool to come back to it.
It was really great to work with Sliink on the Jersey Club [track “Back It Up”]. I based a lot of my sound on Jersey Club, like a little variation. DJ Sliink is a legend. He would be able to cook something up and know “this is the right direction”, because he is who he is.
I’m excited to see how this influences you in the future, to have the opportunity to explore those other sides of yourself.
That was something that was really sweet about this album. I’m racking my brains here, and I don’t think one song is exactly the same genre as another. Eptic dubstep is different from Subtronics dubstep.
It was something that I struggled with, the sequence of the album. You want it to flow, so I decided to put all the heavy songs back to back and then close the album with the title track.
Speaking of “Shockwave,” we hear you sing along, and while it’s not something entirely new, it’s very personal. Are you more comfortable with your voice after spending the first years of Marshmello in anonymity?
I always grew up in bands, but being in front of people singing wasn’t in the early years of Marshmello. Ironically, I sang on a lot of stuff, but turned it up. “Alone” was me, and “WaNt U 2”.
“You and Me” was the very first, a kind of pop-punk EDM vibe, which inspired the whole album of Joytime III. I had put it forward, and my manager was like, “Why not just put it forward?” I say “Yeah, but that’s my real voice” and he says “Fuck you!” I said it and I was like, “Wait, that sounds crazy.”
This lead to Joytime III who had “Proud”, who did very well on [Sirius]XM and what is – I think – the biggest part of this album. It is with me who sings too.
Was there a good time to say “This is who I am under the helmet?” Did revealing your identity change your creative approach to the project?
Not really, because I don’t really want to shed much light on this. Being anonymous is a big part of the project and what I love about it now. It’s not really about following a person and monitoring everything they do. It’s just listening to the music, seeing the headphones and the things I say, which is fine, but I don’t think it’s specifically about who I am.
Video games are an integral part of who you are, from your sound to your start with Monstercat. There was the fortnite gig that literally changed the way people view opportunities in the game, and you’re a paid skin. What does it mean to you that Marshmello is a video game character?
It’s awesome. I love that people can buy Marshmello helmets in real life. I play a lot of video games and I know a lot of people play video games. They can be Marshmello and have that feeling almost even more in the video game.
It goes back to the idea that anyone can be Marshmello. Now people who really identify with it can also do it in a video game, and it stands out, doesn’t it? All white with that smile. It just gives everyone a chance to connect more with myself.
You’ve accomplished a lot in your career, but is there a moment you’re most proud of?
I’ve done a lot of great shows – all the planning and then the execution. These really stand out for me when it comes to accomplishments.
Coachella , it was the first time I played. Lollapalooza  really stands out. It was like two weeks of planning. Not even planning – it was two weeks of being on the stage I played on, and then performing it exactly where me and everyone who worked on it wanted. I think we’re going to release a little mini documentary about all of this.
So is this the next step for you?
There are a lot of things then. I like elements of surprise, so even if I could tell you that, I don’t want to.
Everyone wants that feeling of being a rock star in their own way, and in my way, that’s DJing — and being able to put on a show with a bunch of guys that I spend most of my life with. Everyone is connected, does the same thing and has the same passions. It’s great to get together, make an idea, put it into practice and do it.
I have a lot of songs ready. I’m really excited, and I have my head down right now. Expect to see me a lot [this] year, everywhere.
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