Arts·Q with Tom Power

Sheryl Crow says AI is crushing the spirit of music

In an interview with Q’s Tom Power, the nine-time Grammy Award winner discusses her new album, Evolution, and why she thinks art and music must come from humans instead of machines.

The singer-songwriter discusses her new album, Evolution, and why art and music must come from humans

A headshot of Sheryl Crow.
Sheryl Crow is back with her 12th studio album, Evolution. (The Valory Music Co)

When Sheryl Crow speaks — or sings — the world tends to listen. Over the years, the nine-time Grammy Award winner has used her voice to raise awareness for issues like climate change, gun control and global conflicts. Now, she's turning her focus to artificial intelligence.

On her new single, Evolution (the title track off her latest album of the same name), Crow explores what AI might mean for the future of art and human expression. The song was inspired by her fears around the intersection of AI and music.

"Years and years and years ago, I was actually on a tour to educate about climate change — and Stephen Hawking comes out [with a statement saying] it's not going to be the climate that is the demise of humankind, it's going to be AI, which seemed completely and totally sci-fi," she tells Q's Tom Power in a recent interview. "Well, now we're here."

Sharing a personal example of how AI has infiltrated the music industry, Crow says she was left feeling terrified after hearing a demo played to her by a young artist whom she admires.

"She plays me a demo that she has John Mayer singing on because she paid $5 through AI to upload his voice," Crow recalls. "I could not tell the difference in any way, shape or form. That could have come out and I would have said, 'Oh, that's a good John Mayer song.'"

In the same vein, she still remembers the morning she saw a post on social media about how the Beatles were using AI to "bring back" John Lennon. "I, for one, was like, 'I think that's horrific,'" Crow says, adding that while she's troubled by the prospect of artificially recreating artists' voices beyond the grave, the song, titled Now And Then, is "not exactly as bad as what that sounded like."

Art is our only safe haven.- Sheryl Crow

For Crow, music is both a physical and a spiritual experience that "can only come from inside of a person."

"It does worry me that you now will be able to do that without spirit," she says. "Without the personal life experience that goes into writing a song like Yesterday…. We need art. We need art now and we need music that tells our story now more than we've ever needed it."

WATCH | Sheryl Crow's interview with Tom Power:

Beyond threatening our spiritual experience of music, the singer-songwriter says AI is also a threat to truth itself.

"At a time when truth is so up for grabs with algorithms feeding us what we already think and villainizing on the other side, I feel like art is our only safe haven," she tells Power. "Art is the thing that throughout history has documented who we are at any moment in our evolution as a brain-oriented society, a spirit–driven society — and yet now we're challenging that.

"It does terrify me. It terrifies me that artists can be brought back from the dead. It terrifies me that I can sing to you a song that I had absolutely nothing to do with — and you'll believe it. And so I'm waiting to see if the best of us will rise up and say, 'This cannot be because our kids need to understand that truth is truth. There is a truth and the rest of it is non-truth.' How do we help them navigate that? And the record is not a downer, I promise!"

The full interview with Sheryl Crow is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. She talks more about her new album, making music with a message and giving Olivia Rodrigo advice on stardom. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


 

Interview with Sheryl Crow produced by Cora Nijhawan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vivian Rashotte is a digital producer, writer and photographer for Q with Tom Power. She's also a visual artist. You can reach her at vivian.rashotte@cbc.ca.

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