Gorillaz is an English virtual band formed in 1998 by musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, from London, England. It mainly consists of four fictional members: 2-D (vocals, keyboards), Murdoc Niccals (bass guitar), Noodle (guitar, keyboards, vocals), and Russel Hobbs (drums). These fictional members, drawn by Hewlett, live in a universe presented in music videos, interviews, comic strips, and short cartoons. Albarn is the band’s only permanent member, but Gorillaz's music often features collaborations with a wide range of featured artists.
Albarn and Hewlett met in 1990 when Graham Coxon, friend and bandmate of Albarn and fan of Hewlett’s comic strip Tank Girl, asked Hewlett to interview their newly-formed band, Blur. At the time, Albarn and Hewlett did not get on, but in 1997, they ended up sharing a flat together on Westbourne Grove in London.
The idea for Gorillaz came when they were watching MTV together and spoke about how, in the time of boy bands, they saw nothing of substance. They decided to create a manufactured band, but with a twist.
Gorillaz's self-titled debut album was recorded by Albarn from 1998 through 2000 at both his newly-opened Studio 13 in London and Geejam Studios in Jamaica. Some of the resulting tracks were featured on the band’s debut release, the EP Tomorrow Comes Today, which was released on November 27, 2000.
The album featured musicians Albarn, Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala, as well as additional collaborations with Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena Vista Social Club, Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, and Tom Tom Club. It was released on March 26, 2001, and reached number three in the UK and number fourteen in the US, and the top ten in several countries. It launched four singles: "Clint Eastwood", "19-2000", "Rock the House", and "Tomorrow Comes Today," and earned the group an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "Most Successful Virtual Band". Each single had an animated music video that was directed by Hewlett and features the virtual band members. Around that time, the band’s website, also designed by Hewlett, was presented as an interactive tour of the band's fictional "Kong Studios" home and recording studio, featuring interactive games and explorative elements. The band embarked on a brief tour of Europe, Japan, and the United States to support the album after its release. Albarn and a band of touring musicians performed obscured behind a screen, onto which projections designed by Hewlett appeared.
A B-sides compilation, G-Sides, was released in December 2001. On December 7, Gorillaz released a collaborative single with D-12 and Terry Halls of the Specials, "911," about the September 11 attacks.
Laika Come Home, a remix album containing most of the tracks from Gorillaz remixed in dub and reggae style by the DJ group Spacemonkeyz, was released on July 1, 2002. That November, the band released a DVD of all of their visual content so far, plus extras, called Phase One: Celebrity Take Down.
2005-2006: Demon Days
Demon Days, the Gorillaz’ second album, was released on May 11, 2005. The album reached number one on the UK Albums Chart and number six on the US Billboard 200 and went six times platinum in the UK, double platinum in the United States, and triple platinum in Australia. "Feel Good Inc.", the album’s lead single featuring hip-hop group De La Soul, topped Billboard's Alternative Songs chart for eight consecutive weeks and was featured in a commercial for Apple's iPod. The album also launched several more hit singles: "Dare", "Dirty Harry", and the double A-side "Kids with Guns" / "El Mañana". As with Gorillaz’s debut album, Demon Days features collaborations with several different artists, including Bootie Brown, Shaun Ryder, Ike Turner, MF Doom (who was recording with the album’s producer Danger Mouse as Danger Doom at the time), and Martina Topley-Bird, among others.
The band promoted the album with two five-day residencies billed as Demon Days Live: one in November 2005 at the Manchester Opera House and another in April 2006 at New York City's Apollo Theater. For these performances, the band was not behind a screen, but appeared silhouetted, while a screen above them showed projections of Hewlett’s work. Most of the album’s featured artists appeared for the live shows. The Manchester shows were recorded and later released on DVD as Demon Days: Live at the Manchester Opera House.
The virtual band members "performed" holographically at both the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards in November 2005 and the 48th Annual Grammy Awards in February 2006 using Musion Eyeliner technology. The band won Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals at the Grammy Awards for "Feel Good Inc.", which was also nominated for Record of the Year.
An "autobiography" of the band ostensibly written by the fictional members and expanding on the band's fictional backstory and universe, Rise of the Ogre, was written by official Gorillaz script writer and live drummer Cass Browne and featured new artwork by Hewlett. It was released in October 2006 and later that month, the band released another DVD, Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades, which compiled most of the Demon Days' visual content.
D-Sides was released in November 2007, featuring B-sides and remixes associated with Demon Days as well as unreleased tracks from the sessions for the album.
A documentary film by Ceri Levy, Bananaz, was released in 2008. It documents the behind-the-scenes history of the band from 2000 to 2006.
2010-2013: Plastic Beach and The Fall
Plastic Beach, Gorillaz’s third studio album, was released on March 3, 2010. Initially, Albarn and Hewlett had begun work on a project called Carousel, which was recorded from June 2008 to November 2009 and eventually became Plastic Beach. The album was mostly produced by Albarn and features the most Gorillaz collaborators up until that point, with artists including Snoop Dogg, Gruff Rhys, De La Soul, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Lou Reed, Mark E. Smith, Bashy, Kano and Little Dragon appearing on the album. It debuted at number two on both the UK Albums Chart and the Billboard 200 and reached the top 10 in 22 countries in total. The album went on to be named one of the decade's best albums by several critics. It was supported by the lead single "Stylo" featuring Mos Def and Bobby Womack released in January 2010 and the later singles "On Melancholy Hill" and "Rhinestone Eyes." The band embarked on its first-ever world tour, the Escape to Plastic Beach Tour, to promote the album. Gorillaz also headlined performances at several international music festivals, including the Coachella and Glastonbury festivals. During the tour, that November, the band released a non-album single - "Doncamatic" featuring British singer Daley.
Whilst on the North American leg of the Escape to Plastic Beach Tour in the fall of 2010, Albarn began recording songs on his iPad that became Gorillaz’s next album, The Fall, co-produced with the band’s mix engineer Stephen Sedgwick. The album was digitally on Christmas Day 2010 and later given a physical release on 19 April 2011. It peaked at number 24 on the Billboard 200 and features collaborations with Bobby Womack, and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash.
In a Guardian article in 2012, Albarn announced that he and Hewlett had fallen out with no plans to release any more Gorillaz material. However, in 2013, Hewlett and Albarn both said that they were sure they would record a follow-up to Plastic Beach once they had settled their differences.
2014-2017: Hiatus and Humanz
At the afterparty after one of Albarn's solo shows in 2014, Hewlett and Albarn had a conversation where they decided to begin working on Gorillaz material for the next album. Recording for the album in question, Humanz, began in late 2015 and continued throughout 2016. It features guest appearances from Popcaan, Vince Staples, DRAM, Jehnny Beth, Pusha T, Peven Everett, Danny Brown, Grace Jones, and Mavis Staples, among others.
Humanz was released on 28 April 2017, the band's first new studio album in 7 years. As with its predecessor, it debuted at number two on both the UK Albums Chart and Billboard 200. From summer 2017 through early 2018, the band embarked on the Humanz Tour. It was preceded by a handful of European warm-up shows, including the first Demon Dayz Festival held on 10 June 2017 at the Dreamland Margate theme park, a Gorillaz-curated music festival. Another Demon Dayz festival took place in Los Angeles in October 2018.
2018-2019: The Now Now
Similarly to with his production of The Fall, Albarn began recording an album while on the road with the Humanz Tour. In February 2018, during a break on the tour, he went into the studio with producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence and the Machine) to shape the songs together into what would become the band’s sixth studio album, The Now Now. The album was released on June 29, 2018. Unusually for a Gorillaz album, it centers around Albarn’s vocals, with only two tracks with guest artists: the album's lead single "Humility" featuring George Benson, and "Hollywood" featuring Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle.
During the Now Now album cycle, in the fictional Gorillaz storyline, the band introduced Ace from Cartoon Network's animated series The Powerpuff Girls as a temporary bassist of the band, filling in for the imprisoned Murdoc Niccals.
From June through October 2018, the band embarked on The Now Now Tour, including a one-off performance in Tokyo on 22 June 2018 – The Now Now World Premiere – where the band played the album in its entirety for the first and only time.
Gorillaz: Reject False Icons, a documentary sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the production of Humanz and The Now Now and their associated tours, was filmed and directed by Hewlett's son Denholm and released on December 16, 2019.
2020-2021: Song Machine project and Meanwhile EP
Gorillaz’s new project, Song Machine, was announced on January 29, 2020. Instead of a traditional album, it was released as a nine-part web series with one new song released per month as an ‘episode’. Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez saw collaborations with Robert Smith, Beck, Lee John, Schoolboy Q, St. Vincent, Elton John, 6lack, Peter Hook, Georgia, Octavian, Kano, Roxani Arias, Fatoumata Diawara, Slowthai, and Slaves. It was released as a studio album on October 23, 2020. A deluxe edition, featuring EarthGang, Joan as Police Woman, GoldLink, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Moonchild Sanelly, JPEGMafia, Chai, Tony Allen, and Skepta, was also released. The album reached number two in the UK and number 12 on the Billboard 200.
Three new songs - "Meanwhile" (featuring British rapper Jelani Blackman), "Jimmy Jimmy" (featuring British rapper AJ Tracey), and "Déjà Vu" (featuring Jamaican singer Alicaì Harley) – were debuted by the band at a concert for National Health Service employees and their families at the 02 Arena, London, England on August 10, 2021. The songs feature on the Meanwhile EP, which was released on August 26, 2021, as a celebration of London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival.
2022-present: World tour and Cracker Island
Gorillaz toured South America, Europe, Australia, and North America throughout 2022, debuting new material. On June 22, 2022, they released the track "Cracker Island" featuring Thundercat. This was followed by "New Gold" on August 31. The band’s eighth album, Cracker Island, is due for release on February 24, 2023, and features appearances from Stevie Nicks, Bad Bunny, Beck, and Adeleye Omotayo.