…because I’m actually listening! I’m voting this year, MFers, and I’m doing my job and listening to everything while I make Christmas cookies.
So – without breaking the rules and revealing my votes – here is my Christmas cookie-scented Grammy Awards BLOW BY BLOW. I may not have much effect on the actual turnout but at least that effect will be ethically awesome.
Note. This is the Grammys. I’m not going to waste energy bemoaning its commercialization. I’m just going to judge these artists and songs as pop hits. And also: no GAGA anywhere this time! Weird.
Record of the Year – Okay, Lorde, it’s not possible to see diamonds in the flesh, but despite that I am so happy I actually listened to your song. Here’s to your heartening, ironically nominated anti-fame anthem! But…is it Record of the Year? This category is for production and the two biggest earworms of the year are in it. But I disqualify Robin Thicke for ripping off Marvin Gaye.
Album of the Year – I am listening to every song on every album. Sara Bareilles is really going for the 80’s synth pop sound, which is cool, and the album is lovely, and she’s a skilled writer. But ALBUM OF THE YEAR should be thematically huge and the other entries are.
Despite the impossible to resist “Get Lucky,” a little Daft Punk goes a long way. But, oh wow, KENDRICK LAMAR, hello. And this is why I’m listening, because I have been leaning towards Macklemore and Ryan Lewis because two of my fave songs of the year are on their record but – holy mackerel – the album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is a masterwork. I’m blown away. And now that I’m listening to their whole album, I’m finding M & RL are using a lot of the same chord patterns in multiple songs. (Daft Punk does too.) Taylor Swift is next.
I don’t really have to listen because RED has been on a non-stop playlist streaming from my daughter’s room, but I’m going to anyway.
Regarding the song “Red”: I am going to create a new assignment for my songwriting students. I’m going to give them a word that has been brainstormed by a marketing team to be the name of a fragrance, a line of custom Keds and a world tour. Then I’m going to tell them to that they have to write a song with that title to tie together all the rest of their songs and complete the package. Because I’m pretty sure that’s how this went down.
Still – despite the fact that it’s about five years past time for Taylor Swift to stop describing herself as having “wide-eyed wonder” – and disregarding the fact that if you are the only female artist to have two million-plus opening weeks, and then you go and write and perform numerous songs that publicly identify people whom you believe have slighted you, that actually kinda shifts you from victim to bully – I can’t deny that Taylor is one of the most skilled songwriters out there at the moment. She knows how to play her guitar and her well-constructed lyrics are a heartening antidote to the cynical triple-hook nonsense from Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj. For the pop megahit it was intended to be, this record is perfectly constructed and produced.
But…but…Kendrick has all that and jazz chords too. (And for my voting purposes this is irrelevant, but he also has Dre.)
Song of the Year – this one goes to the songwriter. (It’s the category I can’t deny I dreamed as a teenager of cracking someday.)
“Locked out of Heaven” is a silly cliche and hearing it fifty times doesn’t help, even with a Sting-esque bass below it. And I’m over filling every corner of a song with memorable “ooh” or “whoa oh oh” and an ascending synth scale. How many hooks does a song get before it performs noise cancellation on itself?
Katy Perry is doing the “whoa oh oh oh oh” thing too, but “Roar” gets points for using the “Eye of the Tiger” reference to bring together boxing and roaring in a way that song never achieved. It’s clever and big and definitely a candidate.
“Just Give Me A Reason” is very sweet and I love P!nk, but it’s not her most “Record of the Year”-esque song.
Yes, “Same Love” was one of the aforementioned faves, and it doesn’t matter how overexposed it’s become. If there’s any problem with this lovely song, it’s that it never veers from the 1-6 min-4 pattern.
That leaves “Royals.” I’m resisting deciding on the basis that it would be so killer to annoint the song that so easily dismisses Robin Thicke et al with “every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom.” Having nurtured “that fantasy” ever since I picked up a guitar, I cannot help but want to help her live it. Lorde…Katy…ehhh.
Best New Artist – Let’s see, which artist do I vote to give this occasionally career-killing award? It’s a really strong field, except that Ed Sheeran can’t decide if he wants to be folk or hip hop and I don’t find it sexy to hear a grown man sing a Lego metaphor, especially one which disappears after the first two lines to be replaced with the super-compelling “I want to paint you by numbers.” Yeah! A song about loving me in the most mediocre way possible. Otherwise, honestly, you could flip a coin and pick. I’m really happy for Kacey Musgraves.
Best Pop Solo Performance – No, Ed. And no, JT. “Mirrors” and your performance don’t have the SexyBack swagger that you bring on almost the whole rest of your record. Looks like this is between Katy and Bruno for perfectly performed pop mastery on one side, and Lorde on the other for underdog quirk and confidence.
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
I love watching JT sing “Suit and Tie,” but all year I’ve been calling that Rihanna song one of the best duets ever.
This category is such a catch-all I would recommend they just call it “Twang (but rural, not Nashville),” but what about Allen Toussaint? And anyway, how can Allen Toussaint and Sarah Jarosz be in the same category? What’s the common thread here? Americana or Roots are kind of like Little Steven’s Underground Garage except instead of the Ramones, every song either informed or is informed by The Band. Or maybe we should call it “Six Degrees of Emmylou.” Oooh, that’s pretty good.
I think it’s going to be difficult for voters not to give this to Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, and I agree their album is charming (though I remain not a fan of that vocal drop she’s been doing since New Bohemians). Or maybe they’ll do the lifetime achievement thing with this little ditty by Allen Toussaint. Either one is worthy, but I really like Tim O’Brien and Darrel Scott’s coal mining song.
Best Americana Album
And…there she is! Emmylou and Rodney Crowell are in this category with Old Yellow Moon, a killer record. Their veteran voices and song choices are rich. (Have I mentioned that I judge a man on whether he’s smitten with Emmylou? I find the best men are.) And there’s also Steve and Edie’s earnest, sweet, sharp and lovely record (though they are the youngsters in the group), and a master class in expert twangy fun called Buddy & Jim (thought “Vampire Girl” is kinda silly) and frickin’ Mavis and Allen Toussaint. There is no way to pick one over the others.
“Open Season On My Heart” is one of monster songwriter Rodney Crowell’s best. It’s as clever and perfectly rhymed as Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues.” And his version of “Bluebird Wine,” which Emmylou made famous, with Emmylou on backup vox, is just wonderful.
Buddy & Jim:“I Lost the Job of Loving You” – I mean, come on. I got to see these guys do this one at the Americana Awards announcement at the Grammy Museum. It rocked in the most friendly, offhandedly seasoned way.
Mavis’ record with Jeff Tweedy is just soooooo good. I have been hearing snippets all year but never bought it. I have that one she did in the 90’s with Prince and of course the one with Ry Cooder too. But this one, wow. I’m liking the instrumentation and the way Tweedy EQs her voice. It’s a great sequel to the more traditionalist Ry Cooder record. I’m not saying anything certain but it may be that Mavis’ focus and conviction make this one the best in the category. “I Like the Things About Me” is badass. And “One True Vine” is almost enough to convert me. Almost.
What are you supposed to do with Allen Toussaint’s Songbook? I think I have to remember that this is an album award, not just for the songwriter. Plus, it’s a live record, so you’re really reviewing the concert itself. He needs a lifetime achievement award. This record is a very good concert record, but as an album it can’t compete with the others.
Oh, man, I’m looking further down the list. Folk is next and then I’ve got to choose between Stephen Colbert, Carol Burnett, David Sedaris, Billy Crystal and Pete Seeger for Best Spoken Word and there’s comedy and the songs in Visual Media and the Recording Package…and the cookies are long done. You can read all the nominees here and debate me. I think I picked a good year to join.