Grammys 2017 Postmortem

This is a day late, sure, but look how much I wrote. My fingers hurt. Give me a break. And yeah, I know I haven’t written anything in six months. I’m a working man.

The Grammys have come and gone once again, the 59th edition of what the Academy likes to puff up as “Music’s Biggest Night.” What does that mean? Usually an Adele performance, old artists winning Best New Artist because the Grammys have stupid arbitrary rules for determining that category, and non-white artists being shoved into their own, neatly-segmented categories while white artists dominate the big categories. We got a couple of those again this year, but, as always, there was plenty that shined through the shit.

Some performance notes, then:

– Politically tepid, for the most part. Several presenters made bland platitudes about the importance of equality, without really touching on the most important reasons to emphasize equality in our current time. That was, of course, until A Tribe Called Quest, with Anderson.Paak, Consequence, and Busta Rhymes of all people, rolled up and tore down the wall of sanitary comments and excessive niceness. Q-Tip repeatedly declared Donald Trump to be “President Agent Orange,” as ATCQ barreled through a medley of several politically-charged songs from We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, which came out just a few months ago. They brought up a procession of immigrants to the stage to show the kind of people that Trump’s executive order was shutting out – people who deserve to be in America, the land of the free, because America’s borders shouldn’t be arbitrarily shut (though we know it’s not arbitrary). They even had a makeshift wall on stage to burst through. Powerful and important.

And Anderson.Paak was behind the kit for a couple minutes! That was rad.

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– Lukas Graham is a fine singer but his performance with Kelsea Ballerini was the perfect representation of the Grammys slapping two artists together because they’re kind of similar and they hope they can work out a good collaboration. This was pretty boring. There were a few other collaborative performances, like Alicia Keys and Maren Morris, which was fine, and Gark Clark, Jr. and William Bell performing “Born Under a Bad Sign” together, which was the usual Gary Clark, Jr. guitar showcase, but this time backing up a wonderful vocal performance from a music legend.

– I was very, very interested in Metallica/Gaga, and what I get for my troubles is a fucking trainwreck. Now, this isn’t necessarily the fault of Metallica and Gaga – I assume they’re responsible for the tasteless stage design, but that’s fine. No, the Grammys continue to demonstrate that, despite being the premier venue for multiple performances on several stages in the span of three hours, they are still able to fuck things up, as James Hetfield’s microphone was completely non-functional for the entire first verse and chorus of “Moth into Flame.” I was really looking forward to this, and Gaga’s vocals provided an interesting dimension to the song, but it was only half a song until Hetfield realized his mic was off, and he had to share Gaga’s mic instead until his came back online. Started off on the wrong foot and never really got going, a real miss for Metallica. At least they’ll have that bizarrely awesome Lang Lang collaboration from a couple years ago.

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– Ed Sheeran’s live looping to create his own beat was an impressive technical backdrop for his usual pop garbage. I feel pretty sure that the backing track eventually switched to a pre-recorded one, but if it didn’t, then wow, he really did something great here. Wish it had been for, you know, a good song.

– The Bee Gees should be offended by the “tribute” offered here. It was a smashed-together mess with a bunch of people no one cares about, that mashed together a bunch of songs in a way no one wanted to here. And they said it was also a Saturday Night Fever 40th anniversary tribute…? Try again. And never invite John Travolta back to the Grammys ever again.

– Speaking of Travolta – specifically, the performance he introduced after rambling about some nonsense for a couple minutes – the Grammys showed that country is both dead and not dead at the same time. Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban presented the latest assassination of a once-proud mainstream genre, performing a literal synthpop country disaster with the backdrop of going through the Time Vortex if you were also on acid. I understand that traditional country isn’t mainstream any more, and that the continuing forward march of pop into every other genre around it has morphed radio country into something entirely different. But this was just awful. You wouldn’t even know it was country if you weren’t being assaulted by Keith Urban’s awful accent. Carrie Underwood continues to just sort of exist to put out these asinine performances every year.

– But on the other end of the spectrum, Sturgill Simpson delivered a gorgeous rendition of “All Around You,” backed by the Dap-Kings, the powerful backing band of now-passed-on Sharon Jones. This wasn’t necessarily “traditional” country either, but Sturgill Simpson takes pride in the genre he represents, and as probably one of the least mainstream artists on the show (sorry Chance), he delivered a heartfelt, full-throated performance that would have made Sharon Jones, and Johnny Cash, proud.

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– The big tribute section this year was to Prince, himself a larger-than-life figure that always seemed willing to bring himself down to the level of the Grammys. He received a strong two-part tribute, with The Time and Bruno Mars performing separately and then together. The Time in particular were a huge treat to watch – Morris Day’s voice is electric, and his synchronized dance sequences with Jerome were a real spectacle. And then, of course, Bruno Mars rolls out, in full Prince regalia, with what I’d hope is a replica of a quintessential Prince guitar, and demonstrated that, in addition to the eight million talents he already has, shredding out a Prince solo is one of them too. It wasn’t a technical masterpiece – obviously Bruno isn’t Prince on the six-string – but it was clear that Bruno put a lot of effort into making it sound good and look great, and he delivered. He had another performance earlier in the show, which was exactly what you’d expect from Bruno Mars – retro pop and great dance moves. Another traditional Grammys setpiece, but a fun one.

– James Corden was great when he hosted the Tonys last year. The Grammys? Not so much. He’s at least capable of showing emotion, unlike LL Cool J, who appeared to be a robot created for the sole purpose of saying words between segments that no one was really listening to. But Corden at times appeared to try and emulate the sort of host that makes themselves too much a part of the show, from his fall down the stairs to open the show, to rapping his opening monologue, to the gross jokes about his parents having young people to fuck separately. He seemed out of his element, which isn’t a good look for any host, but especially not for James Corden, who’s still establishing himself in the States. Maybe next year he’ll be better – if LL Cool J’s eternal reign as Grammys host is any indication, he’ll have plenty of tries.

– Katy Perry premiered a new song featuring all of the anti-tech, anti-Internet baby boomer bullshit that absolutely should not be coming out of Katy Perry’s mouth. Who is the target audience here? Kids who are determined to deny their own identities in the interests of appeasing crusty old fucks who can’t be swayed? What was the point of this song? Who hurt you, Katy? Was it Left Shark? Have we misread him this entire time?

At least the white picket fence turned into a bunch of dancers. That was a cool gimmick for a shit song.

– The Weeknd performed with Daft Punk, whose primary contribution was to stand on top of a retro-futuristic glacier mountain and press buttons on some synths while The Weeknd turned in a typically great vocal performance. I’m sure this was a dream come true for him, as his profile continues to rise as a powerful pop musician. But the visual spectacle was lacking.

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– Pentatonix has achieved true mainstream penetration. We will see them perform at every music show imaginable for the rest of our lives, at least until it’s revealed that one of them has been perpetually on heroin for the past five years and it destroys them. One can hope.

– The In Memorium segment is always a sad one, but luckily, 2016’s whirlwind of destruction was split between last year’s Grammys and this year’s, lessening the blow when it came time to run the montage. Imagine Prince and Bowie being in the same one. My God.

I found it curious that Prince received neither first (that went to Leonard Cohen) nor last (George Martin, for some reason) billing in the montage. You could argue that Martin had a more substantial impact on music by way of the Beatles, but Prince’s contributions were far more direct, and I think he would’ve warranted first or last billing. Instead, he was second, which is close, but not enough. Perhaps they believed they’d paid the man his due with Bruno Mars earlier. They would be wrong.

This was John Legend’s annual contribution to the Grammys, by the way, doing a Beach Boys cover. “Hallelujah” would’ve been a bit much, I guess. But I will say that including Cynthia Erivo, from the current stage revival of The Color Purple, was a nice gesture to remind people (including the Grammys) that hey, musicals are music, too.

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And the big three:

– Adele’s voice is gorgeous. Once in a generation. The most successful artist of the digital era, and the only artist to have a diamond-selling record since 2004. Twice. Yes, Adele has to be at the Grammys, and yes (as we’ll cover shortly), she’ll sweep, so you should feature her a couple times.

But Adele standing in the dark belting out a track is boring. Especially when the song is over a year old. So when you open the show with the customary Adele performance, it’s not exactly the electric way to start a show that desperately needs electricity. Adele’s gimmick, to put it crassly (she’s certainly genuine about it) is that she’s a regular woman, a regular mother, who happens to be the best singer in decades. So when you stick her in the middle of a blank stage with nothing but a live video feed of her own damn face to perform with, it comes off a little bit robotic, like “hey, this is Adele, press the button and hear her sing!” Now, I’ll say right now that I don’t have any alternative ideas. But I’m not putting together the show, so I don’t have to. Bite me.

And by contrast, of course, Adele’s tribute to George Michael later in the show – a slow, orchestral rendition of “Fastlove” – demonstrated the human side of her. Adele is just like us – she loves good music, she’ll cry about it on national television if she wants, she’ll stop a performance and drop the f-bomb if she feels like it. Perhaps having war flashbacks to her last Grammys performance that sounded awful, Adele detected something wrong early in the song, cut it off, and pleaded forgiveness while instructing the backing orchestra to restart. She then delivered the powerful, heartfelt vocal performance that is the hallmark of a true Adele show. This was far, far better.

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– Concerns that the Grammys were simply riding the wave of Chance the Rapper’s mainstream success to puff out their chests and proclaim “We recognize indie talents now please keep watching!!!!” are certainly warranted. Chance has transcended his roots in a way that’s unimaginable, and it would be absurd of the Grammys to ignore that and bar Coloring Book from the recognition it and Chance himself deserves. But let’s set that aside for now and just bask in the glory that is Chance the Rapper delivering an unabridged, unchained show that showed the country what Chance is all about. This is exactly what I was hoping for – a medley of “How Great” and “All We Got” with parts of “No Problems” and “Blessings” sprinkled throughout, Chance’s cousin Nicole giving a full-throated rendition of the choral piece that opens “How Great,” Chance delivering a sermon at the mic, barely able to keep his emotions in check as he chokes his way through his verses, bursting into jubilance as the performance transitions to “All We Got” (no Kanye and no Jay Electronica, though; that’s fine). A true mic drop moment.

Chance has watched his notoriety grow exponentially in the past calendar year, starting with SNL alongside Kanye, through “Summer Friends” on the Today Show, and all the way to the Grammys to accept three awards and perform the songs that the Grammys wouldn’t have even recognized a year ago. Through all of these, it would be incredibly easy to be overwhelmed by the sizes of the stages, and Chance certainly performs as if he’s perpetually in awe of just how far he’s come. But he’s always in control, he’s always having fun, and he’s always pulling up whoever he can reach when he performs on these huge stages. Peter Cottontale is always right behind him. Nico Segal is around the corner. His performance this year opened not with him, but with his cousin Nicole. Chance knows who helped him get to this point, and he’s so, so determined not to leave anyone behind as the waters continue to raise him higher and higher. And he still hasn’t charged a dime for a single song he’s put out himself.

How great, indeed.

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– When Beyoncé announced her pregnancy in the most Beyoncé way possible, you knew you would be in for a treat if she performed at the Grammys. And why the fuck would she not perform at the Grammys after putting out yet another powerful, biting representation of feminism and femininity in Lemonade? But I don’t think anyone expected this – Beyoncé, appearing to be a golden goddess, stomach bare, exalting the power of motherhood, proudly displaying three generations of Knowles women, en route to a performance of Lemonade’s “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles,” two of the most-forgiving, open songs from the album.

I’ll admit that I was tripped out by the opening, a pre-filmed video that at times depicted Beyoncé as a multi-armed deity underneath a spoken-word introduction to her performance. I wasn’t sure where it was going, and I briefly thought that this pre-recorded bit might be it. But then she appeared, took her seat, and blew the house down. Once again, much as she did with the surprise release of Beyoncé in 2013, Beyoncé demonstrated that she is untouchable, the most prominent mix of art and success I’ve seen in music in a very long time. Nothing can stop her, and nothing will.

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Shortly, about who wasn’t there:

– Kanye West and Frank Ocean both publicly announced that they would not be participating in the Grammys. Kanye, fine. The Life of Pablo received some individual nominations and came home with none, and Kanye, emotional as he can be about Grammys, is still laying low and trying to recover from the strain of the cut-short Saint Pablo tour. I think it’s fine that he didn’t show up.

Frank, however, was not content to simply not show up. He didn’t submit Blonde (or Endless) for consideration at all, and noted that while the Grammys had “nostalgic value” to him, he had no interest in giving the Grammys the satisfaction of including him, when it was such a poor institution for representing diversity in music. Remember, this is the institution that actively had Macklemore & Ryan Lewis sweep the hip-hop categories in 2014, over, you know, Kendrick fucking Lamar.

So, apparently butthurt, the Grammy producers decided to engage in some public speculation about why Frank really wasn’t showing up, offering up the “unsatisfying” 2013 performance of “Forrest Gump” as evidence. They said that Frank hadn’t been satisfied with how the production of “Forrest Gump” had gone, and how the performance itself wasn’t necessarily up to snuff, that Frank’s ideas weren’t technically feasible and were hard to realize for the show, leaving Frank bitter about the experience and the Grammys in general.

This, frankly, is asinine and shockingly childish for producers of a major awards show. They really just said that Frank was being childish about his performance, and that’s why he was saying the things he was saying. This is mind-numbingly tone-deaf.

Frank, of course, wouldn’t let these people have the last word, and dropped a Tumblr post tearing into the producers, openly dismissing his performance at the show as “shit,” and saying it didn’t matter because he didn’t need the institution of the Grammys for validation. He noted Blonde being a million-seller without a label behind it, and said that he didn’t need the Grammys to validate his success. He also noted 1989’s win over To Pimp a Butterfly for Album of the Year in 2016, a move that was lambasted by hip-hop critics as being a clear indicator of the Grammys putting commercial success far above artistic integrity. He ended the post by lambasting the Grammys’s cultural bias and lack of ability to retain a young audience, a mic drop if I’ve ever seen one.

Frank makes good points in this post – the Grammys, despite their diverse performers and attempts to recognize hip-hop, R&B, and blues properly, are still more than willing to put a white artist above a black artist, even if the black artist’s work is more deserving of a given award. See: fun. winning Best New Artist over Frank in 2013. Yes, I’m still bitter about that, and no, I’ll never let it go. There are countless examples, and whether they’re rooted in cultural bias, as Frank suggests, or simple ignorance isn’t quite clear. But it’s been a problem for decades and it will continue to be a problem. You could argue that the best way for Frank to enact change would be to contribute and put on the best performance he can, to show what black artists are capable of, but I believe that abstaining is just as strong a message, so long as he’s loud about it.

– Semi-related: Macklemore was not at the show and didn’t submit This Unruly Mess I’ve Made for Grammy consideration this year. And you know it was his personal decision because he’s independent. Was he really that shaken by the backlash to his sweeping of the hip-hop categories last time, or did he know that he wouldn’t win anything this year with a mediocre follow-up? Who can say?

And a few notes about the actual awards:

– Twenty One Pilots dropped trout when they won the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group performance. Like, actually. They pulled their pants off, ran up on stage, and explained that they promised to do this several years ago, before they’d had any success, watching the Grammys on tv with their pants off. Full circle, I guess.

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I’m confident enough in myself to admit that I have both of Twenty One Pilots’s major label albums. I like to indulge in garbage sometimes. We all do. Don’t even pretend you haven’t spun “Guns for Hands” or “Holding Onto You” or any of the eight thousand singles from blurryface. This is what My Chemical Romance would’ve been if they formed in the 2010s. This is modern emo, folks. It’s what the emos love these days.

Do emos still exist? What about scene kids?

God damn I feel old.

– Bowie won Best Rock Song for “Blackstar”, which is a gross oversimplification of Bowie, but there it is. Up there with “Best Metal Performance” for Nine Inch Nails. Also, the Chainsmokers (kill me) just sort of held onto the Grammy because no one was there to represent Bowie, because why the fuck would anyone in his estate waste their time with this? But still, get your nasty fucking hands off his Grammy, Chainsmokers. Both of you are cunts and will be irrelevant by this time next year.

– Chance got his due here. Best Rap Album for Coloring Book, Best Rap Performance for “No Problems”, and Best New Artist for Chano himself. He was effusive and genuine in his speeches, shouting out Soundcloud and his Chicago roots, making sure the people he wanted to mention got their due. “You can play the music but I’mma keep talking.” Never stop, Chance. You deserve it.

I really hope this leads to the Grammys doing a better job of acknowledging the power and influence of the Internet in hip-hop. More than any other genre, some of the best artists in the field build themselves through the Internet. Artists as huge as Kanye West (with The Life of Pablo still not available in any physical format) and Frank Ocean (with the visual album Endless and the pop-up shops for Boys Don’t Cry, the magazine containing the only physical copies of Blonde that are readily available) use the Internet as their primary musical delivery service, and streaming is more essential to hip-hop consumption than any other genre. So opening up the awards to streaming-only albums is a great step, but only if they actually follow through with it and recognize the artists that deserve it. That’s hard to do when Chance is so far above any of his contemporaries in popularity and mainstream appeal, but they have to try.

– Beyoncé won Best Urban Contemporary Album, which, as we’ve previously established here at iTunes A to Z, is a code word for “Best Black Album.” It doesn’t mean anything, and of course Beyoncé won, because who the fuck else would win it this year? But still. She was also up for Album of the Year, which is suspiciously the same arrangement Frank Ocean had when he was robbed of several Grammys he deserved to win last year. But they couldn’t do Beyoncé dirty like that, right?

Right?

– Alas, Beyoncé fell victim to the Adele Whirlwind. It’s almost unfair. The rest of the music industry should be glad that Adele only drops an album once every three or four years, because if she did this annually, she would destroy any chance anyone else could have of winning. Beck wouldn’t stand a chance. Arcade Fire would get blown the fuck out. Beyoncé, musical juggernaut that she is, continues to hit the glass ceiling of two diamond records out of three. Adele’s mainstream appeal and genuine songwriting talent is unbeatable. Five Grammys in all this year, including a sweep of Record (“Hello”), Song (“Hello” again), and Album of the Year (25). She’s now swept the big three categories twice, first with 21, now with 25, and she’s the only artist to ever do that. And, as her album title explains, she’s still only in her 20s. The Adele Whirlwind will ravage the Grammys every few years for decades to come. She shows no signs of slowing down.

And it’s for this reason that the Grammys should do well not to fuck with Adele or anyone she might bring on stage. During her speech for Song of the Year, Adele brought her co-writer up to do his own speech, the first time he’d ever been on stage to do so. However, when she stepped away, the production team apparently thought she was done, and rudely cut to Solange introducing the next segment, just as Greg Kurstin was attempting to thank his parents after winning for “Hello.” The lights dimmed on him in the middle of his thank-yous and the Grammys were greeted by a rare unanimous wave of booing from a crowd clearly incensed that someone who barely ever got to be in the spotlight was swept aside so crudely. Adele herself was indignant when accepting Record of the Year at the end of the night, snapping that “you cut him off last time!” Kurstin got to say his thanks this time, but it serves as a reminder that Adele is a Grammy powerhouse, and likely a big reason for people to tune in, so the producers should give her whatever the fuck she wants, lest she decide to boycott the Grammys next year, too.

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And in one last bit of subversion of the Grammys, when Adele received Album of the Year, she promptly rejected and said Beyoncé should’ve won, once again stating that Lemonade had been a transformative influence on her, a major catalyst for her own music and identity. This was much more humble than I expected, but hammered home the point that Adele is just another regular person who happens to have extraordinary talent, and she can be starstruck by her heroes just like us, and indignant that they weren’t given their proper due just like us.

Now, I’ll say that Album of the Year was a layup if I’ve ever seen one. Is Lemonade a more powerful artistic statement? Sure. But it’s not like Adele just shits these albums out and rides fun hooks like Taylor Swift did with 1989. She puts time and effort, and a great deal of care and personal anguish, into her songs, and she just happens to be talented enough to make those songs have great mainstream appeal. That is a talent set more than worthy of winning over Beyoncé, as unfortunate as it is that two of Beyoncé’s best albums in a row were unable to secure Album of the Year.

The Adele Whirlwind is undefeated.

Apple Music Special – The Black Parade, by My Chemical Romance

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Released October 23, 2006

51 min, 53 sec

I have a month of Apple Music because of Frank Ocean (thanks asshole), so I figure that I should go ahead and make it useful for the rest of the month. Spotify will be back whenever. Who cares?

Man, remember emo music?

In the mid-2000s, as we established in the last article, I was a young, impressionable middle schooler, finally discovering a world of music outside of Hillary Duff and Aly & AJ. By 2006, I was soliciting music recommendations from everyone I knew, and it frequently led to choices that I look back on and question.

This one both is and isn’t one of them.

My Chemical Romance had a fascinating arc as a band. Forming in 2001, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, by the release of their second album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge in 2004, they’d built up a large national following, and became the flag-bearers for young teenagers all over the country. Their music was anchored by fast-paced riffs, hard-hitting drums, and melodramatic lyrics and vocal delivery, all of which became hallmarks of emo music, which hit the peak of its popularity right around 2006 and 2007, with My Chemical Romance, The Used, Taking Back Sunday, and Fall Out Boy all leading the charge. If you were a 13-year-old girl at this time, these were your heroes. And for everyone else, these bands all churned out strong radio hits that were catchy and enjoyable; MCR’s biggest hit at this point was “Helena” from their aforementioned second album, catapulting them into superstardom and riding the wave of emo music’s popularity as far as they could take it. The culmination of that was The Black Parade, the band’s magnum opus, released on October 23, 2006.

My Chemical Romance has always been a narrative-driven band. All four of their studio albums are concept albums; I Brought You My Bullets… and Three Cheers were two parts of one loose narrative. The Black Parade, however, was far more ambitious, with a more strongly-defined narrative arc, focused around the protagonist referred to as “The Patient.” The Patient dies at the very beginning of the album, and the rest of the album details The Patient’s journey as the Black Parade, the form of death The Patient imagines, comes to take him away, as he reminisces about his life and the events that led to his death.

Musically, the album is rather typical MCR fare, matching the outline I laid out above pretty well. But there are a lot of songs that go above and beyond, becoming infectious in how catchy they are. “Welcome to the Black Parade” is the obvious one, still getting decent radio play ten years after its initial release. But songs like “Dead,” “Cancer,” and the album-ending trio of “Teenagers,” “Disenchanted,” and “Famous Last Words” demonstrate that MCR had a strong grasp on musicality and crafting truly great riffs and melodies. The primary riff of “Disenchanted” is wonderful in how understated it is, and how that rhythm builds and is manipulated as the track escalates in scale and aggression. “Famous Last Words” is the best song on the album from top to bottom, a defiant final statement with plenty of satisfying musical moments, such as how Gerard Way’s voice rises to match the higher octave of the song’s main riff in the second verse, or how the music slowly fades out at the end of the song, leaving Way’s vocals to stand on their own to close out the album.

But remember that this is emo music, and emo is an inherently juvenile genre, aimed squarely at teens and preteens who can’t wait to be teens. You’ll either be singing along or rolling your eyes throughout the entire album – probably both. Because all of My Chemical Romance’s albums, and the genre as a whole, is like 80s synthpop – inextricably linked to the decade it debuted in. Emo is a 2000s genre through and through. A band like MCR could never gain a real foothold in the musical environment of 2016. It’s, frankly, too obnoxious a style. It’s too melodramatic, with Way frequently singing as though he’s being held at gunpoint, or as if he’s just been shot. It’s the exact sort of quasi-rebel music that I would have loved as a teenager, if I’d decided to delve more into the scene that MCR created. But I didn’t. The Black Parade is the only album I ever listened to from start to finish of any of the bands to hit their peak in the emo era, unless you count Panic! at the Disco. But I don’t want to so I won’t.

Though, when I say that I listened to this album, I mean that I loved it. The Black Parade immediately became one of my favorite albums when I first got it, and though I couldn’t possibly imagine thinking that now, it’s still a decent listen. A little hard to get through now, but decent. But back then, I loved it so much that I actually stole from my mom in order to get it.

Mhm.

Now that you’ve stopped laughing, here’s the story: in October 2006, when the album had just come out, I really, really wanted it. But Christmas was two months away, and I wasn’t particularly about to ask my mom for this album and have to explain both the band name and the album itself, and why it had that shitty fucking Parental Advisory label on it. So, instead, this is what happened. My friend’s birthday was coming up in November, and my mom gave me her debit card to go to Target and get him a gift – a Bionicle set. So, with my mother’s card, and knowing her PIN, I went to the ATM in Target and withdrew something like twenty-five bucks, enough to buy both the set and the CD. I bought both, and threw away the receipt as I left, tucked the CD into my waistband as I rode my bike back home, and told my mom that the recent had fallen out of my pocket as I was riding home.

Because I was a 13-year-old, my mother didn’t trust my word, so while I snuck the CD into my room and ripped it to my computer, she called the bank and found out her balance, realizing immediately that she was missing about 13 dollars from her account. Incidentally, that was the price of the CD. So she spends half an hour on the phone with the bank, arguing about how it happened, trying to figure out where her money went, as I’m sitting on the couch sweating my ass off, trying to play it cool and failing miserably. Eventually, as she starts to get seriously upset about it, I broke and told her that I’d taken the money and bought a CD with it. And, predictably, justifiably, she was furious. She took the CD from me and told me that I’d never be allowed to use her card again. (That didn’t stick.) By December, though, she’d mostly gotten over it, and returned the CD to me as a Christmas gift.

Son of the year material, folks.

But I was 13 and I didn’t know how to torrent at the time, so what else was I supposed to do? I grew up in a fairly poor household after my parents’ divorce, though I was fortunate enough to not realize it basically until college, or at least, it wasn’t something I thought about a lot, which is as much as you can ask for when you grow up in a situation like that. It never made me unhappy. But when I think back to times like that, when my mother is practically in tears on the phone trying to figure out where those 13 dollars went, it makes me appreciate how comfortable I was growing up more and more. Always try to do right by your parents, kids. Unless there are bad circumstances in play. It’s a judgment call. But if you’re treated right growing up, treat your parents right, too.

Anyway.

My Chemical Romance never quite met the heights of the Black Parade era. Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys expanded Gerard Way’s narrative focus further, spawning a supporting miniseries of comic books that expanded the story presented in the album. But by 2010, despite pushing out another set of catchy singles, MCR was beginning to lose steam, and they broke up with little warning and no explanation in 2013, right as they were supposedly starting sessions for their fifth album. Way wrote a very long message about the band’s breakup, romanticizing it and implying that there would always be a time when someone would simply pull the plug, but it really did nothing to explain anything. Just as swiftly as they’d arrived on the scene, they were gone. And, though it’s only been three years, they’ve stayed gone. Way released a solo album and the other guys presumably did things less important than that. But the casket has stayed closed for My Chemical Romance.

And maybe it’ll stay that way. Maybe Gerard Way will continue to focus on a solo career and comic books (something that he is very good at, incidentally – his Spider-Verse issue was great, and Umbrella Academy is a classic series), and he’ll leave MCR in the past. Maybe they’ll open the casket back up, like the vampires they pretended to be early on, and bring the band back to the realm of the living for a reunion tour, or reunion album. But for now, My Chemical Romance is dead, and that’s a far better fate than what has befallen their emo brethren – The Used and Taking Back Sunday are still around, did you know that? They still make albums. That’s as distressing as hearing that Good Charlotte and Bowling for Soup still exist, which they both do.

Death may not be what the fans wanted, but it’s much better, I think, than staying alive to play at carnivals for ten years past your expiration date.

Vinyl Special – Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal, by Angels & Airwaves

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Released December 18, 2012

34 min, 58 sec

Angels & Airwaves’s intertwining history with blink-182 had an adverse effect of their albums after I-Empire. With Tom DeLonge now having to juggle his passion project with the band that made him famous enough to even have passion project at all, Angels & Airwaves began to experience delays that knocked its schedule entirely out of whack. LOVE, originally meant to be released on Christmas Day 2009, instead was pushed back to Valentine’s Day, 2010; LOVE Part Two was pushed back well over a year from its late 2010 release date, with the accompanying film (whose production began in 2008) finally being released alongside it in a multi-part package. DeLonge also mentioned the release of the film’s soundtrack, which contained bits and pieces of original music that did not appear on either parts of LOVE, which did not materialize for over a year, and when it did, ended up being a wholly disappointing album for fans.

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Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal is a two-part EP. The first disc contains the three tracks originally purported to be the missing parts of the LOVE soundtrack; instead, they are three instrumentals that, while interesting, aren’t really connected to the film at all. The second half of the EP contains five remixes of tracks from both LOVE albums. Good remixes, but nothing ground-breaking.

The problem that arose was the restructuring of Angels & Airwaves after the conclusion of the LOVE project. Atom Willard, the band’s drummer since its formation, left the band a month prior to the album’s release; this was known in advance for months prior to his departure, as the album specifically notes his contributions to be separate from the band as a whole. Willard was replaced upon the album’s release by Ilan Rubin, and DeLonge seemed to be engrossed by Rubin’s raw musical talent, to the extent that Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal is an EP comprised entirely of the duo of DeLonge and Rubin.

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It’s not as if Rubin was some out-of-nowhere, undiscovered talent; he’d made his name drumming for Lostprophets, and came into the forefront as a musician when he was recruited as the drummer for Nine Inch Nails during their 2009 Wave Goodbye tour, before he could even legally drink. A hard-hitting drummer with a significant amount of technical prowess and a jack-of-all-trades knowledge of other instruments, both traditional and electronic, Rubin essentially redefined Angels & Airwaves, and DeLonge refocused the band to practically center around Rubin. This is something that we’ll get into more when The Dream Walker, the first full album since the LOVE project, comes up, but Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal is notable in its feeling that it was the prototype for something bigger. The instrumentals are a showcase for Rubin’s electronic prowess, featuring very little of either David Kennedy or Matt Wachter; Wachter would later leave the band, though his departure was so that he could focus on his family, as opposed to any concerns about not being utilized as a musician. The remixes, on the other hand, seem like something DeLonge asked Rubin to do to fill out the EP.

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Adding to the problems with Stomping the Phantom Brake Pedal was, of course, blink-182. LOVE Part Two went nearly head-to-head with blink’s Neighborhoods the year prior, and, as blink began working on new music towards the end of 2012, Phantom had the incredibly inconvenient problem of being released on the same day as blink’s Dogs Eating Dogs EP, which obviously outclasses Phantom in every way imaginable, though the comparison isn’t really that fair. DeLonge likely had very little time to work on anything for Angels, but didn’t want the band to fall by the wayside after adding a new member, and Phantom was scraped together as filler.

That’s not even mentioning the fact that the band’s primary engineer, Jeff “Critter” Newell, a treasured friend of DeLonge, died at the very end of 2011. With that weighing on him, DeLonge likely didn’t want to devote much time to Angels & Airwaves, and instead turned to blink for much of 2012, even though the band was already on the path to self-destruction once more by this point.

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Phantom isn’t completely pointless, however. It did help Rubin acclimate himself to the new band, and the addition of Rubin gave DeLonge a new point of focus for future album The Dream Walker, which took Angels in a completely new, exciting direction musically. As a stopgap project, it’s perfectly serviceable, if non-essential, and that’s fine. Not every release from a given band has to be a knockout; there are going to be missteps along the way. And when those missteps lead to an album like The Dream Walker, well, they’re usually pretty forgivable.

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Reprint Special – Bad Religion: One Man’s Stand in the Face of Homophobia in Hip-Hop

You’re probably wondering when I’m going to run out of these stupid reprints.  The answer is never.

This one comes from an odd spot as well – in the spring of 2013, I took the course “Cultural Study of Pop Music” at USF.  It was a fine course – early on, I learned quite a bit about the roots of popular music, but after spring break we reached a point in history where I knew almost everything our professor would drone on and on about, so I ended up maybe attending three of the main lecture classes for the last two months of the semester.  And I still got an A.  Because I know what I’m talking about.

Anyway.

This essay, about the track “Bad Religion” from Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGEdiscusses the cultural importance of the song, and the context of its lyrics and music.  I always thought that I did well with this essay, so I’m sharing it for this weekend’s special.  Hopefully I don’t look like an asshole in the process.

iTunes, A to Z will update on Tuesday and Friday this week, most likely.  See you then.

“Bad Religion” is a song by Frank Ocean, appearing on his 2012 debut album Channel Orange. The song, roughly three minutes in length, describes the narrator (presumably Ocean) sitting in a cab with a taxi driver that doesn’t understand English, lamenting about his unrequited love for another man, a love that causes him pain due to his faith, referring to said faith as a “bad religion” and referring to his unrequited love as a “one-man cult.” The song, while deeply personal and autobiographical for Ocean (who revealed his sexuality in an open letter on Tumblr in June 2012, prior to the album’s release), also serves as a subtle critique of traditional Christianity’s general stance on homosexuality, as well as a dare of sorts for the R&B and hip-hop genres, which Ocean is deeply associated with, in regards to their traditionally less-than-welcoming stances on homosexuality.

The primary focus of the song is the narrator’s apparent unrequited love for another man, feeling cursed by that love, both because it is unrequited and supposedly because it goes against his religion (causing that religion to be seen by him as the titular “bad religion”). The song’s significance to Ocean was put into context by a letter he wrote in June 2012, intended for the liner notes of his then-unreleased album Channel Orange. In it, he wrote of his first love, who happened to be male: “4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too.” Ocean goes on to describe how he was led to believe that his feelings were unrequited, mirroring and providing inspiration for the situation presented in “Bad Religion.” He speaks in the letter of screaming at his “Creator,” for an “explanation. Mercy maybe. Peace of mind to rain like Manna somehow,” providing context for the mentions of his religion bringing him to his knees, and subsequently labeling it a “bad religion.”

Frank Ocean, from a  September 2012 photoshoot.

Frank Ocean, from a September 2012 photoshoot.

“Bad Religion”, when put in the context of Channel Orange, provides the first overt mentions of same-sex relations, one of just two songs to do so (the other being “Forrest Gump,” which is two songs after “Bad Religion” in the album’s tracklist). As such, the song was the first one that hinted at Ocean’s sexuality, as he had not previously written any songs containing same-sex relations. In retrospect, the song “Oldie,” from The OF Tape, Vol. 2 contained hints at Ocean’s sexuality using clever wordplay; during Ocean’s verse, he raps the line “I’m hi and I’m bye / wait, I mean I’m straight”, drawing on the dual meanings of hi/high (the greeting, and the state of being after smoking pot), bye/bi (the greeting, and the sexuality, which matches Ocean’s), and straight (straight as in “okay”, and straight as in the sexuality).

Aside from the personal connotations of the song, “Bad Religion” also contains references and subtle critiques of Christianity, which Ocean had been a casual practitioner of as a teenager, though he has not mentioned his current beliefs in recent interviews. The song opens with organ chords, immediately evoking imagery of church and services, dovetailing with the song’s title. The references become more overt in Ocean’s lyrics, where he sings “if it brings me to my knees / it’s a bad religion”, perhaps in direct reference to Christianity and its stance on homosexuality. Futhermore, the cab driver mentioned in the song says to Ocean “Allahu akbar”, an Arabic phrase meaning “God is Great”, perhaps trying to send a message to Ocean, or perhaps reassure him. Ocean responds with “don’t curse me”, perhaps misunderstanding the cab driver, or believing that religion isn’t the answer he’s looking for, reinforced with the above refrain, which come after this exchange.

However, at the end of the song, Ocean instead points to his unrequited love as the “bad religion” mentioned before, instead conveying a completely different meaning than what could be inferred from the lyrics prior to this. This set of lyrics (“Only bad religion / could have me feeling the way I do”) could also be referring to the lack of tolerance in Christianity for LGBTQ+ individuals, which would put this section in line with the interpretation of the rest of the song. Either interpretation fits well, as they both have support in the lyrics.

On another note, Ocean’s use of the term “religion” could instead be metaphorical rather than literal, both lamenting and criticizing the callous, unwelcoming nature of R&B and hip-hop in regards to homosexuality. This reading has significant weight, evidenced by the enormous waves Ocean’s confessional letter made in the hip-hop community, with many citing it as a sign of a paradigm shift in hip-hop, away from homophobic lyricism. Claims of homophobia have been leveled at members of Odd Future – in particular, Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt – ever since the collective began releasing music; this is notable because Ocean himself is a member of Odd Future, and is a close friend of both Tyler and Earl (Tyler even tweeted his support for Ocean following the posting of the letter in June).

Frank Ocean during his performance of "Bad Religion" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on July 10, 2012, just hours after the release of Channel Orange.  This was his debut television performance.

Frank Ocean during his performance of “Bad Religion” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on July 10, 2012, just hours after the release of Channel Orange. This was his debut television performance.

Ocean’s sexuality and increasing stature in the hip-hop community make “Bad Religion” an incredibly important, poignant song in our culture, representing a step forward in LGBTQ+ relations both in the hip-hop community and in our culture in general. Ocean considered this song important enough to perform it in his television debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in July 2012 – the song was received with a standing ovation at its conclusion, and furthermore received glowing reviews from dozens of music publications in the days following the performance, showing the song’s impact and importance, as well as the progress made in the hip-hop community in regards to tolerance and acceptance of same-sex relations.

Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion”, aside from being a moment of personal release in tandem with the confessional letter (Ocean stated that after posting the letter, his depression had been “cured”), serves as a moment of reckoning for the hip-hop community; in the words of Russell Simmons, “Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we?”  The song also stands as a subtle but meaningful critique of both the hip-hop community and of Christianity as a whole. Ocean himself represents a new generation of musicians in the hip-hop and R&B communities, becoming a role model for young people who are afraid to be themselves, particularly in those two genres, where the critiques of homophobia have been increasingly strong in recent years. By releasing “Bad Religion”, Ocean has made a profound statement: one can still be a highly credible and influential hip-hopper without having to conform to the stereotypes associated with the genre, without the stigma of homophobia; indeed, without pandering to the idea that to be a credible musician in hip-hop, one must be a stereotypical, heterosexual “gangbanger”; instead, one must simply be true to themselves, regardless of the potential consequences. And this has paid off hugely for Ocean.

Vinyl Special – Lanterns, by Son Lux

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Son Lux is a supremely strange entity. Their music – primarily generated by Ryan Lott, though Son Lux has since come to identify a real, full band – straddles a variety of genres, generally following the guidelines of “folky electronica,” while also using oddly acoustic instruments alongside inexplicable electronic noise. Every Son Lux song, every album, is an experience in and of itself, and they provide the listener with something different each time.

Lanterns was my first experience with Son Lux, and I was sold on its merits solely by lead “single” (not the most appropriate word, but it gets the point across) “Easy,” which is a slow, sinister track built around Lott’s smoky, older-than-he-is voice, and a low, airy horn riff. As it turned out, that track gave me a decent idea of what to expect from the rest of the album, in the sense that each track is an odd combination of sounds that feel disparate, but come together into solid songs nonetheless.

Son Lux is a small artist, and Lanterns was sold primarily through their Bandcamp page, which is where I got this album, as well as the Alternate Worlds vinyl from way back in the early days of this blog.

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The packaging is nice – the sleeve is matte, and it adheres to an entirely black and grey color scheme. The “Son Lux” typography, much like on the Alternate Worlds record, is printed completely transparent, so that it only shows up when light is reflected off of it. I do like covers that are as minimal as Lanterns‘s, and the title is a nice touch.

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Does it seem like I’ve run out of things to talk about? Because you’d be right. Sorry. Rusty and all that.

I like this album. Son Lux isn’t an artist that I listen to regularly – I tend to need to be in a certain mindset – but there’s no doubting that their sound is unusual, distinctive, and possibly even unique. Artists like these are the ones that I greatly enjoy supporting through direct purchases, like buying this album and Alternate Worlds through things like an artist’s Bandcamp page, or through another independently-run shop. Supporting the artists that you enjoy is an important endeavor, and supporting them as directly as possible is one of the best things a fan can do to ensure that that artist is able to continue making music.

It’s also important to give artists that you wouldn’t expect to enjoy a try once in a while. I gave Son Lux a try out of the blue when I came across “Easy,” and I found myself greatly enjoying their music. Discovery is just as important as artist loyalty, and people should take every opportunity they get to expand their musical horizons.

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I didn’t realize how gross my copy looked until I saw this picture. Sorry, guys – I didn’t clean it since I didn’t actually play it after taking these pictures. Oops.

So that’s all. I promise I’ll be less spotty next time.

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Spotify Special – You Can’t See Me, by John Cena & Tha Trademarc

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Released May 10, 2005

1 hr, 5 min, 27 sec

You Can’t See Me isn’t a fantastic album. Written and performed by two white dudes, both unknown as artists, and one of them being a professional wrestler, there were a lot of things working against this one.

But the intent was never really to write and release a real work of art.

John Cena debuted in the WWE in 2002, facing Kurt Angle in a very close loss, answering Angle’s open challenge to see if anyone could last five minutes in the ring with him. He demonstrated aggression, heart, and dedication in that match, but Cena spent most of 2002 and 2003 at the bottom of the card, floundering on the main roster with no gimmick to keep him afloat. In fact, he came very, very close to the chopping block, nearly being released and written off as another failed attempt at a homegrown star during the 2003 spring cleaning of the roster. However, he was given one last chance, and Cena reached back into his heritage, and found gold in an overblown white rapper gimmick, wearing throwback jerseys and oversized chains to the ring. Cena became a charismatic, entertaining heel, great at getting fans to hate him and want to see him get his ass beat, which happened regularly for the rest of 2003 until he began using his signature chain to steal wins.

However, by 2004, Cena had turned himself around, becoming a fan favorite as the crowd now wanted him to succeed in the face of adversity. The biggest moment of this turnaround came when Cena overcame the immense challenge of WWE United States Champion The Big Show at WrestleMania XX in 2004, defeating Show to win his very first championship in WWE.

This comes back around to You Can’t See Me soon, I promise.

Now, Cena had become a strong contender, and he defended, lost, and won the US title twice more throughout 2004 leading into 2005. By WrestleMania 21, Cena had become the #1 contender for the top prize of the company, the WWE Championship, held by long-reigning champion and utterly hated wrestler JBL. Cena’s biggest moment of his career came with his win at WrestleMania over JBL, the first world championship reign for Cena, and a prelude to fourteen more (eleven more reigns with the WWE title, and three with the World Heavyweight title) over the course of the next nine years, more than any other wrestler in WWE’s history.

At this point, Cena had become the top face of the company. Previously the face of WWE’s secondary show SmackDown, Cena was sent over to the main show, Raw, that same June, bringing the WWE Championship with him, solidifying his position as the top guy. To capitalize on Cena’s massive popularity in 2005 (with most of the crowd, anyway), WWE released an album he’d recorded with his cousin, Tha Trademarc, in 2005, titled You Can’t See Me.

See, I told you it would come back around.

You Can’t See Me, like I said, isn’t a great album. The beats are basic, Cena’s flow is choppy and stilted, and his cousin frequently outshines him. But You Can’t See Me wasn’t released to be an album, it was released to be a promotional piece for WWE and Cena’s title reign. Even the cover of the album features Cena’s customized WWE Championship. It’s the most overt extension of a gimmick I’ve ever seen – releasing a rap album just because a wrestler is portraying a rap gimmick. It’s incredible. Not to mention the fact that, by 2006, much of Cena’s rapper character had faded away, as Cena slowly evolved into his current gimmick of “guy who never loses matches.” The only remnant of You Can’t See Me that remains with Cena today is opening track “The Time is Now,” which remains Cena’s theme music even today.

Ten years after the album’s release (ten years and four days, to be exact), You Can’t See Me stands as little more than a curiosity in the history of WWE’s ventures outside of wrestling. By far the most successful single-artist album released by the promotion, having shockingly gone platinum, You Can’t See Me exists in 2015 as little more than a relic of an era gone by, when Cena wasn’t considered (and manufactured to be) the “most polarizing figure in wrestling.” It was a simpler time back then, when the opening chords of “The Time is Now” hit, and the entire crowd pounced up to see their favorite wrestler defend the title he loved so much.

Now, he just sucks. Ugh.

Grammys 2015 Special

The Grammys have come and gone once more.

There’s a common sentiment among music fans (particularly arrogant pricks like me) that the Grammys are worthless, a joke, appeal to the lowest common denominator, don’t reflect the actual best in music, etc., and I’ve bought into that before.  I still buy into it to a degree, in that I don’t really get butthurt over the results any more.  The music I listen to doesn’t line up with what’s big and successful in pop music, not in a pretentious, douchey way, but in, like, a true way.  Because of that, I like watching the Grammys because I’m exposed to music I don’t really follow or pay attention to otherwise (I think Sia was the biggest example of this for me this year), and I learn some things as a result.

And plus, the performances are always great.

That’s the real draw, for me – the performances.  Artists performing at the Grammys pull out all the stops, generally, and we get one of three performance types – a really strong but straightforward performance, like AC/DC and Kanye (the first time), a powerful, moving performance that doesn’t have many frills but is just strong-ass music (Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Common and John Legend), or we get weird-but-fun collaborations (like Pharrell featuring Hans Fucking Zimmer on guitar for no reason).  Barring missteps like having fucking Chris Brown perform twice at the 2013 Grammys, the show delivers, even if the awards don’t.

So, the show opens with AC/DC and I’m immediately like “oh god why.”

It’s not that they’re bad, it’s that AC/DC shouldn’t exist in 2015.  I promise that’s all it is.

Ariana Grande’s up next, and she’s alright, I suppose.  That’s a section of pop that I just can’t engage with at all, so I mostly just sat there and listened, and when it was over, I forgot it.  It was the same thing for Tom Jones and Jessie J, which is a timely and interesting collaboration, but I really just wasn’t about it.

Miranda Lambert put in a pretty nice performance, too, but I was too busy looking at the stage and wondering if the big fan thing behind her would ever start spinning.

It didn’t.  I was disappointed.

Then Kanye shows up in the middle of the crowd on this little circular stage and spits out “Only One,” which is the best Kanye song I’ve heard in years.  Like, god damn.  This is the Kanye I want.  The Kanye that demonstrates that he’s actually a human being with feelings.  That’s what I want more often.

Madonna summoned Satan, I think.  It was really weird.  Madonna’s another artist that maybe should stop doing things.  Or maybe not.  I don’t know.

Ed Sheeran looks a lot like a Hobbit, no wonder he did the theme for the second movie.  He sounded pretty nice, and he was a good lead-in to Electric Light Orchestra, but this was another one where I tuned out for the most part.

If you haven’t caught on, this isn’t a real review.  I don’t want to write a real post today, so this is what you guys get, basically me recalling my stream of consciousness during each performance.

I’m pretty sure Maroon 5 isn’t a real band.  Why didn’t they just bring the rest of the band instead of explicitly making note of the fact that it was just Adam Levine singing one of his own fucking songs?  Oh, and Gwen Stefani was there, too.  That was cool.

I fucking hate Hozier.  Annie Lennox doesn’t make it better.

Didn’t Pharrell perform this exact god damn song last year?  Granted, this year he made it a lot more interesting, with the dark orchestral touches and choir.  And his shorts.  Why do you do these things, Pharrell?  Why do you also pretend like you haven’t ever won a Grammy when you’ve probably got a million of them in your closet?

I’m still not over that Hans Zimmer cameo, though.  It was just so weird.

Katy Perry turned in an absolutely fucking gorgeous performance, though.  The shadows behind her were a beautiful routine.  These are my favorite kinds of performances, because they feel so real, so genuine.  That’s power.

Tony Bennett and Gaga are a weird pair, but I do like that Gaga continues to demonstrate her musical prowess.  I need to listen to that album sometime.

Sometimes I forget that Usher is actually a good musician, and this was one of those times.  This was a great tribute to a real music legend.

This feels like it’s discriminatory, but whenever a country musician writes a song about a big social issue I feel like they have no fucking clue what they’re talking about.  Granted, “Give Me Back My Hometown” was written about a single girl (just like everything in country), but the performance spun it in a way that I wasn’t fond of.

Do people actually listen to Brandy Clark?  And what was up with Dwight Yoakam’s tight-ass fuckin’ jeans?  I couldn’t keep my eyes off them.  They made me really uncomfortable.

I really have been out of the Kanye loop, because I had no idea this song happened and was very, very pleased when I heard it.  Rihanna, Kanye, and Paul God Damn McCartney?  Yes, give me like five albums of that.  Please.

I didn’t know that Sam Smith had such a disgustingly apparent lisp.  That poor man.  It sounds brutal.  And plus, Mary J. Blige outshined him in pretty much every way possible.

Juanes was pretty rad, though, even though I don’t speak Spanish.  Dude’s got a presence.

Sia is really, really weird.  Why was Kristen Wiig there?  Why was the set so strange?

I do like that Sia intentionally has been hiding her face for the entirety of this promotional cycle, though.  It’s an interesting statement on celebrity and subverting being in the spotlight constantly.

Beck looks like Michael Cera.  That feels like an insult, but it’s really just true.  Also, Justin Meldal-Johnsen was playing bass during his performance.  That was cool.

And then there was the amazing one-two punch of Beyoncé’s performance of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” (complete with twelve backing singers in the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose to illustrate to the audience exactly what this closing performance was about) into the incredible “Glory” by Common and John Legend.  That’s power, right there.  That’s what it’s all about.  Both of these songs were incredible.

I’m very, very glad that this closed the show, and also that the organizers learned their god damn lesson about cutting off the closing performer.  Could you imagine the shitstorm if they tried to do that this year?  Good lord.

So, overall, great performances this year.  I don’t want to talk about the awards, but I’ll leave you with this: Tenacious D walked away with a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.

The acoustic comedy duo.

Granted, it was for a Dio cover, and they always bring real musicians in for them.  But still.

And people wonder why nobody respects the Grammys.