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Pazz & Jop Comments: Let Us Now Praise Kacey Musgraves

2018 was the year of the non-consensus. Publications and blogs were all over the place in their choices for album of the year, which I think is a good thing and indexes a healthy music ecosystem. But for me, personally, there was no doubt in my mind. I knew my favorite album of 2018 the first time I heard it. Until I worked in music, I’d often been stingy toward country music. Despite having lived in the South my whole life, I hated the small-town tropes, weepy twang, and songs about beer and trucks. But Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour showed me country is so much more than that. Her crossover appeal is strong, somehow having found favor with pop fans, snobby hipsters, and even the LGBT community (she recently appeared on an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars). So, in Golden Hour, I discovered not only my new favorite record, but also an entirely new genre. Musgraves, with her genius wordplay, sun-soaked production, and disco leanings, showed me that country music isn’t at all what I thought. Thanks to her, I’m now a proud fan of Margo Price, the Pistol Annies, and so many other progressive country women, and I’ve even learned to embrace the classics, too, like Dolly and Loretta. There’s a whole lot of room in my heart for Sturgill and Jason, too, and 2018 was the year that showed me everything country is and can be. I owe it all to Kacey. Golden Hour made a country convert out of me, and for that, I’m forever thankful.
— Ellen Johnson

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Same Trailer Different Park: weed
Pageant Material: whiskey
A Very Kacey Christmas: eggnog, but not enough
Golden Hour: acid
She can keep it up so long as she skips heroin. Nobody wants to hear: “Livin’ on a hope and a prayer/Sitting shootin’ dope in my granddaddy’s chair.
— 
Nick Farruggia

In the year when plenty of country younguns, including Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, drifted into pop, 2018’s best crossover effort belongs to Kacey Musgraves. Her country twang marries just as well to ballads as it does to disco beats. It’s a pleasant stroll through the county fair…while you’re on acid.
— Trevor Anderson

What’s most irresistible about the album it its Daft Punkness. Nearly two decades after Faith Hill went a little Cher on “The Way You Love Me,” country’s gradual embrace of EDM and hip-hop production tropes has proceeded in fits and starts (rest in peace, Avicii). But Musgraves and her ace team of Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk offered a fully realized collection of from-the-ground-up electro-twang gems, with everything from banjos that sound like they’re played at the bottom of a ravine to synths that squeal with delight. I needed this album this year.
— Chris Molanphy

The whole album’s great, but with “Space Cowboy,” Musgraves reinvented her genre as coolly as someone exhaling cannabis mist from a vape pen.
— Ann Powers

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This doesn’t sound much like a country album to me, apart from the banjo played on almost all its songs. As of the time I write this, Golden Hour has only sold 120,000 copies, but it’s reached an audience that rarely listens to mainstream country music. But genre tags don’t matter much. Musgraves expresses a fairly unique perspective: She’s full of an innocent, frequently stoned wonder that’s fully capable of recognizing toxic men and telling them to fuck off out of her life.
— Steve Erickson

Because in the Trump era, the YUGE-est recording should be from a female country singer on acid.
— Steve Forstneger

Country meets Lite FM for the most earnest, heartwarming, and cohesive album of the year. Should win the top prize at the Grammys.
—Alex Frank

Country pop taken in a sunlit, daydream, philosophical direction. Filled with clever turns and breathtaking moments; it is possible still for an album to keep surprising.
— Dave Heaton

A chill ride where Musgraves celebrates the glow of her marriage, the magic of nature, and the general joys of life.
— Paul Robicheau

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Our baby boy was born in early 2018. Through much trial and error, it became clear that Golden Hour was the wee lad’s car seat soundtrack of choice. I cherish Spacey Kacey for her infant-soothing properties as much as for her innovative, clear-eyed take on contempo-country.
— Gabe Vodicka

From the electropop of “High Horse” to the rustic psychedelia of “Slow Burn” to the stadium tour with Harry Styles, Musgraves’s creative risks rankled purists, but the CMA award for Album of the Year confirms that her resemblance to the genre-spanning Bobbie Gentry is more than just skin deep.
— Kathy Fennessy

Musgraves expanded her sound — and her mind — with the psychedelic country stylings of her fourth LP. Her accomplished songwriting continues to improve, too, from the hoedown funk of “High Horse” to the twangy strut of “Butterflies.”
— Eric Renner Brown

It took Kacey Musgraves’s CMA Awards performance of “Slow Burn,” in November, to open this record up for me beyond the “country for people who don’t like country” bullshit hype. And I’m glad it finally happened, because, goddamn, the songwriting here. And — much less credited, but no less deserving — her singing! The epitome of gorgeous.
— Thomas Inskeep

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Why Kesha’s Grammy Performance Was Actually a Major Bummer

All the headlines say the Kesha performance was powerful. Here she was, dressed all in white, surrounded by a congregation of women.

But when I watched her perform, I didn’t feel power. I felt deep, guttural sorrow. “Praying,” the song she sang to an audience of 20,000 at Madison Square Garden and millions more at home, is a burden with a melody, a backhanded Southern curse cast upon the man who made her life hell for more than a decade — a man she was contractually forced to continue working under by the very industry that was now celebrating her. It wasn’t a show of strength; it was a display of trauma.

https://youtu.be/vlOT2N3O6ZI

Immediately after the performance, Sony Global Music tweeted “No words, all love,” with a gif of the women hugging. That tweet has now been deleted, which is probably for the best because not only was it completely tone-deaf, it was a perfectly bitter reminder of exactly how terribly the music industry has treated and continues to treat its women. Women in music are underrepresented, underpaid, undercredited, and underrewarded. Yet theirs are the names plastered on advertisements for the award shows, and billed as the biggest performers.

Kesha was the music industry’s token hat-tip to what the 60th Grammy Awards broadcast kept vaguely referring to as “our times” or “the political moment.” That is, the current social and political movement to reveal abusers who sexually harass and abuse women. Call it #MeToo. Call it #TimesUp. The Grammys didn’t call it anything at all. Instead they tried to bundle every social justice issue (#MeToo, Immigration, Puerto Rico’s recovery, Trump) into one tidy segment. Maybe the Recording Academy didn’t want to dwell too long because it hasn’t done much to deal with its abusers.

Kesha has alleged that her former producer Lukasz Gottwald (Dr. Luke) sexually, verbally, and physically abused her during their time working together. Kesha’s very public legal battle to try and extricate herself from her label (Sony) and its Dr. Luke–owned imprint, Kemosabe Records, brought her the support of big names like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. But despite their support, and the #FreeKesha movement started in early 2016 by fans, a New York judge denied her the right to create music outside of her (allegedly) abusive contract. Sony Music has allowed Kesha to create this album without the involvement of Dr. Luke, but he has faced no legal repercussions, and denies all charges.

“Praying” is allegedly about him. But because she lost the lawsuit, Kesha is still stuck in her contract with Sony, professionally bound to her alleged abuser. That’s why even though Kesha had one of the most memorable performances of the night, the whole thing left a bitter taste.

Unlike the rest of the arts world, music has been suspiciously quiet in the months since the Harvey Weinstein revelations emerged in the press. Hollywood, Broadway, dance, fine arts, media — all have faced a public reckoning. But not in music (let’s call Russell Simmons the exception that proves the rule). In fact, the music world began and aborted its reckoning months before the Weinstein revelations. In August 2016, Kesha dropped her lawsuit. PWR BTTM member Ben Hopkins was accused of being a known sexual predator, and the group was dropped, its new album discarded. But those incidents felt isolated, and they missed the public window. Instead of one victim’s bravery inspiring another, any momentum was squashed. It’s not that there aren’t abusers in the industry (there absolutely, certainly are); it’s that what happened to Kesha is still too recent, her pain still too raw. After all, here was a reminder that you could be brave and take a stand and still no one would care.

In her complaint, Kesha’s lawyer wrote that her client “wholly believed that Dr. Luke had the power and money to carry out his threats; she therefore never dared talk about, let alone report, what Dr. Luke had done to her.” That fear exists for all victims. It is never easy to speak truth to power.

In her introduction to Kesha’s performance, Janelle Monáe said, “Just as we have the power to shake culture, we also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well.” But Monáe’s words and Kesha’s performance shouldn’t have been the night’s only statements on this nationwide moment. After the Golden Globes #TimesUp pins and all-black attire, the Grammys tried — weakly — to prove they too were woke. There was a coordinated effort — organized by a group affiliated with the #TimesUp Legal Defense fund called Voices in Entertainment — to have attendees wear white roses in acknowledgement of the movement.

It didn’t work. Beyoncé didn’t wear a rose, and neither did Kendrick Lamar or Bruno Mars. After Kesha finished performing, the camera panned back to host James Corden, who said, “It was a powerful moment amid a movement that commands our attention.”

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements show no signs of slowing down. They are helping to remove abusers from power and shining a light on sexism in industries across America. But increasingly, this momentum is being appropriated by organizations like the Recording Academy to earn a kind of “I’m Woke” Girl Scout badge.

The advertising campaign for this year’s Grammys made a big deal of this “powerful, emotional” performance by Kesha. But in the end, she took home no awards (the academy instead honored Ed Sheeran). Her performance blew the roof off the Garden, and hopefully it will translate into ticket sales for Kesha and attention for this movement. But giving Kesha one moment in the spotlight doesn’t absolve the music industry of the pain its caused.

“I can make it on my own,” Kesha sang in the second verse, hands shaking, voice wavering, eyes brimming with tears. “I don’t need you/I’ll find strength I’ve never known.” It’s heartbreaking, because it’s not a choice. Kesha had to make it on her own; she has to find strength to keep waking up every day and overcoming her past and doing her goddamn job. The industry hasn’t hit its reckoning yet, but as Kesha’s set closed last night, it felt clear that it will have to very, very soon.

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Michael Jackson’s Kids Come Out From Under His Shadow

It’s only since the death of their father, pop legend Michael Jackson, that his children have been able to rip off their coverings and appear unashamedly in public. And I bet it’s doing them a world of good!

]

No more secrecy, coddling, hiding, and paranoia. No more blankets, towels, sheets, drapes, and masks.

In full view, Paris touchingly spoke at dad’s memorial in July, and she and Prince Michael appeared at the Grammys last Sunday to charmingly accept a special tribute for him.

I’m sure they miss daddy and some of the fun games he played, but there must also be a bittersweet sense of relief that they can finally throw away their freak umbrellas and be seen and heard without fear or self-consciousness.

Michael’s father, however, needs to stay covered up.

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Taylor Swift Isn’t That Off-Key!

I’m a little late to this picnic, but I finally caught up with the Grammy Awards (I was away) and prepared for the Taylor Swift trainwreck everyone had clucked about, expecting her to not come any closer to any of the notes than I have to Wasilla, Alaska.

]

But while there were indeed a few kooky sounds in Taylor’s “Rihanna” duet with still-twirling Steve Nicks–a very hard harmony to pull off–I didn’t think it was a horror on a scale with John Stamos in Bye Bye Birdie.

Let’s stop ganging up on the Nashville nymph and let her learn and grow.

Still, that doesn’t mean the middle-of-the-road little thing deserved Album of the Year!!!

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The 2010 Grammy Live Blog: Where Puns Happen

As we tend to do for various events crucial to the pop diaspora, we’ve asked expert critics Sean Fennessey and Ryan Dombal to sit in at SOTC for the evening and live blog the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards. Perhaps you remember their 2009 MTV VMA work? They really do this. Gentlemen?

Pop music, in one single photo.

8:00pm
Ryan: First thing: #teamkanye
Sean: Obvs.
Ryan: I wonder if they’d be better off just airing Gaga’s Radio City show a week and a half later.
Sean: I’m excited about her decision to not wear leggings. We are nearer to thine crotch.
Ryan: They said it couldn’t be done.
Sean: Elton John, donning bejeweled glasses to match Gaga.
Ryan: This set looks like that board game Mouse Trap.
Sean: “Speechless” is the best song she’s ever written. There I said it.

8:05pm
Sean: “How wonderful that felt with Gaga in the world.”
Sean: Ace, Elton.
Sean: By the way, if there’s a lull, not to worry, Ryan’s just eating a sandwich DURING THE OPENING SET.
Ryan: Priorities.

]

8:09pm
Ryan: Stephen Colbert doesn’t realize pop stars are barely “celebrities” in 2010.
Sean: They make at least $74,000/year.
Sean: “Goodbye sexy, we’re going with really good singing this year” = the best rock criticism of the aughts.
Ryan: The Grammys w/o Boyle and Kanye is like Oscars w/o Avatar.

8:12pm – Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” wins Song of the Year
Sean: The-Dream(!) and Tricky Stewart win the first Grammy of the night, with Beyonce for “Single Ladies.” Justice?
Ryan: Dream wearing sensible leg wear, for the record.

8:14pm

Ryan: I like how Green Day are trying to cover every aging rock ‘n’ roll cliche in record time– they’ve already got a musical!
Sean: Nothing says relevant like a musical starring people you’ve never seen before.

8:18pm
Ryan: This makes “Rent” look like “True West.”
Sean: The girl leaning on Mike Dirnt has the worst skin ever. Pro-Activ, girl, you’re on CBS.
Ryan: Avril is officially more “punk” than Green Day.
Ryan: So is Fergie.
Sean: That was an abortion.

8:20pm
Ryan: Btw, Grammys are pretty relevant now — “grammys” was one notch ahead of “#picofmycock” on trending topics earlier today.

8:22pm

Sean: When In Rome stars Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell – the height of musical exploration.
Ryan: How was When in Rome btw?
Sean: Best comedy of the last 6 minutes.

8:26pm – Taylor Swift wins Best Country album for Fearless
Sean: I hate her.
Sean: How do you feel?
Ryan: Zac Brown wuz robbed.
Ryan: Is there a Kanye signal they can throw up…
Sean: Maybe she can wring a few more clichés for all their worth?

8:28pm
Ryan: Keith Urban is so much prettier than Nicole Kidman it’s depressing.

8:29pm
Sean: Beyoncé not so much singing as she is giving birth orally these days.
Ryan: A nice by-product of Gaga/RiRi edginess — Beyonce has snapped out of her “Ave Maria” trajectory.
Sean: No better evidence than an Alanis Morrisette cover at the Grammys. WTF?
Ryan: As if on cue.
Ryan: This is weirdly “Idol”-esque.
Sean: Hear hair-spin was positively Linda Blair-ian.
Ryan: Alanis comeback starts here.
Ryan: Kinda wish she came out.
Sean: Missed opportunity.

8:40pm

Sean: Seal?
Ryan: Heidi cutaway.
Sean: Honoring Leonard Cohen, obvs.

8:41pm
Ryan: Is Pink just a really good sport? Her presence at every award show boggles me. In a world of Gaga and Katy Perry we do not need Pink.
Sean: She has a great ass. End of story. On a scale of 1 to “Why did you do that?,” how would you rate Pink’s attire?
Ryan: Um, 34.
Ryan: This acrobat shtick is really not that cool the fifth time around.
Sean: Also, what song is this?
Sean: I’m lost.
Ryan: If you’re gonna do circus shit two award shows in a row there needs to be a ring of fire involved.
Sean: LL Cool J was very impressed. So what do you know?
Ryan: I think I just saw Sugar Ray selling cotton candy in the aisles.
Sean: Burn.
Ryan: The whole band.
Sean: From Leonard Cohen to Pink to Loretta Lynn. Segue!

8:48pm – Zac Brown Band wins Best New Artist
*CRICKETS*

8:50pm
Ryan: Saw a girl knitting Zac Brown’s cap on the subway yesterday.
Sean: Was it Alanis?
Ryan: I think it was Michelle Branch actually.
Sean: Homewrecker, that Branch.

8:52pm
Ryan: Only way to save this show is for Kanye to close w/ a new song primarily influenced by Kraftwerk and/or Zac Brown.

8:53pm

Sean: So, “The Big Bang Theory.” That’s a successful program.

8:55pm
Ryan: “Imma Be” is a fucking problem. will.i.am out Gaga-ing Gaga!
Sean: My contention that Fergie is the most important artist of the decade remains intact.
Ryan: Phantom of the i.am + Damien Hirst shoulder pads + “Imma Be” is the highlight so far.
Ryan: No contest.
Ryan: “Imma Be” into “I Gotta Feeling” annihilates Diplo’s entire career.
Sean: THIS IS WHAT JOY TASTES LIKE!
Ryan: I just got chills.
Sean: apl.de.ap is a multimillionaire, FYI.
Ryan: Taboo’s hair conditioner game is off the charts.

9:06pm
Sean: JoBros, son.
Ryan: Joe is stepping up his Tom Ford.
Sean: Kevin is still working that Aeropostale.
Ryan: Can we get a Nick+Costello brain warp, plz.
Sean: They just introduced Lady Antebellum, AKA maybe I should go take a shit.
Ryan: Sugarland, come back.
Sean: Let’s not lose our heads here.
Sean: Lady Antebellum Guy, Blake Lewis wants his haircut back.
Ryan: So is the party line on Antebellum “charmingly trite” or just “trite”? Is Jody Rosen in the house?
Sean: Delightfully mediocre, I think.

9:11pm – Stephen Colbert wins Best Comedy Album (That just happened in primetime.)
Ryan: They never show Best Comedy — Colbert is a lock.
Sean: Patton Oswalt wuz robbed.
Ryan: Real talk, that Colbert special was not funny. Even w/ Toby Keith.
Sean: I was too busy not watching Conan on “The Tonight Show.”
Sean: Too soon?
Ryan: [Leno wins Best Album joke here.]
Ryan: Colbert’s daughter is biggest breakout of the night.

9:16pm

Ryan: Even the commercials are sad: Oxi Clean w/o Mays hurts my soul.

9:18pm

Sean: Norah Jones and Ringo honoring Bobby Darin. No joke here.
Ryan: Ringo presenting and Sean’s imaginary child is like, “Hey dad, that’s the guy from Beatles Rock Band!”
Sean: My imaginary child is an Aerosmith Guitar Hero kid, actually. That’s why he lives with his mother.

9:19pm – Kings of Leon win Record of the Year for “Use Somebody”
Ryan: Me and Jay-Z are rooting for “Use Somebody” … yes!
Ryan: Kings of Leon are super boring drunks.
Sean: “We have the best fans in the world.” Kill yourself, Kings of Leon guy.

9:21pm
Sean: Jamie Foxx begins his performance of “Blame It’ with an opera intro. Best moment of the night. Aside from Miley’s extensions.
Sean: Jay is feeling this!
Ryan: Jay-Z does not know what Auto-Tune is.
Ryan: Jay: “What is that effect on those vocals? Sonically pleasing!”
Sean: Is it too late to diss himself?
Sean: Ty Ty clearly confused by T-Pain.
Ryan: T-Pain’s AutoTune app > Blueprint 3.
Sean: Slash, besmirching the “November Rain” solo so bad right now.
Sean: THIS SONG IS ABOUT BLAMING RAPE ON ALCOHOL.
Ryan: There goes the G’n’R reunion.

9:27pm
Sean: “Beyonce’s just always on my mind. Sorry, Jay!” — Justin Bieber
Ryan: Doesn’t Bieber have to get trampled at Walt Whitman mall later tonight?
Sean: He’s going to look very, VERY strange in about 8 years.

9:32pm
Ryan: Katy Perry is too good for canned Grammy copy.
Sean: I want to share an arepa with her.

9:33pm – Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown wins Best Rock Album.

Ryan: GrooGrux wuz robbed.
Sean: Butch Vig wins again.
Sean: Billie Joe Armstrong can’t hold his liquor anymore. Not like Chris O’Donnell.

9:38pm
Sean: I guess we’re just singin’ “America The Beautiful” at the Grammys these days.
Sean: #leonrussellsbeard
Sean: #zacbrownbandsfiddler
Sean: #thisfuckingperformance
Ryan: #ifgandalfwasacowboy
Sean: I mean, that’s the guy who wrote “A Song For You.”
Sean: And they’ve got him up there with Zac Brown’s Beard.
Ryan: I smell a Slash walk on.
Ryan: Zac Brown fiddle player is happy to be here.
Sean: We’re not getting paid enough for this.

9:43pm

Ryan: My brain just skipped ahead to Kanye’s Grammy recap.
Ryan: FRESH KID: COLBERT’S DAUGHTER

How we spent the commercial break.

9:46pm
Sean: Oh good, the blond giant.
Ryan: Taylor Swift knows how to play guitar and wear the shit out of a shawl.
Sean: What must it be like to sing for a living when you can’t sing at all?
Sean: “Today was a fairy tale”? This is what we’re celebrating?
Ryan: Stevie is better than this.
Sean: The hairs in Stevie Nick’s coke nose have more talent than Taylor.
Ryan: Can we get a “Bootylicious” while we’re at it?
Sean: Nope, just another banjo-driven Taylor song.
Ryan: Stevie singing “You Belong to Me” is like your mom singing “Party in the U.S.A.” Excited to see Taylor apologists explain this one tomorrow.
Sean: Seriously, such a train wreck, followed by a plane crashing into a riverboat casino.

9:57pm

Ryan: So Grammy assumes everyone stole their Avatar 3D glasses I guess.
Sean: The Usher, Celine Dion, Sigourney Weaver collabo we’ve all been waiting on.
Ryan: Would be cool if that asshole general came out in the two-story robo suit right now.
Sean: “That’s how you scatter the roaches.”
Ryan: “That is one big damn tree!”
Sean: will.i.am just changed the game.
Ryan: 3D > real life (duh).

9:59pm – Michael Jackson’s children, Paris and Prince, are presented with an Honorary Grammy
Sean: Exploitation time.
Sean: Paris Jackson = nerd glasses.
Ryan: Actual nice moment: Beyonce rooting for Prince.
Sean: Prince Jackson broke my heart twice in the last six months.

10:07pm
Sean: Doug Morris, who will buy and sell us if I make an inappropriate joke, is being honored.

10:08pm
Sean: Grammy rule: Always save Bon Jovi for hour three.
Ryan: Bon Jovi: also prettier than Nicole Kidman.
Ryan: Sugarland heard me.
Ryan: Jennifer Nettles’ outfit is positively Rihanna-esque. A good look.
Sean: Get out of Nettles’ light, Jovi.
Ryan: Seriously, she likes this song more than Jon…or anyone else on earth.
Sean: The fans vote for Bon Jovi to perform “Livin’ On a Prayer” with Sugarland.
Sean: Was hoping for “Blaze of Glory.” Young Guns II, fuck with me.

10:18pm – Jay-Z and Rihanna win Best Sung/Rap Collaboration for “Run This Town.” Kanye wins in absentia.

Sean: Mos Def and Placido Domingo are presenting together. So Martha Stewart and Busta Rhymes, you guys!
Ryan: Mos Def = Best Dressed
Sean: Grammys working with the same Windows-themed buffers as the 1999 VMAs.
Ryan: Jay-Z in total dad mode tonight.
Sean: Kanye in total having-Amben-sex-with-Amber-Rose mode tonight.
Ryan: He’s polishing his robot backpack.
Ryan: Kanye is so much bigger than the Grammys it’s not funny.
Sean: Three nominations, and he ably demonstrated how I feel about Taylor Swift at the last major awards show. A damn shame.

10:26pm

Ryan: Props to Wyclef for not plugging his 2009 album, From the Hut, To the Projects, To the Mansion, while sending a message about the devastation in Haiti.
Sean: What Wyclef said in Creole: “My re-imagining of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ was the shit.”
Ryan: “Lauryn, call me.”

10:27pm
Ryan: Andrea just shut it DOWN.
Sean: At least they’re keeping things low-key this year. You know, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with the ferocious R&B siren and blind opera singer. Whatevs.
Ryan: Where’s Ezra?
Sean: Andrea just took Mary to church. AND HE CANT SEE.

10:36pm
Ryan: I’ve come around on Portnow, he reminds me of Bush in his lame duck prime.
Sean: He reminds me of McKinley. We’re just moments away from the most inconsequential assassination of all time.

10:41pm

Sean: Adam Sandler was great in Funny People.
Ryan: Can Eminem and Sandler redo that FP scene instead of “Forever” plz.

10:43pm
Sean: It’s amazing how little Dave Matthews has grown as an artist since I last cared about him 12 years ago.
Sean: And yet, GrooGrux King!
Ryan: Studdard lost five lbs. Pretty sure.
Sean: Did you know this album is a tribute to deceased saxophonist LeRoi Moore?
Sean: He was the GrooGrux King.
Ryan: He’ll always be the GrooGrux King.

10:47pm – Beyoncé and her cleavage win Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
Sean: Beyoncé says she is so nervous. We know better. Androids don’t get nervous.

10:49pm
Ryan: I just realized how much I want Black Eyed Peas to win Album of the Year.
Sean: Is AnCo nominated?
Ryan: They came in sixth.
Sean: Where did Meercaz finish?
Ryan: Definitely glad the New Indie has not infiltrated the Grammys yet b/c “Stillness Is the Move” w/ special guest Solange is a downgrade from even this.
Sean: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Easy.

10:56pm
Sean: So I don’t care about this Maxwell album at all, it’s all you from here.
Ryan: Maxwell is like a gift to the Grammys and humanity.
Ryan: Listen, we’re all disappointed that Jaheim didn’t put out an album last year but stop hating.
Sean: Roberta Flack, reading from a teleprompter.

10:59pm
Sean: Dead People Montage.
Sean: Ryan, who was your favorite dead person of 2009?
Ryan: I want to say Haley Joel Osment.
Sean: Les Paul tribute, who is also dead.

11:10pm

Ryan: Tarantino and Gabe T — separated at birth?
Sean: Quentin just ruined rap for white people all over again.
Ryan: New Wayne!
Ryan: “Drop the World”!
Ryan: Monster jam here!
Ryan: So censored!
Sean: Rebirth, February 2!
Ryan: Can’t explain how much I love the idea of literally dropping the world on somebody. That’s some Galileo shit.
Sean: Surprised they bleeped Em’s “buttfucked” lyric.
Ryan: This is great. Dude rocking the Made Decent app for Drake’s intro is a check plus.
Ryan: Drake is focused.
Sean: Drake, much more famous than the most famous rappers in the game.
Ryan: Taylor Swift fucking up the lyrics — not her night.
Ryan: Wayne killing it; Drake smiling like a damn fool. This is better than it should be.
Em still comatose but whatever.
Ryan: This stadium rock arrangement is bananas.
Sean: Big night for Travis Barker.
Sean: Somewhere Tom DeLonge is saving the music industry.
Sean: Of this 210 second song, we heard 48.

11:20pm
Ryan: So, necessary: 1) BEP 2) Jamie Foxx/T-Pain/Slash 3) Drake/Wayne
Sean: Shout out to Juanes.
Ryan: Honorable Mentions: 1) Gaga/Elton 2) Beyonce 3) Dave Matthews
Sean: Dave Matthews Band definitely, for being better than Taylor Swift.
Ryan: Best Presenters: 1) Downey 2) Mos Def/Placido 3) White Boi QT
Ryan: Best Cutaway Victim: Shawn Carter
Sean: Also, let’s not forget 3D Glasses Will.i.am

11:27pm – Taylor Swift wins Album of the Year for Fearless

Ryan: Taylor Swift believes in Grammy, bless her.
Sean: Cue Kanye.
Sean: When we are 80 years old, if I hear shit about Taylor Swift I will murder my grandkids.
Ryan: PS: FUCK YOUR COLORING BOOK

How we spent the commercial break.
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Some Burning Questions About Last Night’s Grammys

There were precious few awards presented on last night’s Grammys, but there was a helluva lot of entertainment, and though some of it was downright bizarre (Stevie Wonder and the Jonas Brothers?), there was plenty to enjoy and gossip about.

Still, some questions continue to nag:

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Is Whitney Houston not the roughest piece of road on both coasts? I’m scared a-huh.

Didn’t Alison Krauss used to be a bashful looking country bumpkin? Who did her work?

Is there anyone they didn’t pair Al Green with? No matter who was performing, he seemed to pop out and croak a few notes.

Anyone think Chris Martin should take a chill pill and drop the hyperactive monkey routine?

And most poignantly, with Jennifer Hudson winning for rising out of her pain; Rihanna and Chris Brown absent for supposedly scandalous reasons involving horrid abuse; and M.I.A. prancing about ready to break water, wasn’t this the most dramatic awards show since someone streaked at the Oscars?

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The Grammy Awards: A Running Diary

Seriously, what?

Even yesterday, I kept forgetting that the Grammys were about to be on. I can’t remember another year that these things have been less anticipated: an Album of the Year category so depleted that three of the five nominees (including the winner) were weird tokenistic fill-ins, a level of starpower so low that the producers still announcing performers days before the ceremony, a writers’ strike that made it unclear whether the ceremony could even take place until a couple of weeks ago. And then there’s the big elephant in the room: The music business is dying a long and agonizing death, and so an annual show as self-congratulatory as this one feels even more off-key than usual. This was the 50th year of the Grammys, and people kept talking about “Here’s to another 50,” but, I mean, come on. All that said, this was a way more entertaining and better paced show than anything I could’ve foreseen, with some weird upsets and a few genuinely moving moments.

8:00: The awkward self-impressed failed glamor starts early, as Alicia Keys duets with a creepy black-and-white Sinatra hologram, which sort of malfunctions halfway through, becoming even creepier as the background disappears and we get Frank standing in a field of blackness. Alicia is trying to work the vintage Hollywood thing as hard as possible: hair all piled up, old-looking dress, not a good look for her at all. When she murmurs, “Sing it, Frank,” at the hologram, it reminds me of the first couple of scenes from The Phantom Menace, where Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor heroically tried and failed to interact naturally with green-screen nothings. Alicia does a pretty good job switching up her vocal style and ditching the runs, but this whole thing is just unbearably forced and weird. Bridget: “Is she even playing that piano? I don’t hear any sound coming out.”

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8:05: And the frontloaded starpower continues! Carrie Underwood performs with, um, Stomp? Really? She’s sings “Before He Cheats” with dancers behind her make a big, clanking racket pounding on fake car-bumpers. This whole thing is incredibly silly. If Einsterzende Neubaten were dead, they would definitely be doing backflips in their graves. I should also note that Underwood is dressed like a Bond girl with a big mid-60s hair-swoop and a black vinyl daisy-dukes catsuit, which, seriously, damn.

8:08: Prince, presenting, looks as impeccably badass as ever. He hands Best Female R&B Whatever to foregone-conclusion winner Alicia Keys, as the Grammy producers pull out all stops to keep her onscreen as often as possible. I have to imagine that if “No One” had come out a week earlier it would’ve swept this thing instead of getting relegated to a couple of token categories. The song absolutely deserves its win here, if that counts for anything.

8:17: Jimmy Jam, who holds some sort of ceremonial Academy title, is out to say something, but it turns out that he’s just setting up the original-members reunion of Morris Day and the Time. The sight of these guys back out makes my heart sing. Morris Day, it should be noted, looks exactly the same as he did in Purple Rain. The bit where Jerome holds a giant mirror for him still kills, and “Jungle Love,” it turns out, flows surprisingly well into “Umbrella” as Rihanna makes her big non-surprise surprise-guest appearance. She might not be able to sing like either of them, but Bridget’s right to point out that Carrie Underwood and Alicia Keys could both learn something about holding a stage by watching Rihanna; she isn’t getting blown offstage by Morris Day, which is a real accomplishment. Still, I’m not sure why she needs all those cheeseball backup dancers when Morris Day and Jerome are standing right there. Rihanna goes from “Umbrella” to “Don’t Stop the Music” as the Time’s still-nasty Minneapolis funk sometimes peeks its head through Rihanna’s robo-dance backing track. And then it’s back into “Jungle Love” as Rihanna kind of stiffly does all the Time’s dances with them. The fact that this wasn’t the best moment of the night is pretty amazing.

8:23: Tom Hanks is starting the old-people tribute part of the night early. Hey, did you know that the Beatles were an important band? They were! It’s true! And to prove it, we’re now going to show mimes dancing to their songs!

8:25: Honestly, what the fuck am I supposed to say about the Cirque du Soleil “Day in the Life” thing? That it’s embarrassing just to watch? That the Sergeant Pepper ringmaster guy is now going to haunt my nightmares? That there appears to be some sort of story unfolding here but I have no idea what it is? I’m not sure I’m capable of expressing in written English just how hokey this whole shit is. Carrie Underwood with Stomp now looks like a model of poise and restraint.

8:30: Part two of the Beatles tribute turns out shockingly well. I didn’t see Across the Universe, but apparently it involves a kid with a really pure and clear voice leading a gospel reworking of “Let It Be” which totally works. Now wasn’t that enough? Why did we have to watch the dancing clowns again?

8:33: Cyndi Lauper clearly makes copresenter Miley Cyrus very, very nervous. Amy Winehouse wins Best New Artist, and Cyndi is amped. It’s weird that they’ve got Winehouse set to perform live via satellite later in the show but they can’t show her accepting the award. Aren’t the cameras all there already?

8:36: Jason Bateman is announcing the contest for which violin player will get to perform with the Foo Fighters, and I can’t tell whether he’s being intentionally unctuous and fake or whether he just acts like a bad Johnny Carson impersonator in real life. Either way, the way he pronounces “Foo Fighters” is pretty hilarious.

8:45: When this Kanye West tour finally starts, I can only hope it’ll have the same ridiculous lights and pink flame-jets as his performance tonight. This is some great spectacle right here. Kanye, still wearing those stupid white glasses and now with “Mama” shaved into the back of his head, has developed some serious stage presence, and he just rips through “Stronger.” Halfway through, holy shit, the giant pyramid behind him opens up and reveals Daft Punk sitting there. They’ve got a camera in there with them, and now we get to see what they’re actually doing with their hands. Turns out they’ve got some crazy space-age touch-screen shit going on, which is basically what I would’ve hoped. This whole thing is just awesome.

8:49: Oh shit, and now Kanye is singing “Hey Mama” over a delicate little string arrangement and nothing else. This is some serious throat-lump action; I almost can’t believe it when Kanye makes it to the end of the song without breaking down. Awards-show appearances don’t get much more iconic than that.

8:52: So how do we go from that directly into Fergie and John Legend duetting on some tinkly hotel-lounge cocktail-jazz bullshit? Fergie is looking extra-busted tonight. Fergie and Legend also give Best Soundtrack to Love, as the Grammys’ continued Beatles fawning reminds me of the Democratic Party’s inability to move past the Kennedys.

9:03: For whatever reason, Cher introduces Beyonce introducing Tina Turner. Beyonce, who’s put some weight back on and who looks incredible, has chosen to make this introduction through the miracle of modern dance, striking goofy poses and naming all the women in music who aren’t as good as Tina Turner, apparently. Tina’s appearance is making a pretty good case for why Botox should be outlawed. She’s dressed like a femmebot, with disturbingly evident nipples. And I’m probably going to hell for even thinking this, but she also sounds really pinched and sheeplike, and she should absolutely not under any circumstances be trying to keep up with her choreographed dancers. Still, “Better Be Good to Me” is a pretty great song and a refreshingly non-obvious choice. And when Beyonce joins her for the inevitable run through “Proud Mary,” both of them seem totally comfortable and happy; I especially like the obvious relish Beyonce takes in her Tina imitation on the intro. Nobody mentions Ike.

9:13: Hey, here’s Nelly Furtado, Andy Williams, and some chick from Without a Trace, all here to talk about Burt Bacharach! That makes sense. Furtado also gets to display some visible dislike as she announces Amy Winehouse winning Song of the Year.

9:20: The world takes in a collective breath as Jason Bateman announces that the winner of the Foo Fighters violin contest is: the one hot chick! Didn’t see that one coming. She gets to play about 0.2 seconds’ worth of violin solo before the Foos get around to proving why they had no place being nominated for Album of the Year. Their run-through of “The Great Pretender” isn’t good or bad; it’s just sort of there.

9:32: George Lopez says that America is the only place where a black man and a woman can run for President of the United States, which I guess is true. He also tells some horrible jokes and introduces Brad Paisley. Paisley is really on his DragonForce shit tonight; this version of “Ticks” seems arranged specifically to let him solo as much as possible. Paisley only looks happy at awards shows these days when he’s either winning or soloing.

9:37: Chris Brown, Akon, and Solange Knowles (two big stars and somebody’s sister) show up to present Best Rap Album, and it looks like they’re competing to see who can look the most ridiculous. Brown is wearing a red-on-white tux that can probably be seen from space, Akon is dressed all Matrix, and Solange is basically wearing plastic grocery bags. Kanye wins, obviously, and he gets pissed while the band tries to play him off as he’s talking about his mother.

9:43: Aretha Franklin and Bebe Winans lead a fast, fun, all-over-the-place gospel-choir onslaught that makes me wish I knew more about gospel. The amped-up trombone players are my favorites. But why does a white guy with a fauxhawk get to stand behind Aretha? Shouldn’t someone have kept that from happening?

9:56: The mom-friendly dinner-party indie takeover starts here as Feist does a timid, hesitant version of “1 2 3 4,” for some reason forcibly removing any starstruck whimsy from the song by giving it a Beirut gypsy-jazz makeover. It’s official: gospel is better than indie-pop.

10:00: Yeesh, Kid Rock sings “That Old Black Magic” with old Grammy lady Keely Smith, who only seems vaguely aware where she is. This did not need to happen. They also give Best Rock Album to a frighteningly grinny Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl is starting to look like Tom Cruise. This can’t be a good thing.

10:12: Hey, it’s Alicia Keys again! “No One,” a song I still haven’t gotten sick of hearing, gets a Coldplayish makeover that does it no favors. It also gets John Mayer, who makes guitar-solo faces and adds nothing. Still, this is better than the Sinatra thing.

10:17: Ringo Starr and Dave Stewart from Eurythmics are country fans, apparently. They give the Best Country Album award to Vince Gill’s four-disc monster. Gill makes a Kanye joke! He knows who Kanye is! That’s cute.

10:26: The Grammy producers figure out a way to collapse their momentum-killing obligatory nods to jazz and classical into one performance, as Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang go dueling pianos on “Rhapsody in Blue.” This is less boring than usual, especially with the overhead camera-shot of both of them, but I can still see why this was buried in the show’s last hour. Also, why the constant closeups on the goofy-looking clarinetist?

10:33: This thing with Taylor Swift and Juanes presenting a rap award is hilarious. “Umbrella” wins the syntactically mangled Best Rap/Sung Collaboration award. Jay-Z has gone back to the 96-era shaved-head look, which he should keep. He and Rihanna have good award-show chemistry, as she makes the thank-you speech and he interrupts constantly.

9:41: Amy Winehouse is in London, looking almost shockingly together, though she could still stand to eat a couple of sandwiches. The Grammy presenters have been hyping this performance all weekend, possibly because of the all-too-real possibility that she could completely fall apart or at least pull a Britney, but this is still a pretty powerful moment. She’s got a serious intense stare, and she manages to vocally fuck around with the two good songs on her album without lessening their impact. A Ghostface run-in on “You Know I’m No Good” would’ve made my night, but no.

10:49: Tony Bennett trips over his lines in presenting Record of the Year, and it’s almost reassuring that that guy is finally showing some signs of aging. Winehouse wins, and her freaked-out reaction-shot makes me wish I actually liked her.

10:57: The Academy CEO guy manages not to hector viewers about downloading, but you can just tell he want to. He does brag about his lobbyists, which I guess is the same thing. He also introduces a 20-year-old piano player, since more pianos are exactly what this show needed.

11:02: Other than Pavarotti,, the only big cheer during the dead-people segment comes for Dan Fogelberg. Huh? Really, hardly anyone makes a peep during the whole thing, not even for Lee Hazlewood or Pimp C.

11:03: Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban do their Pavarotti, tribute, and I just don’t get these guys at all. Is it like middle school when everybody’s parents bought that chanting monks CD?

11:13: It’s time for the depressing old-people segment of the show with John Fogerty, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The camera keeps showing Fogerty’s drummer, who looks like an extra from a circa-99 movie about raves. Jerry Lee Lewis looks a whole lot like Larry Flynt. He doesn’t play piano with his feet. Actually, he looks like he couldn’t stand up if he tried. Anyone who spent any time watching network TV in the 80s or 90s has seen Little Richard play “Good Golly Miss Molley” a million times, but it’s still fun. This time, Fogerty gets to do some shredding on top of it. Jerry Lee, true to form, looks absolutely disgusted that he has to share a stage with these guys.

11:25: Yee, Will.I.Am rapping about “all the dope jammys at the Grammys” over “Mack the Knife” and “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and “Beautiful Day.” Whose idea was this? And could the Grammys have possibly found a more embarrassing way of paying tribute to themselves? Here’s to the next fifty.

11:27: Quincy Jones lets us know that Mark Ronson won Producer of the Year; Rhymefest must be amped. And Album of the Year goes to: Herbie Hancock? What the fuck? I guess I have to listen to that thing now. How could his have happened? Did Kanye and Winehouse split the paying-attention vote? Are Grammy voters explicitly saying fuck you to the kids who don’t buy music? I was only dimly aware that the album existed until the nominations came out, and it’s absolutely the last one I would’ve thought had a shot at winning. Herbie’s overcome, as he should be.

11:40: More Cirque du Soleil over the closing credits, which I guess makes an appropriately mystifying way to end this show.

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This Year’s Grammy Nominations: Fucking Insane

My brain hurts

I basically don’t care about the Grammy awards. Or, rather, the part of my brain that I use to think rationally doesn’t care about the Grammy awards. The Grammys don’t really affect record sales for more than a couple of weeks, they don’t reflect either popularity or critical acclaim, and they’re clogged with so many meaningless awards that sometimes I can’t even believe the people nominated give half a shit. (Would it bother Alan Alda, for example, if he lost Best Spoken Word Album to Maya Angelou?) The award ceremony itself is always long-winded and boring enough to be near-unwatchable even though I still watch it every year. The entire enterprise is basically one massive excuse for the record industry to pat itself on the back, and after the financially disastrous year it just had, that’s not really something the business should be rushing to do. I know all this very well. And still every year, when the Grammy nominations are announced, I inevitably end up finding myself stunned. That nomination-day feeling isn’t outrage, exactly; every music dork in the world has an ideal Grammy-nomination list in mind, and the actual nominations never look anything like those fantasy lists. It’s more confusion. Are there really people out there who not only made it through Vince Gill’s massive four-disc album These Days but who actually consider it to be the Album of the Year? Is Amy Winehouse really the cultural juggernaut this list makes her look like? How have I never even heard of one of the Best New Artist nominees? For one day every December, it’s like I’ve stumbled into some alternate pop universe where everything is upside down and nothing makes sense. I’m not saying I necessarily know more about pop music than the industry insiders who pick the nominees; after all, I’ve never heard of Best New Artist nominee Ledisi, and they, evidently, have. But the logic behind so many of these choices just baffles me. This will be an interesting year for the Grammys, if only because it’s entirely unclear what might happen.

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The big news surrounding this year’s list of nominees is Kanye West. He has eight nominations, more than any other artist, and he’s up for a lot of the big awards. It’s not particularly weird that Kanye is up for Album of the Year, the single most important award; it’s not even his first time being nominated for it. But it is weird that he actually has a really good shot at winning the thing this year. Before this morning, I never would’ve considered Kanye a front-runner for that award. In most cases, the bitch-fit Kanye throws every year when he doesn’t win Album of the Year would be enough to put off the notoriously middlebrow voters. Nobody likes it when Kanye acts like he’s entitled to this stuff, and Grammy voters hate to do what everyone expects them to do; remember, if you will, that one year when Steely Dan beat out The Marshall Mathers LP. Still, if Kanye doesn’t win, who will? It’s pretty impressive that Vince Gill decided to release four CDs worth of music at once, but I can’t imagine more than a handful of voters actually want to sit through the whole thing. Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell tribute could conceivably win thanks to the combined prestige of Hancock and Mitchell, but the whole thing is just too marginal and slight to merit consideration. I barely even noticed that the Foo Fighters released an album this year, and I’m just dumbfounded that it’s even nominated; are these guys actually still considered important? It seems like Kanye’s main competition is Amy Winehouse, who also got nominated for a ton of awards, but then Winehouse is a notorious goddam mess. On paper, she’s exactly the sort of thing Grammy voters like. Just like past winners Lauryn Hill and Norah Jones, she’s young and relatively fashionable while still being totally musically conservative, she’s crossed over to a whole bunch of different audiences, and she validates the tastes of older voters by being totally slavishly devoted to the music of their youths. It doesn’t even particularly matter that she only has two good songs on her album. But if she did win the thing, there’d be a pretty good chance she’d pull a Slash and just slur cusswords all over the place in her acceptance speech. Besides, by Kanye’s warped standards, he’s been pretty modest this year. He still has lingering goodwill for beating 50 Cent in the great 9/11 sales battle (and for actually selling records), and people feel bad for him because his mom just died. I feel absolutely ridiculous trying to make Grammy predictions because the voters, as a group, are demonstrably working from some sort of bizarre alien logic. But Kanye should really get to working on that acceptance speech. He should also thank Jesus that the Alicia Keys album came out too late to be eligible.

As insane as this list of nominations is, I should probably devote some space to acknowledging the things the Grammy voters did right. Four of the five nominees for Record of the Year range from pretty good to great, and even that Foo Fighters song is pretty inoffensive. It’s sort of fun to see Feist’s name so many times since it shows she’s officially made the leap from Indie Norah Jones to Actual Norah Jones Competitor. I’m going to have a tough time deciding whether to root for Taylor Swift or Paramore for Best New Artist; they all seem like good kids, and they all have good songs. Daughtry got locked out of all the big categories. Timbaland’s up for Producer of the Year. Justice and LCD Soundsystem are both up for Best Electronic/Dance Album, which proves that at least a few Grammy voters have their fingers somewhere near the pulse, even if those groups do have to compete with Tietso and something called Shiny Toy Guns. Slayer will probably win their second straight Best Metal Performance statuette. “I Get Money” got some love, as did “Int’l Players Anthem” (and it would be really great to see UGK get a Grammy now). Most of the big rap nominees are not outright embarrassments, which is nice. And I’m actually sort of excited to see this year’s show, mostly because I really don’t know who’s going to win what. This is the first year in a while I can really say that.