Ah, The Grammys. The weird runt of the major awards. Other music awards don’t have to take themselves so seriously – they’re already not the Grammys, after all, so they are free to be fun and flirty, to dress themselves up in miles of gauze and spangles and turn into a bacchanal. The Emmys and The Golden Globes have the advantage, among the serious “Awards Season” television awards, of being similarly party-inclined. The Oscars are, of course, secure in being the indomitable Force of Television Awards Shows that the whole thing is built around1.
But the Grammys are stuck propping up a dying industry (the record industry), and are stuck with their own reputation as never having been particularly correct in the first place2. Furthermore, the annual pile-on has meant that they are left with literally eighty-three categories, in an attempt to not piss off anybody that remains among their constituency.
Eighty-three categories. That is fucking crazy.
Last year I wrote about them all. That was a slog. This year I’m going to, out of deference, skip the categories I don’t really have the critical wherewithal to speak definitively on3. I don’t listen to the same kind of jazz (for example) as the Grammy voters, so I don’t really know that I have a firm opinion on Kenny Barron’s solo in “The Eye of the Hurricane” vs. Joe Lovano’s solo in “Recorda Me”. I mean, I would have one for you fine people, because that’s what I do, but you see how it is4. I’m still going to cover more categories than the telecast.
So, for your enjoyment, The Grammys: The Good Parts Version.
Best Music Video
Look, I get it. Everybody loooooooves the “Chandelier” video. I, personally, think you people are fucking weird, but I guess I’m not going to gripe about how you choose to spend your time. The Arcade Fire and Woodkid videos are fine, if nothing particularly spectacular. Pharrell’s “Happy” video gave us a dancing Tyler, The Creator, which is pretty great. But as artistic statements go, I’m in favor of explosive crotches every single time.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: DJ Snake and Lil Jon, “Turn Down for What”
Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
This category is basically a reminder of how terrible everything sounds at present. Max Martin is largely the culprit, and he did last year what he does every year, so it seems pretty dumb to give him an award for any of that. Jay Joyce has the same set of problems, only from the rock music perspective, so he’s out as well. Paul Epworth is nominated either because it’s another opportunity to fellate Paul McCartney, or because The Grammys are somehow interested in associating with FKA Twigs. I don’t care what the reason is, it’s not deserving of the award. So John Hill or Greg Kurstin? They both did pretty good songs (with Kimbra and Lykke Li, respectively) and pretty awful songs (with Bleachers and Ellie Goulding, respectively). I think the solution is to have Kimbra accept the award. Because she’s adorable when she accepts awards.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: John Hill, via Kimbra
Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical
I mention this category not because I think it’s earth-shatteringly important, but because I listen for this kind of thing literally all the time, and have no idea what the hell they’re talking about. I know the difference between a producer and an engineer, certainly, but how am I supposed to know the mechanical challenges or acoustic problems that were overcome?
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: ah, what the hell, Bass & Mandolin was such a good record.
Best Song Written for Visual Media
On the one hand, I’ve got all of the feels because of Glen Campbell, and “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is just great. I almost feel sad that it never stood a chance.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tegan and Sara f. The Lonely Island, “Everything is Awesome!”
Best Score/Soundtrack for Visual Media
Man, it’s hilarious how long The Grammys held out on nominated Frozen. They got mileage last year out of people expecting it, and now they’re getting mileage out of actually doing that. So that’s basically a foregone conclusion, right? Foregone conclusions annoy me.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Everyone except the Frozen people.
Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media
I don’t know if it’s still the case or not, but soundtracks used to be a curated way to find other cool bands5. I would guess, at this point, that that is less the case, because it’s much easier to find cool music without having to sit through a movie first. God, it is so much easier to be a music fan today than it ever has been.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Get On Up: The James Brown Story
Best Comedy Album
This is always a weird category, as it covers music and stand-up (and, theoretically, like, sketch or mime or improv or whatever, but where are their albums?). Patton Oswalt and Louis C.K. are responsible two of my favorite stand-up albums of all time6. Even We Are Miracles was as good as any of Sarah Silverman’s work. And so it comes as a surprise to all of us who the rightful winner is.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jim Gaffigan, Obsessed
Best Americana Album
I swear to crisp I will give the person who explains John Hiatt to me, like, a million dollars. I get that everyone isn’t for everybody. I’m perfectly willing to concede that I’m not going to be interested in, say, John Hiatt’s co-nominee Roseanne Cash. I just do not understand why John “Absolutely Nothing Special” Hiatt is around. Anyway. I love Nickel Creek til I die, but Sturgill Simpson made a better record last year.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sturgill Simpson
Best American Roots Song
blargh. blargh blargh blargh.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair, which has the best American roots in the whole business.
Best American Roots Performance
This is weird, because “American Roots”, more than pretty much any genre in this awards show, is basically marked by being “the genre where people write their own songs”. This makes it less important to nominate the performers and the songwriters each for awards, but it does mean that I can proclaim Nickel Creek the rightful winner of something.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nickel Creek, “Destination”
Best Country Album
You know, I thought about skipping this category because I basically have to write about these same half-dozen records five or six more times this year. But why not get an early start, is what I always say. I’m absolutely not going to start thinking that Dierks Bentley or Erich Church deserve awards at this late juncture. Lee Ann Womack certainly isn’t on a blacklist (she’s no Eric Church, after all), but it isn’t her this time either. So Miranda Lambert or Brandy Clark?
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Eh, let’s give it to Brandy Clark. She doesn’t have any of these, and Miranda Lambert has a whole bunch.
Best Country Song
Boy, the reason Miranda Lambert was in competition for album was on the strength of “Automatic.” It’s a shame it’s up against that Glen Campbell song.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Glen Campbell, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
Say what you will about the transparent boosterism of the ACM awards, it ends up making for much better fields of nominees than the country categories of the Grammys. None of these songs are worth an award. On the one hand, “Somethin’ Bad” isn’t a great song, and doesn’t really have a lot of stick-around power, on the other hand, “Gentle On My Mind” is a forty-seven-year-old song that’s already won a ton of Grammys, which seems a bit like a ringer, even if this version is by The Band Perry instead of Glen Campbell. On the third hand, “Gentle On My Mind” is a great song, ringer or not.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Band Perry, “Gentle on My Mind”
Best Country Solo Performance
Alright, I may have mentioned this before, but “Give Me Back My Hometown” is, to its credit, probably the best Eric Church song. How much of a distinction that is I leave up to the reader, but at least it could be much worse. It is, for example, at least twice as good as anything Hunter Hayes has ever recorded. “Cop Car” is the dullest of Keith Urban dullness. “Something in the Water” has the same problem as every Carrie Underwood song that isn’t “Before He Cheats” (which is great) or “Jesus Take the Wheel” (which is execrable) – it’s competently deployed (she’s got a great, albeit extremely limited, voice), and also largely forgettable. Thank the Country Music Gods, then, for “Automatic”.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Miranda Lambert, “Automatic”
Best Rap Album
2014 was a year marked by its relative dearth of major hip-hop releases, and nowhere is that more evident than when overlooking the display of schizophrenia that is the grammy nominations in the category. Eminem continues to be a surprisingly commercial force, Wiz Khalifa continues to be lauded for things other than being extremely affable, and both of those things continue to surprise me in equal measure. Discounting Iggy Azalea (because she can’t rap) and Childish Gambino (because he can’t rap), we’re actually left with Common’s pretty-good Nobody’s Smiling and Schoolboy Q’s pretty-good Oxymoron. Huh.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Vince Staples, who recorded on Nobody’s Smiling and toured with Schoolboy. Problem solved.
Best Rap Song
Ugh. OK. “Anaconda” was an ok novelty song, but there are, no joke, 12 better songs on The Pinkprint. “We Dem Boyz”’s presence has got to be either a joke or a typo. “0 to 100” is probably an OK song, but I’ve pretty solidly soured on Drake, so I’m withholding this one out of spite. “i” appears to be well-received, but I don’t understand that either, because it’s so bad7. So. “Bound 2” then.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kanye West, “Bound 2”
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
Ah, much better. See above w/r/t Eminem for my thoughts on “The Monster,” although I suppose good on Eminem and Rihanna for plowing this field over and over and over again. “Bound 2” was a lot better in that previous category, because it really is the worst song on Yeezus (although it’s by no means an actively bad song). “Studio” is also the worst song on Oxymoron (and kind of is, by some means, an actively bad song),. Luckily, “Tuesday” by iLOVEMAKKONNEN and “Blak Majik” by Common are both good songs with spelling problems.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: As impressive as it is to have the club blowin’ UP….on a Tuesday, “Blak Majik” is the best Common single in years, and Jhene Aiko is amazing.
Best Rap Performance
Uhhhhhh….what? No. No, this is just dumb.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lecrae, “All I Need is You”
Best R&B Album
Aloe Blacc annoyed me with his Apple commercials, so he’s right out. Toni Braxton & Babyface made an album with a title so on the nose you’d think that shit was a pair of glasses, so they’re right out. Jamie Bernhoft is certainly the best R&B artist from Norway, but honestly, he’s right out. Robert Glasper and Sharon Jones are both plowing similar fields for old-style R&B, which I think is pretty right-on, and the world is richer for them both.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Why haven’t Robert Glasper and Sharon Jones ever done a duet? That would be amazing. The winner is the imaginary Robert Glasper and Sharon Jones duets album I just made up in my head.
Best Urban Contemporary Album
This, leaving aside the boring Mali Music thing, is a great category. GIRL was just fantastic, but it still isn’t a league with Beyonce or Jhene Aiko’s Sail Out. Honestly, I want this to be Jhene Aiko, I really do. But I genuinely do not think it is.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, Beyonce
Best R&B Song
Well, since Usher and Luke James never stood a chance, this is, once again, down to Jhene Aiko and Beyonce. “The Worst” is a great song. “Drunk in Love” is a great song. “Drunk in Love” has a weird spoken-word part that doesn’t really manage to be saved by the part where she says “surfbort” a bunch of times. “The Worst” does not have one of those.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jhene Aiko, “The Worst,” even though she doesn’t say “surfbort” even once.,
Best Traditional R&B Performance
Wait, where is Sharon Jones in this category? What the hell is wrong with the Grammy people? I WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND WHO MAKES WHAT CATEGORY. I HATE THIS IT IS SO STUPID.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sharon Jones, goddammit. For, let’s say, “People Don’t Get What They Deserve”
Best R&B Performance
Well, I suppose the R&B Song category worked out correctly, since “Surfbort” is part of the performance and not part of the song. Since Jhene Aiko isn’t in this category, there’s basically nothing standing in the way of “Drunk in Love” here.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Drunk in Love”
Best Alternative Music Album
I will give credit to this category making more sense than it usually does here. Arcade Fire, Jack White and St Vincent are all worthy nominees. Unfortunately, I listened to each of those albums exactly once before figuring that I got what I needed out of them8. So.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: St. Vincent, St. Vincent
Best Rock Album
These are all inarguably rock albums! It is a banner year for the Grammy Nominating Force! Granted, the youngest of these acts has still been producing for fourteen years, but compared to the venerable U2 and the downright ancient Tom Petty, that’s youngish. Granted, Tom Petty and The Black Keys have settled so hard into repeating themselves that it’s not really worth paying attention to anymore. U2 and Beck both did pretty good throwbacky things, but one poisoned their publicity with their release, and the other basically didn’t publicize his. Neither of which affects the actual music, which is, in both cases, some of their strongest in years, but it does draw attention to how clearly both acts are nostalgic for their own salad days. Ryan Adams is also far removed from his own “best” period (Heartbreaker came out fifteen years ago, guys. I’m old.), but what am I going to do, not give it to Ryan Adams? Please.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams
Best Rock Song
Fuck Hayley Williams and Paramore. That is all I have to add to anything I’ve already said about all of these songs.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ryan Adams, “Gimme Something Good”
Best Metal Performance
Alright, we’ve got Motorhead and Anthrax in the “old dudes who haven’t done anything noteworthy but aren’t going away” category this time. It’s not that there aren’t Pere Ubus or Paul McCartneys or Bob Moulds in the world that continue to make great records decades after they get started, it’s that none of those people are in these categories. Slipknot and Tenacious D both made pretty good records that weren’t a patch on records they made a decade ago. Luckily, Mastodon is unilaterally pretty good.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mastodon, “High Road”
Best Rock Performance
Beck, the Black Keys, Jack White and Ryan Adams again. This time with the Arctic Monkeys thrown in for spice. The Rock categories have officially become the same as the hip-hop categories, right down to their being only one act that deserves any of them in the first place. Although “Lazaretto” is at least the closest thing to a good song that Jack White album has on it.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ryan Adams, “Gimme Something Good”
Best Dance/Electronic Album
I could probably have skipped this one – I’m pretty out of the “mainstream dance music” loop – but seriously, how great is Syro? Can we nominate that in a bunch of other categories just to have Richard James around? That would be pretty cool.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Aphex Twin, Syro
Best Pop Vocal Album
I think this category would be better if it didn’t mean “pop album with vocals” but rather “pop vocal” album, meaning the only vocal sounds are popping noises. I further think that not only would that make this category better, but that each of these records would be better-served by having the vocals replaced by the singers replacing popping sounds.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Man, I just want whichever one did the most popping to win, now. I’ve really ruined this category for myself here.
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
“Traditional” pop vocals would, of course, also include the sound of oil or a popping medium along with the pops themselves, since hot-oil popping is much more traditional than air popping. Duh.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: All of that aside, it’s really hard to get more traditional in pop music than Barry Manilow, right? Maybe we could bury him in popcorn.
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
Here’s the thing that makes this category funny: nearly each of these songs is somewhat worse for being a duo/group performance. Ariana Grande’s presence on “Bang Bang” is completely superfluous9. Juicy J’s appearance on “Dark Horse” is actively stupid. I would like to hear whatever song Charli XCX herself would build around that “Fancy” hook, but instead we got the Iggy Azalea song. I don’t know why Christina Aguilera is on “Say Something”. Looks like we’ve got ourselves some good old-fashioned process of elimination here.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Coldplay, “A Sky Full of Stars”
Best Pop Solo Performance
Sigh. John Legend, Sam Smith and Sia are basically the trifecta of people I want to like because they seem neat as people, but who make music that spontaneously puts me to sleep. Luckily, this was never about them. “Happy” or “Shake it Off” is truly a battle for the ages.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell Williams, “Happy”
Best New Artist
Given that this category never makes any sense, is impossible to predict, and requires a definition of “new” that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. So let’s say Haim, even though they don’t stand a chance, and be done with it.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Haim
Song of the Year
Man, how weird is it that they got the songwriting credit for “Stay With Me” turned around so fast that Tom Petty has been nominated for a grammy for it. In addition to his other Grammy nomination. I’m sure there’s a totally-reasonable explanation for this completely circumstantial occurrence. Anyway, all pretend-coincidences aside, this one is another foregone conclusion, especially since “Happy” wasn’t nominated in this category.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taylor Swift, “Shake it Off”
Album of the Year
What the actual fuck is Ed Sheeran doing nominated for all these Grammies? I haven’t mentioned him in this writeup because he’s so far behind in all of his categories, but if our national character is such that we cannot stop rewarding this boring-ass ginger for being the human personification of a warm can of Heineken, then we should probably just set the whole damn thing on fire. Also, Pharrell was a producer on three of the five albums in this category. That should probably mean something. It probably doesn’t though, ah well.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, Beyonce
Record of the Year
And once again I get to the last category having basically run out of things to say about the same endless permutations of these songs! You all know where I come down on this one!
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taylor Swift, “Shake it Off”
1 although they had their own, more major problems, about which more in a couple of weeks.
2 Jethro Tull as heavy metal artists, post-haircut Metallica as praiseworthy metal artists, late-to-the-party overcorrections for Bon Iver or The Arcade Fire, literally every single thing pertaining to the Best New Artist Grammy, etc. ad. inf.
3 the eagle-eyed among you may notice that this is also what I did the first time I wrote about The Grammys.
4 eighty-three categories. That’s how it is.
5 the soundtrack to The Crow, to use the most prominent example in my own life, would go on to yield an enormous number of record purchases, including records by future all-time-favorites The Jesus and Mary Chain (a band whose entire recorded output I have purchased, sometimes twice*), Helmet, and Suicide (who are covered by The Rollins Band, who I also own a bunch of records by). Ditto Judgement Night, or Good Will Hunting, or Lost Highway.
* and if you’re reading this, you almost certainly know somebody that I’ve bought a copy of either Darklands or Honey’s Dead for, if I didn’t buy a copy for you yourself.
6 my top five stand-up comedy albums: 1) Patton Oswalt – 222, 2) Eugene Mirman – God is a 12 Year Old Boy With Asperger’s, 3) Chris Rock – Never Scared 4) Maria Bamford – Ask Me About My New God 5) Paul F. Tompkins – Laboring Under Delusions
7 let me just say this: Kendrick Lamar’s previous output is so good that for the first few times I heard “i”, I really, genuinely thought that I was just in a bad mood or didn’t get it or something. I was that unprepared for a bad Kendrick song.
8 That’s par for the course for Arcade Fire albums (which are never as good as I’m told they are) and St. Vincent albums (which are never as cool as she is), but man, what a shame it is to watch Jack White fall apart into a morass of studied weirdness and faux-aloofness. Remember when he used to be a crazy dude who ran around like a maniac and played his guitar with actual abandon? God, Jack White used to be great.
9 I mean, for that matter Jessie J is also, but someone has to sing the hook in the chorus, I suppose.