The 2016 Academy Awards

So this year, in honor of it being a complete shitshow that’s not worth being taken seriously, I thought I’d take a different approach to the Academy Awards. There are no “rightful” winners, not in a year when everything is happening under extreme protest and one of the frontrunners is a piece of florid, overbaked torture porn1. So let’s talk about why we might want to talk about this nonsense. There’s no reason to take it seriously, so let’s figure out what else there might be to enjoy it. So here goes, a brief guide to why anyone should care about the Oscars.

1 This is The Revenant, I’m talking about The Revenant.

Best Original Screenplay
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Well, it might be the Academy’s opportunity to honor a film full of black people, even though none of the specific people involved were nominated for their work. Or it could be a cartoon, which is, y’know, always neat.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Because it’s going to be Bridge of Spies. I mean, maybe Spotlight, but probably the prestige period piece they want to give shine to without it being a contender in any of the more major awards. So that means Bridge of Spies.

Best Adapted Screenplay
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: The prominence of The Big Short is at least creating an official trend for The Academy loving movies about the financial collapse, which I guess is kind of interesting? The Room and The Martian are both awfully good books, so I guess if one of them wins it’ll put them in the Oscar record? I’m really reaching here.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Because, really, it isn’t.
All of the Effects/Sound/Editing/Design/Costume/Makeup Categories
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: You know what I mean. Anything that involves the stuff that isn’t directly performative (or directing). They usually are the more interesting ones, because it doesn’t really require a lot of knowledge or forethough to get right: do the visual effects look cool? Is it sonically effective? Does it look like the time and place it’s representing? Bingo-bango, you’ve got your award. It’s good on tv, although I don’t really care about talking about it, and it also isn’t given out on tv, so really the Oscars are dumb.
WHY IT WON ‘T BE: Because it’ll just be a name on the damn screen instead of the set of sizzle reels it should rightfully be.

Best Original Song
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because at least songs stand on their own, so, much like the set of categories above, there’s the ability for the viewer to make a judgment. Plus these are generally performed, which is just ducky: you get a break from the constant gowns and polite clapping and stuff.
WHY IT WON’T BE: This particular batch of songs is ten flavors of bullshit, and I can’t believe that’s how it goes down this year. Ugh.

Best Original Score
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: It’s less televisually-interesting than the Best Original Song category, but, y’know, film scores are still pretty cool, so there’s that.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Because it’s somehow just as bad as the Best Original Song category in terms of quality. It’s neat that John Williams did some more Star Wars music, and I definitely love it, but it’s not really award-worthy. Ditto Ennio Morricone. And those are the best of this category.

All the Documentary/Foreign Language Categories
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Oh, documentaries are fine, in the sense that lots of people like to plan to watch them, and sometimes you even get through a few! But really, these are the ones where the forced tastefulness of the committee, along with any political statement they want to make, tends to happen. And really, who gives an actual fuck about the political statements these idiots want to make this year? Also: Best Foreign Language film makes me angry for reasons aforestated, but repeated here: they aren’t judged on any metric except a sort of abstract idea of “quality,” and it’s (theoretically) every single film not made in English. It’s like when people say they listen to “World” music – it’s just othering something to make yourself look good, and it’s execrable.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Well, because one of the categories is legitimately terrible, and the rest aren’t about filmic prowess so much as they are about the academy itself, and how do you get invested in that?

Best Directing
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: It’s one of the big-deal awards that people care about, so there’s some entertainment value in this. Everyone in this category has done Oscar-worthy work in the past2, so at least it’ll be nice to see someone who is capable of deserving it win.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Actually, this one has a pretty good shot, although if The Revenant wins, that’ll be a bad sign all around.

2 McKay and Miller for The Big Short and Mad Max: Fury Road, respectively, which is also the movies for which they are nominated this year. McCarthy for The Station Agent, Inarritu for Birdmani, and Lenny Abrahamson for Frank.

Animated Feature Film
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: It’s maybe the only category in which something truly terrible isn’t nominated, so that’s several things going for it. Plus there’s a teeny-tiny chance Anomalisa could win, and that’s pretty boss.
WHY IT WON’T BE: It’s not on tv, so it’ll just be a name on the screen, but it’s at least a rock-solid category.
Best Supporting Actress
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: I mean, I guess Carol and The Danish Girl both have their hearts in the right places, and Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara are both pretty good? This whole category, though, is full of people who are just fine at their jobs, and not at all interesting as a set of performances.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Oh god it won’t be. Really. It really won’t be. This is a bunch of period-drama supporting work that is, I’m sure, fine, but deeply, impossibly uninteresting.
Best Supporting Actor
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Well, it’s sort of interesting because of itself: in all of the #OscarsSoWhite reactions, the fact that Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Creed and Michael B. Jordan wasn’t is sort of the headpiece, the one example that pretty much everyone can agree is some dumb nonsense. So the category is already a kind of interesting, which makes it more interesting than the overwhelming majority of this shit. Maybe we can watch someone’s actual head explode.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Because, much like the Supporting Actress category, it’s mostly full of capable actors doing capable work, capably, and not actually that interesting.

Best Leading Actress
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Similar to the Creed thing, Charlotte Rampling became something of another flashpoint for the whole mess when she said some real, real dumb stuff about it her own self. Plus, some of these performances (specifically Saoirse Ronan’s3 and Brie Larson’s) are genuinely incredible, which is nice.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Because the Charlotte Rampling thing is all part of the lead-up, and won’t be mentioned on the night, especially since she almost certainly won’t win. And really, it may very well be Cate Blanchett or (and this is less likely) Jennifer Lawrence, which is a snooze.

3 a great performance despite Brooklyn being basically symptomatic, again, of the #OscarsSoWhite thing, and also being laughably similar to something someone would come up with specifically as a parody of the 2016 Academy Awards

Best Actor in a Leading Role
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because this more than other years is being really, really pulled for as the year that Leo gets his Oscar and, if there is any kind of justice or whatever in the world, he won’t, because The Revenant is a fucking travesty, and it would be nice to experience that sense of schadenfreude, which is simply delicious.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Well, because there’s a decidedly non-zero chance that it could be Leo, and that would really be the cherry on top of all this: not only would it be the nod from the academy for a dude who did not deserve a nomination4, but it would be one of the periodic “corrective” Oscars that the academy loves to give out (to white people), since it’s literally become memetic that Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t have an Oscar, and this is somehow an affront to justice5, and also since it’s not entirely unlikely that they would do something to appease the people. I think.

4 he actually went out into the cold and guys, he acted really cold! Truly, it is a tour de force performance. Can you even imagine pretending to be cold while you’re out in the damn snow? My goodness.
5 I like Leonardo DiCaprio as much as anyone does, but 1) he really hasn’t ever given the best performance in a year when he’s been nominated* but 2) the Academy has no idea what they’re doing when they nominate things, so blame them and also 3) I get it. I like him too, and he does movies that are totally cool, but honestly, he’s not so good that there needs to be all of this hue and cry about it.
* in 93 he lost to Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, in 05 to Jamie Foxx for Ray, in 07 to Forrest Whittaker for The Last King of Scotland, in 2014 to Matthew McConaghey for Dallas Buyers Cluba. Two of those are among the best acting performances ever. It shouldn’t have been Leo.
a which actually wasn’t the best performance in tihat set, which was Chiwotel Elijofor for 12 Years a Slave, and also Bruce Dern for Nebraska

Best Picture
WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Well, Mad Max and The Martian are genre pictures, which is neat. Hell, Room and The Revenant even have a fair argument for being considered horror films4. It’s also always nice to see a comedy get in there, so The Big Short is neat, also. Lots of good options here, and not entirely made up of movies like, well, Brooklyn, which despite the excellent performance at its middle, is not really much of a movie.
WHY IT WON’T BE: Because it’s going to go to The Revenant or Bridge of Spies or Brooklyn or whatever, because the Academy is stupid. The same reason none of this will be interesting.

4 The book Room was actually recommended to me on its scariness, and The Revenant is clearly bear-oriented torture porn.

The Things I Eat For You People: KFC’s "Nashville" "Hot" Chicken

It’s been a long time since I Ate a Thing For You People, it’s true! There have been a dearth of Things that seem weird enough to want to weigh in judgment. I bring this feature out of semi-retirement, then, to talk about one of my favorite things: fast-food approximations of deeply, regional foods. Nashville hot chicken is certainly one of those.

It had a real moment in the sun a few years ago, as it’s sort of catnip for the food-gentrifier, “authetnicity”-obsessed dude1 who hears that something is only found in the bad parts of a city not associated with its culinary achievements. It’s meant to be a brutalizing experience, more hot than chicken, as it were. Accounts abound of the vagaries of its acquisition, I invite you to find some of them, but be warned: a lot of them are written by awful garbage people. The point is: it’s known for its specific regionality (Nashville actually devotes an entire festival to it), and for having a sort of odd preparation.

1 I mean, really. These people are all dudes. You know them. I largely am them. They’re dudes.

Hot chicken, you see, is brined2 and fried, and then it’s covered in a paste that’s made of peppers, smoked paprika, and god-knows-what. The result is something not entirely unlike a giant buffalo wing, except it’s pasted, not sauced. It’s served (because: Tennessee) with white bread and pickles, which seems reasonable. The level of heat is supposed to range from “ow that’s really hot” to “oh my god why is everything on fire everywhere how is this even food oh my god?” with rumors that it goes all the way to “blgghgllbllghghhgllbllbh” which is the noise you make as your tongue melts.

2 I’ve heard it’s a water-based brine, instead of like a milk-based brine or whatever, but I’ve never asked anyone that actually made it in any sort of formalized setting, so I guess take that for what it’s worth?

KFC is the purveyor of the sort of exemplar of fried chicken – in the bucket, with the biscuits, the odd regularity, the whole ball. I haven’t eaten at one in over a decade3, and it had been several years prior to that that I ate at one the time before. In this circumstance, it was rather late at night and my Eating Companion, who is a veteran eater of KFC, suggested it as a viable option. Seeing the opportunity to eat a manufactured, common-denominator version of a weird regional food, I jumped at the chance.

3 in fact, I can more-or-less guarantee that my last trip to KFC was precipiatated by either Patton Oswalt’s write-up of the Famous Bowl in the AV Club, or the subsequent standing-up comedy routine on his album Werewolves & Lollipops.

A brief discursion: I have not, as I mentioned, ordered food from a KFC in a very long time, and I was unaware that the process of ordering, say, half of your meal in a weird simulacrum of a genuine regional treat and half normal every day just fry it up chicken apparently requires the interior workers of the restaurant to have some sort of moot, where the legislate the possibilty and then charge you a whole entire extra bunch of money as a result. I’m saying: I don’t recommend the practice. Plus, y’know, read on.

Anyway, I get my food home, and I start with the non-hot chicken. It’s fine. That’s the thing, really, about KFC: it’s fine. There’s nothing as such wrong with it.. It’s fried chicken. There are ways to screw that up, certainly, but KFC isn’t really perpetuating any of them. It’s not only their lifeblood as a business, but for a bunch of people, it represents something of the standard of comparison for the form. It was less-salty than I remembered it being (which was a nice surprise), and I have no real complaints.

The hot chicken. Hooo boy the hot chicken. It was red. Red red. And it was wet. It was red, wet chicken in the bottom of a plastic clamshell. I’m not sure if the “paste” idea was impenetrable, or if there was no way for the corporate kitchens to design a recipe for it that held up, or if test audiences thought it was gross or what, but it was not inspiring. And it also presented some trouble when it came to the actual eating of the thing.

So the idea is that, traditionally, you eat it on the bread to sop up the drippings, which is a great idea, but I didn’t have any suitable bread. So, improvising, I tried it on the biscuit, thinking that the actual difference between “white bread” and “KFC biscuit” must be largely immaterial, except in terms of form4. They are also, it turns out, not up to the task, as the biscuit that was sacrificed to conveying the chicken to my mouth fell apart basically right away. So I did what was probably inevitable: I ate that shit with my hands, and also like fifty napkins, because apparently whatever they’ve slathered that chicken in, sauce-wise, is extraordinarily attractive to my beard. It made the process of consuming this animal, which had already started at “unappetizingly wet” include such stages as “really gross” and “good lord I’m a grown-up who feeds himself all the time and where the hell is this even coming from”.

4 and, resultantly, things like chemical stabilizers and the like that keep them in their shape and all that.

So how did it taste? Well, it was regular fried chicken with, like, a sauce on it. And not a cool barbecue-type sauce, either. Like a wet5, not-actually-vinegar-y sauce that did, admittedly, contain paprika, and might have even had, like, a brief introduction to some cayenne6. The breading, having been, y’know, made wet, was no longer standing up to anything, although it wasn’t giving up spectacularly like the biscuit did. The meat was fine, it’s the same meat all through the store, it’s almost-certainly a biological nightmare of factory-farmed science-magic, but it tastes fine at the time. Mostly when it’s sloughed off the wet breading.

5 if you come away with nothing else, I really want you to understand: I ate wet fried chicken for you people.
6 their menu “warns” customers that this is spicy, and that they might want to prepare themselves for the assault or whatever, but it really isn’t any spicier than my memory of their now-discontinued “spicy” chicken-breading or whatever.

KFC’s “Nashville” Wet Chicken is, resolutely, a terrible thing to do to yourself. It is not hot, and it has none of the joys of fried chicken. May I submit to the Powers that Fry that they should look into Barberton chicken, as served at White House Chicken and that other place. There’s an episode of Food Feuds about it, and its primary characteristic is that it’s (and I’m not kidding right now) cut into a bunch of pieces and not seasoned. I don’t know who would want that, but people do seem to eat it, and at least it would stay dry.

The 2016 Grammy Awards

As I’ve said before, the problem with the Grammy’s is their refusal to be one thing or the other. They’re kind of one of the “big” awards – big enough, anyway, that when Kanye West had an opinion about them it was the kind of annoying headline-grab that lasted for a depressingly long time1. They’re as out-of-touch as the Academy Awards, and although they don’t have quite the same lily-white lack of diversity as the Oscars, they have a similarly reliance on entrenched-establishment thinking2, which results, by its own nature, in things like having to decide to like either Beck or Kanye, or Macklemore getting a bunch of hip-hop Grammys the year before that, or any of a number of specific or general fumbles that you’ve probably already thought of.

1 of course, some of this is exacerbated by the entertainment media’s insatiable need to publish news of whenever Kanye does anything that Kanye does, in addition to Kanye’s general need to be Kanye as much and as publicly as possible.
2 I mean, this is fair: they are literally the mechanism for the public reveal of the opinion of the entrenched establishment. This is how it is, and not a complaint about the Grammy’s as such, but merely a statement that they are subject to the same socio-cultural tidal forces that are revealing themselves to be so heavily problematic in, say, The Oscars or any of a hundred other situations where the state of diversity is, to say the least, appalling. So it is a complaint, in summation, about the set of factors that allows it to become this way in the first place, of which the Grammys, like the Oscars, like the face of popular entertainment in general, is the outward face, and not the actual root cause.

The height of its profile, then prevents it from presenting as it3 is: a marketing concern. I wrote about this last year at Oscar time (and again a few weeks ago when the Oscar nominations for this year were announced), and the Grammy’s are in a very similar situation. Nothing makes this more apparent than the nomination period, which is not the previous calendar year (as it is for the Academy Awards), but rather the time from the previous October to the most recent October, meaning that the oldest albums in consideration for a Grammy are, at the time of the broadcast, sixteen months old. This, not coincidentally, means that the records released in time to be new for the Christmas record-buying rush are not eligible for Grammys until the next year, meaning that you’re not heaping the good publicity of a Grammy win on top of the sales rush of a recent release, and are instead calling people’s attention to an older record that sold already, thus prolonging the sales window. This is most visible in the presence of Taylor Swift (1989 was released on October 27, 2014) and not sales-juggernaut Adele (25 was released on November 20, 2015, and would therefore not be included until next year), but visible in a less-prominent sense all over the nominations, which don’t include the albums that people have spent most of the last several months thinking about.

3 and most of the other awards shows* that make it to television
* there is a point at which an entertainment awards show is the same kind of professional awards program that lots of professional unions, guilds, groupings, etc. have – a bunch of literary awards are more like that than like the other. The Screen Actor’s/Director’s Guilds have awards shows that are more like professional awards than entertainment spectacles and are, as a result, not generally given the same attention as entertainment spectacles (a = a, after all)

If they were more free to acknowledge this, we might get something more fun, like the Billboard Awards, if not actually the Video Music Awards. As it is, thought, we get a “serious” awards show that is particularly difficult to take seriously, and a long, overblown nonsense broadcast whose entertainment value is sabotaged by its continued insistence that is a Serious Matter of Note. That said, the idea that some voting body out there considers this a reasonable approximation of things that should be taken seriously is its own kind of entertainment, and it’s sort of what we’re doing here today, so let’s dig into the people that are nominated and try to make some sense of it all.

Oh, and there are 83 official Grammy categories. I won’t be writing about a bunch of them, but if you feel like you need my read on something, I’ve probably still got an opinion.

Best Music Film
Mr Dynamite is the first creative fruit of Mick Jagger’s apparent tenure as a producer at HBO4, and as much as I love James Brown (and, for that record, that is a lot of much. I really, really love James Brown), it’s just not really adding anything new. I mean, it’s doing more new things than The Wall (I mean seriously, Roger. Seriously.), so I guess it’s got that going for it. What Happened, Miss Simone and Amy are both excellent looks at tragic figures, and both are, in their way, pretty great, but the reason I’m writing about this category at all is that Sonic Highways is basically catnip for me. The overarching album that it resulted in is somewhat less than great, but as a series of mini-documentaries, it can’t be matched. There’s vintage Naked Raygun footage in there5! It can’t be matched!


4 he’s also doing a thing with Martin Scorcese called Vinyl that, admittedly, looks pretty cool
5 no, but seriously, the Chicago episode includes several minutes on the overlooked, somehow-not-tremendously-famous Naked Raygun, a band that if you aren’t listening to at this moment you owe yourself the duty of checking out.

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
I skipped over basically all of the classical categories for reasons that I probably don’t have to explain, and that have to do with familiarity and how much time I have on this Earth and all that. Anyway, this category doesn’t air on television6, and that’s fine, but I feel like I should acknowledge every time I can almost see myself agreeing with the ultimate choice they made, and that means Dave Cobb. Larry Klein did a bunch of old-guard stuff that the sort of people that care about production on records care about. Blake Mills produced one record that people that care about production on records care about. Diplo remains Diplo. Jeff Bhasker had a pretty interesting year, but didn’t really do anything worth giving an award to. Dave Cobb produced Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free and Honeyhoney’s 3, and those are some awfully well-produced albums. So good job Dave Cobb!


6 which isn’t actually saying much. I think, like, eight actual awards are given out on the broadcast.

Best Song Written for Visual Media
I felt like this is one of the categories that’s prominent enough that I should have something to say about it. So I’ll say this: as further evidence that this is a marketing effort, fucking “See You Again” is nominated for this goddamned award as though it were a good fucking song and not a stupid, cheap piece of flammery from a movie that people want to get worked about, merely because it was popular (which is its own sort of travesty, really). That said, this is really a category full of underperformance: Common, The Weeknd and Lady Gaga have all done work that I’d liked in the past, and ain’t none of them doing anything worth hearing here. So Ellie Goulding it is!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ellie Goulding, “Love Me Like You Do”

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media
My god, Interstellar came out a long time ago. Anyway, it’s clearly Birdman. Moving on.


Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media
OK, now we have a legit mystery. “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” was nominated for a Grammy as a song last year from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. It’s a pretty great song, and really, the soundtrack for Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me7 is pretty great. But, like, it also didn’t come out in both years guys, come on.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Eh, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is still the best of these options, so I guess there it is.

7 weirdly, the soundtrack for James Brown: I’ll Be Me was nominated for a Grammy last year, while the documentary was nominated this year, which can be explained more easily by the soundtrack preceding the documentary by enough to bridge the Grammy eligibility period.

Best Comedy Album
This is kind of a disappointing category here, as many of my favorite comedy albums of last year are not nominated. Leaving aside Lisa Lampanelli, I continue to find Jay Mohr and Craig Ferguson both more affable than funny – I like them generally as people or whatever, but don’t spend a lot of time with their stand-up comedy. I like Louis CK, and thought Live at Madison Square Garden was a solid addition to his body of work, but not a standout. Wyatt Cenac’s Brooklyn, though, is pretty great.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Wyatt Cenac, Brooklyn

Best Folk Album
So imagine my surprise at discovering that there are two Norman Blakes! Imagine my crushing disappointment when I discovered that the guy from Teenage Fanclub did not, in fact, start making folk music! I mean, the guy from The Frames is nominated in this category8, why not the guy from Teenage Fanclub? I tell you, the letdown is more than I could bear.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: General disappointment, and a case of same-name confusion.

8 for his album of less-than-great originals, and not his Jason Molina cover album, which is also a source of disappointment.

Best Americana Album
True story: amid certain circles of the “Americana”-type9 press, Jason Isbell’s excellent Southeastern not being nominated for a Grammy was a highly controversial occurrence. Further true story: I guess they’re trying to make up for it by nominating Something More Than Free, which is a pretty good record, but not nearly as good as Southeastern. Shame, that. I mean, it’s better than the Brandi Carlisle record here, but what wouldn’t be? It’s probably also better than The Traveling Kind, which is another just-fine Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell record. Maybe if they gave awards for harmonies. The Mavericks have, since getting back together10, made two surprisingly great records, but the Punch Brothers continue to genuinely be one of the best and most exciting bands in the genre (whatever you might be calling the genre).

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Punch Brothers, The Phosphorescent Blues

9 or alt-country or “real” country or whatever you’re going to call it.
10 again. After they got back together the first time.

Best American Roots Song
“All Night Long” is a good song, “Frames” is a good song, but really this category shakes out basically like the nearly-identical (save for swapping Don Henley and Brandi Carlisle) album category, so there’s not much else to say. It’s still the Punch Brothers.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Punch Brothers, “Julep”

Best American Roots Performance
Also known as “the category that allows Bela Fleck to be nominated for a Grammy”. It probably shouldn’t happen! Also it’s not Buddy Guy! Mavis Staples remains a great singer, but, weirdly, she’s nominated for “See That My Grave is Kept Clean,” a cover of the Staples Singer’s11 version of a Blind Lemon Jefferson song with the guy from Icebird. It’s a fine performance, but seems out of place here. Anyway. The Milk Carton Kids are boring. It’s the Punch Brothers again.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Punch Brothers, “Julep”

11 for which she was, obviously, the singer in the first place, and which is, as far as I’m concerned, the best and definitive version of the song.

Best Country Album
Really, all the best country albums were back in the Americana categories, but The Grammys make me perpetuate this charade every damn year. Luckily this year it’s basically the best this category has looked in a really long time. Even Sam Hunt and Little Big Town, neither of which is a winner, aren’t as execrable as this category has gotten in the past. Ashley Monroe seems to be moving on from the Pistol Annies (I guess?) well enough, although The Blade isn’t quite as good as their Like a Rose. It really could be Kacey Musgraves or Chris Stapleton, and I’d be happy either way. Let’s say Chris Stapleton, just because I think this is the first time he’s come up over here and I might as well enjoy proclaiming him the winner while it’s fresh.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, Traveller

Best Country Song
This is less inspiring, but easier: we throw out Tim McGraw’s “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools”, we throw out Lee Ann Womack’s “Chances Are,” and we’re left with quite a pile. The predicament is Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” and my general ambivalence toward this specific aspect of Little Big Town: their songs are completely, head-slappingly ridiculous, and yet I don’t hate them, and there is no good reason for this. So it might be the best song! But I would never admit this12. I feel like Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories came out, like, a billion years ago, but I like “Hold My Hand,” so I won’t complain too much. Anyway, it’s Chris Stapleton again.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, “Traveller”

12 this, actually, mirrors most of my attitude toward country music as an entire genre when I was younger. Maybe it’s just the last vestigial part of it.

Best Country Duo/Group Performance
And it all falls apart for the country nominations here. I mean, really. Come on people. Do better.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brothers Osborne, “Stay a Little Longer”

Best Country Solo Performance
Lee Ann Womack made it in here, too. This is genuinely surprising, as I keep having to look this stupid song up to remember what it is. The Keith Urban song I don’t, because I remember it, because it’s real real bad. Cam’s “Burning House” is better by comparison, but only by comparison. Carrie Underwood’s “Little Toy Guns” is not, as I hoped, a Honeyhoney cover, but instead a perfectly normal Carrie Underwood song. Good thing Chris Stapleton is still around.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, “Traveller”

Best Rap Album
Sometimes when J. Cole is nominated for awards I get angry, because of all the terrible candidates, they had to choose this one. Sometimes, like this year, I am happy because it means I get to once again not even consider J. Cole, and that’s basically my favorite thing to do wtih J. Cole: not consider him. Anyway, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was much better than I could’ve expected a Drake record in 2015 to be (sometimes I even listen to it for no particular reason other than I like some of it, which hasn’t happened since Take Care). Compton was also surprisingly good, and was step 2 in the anderson.paak plan to world domination (after making a gang of great songs on Hellfyre Club releases13). The Pinkprint was an awfully good album beset by some not-very-good singles. To Pimp a Butterfly remains a knotty, difficult record, but is probably the best album, qualitatively, in this category, and so should probably get the award.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

13 RIP Hellfyre Club

Best Rap Song
So, “Glory” is an ok Common song, but Common’s written a few dozen better ones, so it’s hard for it not to suffer in comparison. “Energy” is a non-contender from If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, addressed above. “All Day” is the best of the Grammy-eligible Kanye singles, but really, this decision comes down to something bigger. Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” is one of those times when To Pimp a Butterfly’s execution matches its ambition, and you get something that coheres (“The Blacker the Berry”, “Hood Politics” and “u” are the other ones). It’s a swing-for-the-fences, anthemic piece of writing, really going for the kind of environmental change Kendrick is after. Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” is about how much Fetty Wap likes his girlfriend, who helps him sell drugs. “Alright” was chanted by #blacklivesmatter crowds, and existed at the forefront of a lot of sociopolitical moments. It is unquestionably capital-I Important. “Trap Queen” was played on every car stereo in the country, and is, again, about how much Fetty Wap likes his girlfriend, who helps him sell drugs. It is probably within the Grammy’s best interests to nominate, as a winner, something that is socially relevant. It is probably within society’s best interest to have, as a Grammy-winner, a song that was so vital, so important to such a portion of the listening public, be a winner. But remember what I said about The Grammys earlier? That’s not what they do and, honestly, it’s beneath “Alright” as a cultural force to be up for an award against “Trap Queen.” “Alright” is going to be a great song on February 16, 2016, after all of the Grammys have been awarded. “Alright” is going to be associated with 2015 for a long time, and has already, in any meaningful way, won the hearts and minds of the public as the rap song that represents the time and the attitude. And here’s the thing: Kendrick’s a thinker. The Grammys are a popularity contest designed to sell records. And, honestly, “Trap Queen” is a song about how much Fetty Wap likes his girlfriend, who helps him sell drugs. So why give the Grammy to something that’s already won a cultural place so far above the Grammys that it lends the Grammys legitimacy, rather than any possible interpretation of the other way around? Especially when the song it’s really up against (because the rest of this category is made up of non-contenders) is a total fucking banger about how much Fetty Wap likes his girlfriend, who helps him sell drugs. So nice try, Grammys, but “rightful” means as “rightful” does, and you’re still a dumb awards show.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
I hate this category, so it’s tempting to give it to “Classic Man”, which is also completely terrible. But that would involve giving an award to “Classic Man,” and frankly I’d rather spend a year polishing all of J. Cole’s awards than give one to that pile of flaming dogshit. The real problem is that many of these songs are ok, but are the deeply flawed part of their albums. “One Man Can Change the World” is another in the unending brickwork of Big Sean trying to get me to like him (it’s kind of working, even. I no longer reflexively gag when I say his name. So that’s a start.), but it’s also kind of dull. “These Walls” is sort of exemplary of the problems with To Pimp a Butterfly in general – it’s almost super-great, and it’s got a good idea at its core, it just seems like it should be doing something better, or at least different. And that brings us to Common’s “Glory,” which I am on the record as not actually loving, but which is also the best song in this category, I guess. Ugh.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Common & John Legend, “Glory”

Best Rap Performance
I just wrote 450 or so words about “Alright” vs. “Trap Queen,” and since I’m also on the record about the singles from The Pinkprint (not the best part of the album) and J. Cole (fuck J. Cole), that leaves those two songs and Drake. It ain’t Drake, and it still cheapens “Alright” to give it a Grammy, and frankly, “Trap Queen” is still “Trap Queen” (that hasn’t changed in the intervening 200ish words). In fact, it’s even moreso “Trap Queen”, since “Trap Queen” genuinely made it on Fetty Wap’s extremely likable performance, and “Alright” basically entered history as interpreted by others. That’s probably an argument for it in the “song” category but, once again, it cheapens the genuine effect of the song to glom it onto the awards program associated with a dying industry for a flailing stab at relevance.  So it’s rightful to deny the Grammys the opportunity, and they should, rightfully, be stuck with “Trap Queen”. In the sense that getting to enjoy “Trap Queen” is being “stuck” with anything, I suppose.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”

Best R&B Album
Boy howdy, this one’s a tough call. I fully admit that I am completely missing the point with Charlie Wilson (and also The Gap Band, while we’re on the subject), but it never really gets ahold of me. Jazmine Sullivan mostly seems fine, although I haven’t heard anything I’ve loved. D’Angelo is literally the poster child for dude whose approach I like, but whose music I like way more on paper than in my actual ears. Andra Day has a great voice and a charismatically throwbacky thing. but so does Leon Bridges. And I like Coming Home, ultimately, more than Cheers to the Fall.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Leon Bridges, Coming Home, although it could go to anybody in this category and I wouldn’t actually be sad. Although admittedly, I would be baffled if it was Charlie Wilson, because I still don’t get it.

Best Urban Contemporary Album
So The Weeknd was, after the year he had, probably a lock for a nomination here. I’ve written of it before, but it remains interesting to watch someone that I rode so hard for when he made weird, fucked up records become a full-fledged pop star by (basically) completely sanding down the edges and making the safe, inoffensive version of what it was he was doing14. It’s certainly very far from the first time that’s happened, it’s just the first time15 I’ve had a front row seat for it. Anyway, since I say something like this every time he comes up, I’ll just reiterate that Beauty Behind the Madness is not the best album, and move along. Lianne La Havas has never done anything remotely interesting. Kehlani was in PopLyfe, who were famous for being on America’s Got Talent (well, famous, y’know), and is trying to make it solo out of that. Judging by this material, she probably shouldn’t have. Miguel’s Wildheart is very good! But The Internet’s Ego Death is super great. It has been interesting to watch the various pieces of Odd Future float through the musical landscape and land in some interesting places. The Internet are the best candidate in this category as Frank Ocean was a couple of years ago16, which is neat I suppose.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Internet, Ego Death

14 although I’m also becoming familiar with the similar feeling of having ridden for clipping. for years now (often on the pages of this very blog) and preparing to watch Daveed Diggs get a fucking Tony Award. Admittedly, he did it a very different way, but it’s been a year of seriously dissonant award nominations.
15 in pop star terms. It used to happen with me and rock bands fairly regularly.
16 there is, probably, something to say (for someone with more of an inclination to say it) for Tyler the Creator, whose homophobia was a big part of his early controversy, helping give rise to the two best non-straight R&B performers currently going, but I’m just going to write this footnote and leave it at that.

Best R&B Song
And in addition to all that stuff above, “Earned It” is a really terrible song. I mean, just truly awful. I like it less every time I hear it. I realize that Tyrese has been around and recording for quite some time, but I always forget about him and see his name on something like, say, a list of Grammy nominees and have to spend a few moments recovering from the shock. Anyway, it’s not “Shame,” although that’s by no means a bad song. Jazmine Sullivan’s “Let it Burn” is a little too by-the-numbers for me. D’Angelo continues to largely elude me. I really could’ve spent this whole paragraph telling you people how great “Coffee” is but 1) you probably already know and 2) I don’t have to tell you, the song will tell you itself. Such a great song. Hot damn.


Best Traditional R&B Performance
I feel like I’ve said a whole bunch of stuff about most of this already, and I have nothing new to say about Faith Evans, except: seriously? Faith Evans? It’s 2016. Jesus. Anyway, “Let it Burn” was no good for R&B Song for its by-the-numbers-ness, but that’s not a bad thing in the “Traditional R&B” category (for reasons that I just made up), so let’s go with that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jazmine Sullivan, “Let it Burn”

Best R&B Performance
Since I’m using this space as a clearinghouse for most of my briefer opinions about pop music, I’ll take advantage of that to say: I don’t like Hiatus Kaiyote. I think their thing is way too precious, or at least overbears their sound enough that I can’t really enjoy it. It just feels too marketing-y, I guess? That’s not an entirely founded accusation – I know basically nothing about them except for the handful of press blurbs and a half dozen or so songs – but it’s how it all comes across. It rubs me the wrong way, and really gets in the way of their music, which is also boring. Anyway, that’s more than I have to say about Tamar Braxton. I’ve mentioned my feelings on “Earned It” (refresher: it’s real real bad) before. I love Jeremih (kind of17), but can’t allow an award to be given to J. Cole, so I guess it’s just not his year. That leaves Andra Day and “Rise Up”, which is fine with me.


* mostly
Best Alternative Music Album
Alabama Shakes, Tame Impala and My Morning Jacket all have material that I like19, but this is kind of a two-horse race. Well, actually, it’s a one-horse race. Wilco’s Star Wars is a great piece of fuckaround, the best Wilco album in years, the best use of an annoying title, and something that it’s just generally a delight to be around and into. Bjork’s Vulnicura is a world-class piece of miserablism, an emotional journy through some pretty dark places, and an album that manages to be sonically inventive without spending any of its run time being pointedly or self-consciously “weird”20. You’ll notice that in this category it goes to the Great album, rather than the fun one, in contrast to the hip-hop categories. This is because the Grammys stand to gain nothing by honoring Bjork over Wilco, and it’s not the same sociocultural move at all (Jeff Tweedy and Bjork are, after all, both alarmingly white). Context matters, everybody.


19 although, to be honest, I like them in basically that order, and MMJ doesn’t have a lot of material that I like.
20 which were the things that kept Biophilia and Volta from being as great as, say, Homogenic. Or, y’know, Vulnicura.

Best Rock Album
Every. Damn. Year. I get to this category, I give a great big sigh, and I try to figure out how to write something about it. At least this year there’s some bands who made records upwards of a decade ago that I liked at the time21. So we throw out James Bay and Highly Suspect. Kintsugi is, like every Death Cab for Cutie record for the last decade, not every good (and now Chris Walla has left – this was the last record he worked on with them – so lord knows what they’re going to sound like going forward). Muse’s Drones and Slipknot’s The Gray Chapter are both surprisingly effective “returns to form” for each band. Drones is a power-trio concept album (because of fucking course it is) with one cracker of a single (“Mercy”). The Gray Chapter is the first Slipknot album after the death of their bassist (and the leaving of their drummer), and probably gets points for managing to not be too bad22 despite having to get a whole new rhythm section and all that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Slipknot, .5: The Gray Album

21 actually, if the Grammy came down to Slipknot’s Volume 3: The Subliminal Verses, Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism and Muse’s Absolution, this would be a more interesting race. All of those records came out so long ago. I’m so old.
22 and for being maximalist commercial metal instead of a power-trio concept album. That always helps.

Best Rock Song
OK, I found something to say about the album category, I’m abandoning this one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”

Best Metal Performance
2015 was actually a banner year for metal. None of that is here. Fucking Ghost? Lamb of God? Ugh. I realize that complaining about not paying attention to genre (especially and famously heavy metal) is something of a mug’s game when it comes to the Grammy’s, but I literally can’t think of a way to make this category interesting.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kowloon Walled City, “Your Best Years”, Caina, “Vowbound,” Bell Witch, “Judgment, In Air,” Boris, “Dreamy-Eyed Panjandrum”, Sumac, “The Radiance of Being,” Deafheaven, “Luna”

Best Rock Performance
OK. Alright. OK. Fine. Alright. So. The world has given me dozens of opportunities to like Florence and the Machine and Wolf Alice, and I don’t. I think I’ve liked a couple of songs by each. Elle King is Rob Schneider’s daughter. I don’t know why that disqualifies her, but it’s a more interesting fact than any of her godawful music. That leaves us with the Tired Ghost of the Foo Fighters, and Alabama Shakes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”

Best Dance/Electronic Album
Man, the rock categories really take something out of me. OK. Skrillex was very briefly an interesting force for dance music. Diplo was less-briefly even more interesting. Together they made a bland, awful record no one should be listening to. Disclosure remains a pretty surefire way to put me to sleep. I used to like Caribou quite a lot, but haven’t been into the new stuff. Jamie XX has never really been my thing, although I kind of understand why people are so into him. Luckily, that Chemical Brothers record is pretty top-flight.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Chemical Brothers, Born in the Echoes
Best Dance Recording
Hey wait. Why wasn’t You’re Dead! nominated for best dance album? It should’ve been. Dammit. This one really comes down to “Go”, from Born in the Echoes and “Never Catch Me” from You’re Dead!, and I’m team Flying Lotus pretty much all the way here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Flying Lotus, “Never Catch Me” (f Kendrick Lamar)

Best Pop Vocal Album
……James Taylor? OK, it’s not James Taylor. It’s never James Taylor. JAMES TAYLOR? Alright. No. Not James Taylor. It’s also not Florence and the Machine who are nominated in a couple different genres, which speaks to me of chicanery and favoritism. So there. Kelly Clarkson’s days of making records that I enjoy are largely behind her, which is sad, but not as sad as the existence of Piece By Piece. Uptown Special should have been a real triumph, since nearly every record produced by Mark Ronson before it was basically untouchable. It wasn’t. So sad. Congratulations, T-Swizzle!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taylor Swift, 1989

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
I never care about this category. I do not care about it now, I will not care about it next year. The only reason I persist in writing about it (as opposed to skipping it like I do the Latin categories, or the CCM categories, or the Jazz categories) is because its existence is the very reason that the Grammy’s could not possibly be taken seriously. You see, “Traditional Pop” is a meaningless genre. I say that not in the sense that genre itself is meaningless – it kind of is, but it’s also a useful comparative sorting system. When someone says “I listen to rap music”, you have an idea that they’re not out buying Miranda Lambert records. But this category hasn’t existed in a meaningful way in decades – it’s true that it’s what they call Tony Bennett so they can nominate him for Grammys ever year, but I defy you to find someone who limns the way they describe what they listen to by the bounds suggested in the nominees for this category, this year or historically. It’s a dustbin, a way to chuck a bunch of really old23 people somewhere so you can keep having them show up, and to keep the old people (who are one of the few groups of humans still buying music through the industry-preferred channels) satisfied by still nominating music they like. It’s patently ridiculous.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anyone who doesn’t have to think about this nonsense.

23 and, in the case of Tony Bennett, really really old.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
Miraculously, “See You Again” is not the worst song in this category. That honor belongs to Maroon 5’s “Sugar.” Those two, however, make me feel more generally charitable to “Uptown Funk” (a song whose only real crime was oversaturation to the point of nausea) and Florence + The Machine’s “Ship to Wreck” (a song whose only real crime is being super boring). Albeit not charitable enough to make up for the feeling of creeping disgust that the best of these songs, “Bad Blood”, isn’t even very good to begin with.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taylor Swift, “Bad Blood” (f Kendrick Lamar)

Best Pop Solo Performance
Ed Sheeran, man. He’s still here. He continues to be nominated for stuff even though he’s the goddamned worst. I’m doing everything I can think of to stop this continuing to happen, maybe you people should help out a little. Ed Sheeran. Pfuh. Kelly Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song” is pretty dull, as is Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do”. It’s more-or-less a toss-up between “Blank Space” and “I Can’t Feel My Face,” so I’ll take the opportunity to take a break from Taylor.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Weeknd, “I Can’t Feel My Face”

Best New Artist
Man, I know that this is supposed to be cursed and whatnot, and that I wouldn’t wish that curse on anybody I liked, but I would love to hear Courtney Barnett’s Grammy acceptance speech, and she’s totally the best of the people in this category, so let’s give it to her.


Song of the Year
See above w/r/t “Alright.” See above w/r/t Ed Sheeran. See above (and previously ad inf) w/r/t “See You Again.” I mentioned “Girl Crush,” but didn’t definitively say that it’s not a better song than “Blank Space,” so consider it said.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

Album of the Year
You know, for all that, I do kind of think To Pimp a Butterfly deserves a Grammy. I mean, I know I just spent a couple of pages worth of this post arguing against the need for “Alright” to get one, but the record is an awfully good piece of pop music, and it’s worlds better as an album than 1989. I guess I contain multitudes or whatever.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Record of the Year
This is coming up on 6,000 words23  about what all of this means for pop music. But ultimately, this is about pop music, for all that. So this category was preordained basically from the moment that its current avatar released The Record24. Some things are bigger than any of us, really.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taylor Swift, 1989

23 additionally, this is the third reference to the word count, which seems like I have a problem, I guess.
24 as it is foreordained next year to be Adele’s 25. Really, there is no mystery to this stuff.