A Considered Look at the Best-Selling Records of All Time, Part 5

What makes an album a gajillion-seller is a combination of factors so incoherent that it’s more-or-less impossible to list or talk about them in any real sense as a class – each gajillion seller is different in its genesis. At a certain point, however, the primary force behind a record selling a bunch of copies is momentum. More copies sold means more chart presence which means more press presence means more people exposed to it means more people hearing it means more copies sold. These records have reached a point where they have a kind of gravity – they accrete sales at this point, rather than achieving them, planetary bodies around which other records orbit, touchpoints for people to find and recognize while they find other, more personal planets.

That said, many of the best-selling records of all time are not specifically good or bad. I’m not going to bat for most of them here, but there’s usually a reason. What that reason is is sometimes anybody’s guess (and sometimes it’s more a success in marketing and stuff than it is in actual music). So, in the interest of figuring it all out, I listened to them. All of them. Even when it was painful. Even when it was really painful.

So I bring you part 5 of this extensively-researched, closely-examined regarding of the biggest-selling records of all time 1Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here. Part 4 can be found

Backstreet Boys – Backstreet Boys/Backstreet’s Back

WHAT IT IS: The Backstreet Boys’ American debut 2, and ground zero for the Lou Perlman boy-band machine’s meteoric success.

WHY IT’S HERE: It may be difficult to believe, given that precisely one person from the boy-band era is still famous for his current activities (rather than retroactively), but the Backstreet Boys were fucking huge. They were practically a cult (see below), and they sold through the roof back when pop music moved huge numbers of albums.

AND…?: Like many mechanical pop records, it’s pretty awful. Surprisingly, there is a cover of P.M. Dawn’s “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” which is weird not for its form, but because it exists at all. This album also features a lone song  written by a lone Backstreet Boy (Brian Littrell, who, to his credit, has moved seamlessly into the CCM scene, wrote “That’s What She Said”) 3 which comports itself well by not actually being the worst song on the album. It also features a song written and produced by ACLOTBSAOAT mainstay Mutt Lange, which, y’know, might actually be the worst song on the album. 

THE BEST SONG: “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” which comes near (if not right at) the beginning of the chart reign of Max “every pop song ever” Martin.

Backstreet Boys – Millenium

WHAT IT IS: It’s the follow-up to Backstreet Boys, and the second part of the pop diptych that is the pinnacle of boy-band-dom, at least sales-wise.

WHY IT’S HERE: In the previous section, I mentioned that Backstreet Boys fandom was cult-like, and as evidence I offer the following: this album and its predecessor sold functionally identical numbers of units, two years apart. The fact that their sales drop far enough off that they will not appear again in this project also speaks to the brief life of their popularity.

AND…?: It’s exactly like Backstreet Boys. It has more songs written by Brian Littrell (although none by him solo), and another song written by Mutt Lange. Also some other Boys write parts of it, and all of those songs are tremendously forgettable.

THE BEST SONG: The best song on Millenium is also the best Backstreet Boys song, and the best song of the entire boy band bubble: “I Want it That Way”.

Ace of Base – Happy Nation/The Sign

WHAT IT IS: The debut album by the other mega-selling Scandinavian pop act. What is interesting about Ace of Base is how little there actually is to say here: they were created, they sold an absolute tonne of copies of one record, they continued to exist for about a decade, they never came near that kind of success again, and they then they stopped. As a result, they exemplify a very specific time in pop music when they’re played, despite not really sounding very much like anything else that was contemporaneous.

WHY IT’S HERE: It’s sort of the best-case scenario for a mechanical pop record – it came out, there are seven singles from it (two of which achieved a kind of cultural penetration that is completely insane), it was played on the radio constantly. There were probably music videos, but I have no memory of them 4. This album is sort of the exemplar of what the music industry used to be able to do when they mobilized behind something, as are a lot of the pop records here from the nineties record-sales boom.

AND…?: One of the reasons that it is so temporally-bound is that it really doesn’t sound like other pop records very much, but this is one of those cases where “different from the regular stuff” is not the same as “worth hearing.” They were inspired to make the record they made by the sounds of a reggae band working in the same studio, but it’s sort of reggae after a traumatic head injury. It is very not good.

THE BEST SONG: For whatever it’s worth, the best song is “All That She Wants,” but I can’t say it’s actually worth hearing.

TLC – CrazySexyCool

WHAT IT IS: It’s sort of a turning point for R&B – it started the merging between R&B and hip-hop that continues to inform both genres 5.

WHY IT’S HERE: Timing, mostly. Sean Combs (then Puff Daddy) was on the ascendency, and his fingerprints are all over this record, and this was when his fingerprints were worth a few million sold 6. But really, it’s a cross-genre record (actually it’s a cross radio-format record, but y’know) that does right by both genres (radio formats). Plus double the radio formats means double the stations, which means double the plays and, of course, in 1994 that worked.

AND…?: It holds up awfully well. Its breath-of-fresh-air originality has been lost somewhat as the actual sound of the record has been so thoroughly subsumed into the bedrock of pop music since, but the songs still work, and the production (which is, admittedly, extremely dated) doesn’t actually cause too much problem.

THE BEST SONG: I mean, it’s probably actually “Waterfalls.” But I would also argue in favor of “Red Light Special” 7.

Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual

WHAT IT IS: Cyndi Lauper is such a delightful and life-affirming presence on planet Earth that I try as hard as I can to forget that she started out as a recording artist. This is the one Cyndi Lauper album that has survived in the collective memory.

WHY IT’S HERE: There is always going to be some stock in novelty when it comes to purveryors of pop music. Cyndi Lauper’s voice is a unique instrument, to say the least, and that made it easier to remember her songs. She also benefitted from the early-ish days of MTV 8, and in general from the aformentioned delightful, life-affirming thing.

AND…?: Oh, the record is completely unlistenable. But she’s just great, so let’s all agree not to tell her.

THE BEST SONG: “Time After Time,” I suppose. She’s performed it on television and things and I haven’t hated it. The album version is a fucking war crime, though.

Oasis – What’s the Story (Morning Glory)

WHAT IT IS: the most popular outcropping of Britpop, and the most popular surviving relic of the Cool Britannia part of the 90s that isn’t the Spice Girls album Spice.

WHY IT’S HERE: Back at the write-up for the roughly-contemporaneous 9 Spice in part 3, I suggested that the Spice Girls’ out-of-control popularity was due to their ability to mechanize and commodify the sort of thing that the Britpop bands were doing to build it into a pop-music audience. In the mid-nineties rock music was still capable of really selling records, and those impulses that the Spice Girls so monetized were borne, largely, of the enormous popular response to this album in particular, despite it being the second-best Oasis record and, eighth best britpop album 10 in general.

AND…?: I mean, it isn’t as good as the records in FN10, but it’s still pretty gosh-darned awesome. If there’s anything to be said for big, dumb sing-along rock music, it’s probably said effectively and enjoyably on What’s the Story (Morning Glory).

THE BEST SONG: “Champagne Supernova.” Sometimes there are surprises, and sometimes there aren’t.

Bon Jovi – Cross Road

WHAT IT IS: Bon Jovi’s first greatest hits album.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because Bon Jovi sold a bunch of records, and had a number of hits, and that had dried up by 1994, so it was time to release them in one place and re-monetize them.

AND…?: Bon Jovi remain a specific emblem of their time and place, and no amount of rewriting their best song (“Livin’ on a Prayer” appears here both in its original form and as “Prayer ‘94”) can change that. It’s still not very good, but it’s better than any of their regular albums because at least the production changes every couple of songs so it’s not as witheringly same-y.

THE BEST SONG: “Livin’ on a Prayer,” which you may also remember was the best song on Slippery When Wet. Is it possible that I only like one Bon Jovi song? I submit to you: yes, yes it is. It’s entirely possible.

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP

WHAT IT IS: The biggest-selling rap album of all time 11

WHY IT’S HERE: Even a simple explanation of what The Marshall Mathers LP is, and what it meant, is extraordinarily complicated, but I’ll try to hit the high points in as succinct a manner as possible. By the late nineties, rap was a major part of the mainstream (exactly when it became so is a matter for historians to debate, and is mentioned here only to point out just exactly how quickly this becomes a tricky thing to discuss in any kind of detail), and one of the fuels that was combusted to get it there was its ability to annoy and/or shock old people. Eminem did that efficiently and, important and germaine to his sales here, was white, and thus equipped to make inroads with a relatively-new hip-hop audience that found a rapper they were easily capable of identifying with. The identity politics of his fame itself aside, The Marshall Mathers LP also has the distinction of being, at least for stretches, a phenomenal display of talent, and, while flawed (see below), a fantastic piece of music in general, which has given it a staying power that contemporaneous hip-hop records haven’t necessarily had.

AND…?: It’s not perfect – it’s too long in two different senses. First, it has skits, which is an abomination that the youths of today have blissfully no experience with except in an archival sense. Second, even without the skits, it’s still too many songs. A trimmed-up forty-minute version of the record would be an unqualified masterpiece. As it is, it’s a fountainhead for a bunch of modern rappers, so I suppose “mere” influence stands in for the parts of it that didn’t age very well (or, honestly, didn’t work super-well even at the time).

THE BEST SONG: “Stan,” probably. Although a special mention must be made of “Kim,” which is simultaneously one of the most toxic, noxious songs ever recorded, and also an impressive channeling of genuine anger into what are, with the benefit of hindsight, just some particularly ugly horrorcore lyrics.

Adele – 25

WHAT IT IS: It is the most recent record on the list by years 12. It is currently on the radio. It just won some grammys, like, a few days ago. What I’m saying is; you totally already know this record and don’t need me to give it any context.

WHY IT’S HERE: Adele is the closest thing to a universally-liked performer we’ve got, and her audience skews older than other massively-popular acts, so her records still sell in the old way.

AND…?: There’s nothing wrong with 25. Adele has a great voice, some of the melodies themselves are pretty incredible. 21 was notable for sounding like nothing else in the pop music sphere, and 25 actually moves closer to a more normalized kind of production, which is not necessarily to its detriment. It’ll probably move up on 21 over time, as the latter is six years old and only has five million more copies sold.


Boston – Boston

WHAT IT IS: IT’S MORE THAN A FEEEEELIIIIIIIIIIN’. Also it’s a record made in Tom Scholz’s basement that a lot of people like to talk about the sound of. I don’t really understand why. I mean, I guess it doesn’t sound necessarily like it was made in a basement 13? Anyway. Big in the seventies. Etc. 

WHY IT’S HERE: If nothing else, it’s sort of the birth of the “Corporate Rock” genre, which, y’know, is a tough thing to be held responsible for, even if it’s kind of deserved. It is also responsible for both a major legend about its genesis 14 and a top-flight classic-rock-radio hit, both of which are pretty easy ways to catapult yourself into the upper echelons of sales.

AND…?: There are worse albums. I mentioned that it forms part of the genesis of Corporate Rock, and it sounds like that, but also it came across that sound naturally. For better or worse, Boston is the sound of a band being a band, and with that comes the creative vision and whatever else that is being fulfilled here. I can’t imagine pulling it out in any kind of regular rotation, but it’s not as bad as I feared.

THE BEST SONG: I unabashedly and forever love “More Than a Feeling” a great deal, and I do not care who knows it. It is the best song at a walk on this record.

Britney Spears – Oops!…I Did It Again

WHAT IT IS: The second Britney Spears album 15, thus the carefully focus-marketed and constructed sequel to her debut.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because Britney was big business in 1999, and people showed up to buy this thing in droves. 1999 was a big year for record sales on the back of the then-booming pop albums market, and this one is the clear recipients of that time’s largesse.

AND…?: This is a thin, joyless album. Back when I wrote about …Baby One More Time I wrote that the music really needed her music video presence to go over, and Oops!…I Did It Again doesn’t really even have much of that going for it. A little more time to develop may have helped the record some, as in addition to sounding like an assembly-line chop-job it also sounds kind of rushed, but honestly, there have been long breaks between her records since this one and it hasn’t actually helped. I don’t think there was ever much to be done here, musically speaking. It does, however, bring this installment nicely full circle – “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know” is produced and written by Mutt Lange 16, which means that part 5 begins and ends with me cursing Mutt Lange’s name and wishing for his bloody dismemberment.

THE BEST SONG: It’s probably “Lucky,” which is jaunty and has kind of a nice bridge, but honestly, this is all pretty same-y and uninteresting.

  1. According to Wikipedia 
  2.  the reason that it has two titles, in fact, is because their British debut came out a year earlier and was also called Backstreet Boys, so the second record – which is not entirely separate from the first anyway, in case there wasn’t enough general confusion – is retitled Backstreet’s Back in Great Britain. 
  3.  The reader is left to imagine the depths of my disappointment that this title is not, in fact, a punchline. 
  4.  although, in all fairness to them, I was nine, and never really cared much for their music anyway. 
  5.  calling anything the first is difficult, especially when you’re talking about that kind of genre-melding, so NB that the merge itself was already happening, it’s just that CrazySexyCool is an obvious point you can use to say “this is where this was definitely happening”. Partly, admittedly, because it sold a gajillion copies. 
  6. the past is a different country 
  7.  which is especially surprising because I don’t usually take to Babyface at all 
  8.  the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” video cleaned up at the 1984 VMAs, for example 
  9.  the two records are less than a year apart, with Oasis’ coming out first. 
  10. in addition to Definitely Maybe as mentioned, it’s behind Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife and 13, Pulp’s Different Class and This is Hardcore, and the Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible 
  11.  there are hip-hop inflected elements to TLC’s CrazySexyCool, and Left Eye did some rapping, but it’s not a rap album. Similar things can be said about Usher’s Confessions, which will appear in the future. This is also, obviously, not counting things like Mariah Carey’s Daydream or Santana’s Supernatural, which include performances by rappers but are not, in any meaningful sense, rap albums. 
  12.  specifically since 21, the Adele album that precedes it. 
  13.  leaving aside that, specifically, the Jesus Lizard’s Goat, one of the best-sounding rock records of all time, was also recorded in a basement and also manages not to sound like a dated mess. I’m saying that the basement coin is overspent, y’know? 
  14.  to wit, Tom Scholz recorded the album in his basement against the wishes of the label, so one of his bandmates had to run interference so they could pretend the album was being recorded in a more established studio on the West coast. 
  15.  and also the second Britney Spears album to have an ellipsis in the title. 
  16.  which is co-written by his wife and fellow criminal-against-good-music Shania Twain, about whom see previous installments. 

The 2017 Academy Awards

It’s the Oscars again! The crown jewel of awards season! The grande dame of television awards spectaculars!

Last year at this time, I decided that due to the inability of the Oscars to make a set of selections worth taking seriously, I was not going to evaluate them as an awards-granting body. If the process itself is so deeply flawed, said I, then no one is the “Rightful” winner, and as a form of protest, I will not choose same in this space.

This year, the Oscar nominators have cleaned up their act a bit, and things are on the upswing 1, relatively speaking.

That said, I still have reasons for not wanting, necessarily, to declare someone the rightful winner at the Oscars, and they are as follows: I don’t much care for movies.

I mean, I’ll watch them. And sometimes I am entertained by them. I’m still a human. But as far as the art itself, I find it difficult to care. Oscar-nominated movies are, in general, all of the things I am least interested about not only in film itself, but in narrative art, and I think the sort of “serious”, awards-baiting films that one sees here are unedifying, and a waste of my time.

A caveat: I do not, necessarily, think they are a waste of your time, and I am not unaware of the fact that this is art made by people to whom it is important enough to devote their lives. It’s not in question, and far be it from me to insist that things only exist when I like them. That would be a world scarcely worth living in. But I don’t like it, and I find it difficult to consider it in terms of its general worthiness.

The Oscars, generally, have thus always created a huge stumbling block, one that I usually get around by, well, not writing about the Oscars 2except for the once. It requires a great deal of cramming, of learning what and who these movies are and are for, and of trying to watch as many of them as is feasible, even though most of them have minimal value as entertainment, and the artistic value is suspect as well.

On top of the movies themselves being a real drag to try to make it through, there’s the important point of the telecast itself. To wit: it is so very, very boring. It is ten hours long, they don’t present enough awards, there’s always a couple of major staging problems, there are still too many “numbers” 3, it’s just a mess.

However, this is a blog that concerns itself primarily with popularity, and the forces thereof and, perhaps even more importantly, the presentation of same. And The Oscars are not only how our society remembers a movie, but they are also the culmination – the jewel in the crown – of all television awards shows. They’re the television awards show.

So not writing about them would be, frankly, shirking my duty to you poor little lambs.

Thus, once again, I find myself in a position where it would be inappropriate to declare one of these people “rightful” – this time due to my own peculiar tastes rather than any political reason outright 4so instead I’ll be talking about how interesting each category is in and of itself.

Alterations to the format of the write-up notwithstanding, please don’t worry – these are all 100% correct as always, and you can take them wtih to your grave.

Best Visual Effects

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because it’s one of the most apparent – did the effect look cool? Is it worth watching? The nice thing about separating the visual effects from the rest of the film is that you don’t even have to care if it worked within the movie, because it’s just for the effect itself.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Well, because it won’t be televised, really. But that’s true of all but a very few of these, so the other reason it won’t be is because this category exists as a sop for genre films, and every time it’s given out it’s another reminder that the academy doesn’t take genre films seriously 5

Best Film Editing

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because nobody knows anything about film editing 6and yet it’s one of the most important jobs in all of film. It’s a real shadow government thing going on there, and that’s always great.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because it’s a hard thing to show (even though, again, they’re not going to show it) and also because, since it’s such a mysterious thing, there’s no way to know how it was evaluated.

Best Costume Design

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: I don’t know that it could. I mean, I think costume design is a thing that is necessary and should be rewarded, but honestly, I can think of maybe five times a costume has struck me as something about the movie that was awesome, and two of those are Star Wars.

WHY IT WON’T BE: I mean, this is self-evident.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: The only way this category would be interesting is if you saw my reaction to Suicide Squad being nominated for an Academy Award. That was probably pretty entertaining. I thought the Academy had lost its capacity to shock and dismay me, but here I am, shocked and dismayed.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because Suicide Squad is here, and there’s no reason to go on living. I mean, for crisp’s sake, the Suicide Squad makeup includes that thing they called The Joker. What the fuck is award-worthy about that?

Best Cinematography

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: It could be interesting in the same way that photography is interesting – that is, in the sense that looking at things is interesting, with bonus appreciation when you know things about composition and stuff.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Well, when film was shot on film, there was a real economic and professional incentive to be good at capturing a shot, and impressive shots were somewhat more rare – the talent level of the cinematographer had to match up with the conditions and the performances and everything, so that the whole thing came off impressively and worked the way it was supposed to. This award, then, was certainly a craftsman’s award – a good cinematographer is the person who is enabling the literally superficial aspects of the creative vision of the entire film, and is therefore worth recognizing when he is the best he can be – but also a kind of professionalism award, given how closely that is tied in with budgetary concerns, and therefore many of the primary concerns with production itself. Digital cinematography, where you have functionally infinite “film” to get everything done the way you want it, requires significantly less in terms of that kind of whole-project alignment, because you can just keep trying, nobody’s paying for film stock. Anyway, it’s still a skill that requires something of the practitioner, but it’s less of a miraculous thing than it used to be, and, as a result, has become a little less important, but also a little less interesting.

Best Production Design

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because a bunch of these movies genuinely have interesting, thoughtful production design. I don’t actually have a read on how often this category is bullshit vs. other categories 7but it seems like this set of nominees is pretty good.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because it’s going to go to fucking La La Land, and frankly, that’s going to be an enormous disappointment. Unless you find disappointment entertaining, in which case the reason this won’t be entertaining is because, like all the other of these, you won’t be watching it given out and will just see it on a scroll or a chiron or something

Best Sound Mixing

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because it’s always interesting to contemplate the sheer amount of effort for something to be even competent, let alone great, and how even when it requires such an effort, it’s still sometimes nigh-impossible to actually notice.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because you’ve only ever noticed the sound mixing on a movie when it was actively bad, so how on earth would you be able to know what it sounds like when it’s exceptional?

Best Sound Editing

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because even when something strives for unnoticeability, there are still a bunch of crazy ways it could fail. This is sort of a one-two punch with the sound mixing part.

WHY IT WON’T BE: I mean, really, I have no idea how it would be.

Best Original Song

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Well, at the very least, it’s the easiest to grasp: each requires only a few minutes of your time, and can be easily evaluated by the normal process that you use to evaluate songs that you’re hearing all the time. It’s finally a category that requires very little effort to form a definitive opinion about!

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because it’s going to go to a boring song, like it does almost every year.

Best Original Score

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Well, conceptually it’s always interesting to try to figure out how much of a film score works as a stand-alone piece of music, and how much of it works as an accompaniment to the specific visual and emotional environment in which it was presented originally.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because that consideration is secondary to the fact that it’s hard to come up with any sort of rubric, even if you have the familiarity, and also it’s almost always going to go to the musical.

Best Animated Short Film

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because there aren’t a lot of easily-available outlets for short films, especially not animated ones, so it’s always good to see a list of at least a few, even if it’s a list made by dildos.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because it’s still a list made by dildos. These aren’t so bad though.

Best Live Action Short Film

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Well, for mainly the same reasons as the animation category. At its highest possible aspiration, it’s a fine thing.

WHY IT WON’T BE: The Live Action short film category comes with an added wrinkle that the animation category doesn’t: the live action shorts are much less likely to be visually interesting and, if past nomination is any indicator, probably also just less interesting full stop.

Best Documentary – Short Subject

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because the real problem with documentaries is that you hear about them and they sound really cool and interesting and then you never get around to actually watching them, and then here we are with a bunch that are, like, already super-short. You could totally watch those! This category is totally worth paying attention to!

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because you don’t know how to find them to watch them anyway, duh. So it’ll just depress you and then you’ll be sad and then you won’t be interested or entertained.

Best Documentary – Feature

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Well, I Am Not Your Negro is made from James Baldwin’s actual words, so that’s already awesome. OJ: Made in America is like eight hours long, so that is also, strictly speaking, using the definition of the word, interesting.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Actually, this is an interesting category no matter what happens. Sometimes this category is even presented on television. If I can call something a “Buy,” Jim Kramer-style, this is the one I’m choosing.

Best Foreign Language Film

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: I mean, if you’re like me, you think all things presented in translation are inherently interesting 8Otherwise I guess you could do that thing obnoxious people do and pretend to be interested in foreign film for its own sake, but honestly, that’s still just pretending.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because prestige films submitted for Oscar consideration are still prestige films submitted for Oscar consideration, even if they aren’t in English.

Best Animated Feature Film

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because cartoons are great!

WHY IT WON’T BE: Aw, what the hell, these are all good movies, this one works too! Cartoons are great!

Best Adapted Screenplay

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Oh god, it isn’t. I mean, yay for Fences and stuff, but jeezy creezy. This is not going to happen. I am not necessarily opposed to adaptation, but man, the process of taking something that communicates directly (a book) and turning it into something that communicates by corporately-controlled committee (a movie) is just…life-draining. Anyway, the two best scripts here (Fences and Moonlight) are the result of people adapting themselves 9which I guess is the best you can hope for interestingness-wise.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because it will just remind you how awesome, say, Fences is as a play, or “Story of Your Life” is as a story.

Best Original Screenplay

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: At least these didn’t start out as anything any better. That said, the script is still more “grist” than “foundation” in most cases, so it’s just real hard to see what the final contribution from the scriptwriter(s) are as opposed to that of the director or the technical people. I mean, I suppose you could read them and find out, but it’s still stripped of all interpretive matter, and it’s just impossible to evaluate.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because a category that is impossible to evaluate is a category that, from the perspective of a viewer, might as well be random chance, so you might as well be watching somebody play roulette.

Best Supporting Actor/Actress 10

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because, say whatever else you will about the acting categories 11at least their contribution to the end product is possibly the most apparent of anyone’s. Furthermore, the supporting acting categories are the ones where people had a shorter time to make their impression on the screen and on the film, so they tend to be more interesting performances inherently.

WHY IT WON’T BE: My own feelings about “Acting” aside, it’s probably fine. These are the more interesting performances, and some of these are even ok movies. There’s even stuff to root for here. Go ahead and enjoy this one also. What is that, three? I think that’s three good categories.

Best Leading Actor/Actress

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: These are the main courses right here, this and the next couple. So they’re interesting because everyone has some footing on them. The acting categories are especially crowd-pleasing, because they are, as mentioned above, the most apparent of all of the aspects of these films.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because it’ll probably go to something super boring and straightforward, like it almost 12 always does.

Best Director

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: The director’s job is just as visual as the actors’, but slightly less direct, so it’s probably just about as interesting as the acting category, with the added benefit of being more interesting to me, personally, as a matter of course 13.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Because these awards are still chosen by consensus, and there are as many different ways to accomplish the successful direction of a film with merit as there are people doing it, so the end result tends to be the one that “works” for the largest number of people without being so different (i.e. interesting) from the others in the first place. So it’s often a pretty bland choice.

Best Picture

WHY IT COULD BE INTERESTING: Because the headliner is always the thing you’re here to see, and because it’s the chance for the Academy Awards to say the thing they’re going to say for the year in review. Also sometimes this goes to a move that’s just terrible 14 and that’s always fun to get mad about.

WHY IT WON’T BE: Well, no outright bad films are nominated this year, so it won’t be another one of those. I mean, it ultimately won’t be interesting because it will almost certainly go to La La Land and not Moonlight, and also because that’s par for the course, so it won’t even be an interesting bit of dumb consensus-decision-making.

So there it is: every Oscar category, judged on its own merits. The thing we learned, I suppose, is that it’s hard to say something unique about why all of these categories fail to be interesting year in and year out, and that is: the whole thing is, by its nature, a pretty boring watering down of an already groomed and watered down set of examples of an art form.

Tune in next year when, if I’m lucky, I figure out another way to avoid writing about them!

  1.  unless of course this is a one-time token effort and thus is only going to last until the heat is off them. Whichevs. 
  2.  Last year I wrote about the show’s entertainment value, which is also what I’m doing this year. In 2015 I wrote about why I didn’t write about them. In 2014 I actually played it pretty much straight. In 2013 I made a meta-joke about only the technical categories being important. 
  3.  production numbers, not, like, math. 
  4.  although this close to the Grammys (see last week and the week prior), it’s probably worth pointing out that, inroads or not, the Academy is made of dildos, and the winners are selected by dildos to represent dildos. 
  5.  which, y’know, I guess is their own problem, and it’s certainly not possible for me to respect them any less as such, but it’s still galling.  
  6.  except, y’know, people that do 
  7.  you could write everything I know about film production design AND its history in the oscars on the back of a drugstore receipt and probably still have room for the cashier’s name and phone number. 
  8.  See because changing the language changes the way things are communicated, which makes the sorts of things that the translated-into language has to go through to get the same idea across interesting, if not precisely a faithful representation of what was meant initially. 
  9.  albeit with one nominated posthumously. 
  10.  last year I combined a bunch of categories, this year I separated them out to be more definitive, but honestly, I cannot understand why we’re still segregating the acting categories, and I don’t have something different to say about the job that women do vs. the job that men do in films, so I’m combining the acting categories. 
  11.  spoiler alert: I’m probably going to say some things about the acting categories! 
  12.  with the admitted caveat that that’s a pretty big “almost” 
  13. see also everything I have previously written about the art and craft of acting. 
  14.  Scent of a Woman, Crash, Ordinary People, Forrest Gump 

The Grammy Awards – Again!

So a year ago I predicted that this year’s Grammys would be a big one for Adele, given the nature of the Grammys. In fact, I said it like this:

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, 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.

Which I then followed, at the end of the thing, with a footnote reading “it is foreordained next year to be Adele’s 25. Really, there is no mystery to this stuff.”

And then, a week ago, I said this:

Last year I predicted that this year would be the year of Adele’s 25, which was the sales juggernaut at the time of last year’s Grammys, and then, in the wake of its sales, Lemonade was released, and, frankly, probably stole a great deal of the Grammy wind from Adele’s sails.

I went on to suggest that Adele’s nominations were being kept clear of Beyonce’s intentionally by the Grammy people to prevent Beyonce from stealing all of Adele’s Grammy thunder. It turns out, as it happened, that I had it completely backward.

I wasn’t the only one.
The Grammys – the award granted to recording artist by The Recording Academy (formerly the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) – are a tightly-controlled thing. Whatever their original design was 1, they have since drifted to be pretty nakedly a part of the publicity arc of an album. Moreover, they are a part of the publicity arc of the record-selling industry itself. An industry which is moribund, and, more to the point, clearly unwilling to make any kind of change that would lead it to be, say, smaller but still vital. In the process of this wagon-circling, their actions have gone from bafflingly dumb (the industry has spent the last fifteen years, give or take, in its death throes, after all – that’s a long time to thrash around) to downright harmful, sociopolitically speaking.

It’s probably worth, at this point, stepping back for a moment and saying the following: the people who have won Grammys did so because of their intention to win Grammys and, for whatever the ownership of a Grammy is worth 2, they earned it. In short, none of this is Adele’s fault, or anyone who has ever accepted the winning of a Grammy. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with Adele, or with anyone specifically who has won the Album of the Year Grammy in and of themselves. I am baffled that Lemonade didn’t win, but it’s yet another example of a voting body that does not agree with things that I think are good. That’s fine, and it’s as sure as sunrise that it’ll continue to happen. The continuing argument about just who should continue to buy into the thing itself (i.e. who should continue to seek out and accept Grammys given the climate/circumstances of their giving) is an argument to be had circumstantially, and is also a bit beyond what I’m doing here 3. I’ll repeat: if you are reading this, and you think my problem is with any individual person who TRA has chosen to bestow the award upon: you are wrong, it is not, and you can relax. My problem is with the voting members of The Recording Academy, and specifically their actions w/r/t voting for Album of the Year.

The qualities that make something Grammy-worthy are slippery 4, but post-hoc trends noticed among the results can say some things about what it’s clear that TRA isn’t interested in awarding, and, at least in the Album of the Year category, TRA is not interested in awarding black people Album of the Year. A black artist last won AOTY in 2008. Furthermore, that album, Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, was an album of covers of songs written by Joni Mitchell 5. The black person to win album of the year before that, Ray Charles, was dead. That’s not a great track record  6, whatever your arguments may be for “why”. Interestingly, 2005’s Grammy’s are the first year to include what would be the last major downturn for record sales 7

In times of economic uncertainty (like, say, the meltdown of a once-thriving consumer industry like music sales), large business operations (like, say, the record-selling industry) tend to make decisions that maximize existing avenues of profit (like, say, artists that sell large numbers of copies of physical releases relative to other artists 8), since that is the most profitable vector for the staggering zombie remnants of the record-selling industry.

Ultimately, Frank Ocean was right when he said “that institution certainly has nostalgic importance, it just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.” He was also right when he subsequently pointed out that (in response to some prodding from Grammy executives) the show itself wasn’t any good anymore, and that the awards were moving away from any kind of cultural relevancy, both of which were things he said before the ceremony, and thus before any of this actually went down. In the words of Solange, “waddup Frank” 9.

His rightness notwithstanding, the ball is still up in the air about whether the Grammys matter or not. One of the major problems with the Academy Awards in the past few years (specifically the #OscarsSoWhite problem) has been that the Academy Awards are a form of enshrinement – people will see the movie thus awarded on lists and things, and there is a certain amount of respectability carried along with it. I am unsure how to even gather the data, but it seems to me that the Grammys have a whole lot less of that kind of weight. Certainly (anecdotally) I have never heard someone say something like “oh they won a Grammy for that, it must be good”, and definitely not to the same kind of magnitude that I have heard identical types of things about the Academy Awards.

Indeed, the only real evidence that we have of the immediate (or any kind of, really) effect of the Grammys is that people get excited about the performances, which lead to a doubling in sales for the people who perform 10, which, in any practical sense means that as of this writing, Beyonce has received roughly the same reward as Adele for the award itself, which mitigates the thing somewhat. Of course, whether it matters in the material or immediate senses is rather beside the point of the fact that there is some pretty clear non-inclusion going on, and that’s a problem no matter what the apparent effect.

I am, of course, not the first to point out the Oscar comparison – Pitchfork asked Neil Portnow, the president of The Recording Academy, about it outright, and received some equivocation about how musicians “don’t listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity”. He immediately jumps on subjectivity (about which see below), and then finishes up with denying that they have a diversity problem, while also trying to have it both ways by wanting credit for always seeking more diversity 11.

Obviously I’m not what you’d call “swayed” by the PR-speak that implies “demographic-blindness” in musicians 12, or high-minded language about exceptionalism and results that are unbounded from sales 13. But he also inadvertently points the reader to another problem: we don’t know much about the diversity of the Grammy voters because we have almost no idea who they are. We know the criteria: people who have appeared on six physically-released tracks or twelve digitally-released tracks 14, who are in good, dues-paying standing with The Recording Academy. If someone doesn’t have that standing, they can apply for voting status to be instated if they have the go-ahead from two members who are in good standing. There’s no way that could lead to good-old-boy-ism and grandfathering in people who are not current, active contributors because of an inflated sense of their past accomplishments, is there?

I’m not going to go too much further into speculation 15about what that means, but what I will say is, even taking all of this at its (assembled) word, it’s still going to be the case that the group of people doesn’t really have a good sense of what it means to be an institution. Because it’s one thing entirely for an individual to have a preference – this blog, or any other, wouldn’t exist without that very notion – and individually I can’t imagine chasing down everyone whose levels of appreciation don’t fall along certain lines. But these people, the voting members of The Recording Academy, aren’t acting as individuals.

If there is to be any kind of belief in the seriousness and/or supportability of The Recording Academy, and, by extension, their public-facing television awards special, it’s probably in The Recording Academy’s best interest to stop insisting that the work product of that television awards special is a matter of pure, objective democracy, when the nomination process is shrouded in the same kind of secrecy as the composition of the membership. The end result may be a one-vote one-count direct-democracy decision, but nominations are clearly carefully handled along marketing and potential sales-benefit lines 16. Essentially, every time they refuse to change, they pull themselves further away from a public that is already publicly expressing dissatisfaction (in the couple of weeks immediately following the ceremony) and general disinterest (the rest of the time). Waddup, Frank.

Nevertheless, it still represents a thing that’s going in history forever as a part of whatever institution can be framed by the body of voting humans in The Recording Academy, and if you’re going to give an award institutionally, and you’re going to institutionalize the ideas and tastes of a group that represents a group of professionals, it is in everyone’s best interest to examine why those ideas and tastes are completely exclusive of a class of people.

That examination, that consideration is the best outcome for this and, ultimately, all of the crosstalk that is generated at the end of a dumb awards show: considering this stuff, and why people react they do, and why you react the way you do, is all a part of thinking about these things critically, and the more that happens, the more likely it is that institutions like this one will be less likely to be full of reactionary, hidebound, scaredy-cat people that can’t appreciate stuff that isn’t pitched directly to them (which, of course, we don’t know is the case because who knows who the voters are?), and the more likely they are to be full of people who are willing to consider things for better reasons.

Or, perhaps best of all, the more people are liable to abandon the whole thing and figure out the other ways to honor and appreciate achievements in the fields that are important to them, and not relying on something to do so just because it has always done so in the past. Especially if it shows that it’s unwilling to include huge swaths of things, whether they have attributes in common by coincidence or by design.

Waddup, Frank.

  1.  they are, however impenetrably, structured like a professional award that you’d see in any other field, however convoluted they’ve become in the decades since their inception. 
  2.  to them, to me, to you, to whoever- this statement graphs across people and their varying belief levels about the importance/significance/value of a Grammy in and of itself. 
  3.  although I suppose it’s worth saying to any Grammy-eligible folks that may be reading this: maybe don’t submit? I mean, clearly these people are dildos. Do you really want a bunch of dildos saying to you “you are the best at pleasing dildos”?  
  4.  necessarily so, I would argue. My own favorites are hardly a committee-selected or important thing, but I still wouldn’t be able to enshrine any set of qualities beyond “the thoughts and feelings communicated to therewith (but only applicable universally in the most abstract sense)” to what makes my favorite records my favorite records. So the Album of the Year Grammy, which is committee-selected and is significant (see below), if not precisely important, isn’t beholden to any particular kind of consistency as such. 
  5.  who, while not black, has also never been awarded an album of the year grammy. She was nominated for Court and Spark. I do not have any feelings about this, I merely present it for your edification. 
  6.  although, for the record, the year before dead Ray Charles, it was Outkast, who won an album of the year Grammy for their masterpiece Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, making it possibly the only time since 1974 (Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions) that the Grammy Album of the Year was actually the best album released during the previous eligibility period. 
  7.  as illustrated by this chart right here, there was some uptick, and then sales started falling again for real in 2005. This chart is old because other, more contemporaneous charts, don’t make it as clear (given that they have a longer x-axis and seriously did you fail stats or something come on I don’t have to explain charts to you you’re not that dumb). 
  8. to put as fine a point as possible on it: Like Adele, or Taylor Swift, or Daft Punk, or Mumford & Sons, or the Arcade Fire. 
  9.  in a set of tweets that have since been deleted, and was followed by one suggesting that people to whom the music that she, and Frank Ocean, and Beyonce was important make their own institutions. If it weren’t for also asserting the misinformation that only two black people had won the album of the year Grammy in the last twenty years – the incorrectness of which is, I am assuming, the reason the tweets were deleted in the first place – it would have been basically the perfect thing to say. 
  10.  this is, perhaps predictably at this point, another of the planks in Frank’s platform. Waddup Frank. 
  11.  He also includes the fact that Chance the Rapper won best new artist as an example of how musicians don’t see color, which at the very least betrays a mindset that believes tokenism is a solution. 
  12.  or anyone, really. Being a practitioner doesn’t really grant you special powers, it just means your familiarity is different. 
  13.  if this were true there would be album of the year winners that weren’t huge sellers, which has never been the case, not even one time. Admittedly, this is for idiomatic values of “huge sellers,” since, say, Beck isn’t in the same sales league as Adele, but it remains the case when adjusted for genre expectations.  
  14.  a divide that favors people that do work in old-style genres doing old-style business, which would certainly seem to indicate preferences that might imply the “open ears” approach insisted upon by Mr. Portnow is, however slightly, starting from a compromised position. Also, not coincidentally, an institutionalized preference, once again, for the most profitable vector of the business.  
  15.  mostly. I am going to say, here in this footnote, that the attitudes espoused by the Grammys in terms of their official responses and the giving of the actual awards themselves are 100% congruent to the attitudes espoused by a pack of defensive old white dudes – that they can’t possibly be the problem, but also a record that doesn’t speak directly to their experience – that they, themselves, cannot relate to personally, rather than empathically like a goddamned fucking grownup human adult – the whole shebang. But of course, I do not know anything about who they are specifically. 
  16.  for examples you can find the part where I point it out, at least once per year, in previous years’ Grammy write-ups. 

The 59th Annual Grammy Awards

It’s the middle of awards season, which means it’s time to talk about the Grammys!

The Grammys are, as I’ve addressed previously, a difficult thing to take seriously, and become less so every year, as they become ever-reliant on being a publicity swing for huge albums that need a late-cycle sales boost 1 . A lot of the chatter around the Grammys this year has been about a perceived decrease in relevance 2, mostly stacked up on the back of some vociferous boycotting.

This year a number of folks have decided they will not appear at the awards show at all. It starts with Frank Ocean, who didn’t submit his albums Blonde or Endless for consideration, saying “that institution certainly has nostalgic importance, it just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.” Which: fair enough. May we never live in a world where anyone is forced to submit their material for Grammy consideration. Furthermore, raising similar concerns in prior years about the Oscars has also changed the landscape of the Academy Award voters, and, indeed, the state of representation among the nominees 3. So good on Frank for doing what he believes is right, certainly, and also for deciding that he did not, in fact, need a pony show to decide that his music was worth it.

Frank’s mantle has, unfortunately, been picked up by the two least-sympathetic human entities in the popular music industry: Kanye West 4 and Justin Bieber 5. Drake is lumped in with the boycotters, but he’s also on tour, so it’s hard to know if he is actually boycotting or just decided not to build his lucrative tour schedule around a dumb awards show. Obviously I tend to believe the latter. The important thing to remember here is that neither Kanye nor Bieber have withdrawn their albums from consideration (or rejected the nomination, or whatever it is you have to do with a Grammy), that they both submitted, and they both were nominated

Anyway, some people are boycotting and there’s some weirdness going on with Dave Grohl  6and the rest of the show is going to proceed apace. And probably will continue in the same form forever and ever until civilization collapses. Which, y’know, could be mighty soon after all. Might as well look forward to Chance the Rapper performing.

As always, there are six billion categories, and if I don’t have enough of a knowledge base to make any kind of real, meaningful judgment call 7 then I’ll probably be skipping over it.

Best Music Film

Alright, so usually this is airless documentaries and stuff, but in this case it is actually possible to give the nod to a genuine expression of creativity on the part of an artist and her collaborators, which, y’know, is supposed to be what we’re doing the whole time. So I guess what I’m saying here is: things aren’t all bad.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, Lemonade

Best Music Video

Similarly, Beyonce is here pitted against a couple of acts – OK Go and Coldplay – that make gimmicky attention-grabbing videos 8 – which is, y’know, better than the staid documentaries of the last category, but still leaves little actual competition

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Formation”

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical

Benny Blanco should almost certainly not be proud of his year’s work. Nineteen85 9 and Ricky Reed did nonspectacular work, but at least didn’t make the world any worse. Max Martin falls into a category I normally only have to deal with when I talk about acting professionals – he did the same thing he always does, and probably doesn’t deserve a new award for it. That leaves us with Greg Kurstin, who did a great job with Adele, Sia and Ellie Goulding.


Best Song Written for Visual Media

True story: I feel like this awards season cycle is designed to make me realize that Suicide Squad came to being as some sort of existential punishment. It has two songs (the execrable “Purple Lamborghini” by Skrillex and Rick Ross, and the somehow even worse, “Heathens” by 21 Pilots) in this category, which is entirely unacceptable. Maybe this is the worst of all possible worlds. Anyway, the Shakira song from Zootopia and the Pink song from Alice Through the Looking Glass are merely dull. It’s pretty great that “Cant Stop The Feeling” means that Ron Funches has now, technically, been nominated for a Grammy, but that doesn’t make the song any good. Thank the powers that be for a standard-issue Peter Gabriel soundtrack song, which in this category is as good as gold.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Peter Gabriel, “The Veil”

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media

Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ennio Morricone and, albeit to a lesser extent, John Williams 10 are all people that have done major, revolutionary work in their fields, and they all, each one of them, coasted their way to this nomination last year. That leaves either Thomas Newman for Bridge of Spies, which can best be described as sub-John Williams, or Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein for one (but I guess not both, since they’re nominated separately) volume of the Stranger Things score.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein, Stranger Things Vol. 1

Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

Hey look, it’s Suicide Squad again! Guess it’s time to go bash my head in with a hammer!


Best Comedy Album

Deciding between Tig Notaro’s Boyish Girl Interrupted and Patton Oswalt’s Talking for Clapping is extraordinarily difficult, but I think Patton gets it because while the albums are neck and neck, Talking for Clapping is, like, the best title ever.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Patton Oswalt, Talking for Clapping

Best Folk Album

Did you know I can’t actually find it in my heart to give any sort of darn about the Carolina Chocolate Drops? It’s true! I really can’t! Their music is fine. I have, as a result, not spent any real time with Rhiannon Giddens’ solo stuff, although what I’ve heard is, as you might expect, fine. I feel even less for the work of Sierra Hull. It’s neat that there’s a new Judy Collins record, but I can’t say much about it, either. Sarah Jarosz made a pretty good record. They are all flattened outright by that Robbie Fulks record, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Robbie Fulks, Upland Stories

Best Americana Album

So The Time Jumpers are fine in a novelty-ish sort of way. Lori McKenna is in a similar lane, and, while I don’t hate it, it’s not like it’s anything I’d spend much time with. The Avett Brothers are settling into their long middle period of being an adequate band that’s mostly noteworthy as a touring band. Kris Kristofferson made an overlong, overstuffed album that, with some judicious editing, could have been much better. Although William Bell has never really been my favorite artist on Stax 11, he did resurrect (or whatever you want to call it) the label  to make his most recent record, which is pretty cool and I think he’s good enough to take it home here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: William Bell, This is Where I Live

Best American Roots Song

“Gulfstream” is not a good song, “Kid Sister” is an ok Vince Gill song not performed by Vince Gill (it is, in fact, still by the not-very-good Time Jumpers). My feelings about Lori McKenna remain unchanged from the last time she came up. “City Lights” is a really good White Stripes song that I feel loses something in Grammy consideration by being, y’know, a decade old or whatever, and being nominated just because the Grammy Awards love Jack White 12I guess what I’m saying is that even if “Alabama at Night” weren’t a particularly all-time-great Robbie Fulks song, it would still win this category by elimination.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Robbie Fulks, “Alabama at Night”

Best American Roots Performance

Well, it seems silly to not have Robbie down here either, but I suppose a sweep is unsporting. Or something. Anyway, I do like that Sarah Jarosz song, so let’s go ahead and throw it a little love.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Jarosz, “House of Mercy”

Best Country Album

Well this is certainly a change of pace. Leaving aside Keith Urban’s latest garbage fire, and skipping right over Maren Morris, we’re still left with a pretty good (although not great and not really essential) Loretta Lynn album, a pretty good (still not great, but at least a vital contribution to an artists body of work) Brandy Clark album and, of course, the weirdest, least-country Sturgill Simpson album yet. The moral of the story here is: you never can tell, can you?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

Best Country Song

The Grammy nominators giveth, and the Grammy nominators taketh away. You could do all that nominating in the last category but you didn’t hear “Sea Stories?”

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sturgill Simpson, “Sea Stories”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

Literally only two of these “country duo/group” performances don’t feature someone who is attaching themselves to a country song, presumably for lucrativity purposes. That is a more interesting thing than any of these actual songs, which are all pretty terrible.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I don’t even care anymore.

Best Country Solo Performance

In years past, it has seemed like more categories were like this one – with only one song that’s even any good in the first place. Either the Grammy nominators are getting better, or as I become an older person I am softening to middlebrow pop music. I think it’s probably the former, but then, that sounds exactly like the sort of thing that I’d say.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brandy Clark, “Love Can Go to Hell”

Best Rap Album

I feel like I no longer want to live in a world where DJ Khaled continues to get ever more famous. This is dumb and I hate it. Anyway, …And the Anonymous Nobody is fine, but it’s also just a reminder of how great De La Soul used to be. Views is probably the Drake album I like the least, and that’s considering how little I generally like him to begin with. Then the competition gets genuinely stiff 13Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face is a great record, but isn’t as idiosyncratic as either of the other two remaining in the field. The Life of Pablo is the Kanye-est of Kanye albums – it’s a document of a clearly insane person, it’s all over the place, stretches of it are absolutely brilliant in a left-field, what-is-he-doing sort of way, and it never manages to quite reveal itself, despite it being a complete vomiting forth of the entire contents of Mr. West’s mind. Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, though, is such a singular achievement that even one of the best songs on The Life of Pablo (“Ultralight Beam”) sounds like it would’ve been more home on Chance’s record. There isn’t a dull or wasted moment, and it’s a genuine real actual masterpiece. Plus Chance is performing, which always means stuff.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book

Best Rap Song

Here we have a real similar category, this time with Fat Joe’s “All the Way Up” in the Inexplicably Popular and Also Life Destroying slot. “Hotline Bling” is sort of the apotheosis of Drake songs, and, as such, has a certain appeal, but also is the apotheosis of Drake songs and is, such, similarly depression-inducing. Kanye’s “Famous” made its bones on the back of its video and its Taylor Swift-baiting lyrics 14, but isn’t actually a very good song. “Ultralight Beam,” Kanye’s other contender here, is a pretty good song but, as mentioned above, is so great partly because it sounds like one of Chance the Rapper’s songs. As I noted in my roundup of songs from the first half of 2016, “No Problem” is not only a great song, but it also gets a great verse out of Lil Wayne (in 2016!) and sort of reopened the door for 2Chainz’s new set of really impressive guest verses (comeback? I guess?). So the winner here is clear.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chance the Rapper, “No Problem” (f. 2Chainz & Lil Wayne)

Best Rap/Sung Performance

Here’s “Hotline Bling,” “Famous” and “Ultralight Beam” again. But here, too, is “Freedom” from Lemonade. So there’s that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Freedom” (f. Kendrick Lamar)

Best Rap Performance

I am running out of ways to say how much I love “No Problem.”

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chance the Rapper, “No Problem” (f. 2Chainz & Lil Wayne)

Best R&B Album

Alright. So. Lalah Hathaway released a live album, which is fine, but it’s also….just a live album. She fairs better here than Mint Condition, who released a Christmas album. I know for a fact there were enough R&B albums in the last year to not have to nominate bullshit cash-grabs, guys 15Mya is releasing her albums independently, which is pretty cool, but also doesn’t make the albums themselves any better. Luckily there’s enough good things to feel about BJ the Chicago Kid’s In My Mind and Terrace Martin’s Velvet Portraits to carry this through.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Terrace Martin, Velvet Portraits. By a nose, though. By a nose.

Best Urban Contemporary Album

KING’s We Are KING deserves all of the praise it has gotten, and a special shoutout here for being a really really good album that you should all go listen to. I mention it because it’s way out of its own weight class here, through no fault of its own. Go find it. You’ll like it. Anyway, Rihanna’s Anti is Rihanna’s best album as an album, which is noteworthy, but not a winner here. Gallant’s Ology is as strong a debut as last year saw, and is also very much worth seeking out. Beyonce’s Lemonade is a watershed record of purpose and vision, and its engine (steeped as it is in identity politics) has only become more vital in the last year. For more praise for Lemonade, see not only every single place where people write about music, not only elsewhere on this very blog, but elsewhere in this very post. No, this category belongs to the second-best album in all of 2016 16, Anderson.Paak’s dynamic, emotional Malibu.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anderson.Paak, Malibu (although, honestly, it will almost certainly be Lemonade, which would also be fine)

Best R&B Song

2017: the year when the Grammys are almost something I can agree with in the album categories, and a yawning pit of existential dread in the song categories. This is better than the country songs category, though. I like two of these songs kind of.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Maxwell, “Lake by the Ocean”

Best Traditional R&B Performance

So, every year I am baffled by the things that separate out the R&B subgenres. It would appear that there are three sort of generational distinctions here – “Urban Contemporary” skewing youngest, “Traditional R&B” skewing oldest, and regular-old-plain-style R&B somewhere in the middle. But of course all three subgenres are scattered across categories in a state of complete higgeldy-piggledy, so once again I find myself confused and bewildered by what’s going on here, and then I become enraged at the intellectual frustration like a rhinoceros, and then I charge at the Grammy nominators and I guess what I’m saying here is that I have no idea what’s going on anymore here and I think I like this BJ the Chicago Kid song the best.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: BJ the Chicago Kid, “Woman’s World”

Best R&B Performance

Hey wait! It’s “Cranes in the Sky”! Where the fuck was Solange during all those other dumb categories? Jesus. These people, man. I don’t know when they’re coming and when they’re going.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Solange, “Cranes in the Sky”

Best Alternative Music Album

I mean, “Alternative” has been meaningless for as long as it’s been a marketing category, but I feel that the reader must know that the average age of the performers in this category is 50.8 years old. That makes the term seem even more ludicrous. Although I suppose it’s in line with the demographic that came of age with “alternative” music, who are now in their mid-forties (the same age as, say, the members of Radiohead, or PJ Harvey). Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Radiohead, A Moon-Shaped Pool

Best Rock Album

You know, I had a real philosophical difficulty with this one. The list below of categories I skipped are categories I’ve skipped because of, for the most part, a lack of familiarity with the material and/or the idiom that would make my judgement call about what was “rightful” a sort of shoddy, underinformed bit of business. This category consists of things with which I am familiar, but desperately wish I wasn’t. That said, I couldn’t in good conscience skip over it. Partly because I have, in fact, owned records by three of these bands (none of these here, and only one band has anything I have in my possession currently, and those albums are twenty years old), and partly because I do know the genre and idiom in which these records were purporetedly made, and that’s why I’m sad all the time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Absolutely none of these dildos. None of them.

Best Rock Song

“Rock” and “Alternative” have the same sort of weird “I don’t know where one ends and the other begins” relationship as “Urban” and “R&B” in the last set of categories. That aside, 21 Pilots aren’t really a rock band. Highly Suspect are a band that seemingly only exists to get nominated for Grammys 17. Metallica and Radiohead both made songs that were really good for late-period Metallica and Radiohead. I’m not the biggest fan in the world of “Blackstar”, but at least it’s a reasonable addition to a rock musicians actual body of work, and it’s pretty cool, for all that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: David Bowie, “Blackstar”

Best Metal Performance

Not much to say here. Of these I really only like the Gojira song. Save the trees and all that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gojira, “Silvera”

Best Rock Performance

It’s not often that in the “Performance” categories we are freed from the idea that it must be the version of the song that appears on the album, an allowance of which I am in favor. To use the topmost example – Alabama Shakes is a band that makes fine records, but the band itself lives in its live performances, and the idea that the televised (or, I suppose theoretically, other live recording) version of the song can get the nod here is a better way to acknowledge their contribution to the form. But that’s not what makes this category interesting. No, that would be the fact that the best performance here – Beyonce’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself” – is not actually a rock performance in any way, and is only classed as such because of the presence of Jack White, which is completely insane. So we come to the second reason why it’s a good thing that Alabama Shakes are nominated here – it’s so I can feel good about who I give this category to in the wake of the best thing not being the rightful thing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alabama Shakes, “Joe”

Best Dance/Electronic Album

It is “nominate old people” year at the Grammys, man. This Underworld album is fine, but it’s not actually that good. Jean-Michel Jarre remains fabulously consistent in terms of output, and it would be a fine nomination for any year. Flume made a less-boring record than they have in the past. Louie Vega is never going to be my thing. Tycho, though, made an unreservedly great record.


Best Pop Vocal Album

Last year I predicted that this year would be the year of Adele’s 25, which was the sales juggernaut at the time of last year’s Grammys 18, and then, in the wake of its sales, Lemonade was released, and, frankly, probably stole a great deal of the Grammy wind from Adele’s sails. 25 is still an awfully good record, though, so I’m glad the Powers that Nominate kept them separate in a couple of categories, so Adele can get some shine 19.


Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album

I suppose the “traditional songs done by old people who used to not be boring” category is so far beyond anything that I could imagine wanting to listen to that I should have skipped it outright, but it’s sort of the Grammy-est of categories – I couldn’t make it up even if I were specifically trying to parody the Grammys’ weird old out-of-touch approach – so here it sits, baffling and ungainly. I do like the Gershwins, though, so this one goes to Willie. Such as it is.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Willie Nelson, Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

I hate – and I mean really, really despise – four of these five songs. Never has there been a more meaningless victory than in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rihanna, “Work” (f. Drake)

Best Pop Solo Performance

Actually, due to the vagaries of song-nominating (and also, probably, intention on the part of the Powers that Nominate), Adele gets this one over Beyonce also, because “Hello” is a better song than “Hold Up”


Best New Artist

The real answer is Anderson.Paak 20, but as with every year, I want the one of these I like the least to win, in the hopes that the curse (an extremely intermittent thing at the best of times) is in effect this year, and I never have to hear from them ever again, in which case it is The Chainsmokers.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Chainsmokers, unless this is a non-curse year in which case it’s Anderson.Paak.

Song of the Year

Well, “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” and “7 Years” are blights upon the Earth, and embarassments to have in the world at all, so those are right out. “Love Yourself” isn’t quite that bad, but it’s pretty awful. So here we have “Hello” against “Formation,” and this is sort of what I mean about Beyonce stealing Adele’s Grammy thunder.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Formation”

Album of the Year

There is really no reason to nominate Justin Bieber in an album category, right? I mean, whatever his thing is, it’s pretty much singles, yeah? Not albums? Just seems weird, that’s all. Anyway, Views blah blah blah. 25 is fine. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is real good. Lemonade.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, Lemonade

Record of the Year

It’s “Formation,” but you probably already knew that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Formation”

Post Script

An ordinal ranking of the announced performers at the 2017 Grammy Awards in order from most to least interesting.

  1. Beyonce (I mean, whatever else is going on, she’s all pregnant and whatnot, so that will at least force some interesting staging)
  2. A Tribe Called Quest & Anderson.Paak
  3. Chance the Rapper
  4. Sturgill Simpson
  5. Bruno Mars
  6. The Weeknd & Daft Punk
  7. Adele
  8. William Bell & Gary Clark Jr.
  9. Metallica
  10. John Legend
  11. Little Big Town
  12. Alicia Keys & Maren Morris
  13. Carrie Underwood
  14. Keith Urban

Post-Post Script

the categories I skipped are: Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Classical Composition, Best Classical Solo Vocal Album, Best Classical Instrumental Solo, Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, Best Choral Performance, Best Opera Recording, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Surround Sound Album, Best Remixed Recording (Non-Classical), Producer of the Year (Classical), Best Engineered Album (Classical), Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical), Best Historical Album, Best Album Notes, Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package, Best Recording Package, Best Arrangement (Instruments and Vocals), Best Arrangement (Instrumental or A Capella), Best Instrumental Composition, Best Musical Theater Album, Best Spoken Word Album, Best Children’s Album, Best World Music Album, Best Reggae Album, Best Regional Music Album, Best Contemporary Blues Album, Best Traditional Blues Album, Best Bluegrass Album, Best Tropical Latin Album, Best Regional Mexican Music Album, Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album, Best Latin Pop Album, Best Roots Gospel Album, Best Contemporary Christian Music Album, Best Gospel Album, Best Contemporary Chrtistian Music Performance/Song, Best Gospel Performance/Song, Best Latin Jazz Album, Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Best Jazz Vocal Album, Best Improvised Jazz Solo, Best New Age Album, Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, and Best Dance Recording

  1.  for more on this matter see previous Grammy award writeups, but the shortest possible version is: the cutoff for Grammy eligibility is right before the Winter (i.e. the records that are going to be purchased for/at/around the holidays) release cycle, which means that a new major release gets the Christmas cycle to be huge, and then last year’s huge Winter release gets feted in February, getting an uptick in sales as a result. It’s why the Grammy awards-eligibility period is so weird. 
  2.  although as with all of these things it’s hard to say just exactly how much this is indicative of any sort of widespread opinion – most of the people I am in a position to see/hear/inquire after the opinions of w/r/t the Grammys are going to (most likely) have a different read on it than any number of other populations of opinion-holders. So, as always, proceed with the knowledge that all of this may not apply. 
  3.  I mean, that’s still not a won battle, but it’s in better shape than it’s maybe ever been. 
  4.  who has won a shedload of Grammys, and here is claiming that he’s never won one when he was head-to-head against a white performer. This appears, on its face, to not be incorrect, and it’s certainly not difficult to believe, but it’s also tough to know what, exactly, is here meant by “head to head”. I know he lost best new artist to Maroon 5, which is exactly the sort of travesty that makes it impossible to take the Grammys seriously in the first place.  
  5. sigh. 
  6.  it was announced that he was going to play with A Tribe Called Quest and Anderson.Paak, and then it was announced that he wasn’t, and that they announced it prematurely. It’s probably nothing, but also it’s just about all the entertainment we’re liable to get out of this fucking show. 
  7.  or, let’s be honest, any kind of real, meaningful joke. 
  8.  if it seems weird to think of Coldplay as a maker of gimmicky, attention-grabbing videos, that’s fine, but I encourage you to go look at their videos sometime. They’re like a high-budget, less-creative OK Go in that regard. 
  9. who is probably more justified in being proud of his work, but definitely should not be proud of the way he chooses to spell his name
  10.  a lesser extent because while it’s true that John Williams wrote the most popular portions of that particular idiom, it is also the case that he did so in a fairly traditionalist way, without really doing anything else. So compared to Ennio Morricone (who incorporated methods and techniques to make soundtrack music so effective you only have to hear a few seconds of it to pair it to its visual identifiers) or Ryuichi Sakamoto, who was a pioneer of early electronic music, especially in Japan, John Williams is, despite his fortune and decorations, not quite in the same class. 
  11.  top 5 stax records artists: 1) The Staple Singesr 2) Wilson Pickett 3) The Bar-Kays 4) Isaac Hayes 5) Booker T & The MGs 
  12. NB – I also love Jack White 
  13.  I am comfortable calling this the strongest Rap Album category the Grammys have put up since I started writing these things. 
  14.  although it is interesting to note that the worm is turning on Ms. Swift – her once-impenetrable public facade is sort of falling away as people find that they do not, in fact, have any time for her shenanigans, and the first major crack in the wall of her public presentation was her reaction to “Famous,” which started out as the victim-playing high-ground-seizing that we all expected and then, as it turned out that she knew about it and gave permission (which, incidentally, she also lied about at first, and which was exposed by Kim Kardashian who, of anyone in the world, cannot have a normal relationship with seemingly-deeply-personal aspects of her life being revealed to the public in the first place), and thus is revealed to be a snake. The worm is turning on the snake is how that sentence boils down. I’m fine with that. 
  15.  I mean, why call attention to the bullshit cash-grab nature of the Grammys themselves?. 
  16.  Funnily enough, the only album of last year I liked more – Frank Ocean’s Blonde – was, when it was purposefully not submitted, probably purposefully not submitted to this very category (see above), and my third favorite record of 2016, Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound, should probably also be here. 
  17.  I mean, they’re actually just another of those label-borne curiosities that used to be industry-standard and are now like unicorns. Only the opposite of unicorns, because unicorns are pretty cool. 
  18.  once again due to the eligibility-period/release-cycle shenanigans mentioned previously 
  19.  I am also, of course, convinced that this was entirely intentional 
  20.  and would be even if Chance the Rapper counted at all as a “new artist”. Here he is on a best albums of the year list from this very website from three (and change) years ago. 

The Things I Eat For You People: The Naked Chicken Chalupa

Once more we return to the purveyors of novelty food over at Taco Bell 1, this time for their new tortilla-less creation, the naked chicken chalupa. Naked because the chicken isn’t wrapped in anything but itself, chicken because that is, in fact, the primary structural ingredient of the foodstuff, and chalupa because, I guess, if you deep fry the exterior they decide to call it a chalupa 2, although that is complicated by the fact that, in the parlance of Taco Bell menus, menu items are named for their filling (i.e. a “chicken taco supreme” not a “tortilla taco supreme with chicken in it”). But I’m willing to overlook the linguistic quirks to put one in my face.

The naked chicken chalupa seems different in its approach from the last couple of major Taco Bell rollouts. Breakfast 3, it was suggested, was seemingly an inevitability – everyone offered breakfast (even Subway had recently entered the fray), so Taco Bell, as a fast-food restaurant, must follow suit. The Doritos Locos Taco was less a specifically novel idea than a sort of platonic achievement in corporate synergy (it also wasn’t accompanied by the same kind of breathless, pre-emptively fake-confrontational marketing). The naked chicken chalupa, on the other hand, looks something like a grab at headlines by putting together something that seems crazy, although it actually isn’t.

There’s something vaguely reminiscent in the launch of the naked chicken chalupa of the greatest fast-food stunt menu item in the history of fast-food stunt menu items: the KFC Double Down. For those that might not remember right away, the KFC Double Down was a bacon sandwich where the bun was replaced by two pieces of fried chicken, creating an all-meat and meat-fat brick that was entirely unlike food, but an unusually effective marketing gimmick. I’m sure people ate them (I never did), but it got KFC in people’s thoughts and mouths like nothing I can remember – from an advertising standpoint, every unsold sandwich was worth well more than it cost to procure the cheap ingredients for.
The Double Down was more than a fast food novelty – it was a philosophical barrier-testing. Conventional fast food has, at least, a relationship with conventional food – it’s presented often 4 as items that are recognizable – items that you could make yourself, only with a sort of quantum difference – the traditional, non-stunt-driven fast food item, then, is accounted for by past experience, and is therefore a food item that is already known to the customer.

The double down was kind of a sandwich, or at least was constructed as one in the abstract, but the allowance that this resembled a factory-produced version of a food already known and accounted for fell apart under the idea that a sandwich made of a layer of meat, a layer of another meat, a layer of “cheese”, and finally a top layer of meat was a literal “sandwich” in any sense but the academic stretched credulity. The advertising genius of this was that, in addition to an attention-grabbing meta-stunt, it also worked as an attempt to garner some of the market of the paleo crowd, in addition to the blog-friendly stunt-eaters. It was a perfect storm of obviously ridiculous, secretly practical and utterly unique – one way or another there was definitely nothing else like it in the American “food” market.

The naked chicken chalupa is, spiritually, related to this foodstrosity (at least in approach), but it falls short of the same audacity. It actually has more in common with the erstwhile breakfast-menu waffle taco 5  – an unorthodox wrapping, made of something seemingly-unfailingly delicious, or at least delicious-adjacent, that falls apart as a taco because it is not, in fact, a taco 6 at all.

It wouldn’t be fair to call it a bait and switch, as the Taco Bell materials do not, in fact, suggest that it is in any way related to any other food-borne monstrosities. The advertising materials (including a fake satire-ish website) merely talk about how different it is from other taco-like food matter – which it unquestionably is. If nothing else can be said for the naked chicken chalupa experience, it is deeply unlike a taco. The assumptive reaction to it as a double-down-esque piece of stunt marketing comes from inferences made on the back of the ad campaigns 7, rather than through their content itself. 

I will go one step further, in fact, and say that the naked chicken chalupa’s real problem is that it’s unlike a taco in any way that would make it better, and also in a lot of ways that make it specifically worse. It’s sort of obvious, at this point 8, to point out that Taco Bell believes one of two things. Either: 1) people are tired of tacos qua tacos, and would eat at Taco Bell more often if their food items resembled tacos less or 2) people love tacos, and the way to get them to remember they love tacos and to eat more of them is to serve them things that are almost, but not quite, actually a taco.

The point I am making here is that the naked chicken chalupa suffers most from being neither fish nor fowl 9, which I suppose means we get down to the business of what, exactly, it is. It’s mostly a chalupa-style thick shell, as mentioned, made of chicken, and filled with the non-sour-cream accoutrements that traditionally go atop a taco supreme (i.e. cheese, tomatoes, lettuce) plus a sauce they’re calling “Avocado ranch,” about which more in a moment.

The chicken patty is not bad. I think I got a fresh one, which is probably necessary. It was hot, it was crispy, it was chicken. The coating was peppery in a way that I found pleasant 10. The cheese was, y’know, waxy. It tasted like Taco Bell cheese. It was fine. The lettuce was crunchy. The one thing I will say for this construction is that it actually was given something by the mealy, gross truck tomatoes – the tomatoes were, along with the lettuce, something that didn’t just yield meatily under the teeth, and also they were wet, which was necessary because, as I said, that’s pretty much the whole filling. Except for the sauce, but I’ll be here for the sauce in a minute.

And so you see the problem – tomatoes, lettuce and a little bit of cheese (plus sauce. I’m getting to the sauce.) aren’t really a taco filling. But what else could you fill the thing with? Some rice, maybe, but that would be weirdly starchy 11. Beans would just squeege out the sides of the “shell”. You could fill it with more meat, I suppose, and that would elevate it into the realm of the insane frankenfood it was thought to be, but it would also make it considerably more expensive (especially given that these chicken patties probably have to be some kind of bespoke pre-shaped thing in the first place). I mean, for values of “considerably” and “expensive” that are adjusted along a Taco-Bell-based curve.

Alright. The sauce. The sauce purports to be avocado ranch, a claim which would be funny if it weren’t so baffling. It is neither avocado nor ranch. It has a sort of fundamental sauce-ish flavor 12 that’s sort of familiar (this is, I presume, the “ranch” part of the construction), but certainly not as what they tell me it is. There isn’t very much of it, which means the whole thing is rather dry, but also the sauce isn’t the kind of thing that you want there to be any more of than there already is. This is where there being no real filling in the chalupa itself really harms the dish – if there was something in there, to help convey some more sauce (and, of course, if the sauce were better), you’d have a generally more-sauce foodstuff, and therefore something that might even enter the echelon of Taco Bell foods that are worth having around.

That’s not to say the thing is all bad. It’s pleasantly spicy (actually peppery, but the end effect is basically the same), and, as mentioned above, it actually makes use of the weirdly non-food qualities of the tomatoes. It’s an interesting idea 13, it’s just that the end result isn’t really…any good. Or not good enough to rise above “quizzical novelty.”  

In summation, skip it (at least until they roll out the all-spicy everything version, which might be worth revisiting, although I won’t be writing about it here), and just eat a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich, which has the same flavor profile, the same toppings, and none of the dumb “avocado” “ranch” “sauce”. You’ll be much happier for it.

  1.  the now-firmly-entrenched Doritos Locos Taco was the first ever installment of this feature on this website. 
  2.  It does grant a sort of semantically-interesting glimpse into what, precisely, defines the names of the Taco Bell versions of these foods – i.e. a chalupa (or a taco, or a quesedilla or, in perhaps the largest departure from the orthodox version of the food, a gordita) is a thing, made in a way, and when Taco Bell gets around to reinventing it, it’s a different food entirely – streamlined for a drive-thru and the sort of Lego-ish reassembly of the standard house ingredients. Specifically – a thick, deep-fried exterior is a chalupa, while if it’s thin and fried offsite, it’s a taco (a hard-shell taco, which the inventor of Taco Bell claimed to have invented). I wonder if there’s some sort of printed lexical guide somewhere in Taco Bell HQ. 
  3.  the launch of which was the other time that I wrote about Taco Bell in this space 
  4.  it is interesting that it is KFC that crossed the sort of imaginary rubicon I’m positing here first, as their standard fare – actual, relatively-identifiable pieces of an animal – is the most like actual food of any of them, especially compared to the thing that is commonly done to chicken in the name of fast food. 
  5.  a food item which actually no longer exists, but was the star and centerpiece of their breakfast marketing campaign. It was replaced by a biscuit taco, which may also no longer exist. I’ve never seen one on a menu, and I can’t find any evidence of it either. 
  6.  I realize at this point that I have officially crossed over into calling the naked chicken chalupa a taco. To which I say: mea culpa, but it’s certainly not a chalupa. So there. 
  7.  It’s sort of up in the air how much of those inferences are on the part of the ad-experiencer, who makes assumptions based on past experience, and how much of them are actually the suggestion in the ad to help it get traction. I’m not going to examine the advertising materials so minutely as to have any kind of real theory, but feel free to and let me know what you decide. 
  8.  both in history and in this actual blog post itself. 
  9.  metaphorically. Literally, it is made of fowl. 
  10.  the patty was, generally, like a flexi-disc version of the Wendy’s spicy chicken patty, which, it turns out, doesn’t stand up as well without the bread to help it along. 
  11.  although it would have a pleasant sort of katsu-esque quality that I would find kind of nice, especially if they replaced the “avocado” “ranch” with a sort of barbecue sauce. Actually, as of this footnote, I’m in favor of just filling the damn thing with rice. 
  12.  I understand this isn’t a terribly helpful description, but it’s kind of all I can think to say about it. 
  13.  there are reports that they are releasing a version of it that plays up the spicy aspect of it, built around a different, spicier sauce, which is a good direction to go with the thing. 

The Best Albums of January 2017

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 – {It was released physically this month, which means in addition to making last year’s albums of the year list, I get to put it on this list because IT’S JUST THAT GOOD.)


Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods (Lemon Demon-er Neil Cicierega’s Mouth records are probably the greatest comedy-sample-mash-up albums currently going, and some of the best ever made.)


William Basinski – A Shadow in Time (Half of this is a new droning composition made from tape, the other half is also a David Bowie tribute, the whole thing is mind-meltingly beautiful)


POS – Chill, Dummy (the Doomtree leader makes another solo record, which is always welcome, and a great way to start the year)


Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile Deviaitons 1 (what could make Nine Inch Nails’ singularly-great The Fragile better? Scrub the lyrics out of it, and remix some of the resultant instrumentals to make them bigger and grander in scope, then add back in some songs that make the whole thing feel even more epic. Truly one of the best ideas anyone has ever had).