The 2019 Academy Awards

So the Academy Awards are here again. Again. This year has been an especially fractious lead up, so it seems like they have been gestating forever. There isn’t, for example, going to be a best popular picture category, which is probably a good thing, as I don’t think there needs to be even more ways in which this ceremony is made longer and tries even harder to include Superhero movies.

The other thing that we’re not going to have this year is a host, which hasn’t happened in thirty years. I’m not sure why the Academy Awards would need a host, but they’re not going to have one, so I guess we’ll be spared a monologue, and the endless “tributes” to “old stuff” are going to have to be introduced by somebody else. This seems like a non-move, but, y’know, for something based so deeply in tradition, it’s also noteworthy that it’s what passes for a shake-up.

Of course, it could just be that it’s just another in a series of decisions, including the aforementioned popular film category, that is evidentiary of their problems making the right decisions. For example: there is a non-zero chance that Bryan “Serial Rapist” Singer could walk out with an Academy Award 1, which seems like, at the very least, an extremely tone-deaf decision, if not an actively hostile one.

A week or so ago, as of the time of this writing) the Academy has also come under fire for their decision to air fewer actual awards-grantings, and shunting some categories off to being given away during ad breaks in the interest of keeping the telecast length down, which seems like cutting off an arm to try to lose weight – your an awards ceremony that would rather spend more time watching people sing than give out awards 2. It’s turbodumb.

If the Academy themselves can’t be bothered to care thoughtfully about any of this, then I most definitely cannot and will therefore, as is my custom around this particular award show, be doing this speed-round style, and making only the most gut-level decisions, because the Academy Awards are very stupid and I hate them.

But I do like the spectacle, and I dig on the absurdity, so it’s not a total wash.

So here we go!

Best Visual Effects

True story: First Man is the only one of these movies that doesn’t give me weird uncanny-valley vibes at all, so it’s the winner. There’s lots to be impressed with in Avengers: Infinity War, as long as you never look at Thanos’s hands. It’s a real mood-killer.


Best Film Editing

The only two of these movies I could condone getting any kind of award are Black KKKlansman and The Favourite, and I’m inclined to prefer The Favourite.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Yorgos Mavropsardis, The Favourite

Best Costume Design

On the one hand, period dramas are supposed to be what this is all about. On the other hand, how hard is it to “Design” costumes that are already designed? So The Favourite and Mary, Queen of Scots are out, although I’ll hand it to The Ballad of Lester Scruggs for being a period piece with some extra creative flair. Anyway, it’s Black Panther, which also mostly had pre-designed costumes, having been based on a comic book full of pre-existing costumes, but did some inventive things with both the pre-existing costumes and the ones they had to make up themselves.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

There are only three nominees in this category. That’s weird. There’s the same number of films considered in this category as all the rest of them, but only three are nominated here. That’s weird, guys. I think it should be otherwise. However, I don’t know anything about the field, particularly, so I guess I should just be grateful to not have as many things to choose from.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Cinematography

Alfonso Cuaron has many, many talents, but even if he didn’t, and all he ever did was point cameras at things, he would still be a genius, and I believe this to my core.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Best Production Design

It really is Black Panther again. They made up a whole country, with a way of life and costumes and everything, and it all looks great.


Best Sound Mixing

I’m no fan of A Star is Born in any of its forms, but the sound mixing does seem challenging, and they did a good job with it, so I guess it’s the winner.


Best Sound Editing

A Quiet Place relies on its sound editing for almost everything about it that is compelling, so that’s the winner right there.


Best Original Song

It’s been two weeks since I made the joke about it sounding like all the stars are kosher, is that enough time to make it again? I mean, it’s the best song here, so I feel like it is. I’m going to say that it is.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “All the Stars” (f Kendrick Lamar)

Best Original Score

The best original score was for Mandy. I’m going off script. It’s not my fault that the Academy is made of dildos and doesn’t know a good score when they hear one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Johann Johannsson, Mandy. Even though it isn’t, technically, nominated

Best Animated Short Film

Bao is great, and I’m happy to see it here.


Best Live Action Short Film

Let’s go with Mother, which does cool things with time and manages to cram a twist in there. I’m also looking forward to it being expanded into a full-length movie.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mother, which is separate and distinct from all the other films called Mother in the last several years.

Best Documentary – Short Subject

A Night at the Garden is timely, compelling and feels like a genuinely-important reminder about the relationship between Americans and fascist racism. Plus Fox News decided they couldn’t possibly promote it, so points there also.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A Night at the Garden

Best Documentary – Feature

There’s a lot of weighty, political material here, which is great. There’s also a really nice, moving documentary about the nature of interpersonal relationships and obsessive joy, and I’m kind of inclined to praise it to the damn rafters.


Best Foreign Language Film

I, like everyone else, think Roma is just swell.


Best Animated Feature Film

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse needs to be nominated for more awards in more categories. It’s amazing and just about perfect. It beats the rest of this category at a breezy walk.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay

I’m not inclined to think about this one much further than to say that If Beale Street Could Talk is based on the best source material – one of the very finest novels ever written, ever – and that by doing a credible job it should win. So I’m going with that. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Original Screenplay

I can’t really get over my generalized distaste of Paul Schrader, even when everybody loves his work, so I guess this one goes to Roma.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Best Supporting Actress

Man, Regina King is a damn national treasure. She should win all the awards for just being her, but she should especially win an Academy Award for If Beale Street Could Talk.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Supporting Actor

How cool is it to see ol’ Withnail himself finally nominated for an academy award? I think it’s just delightful.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me

Best Actress

I’m breaking my usual rule against even thinking positive thoughts about biopics to point out that the story of Lee Israel is super-great, and that people managed to work their heads around what Melissa McCarthy is actually good at 3, and she did excellent work. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Actor

Well, regardless of my aforestated opinion of the remake of A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper isn’t playing a real person (well, he’s kind of playing Kris Kristofferson, but it’s not a biopic), and he isn’t in Green Book, so he’s the winner. I’m not any happier about it than you are.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born

Best Director

Yorgos Lanthimos would have been such a strange candidate for this category a couple of years ago, that I’m pretty happy that he’s here and happy to say that it’s him, even if The Favourite isn’t precisely my cup of tea.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite

Best Picture

For all the sound and fury, this is one seriously weak best-picture field. Most of the available options here are the kind of thing that will seem super-silly in a few years. Black Panther would at least be an interesting choice, and The Favourite and Roma are probably the best ones. But what the hell, why not stick to my lane and say the predictable thing.


And there you have, tune in next year unless my prayers are answered and the whole thing burns itself to the ground in a conflagration of stupidity!

  1. Bryan Singer is the wide-openest of missing stairs, with reports coming out every few years about how disgusting he is, everyone acting shocked and appalled, and then going back to the business of ensuring that he remains extremely rich and successful. It’s super-weird to me that he seems to be so immune to any of this. 
  2. actually, between the time the first draft of this piece was written and now, when I’m updating it on the nineteenth, there has been yet more controversy, as they have also abandoned the bumper spots that highlight the jobs of the little-known and/or little-understood behind the scenes people that have peppered the last couple of years, so clearly whatever it is they want to be on television, it’s not any of the interesting stuff. 
  3. For example, her character in Bridesmaids – the movie that started this whole thing – was not memorable solely for the big, loud over-the-top-ness, but for the reveal at the end that that’s a thing she has become by coming to terms with who she is. Most Melissa McCarthy roles leave that bit out, to their own detriment. 

Who the Fuck Listens to This Double-Header – Cover Me, I’m Going In

So it must be acknowledged that implicit to the title of this feature 1 is that there do not exist people who would listen to this. One of these albums, then, seems to come with its own pre-ordained disclaimer: the reason that Weezer’s The Teal Album appears to be that the internet demanded that Weezer cover “Africa,” and they made an album around it. I’m here to argue, however, that this is, in fact, not a reason to make a whole album, any more than “I have the legal rights to use the name of a band that used to be a going concern” was a reason to make this Lemonheads covers albums. I guess what I’m saying is: neither of these albums has an easy answer to the question “who is this for?” and that is the non-profanity version of the question in the header.

The two things looked at in tandem, in fact, show us a world of contrast, albeit not contrasts that are in opposition. The Teal Album is a try-hard overachieving fanservice big swing, anchored by an internet-demanded track that, frankly, was a bad idea from the top all the way down. The Lemonheads’ Varshons 2, on the other hand, was not really requested by anyone, internet or otherwise. It is, in fact, the Lemonheads’ 2 second-consecutive covers record, but first in ten years, and no part of it was demanded by anyone. At times it’s hard to believe that even Evan Dando wants this record to exist.

The other thing, though, that these two bands have in common is that they were both, in the nineties, capable and even laudable power-pop bands. The further sort of duality that they’re drawn into by this circumstance – that is, the circumstance of each band releasing a covers album within a couple of weeks of each other – is to note how differently their things progressed. They both started off rockin’ bopsters from the East Coast, but the Lemonheads fell apart into drugs, apathy, and the sort of frontman weirdo-ness that doesn’t make for coming back easily 3, and lurch to life occasionally to make enough sweet reunion tour dollars to yield, I’m going to presume, another pile of drugs with which to hole up and not worry about anymore.

Weezer, on the other hand, fell apart into basically the exact opposite experience, riding Rivers Cuomo’s algorithmic 4 songwriting uh…chops to album-a-year middle-ground success as sort of the last generally-bland riff-and-hook rock dudes left standing. It’s unfair to call either experience a band, as one has basically no functional members beyond the people hired to play the songs, and the other is compries of 75% original members, leashed to each other to play music that means nothing, and only sets out to accomplish selling enough records to enable them to continue doing it. One is a constantly self-destructing machine, the other a perpetual-motion machine.

And so it comes to pass that each of these bands, capable in their past of great work, come forward with albums full of other people’s’ songs, as though that was any way to communicate to whatever remains of their fanbases whatever it was that was great about them in the first place, out of mercenary need. The Weezer album out of year-over-year mercenary behavior, to drum up support for whatever their next studio monstrosity is going to be, and the Lemonheads for more easily-scrutinized mercenary reasons: they probably needed the money or whatever.

Whether it’s an outright trend that I’m not on top of or just something that confirmation bias has pushed in front of me, covers albums have been happening over my transom a fair amount lately – even just last year, one would have heard a lot about both Third Eye Blind’s covers album (which got a writeup as part of this very feature) and Meshell N’Degeocello’s covers album (which was one of my favorite albums of the year), and that’s only out of the fifty-odd things I write about over the normal course of business in a given year. So: why? Why a covers album at all? Why two of them in a month, and three of them 5 in a year?

Well, the answer seems to be pretty apparent: people like songs they already know, and you can bet heavily on them perhaps giving you more of a listen if you aren’t straining their memory (by being a band they don’t remember) and their faith (by presenting them with a bunch of songs they don’t know). It’s a low-stakes way to get something out there, in short, and it almost certainly has no reason to exist beyond that.

But maybe there’s something in the performances that tells us otherwise. After all, pleny of people have made much hay with someone else’s songs, and there’s no reason why any of this couldn’t be the same situation.

No reason beyond the fact, of course, that it isn’t.

Look, this is a pretty straight up and down situation: these albums are both bad. But they are, to their credit, bad in distinct and separate ways. Weezer performs a bunch of note-perfect covers of existing radio hits, with just enough “Weezer” on them 6 to make it clear that you’re not hearing the original. It starts by making the listener wade through the execrable internet-baiting “Africa” cover, well-sung 7 but otherwise-unspectacular version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Take on Me” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, and it just isn’t worth it. There’s a stretch in the back half of the album that almost sort of makes a case for the record; “Paranoid” adds very little to the song itself, but at least sounds like the band is genuinely enjoying themselves, “Mr. Blue Sky” is a durable enough song that it always sounds like that 8, and they do the coda, which is nice. “No Scrubs” is also a surprisingly sturdy song, and while it’s eye-roll inducing in its “wouldn’t it be funny if this white rock band did an R&B classic?” conceit, the band plays it relatively straight, and it’s at least listenable. It ends with a couple of the worst things I’ve ever had to sit through, in the form of a braindead version of “Billie Jean” 9followed by a perfunctory version of “Stand By Me”, which isn’t even that hard of a song to cover in the first place. It’s actively baffling, and it really caps off an already-bad record on an already-bad note.

The Lemonheads album is less unpleasant, if only because it’s considerably more slight, and also because it mostly has better songs on it. Unlike the Weezer record, it starts pretty strong, with a fine Yo La Tengo cover (“Can’t Forget”). It runs through Dando-ified versions of pretty-good songs by the Jayhawks (“Settled Down Like Rain”) and the Bevis Frond (“Old Man Blank”) before taking some big swings at a classic Paul Westerberg solo number (“Things”) that turns out well, because it’s not like any Paul Westerberg song is dependent on its performance 10.

Things get even wobblier with their version of “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” which is one of John Prine’s very best songs, and is pretty outside of their ability here. They don’t fall down entirely on Lucinda Williams’ “Abandoned” 11, they do completely fall down on “Now and Then” (by a band called Natural Child, whose work I am not familiar with at all). NRBQ’s “Magnet” is fine, if not revelatory. They get full points for constructing a version of the Florida-Georgia Line’s “Round Here” that I not only like more than the original (not difficult), but might actually listen to again of my own volition some day. And then they go completely off the rails. Their amiable country-rock approach is abandoned for “TAQN” by The Eyes, and punk rock does not suit whatever form the Lemonheads currently take. It’s better than the fake-reggae of the GiveGood’s “Familiar”, but it’s still not as bad as the Lovecraftian, mind-melting horror that awaits the last two tracks on the album.

I’m trying not to overstate things, but jesus their version of “Straight to You” is bad. Evan Dando’s perishing, lackadaisical-dude voice is fine, and its actually borne up pretty well with time, but “Straight to You” is pretty much exactly the kind of song that you need a super-huge operatic take on, or it just ends up sounding pretty dumb. There are lots of Nick Cave songs that are well-served by a slow, unengaged approach 12, this is absolutely not one of them. Having done considerable violence to a great song, they then record a faithful, reverent version of a terrible one with “Take it Easy”. It is at this point that I wanted to attack Spotify’s servers with a hammer. Say this for the Weezer record, at least it didn’t make me this angry.

There’s little else to say than that, in the end. In this case, both cover records seem to admit defeat – Weezer’s by throwing their hands up and just giving the people what they want, which was a cover of “Africa”, as well as a bunch of radio songs from when he was a kid, The Lemonheads by not only not writing songs, but not even doing anything to make the songs they cover sound like The Lemonheads 13, and basically acknowledging that you just want to hear them play songs you already know anyway.

So who the fuck listens to this? I don’t know. People who are into internet memes, I guess. People that like bar bands and want them to have a name they know, I guess. People that don’t want to acknowledge that the nineties ended twenty years ago, I guess. I genuinely have no idea. They aren’t worth listening to in any way, and I can’t imagine who is doing so.

Now, give me an album of Weezer covering the Lemonheads, that I’d listen to. If you could get a version of “Rudderless” on there, I’d even donate to the Kickstarter.

  1. one of the first features I came up with for this blog, and a well that I have to prevent myself from going to too often, lest it spoil the special gem-like rarity of the truly inexplicable. 
  2. for so we are forced to call them, given that the only constant member is Evan Dando, to the point where it’s difficult to even figured out who played on Varshons 2. 
  3. and indeed, the Lemonheads have never really “come back” in any meaningful sense after The Lemonheads, their first “reunion” album, which has its moments, but not very many of them. 
  4. this is meant literally – dude writes songs with spreadsheets and math. 
  5. I never much cared for Third Eye Blind, but I’m perfectly happy to lump them in with the Lemonheads and Weezer as bands that peaked in the nineties and somehow continue to lurch around making records I don’t care about, including a covers album. They’re not that different. 
  6. for all that their music currently sounds painstakingly assembled out of parts to the point of being frictionless and uninteresting, it is also the case that there is a surprising amount of singularity to their sound – that is to say they are readily identifiable as “Weezer”, even though their music is designed to be as featureless as possible. 
  7. There are, to be sure, two aspects of Weezer as mechanical performers that are interesting, and the first is Cuomo’s surprisingly-capable, surprisingly-agile voice – he hits the high note in “Take on Me”! – and Pat Wilson’s drumming, which is much better than it has any right to be. 
  8. it did force me to consider whether I find the production on this record less offensive than on ELO’s Out of the Blue or not. I think that I’m just used to the way radio rock records sound in 2019, and it sounds less freakish because I’m here in it. I’m also sure that there’s pretty much no way in which I would have to hear it in a few years when things have changed somewhat, as they inevitably do, and compare the two experiences, so I’m going to have to let that stand for the truth in my estimation. 
  9. Rivers Cuomo owes me nothing, and I don’t know anything about his proclivities, but if you’re already the dude that wrote the agency-denying, stalker-lite lyrics on Pinkerton, maybe avoid covering what sure sounds like a proto-MRA anthem about a woman who lied about being impregnated by you to get at your dollars? In 2019? Like, maybe that’s not the best idea? I don’t know, man. Just saying. 
  10. there are great performances (as opposed to great songs, which abound) in Paul Westerberg’s solo discography, but not very many of them, and none of them are on 14 Songs, and none of them are “Things”. 
  11. one of my favorite Lucinda Williams songs, in fact, and from the album that you probably unjustly know as “the one with ‘Passionate Kisses’ on it”, because everyone covers that song all the time. Or maybe “Change the Locks,” which Tom Petty covered. 
  12. “Into My Arms,” “Black Hair,” “As I Sat Sadly By Her Side”, “Skeleton Tree” and “Henry Lee” – since he’s already got a duet partner there – are the ones that spring off the top of my head. I’m sure I could find a dozen more if pressed. 
  13. They sound, in fact, like the best bar band in your town. Whoever that is, the Lemonheads sound like that now. 

2019 Grammy Awards

Every year I point out in this headnote that the Grammys seem weirdly-placed in the “major awards season” television situation. I feel this still, although I will say that as these things become harder to take seriously in general, they become less like the odd duck and more sort of like a standard way-too-long television awards show.

This is an especially interesting year from where I’m standing, also, since it seemed like there was very little consensus activation this year in terms of what people liked all-around. Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae and Brandi Carlisle are all heavily-nominated here, and they were about as close to the sort of monolithic-universal approval that used to happen all the time 1. But since there wasn’t much in the way of huge, heavy-hitting pop releases that stuck around this year 2, there seems to be a little bit more room for things to get, if not actually weird, then at least closer to something like what people are actually listening this year.

That said, it’s not without its changes. They’ve expanded the bigger categories to include more people, which is nominally a way to be more inclusive, but turned out practically to be a way to include more country artists. I mean, I’m sure it won’t work that way every year, but it worked that way this year. So there’s that. And here’s the rest of it 3

Best Music Film

Another thing that happens every year: every frigging year I start this off with this frigging category. I have no idea how to evaluate yet another Elvis documentary that doesn’t reveal anything, nor about an Eric Clapton documentary made while he’s still alive. Itzhak Perlman is neat. Whitney was also fine, I guess. I liked that it tried to stem the narrative that she was a mere bystander to her own life and career (and, unfortunately, downfall), which is good. I like when people have agency.


Best Music Video

I mean, it’s probably actually “This is America,” which is at least layered and visceral, but I kind of want to be the sort of person that thinks it’s “Pynk”, which is no less imagistically impressive and well-choreographed, but is also very funny, and is probably the best song ever written about Tessa Thompson’s swimsuit parts.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Childish Gambino, “This is America”

Producer of Year, Non-Classical

I’m more than happy to call this for Pharrell – he came up with “Stir Fry” and “Apeshit” and a pretty righteous NERD album. Good job, my dude.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell Williams

Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical

I skipped the best engineered album category for classical because I don’t have the proper material to evaluate the engineering – I would assume that that’s the sort of determination one would need access to a higher-quality version of the recording than I am willing to shell out for 4, this is not necessarily the case for popular music, and I’m pretty happy commenting on it here. The only records here that sound like they might actually reflect the process of playing instruments and/or singing to make sounds that are captured are the albums by Beck, Bahamas and the Milk Carton Kids, which are all actually pretty bad, but the Milk Carton Kids one at least sounds ok.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ryan Freeland & Kenneth Pattengale, for the Milk Carton Kids album All the Things I Did and All the Things I Didn’t Do

Best Instrumental Composition

This has pretty well converted itself to the “best song from a movie or whatever” category, and is almost never, like, an Aidan Baker song. That’s kind of disappointing. Especially since I have to consider all of this at so many different awards shows that it’s made more boring by its ubiquity.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water”

Best Song Written for Visual Media

Totally different from “Best Instrumental Composition” because 1) it has the fact that it’s from a movie or tv show right there in the category name and 2) it can have singing on it. So this is where we find “Shallow”, and also the far-lesser “This is Me” (ew), “Mystery of Love” (presented without comment), “All the Stars,” which I thought was going to be the winner but it turns out that this is the year that “Remember Me” from Coco is nominated, and that’s the best song, so there you have it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: “Remember Me”, Coco

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media

The Black Panther and Blade Runner 2049 scores are good, but I’m still way into Coco guys.


Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

So…the soundtrack to a musical counts as a compilation soundtrack 5, which is weird to me. I actually don’t like any of this, but I’m happy to say that Stranger Things is the best one, since it’s the one that did a good enough job. It may have been the best part of the show’s second season, in fact.


Best Comedy Album

Hard to argue against Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation, here. I mean, Chris Rock’s return was welcome, and I like Jim Gaffigan, and even have plenty of good things to say about that Dave Chappelle, but Annihilation is a one of a kind thing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Patton Oswalt, Annihilation

Best Folk Album

This is probably Joan Baez’s last album, and it’s hard not to be impressed by that. Especially since it’s up against a good-but-not-great Punch Brothers album, a completely-forgettable Iron & Wine album, and an acceptable Mary Gauthier album. Oh, and a Don Flemons album. His name is funny.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Joan Baez, Whistle Down the Wind

Best Contemporary Blues Album

Upon listening to all of this, and considering all of it, I have very few opinions about it. More than I do for some of the footnoted “not considered” category, and enough that it’s up here, but not that many. So I’m going to give it to Fantastic Negrito.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fantastic Negrito, Please Don’t Be Dead

Best Traditional Blues Album

I do like Elvis Bishop. That about wraps it up for my feelings about the blues, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Elvis Bishop’s Big Fun Trio, Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here

Best Bluegrass Album

These are all fine. The bottom categories that are hyper-specific non-popular genres usually do pretty well. In the interest of keeping the word count reasonable, I’ll call it here for Wood & Wire and move along.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Wood & Wire, North of Despair

Best Americana Album

I’ll tell you this much: people are really into this Brandi Carlile album and, like, I do not quite get it. Lots of times things become famous for reasons I don’t understand, and I’ve pretty well learned to deal with it, but this one is just utterly baffling. I guess it’s fine. It’s not a patch on the John Prine album, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: John Prine, The Tree of Forgiveness

Best American Roots Song

John Prine is in this category twice, and that’s pretty cool because, as previously mentioned, The Tree of Forgiveness is really good. But I actually like this Mavis Staples song (written by ONAT favorite Jeff Tweedy) a bit better than the songs that are here nominated, so I’m happy to let it go that way.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mavis Staples, “Build a Bridge”

Best American Roots Performance

So I don’t actually have a joke about how I think it would be funny if Anderson East and Dave East were actual brothers, because I don’t know what the punchilne to that would be, but I’m using the fact that I want to make that joke to cover for the fact that while I am generally positively-disposed to more-or-less all of these people, this category is pretty dull.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing” (I guess)

Best Country Album

This is the best this field has looked in years, and maybe the first time since I started doing this that my favorite pop/mainstream country album has actually been eligible. This is a real moment for me – either this field is getting better, or getting dumb enough to enjoy it. I’ll take it either way, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour

Best Country Song

This is a real cold shower after the high of the albums category, however. Even the people in this category I’m ordinarily not opposed to – namely Blake Shelton and Vince Gill 6 – are failing to show up, except for Kacey Musgraves again. Since she’s also booked to perform the thing, I’m going to guess she’s going to go home with a lot of Grammys. Consider this a stated hunch.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, “Space Cowboy”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

Kacey Musgraves didn’t come up with a duet this year, so there’s pretty much no saving this crop. I guess I like that Little Big Town song ok.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Little Big Town, “When Someone Stops Loving You”

Best Country Solo Performance

The problem with this “performance” bit is that it sometimes refers to just the regular song as it is on the record and sometimes means something else. I’m ok either way I guess, because it comes down to Loretta Lynn and Kacey Musgraves, and while “Butterflies” isn’t a great song, it is a great vocal performance, so she gets it again, although by less of a margin than in the other categories.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, “Butterflies”

Best Rap Album

Mac Miller’s death is real sad, and that gives his record some weight, and makes it clear just how impressive it is that he managed to make anything at all, given his mental state/the state of his addiction. Pusha-T had to overcome the fact that his producer/label-head’s brain completely melted in the run-up to Daytona, and people really like that record also. Way to go, everybody. I think the Cardi B record is better.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy

Best Rap Song

Red light green light red light green light red light green light it’s “King’s Dead” the end.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake, “King’s Dead”

Best Rap/Sung Performance

I’m sad that I wasted my “joke about the lyrics of the song” opportunity already, and even sadder that there’s absolutely no way to go back and rewrite that last entry with the current level of technology available to me, because I’ve taken great glee in the year or so that it’s been out in pointing out that it very much sounds like the chorus to the best rap/sung performance of 2018 says that all the stars are kosher. Which is nice, if you’re trying to keep your diet in accordance with rabbinical law and you like to eat stars.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “All the Stars” (f Kendrick Lamar)

Best Rap Performance

While “King’s Dead” has both the aforequoted “red light green light” bit and Future’s hip hop history joke couplet, and is generally a great song, I actually think “Bubblin” is a little better. So it goes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anderson.Paak, “Bubblin’”

Best R&B Album

I don’t mind H.E.R., and I rather like Leon Bridges. That makes this category fairly easy to deal with, but also I am entirely without strong feelings here, so I don’t have much else to say about it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Leon Bridges, Good Thing

Best Urban Contemporary Album

So after several years, I think the logline on the difference between Urban Contemporary and R&B as the Grammys divide them is that one of them could be rappers, and the other isn’t I guess. In any event, Miguel and Chris Dave both made very good albums this year. The Carters made a super-good album that proved that Beyonce is also a great rapper. But that Meshell Ndegeocello album is mind blowing. It’s basically the best thing a covers album can be. I haven’t taken it out of rotation since it came out. It’s so good, y’all.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Meshell Ndegeocello, Ventriloquism

Best R&B Song

Of course, thinking that I’ve got it all figured it out, in terms of the genre distinctions down here, si the fact that there are no Urban Contemporary categories beyond “Album,” and that the U.C. nominees are sprinkled here in R&B song and R&B performance, which just muddies the waters further. Anyway, I like the H.E.R. song here more than the Childish Gambino song or anything involving J. Cole, so it’s the winner.


Best Traditional R&B Performance

Here, as though the waters of what is and is not R&B aren’t muddied enough, we have the “traditional” R&B category, and I am truly baffled. This is where Leon Bridges is again,though, so at least it’s not a total loss.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Leon Bridges, “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand”

Best R&B Performance

So this seems like it’s meant to be the sort of culmination of all of the other R&B categories, since it pulls from all of them to get here, which really makes it clear that actually these are all pretty apples-to-apples comparisons, and there’s very little reason to keep them in so many different categories. I guess it spreads the wealth around. Anyway, I feel like The Carters are kept out of many of these categories, but “Summer” is a very good song.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Carters, “Summer”

Best Alternative Music Album

I like Bjork so much more than I like anything else in this field that it seems silly to pretend to deliberate about it.


Best Rock Album

I think I comment every year that every year I think this is as bad as this category can get, and every single year it is somehow worse than the year before. I suppose this year might not be worse than the year before. It’s really hard to quantify these things. But like, three of these songs are by dumb novelty-bands, and three of them are by bands that left their best days behind long, long ago 7. I guess that Alice in Chains record almost shows up to work. Sad state of affairs, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: None of this is rightful, but the Alice in Chains record nearly makes it.

Best Rock Song

This isn’t quite as existentially disheartening, largely because of the St. Vincent song. I’m not a particular fan (nor am I interested particularly in Jack Antonoff, who cowrote the song), but she’s at least a driven musician doing her own thing genuinely, and that’s about all I could really ask for. Still not going to listen to it on purpose anytime in the foreseeable future, but it’s fine.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: St. Vincent, “Masseduction”

Best Metal Performance

For all that the “Rock” categories are a pretty miserable affair, this one is surprisingly good. Underoath isn’t great. Trivium and Between the Buried and Me are at least standard-issue just-fine metal. High on Fire made a pretty great Lemmy-worshipping album this year, and it’s good to see them honored for it 8. But my love of Deafheaven knows no bounds, and needs no further explanation here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Deafheaven, “Honeycomb”

Best Rock Performance

….aaaand we’re right back in the garbage heap. Let’s show pity on the surviving members of Chris Cornell’s family, call it for him and be done talking about rock music at the Grammys for another year, shall we?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Cornell, “When Bad Does Good”

Best Dance/Electronic Album

Jon Hopkins is not Johns Hopkins, the hospital. He’s Imogen Heap’s keyboard player. Just wanted to get that clarification out of the way. SOPHIE has done some really cool production work, but like all PC Music folks tends to fall down a bit when it comes to her own records. Sofi Tukker and Justice are probably not up to being in the same category. Tokimonsta is almost always the best part of the records she produces, and her own record is pretty good, so I guess it’s her, although on another day I would have said exactly the same thing about SOPHIE.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tokimonsta, Lune Rouge

Best Dance Recording

This category always makes me feel so old. I kind of like the Virtual Self song. I think it has to be that one, because considering which of these is “better” than the other made my mind touch the void.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Virtual Self, “Ghost Voices”

Best Pop Vocal Album

I don’t hate the Camila Cabello album, although I don’t much like it. I don’t hate the P!nk album, although I don’t much like it. I like just about everything about Arianna Grande’s career and life in the public eye except for her music, but this is explicitly an albums category, so I guess we’re back to P!nk.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: P!nk, Beautiful Trauma

Best Traditional Pop Album

I want to run the numbers on how many years Tony Bennett is nominated for this. It’s so many. I am sort of impressed by his ability to keep churning it out year after year. Not impressed enough to listen to it more than is absolutely necessary, but kind of impressed anyway. I like the Willie Nelson album fine, and I like the Seal album well enough, and these pop album categories are rough because I don’t really know how to compare the two.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Willie Nelson, My Way

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Now the field opens up to eight, which really ups the number of terrible things to consider here. “Shallow” is probably the front-runner here, and it’s also the best song here, which isn’t actually saying much, considering that I don’t actually like “Shallow”. Still and all, it serves its purpose, and it’s better than, say, another utterly identity-free Zedd/Maroon 5/Justin Timberlake song. Or whatever Tony Bennett is doing back up here. Go away, Tony Bennett.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

Best Pop Solo Performance

I suppose I would feel better about the Grammys listening sensibilities if they just decided what genre Beck was in and let that be that, but he’s here. I will say that “Colors” is his best song in years 9, so props for that. I guess it’s probably Lady Gaga again that actually deserves the win here. “Joanne” is an ok song. It’s better than the other songs here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lady Gaga, “Joanne”

Best New Artist

True story: Cardi B is disqualified by the academy from being in this category because she has been nominated for Grammys previously 10. Post Malone is disqualified from being in this category for having sold a bunch of copies of records that he made previously 11. In case that was something likely to disappoint you. That said, it seems like Bebe Rexha and Luke Combs have both been around forever, so they should also be eliminated. And Margo Price isn’t new, even if most people just heard her in the last year or so. And Greta Van Fleet is a novelty fake-tribute act, and should be ineligible for anything except a kick in the groin. Jorja Smith and Chloe x Halle have long careers ahead of them as predictable record-sellers and awards-nominees in the field of polite pop-inflected R&B. We come to Dua Lipa, then, by elimination, but also because her voice is weird! Her songs are interesting! Her videos are full of deeply weird choreography!


Song of the Year

As always, some of the choices here are utterly baffling. This happens every year. This year there are more of them, so they are even more baffling. The Brandi Carlisle and Ella Mai songs are fine, really, but are they, like, “Song of the Year” good? I will argue that they are not. I’m done trying to figure out the thing with Drake or Shawn Mendes. I also don’t know how this particular Zedd song is any better than any other Zedd song. “Shallow” is a fine main-song-from-a-movie type thing, but Bradley Cooper’s Kris Kristofferson impression still doesn’t really do it for me. “This is America” is a fine song I guess, but it’s mostly a great video, and this isn’t an award for the video. That leaves us with SZA. I already said the thing about it sounding like all the stars are kosher, so that’s pretty much all I have to say on the matter.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “All the Stars” (f Kendrick Lamar)

Album of the Year

Look, it’s not that I don’t like the Brandi Carlisle album. I mean, I don’t, but that’s not because it’s bad, it’s because it’s emphatically not my thing. But, like, she’s nominated for so many awards. So many. It’s weird. I don’t understand it. See above w/r/t Drake. They’re both still better than Post Malone. Cardi B’s album is good, but too long. Kacey Musgraves’s album is good, and not too long, but I think I actually do like the Black Panther soundtrack more.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Various Artists, Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired By

Record of the Year

As always, when we get to this category I’m pretty well on the record about all of it, so it’s basically a matter of formality to mention that I think “I Like It” is not one of the stronger songs on Invasion of Privacy, and give it to SZA again.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “All the Stars” (f Kendrick Lamar)


And there it all is. Tune in on Sunday to see some of the least-exciting nominees, plus Cardi B, do some performing. It’ll be uh…fun.


Oh, and it’s likely that they’ll shit the bed again, which will also be fun. Yay!

  1. and it’s still not hard to find people that summed up the year without mentioning any of them, except maybe Janelle Monae. 
  2. even the seemingly-indomitable Drake didn’t really stick around much, and while Lady Gaga has what amounts to two records in consideration for these things, Joanne didn’t yield big hits and “Shallow” was kind of an outlier. 
  3.  with the following exceptions, which I skipped this year: Best Contemporary Classical Composition; Best Classical Compendium; Best Classical Solo Vocal Album; Best Classical Instrumental Solo; Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance; Best Choral Performance; Best Opera Recording; Best Orchestral Performance; (these are all here because I really have absolutely no ear for Classical music as it currently exists – I’m a classical classicist, I guess – and no idea how to develop one quickly enough for it to make for an informed decision here); Producer of the Year, Classical; Best Engineered Album, Classical; Best Production, Immersive Audio; (these are all here because in order to evaluate them I’d need access to higher-quality audio for all of them than I’m inclined to have – I’d have to buy them in a high-quality format, and that gets expensive for something that I have no real interest in owning – so it’s better to just leave them down here and pretend like the people choosing the award are doing the right thing for once); Best Remixed Recording (I don’t know what this category is evaluating and I’m not familiar with the material); Best Historical Album (Sometimes I go through this one and try to figure it out, this was not one of those times); Best Album Notes (this is another issue of access); Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package; Best Recording Package (I have almost never cared about the packaging of a record, ever); Best Arrangement, Instrument or Vocals; Best Arrangement, Instrument or A Capella (I guess I could probably figure these out, but, again, I’d need access to higher-quality audio and I’m not even remotely familiar with the material); Best Musical Theatre Album (musicals are stupid); Best Spoken Word Album (These are all very long and potentially very boring, but I probably should have figured it out anyway); Best Children’s Album (I don’t like children’s music, and don’t generally think it should exist); Best World Music Album (I reject the notion, this year as always, of “World Music” as a single coherent genre. All music is made in the world, and this is a ghettoized category or music made in idioms that the Grammy voters are less familiar with, and I think it would be better off just to leave it be and not bother); Best Reggae Album (My familiarity with reggae music ends in 1989, with the death of King Tubby); Best Regional Roots Music Album (this is a borderline-case with “world music”, and it was easier for my conscience to just leave it out and not pretend to know what I was hearing); Best Tropical Latin Album; Best Regional Mexican Album; Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album; Best Latin Pop Album (in the past I have done the Latin categories, and enjoyed them, and I do have some familiarity here, but this year I didn’t know any of the material and found it easier to focus on the things I did know); Best Roots Gospel Album; Best Contemporary Christian Music Album; Best Gospel Album; Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song; Best Gospel Performance/Song (I know so little about present-day praise music that I would basically be guessing); Best Latin Jazz Album; Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album; Best Jazz Instrumental Album; Best Jazz Vocal Album; Best Improvised Jazz Solo (my connection to jazz is through the weird Peter Brotzmann/Bill Orcutt/Jamie Branch weird/free/experimental stuff, the hip-hop-associated Kamasi Washington/FlyLo/Thundercat stuff, or the London-based scene that I associate with Shabake Hutchings’s band, which is linked by Mackaya McCraven to the Chicago stuff, and so I have basically no affinity for any of this, and chose to ignore it, since the category itself is less about taking joy in the new and current and more about hidebound historicity, which I am opposed to as a stance, now as always); Best New Age Album (I don’t even know what most of this is, really); Best Contemporary Instrumental Album (I listen to tonnes of contemporary instrumental music, but none of it is in this mode, and I have no idea what we’re evaluating here) 
  4. not to put too much behind the curtain here, but while it’s true that I buy almost all of the music that I care about, I don’t actually care about most of this, and am happy to use Spotify or, if it really comes down to it, YouTube, and that’s not what I’d call a reasonable environment for listening to the engineering on a classical recording. 
  5. unless it’s to an animated movie, I guess? Because Coco is a musical – it has diagetic music and everything! – and it’s above in the score soundtrack. 
  6. albeit via Maren Morris, whose music is awful. 
  7. there are three of each because Weezer falls into both categories. 
  8. although it wasn’t nearly as good as the record that Matt Pike’s other band, Sleep, made last year 
  9. the video is especially great – Allison Brie is very funny. 
  10. which makes sense, but which was officially announced, which is weird. Also she was rumoured to be submitted for the category in 2018 but not nominated, which is funny. 
  11. again, perfectly sensible. But why tell us that? Of course that’s why he’s not nominated for best new artist: he’s not a new artist. 

The Best Albums of January 2019

(This is up a few days late because I’m a total slapdick, guys!)

Mono – Nowhere Now Here (Much was made of the fact that this one includes Taka messing with more electronic stuff after his solo work, and also it features an actual by-god singing performance, and those things are true, but also it’s still a Mono album, and a very good one at that – whatever changes have been made have clearly reinvigorated the band)

Machinefabriek – With Voices (As it says on the tin – this is a Machinefabriek album with voices, and while it’s true that the voices are generally pretty abstract, it’s still true that this is also a welcome departure)

William Tyler – Goes West (This is a lot more straightforward than previous William Tyler releases, and sounds great as a result, even if I worry that he’s going to keep going and we’ll have another Steve Gunn on our hands)

Banabila & Machinefabriek – Entropia (A good year for collaborative Machinefabriek records, y’know?)

Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between (NB I don’t actually have a problem with there being more Steve Gunns, I like the one we’ve got just fine)

Shamelessly Punting: Seven Upcoming Albums

Reasons outside of my ability to plan for them have meant that things are a little non-blog-friendly over here at ONAT headquarters. That said, yesterday’s best albums of the month post was uncharacteristically thin – I didn’t hear as many albums last month as I would have liked. So I have cast my mind forward, to some things that are coming up that are going to soothe the savage beast or whatever. Please to enjoy, and enjoy an actual words-and-thoughts post next week.

Xiu Xiu – Girl With Basket of Fruit (the singles seem to imply that we’re heading in a much more noise-oriented direction, which is pretty exciting. The touring band includes Thor Harris and doesn’t appear to include Angela Seo. It could be a new chapter for a great band. I’m optimistic)

Bob Mould – Sunshine Rock (I still love Bob Mould. Probably always will, guys. Probably always will.)

Teeth of the Sea – Wraith (It’s only been four years since the last TotS album, but since the last four years includes two of the longest years in human history, it’s also been a hundred years, and it’s about time.)

Lambchop – This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) (The early singles indicate that he’s still on this quiet-storm, heavily-autotuned business, and that’s just fine, as it’s gorgeous and very soothing)

Ex Hex – It’s Real (I’m always excited for a new Mary Timony record, and the first Ex Hex album has only gotten better since it was released)

Fennesz – Agora (See above w/r/t four years as a period of time, only it’s been five years, except for the record he made with Jim O’Rourke)

Priests – The Seduction of Kansas (follow-up albums to a debut are a pretty exciting time to be paying attention, and Priests’ first album was so fucking good)