Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 2

You've (hopefully) read my review of the Best New Artist category, and if not, please do. It's so great. There are SO many wonderful insights. You will feel smarter almost instantaneously! /facetiousness

Now it's time for my take on the Song of the Year category. To be honest, every year for a while now I find myself going back and trying to remember the difference between the song and record category. I feel like I finally get it, but even then, I found myself going back to the Grammy site to make sure I get it. Anyway, the Song of the Year goes to the songwriter or songwriters. It ignores (although, I'm not sure you can completely ignore it) the actual recording and production. For each of the nominees I've included the artist who recorded it and then the songwriters who would actually win the Grammy. Granted, most recording artists who achieve this level of success are probably contributing to the writing process (and for these five nominees, that's the case), but that's not always a given. I've also included the album where the track appears.

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"Alright," recorded by Kendrick Lamar
Songwriters: Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears, and Pharrell Williams
Album: To Pimp A Butterfly

OK. I'm going to say right up front that this song is a tough one to listen to, if for no other reason than it's raw and honest about life in Black America, especially the poor urban population. It also makes liberal use of the n-word, which can be a bit rough to hear. It's a song of hope within a world that seems hellbent on holding people down. I have no personal experience that can even come close to what Lamar and his peers have been through, but I can certainly get a sense for what their experiences mean. It's like reading African-American poetry and literature that came out of the Harlem Renaissance. It comes as close as you can to explaining to a person of privilege what it means to be oppressed and what it means to look for hope. I can't say that I'm a particular fan of Lamar's specific style, but this guy is talented. He is a musician among wannabes, not just someone with an ax to grind.

[We are a family that doesn't believe in censorship, but given the nature of the song I decided not to embed a video here.]

"Blank Space," recorded by Taylor Swift
Songwriters: Max Martin, Shellback, and Taylor Swift
Album: 1989

Taylor Swift is a favorite around our house, and I am very familiar with this song, including the brilliant music video. Like her other great songs, this one tells a very clear story of tumultuous love, and it belongs right up there in the canon of Taylor Swift relationship songs. I'm not as enamored with the song as some people are, and it's not just because Swift is, as a rule, overexposed. For whatever reason it doesn't jump out as one of those "wow" kind of songs, and she has several others that do that for me. Maybe it isn't fair to compare this to her other works since it's being nominated this year in this category for what it is, but it's hard not to.

"Girl Crush," recorded by Little Big Town
Songwriters: Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose
Album: Pain Killer

I had to actually go find the background on this song before I fully appreciated it. The title is misleading--it's really a jealousy/breakup song, not what it seems from the title. And honestly, even if the song is about a woman having a crush on another woman, who cares? As John Mayer said, you love "Who You Love." Anyway, the layers of meaning within the lyrics give the song some extra depth, and it's a pretty good song all in all.

"See You Again," recorded by Wiz Khalifa with Charlie Puth
Songwriters: Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth, and Cameron Thomaz, songwriters (Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth)
Album: Furious 7: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

So, I see this is from a movie about dudes driving cars too fast and putting on airs of bravado and machismo, for the seventh time! But this is about the song and the songwriters, so I gave it an honest listen and looked at the lyrics. It's a very touching song about two friends who are like brothers and all that comes with losing someone like that. It's not the most lyrically complex song I've ever heard, but it's a really good song.

"Thinking Out Loud,"
recorded by Ed Sheeran
Songwriters: Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge
Album: X

Ed Sheeran is brilliant. You could go grab just about anything he's done and put it in this category. His songwriting is that good. When I first listened to his album, which I had been anticipating for a while, this song is the one that I immediately said would be big. It wasn't the first single released, and I can see why not, but holy crap! This is the kind of song that defines an album. The nature of mainstream radio play these days is that stations play songs to death, to the point where we just wish they would go away and never come back to haunt us. This is a big reason I don't really like the radio that much. But "Thinking Out Loud" is one that I could listen to again and again and again, and so much of that is because of the lyrics Sheeran has strung together.

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My choice: In case it wasn't obvious from my commentary, "Thinking Out Loud" is my choice without hesitation. I don't think the others come close, except for maybe "Alright." Not to take anything away from the other songwriters, but I think this song is that good.

My prediction: Ed Sheeran has gotten the shaft, in my opinion, in past years. He has several nominations but no wins. He's been up against some pretty incredible talent, but I find it hard to believe he hasn't taken home even one Grammy. I think this year might be the year for him.

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Next up, Album of the Year


Jimmy said...

I really want to like Charlie Puth because the song "Let's Marvin Gaye and Get it on" has so much potential. But his lyrics always end up falling short in the end. He's got a nice tune going, but you're exactly right, his songs writing lacks complexity.

I have to agree. If this category is about song writing, Ed Sheeran should win this one.

Dr. Mark said...

Good points on Charlie Puth. I did a little listening after reading your comment, and he is definitely style over substance. He's cashing in on the clean-cut, retro vibe that is very "in" right now, but the actual lyrics are a bit hollow and juvenile.

The Magic Violinist said...

I'd have some serious doubts about how the judging works behind the scenes if "Thinking Out Loud" didn't win. You're right, I don't think that's a song that could ever get overplayed.

I wish some of Taylor Swift's other songs had been nominated instead of "Blank Space" and "Bad Blood." I think "Wildest Dreams," "Wonderland," and "You Are In Love" are much better.

Boquinha said...

"See You Again" - the first time I heard this song, I thought Sam Smith was singing.

I never, ever, ever tire of that song by Ed Sheeran. EVER. It's GORGEOUS. It's brought me to tears more than once. I don't have enough words to express the haunting beauty of that song. It's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. He deserves this award so very, very much. His songwriting is incomparable.

Boquinha said...

Also, he's so SOULFUL when he sings it (BABY, now . . .). And that line? "Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars?" OMG it's so beautiful.

Dr. Mark said...

Kate -- I've studied the selection criteria several times and it's tough to say why anything wins. One of the problems is that for the "Big 4," ANYONE who has a Grammy vote gets to vote. So it becomes more like a People's Choice kind of thing, but within the industry. Ed Sheeran is young enough and talented enough, and now that he's got his own label, I could see several Grammys coming his way.

Stacy -- I think I remember hearing that song and thinking the same thing. And yep, that song, any time. Some day when someone cares to ask me about songs I wish I'd written, that's the one I would say.

Boquinha said...

Yep. "Thinking Out Loud" and "Your Song" . . . I think what I love about it is how NOT pretentious they are. How NOT flowery. How "everyday" they are in simplicity and therefore beauty. It's the same reason I love daisies rather than roses. They're just talking . . . thinking . . . pondering out loud. I love it.