Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What makes a house a home?

This morning, I got up and showered, took Kate to her college classes, came home and cuddled with the dog, had some breakfast, and then got ready to sit down and take care of emails (which is a catch-all phrase for family stuff/scheduling/schooling/appointments/correspondence/errands/to-do lists, etc.). It was chilly, so before I sat down, I flipped on the fireplace and grabbed a blanket to cover my lap.

As I was reaching for a fuzzy blanket out of our basket of many fuzzy blankets in our living room, I had the immediate thought that these blankets are part of what make our home "homey." In the winter, we're all always grabbing blankets for our laps or to cuddle with. When we watch TV, we're often all on the couch with fuzzy blankets covering our legs. Sometimes we each have our own. Sometimes we share. But there are always blankets. Scout loves them, too.

That thought gave me the idea for this blog post. I thought it could be fun to challenge myself to come up with a list of 10 things (tangible and intangible) that makes our house a home. My mind is racing today and I'm struggling to focus and concentrate, so I'm going to stop right now and write this blog post. Here we go - just posting what comes to mind off the top of my head:

1. Our basket of fuzzy blankets. I've already talked about these, but let's officially list it as #1.

2. Emotional safety. Everyone is safe, in our home, to speak their minds, share their feelings, have their feelings, have their opinions, and talk about anything. No restrictions. If someone is sad or angry or happy or excitable, we try to be understanding of one another. Sure, we all have our times when we're a little irritable or short on patience, but by and large, this is a safe place to be. No one gets angry at anyone else for having an opinion that's different or for having whatever feelings they're feeling. I like that our kids can come to us with anything - excitement, frustration, and questions - and know they're not going to get yelled at or mocked. We are sarcastic and snarky sometimes, but we are not mean and do not make fun of each other.

3. Talking. So much talking. We talk all the time. We talk at mealtimes. We talk before bed. We pause what we're watching and talk during shows. We talk in the car. We talk in the middle of the afternoon. It doesn't much matter. We enjoy talking and sharing with one another and I love it. We know each other and share and listen and it's lively and comfortable and wonderful.

4. Games. We have so many board games. We play games a lot. Sometimes we go on streaks where we play a game (or lots of games) repeatedly for days in a row. Sometimes we have weeks of lots of game playing. Sometimes we have stretches where we don't easily get to play, but we always come back to games (and yes, we talk during game play, too). We also have a ping pong/pool/air hockey table and that's often a room we go to in order to take a break from the grind and challenge one another to a quick game or a quick tournament. I love it. Again, I've always wanted that kind of home - one where being playful and creative and happy is the basis for not only how we furnish and decorate our home, but also how we live in it.

5. Music. We often have music playing as we prepare meals together, set the table, and sometimes just for fun. We play music when we get together with friends and play games. We play music when we celebrate New Year's. We listen to all kinds and lately it's been a lot of Broadway. When I put mine on, it's either that or lots of 80's pop. At Christmastime, we play so much holiday music. We watch the Grammys together. We geek out reading articles about songs and musical artists we like. It's happy. I love to dance and can't seem to help myself when the music is on. I also love to sing along and everyone knows if they ask me something while I'm singing, I have to finish singing before I answer them. I almost can't even concentrate if music with lyrics is playing. Sometimes Mark and I dance in the kitchen. And when I'm dancing and singing, I don't even care how silly I might look or whether or not I'm getting the words perfectly. I'm just happy and having fun. And we're all enjoying one another.

6. Scout. Neither Mark nor I grew up with a dog. We had no idea what we were in for when we got Scout. She brings SO MUCH LOVE, JOY, and ENERGY to our home. So much. I have never in my life felt so loved like this. She is a lot of work but oh so worth it. She is, at turns, cuddly and playful and sweet and demanding and feisty and mischievous and energetic and mellow and hilarious and and and . . . well, you get the idea. She definitely makes our house more homey. We love her excited pants, her pitter-patter walk, her hops, her licks, her wet nose kisses, her pawing us, her snuggles. We love our Scout!!

7. TV shows. It's funny. I kind of hate the sound of a TV that's on, but  more specifically the sound of a TV that's on mindlessly. Like just on for noise. It's like nails on a chalkboard. But for us, the TV isn't something that someone flips on and then clicks through for hours on end. It's something we turn on to watch stuff together. It's deliberate. We flip it on sometimes at lunch and eat around the coffee table while we watch yesterday's Trevor Noah. We all get excited on Tuesday nights to sit down (with blankets and sometimes snacks) and watch "This is Us." We laugh as we watch episodes of "Clarence." We binge watch shows like Friends, The Office, New Girl, Glee, Frasier, Malcolm in the Middle, and more. We have our Gilmore Girls tradition that we've all shared. We sometimes watch a news special about Lin-Manuel Miranda or Taylor Swift or something else we're interested in. But whatever it is, we're interested and if we don't all watch it, we take the time to know, "Hey, Max really likes Invader Zim" or "Kate really likes Castle." Mark hardly ever watches baseball, but when he does, we ask him questions and he teaches us. Kate binge watched Castle and I got inadvertently sucked in and loved getting interested and sharing that with her. Mark now watches Supernatural with her. Max wanted to watch The Office, so Mark is watching that with the kids (and I get sucked in now and then, too). I recently watched the entirety of Frasier with Kate and now am starting up Glee with Max (I had gotten to about season 2 or 3 with Kate, but it's been a while so we're casually starting over). It's funny - a few weeks ago, I was thinking of writing a blog post all about TV shows and how much we learn from them due to the conversations that come from watching them together and maybe I still will, but I guess I'm alluding to that a little bit here, too. We love sharing hobbies and this is one of them - a love of good television and pop culture.

8. Food. All kinds of foods, but especially savories and meals from all over the world - Japanese, Indian, Mexican . . . we love it all. We love to try new things. We love to eat out and get take out. We love to cook. When we watch something special like the Gilmore Girls revival or an Awards show, we often make themed foods or appetizers. When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, we made Obama cookies and cooked Kenyan food. When Prince William and Princess Kate got married, we got up early and watched while eating tea and crumpets. When we watch awards shows, we sometimes make a bunch of little savory appetizers like pigs-in-a-blanket or salami pickles or mini egg rolls. We're not opposed to ordering in at 10pm or spontaneously suggesting a fun food outing. New restaurant? Let's check it out! And cooking. So much cooking. Our house often has the smells of such good cooking. We enjoy food as a hobby. We eat pretty healthy overall, but boy do we have fun with it.

This picture is a just because candid - Mark recently got me flowers to bring some light and cheer to these gloomy winter days and you can see the lived-in nature of our home (calendar, pencil, book on the table), books in the background, fandom art on the walls, etc.

9. Books. Shelves and shelves of books. Books in nearly every room. A basket of books from the library. Piles of books we're reading. Boxes of books from overflowing shelves. Books we read ourselves. Books we read together. We share stories. We read books. We listen to podcasts. Right now, the whole family is listening to Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime" and it is excellent! We're enjoying it so much. We listen in the car and at home while we eat our meals. I've read the Harry Potter series 3 times so far - once myself, once with Kate, and once with Max. It's so special. There are quotes on our walls from the Harry Potter books. Fandom stuff all over. Another book that is special for me to read with the kids is "To Kill a Mockingbird." I've read it with Kate and will read it with Max soon. We all like all kinds of books. I'm so glad books are a big part of our home.

10. Pictures. We have pictures all over the place. In frames on the mantel. In frames on the wall. We have a digital frame that goes through old pictures. We take family pictures every couple of years. We have scrapbooks. We have home videos. It all contributes to a hominess. I've never wanted a stuffy home. I've always wanted a place where people can feel comfortable and relaxed and welcome. This isn't a museum. It's our home. I like things clean and sanitary. Neat even. But it's also lived in. Because we live here. And I like it that way.

So, here's something funny - know how I wrote this post because I was feeling so distracted? Well, writing certainly helped. Then, I got distracted again and it wasn't until I was climbing into bed that I remembered I didn't post it. :P See? So yeah, I wrote this yesterday, but am posting it now.

So, I'm curious to hear your thoughts - what are 10 things (tangible and intangible) that make your house a home?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine's Day

This hasn't ever been a big deal kind of holiday for us. Sometimes we celebrate it. Sometimes we don't. Sometimes we do something like a kids' party or daily love notes and sometimes we're super low-key about it. We usually do something, but what's nice is that we tend to be on the same page.

This past year, I put up daily hearts on the kids' bedroom doors as well as on ours (for Mark) telling them things I love about them. This year, Mark and I both weren't really feeling it and kept things easy.

Mark went into work early yesterday and went out of his way to pick Kate up from her classes just so I could rest longer (I've been dealing with chronic neck pain and the cold tends to exacerbate it). In his text to me he said to consider it his Valentine to me. Now that is a great Valentine! I put a cheesy Waitress-themed (Broadway) Valentine on his Facebook wall. That's how we rolled this year.

The kids got valentines from a woman here who always does something sweet for them on these kinds of holidays. She puts together special things for her grandkids and always makes two more for our kids. We're so grateful for her thoughtfulness with that. They always get valentines in the mail from their great grandma as well. They opted out of going to the homeschool group's party - they're outgrowing it, I think.

It was a full day of work, classes, a dentist appointment for me, Max's book club, Kate's critique group, etc., but we managed to sneak in a few Valentines treats.

We got Valentines for our kids - flowers and chocolates:

And Kate made heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies for us to eat while watching "This is Us" as a family. Perfect!

How was your Valentine's Day?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Grammys Are Coming--Part 4 (2017)

The category I saved for last is Album of the Year. Mostly, I was trying to buy myself some time since I wasn't familiar with four of the albums, and one is old enough that I had to completely remind myself of it. I think there is a clear winner in this group, but there have been surprises before. Overall, I'm sort of underwhelmed by the choices this year, and I'm not sure if that's just my personal taste, if the Grammy committee missed something way better out there, or if the field just isn't that strong this year.

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25, Adele

Adele is great. Her voice is magic and you always feel like you're hearing someone at her best. I do think a lot of her music starts to blend together. With that said, her songwriting is fantastic, her recordings are always impressive, and her passion is unmistakable. So, the album is a great listen and worthy of attention. It definitely holds its own and then some among this group.

Instead of posting the same song again, here's another track from her album, albeit performed somewhat live.

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Lemonade, Beyoncé

This album is something pretty unique. Beyoncé covers a lot of styles and hits a lot of important topics. It's a manifesto about black power, feminism, Southern stereotypes, and more. The fact that it was actually released as part of a one-hour video presentation should say something about the work itself. It's a concept that can't even be fully appreciated without the visuals. After listening to the album, I can see why the questions about her and Jay-Z came flying fast and furious. There are several lyrics that hint at problems. I will say that rumors about celebrity couples don't faze me anymore.

Here is another single from her album. Trigger warning: there is a lot of underwater imagery in the beginning that may make some people feel short of breath.

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Purpose, Justin Bieber

I will probably never be a Bieber fan. We have too much history and there are things about his singing style that I find unlikable. His voice is still too nasally for me, and after all of the Kate McKinnon impressions on SNL, I find it very hard to even look at him without laughing. Leaving all prejudice behind, I will give him credit. This is a very mature album that is constructed very effectively. The title is a bit presumptuous, and some of the lyrics are a bit on the nose for me, but I will admit that I was wrong when my first inclination was to dismiss it.

This is the title track, and it's a good one. I still find something about Justin Bieber very irritating whenever I see him, but I recognize this is probably rooted in a lot of my earlier judgments of him. I'll give him props where props are due.

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Views, Drake

Drake has never been an artist I cared much about, and even after this listen, nothing has changed. I still don't get what all the fuss is about him. When I've seen him be interviewed he seems perfectly likable--probably because he's Canadian--but I just don't get it. This album is supposed to be unique for him because of the variety of styles he uses. Most of it is in the dancehall vein, and that may be why I don't really like it that much. Also, this is one of the albums that makes me feel like it was a weak year for music. Hey, it may just be my personal taste, so if he takes home the Grammy, I will applaud an artist that put out good music this year. I'm just not buying it.

I wanted to embed a shortened video to cut out the nearly two-minute intro to this video, but it wouldn't embed. Here's the link to "One Dance," which was one of the best tracks from the album. It gives you an idea of the style Drake's going for.

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A Sailor's Guide To Earth, Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson was a complete unknown to me when this nomination came in. I hadn't heard any buzz. I'd never heard of this album. Part of it is because it's not the genre I keep up on, but normally I've heard of the big releases from the previous year. He comes off as older than he is, but that's probably because he is squarely in the middle of the outlaw country world. His sound is most definitely a throwback to classic artists like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. The album was not my cup of tea, but not hard to listen to. It was a good concept album, and that's probably what thrust it to the front of the Grammy committee's minds.

"In Bloom" is a Nirvana cover, which took me by surprise.

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My Choice: Honestly, take your pick. I'm down on Drake and Sturgill Simpson, but that's probably just because my personal tastes don't line up. If I had to pick one, I'd choose Lemondade. Purpose is a surprising second choice for me.

My Prediction: Lemonade. I think that this concept album is the strongest top to bottom, and barring some sort of political bias that I'm unaware of, the Grammys are going to reward Beyoncé for her timely message.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Grammys Are Coming--Part 3 (2017)

So now we come to the Record of the Year. This is probably the hardest one for me to predict because defining the difference between it and the Song of the Year is not very easy for me. I tend to judge them all very similarly. It's kind of easy when a bunch of the songs appear in both categories, but let's not kid ourselves. I'm going with my gut on this one.

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Track from: 25

I could just copy my earlier comments on this song and they would stand, but I'll add a few more words. The recording is classic Adele. It's powerful, soulful, well produced, etc., etc., etc. It almost feels weird to be so blase about such a talented artist in today's day and age of hacks and wannabes, but it is what it is. This is a great song and deserves attention. I'm just not sure that it deserves a Grammy.

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Track from: Lemonade

Again, another set of comments I could just enter here and it would suffice. Great track. Great production. The whole thing works for me, even if it's not my favorite of the group. What else can I say? Plus, I have to write more about Beyoncé in the last category.

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"7 Years"
Lukas Graham
Track from: Lukas Graham (Blue Album)

Yep. More of the same. This is a year where it makes sense to me that songs are appearing in both the Record and Song categories. This is obviously one of my favorites, and the recording is the same way. I like the way it sounds, and the overall production matches the songwriting.

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Rihanna featuring Drake
Track from: Anti

When I consider the overall recording separate from the songwriting, I suppose this song can go here. I'm not impressed, though. From Rihanna's sloppy enunciation to Drake's tired raps, this club song just doesn't do it for me. I can probably come up with half a dozen recordings that I think deserve a spot over "Work." I half wonder if it's Rihanna returning to her island roots getting the Grammy voters excited. Look, I'm not a big fan of either of these artists by themselves. I actually am more impressed by the work Rihanna does when she's featured on other recordings.

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"Stressed Out"
Twenty-One Pilots
Track from: Blurryface

I think Twenty-One Pilots has a really unique sound, so I'm cool with this recording being nominated. It's fun, different, and very catchy. I like how they're blending genres and trying a lot of new sounds. I heard a lot about them before I really heard much of what they are doing. We saw them on SNL a while ago and they were really good. I enjoyed watching them. This track is firmly in the middle for me, but I could be OK with them winning.

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My Choice: "7 Years" is still my favorite. I think the entire track from writing to production is great. It's the one entry here that makes me want to listen to more by the artist.

My Prediction: "Formation" is part of Beyoncé's biggest work to date, so I have a feeling it will be rewarded with this Grammy as well. It will be very hard for Grammy voters to separate this track from the overall work, despite how the category works. It's not undeserving.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Grammys Are Coming--Part 2 (2017)

Part 1, Song of the Year is done. On to Part 2.

So, last year, I knew 4 of the 5 artists nominated for the Best New Artist Catgory. I had opinions on several, so it was really easy to take a listen and decide what I thought. This year, I have heard of two, and wasn't very familiar with anyone's work. This was challenging for me.

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Kelsea Ballerini

We've found a new country-pop singer-songwriter with a flare for writing catchy tunes about love and heartbreak in Middle America. If I'm being honest, after a certain point I have a hard time deciding how one is different from the next. Ballerini is talented, and she has a knack for writing songs that put her squarely in the middle of what will sell, but she pales in comparison to country artists like Kasey Musgraves. Kasey's songs are harder on the ears for someone who isn't a fan of more traditional country music, but her songwriting is more interesting.

"Peter Pan charted at Number 1 on the U.S. Country charts so I thought I'd include it here. It was probably the best of what I listened to from Ballerini.

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The Chainsmokers

This is a group that I had actually heard of since Max is really into electronic dance music (EDM) and I know he's got a song or two that he likes by The Chainsmokers. They have put out a couple of EPs in the past 2 years, and they do a lot of collaboration, like a lot of the DJs out there do. They are easy to listen to since most of their music is in the house genre rather than some of the more specialized electronic sub-genres.

Here's one of the tracks I listened to. It was one of the songs I enjoyed the most.

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Chance The Rapper

This is one of those artists whose name kept popping up, and I had no clue who he was. In fact, the first time I'd heard anything by Chance, it was a track from the Hamilton Mixtape, and it's not really representative of his style. I listened to his recent album, Coloring Book, and it was last of all the new artists for me to listen to. I wasn't expecting much. From track number 1 I was hooked. He's more than a rapper--he reminds me of a throwback R&B artist from my childhood. He's been bouncing around the industry for a long time, popping up in a lot of recordings as the "featured" artist, but his solo work is really strong. And props to him for doing an entirely streaming release on iTunes, which only recently is allowed to be awarded a Grammy.

So, this track is one of my favorites on the album. From the top I was hooked with a bass line and vocals that could have come straight out of a classic Jackson 5 cut.

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Maren Morris

The first song I heard made me think of Pat Benatar. I easily figured out she was a country artist before getting too far in, but her voice was a bit out of the ordinary for the "typical" Nashville sound. I enjoyed a lot of what she has recorded, and it is a bit more sophisticated than what I usually associate with newcomers in the Country world. There's an edge I appreciate that stops short of the blatantly ridiculous attitude that artists like Carrie Underwood display in an attempt to erase the saccharine image they usually bring initially. I'm not about to run out and buy all her recordings, but I could leave a tune or two on the playlist.

From what I can tell, "My Church" is Morris's biggest hit to date.

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Anderson .Paak

Here is another artist who has been "around" for a long time, writing and producing and collaborating, who is finally breaking out on his own. He is also nominated in the urban category, so I wasn't thinking I'd love what he's done recently. I'm not going to lie and say I like everything I heard. I will say that so much of what .Paak is doing hearkens back to earlier days of hip-hop and R&B, so I'm impressed. As far as I'm concerned, the closer your roots are to Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and the like, the better for me.

Here is the first track I listened to. I thought to myself, "OK. I can get on board with this guy."

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My Choice: I was going to say Anderson .Paak, and then I heard Chance the Rapper's most recent album. So, yeah, Chance is my choice. I think his recent work is really strong and deserving of attention. I'm just not sure if it will be enough to nab this Grammy. He is nominated for a total of 7 Grammys in a variety of categories.

My Prediction: Maren Morris has already won a CMA for the best new artist, so a Grammy seems a likely fit for me. Her diverse style and a bit more advanced songwriting give her the edge in my opinion.

Next Up, Record of the Year.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Grammy's Are Coming--Part 1 (2017)

I was hoping to get to this a while ago, but life has kept me from being able to listen to a lot of new music. Plus, this year the top four categories are filled with selections that were under my radar. It's been interesting to review these for sure. There were a few "oh, that song" moments, as well as "really?" moments as well. Last year I was 3 for 4 in the big four categories--Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. I'm not so sure about beating that this year, but we'll see.

The first category I reviewed was Song of the Year. As a reminder, this is an award to the songwriters, and it is based on the lyrics themselves, not necessarily the recording and production of the song. I'm skeptical that the overall production doesn't factor into the judging, but on the surface, the nominations suggest that these songs are considered independent from the recordings. Not all of them appear in both categories.

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"Formation," recorded by Beyoncé
Songwriters: Khalif Brown, Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles, and Michael L. Williams II
Album: Lemonade

This song is the lead single on a pretty powerful album. The message is powerful, calling women together "in formation" to stand strong and fight the patriarchy. She completely and without apology embraces her "blackness," the complicated heritage of blacks in America, black culture, and the controversial imagery to come out of post-Katrina New Orleans. I admit that I am not familiar with the "deeper cuts" on Beyoncé's previous albums, but this track stands out to me as something with more depth. I'm not sure how it will all play out with the voters, especially considering how this is a song that has been embraced by social movements such as Black Lives Matter. The Grammy's haven't been shy in the past about rewarding activism, though.

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"Hello," recorded by Adele.
Songwriters: Adele Adkins and Greg Kurstin
Album: 25

This song was released so long ago that I had to shake out the cobwebs to remember it. Although, the endless spoofs of the song and the nature to overplay hits on the radio make it impossible to completely forget. Honestly, this is not my favorite Adele song, and I'm not sure if that's because her music tends to be very similar or if I just really didn't like it as much. There is no doubt that she is a great songwriter, and her lyrics are very well-suited to whatever message she is trying to convey.

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"I Took A Pill In Ibiza," performed by Mike Posner.
Songwriter: Mike Posner
Album: The Truth

It's interesting that this song was released a couple of years ago, but then it was remixed by a Swedish house band, SeeB, and got a bunch of attention. The song is the same lyrically, but I guess radio play matters. It's a remarkably honest song from a musician that has definitely struggled. Posner's written a lot of hits for other people, but this is one of his first big hits for himself. I was a fan of the song earlier in the summer when it was getting a lot of play, and I'm still a fan now.

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"Love Yourself," recorded by Justin Bieber.
Songwriters:  Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin, and Ed Sheeran
Album: Purpose

I don't remember when, but Justin Bieber performed this at some awards show, and I was amused, but not impressed. Part of it is the difficulty I have taking him seriously at all, but I will give him credit for maturing and trying to reinvent himself. It's not half-bad, but does come off as a sort of mediocre break-up song. It's petty and lacks much depth. I'm a little surprised Ed Sheeran wrote it since it's not as deep as his usual fare, but I'm not surprised it got scrapped from Sheeran's third studio album before being picked up by Bieber.

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"7 Years," recorded by Lukas Graham
Songwriters: Lukas Forchhammer, Stefan Forrest, Morten Pilegaard, Morten Ristorp
Album: Lukas Graham (Blue Album)

Lukas Graham is a Danish pop band, who before I started listening to do these reviews, I would have assumed was a solo artist. Anyway, this song has some serious depth. I was pretty amazed overall. The message was consistent and progresses nicely through the entire track, which makes the overal lyricism of the song pretty great. When I get a chance, I will definitely need to see what else they've done.

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My choice: This one is tough this year. There are several songs here that I like, but not one that jumps out as the best in my mind. If I had to pick one, I guess I'd go with "7 Years," but that could change in the next five minutes if I were to hear a different song on the radio.

My prediction: With all that's going on in the world right now, coupled with how many hip-hop and R&B artists are being recognized in the big categories this year, I think this may be a Beyoncé kind of year. And it would definitely be deserving--no Kanye campaigning necessary.

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Next Up, Best New Artist