Tag Archives: Award Show Fever

Open Letter to John Mayer

Dear John,

I watched the 2011 Grammy’s last night. What has happened to our music culture?

I am glad I kept watching through the first quarter of the show, because it got far better as it went on. But it started out rough because Lady Gaga performed. And more than anything I was confused. I have been for about a year now actually. I’ve listened to her stuff; I enjoy dancing to it about once and then it fizzles out for me. How has she become such a powerful force in the industry? It’s her persona. It goes so far beyond her music. She is all spectacle; rather than just releasing killer dance music and not dressing it up, she promotes her persona through everything she does. It has never seemed to be just about music with her. Releasing a new album isn’t her end product, and unlike musicians in the past who have used their music to promote some sort of social ideal outside of themselves (I don’t need to give you a music lesson here, but Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Comeis the first one that comes to mind), Lady Gaga seems to use her music as one facet of her persona for the end result of promoting herself, but it’s dressed up in the garb of “Be whoever you want to be! For me that means shoulder spikes, fake blood, and dinosaur eggs.” I’ve seen her performances on different televised events and rather than seeming inspirational, it all comes back to her. What would a performance of hers be like without looking like an extra off of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? What would be left of Lady Gaga if you took away all the pomp?

Same with Justin Bieber, but in a different way. Everything I see this kid do seems contrived. His documentary just came out this weekend. Wait, his documentary? He’s sixteen years old. How does this kid deserve to have a documentary? He has no story yet! Someone found a cute young kid on YouTube, realized how well he could be marketed in the right hands, and the gamble paid off. How many sixteen year olds have as much musical talent as Bieber has? Lots of them. And most of them go on to music schools or perform in orchestras or sing in church choirs. I didn’t see any real musicality from him last night, all I saw was some slick dance moves and a baby playing left-handed guitar chords. Not enough, Justin.

What about spectacle done right? Look to Cee Lo’s performance with Gwyneth. I loved it, mainly because they both have the chops to back up how visually grandiose their performance was. They both sounded amazing and it was so much fun to watch. Yeah it was over the top, there was a fake rocket ship on stage and Cee Lo was dressed like a giant rainbow-colored chicken. I laughed each time the back up puppets shushed to keep the performance TV friendly. That’s the kind of spectacle I want to see in our culture. Glam done right, not shock value for shock value’s sake.

I need more of good stuff, like Dylan’s performance with Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers. Sure, Bob Dylan is old and his voice isn’t what it used to be, but he has earned his place on that stage. He gets to go up there and sing whatever he wants and however he wants to. It was great to see an old legend perform with new talent; they looked like they were having a blast.

So here’s why this is penned to you, John. I wish the real talent in our culture produced more. I know real music takes longer to write and produce and output but it’s disheartening to see what a powerful market force Justin Bieber is and how he is dominating everything when all I wish I had was a new Coldplay album or a new album from you. I want less choreography and more playing. I want to see collaboration and creativity in a musical sense, not who can come up with the craziest dress. I loved seeing Raphael Saadiq dancing around on stage with Mick Jagger. I want to see which musicians D’Angelo has back him on his new album and figure out as much about them as I can. I want more albums like The Roots/John Legend’s Wake Up! from this last year. I can’t wait for Adele’s album to come out next week. I know it’s selfish of me as a consumer to demand so much output from the talent, but what is a consumer without a producer?

And ultimately, the Grammy’s weren’t as discouraging as I thought they would be. I cheered when Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist over her tough competition and when Arcade Fire beat out the other huge smash records for Album of the Year. And please don’t stop making music. Your performance with Norah and Keith was my favorite of the night. Rhythmic, sexy, succinct, understated. Such an awesome tribute. And it was nice to know you don’t have the lyrics to Dolly’s entire discography memorized.

-Jon

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Thoughts over coffee.

I’m in the 4th floor of the University of Iowa’s Main Library. Tucked far away in a corner of the Graduate Reading Room. The only other thing in this room are stacks and carpet dryers left by the overnight cleaners. In the last week, I keep thinking of things I should write about, but they are always just germs of ideas and it would be so much easier to “tweet” these things rather than blog about them. Luckily, I don’t have Twitter and am forced to think through what I want to write about.

For example, I am back in school again. It’s a little different this time around, as I am a full-fledged graduate student. This brings with it many perks, such as a key to the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) Department ($200 lost key fee) and the entitlement to look down on younger students I pass on the street. But there are still lots of reminders of what undergrad looks like in this city. I pass by Mayflower, my first dorm, every time I drive into the city for class. Kids are always outside waiting for the bus to come pick them up and drive them into campus. I remember the year I spent out on those steps with my first generation iPod shuffle. Last Friday night I went to a CAB sponsored event at the Union, the stand-up comedy of David Koechner. The show itself was terrible, he’s never been funny in any movie or show he’s ever been in, why would his stand-up be any different? But I was more struck by the crowd which attended. It was almost entirely the freshman class of this school. I saw one older couple, probably fans of Koechner from his early SNL days, but everybody else was young and wearing Iowa apparel. Groups consisted of four nerdy-ish looking guy friends all enjoying their first week of college. Young, young looking couples fresh out of high school. Girls whose outfits were just a bit too paltry for their own good. I remember being those kids and seeing them all just brings back all those feelings of being on this campus by myself, scared, lonely, not really knowing what I was doing and feeling in over my head all the time.
But then I remember I have an expensive key that opens a whole wing of the library that they can’t get into, and I snap out of it. Niiiice. You know else I’ve been reminded about? SLOW WALKERS. Gracious there are some slow walkers on this campus. If you must walk slow, just do your best to be spatially aware and move out of the way of walkers with a purpose. Gosh is it annoying.
And classes have started for me now; I’m a full week in. It’s going to be a lot of work, a heck of a lot of reading but really interesting. Once I really get into the readings I can start to share interesting articles/books/whatever I come across related to the field.
Finally, September is just around the corner, which means BRING IT ON MUSIC MONTH. Can’t wait. Plus Coll’s and my bird-day month. Plus the start of fall weather. Hi-oh.
-Jon
P.S. The Daily Show writing team wins the Emmy over The Tonight Show with Conan Brien’s writing team? There is no justice in this world.

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the grammys.

disclaimer: as my roommates and i do not pay for or have access to cable television, or any television for that matter, i was not able to watch the grammys. everything i know of last night’s award show is hearsay from the internet.

let’s start with the positive. or the dark cloud with a silver lining. quite a back story here. chris brown and rihanna were both scheduled to perform at the grammys. before the awards show, chris brown turned himself into the police for reports of alleged assault, so he pulls out of the show. rihanna, for reasons unknown, also pulls out of the show. there is a lot of speculation as to whether rihanna is the victim of the alleged assault. regardless, instead of having their performances, the grammys threw together one of my dream-come-true performances.

let’s stay together – jt and al green.

notice it’s only great, not super great. it’s a cool line-up of old/new musicians, but it’s sort of a ho-hum performance with nothing really special to write home about. plus it’s really short.

worst juxtaposition of artists performance: burnin’ up/superstition – stevie wonder and the jonas brothers.

i’m sorry, did you just say the jonas brothers? yeah, so they might be the new face of pop music, but come on. these guys in no way have the chops to be put next to stevie wonder, living legend of r&b, soul, pop, jazz, funk, or whatever other genre you could attach to him. the man is an incredible artist, and he is stuck playing “burnin’ up” alongside two crappy guitarists and some iffy vocalists. what happens to nick, who is supposed to be the good singer in the group, when he first starts his verse of superstition? and kevin and nick both playing guitar…it’s a bummer to me that in our culture, showmanship is favored over actual talent. you might not be able to play your instrument very well, but if you are a natural born performer, than you will probably be famous. shame. and joe needs to stop trying to growl when he sings. it’s not happening buddy.

hip-hop performance of the night: swagger like us – m.i.a., jay-z, kanye, t.i., lil wayne

http://www.worldstarhiphop.com/videos/e/16711680/wshhl5ke1s59X4EJXiUa

this is ok. m.i.a. is incredibly fat. jay-z clearly has the most class of any of them. kanye, since when did mullets become fashionable again? t.i. kind of just sucks. and lil wayne, my goodness i do not understand what the appeal of this guy is. he won some grammys last night, thank goodness he didn’t win the big one, album of the year. granted i haven’t heard his universally-hailed album tha carter III, but what i have heard is just bad. awful beats, like painful to listen to. i do not get why he is so freakin’ popular.

so those were the performances i saw. there was one little “bombshell” dropped by some presenters. blink-182 is reforming. an ellipse is really the only way i can communicate my emotion for news. blink sucks. they are basically responsible for making that crappy pop-punk garbage that infests the radio nowadays phenomenally popular. but i mean come on, who doesn’t love a band who releases albums such as enema of the state and take off your pants and jacket? and honestly, who can forget their cameo (the mere fact that it’s a cameo just makes me fandom soar) in the classic coming-of-age movie american pie? HORRIBLE. all the way around they are a terrible band who should not make any more music or try to be relevant at all. in any way.

ok as far the winners of the grammy awards go, i was generally fine with it, with a few exceptions.

1. jennifer hudson won for best r&b album. without a doubt, this should’ve gone to al green for lay it down, by far the BEST r&b, and nearly the best of any genre, album released in 2008.
2. raising sand and songs from it won record of the year, album of the year, and best pop collaboration with vocals, among other awards. now i get that this is a really good album. i’ve listened to it, and it was ok. i didn’t fall in love with it. it’s got a very distinct sound that i am surprised has garnered so much acclaim. but record AND album of the year? no way, especially when you look at both of those lists: coldplay, adele, radiohead. there was so much good music that probably should’ve won. and best pop collaboration with vocals should’ve absolutely gone to alicia keys and john mayer for lesson learned. i think i’ve written about this song before, how it is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music i’ve ever heard in my life. robert plant and alison krauss sound good together, but alicia and john KILLED it with that song. such a bummer. my biggest beef with raising sand winning so much, and are you ready for the bombshell here? IT WASN’T EVEN RELEASED IN 2008! it was released october 2007! and it won the grammy for best pop collaboration with vocals LAST YEAR! it’s ridiculous. how is that even allowed? upsetting.

while i was displeased with those awards, i was EXTREMELY pleased when i found out daft punk had won for best dance recording AND best electronic/dance album, with around the world / harder, better, faster, stronger and alive 2007, respectively. SO deserving. that album is awesome.

so all in all, a pretty good show (i think, since i didn’t really watch it). let’s hope the oscars aren’t any worse.

-jon

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