Category Archives: Grammys

The Reincarnations of “Torn”

I was driving around the other day, flipping through the radio stations.  It was an odd hour of the day where they play blasts from the past, so I wasn’t really finding anything particularly alluring.  I skipped to a channel that happened to be playing Natalie Imbruglia’s ’90s hit “Torn.”  The song is a little bit before my time, but I’ve heard it so I was slightly familiar.

Because I’m me, I decided to do some research behind the song and learn it’s history.  Basically, “Torn” has been Imbruglia’s only real hit in America (she was quite big in Australia), and it garnered her three Grammy nominations (Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance).  But what I found even more interesting is that the song that made her career was actually a cover.  The original English version of the song was recorded by Ednaswap, an alternative rock group.  I like Ednaswap’s version, it has a good edge to it – it’s less airy than Imbruglia’s.

But the funny thing is that Ednaswap technically covered the song too!  The song was originally recorded in 1993 by Danish singer Lis Sørensen with the title “Brændt,” meaning “Burned.”  The song was translated into English and recorded by Ednaswap.

It’s interesting the incarnations the song took, it reminds me of “Angel of the Morning” in that it appears many different people recorded it until it got a large audience appeal.

If I Was an Executive Producer

At this year’s Grammy Awards, Taylor Swift took home the award for Album of the Year, making her the first female artist to win the award as the lead artist of an album more than once.  She has also joined the ranks of Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and U2 for winning Album of the Year as the lead artist more than once (Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder are the only two artists to win this award three times).

What's curiously interesting about Swift's wins is that both her winning albums - Fearless and 1989 - have a total of thirteen tracks, the only two of her albums to have that amount of tracks.  Swift has said for years that the number thirteen is her lucky charm...it's kind of intriguing that the two albums to have thirteen tracks went on to win the top prize of the music industry.

But, let’s look at her fourth album Red which was also nominated for the coveted Album of the Year Grammy, but lost to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.  It deserved the nomination because Red challenged what we think of contemporary country music, almost to the breaking point.  She added synths and dubstep beats onto the album that are unknown to the genre and still dared to call it country.  And it still fit in the spirit of country music – she was speaking her truths in the storybook tradition of country music, but did it in a rather unusual sonic way.  She took risks and it deserved the recognition it got.

The album, however great it is, still held a major flaw: it was too long.  The standard version holds a whopping sixteen tracks (which any self proclaimed Swiftie was/is overjoyed by this treat), something Swift did to give her fans everything that fit in the Red-era without having them to purchase a reissue a year after the release to gain three extra songs (remember: there was no Red: Platinum Edition like Fearless or tour CD/DVD like Speak Now).

However, if I was the executive producer on Red, I would’ve cut the album down to thirteen tracks.  This is not to fit in with Swift’s lucky charm, but because the extra tracks did in fact bloat and dilute the core theme of the album.  When she first announced Red, Swift described the album: “All the different emotions that are written about on this album are…about the kind of tumultuous, crazy, insane, intense, semi-toxic relationships that I’ve experienced… All those emotions…are red…. There’s nothing beige about any of those feelings.”  This intense passion is felt in the majority of the album, but as you continue on to the album towards its end, it starts to lose that intensity (and, by the way, it’s not only Taylor Swift that this happens/ed to.  I find most albums that exceed fourteen tracks tend to drag on…it’s to a point where you start to feel lost and lose track of where the album is going).

Here was the tracklisting Swift presented on Red in 2012 (*tracks that were presented as bonus tracks on the Target Edition):

  1. State of Grace
  2. Red
  3. Treacherous
  4. I Knew You Were Trouble.
  5. All Too Well
  6. 22
  7. I Almost Do
  8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
  9. Stay Stay Stay
  10. The Last Time (featuring Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol)
  11. Holy Ground
  12. Sad Beautiful Tragic
  13. The Lucky One
  14. Everything Has Changed (featuring Ed Sheeran)
  15. Starlight
  16. Begin Again
  17. The Moment I Knew*
  18. Come Back…Be Here*
  19. Girl At Home*

The first thing as executive producer I did was airlift “Treacherous” out and replaced it with “Come Back…Be Here.”  I felt the transition from “Red” to “Come Back…Be Here” hit a stronger and sweeter note.  It also made me, as an objective listener, keep me listening on to “I Knew Were Trouble.”  I personally felt that “Treacherous” made it easy for the listener to get distract and stop listening or to simply skip to the next track.

When listening to Red, I think  the point where Swift starts to drift away from the Red theme is somewhere after “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”  So, I laid out those ten songs (counting the bonus tracks minus “Come Back Be Here” since I moved that to the beginning of the album), and ranked them based on which ones fit the albums best and which ones were catchy/couldn’t be left off.

This resulted with me cutting “Stay Stay Stay” and replacing it with “Girl At Home.”  While I like “Stay Stay Stay” very much – it’s fun and upbeat – it’s almost too cheerful.  I also think that “Girl At Home” is more whimsical and a better fit.  I then cut “Holy Ground,” “The Lucky One,” “Starlight,” and “The Moment I Knew.”  Some of these songs got cut because they just didn’t fit (e.g. “Starlight” represents the passionate spark of love, but I didn’t have enough space and I felt others were a bit stronger).  Others I felt didn’t really fit the theme of the album.  For example, I really like “The Lucky One” (if you remember, it was a #PhillipsSongOfTheDay), but I just can’t see it fitting into the Red theme.  It doesn’t spark passion, but describes a situation where Swift regrets her fame.  It’s kind of a downer.

My final act as executive producer was arranging the tracks to be sonically cohesive.  This I struggled with because I don’t think they overall tell a linear story, but I do think they fit well together sonically.

My edit of Red:

  1. State of Grace
  2. Red
  3. Come Back Be Here
  4. I Knew You Were Trouble
  5. All Too Well
  6. 22
  7. I Almost Do
  8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
  9. Girl At Home
  10. The Last Time
  11. Sad Beautiful Tragic
  12. Everything Has Changed
  13. Begin Again

I need to end this post by saying that I admire every song Taylor Swift writes.  I think she is a very gifted songwriter and musician – she has a way of connecting words and beats that most can’t do.  This wasn’t in anyway to criticize or judge her, but a fun exercise of my love of crafting playlists and playing pretend-producer.  Again, I think Red is a phenomenal album and just wanted to see if it was possible to make it a thirteen track album…

My Grammy Predictions 2016

The Grammys are tonight, and I thought I’d collate all my predictions into one post.  I didn’t manage to write about all the nominees (there were a lot) but I hit the top four plus a couple more.

Note: The bolded and underlined nominee is the nominee who I think will win.  The nominee colored in red is the nominee I think should  win.  Sometimes it will be both.

Album of the Year

  • 1989 – Taylor Swift
  • To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
  • Traveller – Chris Stapleton
  • Sound & Color  – Alabama Shakes
  • Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd

Record of the Year

  • “Uptown Funk” – Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars*
  • “Blank Space” – Taylor Swift
  • “Thinking Out Loud” – Ed Sheeran
  • “Really Love” – D’Angelo And the Vanguard
  • “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd*
    • *I feel like either “Uptown Funk” or “Can’t Feel My Face” either win…

Song of the Year

  • “Blank Space” by Max Martin, Shellback, and Taylor Swift (Taylor Swift, artist)
  • “See You Again” by DJ Frank E, Charlie Puth, Wiz Khalifa, and Andrew Cedar (Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, artists)
  • “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge (Ed Sheeran, artist)
  • “Girl Crush” by Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey, and Liz Rose (Little Big Town, artist)
  • “Alright” by Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears, and Pharrell Williams, songwriters (Kendrick Lamar, artist)

Best New Artist

  • Meghan Trainor
  • James Bay
  • Tori Kelly
  • Sam Hunt
  • Courtney Barnett

*I don’t know who will win…too close to call.

Best Pop Solo Performance

  • “Heartbeat Song” – Kelly Clarkson
  • “Blank Space” – Taylor Swift
  • “Love Me Like You Do” – Ellie Goulding
  • “Thinking Out Loud” – Ed Sheeran
  • “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

  • “Ship to Wreck” – Florence + The Machine
  • “Sugar” – Maroon 5
  • “Uptown Funk” – Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars*
  • “Bad Blood” – Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar
  • “See You Again” – Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth*
    • *Like Record of the Year, I feel either one could win..too close to call.

Why Wasn’t Selena Gomez “Good For” a Grammy?

So, I will admit that recently I’ve had “Good For You (feat. A$AP Rocky)” by Selena Gomez stuck in my head.  I think it has some clever lyrics and interesting vocalizations.  The more I listen to it, the more I pay attention to Gomez’s vocals, which has got me wondering why she wasn’t nominated for a Grammy for her vocal work.

Revival is Gomez'a second solo studio album, her fifth overall (she has three with her band Selena Gomez & the Scene) and features "Good For You."

Revival is Gomez’s second solo studio album, her fifth overall (she has three with her band Selena Gomez & the Scene) and features “Good For You.”

If you forget the fact that it’s Selena Gomez singing and listen to how she sings the song, it’s actually quite substantial for the 2014-2015 music period.  She does this soft, murmured vocal that effectively grabs the listener in, in rather a haunting way.  This is something that wasn’t done through the year, and it is a huge step outside of Gomez’s past work.  While the song as a whole includes influences of hip-hop, R&B, and electric slow jam, it’s her vocals that really create the character and life of the song.

If Gomez sang the song solo (without the feature), I think she could’ve gotten nominated for the Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance.  Maybe. Probably.  If politics didn’t come into play.  However, because she has A$AP Rocky featured on the track, it couldn’t qualify for the solo performance category.  It could’ve, on the other hand, been nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, but it never stood a chance with this year’s nominees.  When you have five nomination spots in a year of major collaborative hits (e.g. “Uptown Funk,” “See You Again,” “Bad Blood,” etc.), it was obviously going to lessen the odds of “Good For You” being nominated.  This  has to do with the fact that Gomez’s vocals and A$AP Rocky’s rap don’t meld as fluidly as Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar on “Bad Blood” or Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth on “See You Again.”  Both those songs feature two artists from opposite musical worlds coming together to create a unified front.  Meanwhile, Gomez and Rocky aren’t necessarily dependent on each other.  I think a strong collaboration would require the song’s success to be due to the fact all parties involved hold equal weight in it and elevate the song.  If we look back at “Bad Blood” – a song released to radio in both a solo and duo format (the song originally was a Swift-only song before Lamar remixed it and added his verses) – the song was transformed and elevated with the collaboration.  Sure, the solo song is strong, but the version with Kendrick Lamar is a completely different animal and is elevated from the original.  If you take Lamar out of “Bad Blood” it doesn’t stay the same.  However, the Gomez-only and the Gomez-Rocky version of “Good For You” literally sound the same. You could take out the rap or put it in and it wouldn’t help or hurt the integrity of the song.  That isn’t a slight against either artist, it’s just how the song is structured.

Just my thoughts.  For you.

Album of the Year – My Predictions

Album of the Year Nominees:

  • 1989 – Taylor Swift
  • To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
  • Traveller – Chris Stapleton
  • Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes
  • Beauty Behind the Madness  – The Weeknd.

Who Should Win: 1989 – Taylor Swift

This is not my inner Swiftie shining through, I truly think Swift had the strongest albums of the 2015 season after listing to all nominees.  In fact, Billboard reported it as being a “cultural juggernaut,” a term they did not use for any of the other nominees.  The fact that it had such a powerful impact in pop culture and is such a sonically strong and cohesive album, it deserves the Grammy.  The other nominees are certainly strong contenders, but none of them are “juggernauts” like 1989.

Who Will Win1989 – Taylor Swift

There is a chance 1989 will not win simply because Taylor Swift has already won Album of the Year.  Only a handful of artists have won this top prize more than once.  This seriously isn’t a reason not to vote for her, but politics do come in to play with Grammys…unfortunately.  But, I can’t see the Grammys giving this to anyone else as 1989 had such a huge impact on music.  Although, we were all surprised last year when Beck won for Morning Phase against Beyoncé’s self-titled album, which many considered the shoo-in.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance – My Predictions

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance Nominees:

  • “Ship to Wreck” – Florence + The Machine
  • “Sugar” – Maroon 5
  • “Uptown Funk” – Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
  • “Bad Blood” – Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar
  • “See You Again” – Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth

Who Should Win: “Bad Blood” – Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar

While Florence Welch’s voice in “Ship to Wreck,” like anything she sings, is pure gold, and while “Uptown Funk” and “See You Again” were perhaps the anthems of 2015, “Bad Blood” has the most cohesive collaborative nature to it.  The song emits the anger and frustration through Swift’s parts but it is even more enforced by Lamar’s sharp raps and attitude.  Swift and Lamar come from two different worlds (the former from the country-pop, the latter from rap/hip hop), and yet they can cohesively make a song together.  If you read the collaboration on paper before listening to it, it would look like a joke and like it shouldn’t work.  But it fits like a glove.

Who Will Win: “See You Again” – Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth or “Uptown Funk” – Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars

If we vote based on which song is the biggest, it would be a tie between “See You Again” and “Uptown Funk” (although, I was reading in Billboard that “Uptown Funk” was the number one song of 2015 by a significant margin), so it’s close which one will win.  I, again, think “See You Again” will win simply for the fact it’s an ode to the late Paul Walker…I also think it’s this reason why it will win the Golden Globe and get nominated and win the Academy Award.  I’m not suggesting it’s not a good song or isn’t deserving of any recognition, it just has that aspect of it to make it shine a little brighter in a group of close nominees.

Recipients of Album of the Year

As I’m listening to and studying the nominees for the 2016 Grammys, I’ve started looking at past recipients and how the awards have changed over the years.  For instance, the biggest award of the show, Album of the Year, was originally just given to the main artist, but they expanded it to include the main artist, the featured artist(s), the producer(s), the engineer(s) and/or mixer(s) and the mastering engineer(s).  Basically it’s given to everyone who contributes to the album making process, which I think is great because it recognizes everyone’s work and how it contributed to make the album the best of the year.  I actually think they should do this for the genre categories for best album (e.g. Best Country Album is just given to the main artist and not the whole team).  That being said, Album of the Year recognizes everyone except songwriters.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and the Grammys should include the songwriters in this group.  For instance, Taylor Swift won Album of the Year in 2010 for her second album Fearless .  Liz Rose, Swift’s long time cowriter and collaborator, was not part of this Grammy-winning team despite the fact she cowrite four of the songs on the album with Swift (Rose did win Best Country Song with Swift that year for “White Horse,” a songwriter’s award).  Three of those songs Rose cowrote were three of the five hit singles from the album (“White Horse,” “You Belong with Me,” and “Fearless”), one of which won two Grammys (“White Horse”) and one nominated for three (“You Belong with Me”).  It could be argued that without Liz Rose, Fearless would not have been the album that it was because Swift might not have finished the four songs Rose cowrote, or if she did it would not have been at the level they were at that won her Album of the Year.

Swift and Rose winning Best Country Song for “White Horse”

Colbie Caillat, on the other hand, cowrote one song (“Breathe”) with Swift and provided background vocals, earning her the role of featured artist.  This therefore entitled her to the Album of the Year Grammy despite the fact that she worked on only one song on the album whereas Rose worked on four.

Without the songwriters, the album literally could not be made.  How can you produce, record, sing, or make an album if there is nothing written?  You would have nothing to perform.  And is it really fair to give someone who is only featured in only seconds of one song on the album the biggest award of the music industry just because they’re “featured” and not someone who literally is the root creator of the album?

I realize the Grammys have to draw a line of recipients because obviously it take a lot more people to create and promote an album than who would get the award, but I think songwriters are too important to overlook.  Granted, nowadays a lot of the songwriters are the performer and/or producer, but like Rose, some are solely writers.  You can’t have a great album without great songs, and you can’t have great songs without great songwriters.

Best New Artist – My Predictions

Best New Artist Nominees:

  • Meghan Trainor
  • James Bay
  • Tori Kelly
  • Sam Hunt
  • Courtney Barnett

Who Should Win: Meghan Trainor

I’ve been a Meghan Trainor fan for a couple different reasons.  Yes, she comes from my neck of the woods so I feel a certain kinship to her, but I’m really inspired how she combines elements from different genres into her own to transpire her personality.  She is the only artist this year who really expanded the definition of the all encompassing pop music.  I mean, she added horns, the caribbean kettle drum, acoustic bass, ’50s doo wop, and sass to her album to reimage what we’ve called pop for many years.

I can’t say that Trainor’s album or artistry is the supreme best, but out of all the nominees I feel she rose to a level of defining her genre of music in her own terms.

Who Will Win: I don’t really know.

I know, great prediction.  But this is one category where I seriously have no idea who will win.  Partly because Best New Artist is such a loose category in that your not really judging the artist on one particular song or album or piece of work, your judging them on their whole artistry.  This year, they managed to nominated five incredible artists.  And after listening to all their albums (I’m very proud of myself for doing that…usually I skim through, but I made myself do that…partly out of dedication but also because I was stuck in massive traffic and had nothing else to do…) I could see each one easily winning it.

Record of the Year – My Predictions

Record of the Year Nominees:

  • “Uptown Funk” – Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
  • “Blank Space” – Taylor Swift
  • “Thinking Out Loud” – Ed Sheeran
  • “Really Love” – D’Angelo And The Vanguard
  • “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd

Who Should Win: “Blank Space” – Taylor Swift

If I were a Grammy voter, I would determine my vote for Record of the Year by looking at the production of the song, the performance, the message, and it’s impact in music and pop culture.  I would see which song left it’s mark and would essentially be remembered in the future.  Essentially which song was embraced the most by listeners (which is why “Shake it Off” should’ve won last year…anyway…).

This year is full of songs that each fulfill those qualities, but my vote goes to “Blank Space” because it has, I would say, the most unique production style and is structured perfectly to transcend the joke.  Also, I think it has the most impact on pop culture because we still refer to it, it’s still on radio, and it’s music video still gets views on YouTube.  Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ve heard “Uptown Funk” for over a year.

 

Who Will Win:  “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd.

Like I said before, this is a close category and I could see most of these nominees winning.  “Can’t Feel My Face” is no different because it features a great bass lines and drum beats that sets it apart, plus I think The Weeknd’s lower register vocals grabs the listener in.  Also, it just fits a pattern I kind of noticed over the past few winners, style wise.

I will say that “Uptown Funk” is a close second to “Can’t Feel My Face” in terms of likelihood of winning…but I felt I should put my money on one song…. I’m 60% “Can’t Feel My Face” and 40% “Uptown Funk.”

 

Best Pop Solo Performance – Predictions

Best Pop Solo Performance Nominees:

  • “Heartbeat Song” – Kelly Clarkson
  • “Blank Space” – Taylor Swift
  • “Love Me Like You Do” – Ellie Goulding
  • “Thinking Out Loud” – Ed Sheeran
  • “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd

Who Should Win: “Thinking Out Loud” – Ed Sheeran

Performance categories are always hard for me because each artist has a different singing style, so you can’t judge based on their vocal quality.  I mean, if you put Adele in the category (I know she’s not this year, but next year…) she’d win because Adele could sing my grocery list and it’d be flawless.  Therefore, I’d have to judge this based on which performance grabbed me in the most and had struck me the most, and Ed Sheeran did that.  He doesn’t hold back and really grabs the listener into his song. When he sings on this track, it feels like time stands still.


Who Will Probably Win: “Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd

I feel like I’m going to write this a lot, but any one of these nominees could win.  They each have very emotive performances, so it probably will come down to politics…

Still, The Weeknd, does have an exceptional vocal performance on “Can’t Feel My Face.”  I personally enjoy when he sings in his lower register.  Still, I’d prefer to see Ed Sheeran win because he does this vocal thing in the last chorus that feels more real than The Weeknd’s performance.  But, again, it’s a gut feeling…