Halftime Leisure

Leisure Slack Chat: Screw the Grammy’s

December 7, 2016

Photo: Wikimedia

The nominees for the 59th Grammy Awards were announced yesterday morning. Former Leisure Editors Michael Bergin and Daniel Varghese got together later in the day over Slack to discuss what was snubbed, who will win, and whether it even matters.

danielvarghese Hey Mike!

How yah doing tonight?

mikebergin Fantastic Daniel, how’re you?

danielvarghese Doing alright I suppose.

I have a paper that needs to be written tonight, but that can wait. This is much, much more important.

Did you know the Grammy nominations were coming out this morning?

mikebergin I didn’t until I woke up to a mountain of Twitter notifications, mostly annoyed ones from fellow Voice staffers. I am not thrilled with the nominations. Particularly related to rap and alternative music. What do you think?

danielvarghese Yeah, I think I was one of those annoyed Voice staffers. In high school, before I really started critically listening to music, I placed a lot of value in whether an album was Grammy nominated. But in the last few years, I’ve become fairly jaded about the whole operation. What gets nominated for this award and what eventually wins has more to do with music industry politics than actual quality. I think this latest crop of nominations mostly proves that.

Do you agree?

mikebergin I agree with you there definitely. I genuinely think that the Recording Academy chooses popularity over a experimentation. Looking at the Spotify listen counts of the songs and albums selected, it’s what I’d generally describe as what we’d hear on the radio rather than what I consider to be the “best” music. Looking at the best album selection from last year, Taylor Swift’s 1989 over Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, I think confirms some of my feelings. Let’s run with that concept though and start with what we think is missing from this year’s nominations. What do you think was left out?

danielvarghese Just compare the list of nominations for “Album of the Year” with the Voice’s Best of Music list, which I think is actually really solid. Our list really acknowledged the incredibly innovative year of music 2016 was, including standouts like Malibu and 22, A Million. Neither of those got “Album of Year” nods, instead replaced by Drake’s worst project thus far (Views) and the latest offering from Justin Bieber (Purpose)

In my mind, of the five albums nominated for “Album of the Year” there is one (Lemonade), maybe two (25), that you could argue are deserving of critical recognition

mikebergin I agree with you on most of this. I do think that the Voice‘s selection is fairly representative of my views of this year in music. Granted, our standards are different, allowing for the inclusion of A Tribe Called Quest’s new work, but with the exception of the Chili Peppers’ new album and arguably Danny Brown, I agree.

I think you’re spot on with the “Album of the Year” faults related to pop and R&B, so I will go into the Alt, Folk, and Rock aspects of this year, specifically the nature of alternative music. I cannot help but feel like Sturgill Simpson was a choice made to sell more albums or get something “radio worthy” out there. Not to degrade Simpson as an artist, but it really is generic, feel-good folk. In a year where Hozier, Ed Sheeran, Vance Joy and other brooding dudes in flannels are missing, this feels like a filler. I think of artists like Car Seat Headrest or Angel Olsen who have created really solid and unique albums. Moving away from Album of the Year, I’d make similar arguments against 21 Pilots, nominated in the “Record of the Year” category.

danielvarghese Definitely. There’s a pretty low bar for this year’s “Record of the Year,” evidenced by both “Stressed Out” and “7 Years” (which is just so so bad) getting in there. That being said, I actually think the other three songs that are nominated are fine, though I would have loved to see something a bit more ambitious than “Hello” break through.

I think that category is basically a toss up between “Hello” and “Formation,” even though “Formation” is clearly a better song

mikebergin I agree. I don’t think “Stressed Out” and “7 Years” have any business being nominated for “Record of the Year.” Even if we were solely drawing from other categories on this list, I would be looking at Chance (and not “No Problem”) or even Sia when deciding. Overall, I think that “Formation” is an inherently stronger track, since “Hello” really does not bring much more than the inundating vocals of Adele over some strong but ultimately conservative instrumental choices.

But, considering the Voice’s affinity for rap this year, I want to hear your pick for “Best Rap Album” given the choices we have. I was a little happier with this category as opposed to others. I am glad to see De La Soul, but I was frustrated to see Views and Major Key on this list.

danielvarghese Yeah, I didn’t expect the De La Soul album to get on there, but hey, sometimes things work that way. I definitely agree with you about Views and Major Key. Neither of those albums are very good. Either could have been easily replaced by something like Nonname’s Telefone, Kendrick’s Untitled Unmastered, or any one of the three projects released by Young Thug this year (I thought Jeffrey was particularly good). Speaking of Noname, I think she was snubbed for the Best New Artist nomination. Telefone is really great, and certainly so much better than the drivel we’ve heard from The Chainsmokers.

mikebergin Jeffrey is definitely something worth talking about, and I think its snub is a running testament to the Academy’s failure to reward experimentation. You would think in 2016 a figure willing to challenge traditional roles of masculinity by openly cross-dressing would receive attention, but alas that is not the case. I would have been interested in seeing a nod to 21 Savage & Metro Boomin for Savage Mode, but I can see that being a little too bold of an ask considering the anti-progressive nature of the nomination process. However, in terms of new artist nominations they may have a place.

Although I agree that Chance deserves a lot, it’s always hard to see artists considered “new” just because the Academy hasn’t given them attention before. I am proud to see Anderson .Paak on the list though. I am confident that Chance will receive the award, but I think the award would enrich the career of one of the other artists in a more meaningful way. I have said this before: I do think that valuable alternative musicians are missing. I want to say Angel Olsen again, and I am admittedly drawing a blank on deserving, new alternative artists. What do you think?

danielvarghese That’s a good question.

I’m also drawing a blank in terms of new interesting alternative/indie artists. I did think that young Alessia Cara, probably best known for the captivating single “Here” off her debut album Know-It-All, would get a well-deserved nod. She’s actually making some very interesting, sometimes subversive pop music that has picked up some acclaim. But then again, as we’ve already said, the Academy tends to undervalue experimentation. Thus, The Chainsmokers take her spot. Sigh.

I’m actually kind of worried that The Chainsmokers might win this category because of vote splitting. The kinds of people who’d vote for Chance would also vote for Anderson .Paak and the kinds of people who would vote for Kelsea Ballerini would also vote for Maren Morris.

We’ve seen divides like this lead to unexpected and probably incorrect outcomes before. In 2014, it’s possible that splitting between Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city and Macklemore’s The Heist (which had no business being nominated anyways) lead to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories taking the award for “Album of Year.” The same phenomenon could explain why Beck’s Morning Phase beat out Beyonce and G I R L one year later. While I wouldn’t argue that Morning Phase and Random Access Memories are bad albums, they were by no means the best albums released in their respective years or even nominated for the award. The same force that propelled them to victory could result in The Chainsmokers taking home the golden gramophone.

mikebergin I think we are on the same page with a lot of this, and I think there is still a lot riding on what happens next. Although I am  disappointed by some of the choices, there are still a lot of great artists in the mix this year going up against general, radio pop contenders. I am really looking forward to some recognition for Chance and Bon Iver this time around (and also Snarky Puppy). Best outcome, for me personally, would be for Twenty One Pilots to walk away with nothing. That’s all I need.

Any final thoughts Daniel?

danielvarghese Snarky Puppy is dope and the Grammys don’t matter. Boom.

This was fun, let’s do this again.

Daniel Varghese
Daniel was an editor at the Voice from December 2013 to November 2016. He loved it. Follow him on Twitter @drvarg01 for his thoughts on Global Health and Kanye West.

Michael Bergin
Mike Bergin is the former executive culture Editor for the Georgetown Voice. You can follow him on Twitter @mbergin95


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