- Dustin Lucas
A Word About the Grammys…
So, I decided to tune into “Music’s biggest year,” or the Grammys tonight, mainly because I was associated by a nomination for Best Opera Recording. I was a soloist for Der Rosenkavalierwith Renee Fleming, Elina Garanca, and Erin Morley, so I had a vested interest. I also wanted to check in with the music tribute to Dolly Parton! A couple of takeaways…
Either I am old (I am not), or I really had not heard of 75 percent of the artists, (and I use that term loosely), that were either nominated or performed at the show. While there was some evidence of talent and artistry, I am afraid that for most of the night, the show was filled with a lot of mediocrity, in all areas even in pitch and rhythm of songs. Most everything, sounded in the middle.
What do I mean by this? Most genres and cross genres sounded the same across songs. Most artists looked and sounded the same with costuming, makeup, a person’s physique, talent, ability, song structure, sound, a song’s pitch, rhythm, tone and structure, all strikingly similar to one another. Even song themes were too similar, as the themes of women’s empowerment and sexuality, were the predominant subject matters. Sounds like the 60’s right? Wrong.
The 60’s, primarily thought of as the greatest awakening and period for pop music, brought us hundreds of songs that have stood the test of time across all genres. On the other hand, I tried to seriously think if almost any of the songs performed, with the exception of songs performed before 2000, would stand the test of time, and honestly you could have counted the songs on one hand. This is not to say that there was no talent, there was, and no good performances, there were those too. However, they were far and few between, one of them being by the legend Dolly Parton. The problem is, if Dolly who is 73 years old, is one of the highlights of tonight’s celebration of current popular music, I am afraid the future looks pretty down the middle as well. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the hip hop genre, although I must say Childish Gambino is one of the big exceptions. More on this later.
But first the good news…
1. Dolly Parton is a legend and seemingly adored by all, as every superstar of today admired a woman famous for big boobs, plastic surgery, theme parks, and most important of all song writing. Even her new song was one of the best songs of the night, which highlights music of today’s biggest problem. The songs of today are easily forgettable and will not and do not hold a candle to Dolly Parton’s catalogue. It is not even close.
2. However, the future is bright for women and especially country music. I have been a huge fan of Kacey Musgraves and thought her performance of Rainbow was one of the best I have seen in years, primarily because of the song she wrote. Earlier in the opening of the show, the song that was presented was so boring and forgettable that they needed a set the size of Radio City Music Hall, three other artists, one current rapper, one Latin heartthrob has-been, and one legendary trumpeter, a hundred extras, and oh yeah, pyrotechnics, to help us the audience get through it without looking at our phones. Other women fared much better as Lady Gaga, HER, and St. Vincent with best new artist winner Dua Lipa all gave great, powerful, entertaining, soul-stirring performances, all of which were just stripped down to the singer, the band, the stage, and the great song at hand. This was never more apparent than arguably the best performance of the night…
3. Brandi Carlile brought the house down with her guitar, her voice, and her song, which is one of the best songs I have heard in a while. The fact I have not heard "The Joke,"on the radio, tv, or even seen Carlile in the last, roughly twenty-five years is not only a crime and tragedy, it is a testament to what is wrong with the music business in general. Brandi Carlile was the best artist of the night, not Cardi B, who right now is getting all of the attention for being the first female artist to win best rap album. There is something seriously wrong with this. I will tell you why, as I get back into how the genre of hip-hop has seriously taken a turn for the worst.
Cardi B, while entertaining and fun, certainly gave a performance most exotic dancers would be jealous of. If you do not believe me, or did not see the performance, you can you tube it yourself and see her twerking, grinding, and performing the spread eagle on top of a grand piano throughout the whole performance. She did this with twenty other dancers in a coordinated routine. Was she flowing and free styling to a show stopping song that will stand the test of time? Absolutely not! In fact, I think it is a crime that she happens to be the first female winner in this hip hop category to win a Grammy. Missy Elliot, the biggest selling female rapper in history who was just inducted as the first female rapper in the song writer’s hall of fame, never won this award. Neither did Salt n Pepa, M.I.A. and others whose songs are leaps and bounds better than Cardi B’s. Cardi B won because she is the media darling and has created a monster of attention from adoring fans wondering what she is going to say or do next. Unfortunately, though, she does not have what is needed to be a transcendent artist; the songs. This brings me to my final point.
The music industry across all genres is in trouble. The fact that the Grammy’s celebrates the entirety of music without showcasing Broadway or classical music is indicative of the state we are in concerning music. Music is not about talent anymore, nor is it about reaching a broader audience. It is about reaching the demographic that has the attention span of a gnat, the care and concern of a hipster, the technology savvy of a teenager, that has more immediate satisfaction from posting a dog emoji of one’s self singing, than actually watching Brandi Carlile give us her heart and all in a performance that will most assuredly be overshadowed by Cardi B’s twerking and grinding spectacle. For the Grammy’s ironically, Cardi B offers more spectacle than opera which is nothing but spectacle.
Travis Scott, who I find unbelievably overrated had to have a hundred extras surrounded by a WWE steel cage and fire. Aside from lyrics completely unintelligible, the song was just not good. It sounded like Cardi B's song and every other song in the hip hop genre currently, where the song has the same groove and rhythm, the same auto tuned middle of the road tone that does not change, no hook, no structure, no instrumentation. It’s just boring, and that my friends is the biggest problem with hip hop today. The songs are not memorable and they certainly do not stack up to the great hip hop artists that came before. I still listen to NWA, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Public Enemy, all of which had amazing songs that had real messages of power, so much so, that many of these hip-hop artists are not just millionaires but have built a billion-dollar empire with a foundation that is their powerful music. For them it was always about the songs.
Thank God Kacey Musgraves won the award for Album of the Year. It was the best album by far because of the songs. As Musgraves said herself in her humble acceptance speech, “For me it’s about the songs.” She is absolutely right and here’s hoping that the entire music business gets this message especially for Cardi B and Travis Scott’s sake.