Bob Schwartz

Tag: Lorde

An Askew Take on the Grammy Awards

Lorde - Grammy 2014
There are a few kinds of award shows. One is the kind that you’re glad you watched live, even if you can always see it in a recorded version later on, skipping the ads and the bad or worst parts, focusing only on the good or (if any) great parts. The other is the kind that, assuming you didn’t escape early, leaves you wondering whether or how you can get the two or three hours of your life back.

So which kind was Grammy 2014? Far from a CWOT (complete waste of time), with moments of validation, pathos, and brilliance. But with all the coverage and videos you can find, you don’t need one more. If you haven’t heard about Pharrell William’s hat or about Taylor Swift’s seizure-style hair whipping and mistaken belief that she won album of the year, check it out. Or not.

Here instead are a few askew points.

Lorde – Okay, this is close to mainstream coverage, but having written so much about Lorde before, I can’t skip it. She won Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Song for Royals. That’s best songwriting won by a seventeen-year-old. She also performed Royals, with a really haunting arrangement of an already haunting, what’s-that-sound track. She also has a softly herky-jerky stage presence, not quite Joe Cocker, but very cool and punk (unlike Taylor Swift’s hair whipping). Accepting an award she said, “Thank you everyone who has let this song explode. Because it’s been mental.” That’s her performing above.

Paul Williams – When Daft Punk won Album of the Year, one of their many awards, and couldn’t speak for themselves (because they are robots), a somewhat short older guy came to the mic, as one of the songwriters. That guy is Paul Williams, 72, who has been around the business so long that a recent documentary about him is called Paul Williams Still Alive. Many if not most viewers had no idea who this guy is, but he gave the final speech of the night, a funny, wonderful, inspirational few moments that put the whole Ryan Lewis and Macklemore/Same Love/mass gay marriage event in brightly positive context. For those who don’t know, Williams is a songwriter, singer, actor and, currently, president of ASCAP. His compositions include Top Ten hits for Barbara Streisand (Evergreen), Three Dog Night (Just an Old Fashioned Love), the Carpenters (We’ve Only Just Begun, Rainy Days and Mondays), and many more. Now he’s part of the Album of the Year in 2014. How f***g cool is that.

CBS and Language – And speaking about language, CBS or any broadcast network that wants to feature music awards, or for that matter movie or television awards, is going to have to figure out how to deal with language in 2014. Questions about the evolution/devolution of language norms and niceties are huge right now, but outside the scope of these notes. Kendrick Lamar’s electrifying performance with Imagine Dragons wasn’t spoiled by the bleeps (the button guy missed one, by the way), but it goes beyond silly to artistically hurtful. If you’re going to feature and exploit current art, take it and present it for what it is, or don’t. But if you want to feature universally praised nude paintings as cultural highlights, neither CBS nor the FCC should be putting black bars across the nice but naughty bits.

The Finale – And speaking about artistically hurtful, the show ran late, as awards shows will. The Grammys and CBS make a big promotional deal about all-star finales, in this case an interesting combination of Dave Grohl, Lindsey Buckingham, Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. For those who don’t follow music, three of these people are in the pantheon: Grohl (Nirvana), Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) and Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails). Most of these big-name combinations don’t work, but this was really captivating, in a kind of dark, progressive, alt rock way. It seemed a little unusual as an ending, but artistic, edgy and vital. Before it was done, though, the cameras pulled back, and the sponsorship promos began, followed by the credits—all while the artists were still performing.

Reznor tweeted: “Music’s biggest night…to be disrespected. FUCK YOU guys.”

Led Zeppelin – In covering the nominations, I wrote about the absurdity of Led Zeppelin being nominated for Best Rock Album. In 2014. For a performance in 2007. Of songs released in 1975. They won.

Jake Bugg: Another Reason to be Optimistic

Jake Bugg
Jake Bugg is another reason to be generally optimistic.

Some of us—maybe you—use pop music to get through the bad days and times and to celebrate the good. But part of the time, including now, if all you hear is what’s at or near the top of the charts, you might be a little charmed but a lot discouraged. Where is that something to tickle your ears, touch your heart and tap your feet, mixing originality and talent with that secret musical sauce?

It does come along; see earlier posts about Lorde. Once again me catching up with those who already got there, here’s Jake Bugg. Unlike Lorde, who is now seventeen, he is much older. Last year he recorded and released his second album, Shangri La, at the age of nineteen.

You can read all about him, and I could write all about him, but you know my motto: It’s in the tracks. So listen to both albums whole if you can. Below are links to a few sample tracks, but like a lot of new artists, the work is genre blending/mashing/smashing, so please try not to category listen.

His biggest track, from the first album, Jake Bugg, is Lightning Bolt. From the new album, released in November, There’s A Beast and We All Feed It (“There’s a beast eating every bit of beauty and yes we all feed it.”). And for those who want less beat, more ballad, Broken .

Is he a next really big thing? Who knows, but whatever the charts and awards say, we are all a little better off with this music around.

Grammy Nominations Time Again

Neon Philharmonic
It’s Grammy nominations time again, in advance of January’s awards for the best in recorded music.

In some circles, the relevance of the Grammys is beyond question—as in there’s no question that they are irrelevant. In part that’s because of their being behind the times and missing the mark at various points. Of course awards are matters of disagreement and controversy, so it does come with the territory.

Still, there have been some infamously wild choices. Most celebrated, and the emblematic botched call, was Jethro Tull’s winning the 1988 Grammy for Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, over Metallica among others. (When asked about this today, as he always is, Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson simply notes that he presumes the band got the award for being “nice guys’ who had never won.)

It takes literally an hour to read the entire list of nominations and probably days to listen to all the nominated music. It might be fair and nice to acknowledge what Grammy got right, but that’s no fun. They don’t need anybody’s encouragement and way to gos/att boys. Instead it is more hopefully corrective to list some offbeat nominations or lack thereof.

Lorde is nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year (songwriting) and Best Popo Solo Performance for Royals. But she is somehow not in the running for Best New Artist. That single and the album (Pure Heroine) have been monstrously popular across a variety of audiences. By way of bonus, this is genuinely original and interesting music, and she wrote and recorded it when she was only sixteen. So if she shouldn’t win Best New Artist—there are some worthy competitors—she kind of deserved a shot at it.

On the other chronological end we have the oldsters. For that weirdness, you have to check out the Grammy history for Led Zeppelin. They were nominated as Best New Artist in 1970, but lost to Crosby, Stills and Nash (the other nominees were Chicago, Neon Philharmonic and Oliver. Oliver.). Then nothing, no nominations, nada. Even though all the major Zep albums sit somewhere in the all-time 100, not to mention some of the even-more iconic tracks. (To keep from singing Stairway, I listened to Neon Philharmonic’s big hit Morning Girl and Oliver’s Jean. That’ll keep you from getting too crazy heavy.)

The reunited Led Zeppelin performed at a benefit concert in 2007, and the soundtrack of the film of that concert was released, and has resulted in two Grammy nominations: Best Rock Performance for Kashmir and Best Rock Album for Celebration Day, the concert soundtrack.

That’s right. A band that broke up in 1980 (33 years ago), a band that reunited for one performance in 2007 (six years ago) to record a song it first released in 1975 (38 years ago) is up for two Grammys.

Take that you naysayers. Who says Grammy isn’t still “with it”? If that is what the kids are saying these days.

Rock and Roll Prophecy: Show Biz Kids

Show Biz Kids
Show biz kids making movies
Of themselves you know they
Don’t give a fuck about anybody else
Show Biz Kids, Steely Dan

Pop music self-reflection has been around for decades. The wonderful Lorde does a take on it with Royals, looking at superstar excess from the perspective of a regular teenager. Jethro Tull sang “When you’re too old to rock and roll but too young to die” in 1976—without a time machine to watch 70-year-old Mick Jagger prance around the stage almost forty years later.

But when it comes to visionary, nothing beats Steely Dan’s 1973 Showbiz Kids from the Countdown to Ecstasy album. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen always cast a little bit of jaundiced eye on society, show business and fame, which along with their musical sophistication and eclecticism made them a lock to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Their lyrics are often poetic, obscure and ambiguous, but Show Biz Kids is just plain straightforward. Show business, including pop, has had its share of bratty, self-absorbed behavior from star children of all ages. So it’s nothing new, and it may not be more over the top than ever—even if it seems that way sometimes. The poor people are still sleepin’ with the shade on the light while the stars come out at night. Once in a while these days, it appears, as Steely Dan sang, the show biz kids don’t care what they do or how it looks.

While the poor people sleepin’
With the shade on the light
While the poor people sleepin’
All the stars come out at night

After closing time
At the Guernsey Fair
I detect the El Supremo
From the room at the top of the stairs
Well I’ve been around the world
And I’ve been in the Washington Zoo
And in all my travels
As the facts unravel
I’ve found this to be true

They got the house on the corner
With the rug inside
They got the booze they need
All that money can buy
They got the shapely bods
They got the Steely Dan T-shirt
And for the coup-de-gras
They’re outrageous

Show biz kids making movies
Of themselves you know they
Don’t give a fuck about anybody else

Music: Royals by Lorde

Lorde

When you’re a young pop music fanatic, you spend half your time listening. Music is life, life is music. When you get older, you still love it, but it takes its place among so many other occupiers. Which is why some of us who really do care and appreciate end up as “middle of the day” discoverers instead of early adopters.

I nearly had to pull off the road when I first heard Royals by Lorde on the radio this week. I was transported, transfixed, whatever transcendent pop music word you want to use. I am about the five millionth person to find out about this phenomenon, but I don’t care.

This is from the Billboard 21 Under 21 list, where Lorde comes in at Number 6, just a few spots below Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus:

Why She’s Hot: At this time last year, Ella Yelich-O’Connor was an unknown 15-year-old in New Zealand, still two months away from releasing her debut EP for free on the Internet. Fast forward one calendar frame, and one of the songs on that EP, “Royals,” is a record-setting hit on Billboard’s Alternative chart and a Top 5 single on the U.S. Hot 100. Its creator, now known as Lorde, is one of the most fascinating new talents in pop music, with sold-out shows, a beguiling debut album titled “Pure Heroine,” and an astoundingly level head about her heightened profile. The head of Lorde’s record label says that she could be “the artist of her generation,” and thousands agree. It’s time to hail Lorde with a spot in this year’s Top 10.

And if everything else about Royals isn’t already plus-perfect, the song itself, written by Lorde and Joel Little, offers a message about rich pop stars from the common people perspective: “we’ll never be royals.”

I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address
In the torn up town, no post code envy

But every song’s like:
Gold teeth
Grey Goose
Tripping in the bathroom
Bloodstains
Ball gowns
Trashing the hotel room

We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams

But everybody’s like:
Crystal
Maybach
Diamonds on your timepiece
Jet planes
Islands
Tigers on a gold leash

We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair

And we’ll never be royals
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of lux just ain’t for us, we crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler
You can call me queen bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule
Let me live that fantasy

My friends and I we’ve cracked the code
We count our dollars on the train to the party
And everyone who knows us knows
That we’re fine with this, we didn’t come from money

This is the dream for every artist and producer, and for music fans too: something so familiar yet different, something so infinitely listenable and desirable that it is a musical drug. Will Lorde go on to be, as her label says, “the artist of her generation”? They have to say that, there’s a long way to go, and one great track doesn’t make a career. But what a great track and what a great way to start.