Ten Things We Learned While Watching the 2011 Grammys

Abraham Simpson summed up our relationship with music better than anyone. We used to be ‘with it,’ but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what we’re ‘with’ isn’t ‘it,’ and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to us. That description also applies to some of the kids who are neck-deep in contemporary pop, since there are so many different options, it’s easier than ever to be your own musical island.

This, however, makes it difficult to throw a party celebrating the “best” music of the past year, since it really only covers the best of the popular music, and due to rigid programming, most popular music isn’t terribly good. This inspired us to watch the Grammy Awards for the first time in ages, just to see what we could glean from how the machine currently operates. What we discovered might surprise you. Could it be that the industry is lying about their financial woes?

The music industry is doing awesome

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences throws its annual Hooray For Us party – you know, the one that nets roughly four times as many viewers as last night’s broadcast – it’s held in a venue like the Kodiak Theater, which seats just over 3,400 people. Last night’s Grammy Awards were held in the Staples Center, which seats 20,000. If you equate the size of the venue for your party to the health of your company, that means that the music industry is making six times as much money as the movie industry. So don’t listen to their pitiful cries of how much money they’re losing to illegal downloads, lack of interest, etc. If they were really that despondent, they wouldn’t blow that much money on one party…would they? After all, that would just be foolish and irresponsible.

And while we’re on the subject of fiscal responsibility, we have a suggestion for them…

The music business would turn profitable tomorrow if they got rid of backup dancers

If you include Muse’s uprisers, there were nearly 80 people who served as dancers, or fire breathers, or as something other than a musician or a singer, in the various performances from last night’s show. That can’t be cheap, and really, what do they add? If anything, they’re a telltale sign that said performer doesn’t really have much to offer in a live setting. We have an idea that will save them millions: The labels should adopt a policy similar to the one that the airline industry uses to fleece its customers, and bill their artists for using dancers. And not even in a ‘we’ll take it out of your royalties’ way; actually make the artists pay cash out of their pockets for the dancers. Boom, they disappear just like that. Tours get cheaper, everyone makes more money. Just a thought.

Justin Bieber might be the real deal

For a kid who’s about to turn 17, Justin Bieber is remarkably well composed. He can sing, of that there is no doubt, but last night he showed just how comfortable he was as a performer while maintaining some modesty at the same time. The last time we saw someone cover so much ground, it was Justin Timberlake, and we all saw how he turned out. Someone’s gotta give that kid a new haircut, though. He looks like a lesbian.

Even the Recording Academy knows that no one cares who wins these awards

In three and a half hours, they gave away 11 Grammys, or roughly one every 19 minutes. The rest were done in advance. Sorry, Black Keys, but you won’t have the chance to thank your wives and managers for their support on air. They’ll have to settle for a phone call or a text message, like a sucker. Geez, even the sound editors for movies get to thank their wives on national television.

If you wear sunglasses indoors, and you’re not Jack Nicholson, you just look like a douche

Granted, we knew this already, but man, were there a lot of Corey Harts in attendance last night. Our quick list of the guilty: Donnie Wahlberg, Lenny Kravitz, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, will.i.am, Usher, LL Cool J, and Bruno Mars. Unless you’re high, take the damn glasses off.

Katy Perry doesn’t use Auto-Tune live

That might sound like an insult, but to be honest, it was kind of refreshing to see Perry, um, let it all hang out, especially after the blockbuster tribute to Aretha Franklin that opened the show (more on that later). Watching her last night was like watching the internal struggle of a pop star who loves being ogled but craves respect. Don’t be surprised if her next record is decidedly more serious.

Why doesn’t anybody take me seriously?

Arcade Fire knew they were going to win Album of the Year

How else were they so prepared to jump back on stage and play another song? Because they knew they’d have to. The producers will probably argue that they asked all Album of the Year nominees to be prepared to perform another number, but Jesus, their instruments were already up there. Also, did you notice that they didn’t give out a single Grammy to someone who wasn’t in attendance? Not a single ‘such and such artist wasn’t able to be here tonight, so we accept this on their behalf’ speech. Did anyone show up not knowing whether they were going to win or lose? We’re betting against it.

Muppets make everything better

Usher may have had the busiest performance, but the best performance of the evening, bar none, was Cee Lo Green dueting with Gwyneth Paltrow – side note to Paltrow: you’re beautiful, but the low-cut dress makes you look like you’re trying too hard, and lose the heels – performing the brilliantly titled “The Song Otherwise Known as ‘Forget You'” with a bunch of muppets. THAT’S how you put on a TV performance, people.

Photo credit: Kevin Winter, Getty

Christina Aguilera is physically incapable of just singing the damn song

If you put her in a “Saw”-type device, where she inched closer and closer to death for every melisma-drenched vocal run she sang, she’d be the quickest death in the series’ history. There’s no question that she has pipes, and that tribute to Aretha Franklin was superb (and wow, check out Jennifer Hudson), but enough with the histrionics, already. We get it, you can sing. Now just sing the fucking song, instead of singing around it.

Songwriting is greatly undervalued in today’s musical climate

While we’re disappointed that “Fuck You” didn’t win Record of the Year or Song of the Year, we’ll grant the academy that Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” is a damn good tune. Several of the other winners, however, seemed to have won because of the overall package, not the song they’re singing. Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” and “Nothin’ on You,” B.o.B.’s duet with Bruno Mars, are both grossly underwritten, with an air of calculation that makes our nostrils flare. The Janelle Monae song was a little better – and while it’s great to see Motown make a comeback in the pop realm, it should have happened two years ago when Raphael Saadiq released The Way I See It – but even it had more spirit than substance. And don’t get us started on that goddamn Train song.

Laugh all you want at Babs performing “Evergreen” and showing that she’s lost some power, but “Evergreen” is a song. People will remember that one 30 years from now. No one, however, will remember “Nothin’ on You.”

Some other observations:

John Mayer wants to be Johnny Depp
Mick Jagger hasn’t eaten in 20 years
Ricky Martin is color blind. Or possibly just blind
Bob Dylan would sound better if Tom Waits sang on his behalf. Think about that one for a second. Yes, it’s that bad.


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Someone Saved My Life Tonight: Albums that got us through some heavy shit

Men don’t like to talk about it, but there are times in our lives where things are less awesome than usual, and by that we mean that life is complete and utter shit. Being men, we’re not supposed to show when we’re down, but as the poet laureate Geena Davis once said (using her pen name Charlie Baltimore), life is pain. Sometimes it’s hard to hide when we’ve been wounded by the loss of a girl, or a job, or a family member. And since talking about our feelings is not the first choice for most men, many of us find solace in music, where someone else is doing the talking and all we have to do is listen. In private. Remember, that whole ‘not supposed to show when we’re down’ thing.

This summer, a golden opportunity presented itself to tell one of the musicians who gave us the proverbial pat on the back about what they had done for us. The man: Glenn Tilbrook, front man for UK pop giants Squeeze. The album: Play, the band’s 1991 debut (and swan song) for Reprise, a literate and moving collection of songs about love, loss, and hope. Tilbrook’s reaction to the news that he helped us through a rough spot: “Wow.” Apparently, someone else had told him the exact same thing about Play‘s magical healing powers. He thought it a weird coincidence that two people would have such a strong reaction to the album…

…which is complete nonsense, if you ask us. A quick survey on Facebook revealed that several people had the same emotional bond to Play that we had, at which point some other staffers revealed they had their own tales of woe, and the albums that saw them through it. Behold, the albums that, while they didn’t literally save our lives, at the very least got us through some heavy shit.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough! (1987)

On the day after Christmas in 1986, mid-way through my junior year of high school, my family moved from North Carolina to central Pennsylvania, beginning a period of upheaval and ill will between me and my parents and siblings that took several years to address and heal. Music was my refuge, the thing that kept me on an even keel when all I wanted to do was either put my fist through something hard, or slip down into the fetal position and cry. What I really needed was some flat-out rock and roll, performed by a band that could play bee-you-tiff-lee or durrrrty, depending on what was called for.

In April of the the following year, Tom Petty and his merry band put out Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), a record I connected with on levels both emotional and visceral. It had moments of sheer beauty (“Runaway Trains,” “It’ll All Work Out”), pure pop (“All Mixed Up,” “Ain’t Love Strange”), and rollicking good fun (“One of These Days,” “How Many More Days”). It also had, in the single “Jammin’ Me” and the title track, amped-up Stonesy rock that I would turn up loud in my bedroom, loud enough to piss off my family, enabling me, however briefly, to give my tormenters the auditory finger now and again.

It was a small modicum of revenge, but it meant a lot. The music also helped me feel that everything was going to be all right, which meant even more. -Rob Smith

Joe Jackson: Laughter & Lust (1991)

For the record, I wrote the intro to this piece, and told Glenn Tilbrook that he helped me through a blue period. The summer of 1991 was the lowest I ever got, having moved to Cincinnati to be with the love of my life, only to be rebuffed upon my arrival. Squeeze’s Play was my salvation, assuring me that breaking up is breaking my heart and showing me the door, but if I get it open, I’ll discover that there’s much more to life than this. Some days, though, Play just didn’t cut it. The songs were so even-handed and fair, and being 23 at the time, there were times when I simply didn’t feel so charitable. That is when Joe Jackson’s Laughter & Lust came into, um, play. Musically, it was one of the more upbeat records Jackson had made in years, but lyrically, it was pitch-black, whether he was attacking politics (“The Obvious Song”), the music business (“Hit Single”), nostalgia (“The Old Songs”) or, most commonly, her, whatever her name was. She had Joe completely out of his head, to the point where, on the song “Stranger Than Fiction,” he admits, “I love her so much I don’t even know what planet I’m on / Love her so much, I wish she’d just go away.” Testify.

There I sat, alone in my flea-riddled apartment, thinking about how many opportunities I had to not make this horrible decision, the girls who basically told me, “I could save you from all this.” I thought of one girl in particular, whom I’d met towards the end of my senior year of college and had me seriously examining what my current relationship was lacking. And wouldn’t you know it, Joe had written a song about that predicament, too. “The Other Me” is one of the best unrequited love songs you’ll ever hear, as Jackson reluctantly admits to a girl that “I know that she’s the only one for me, and you know that if I could split in two / The other me would be the only one for you.” Of course, I knew even then that the ‘she’ in question wasn’t the only one for me, but the pull of the familiar is strong. Warts and all, I still loved the girl. She was hard to walk away from.

Nothing exemplifies the differences between Play and Laughter & Lust better, though, than their final songs. Where Squeeze spoke of how “each day’s a hope, each day’s a prayer, that I’ll rebuild, that I’ll repair” on “There Is a Voice,” Joe Jackson sang of how he was drowning. And some days, it felt better to just give in and be sad. Yes, it sucked being heartbroken, but Laughter & Lust taught me that heartbreak was not unique to me, and that like all things, it would pass. And sure enough, it did. -David Medsker

Read the rest after the jump...

10 Greatest Comments Appearing Below Rolling Stone’s “Steve Perry vs. Sarah Silverman” Article

If you haven’t seen the article in question yet, you can find it right here, but to get the gist, here’s the opening paragraph:

In an interview with Playboy set to hit newsstands tomorrow, comedian Sarah Silverman responds to questions about her provocative brand of humor by telling a story about how “the onetime lead singer of a very popular band from the 1980s” came up to her after a show and said, “You’re my favorite comedian. You have the best (N-word) jokes.” Silverman didn’t outright name Journey’s Steve Perry, but she added, “I’ll just say this: After that, I stopped believin’,” a poke at the band’s classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

It’s kind of a non-event, really, since the combination of knowing Sarah Silverman’s sense of humor and reading Steve Perry’s reaction to her comments make it seem pretty likely that she’s having a laugh by taking an approximation of something he said and making it into a punchline of questionable comedic value (your mileage, of course, may vary), but try telling that to the members of the Steve Perry street team, who have come out in force in the Comments section of the article.

Here, then, are ten of my favorite reactions…and, yes, they are all 100% real.

1. “I refuse to believe that Mr. Perry is the same type of low-life as John Mayer who would carelessly use such a disgusting word.”

2. “What bullshit! I don’t believe he even talked to that slut puppy! Neal (Schon) and (Jonathan) Cain probably paid her to say that because they know Perry’s working on his new cd! What a bunch of lowlifes!”


4. “I work in the mental health field and so I know how people perceive what they want and misconstrue to make themselves powerful. I find her humor cheap, condescending and pathetic. Steve Perry can’t even enjoy a comedian act without someone trying to shit on his image. LEAVE HIM ALONE! I get so tired of people triangulating in the name of fame at other’s expense.”

5. “First and foremost, I do not think that Racial and Ethnic slurs have a place in Comedy PERIOD. My interpretation of Silverman is nothing more than a Skank! Furthermore, I also have been a fan of Steve Perry for 30 years or more. I HAVE been to concerts and he is a total gentleman at all times, with more class than any other Lead Singer I have ever seen. I also wish to challenge what RS is saying that Mr. Perry actually said to defend himself. I doubt he would say as much as RS is saying, or go into detail about the experience. This is just disgusting rubbish that belongs in the dump along with Sarah Silverman. Listen to Steve’s beautiful Voice and weigh the talent. I don’t have to tell you which side the scale is going to weigh heavy. RS, write something good for a change. You used do some great articles. This is definitely way below your standards.”

6. “This is SUCH BULL!! Steven is one of the kindest, most gentle spirits on the planet and would NEVER say the “N-word”!!!! That bitch lied!”

7. “Steve is very classy and SEXY guy! I don’t believe he said this in a million years! Steve is friends with Randy Jackson, so why would anyone agree with that so called comedian?”


9. “First Sarah is a total B. Get a life! I guess your name hasn’t come up often so you have to create a total lie about “The Voice.” Like one comment said he was going to come out with an album and now this will scare him away. He’ll hide for another ten years!! Thank you!!Some people (Sarah) have nothing better to do in their lives than make up lies about the nicest people! All she does is make up horrible jokes but they shouldn’t be called jokes because they SUCK ASS!!! Anyways she’s racist herself. Yeah it’s fun and jokes but what do we really now? She just might hate us all! Also Steve Perry is the greatest voice ever! That is why they call him the voice! And his idol is Sam Cook! for heaven sakes he’s black! Now why would a guy who loves Sam Cook be racist!?!? And maybe Neal Schon paid her to say it all. I can believe that after all Neal and Steve aren’t great friends right now. Sarah is just making this up. She thinks it’s a funny and cute joke. Well let me tell you something it’s not funny or freaking cute!! Also why would someone falsely accuse another just for a laugh!! She’s an F*** Bitch!!!Lastly Sarah get a freaking life!! Stop making fun of people just because. Steve I believe you all the way! You’re the best singer and also will be. And you’ll also be the nicest and most charming guy ever!! And again I believe you!! Steve Perry is right and Sarah Bitch is wrong to Hell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

10. “I believe Steve Perry over that no-talent-horse-faced-unfunny woman any day…and where is all the outcry over John Mayers racial slurs in Playboy??? The kid is a no-talent racist who will be dead of a drug or alcohol overdose in 5 years or less… Peace…”