Watching the Grammy Awards is always an interesting experience for me. I say “interesting” because the truth is that it falls somewhere between “enlightening” and “confounding,” and I’m not certain there’s a single adjective in any language besides Everyday Dog that aptly captures that feeling.
See, I don’t listen to a lot of mainstream pop; I’m not better than you because of it (well, maybe a few of you), I just don’t. My daily commute is about 15 minutes round-trip, and I’m lucky if I hear two songs in between shouty used car commercials — Bad credit? No credit? Serial rapist? It doesn’t matter, YOU’RE APPROVED! — and clips of morning show hosts prank calling pizzerias.
Now, because those two songs are usually Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” or Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,” I was profoundly aware of their existence, if not the frenzy surrounding them. The rest? God, I don’t know; I mean, I just listen to either Charles Mingus or Field Report while I’m home, okay? So now that I’ve admitted I’m no expert, let’s get to some categorized bitching.
Most Inexplicably Popular Song: Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me”
This is going to sound like a backhanded compliment, and I swear it’s not, but I genuinely think it’s really cool that Sam Smith is enjoying some pretty ferocious success despite the fact that he looks like a giant baby crossed with an 80s comedian’s idea of a lesbian. His skin looks like it’s made of boiled milk, and makes a squishy sound when you touch him. Sam Smith is the “It’s Pat!” of this year’s Grammy Awards.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with “Stay with Me.” It’s a perfectly serviceable ballad, in fact. The first time I heard it — in my car, on the way to the grocery store — I thought “Huh. There is nothing inherently wrong with this song. It’s a perfectly serviceable ballad.” My opinions are nothing if not consistent. But good lord, this dude won four freaking Grammys on the strength of gospel-tinged sad-sack love song. In retrospect, we should have seen it coming; Grammy voters have a perpetual hard-on for white British soul singers.
Sia is too busy piloting her starship back to her home planet to care, but I’d be upset if I was her.
Most Deserving Winner: Beck
Beck is sort of like a more prolific version of Terrence Malick. You’re vaguely aware of his existence, almost forgetting about him until he pops up with a new album, at which point you sort of go “Oh yeah, that guy!” In reality, we should be celebrating the man as a national treasure. His biggest initial hit — and still the song that he’s probably most known for — “Where It’s At” was a throwaway novelty and should have been a career killer. The fact that he’s made a living for the past two decades crafting some of the most thoughtful, chameleonic rock music of our times is worthy of recognition and praise.
No, he didn’t win everything he was nominated for, not by half. But beating out a solid field for Best Rock Album and topping higher-profile acts Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, Smith and Pharrell for Album of the Year were the biggest and best awards-related surprises of the night. And he obviously brought his Kanye repellant, which is a win for everyone.
Most WTF Win: Tenacious D, “Last in Line”
Look, I love Tenacious D; they’re freaking hilarious, and one of the main reasons they’re freaking hilarious is that they have an encyclopedic knowledge and love of classic heavy metal. It allows them to both send up and pay tribute to the genre and the lifestyle, and it’s one of the more potent forms of comedy. The fact that the song was recorded for an album celebrating the late Ronnie James Dio makes it even harder for me to say this, but…
There’s no way in hell this should have won, especially stacked up against songs from Anthrax, Motorhead and Mastodon, the latter of whom should have run away with the award. “Last in Line,” first of all, is a cover; a really good one, but a cover still, and picking it over new, original music by two heavy metal dynasties and one band that’s making some of the most broadly-appealing, intricate hard rock today is ridiculous.
Best Something from Nothing: Annie Lennox performing with Hozier
I hate “Take Me to Church.” Hate it. I appreciate the underlying message of the song, and even more so the video, but the track itself is an uninteresting dirge by a Robert Smith wannabe who thinks that good studio acoustics passes for atmosphere. So when Hozier came out to perform it, I got up to check on the shepherd’s pie that was cooking in the oven. Slowly.
And then: Annie Lennox. Annie. Effing. Lennox. On paper, this was a provocation, an attention-grab, like pouring a flute of 2004 Dom Perignon into a red solo cup of Strawberry Hill. But once Lennox started belting out the chorus to “Take Me to Church,” the song transformed. It was triumphant, vitriolic, full of spit, piss and vinegar. She owned it, made it hers, forever. I am still in the wake.