Monday, February 01, 2010

2010 Grammy Round up - A Wall of Sound


Just watched the Grammy awards and saw Beyonce win six (most by a female at one show in history) and Taylor Swift win four awards (including youngest female to ever win album of the year). It was a weird night with some pretty good performances. My favorites were Lady Gaga and Elton John, Pink sailing above the crowd in a quite pleasing performance, Green Day with the Cast of a new Musical performing their song 21 Guns, and Bon Jovi from New Jersey proving that the Jersey talent continues to run deep.

Perhaps the reason album sales in America have collapsed the last decade is because so many songs are so over-produced they simply engulf the listener in a wall of sound that makes the words impossible to understand and the instrumental mix a clutter of competing sounds. Maybe the lyrics are over-powered by the music because the story line is inferior. Crisp lyrics, strong arrangements, diverse orchestration and a mix that made you appreciate each of these factors made music much more enjoyable in the past.

In 2000 there were 785 million albums sold in America. In 2009 there were just 374 million sold, a loss of over 52% in record sales during the decade. Record labels say it is because of the Internet and theft from downloading but I believe it is because the record buying public thinks so much material is terrible they won't waste their money.

Back to the Grammy awards, the worst performance was by Taylor Swift, whose album Fearless was named Best Album of the Year. Her duet with Stevie Nicks was hard to listen to as the young pop princess again proved singing live is her Achilles heel. Don't take it from me, here is what the expert critics said.

Los Angeles Times - Ann Powers

The most telling statement of the night, in fact, came from comic Stephen Colbert, who told the crowd that the Grammys were "the highest honor that the music industry can bestow, other than your song being covered by the cast of 'Glee,' " the popular TV show about a high school choir. Today's most powerful songs often reach listeners as ads -- the specialty of the Peas -- in YouTube video tributes, as with Beyonce's "Single Ladies," which won song of the year, or in other "nonmusical" contexts.

And more than ever, today's biggest stars are those who embody powerful archetypes so well that a misplaced note or two may be kindly overlooked.
That last situation applies to Taylor Swift, who continued her winning streak by taking home album of the year for "Fearless," a recording that has seemingly won every available prize in the last year. Swift, 20, is a songwriter; she thanked her record label for "letting me write every song on my album" while accepting one of her awards.

But as well-crafted as her platinum-selling tales of suburban high school life are, it's Swift's persona that really sells. This smart young woman comes across as a perky, living American Girl doll, and that appealing version of traditional young womanhood, not her music, is at the heart of her stardom.

Her singing certainly can't be credited. Appealing enough on record, it always seems to let her down live. Swift gave a strikingly bad vocal performance at Staples Center on Sunday, sounding tinny and rhythmically flat-footed as she shared the microphone with the distinctive Stevie Nicks. Swift's inability to match or support Nicks as they worked through a medley of each woman's hits stood in stark contrast to the evening's other pairings, particularly soul man Maxwell's sensitive response to Roberta Flack and Lady Gaga's bravado turn with Elton John.

The Envelope - Randy Lewis

Beyoncé and Swift's combined 10 awards honored recordings that sold in numbers last year that defied the beleaguered music industry's downward trend in recent years, saluting broad-based success at a particularly difficult time in the record business.

"For me, genres have really become something that I don't think people focus on anymore," Swift said backstage. "Country music is my love. [But] when you're making music, I think the healthiest thing to do is remove titles or stereotypes from what you're trying to do. It's not country versus rap . . . it's not anything you don't make it. It's about trying to make an album you hope is good enough to win album of the year." - Jessica Nunez

Taylor Swift with Stevie Nicks
Poor Stevie Nicks. She's long proved herself in the music world and delivered once again last night on a trio of Taylor Swift songs. But Swift, who won four Grammys including Album of the Year, proved once again that the stage is not her friend. Nicks' raspy voice combined with Swift's pitchy performance was almost cringe-worthy. Taylor Swift is cute and her songs are catchy, but it's just plain hard to watch her live.

Green Day

One of the better performances was by Green Day and the Cast of a new Broadway musical of their album American Idiot. Check it out. This punk band trio from California has matured and evolved into a versatile singer/songwriter group.

Susan Boyle missing in action

Snubbed by the Grammys but loved by the world is Susan Boyle of Scotland. Her debut album, I Dreamed A Dream, was beat out by Taylor Swift by 100,000 sales for best seller of 2009 but wait a minute, all is not as it seems. Taylor Swift released Fearless in November, 2008. Boyle released Dream on November 23, 2009. Swift's was on the market over a year and one month while Boyle's just five weeks and still they almost tied.

Does that seem fair? By the end of January Boyle had caught up to Swift and worldwide has sold an amazing 8 million copies, in just 9 weeks. Still she was snubbed with no Grammy nomination. What is it about this strange 48 year old from Scotland? I say Boyle is the Sarah Palin of the music industry, a fan favorite while being snubbed by the critics.

Ironically Boyle has no regrets about the Grammy snub and as a lifelong Catholic her goal this year is to appear before the Pope when he comes to Scotland this fall. Of course she will also be taking America by storm with her first world tour.

This is what Laura Ferrerro had to say about Boyle on the PopEater blog.

Scottish songstress Susan Boyle seems poised to conquer the world. The unassuming 'Britain's Got Talent' star has already sold more than 1.8 million copies of her debut album 'I Dreamed a Dream' in its first three weeks of release in the U.S. (not to mention the millions she's sold worldwide). She also set an impressive record for the best first-week sales of any woman since SoundScan started tracking in 1991. If Boyle continues to sell albums at this pace, she'll likely steal Taylor Swift's crown as top selling artist of 2009.

So what is it about this homespun 47-year-old charity worker who lives alone with her cat that has us running to our nearest record store to pick up her debut album? We at PopEater checked in with some renowned pop music critics to see what all the fuss is about.

It's Boyle's "every woman" quality that's so appealing believes Aidin Vaziri, San Francisco Chronicle's Pop Music Critic. "She's ordinary. She's like us. People can relate to her," he says. "When she got onstage to face Simon Cowell she brought a million office workers' daydreams to life. I think everyone who saw the ('Britain's Got Talent') video felt moved by it wanted to be part of the story and make sure it had a happy ending."

It's Boyle's "underdog" status combined with our obsession with reality show sagas that has us rooting for her says Gaylord Fields, Senior Editor of AOL Music. "Susan Boyle's story is a classic underdog tale -- yet one that played out in front of the entire world," said Fields. "It embodies a couple of popular reality-show trends in one: it's a music competition coupled with a makeover story, with a hint of medical program savant syndrome thrown in."

"Shows such as 'American Idol' and 'Britain's Got Talent' are as interested in a potential star's looks as much as their talent," said pop music critic Stephen Humphries. "Boyle managed to up-end all that. Dowdy and close to age 50, she seemed to have no right to be trying out for a market most interested in youth and sex appeal. But her voice trumped all that. I think the fact that Boyle isn't a particularly self-confident or precocious person only added to her underdog appeal."

Fields concurs that it is these personal attributes that make Boyle so relatable. "The juxtaposition of Boyle's one-in-a-million voice with her modest looks and her seeming simplicity and innocence add up to something unique -- and ultimately relatable," he says.

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